Saturday, June 30, 2007

Winter Homeschooling

Here are a few pictures from a cold winter fortnight.

Josiah snuggled up on the couch reading about Julius Caesar.

Tessa cooking dinner.

The third photo was taken one day after we had had a particularly overloaded few days and I decided to schedule a holiday. Josiah and Tessa listened to a Harry Potter book on CD all day. While listening, Tessa knitted and Josiah played computer games from time to time. I can't remember what I did.

I was fascinated that Tessa's knitting had miraculously perfected itself since the last time she attempted knitting. Previously, her knitting has looked like most beginner knitters', i.e. with tension varying hugely and the occasional hole or tangled stitch. This time Tessa's knitting was flawless and beautifully even. All I can conclude is that she has developed improved finger control. Maybe all the climbing helps, LOL. I am reminded of a story in Discovery of the Child by Maria Montessori - where Montessori describes how the ability to sew completely eluded one child until Montessori thought to offer her a paper weaving activity. Once the child mastered paper weaving, she returned to attempts on sewing which were successful this time. Montessori wrote:

I realised that the necessary movement of the hand for sewing had been prepared without sewing, and that before teaching it is first necessary to find the way to teach. This is particularly true when it is a question of gaining facility in movements. ... In this way one could set himself to a task and be already capable of carrying it out without ever having directly put his hand to it, and he could complete it almost perfectly at the first attempt.

I thought that one might be prepared to write in this way. p194 -195

As a matter of fact, Tessa's handwriting, which has always been pretty untidy, has suddenly improved too. When I commented on this to Tessa, she said she'd simply decided to write more neatly.

Friday, June 29, 2007


I haven't heard many stories of what homeschooled children have done once they've grown up. This one is lovely, I think. The successful New Zealand band, Evermore is made up of three brothers who grew up homeschooling in Fielding, a small North Island town. Their attitude to their career is very much what I hope for my children: their focus is on facing new challenges and enjoying their experiences.

Kathryn Ryan interviewed them in an absorbing interview on Nine To Noon. (That's how I heard about them.) I would have put the link to the podcast here but I have just discovered that National Radio only keeps podcasts up for a week :( You can listen to one or two rather more trite television interviews on the Evermore TV page on Evermore's website.

You can also hear some of their songs on the Evermore TV page on the website. I love Light Surrounding You though if I was the lead singer I would want to work with a singing teacher to learn about other ways to use my voice.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

What We've Been Up To and Things to Do

Lots to write about but I don't seem to be finding much time to write. Quite a bit of the last fortnight was spent by me investigating various books recommended in The Well-Trained Mind. I ended up buying a bunch of them - on critical thinking, Latin and science ... the largest purchase of homeschooling resources I've made since buying several Montessori Research and Development manuals a number of years ago.

Since the science fair, we have carried on with our usual routine with one significant variation. We slept in several mornings and I was feeling guilty about not starting "work" at a "reasonable" hour, until Geoff made the comment that we could just shift our day forward. What lead to us sleeping in is that we often have activities on in the evenings: Boys Brigade finishes at 9pm, the kids' climbing classes and other climbing sessions take place in the evening. The kids come home hungry and buzzing; by the time they've eaten and wound down it's often 10pm. It doesn't seem right not to let them sleep until they wake naturally. So we are trialling a new system: I potter around by myself until the first child gets up, then I check on the other child - who is usually awake - and encourage them up for breakfast (I want the kids to breakfast together because it's working so well me reading history etc. to the children during breakfast). After that, we continue with our daily routine. We'll see how the late start pans out.

Both kids are pleased to be starting new science work. Tessa and I are reading How Nature Works and doing the experiments. Josiah and I are reading the chapter on forces and energy in The Way Science Works. Josiah hasn't so far wanted to carry out the experiments - I think he imagines them in his head and finds that sufficient. So far the experiments have all had obvious outcomes; maybe he'll want to try things for himself when we come to experiments outside his experience.

The kids continue to be absorbed in ancient Greece and Rome, both reading Horrible Histories books on the era as well as listening to me read in the mornings. Tessa has designed a Roman slave outfit which she plans to make.

Josiah keeps uncovering new ground with maths and geometry - I'm struggling to keep up.

There are several things I want to get done in the next day or two:

  • Re-write our daily schedule according to our new plan (i.e. flexible start time). The kids (and I!) like having it on the wall to check during the day.

  • Type up the training plan Tessa developed to prepare for her next climbing competition, and work out how to help her stick to it without taking it over.

  • Read the next section of the Montessori geometry manual and prepare the next geometry presentation for Josiah (probably won't be needed before next week). I don't even know off hand what topic is next in the sequence - we've just finished looking at the areas of polygons.

  • Prepare Josiah's next maths presentation (may be needed tomorrow) - investigating greatest common factor.

  • Think about the kids' bedtime routines, both for nights when they are out in the evening and for evenings at home. When the kids were younger I read to them, then supervised teeth brushing and getting into bed. These days, with bedtime being a couple of hours later, I am very tired myself (more-so than the children). I tend to just say goodnight and leave the kids to get to bed. But this isn't working as some nights they do not brush their teeth at all and some nights they are still playing in their rooms, not yet in their pyjamas, at 10.30pm at night! I think I need to accept that they need supervision at the end of the day. Maybe if I make sure I get some time to myself in the early evening so I'm not totally exhausted later on, and set aside 20 minutes to see the children brush their teeth and get into bed - maybe we could sing a song in bed or pray together or something nice to make it less of a chore for us all.

  • Read the next chapter in Drawing with Children and divide the lesson into a series of presentations.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Science Fair

Today was the homeschool science fair. It was quite small: about nine or ten exhibits and 25 - 30 children. Here is Tessa with her exhibit. I think I mentioned a while back that she chose to plant lettuce seeds in four different soils in an attempt to find the best soil for this purpose. I was quite chuffed that the lettuces grown in my home made compost did the best.

Josiah's project came to nothing as no wetas have yet made use of his weta hotel. We are wondering if wetas are disinclined to move home during winter or if perhaps our neighbourhood cats have eaten the local population - we often see cats in our garden at the moment.

Tessa worked so hard over the last fortnight putting together her exhibit that I half expected she would be put off the idea of doing a project next year but both children were inspired by attending the science fair. They talked all the way home in the car about what science fair projects they might do next year and are still discussing it now.

This is our third year attending the science fair. I'm always amazed at what children and their families have come up with. This year there was a young boy who (presumably with some help) had made string instruments demonstrating the three ways of changing the pitch of the note produced when a string is plucked. He had strings of varying weight strung across a wooden frame - the pitch got lower the heavier the string. He had identical strings strung across a frame at varying tensions - the pitch got higher the tighter the string. He had a frame strung with identical strings held at the same tension but the frame was triangular shaped so that the strings were all different lengths (like a harp) - the pitch got higher the shorter the length. There were several other exhibits equally fascinating.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Climbing competition at our home wall, HangDog

We had a great weekend at the climbing competition. Tessa climbed well in her first two climbs but she was disappointed in her climb in the final. Josiah climbed outstandingly in all his climbs. The judging was hard work: you stand looking up at the climbing wall till your neck and back ache. Complete concentration is required in order to notice every movement of the climber's hands so that at whatever point they fall off you can provide an accurate report of which hold they made it to and whether they only touched it, had a firm hold of it or moved on beyond it. You must also keep an eye on the climber's leg movements in case they put a foot out of bounds. But it was a good learning experience; the supervising judges whom I assisted were all very helpful. Geoff worked the entire weekend, belaying, spotting, organising the ropes, and at night (till the early hours of Saturday and Sunday morning) assisting the route setters. He slept most of Monday.

Josiah and Tessa were invited by the climbing wall staff to stay and help put the holds back on the walls on Sunday evening, setting new routes. This is something Josiah has been very keen to experience - they were both thrilled. Here is Josiah route setting from the scissor lift.

We came home exhausted and have achieved very little in the three days since. There is something to be learned here I think ... next time we have anything this big on (e.g. if we go away for a few days) I will trial scheduling two days' "holiday" immediately afterwards. I think if I had done that this time - not attempted to follow our normal routine until Wednesday - we might have felt ready for work on Wednesday. As it is, we are still low on energy and it's Thursday.

Josiah and Tessa both have colds today, Josiah's quite nasty, so I've told them we will have a holiday today except for a few things that need to be done (Thursday is the day we photograph Tessa's science fair project lettuces and she notes their appearance and measures their leaves). Hopefully we will be fully back on board tomorrow.