Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Avoiding the Torture, Finding the Joy

You know, I never would have dreamed the homeschooling would be such an adventure! That I would have so much to learn, that I would be so challenged - and that it might even (*gasp!*) be fun. 

In most areas, I'm still experiencing the ever-so-steep three year learning curve with waayyy more "crying moments" than "A-HA! moments." Let me tell you - getting started is not easy! But it is rewarding work, and I'm digging in as hard and as fast as I can go.

In light of all that, here is something that is working right now.

As I read more and more about homeschooling, I see that oftentimes, the more experienced veteran-moms start slowly with their little ones. As opposed to "teach your baby to read" methods, they usually treat childhood gently, encouraging outdoor time, LEGOs, cooking, play time, science experiments in the kitchen, field trips, etc. - building a strong experiential foundation for the academics to come in later years. And oftentimes, in the younger elementary grades, the "non-basic" subjects (i.e. science and history) are either not taught at all, or are taught informally. I have chosen to take that approach, and here's how I'm currently doing it:

The basic principle:

Real books (almost) always make learning easier and more enjoyable than do textbooks.

That's the reason that I chose Sonlight, and even though Sonlight Core A didn't work out for us for kindergarten, I still love the real-books approach (as opposed to a textbook approach) and am planning on using their book lists (along with others) to teach history throughout our school years.

Textbooks tend to be dry, dull, and easily-forgettable. Real books tend to be intriguing, deep, and easily memorable. Think learning history from a textbook, and then think learning history from the "Little House on the Prairie" book series. The former is forgotten as soon as the test is over; the latter is remembered for a life time. 

(* I know that there is a time and a place for textbooks - I love them for certain subjects - nothing against textbooks!)

Here's an example: 

I checked out a delightful little book, "One Small Place by the Sea" - a beautifully illustrated book about tide pools. So much information, so much beautiful artistry! We loved it. 

To build on that ("Let's learn about tide pools!") - I checked out a dreadfully textbook-y book about tide pools - from one of those awful "informational" children's series that have cursed library shelves for generations:

Before I had even read the first page, our son was begging, "Please, mommy, can we please not read this anymore?"

Lesson learned. Real books rule. (Especially in the younger years.)

This year, I set out to check out a vast number of library books ("real books"), based on my three reference books: "Honey for a Child's Heart," "The Read Aloud Handbook," and "Books Children Love." 

The books are good quality real books - usually fiction, sometimes informational fiction, sometimes historical fiction. Sometimes they are a hit, sometimes they're a complete bomb. Sometimes our son's interest completely takes off, and I end up checking out every book in the library on that subject (keeping clear of the poor-quality educational series!). In this manner, we have covered subject after subject this year, in much more depth than I ever covered in school, from elementary to college.

For example, when we read the Magic School Bus book about volcanoes, we really sparked a fire. We spent months upon months reading on volcanoes, earthquakes, and geology - it was a completely spontaneous unit study that blew me away:

The same thing happened with space and the history of space travel. Sometime, if you have a few spare hours, ask our eldest son his opinion of the Apollo space program. I dare you.

(*I should say that I recommend the Magic School Bus books with reservations. There are some phrases in the books that I find disrespectful, and edit out, and there are also conversations that I edit on the fly.)

This past week, I discovered a delightful children's author, Deborah Hopkinson, and checked out several of her books, including this one - a slightly fictionalized history of Fannie Farmer (author of "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook"):

I didn't think that our son would like this book, but he ate it up - and not only that, has been extremely motivated to learn more about cooking! Tonight we had a cake that "he baked" (i.e. made a MESS with), and he is now fascinated by his Magic School Bus book about cooking chemistry. 

Here's another recent science bunny trail: We started with the Magic School Bus book about bees:

Then we moved on to this delightful book, which has lots of details about bees:

And then on to this gem of a book, which has even more details: 

And voila! A mini-education in bees and bee-keeping, all interest-led and completely torture-free (which textbook learning at this age, at least for boys, is not). 

Real books are also a great way to learn local science. We found this lovely little book and were able to read all about the monsoons we enjoy each summer (wonderful book!):
And what about history? The same thing!

Try these wonderful book for learning about stagecoaches, covered wagons, and the journey west:

 And for learning about the Great Depression:

About European emigration to America:

About life in an earlier time in America:

And about American landmarks and mid-1900s culture:

None of these, of course, is a complete education. But they build a foundation of information, of artistic appreciation, of a groundwork of science and history that both serves as a jumping off point for passion-led learning, and for later textbook learning at an older age.

This year our son has read book after book (or had them read to him), and we have covered many subjects lightly, and some (in a completely unplanned way) very deeply - space, space travel, volcanoes, bees, pioneer life, and snakes. He has learned more this year than I learned of science in my entire elementary education, and it's been amazing to watch.

One thing I have not yet figured out is how to use this approach with more than one child involved - but that will be an adventure for another day.

Thanks for listening, everyone!

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