“I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
L.M. Montgomery is one of my favorite authors because I identify so much with her characters, especially Anne. I'm glad to live in a world with Octobers too, and it's been a good one so far!
We kicked the month off with our family photo shoot by Karen Papadales Photography. She was actually my mentor teacher when I student taught in fourth grade, and she has become both a good friend and an excellent professional photographer since then!
We've also taken a couple of field trips. We went to a local fall festival with our babywearing group. We went on a hayride, played a lot, and ate apples. Then, as a whole family, we went to a great orchard and pumpkin patch. This orchard is great for our family because the apple trees are all dwarf trees. The kids were able to pick apples all by themselves, and they were so proud!
Once a week, we go to the science center for their preschool class. This month's theme is measurement. I'm really proud of AW because she has done a great job estimating with nonstandard measurements (how many blocks do you need to make a line as long as this other block?) DC had a good time in the class too. He's working on his counting skills.
We've also been busy at home. We made an apple mummy and decorated a sarcophagus with one of my test boxes from History Unboxed. We had a weaving lesson from AYOPS, an art lesson from the book The Way They See It, graphed our family apple tasting, and worked on journal writing.
Apple tasting and apple picking were both activities from A Year of Playing Skillfully, as the monthly theme is apples. We would have gone apple picking anyway since we go every year, but it was fun to have some pre-planned activities to go along with it. We've also done apple patterns (pattern making with pictures of apples) and microwave applesauce. We used apple life cycle cards to talk about how apples grow and compared it to the pumpkin life cycle with books and songs. We especially liked the book Apples and Pumpkins by Anne Rockwell. We're planning on doing some art with apples this week too--coming soon!
Speaking of patterns, our work with the apple patterns reminded me of something important this week. I had done some work on patterns with AW awhile ago--maybe starting a year ago. It just didn't click. We took a break. We haven't done any work on patterns at all since then. But I handed her the page for doing the work with apple patterns (from 3Dinosaurs Apple Pack). I asked her what came next and she answered correctly each time and was able to extend the pattern verbally. It was a great reminder that when a child is not ready for a certain concept, one strategy is to take a break and come back to it later. It might be that they are not developmentally ready for that particular concept.
Let's talk about 3Dinosaurs. It's a good resource. The printable packs can be worksheet heavy at times, but there are days when that's what AW is in the mood for. Some of the activities work well for on-the-go learning, like clip-and-count (matching a numeral with the number of objects in a set). I don't print the whole pack, because there are a lot of pages and not all fit our needs, but I go through and print out what I like. Sometimes AW likes to do pages during quiet time, like matching or finding what is different. She also really likes roll and count. (Note: the activities are generally the same from pack to pack).
That about wraps up our month so far. Until next time!
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, homeschool students made up about 3% of the student population (grades K-12) of the US in the 2011-2012 school year. It's a little higher in the county I live in--5% of our county students are homeschooled. Homeschoolers are a growing population in Virginia and nationwide. Legal homeschooling got its start for religious reasons and certainly, there were homeschool families that did not provide an adequate eduction. However, secular homeschooling is growing, and religious homeschoolers often provide a fantastic education to their children. Charlotte Mason and Classical Education are both popular educational philosophies that provide a rich education. But people worry that homeschoolers don't learn as much as public schoolers.
Technically, AW doesn't count as a homeschooler yet because she is in preK and not kindergarten. However, the pressure is already on. She came to me concerned that she wasn't learning enough math and she wanted to go to school so she would learn math. She's four years old. She can count to eighteen independently, can identify numbers 1-10, and can count to 100 with some support. She can sort objects by size or color and identify ordinal positions. She can identify one more or one less, and divide things in half. She can estimate nonstandard measurements and read a digital clock to the hour. She knows all her shapes, the days of the week, and the months of the year. By most state standards, she's doing pretty well for a kindergartener. But somehow she has already picked up the worry that homeschoolers don't learn as much as kids in school.
We've known for awhile that we planned on homeschooling. It seemed like a cool idea before we had kids, but I didn't think I was going to be at home with my kids. That changed when I was laid off during my pregnancy with AW, and I had a whole year before I went back to work at my old school. I think that year really cemented things for me, even though I had no idea what our homeschool would look like (and from what I hear, that changes constantly even with veteran homeschoolers). But we really started talking about it with others when we moved to our current county. People expressed concern about the quality of the school system we had moved to. Frankly, we hadn't even researched it because we didn't envision our kids going to school. That might change, and if it does, we will do some thinking about our best options. But for now, it's homeschooling.
One of the biggest responses I get when I tell people we are doing home preschool and plan on continuing homeschooling is this: "Well it's ok if you do it. You're a teacher." In other words, I know what I'm doing.
There are ways in which teaching has helped me as a parent. I'm very aware of my language when I talk to my kids. No, I don't mean not using swear words. I mean the way in which I phrase instructions or correction when I talk to my kids. My mentor professor when I was student teaching read my words back to me and tallied certain words. It stung my pride, but the lesson stuck with me. She taught me to be precise and succinct, and speak in a way that kids listened. But other things I learned in grad school? Well, let's take a look.
(I couldn't remember my exact course list so I took a peek at the current version of the program I went through, and it looked pretty similar.)
1. Foundations of Education
2. Literacy Teaching and Learning I
3. Literacy Teaching and Learning II
4. Curriculum and Methods of Teaching
5. Mathematics Methods
6. Assessment and Differentiation
7. Methods of Teaching Social Studies and Integrating Fine Arts
8. Science Methods
9. Integrating Technology
10. Research and Assessment
And of course, my semester of student teaching. I'm not going to give a summary of each of those courses since they are pretty much self explanatory by the name. But overall, we talked about educational philosophies. I know there was a child development class that doesn't seem to be on the list now. In the methods classes, we did a lot of looking through the state standards. We learned how to write lesson plans with objectives based on state standards. We learned about some of the tools that could be used. But remember, this is aimed at teaching large groups of students (generally 20-30) from diverse populations. A whole lot of these methods just don't apply when you have a tiny group or a single student.
Let me bring in The Princess Bride for a moment.
Fezzik: Well, I haven't fought one person for so long. I've been specialised in groups, battling gangs for local charities, that kind of thing.
Westley: Why should that make such a
Fezzik: You use different moves when you're fighting half a dozen people, than when you only have to be worried about one.
The same thing is true with teaching versus parenting in general and homeschooling in particular. Sure, I look to basic standards as a guideline. But I don't have to use them rigidly. I know a bit about literacy instruction and that can help me evaluate curriculum. But most of those classes aren't particularly helpful when it comes to homeschooling. I've had to unlearn some things here and there. I've had to learn new things, and will keep learning. I first started working in classrooms in 2007 and stayed in classrooms until 2014, with a single school year off. I worked with students from 3 years old all the way up to high school. And here are some the most useful things I learned in grad school and in my teaching experience:
1. A lot of songs for teaching and general fun. I still use a lot of the songs I learned while teaching, especially when I was in the primary classrooms.
2. I love field trips and some of the most engaging moments I had with students happened outside of the classroom.
3. Relationships with students are important.
4. A 7.5 hour school day with ten minutes of recess and 30 minutes of lunch, including time in the cafeteria line, does not promote focused learning.
5. Use student-centered language "You need to..." rather than "I need you to..." and eliminating "ok?" from the end of instructions. Instead, I started using "got it?" if what I meant was "do you understand what I just said?"
6. Use students' passions to ignite learning and work with their learning styles and preferences. (It's a whole lot easier to do when you only have one or two students than the 23 I usually had!) Kids don't always like school but they usually like learning.
7. Authentic, real-life experiences are always better than worksheets--again, we learned that in grad school but it was incredibly challenging to apply in the classroom.
8. Students like year-round school. Really! I worked in two schools that had been on a year-round system before I started, and the students (and teachers) missed the rhythm. There had also been incredible academic gains in students from low-income households. But, you know, funding.
9. I learned about a lot of great books and authors.
10. I got ideas about things I could adapt for homeschool because I enjoyed them in the classroom, especially writing activities for down the road.
I also learned that there were a lot of flaws in the system, which I addressed in an earlier post. And you might notice that some of those items above are obvious even to those who have never taught in an elementary school classroom. I didn't necessarily need to go to grad school or teach to figure those out.
And finally, one of the biggest differences between being a school teacher and being a home educator: At school, if I was having a hard time keeping my cool, I knew that a break of some kind was coming soon, whether it was a "special" like music, P.E., or art, or lunch, or the end of the day. I was even lucky enough to have a co-teacher to help me out for some of my classes. When I was exhausted from a rough day, I could go home and take a nap (at least before AW was born!). Plus, there's a lot of external pressure to stay calm, like, you know, job security and angry parents. I'm with my kids from 7:00am-7:30pm every single day, and on call at night. There's no calling for a substitute teacher when I'm sick, and the only "break" I get is our quiet time in the afternoons--which isn't always quiet. It's a heck of a lot harder to keep my cool when I'm both parent and teacher. I'm extremely fortunate that Himself works from home and is very present at mealtimes and can sometimes give me a break at the end of the day. And really, I value the amount of time that we get to spend together as a family. It's part of why we homeschool. But being a schoolteacher did nothing to prepare me for that reality.
As a side note: Kids are totally different outside of school than in. I spent one year as a religious exploration teacher at my church. In many ways, it was harder than teaching in a classroom because students behaved so differently. It was the weekend.