Thursday, December 16, 2010

School Days...

So many look back fondly at their childhood memories of school. They recall friends and good times. I wonder, however, if perhaps they have blocked out something more about school. I wonder, how any one of us would feel, if we were placed back in those same classroom desks today for 7 hours a day. How would we feel? How would we respond?
The following is just some of what I remember of my schooling. I have a feeling that many, if they really think about it, felt the same way much of the time when in school.

Think of the typical school day in the typical classroom.
Remember sitting in that desk. Feel the hard chair and sit up straight!

Remember watching that clock. The clock that was identical in every room.
Remember being bored out of your mind, watching and waiting for the clock to turn. Not allowed to talk, leave, put your head down, or even stand up.
Remember being forced to read books like The Great Gatsby. Remember putting down the books you would rather be reading to collect dust as you spent all free reading time on the required book.
Remember the worksheets for the book with right and wrong answers on how you should have interpreted wheat you read.
Remember the teacher telling you about the symbolism of it and what you should be getting out of it.
Remember the book becoming a giant weight on your shoulders.
God I hated that book.

Remember having to memorize poetry.
Remember having to memorize EVERYTHING.
Remember being forced to write poems.
Remember the teacher telling you the proper way to write them.
Remember your poetry and art receiving a GRADE!

Remember being tested on what the teacher thought you should know.
Remember it being your fault if you didn't learn something they were teaching.
Remember the feeling of fear and disappointment when you got a bad grade.
Remember feeling judged and your worth based on your grades.

Remember sitting in class realising you don't understand something that is being taught.
Remember not wanting to raise your hand and ask a question because you don't want the class or teacher to think you're stupid or to waste their time.
Remember raising your hand and giving a wrong answer and hearing snickers.
Remember swearing you'll never raise your hand again.

Remember sitting in class listening to the teacher talk for an hour about something you already knew how to do.
Remember her breaking it down, step-by-step, repeating the basics.
Remember trying to sketch or write in your notebook while the teacher was explaining what you already knew.
Remember having to do so carefully because if the teacher noticed you she would call on you.
Remember being caught daydreaming and asked to come up to the chalkboard to prove that you were paying attention.
Remember not having the freedom to daydream, to think for yourself, to doodle, to write what you wanted.

Remember being hungry and not allowed to eat.
Remember being thirsty and not allowed to drink.
Remember having to ask permission to use the bathroom.

Remember not being allowed to talk to a friend.
Remember not being allowed to use the phone.
Remember not feeling well and being forced to play basketball.
Remember everyone watching to see how many sit-ups, pull-up, and push-ups you could or couldn't do and how fast or slow you could run.
Remember teams being picked by team captains.
Remember the time you were the last to be picked.
Remember being forced to run a mile.

Remember how all school authority figures assumed the worst out of the students.
Remember being "caught" in the hall without a hall pass and accused of being a delinquent.
Remember being hauled to the office and threatened.
Remember feeling like a PRISONER.

This is what many refer to as a "structured learning environment." I can only imagine how much more I could have learned in a positive free environment. Instead, I dragged myself through my school years feeling depressed and enslaved every school day. How can we expect our children to love learning and grow into confident adults when we treat them with such little respect? When we treat them like slaves and prisoners and think everything must be forced upon them or they will do nothing worth while?

And for those who still kept their spirits high despite being treated in this manner, is that what our goal is? To be happy and content being without rights and freedoms? To be good, happy little slaves? Sometimes I wonder if that really is the true goal of school...

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Science Museum

After the weather made the Track and Field day with our homeschool group impossible, the kids and I decided to go to the Science Museum of MN instead. I hadn't brought the kids there before, thinking they may be too young to enjoy it all, but they had been begging to go see dinosaur skeletons so I thought we'd give it a try. I'm so glad we did. They loved it. And I loved watching how amazed they were by everything. Their little mouths were dropped open at nearly every exhibit. They're eyes wide with fascination.

Noah went nuts for the dinosaurs as I knew he would. Ava's favorite was the real tornado you could put your hand into. And they both couldn't quit trying out the floating ball on the air-stream.
I laughed when a lady standing at a fur exhibit encouraged them to come touch the wolf and bear furs. Ava and Noah's noses crinkled up and they hesitated to touch it. "Are these DEAD?" they both were asking. Noah asked if they were bloody (everything dead is bloody to him. He's even asked a shopper at the grocery store if the chicken they were buying from the deli was bloody!). "Well HOW did they die?!?" they asked the woman. She stuttered through their questions saying they surly died of natural causes and just "got old."
They got to see how much blood is in their body by standing on a special scale and watching a container fill up with "blood." They saw specimens under microscopes of real parasites that live in the human body, and look at each others eyes with an ocular scope.
I got some rest time to nurse Amora as Ava and Noah worked on a giant loom for about 20 minutes straight. Ava has a small craft loom at home she has made potholders with, so she really got a kick out of this.
Ava also got to face her mummy fears and bravely viewed the real encased mummy up close. She has a love-hate fascination with mummies. She won't even watch a cartoon if it features a mummy, but is equally as intrigued by them. So this was a big deal!

Before we left, I had to tear Noah away from a little taxidermied fawn in a glass case. He was so sad looking at the little new baby deer. He was afraid it was sad inside the case. I explained it was no longer living and he was so bothered by what may have happened to it. My heart broke looking at his eyes.

The kids probably would have stayed all day long if they could have. I loved watching them learn and enjoy new things. And I love these days Ava's home from school!

Friday, July 23, 2010


Ava has decided, very adamantly, that she wants to try Kindergarten. And while I believe in homeschooling entirely, I also want her to have the freedom to choose her own learning path. So we are going to let her try Kindergarten if that is what she feels she wants to do.
I expected that at some grade she may want to see what public school is all about. I didn't expect her to want to at age five, but there's a lot of reinforcement around. She has some friends that are going to school, she sees it on TV, she heard about it in preschool. And she is asked often by strangers if she is excited for Kindergarten.
Ava is also a fiercely independent 5 year old! She wants badly to do things on her own. I'm quite sure if we built her a house next door, she'd happily move out right now! She has no fears or shyness about being out on her own away from me. John and I are proud to have raised such a secure independent little girl and we trust her to make this big decision in her life.
We have explained that it will always be up to her. She doesn't have to continue in school and if she decides she wants to stop she can at any time. And if she likes it, she can continue going as well.
We will still continue to do our homeschool activities and learning when she is home. One of the biggest reasons I want to homeschool is to give my kids the freedom to learn how they want, without being forced. So if Ava chooses this path for the time being, then she will have our full support.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Baking Soda and Vinegar

The other day, the kids and I did the old vinegar and baking soda experiment. The kids ooh'd and ahhh'd over the fizzy bubbles pouring over the sides of the cup from adding the two together. We then looked on the Internet for more examples of how different liquids react when mixed together. They loved the big explosive clips of vinegar baking soda bombs. And so there was their introduction to Chemistry.

Chemistry, was my most hated academic subject. Which is odd, because I actually find it very interesting. I'm fascinated by the molecular level of things and quantum mechanics is the most intriguing thing to learn about. However, the academic version of Chemistry, absolutely made me an anxiety-ridden mess in high school and especially college. It's the one topic that kept me from doing what I had wanted due to the lowered GPA that was the consequence of the many Chemistry courses I had to take.

I'm convinced it doesn't need to be that way. I don't think it was me (anymore). I've talked to so many who were in the same boat.

The kids absolutely loved their first look at chemistry in the kitchen mixing ingredients together. Their eyes lit up!
I remember, vaguely, doing the same in a Chemistry lab in school. Only, I really didn't get that it was simply vinegar and baking soda. When I walked in the labs, the test-tubes were pre-filled with liquids and labeled with their chemical names. The whole place is so sterile and orderly. I was given directions to be followed exactly. "Mix tube number 3 with powder number 1. Record your observations." Which I did. There was no hint of real-life in those labs. It was completely detached from reality. Efficiently packaged up into a neat little curriculum to be presented to a class full of students, and with the least mess or teacher involvement. It seemed completely unrelated to what was taught in the lecture. And both lecture and lab seemed completely unrelated to the problems on the tests, which often sent me off in tears after I had completed them.
These timed tests not only had the chemistry problems, they also required the memorization of all the conversion equations. When I worked as a dietitian at a care center, we used conversion equations daily. If we forgot one, we looked it up in the folder. We weren't fired or docked pay, we weren't doubted or scolded, we looked it up. Because that is what you do in real life.
Why does school punish kids if they forget a memorized fact? Why do smart kids "fail" because of this?

So enough with the Chemistry rantings, I could go on forever about the problems I have with how things are "taught" in institutionalized schooling. The fact is, I want my kids to keep their sparks of interests without having them dulled out. I want to show them early on about how fascinating life is. I doubt the schools teach much about atoms and molecules in preschool and kindergarten, but that's the beauty of homeschooling. If they're interested, we learn it, we do it, we see it. And we can see it all around us. Not just in an expensive clean laboratory.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The First Snow

The First Snow
(An Example of Home Learning vs School Learning)

Ava bursts out the front door on an early, chilly morning, excited to explore the season’s first snow. She jumps in with both feet, feeling the soft fluffy snow billow up around her feet. Ava screams and giggles. She notices how her voice sounds different in the frozen surroundings than when she yells in the summer time.
She sees her footprints in the snow. She also discovers another set of footprints as well. She follows them and sees they lead to the tree. Looking up, she realizes they must belong to the squirrel she sees perched on that branch.
Ava bounces over to the driveway where she discovers a frozen puddle. She jumps on it, breaking the fragile ice and notices that under the layer of ice, there is still unfrozen water!
She then runs to the back yard and builds a snowman, balancing each giant snowball she created carefully on the one below. She then walks around her yard to find just the right sticks, pine cones, and even a sand shovel from her sandbox, to decorate her snowman.
Ava looks at her mittens closely. She notices tiny individual snowflakes. She can see their pretty individual shapes and designs. Then she licks them!

Sadie looks out the window, “It snowed!!!” she exclaims. But there was no time to play now, she has to catch the bus.
At school, Sadie gets to color a picture of a snowman. She draws eyes and a smile with her purple crayon.
The teacher has a fun game for the children to play! Paper snowflakes! Sadie admires the pretty designs cut out of paper as they try to find the matching snowflake on the classroom floor. They even get to sing Frosty the Snowman at music time!
Then, at story time, the teacher reads a special wintertime storybook about playing in the snow. Sadie gets excited and jumps up and down. She wants to tell everyone the story of how much fun she had sledding last winter with her daddy. The teacher politely asks her to sit back down so the other children can hear the book.

Afterwards, the children stand in neat lines and go to the lunchroom for lunch. Recess will be in the gym today since it is cold and snowy and the kids would get too wet.
When Sadie gets off the bus at the end of the day, she runs and jumps in the already unfrozen puddles. Her mother asks her to come right in since she has her school shoes on. Besides, it’s almost time for supper and she has homework.
After supper, Sadie does her homework. She is to write a paper about a day of fun in the snow.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

We're homeschooling!

So after much deliberation, John and I have decided we will homeschool. There are TONS of reasons I want to homeschool, but most of all, it just feels right. Learning and teaching and guiding is just such a natural part of our family. Why change what is working so well already. Ava loves to learn, we love to teach her. And who knows her better than us?
So anyways, I decided I'd try out this blogging thing I hear so much about. Mostly just to chronicle our learning life through homeschooling. It seems like such a wonderful adventure and I don't want to forget about these important times. I'd also like something for our kids to look back on about their learning experience.
So if you'd like to follow along, cool.

While Ava is in ECFE preschool at the moment, I have started doing a lot of home learning with her already. She is so enthusiastic about learning that she is easily bored with the pre-K and Kindergarten curriculum, although she still enjoys going to her pre-school and has made many friends.
We have started going to some homeschool groups and activities where she has also made friends. Her preschool friends will be going off to all different local schools, and a few will be homeschooling. Her homeschool group friends won't be going anywhere and I love that she makes friends with children of all ages. She looks up to the older girls especially. At the group we go to, Ava and Noah have learned to play hockey from the older kids and Ava has learned some games and activities from the older girls. It's so neat, since she is our oldest, to watch her learning from her older friends too.

Ava is crazy about writing and is reading basic words already at 4 1/2. She started keeping a journal. She writes the date on top of her notebook page and writes sentences about her day. I only help spell when she asks. Most of the time she tries it all on her own. I love looking through how she sounds out and hears words. I generally don't correct her with her spelling right now. I love that she is learning and playing with words and spelling and enjoying it all on her own accord.
She's also taken an interest toward math and picked up basic addition and subtraction quickly and easily. There are some great on-line games she uses for math as well as worksheets I make or print off for her. Recently, she came up to me with John's calculator and showed me how it added numbers. I had thought that John must have taught her it, but that wasn't the case. She picked it up and figured it out on her own. She played with it the rest of the day, "quizzing" me on addition facts.
I used to have a lot of questions about how the method of homeschooling known as "unschooling" or "interest led" learning worked. I no longer question this! It's so amazing to me how children really learn!
If I were to have sat Ava down and formerly taught her how to use the calculator or how to read and write, in a little desk, at 9 am sharp, she probably would have just been bored and want to go back to what she was doing. Even if she sat still, she may not have been interested at the moment and would have just sat there to make me happy. But learning on her own, when she was ready, excited, and interested, made for the lasting knowledge and REAL learning that we all want our kids to have. It's almost too simple sometimes!

So anyways, after just a few months, I've discovered that homeschooling is more a way of life than a scheduled daily event. Even going on walks take on a whole new meaning. Now instead of quickly walking to where we are going, or around the block, we stop, look, listen, and learn. She and Noah ask questions and I answer them. It's amazing all you can learn from a simple walk around the block. From water condensation and evaporation to why trees have pine cones and what kind of nest or feather it is they come across.
Kids want to learn about the world around them. And it's not something that needs to be forced. In fact, it's better if we don't force it. They can learn more than we would even think to teach them if we just let them explore and answer their questions. Or better yet, let them learn how to figure out the answers themselves.

Yes, the road ahead will be so full of wonder, excitement, and adventure. I'm so glad I'll get to share it all and learn right along with them.