Today was our first "official" day of homeschool. Rich has decided that he wants to learn how computers work (why dream small, right?), and Brennan is going to learn about Firefighters. Rich began by dis-assembling an old PC we had laying around, determined to get the inside of the hard drive (more on that tomorrow). Brennan decided (with some prompting) to start building a fire station and truck out of our found items (boxes, plastic thingies, cardboard rolls, old egg cartons, etc.). Today he painted the house for the fire dog whom he named "IN" - mainly because he really likes the letter N.


Pushing Dominoes!

We spent a bit of time today learning about potential vs. kinetic energy.


The Value of Time and High Tops

Yes, I'm blogging on a Saturday. What's sleeping in?

Brennan got himself dressed today. This is a big deal because he rarely does that, but just in the last week something great has happened at our house.

We've slowed down.

See, when Rich was going to school, mornings were a mad rush, no matter how early we rose (Brush your teeth! Yes, all of them! How did you get dog food on your...nevermind - bring me the comb so I can get this donut out of your brother's hair!). After school wasn't much better because of soccer practice, cooking dinner, fighting off Jehovah Witnesses in the driveway, etc.

Now, Brennan ain't gonna hurry himself about anything, for anybody. He's on his own time schedule, and it's, shall we say, very Eastern (He'll get to it when he gets to it).

Thing is, he's perfectly capable of dressing himself, brushing his teeth, and getting the donut out of his own hair (or close enough that the glaze can be passed off as mousse). But he never did before, and it's because he didn't have time. When I kept rushing him, he'd simply give up.

Think about how this applies to the way we educate children. We rush them from one activity to the next, 10 minutes here, 10 minutes there, hurry through lunch, hurry through recess. Then we wonder why there's an ADD pandemic. It's OUR OWN FAULT.

I'm amazed at what kids can do, given the opportunity, and more importantly, the time. I think more than anything else, the next month will be a lesson in slowing down, re-inventing the wheel a bit, and allowing ourselves to be bored at times. In our fast-food obsessed and ulcer-ridden culture, the concept of doing something thoroughly and well has little value. But taking time to do it right and good is invaluable, and it's something most successful people realize early on.

Maybe they started with dressing themselves.


What About Socialization?

This is the number one objection I hear when I tell people we're going to homeschool. I've never had any fear about this. Rich makes friends with every one he meets, and Brennan could talk to a fence post (and does...). I have the opposite problem. Right now I'm trying to figure out how to get THIRTEEN kids out of my backyard so my boys will come in for dinner.

More on socialization later. Right now, FOOD.


What is Project-Based Learning?

This blog has a two-fold purpose: First, to give the boys a place to show everyone what they're learning. Second, to give some insight about project-based learning and why we've chosen this method of schooling for our kids. I'll try to throw out little tidbits as the months go by, but here's a primer for today:

Project-based learning is a more organic approach to learning than what happens in the traditional classroom (or among many homeschoolers for that matter). The word "organic" here probably translates to "hippie" or "artsy-fartsy" to some, but it simply means "natural." It begins with the premise that kids LOVE to learn, not with the premise that they must be forced to learn.

Don't believe that's true? Consider how many times a kid asks the question "why" in a given day.

Rich: "Dad, why do flies just land everywhere?" (We get LOTS of flies here in the Ozarks in summer)
Dad: Because they're looking for food.
Rich: Why?
Dad: Because they're hungry. Don't you get hungry?
Rich: Yeah, but not every few seconds. Why do they need to eat so much?
Dad: Well, they don't find food every time they eat. I think uh...also maybe their wings get tired? (You can see how quickly my knowledge of flies is exhausted).
Rich: But why can't they just get food in the air - like other insects?
Dad: They aren't carnivores.
Rich: What's a carnivore?
Dad: That means they don't eat meat

What's happening here? He doesn't know it, but he's asking about the digestive system of flies, nay of all living creatures. He's inquisitive about this and millions of other things.

The traditional approach to learning about this is as follows: "Wait till we get to that page in your science book and we'll do a worksheet about it."

The project based approach seizes on this area of interest (Rich is infinitely inquisitive about all things biological). We decide exactly what questions we want answered, then we observe actual flies, read books about flies, find fly experts to talk to, etc. until we've discovered every single thing he wants to know about flies. Now, he has an exhaustive knowledge of flies, but even better (and this is the important part) - No one gave him that knowledge on a platter. It's his because he got it himself, based on his own interest.

Along the way, we've been reading, writing, using math to figure out how fast a fly can fly, the average amount of landings per minute (hour, day, etc.). We've easily incorporated four core subjects into this deeper knowledge of flies. Most important of all, he learned how to find, assess, cull, and arrange the information he found - he learned how to learn.

This is just a hypothetical example, but you can see where project-based learning opts for a deep understanding of several topics that are of interest to the child, rather than a surface scraping hit-and-run of several hundred, as often happens in the traditional classroom. What they are learning about isn't as important as how they learn it and the fact that they want to learn it because it's already an area of interest.

We'll talk later about the boundaries and limitations of project-based learning, and give some examples of how this type of education works in real life.


Observational Drawings - Washington Regional Meditation Pool

We've not officially started school work yet, but we're trying to draw a little bit each day. The idea is to increase observational skills, and more importantly, to slow down and really spend some time working on producing something. We try to go to a different place each day. Brennan finishes very quickly because he'd rather explore, but Rich usually gets somewhere by himself and works for about ten or fifteen minutes uninterrupted. The quiet time is like a "reset" button for the day.

We're starting with simple paper and pencil but once we're in the habit we'll introduce colored pencils, textured paper, heavier lead pencils, etc. and eventually different kinds of paint. The idea is not to be graphic artists, but explore these tools and learn their differences. Heavy lead works differently from a No. 2 pencil, just as watercolor behaves differently from tempra paint. Change the type of paper and you get a completely different look. Here's the key: these principles can be applied to a wide variety of disciplines. We learn to use the correct tool in the correct way to express ourselves or solve problems, and to change tools when we're not achieving the desired result. These concepts are invaluable in math and writing, and essential in science.