Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fool-Proof Science Experiment

Our first semester of Oak Meadow 5th Grade Science has focused on Environmental Science. A few weeks ago, we were studying pollution, recycling and composting. We did a very easy experiment where we buried five different types of trash.

Four weeks later, we went out to dig up the trash in order to make observations about how quickly the different types of trash decomposed. Now that's an experiment that even I can't mess up!

Oh wait. Yes I can. Unbelievably, we couldn't find the trash. We even called in reinforcements. Still, no trash.

Through some kind of gypsy magic, the trash disappeared! Either that, or someone is trying to drive me insane like Adam did to Dixie all those years ago. (And let me tell you, that's a pretty short trip!) Or maybe we gave up too soon. It was very windy and chilly that day. Perhaps we'll find it when we plant our garden in the spring...if I'm not in a treatment facility by then.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Music To My Ears

Planning ahead for next week's history lesson on the patriots (not the modern day "patriots" who don't spell-check their protest signs, but the real patriots), I ordered Thing 3 a copy of The Declaration of Independence. It came from Amazon today. When I went to tuck my kiddo in tonight, he confessed, with a fair amount of guilt, "Hey Mom, instead of reading Johnny Tremain I read The Declaration of Independence. I hope it's ok. Sorry I didn't wait until next week."

I knew that ditching the twaddle was a good idea.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Learning With Oak Meadow

Learning is natural, school is optional.

I came across that quotation on an Oak Meadow board the other day. I don't know who said it first, but it really resonates with me. If I had a true homeschool room instead of dining room that the homeschool tsunami struck, I'd have that quotation painted on our wall.

Humans have an innate desire to learn. If you don't believe it, just spend some time with some boys who play Yu Gi Oh, Bakugan, or Pokemon. My boys have played or are currently playing all of these games. They can talk to you about the minutiae of the games until your eyes glaze over and your brain goes numb. At one point, my older boys knew the names and evolved states of all 200+ Pokemon. Seriously. They never took a class. They learned the details because they were interested and excited Pokemon, so learning about it was natural. (I should confess that during our Pokemon phase, which seemed to last years longer than it actually did, I often commented that I wished the children would put as much time and effort into memorizing, oh I don't know, something like the Periodic Table as they did into memorizing Pokemon.)

If you don't believe that learning is natural, just step into my kitchen right now and watch my daughter trying to teach herself how to use chopsticks. She's been at it for 15 minutes. There is no teacher standing over her and there will be no test. She got chopsticks on a field trip last week and she wants to learn to use them. It's that simple.

While the idea of unschooling appeals to me on some level, I have never bought into it completely. I think that people (and kids are people, too) need to be exposed to lots of different ideas and activities to find out where their interests lie. I also think there is value in learning about some things that one does not find particularly interesting at the outset. When my children ask, "Why do we have to learn about
that?", I like to tell them, "Because knowing things like this makes you a more interesting, well-rounded person." (It sounds so much nicer than, "Because I said so", doesn't it?)

Oak Meadow does such a great job of building on a child's natural desire to learn while gently guiding them through a fabulous, well-designed curriculum and exposing them to lots of interesting subjects and ideas. I see it as a homeschool curriculum with an unschool-y feel. Both of my children have studied topics this year that they probably would not have chosen to study had they never been exposed to them, and they have been excited about them. The OE Dad even commented again last night that we are having so many more, "Hey Mom! Listen to what I just read!" moments this year. I "blame" Oak Meadow.

Instead of asking a child to list 5 animals that live in the ocean, Oak Meadow asks them to, "Go to your library and check out a book about the ocean biome. Learn about ocean life. Describe 5 animals that live in the ocean and draw one of them." In response to that question, Thing 3 said, "I need to get a book on rare ocean life. I already know about dolphins, sharks and whales. I want to learn about ocean animals people don't know about." In fact, several times in the last few weeks, Thing 3 has gone beyond what was required in his research. Success!

When you take the "schooliness" out of school, as Oak Meadow does, learning is not confined to a certain time or place. It becomes natural again and can happen anytime, anywhere.

Learning is natural, school is optional.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Biomes and Deep Thoughts

Thing 3 is learning about the Earth's biomes so last week we headed out to Red Bud Valley Nature Preserve to do a little biome study. Red Bud Valley is interesting because in one relatively small area, you can observe both forest and grassland biomes. Because of the different conditions, the variety of plant life is vast.

I love nature walks because they offer so many opportunities to learn. On the cliff side of the preserve, we talked about rock formations and the different types of rocks we saw. My child who loves textures had to touch them all.

The kids did a little nature journaling.

Thing 3 did lots of observation and made many notes.

My hunter hunted.

And my gatherer gathered.

As I was walking behind my children, watching them experience their science lesson that day, it hit me that *this* is why I homeschool. Sure, the flexibility is great. No homework is great. I love that we don't do fundraisers anymore. Doing school in our pajamas is fun. But for me, it really all boils down to days like this...days when my children can spend time learning by doing, touching, seeing, hearing and smelling.

I'm so thankful for that I am able to spend this kind of time with these sweet children and I know that I will never regret a moment of it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


We took a little field trip to the polling place yesterday so I could vote. Initially, the kids grumbled about having to go, but we had a great discussion as a result of them tagging along. They had lots of really good questions. It's so interesting, because they have gone to vote with me many times but they have never been as curious as they were this time. I like to think it's because they are in an environment now where they are encouraged to ask lots of questions and to think outside the multiple choice bubbles. Or it could have been a fluke. I'm going with theory number one because it validates my existence and makes me feel better about not being able to shop the clearance aisles at Target while they are in school.

After voting, we talked about why there are partitions at the voting booths and the importance of a secret ballot. We discussed the 19th amendment and the fact that women didn't have the right to vote until 1920. (That discussion led us to a mini-study on the Women's Suffrage Movement. We are reading a great book on the subject. Why have I not studied this until now?)

We talked about different political offices and about term limits. We also talked a little about why it's important to exercise your right to vote, even when there is a better chance that you will win the lottery after getting struck by lightning than there is that most of the candidates for whom you vote will win...not that this ever happens to this slightly liberal independent who lives in Oklahoma. I'm just saying...

I love homeschooling. Everything is a lesson.


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