Monday, June 30, 2014

Happy 238th Birthday America!

My Yankee Doodle baby
Our preschoolers celebrated the 4th of July a few days early this year. The group's founder pulled out all the stops, putting together a sparkless sparkler craft (pictured above), two patriotic stories, tricolored costume pieces, patriotic marching band music, a preschool parade around the park's picnic area, and a picnic potluck.

This book - Betsy Ross by Becky White - was one of ours. The text is minimal ("Betsy ripped. Rip, rip."), but it does have a few preschool-vocabulary-expanding-words such as crimson and indigo. The amazing illustrations by Megan Lloyd are made entirely from fabric! (I sew, so when I look at these illustrations, I see how much work went into them, and I have so much respect for Megan Lloyd's artistry.) The book is simple, but in its simplicity, it teaches concepts like the first American flag had 13 stars, 7 red stripes, and 6 white stripes, that the stars were originally in a circle, and that another name for the flag is Old Glory. (The reason I'm including this information is because I always question whether or not a book is useful & beautiful or twaddle. This book is useful & beautiful.)

(image from
The sparkless sparkler craft is brilliant! It's festive and my three-year-old loves wands, so this is was a hit.

My daughter's sparkless sparker
You need a thin wooden dowel (you can even use a new unsharpened pencil for a shorter sparkler), red tape (wide), and items like sparkly garlands from Dollar Tree, a fake flower, and a styrofoam star on a stick. You can also use sparkly pipe cleaners and curling ribbon curls. You lay down a strip of red tape as long as your wooden dowel, put the dowel in the middle of the tape, and lay down your fun sparkly accoutrements at the top. Wrap the tape around the dowel and sparkly stuff. Finally, take a short piece of red tape and wrap it around the top to secure everything in place. You're done!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Outdoor Library

On a quiet corner in our neighborhood, one homeowner - I've never met this person - has set up a library. While I sat today reading to my three year old, an older man came up and "checked out" a book. There are no cards, no late fees, and there is no librarian.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Charlotte Mason Meet Cooperative Grouping

In a public school classroom, an alternative to whole class instruction in cooperative grouping. This is exactly what it sounds like: students work cooperatively in groups. What is the role of the teacher, what are the roles of the students, and how can one use the Charlotte Mason method in conjunction with cooperative grouping?

The teacher's role is to:
2)State the Learning Objective

Some students' roles include facilitator, timekeeper, writer/recorder, artist, reporter, encourager, praiser, cheerleader, gatekeeper, coach, question commander, checker, taskmaster, secretary, reflector, quiet captain, materials monitor, safety patrol.

Now for a question on which I'm reflecting: How can one use the Charlotte Mason method - which Ms. Mason did not design for cooperative grouping - in conjunction with cooperative grouping? For example, would Group Narration prove effective?

(For people familiar with Literature Circles, Group Narration would not be the same thing.)

I've only started thinking about this, so I'll post more after I've reflected a bit.

Thursday, June 26, 2014


The theme for VBS this summer is Workshop of Wonders. Every morning this week, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., I've been attending Vacation Bible School with my three-year-old. (We've never done drop off, and a group of preschoolers can always use an extra grown-up to blow up balloons or assemble a curvy swervy race car ramp.) These pictures show some of what my three-year-old has been up to this week (and why I've been way too worn out to blog).

Thursday was Slide and Snow Cone Day!
Playing "Make Me an Instrument" in Music Class
In the sanctuary, talking to the puppet mascot (an ant named Rivet)
Walking home after VBS through the Wednesday Farmers' Market with a blue sky painted on her forehead - it's what she asked for. Also, it was Crazy Hair Day, so she has half a dozen little pony tails. (She ate that entire basket of raspberries.)
Tuesday's snack was fresh fruit in a waffle cone, topped with whipped cream. It was Color Day, and the preschoolers are the blue group.
Planting seeds in plastic cup terrariums in Science Class
Making a sand angel

Playing dress-up


Though we only live a mile from the church, it takes us two hours to walk home. We stop at the mall's food court for lunch and play-time in the play area. Then, she gets to walk around the Disney Store for exactly three minutes (when my phone's timer goes off, it's time to go). We continue on to the court house because there's a fountain filled with lily pads and seagulls, and it has a shallow water feature that little ones can splash in. The last leg of our journey involves stopping at the civic center's covered walkway and calling out "Echo!" until we are satisfied with the quality of our echoes.

You would think she would need a nap after all that - Mommy sure does - but napping is so last week.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Birds and Mastodons

Citizen Science Projects for Kids

Last week, I had dinner with two of my mentors from grad school, one of whom - Sharman Apt Russell - is coming out with a book on citizen science in the fall. The book is called Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World. The book is available October 1st, so I haven't read it yet, but because I've read several of Sharman's other books (Hunger, An Obsession with Butterflies, Anatomy of a Rose, Songs of the Fluteplayer, etc.) I'm fairly certain I will love it.

Citizen science is when amateurs participate in scientific research. As part of her research, Sharman participated in several citizen science projects, including one about tiger beetles, hence the subtitle of her book.

When I googled "citizen science" with interest in bringing a project into my public school 4th grade classroom, way too many results popped up. Where does one start?

I asked Sharman for ideas about projects I could do in the fall, and here are the two she suggested...

Her daughter Maria is a third grade teacher, and Sharman adapted the Mastodon Matrix project for use in Maria's classroom. For the mastodon project, citizen scientists sift through a kilo of dirt from a mastodon excavation to find and bag "shells, bones, hair, pieces of plants, and rocks."

The second project Sharman suggested was Celebrate Urban Birds which involves watching an area for birds for 10 minutes and submitting data to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Sounds like a fun Nature Study project!

*The above photo is from the Paleontological Research Institute (Mastodon Matrix).

Friday, June 20, 2014

Cursive will no longer be taught. Right?

4th through 6th graders in Charlotte Mason schools transcribed "two perfectly-written lines every day."

The truth is that Common Core is silent about cursive. Basically, it's up to the state. But, because students are not tested on cursive, and they are tested on whether or not they can convey their ideas using a keyboard, states will most likely de-emphasize cursive instruction. After all, there are only so many hours in the day.

"Experts have said handwriting training helps small children develop hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and other brain and memory functions. Mims [an educator] said cursive writing could be important for children who grow to be a surgeon, a painter or some other professional requiring laser-like precision with their hands." (From a USA Today article)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Tim's Vermeer

Tim Jenison's painting on the left; Vermeer's original painting on the right*

Tim's Vermeer is the most fascinating documentary I've seen this year. It's about a man named Tim Jenison and his obsession with discovering how Johannes Vermeer was able to paint the way he did. (Its PG-13 rating is solely for language - 3 words, one of which is in print and two of which are spoken in a scene where the wind blows down Jenison's window.)

Vermeer lived in the 1600s in the Dutch Republic. When Vermeer died, he left his family in debt, and there are only 34 paintings attributed to him (Van Gogh produced about 900); Vermeer probably painted very slowly. When you look at Vermeer's paintings, you'll notice they're mostly interiors. You'll also notice that some objects are used in multiple paintings (like the viola da gamba and the blue chair in The Music Lesson above).

Jenison is a successful inventor, and his success has afforded him the time and money to pursue his interests. A few years ago, he became curious about Vermeer's paintings. Jenison (whose company produces video tools and visual imaging software) thought Vermeer's paintings looked like video images. He had to figure out how Vermeer had done it. He read books about Vermeer. He traveled to the Netherlands so he could visit Vermeer's house. He learned to read Dutch.

Jenison believed that Vermeer must have used a camera obscura and an angled mirror. To read about this, click here.

To test his hypothesis, Jenison built a room that looked exactly like the one in The Music Lesson. He ground his own lens for his camera obscura, ordered a viola da gamba, and bought a Persian carpet for $8,000 in an auction. He had his daughter, on her month-long vacation home from college, pose in a 17th century costume with her head in a head clamp. He made his own paint.

Then he started painting. It took Jenison 130 days to paint his Vermeer, and he estimates Vermeer took just as long. Remember, only 34 paintings are attributed to Vermeer, and his career was over 20 years.
As Jenison painted, he noticed that he was painting the harpsicord with a curve - a mistake - but a mistake that Vermeer himself had made in the original. Vermeer would not have done this had he not viewed the room through a lens (a lens is curved and curved the harpsicord's straight lines).

Additionally, the human eye can't distinguish shades of white when they aren't right next to each other. This is demonstrated in the film. So how did Vermeer paint the white walls of his studio? You'll have to watch the documentary because it can only be explained visually.

Jenison's whole project took about five years, and his finished painting now hangs above the fireplace in his bedroom.

*This image is from

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Amelia Bedelia

 As a little girl, I loved the original Amelia Bedelia books. A couple of days ago, our neighbor gave my three-year-old a set of Amelia Bedelia books - three featuring the adult Amelia I had grown up with, and three featuring a little girl Amelia. The little girl Amelia books are Level 1 in the I Can Read! series, while the adult Amelia books are Level 2.

There are two things I like about these books. First, they're sweet. Some characters marketed to children whine, pout, and roll their eyes, but not Amelia. Amelia is an optimist who respects grown-ups and looks for solutions to problems.

Second, these books teach figurative language. My daughter was especially interested in a picture illustrating the idea of being "torn between two choices." I explained as best I could, and the next day, when she was "reading" to herself on the bed, and I heard her say, "Amelia is imagining she's paper." Yes, she is.

If you're looking for books for your Year 0/pre-1st daughter, I highly recommend little Amelia Bedelia.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Beach Fairy

"They must be kept in a joyous temper all the time, or they will miss some of the strengthening and refreshing held in charge for them by the blessed air."
-Charlotte Mason, Vol. 1 pg. 44

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Is Your Child Gifted?

Does your child display the following traits?

In the school district where I work, all 2nd graders take the Otis-Lennon School Achievement Test (OLSAT). Students with high enough scores are referred for gifted identification. But students who do not meet the OLSAT's criteria can be identified as "gifted/talented" if they frequently or consistently display:

1)Strong powers of reasoning, ability to make comparisons and generalizations, and ability to see cause-and-effect relationships.

2)Ability to concentrate, to become totally submerged and absorbed in an assignment, project, or activity.

3)Approaches tasks in unexpected, unusual, and original ways.

4)Ability to use humor to make a point, to change a situation to gain an advantage, or to connect diverse knowledge.

5)Displays keen powers of perception and observation that can frequently detect fallacies and inconsistencies.

6)Thinks of and asks questions which involve logical-thinking processes.

7)Shows fluency in his/her native language; uses expressive speech, extensive vocabulary, and natural communication skills.

8)Improvises with commonplace materials and objects.

9)Shows a "street sense" and is recognized by others as a person who has the ability to "make it" in the dominant society.

10)Uses body language and gestures expressively; has ability to interpret body language.

11)Displays inner conflicts about academic achievement.

12)Enjoys group activities and problem solving; relates well to peers and is respected by them and is seen as a leader (may be perceived as leading in a negative way).

13)Uses richness of imagery in informal language.

14)Is sensitive and empathetic to the feelings of others but is impatient with illogical, careless, or disorganized thinking.

15)Possesses a sense of justice and fairness, intuitively understands why certain behavior is positive and another is negative.

16)Is highly sensitive to social and moral issues, particularly those in which the student's sense of reason seems to be violated.

17)Likes flexibility in scheduling and experience; is resistant to routine drill.

18)Demonstrates high-level social skills and leadership qualities. Enjoys competition but also works in cooperation with others.

Teachers mark students on a scale of 1 through 5, 1 being "no opportunity to observe," 2 being "seldom," 3 being "occasionally," 4 being "frequently," and 5 being "consistently."

When I was in 5th grade in Central California, I took a test, was identified "gifted," and was accepted at a magnet for gifted and talented children. I was so excited to attend a special school.

Because I started the school (a 2nd-6th grade school) in 6th grade, I was the new kid with no friends. On top of that, I had three hours of homework each night. I was miserable. So my mother removed me from the school.

My parents had raised me in a way that encouraged reasoning, creativity, humor, and so on, and so every time I look at this checklist, I see these traits as habits, trainable, the result of nurture. While a child may be predisposed to being highly intelligent - as Charlotte Mason said -
Education is an atmosphere.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Field Trip - Santa Monica Festival

"To invent, 
you need 
a good imagination 
a pile of junk." 
My three year old dressed herself today - in her Sully costume, complete with Velcro tail - for our field trip to the Santa Monica Festival, a community event that is held at a nearby park each year.

We started off by visiting the fire department's booth for a yellow plastic fire fighter's hat.

Next up, my daughter played in the "pop-up playground" made from cardboard boxes and cardboard tubes. The above quote is by Thomas Edison and was displayed at the entrance.

Worried that my child would be smashed by rambunctious boys jumping on top of boxes to flatten them, I pulled her away to the dance floor where she Zumba'ed for a good twenty minutes. We followed that up with a blue and green snow cone, two children's music classes, dribbling a soccer ball up and down (and up and down) the field, and dress up at a booth run by a group that does children's theatre camp.

My daughter hasn't napped all week, but this afternoon she slept for three hours!

Thursday, June 12, 2014


In Parents' Union Schools, 4th through 6th graders took "under direction, six scouting expeditions" per term. This works out to one every two weeks. This site has Baden Powell's 1908 book on scouting. A fun read.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Puzzle Math

A fun preschool/kindergarten math activity you can make yourself.

Here's what you need:
Index cards
Do-A-Dot paints

I wanted to introduce addition, so I took 4 index cards and made the following facts:
3 + 0
2 + 1
1 + 2
and I meant to make 0 + 3, but - oops - I made a second 3 + 0

Charlotte Mason used dominoes. I didn't have dominoes, and I didn't want to buy dominoes, so I made something with what was on-hand. The result? My daughter loved it. Who doesn't love puzzles?

The Brainy Bunch book - Part 3

Questions answered about The Brainy Bunch...

Yesterday, Paola Collazo asked the following:
Does the book mention what Universities the children have attended? Does it mention a typical day for them? Do these kids get to be kids? Does it feel like this is something the parents want accomplished, or are the children interested as well? How do they prepare their children spiritually? What is their reason for starting college at 12? Again, thanks for your valuable input.

I hope this helps...

1)Does the book mention what Universities the children have attended?
Cuesta College (San Luis Obispo, California - their oldest took an online algebra class)
California College of the Arts
Faulkner University
Huntingdon College
Foothill College (California)
Allan Hancock (College Now! program)
Auburn University
Santa Clara University (California)
CSU East Bay

2)Does it mention a typical day for them?
On page 124, there is a "sample schedule" for Katrinnah (on the cover, she is listed as age 10).
*Dress, breakfast, chores
*Bible study, ACT review (one section per day), & writing
*Reading (history & science), math, Spanish, violin or piano
*2:30 p.m. - play outside
*No homework, just free reading

(Note that subjects such as literature - including Shakespeare and poetry - art appreciation, and music appreciation are not mentioned.)

3)Do these kids get to be kids?
I guess it depends on your definition of "kid." There is an implication that if a child goes a traditional route, the child will be subjected to the negative aspects of the teen years, and that if a child spends their teen years in college, they will be so focused on their future that they will bypass negative pressures.

4)Does it feel like this is something the parents want accomplished, or are the children interested as well? 
This is the culture of their family. With the older children entering college by 12, it is what the younger children consider "normal." It seems that the children want to do it both because it is what their parents want, and because it's just what one does when one is a Harding.

5)How do they prepare their children spiritually? 
Bible is part of their daily schedule. "By age six we are teaching...Bible stories... By age eight the children are learning Bible truths and are learning to really verbalize them... By age ten they are reading the Bible independently and figuring out what they really believe and why..." (page 101). The book also mentions participation in AWANA and attending church.

6)What is their reason for starting college at 12?
When their first daughter, Hannah, reached Mona Lisa's level of proficiency in math (Algebra II, she writes that she was "too tired to relearn trigonometry," Kip realized Hannah could be earning dual credit for high school and college by enrolling in an online class. That was their reasoning for their first child, but ultimately, they see high school as a waste of time, a hoop to jump through ("It should not have to take four whole years to cover four years of high school, especially if you homeschool all year-round" page 55). On page 61, the Hardings write, "In the course of a lifetime, people change their jobs and careers several times. I expect my children might also do the same. Why not start the process early?" One could also ask WHY? On page 71, they write, "Although they may be eighteen or younger when they receive their baccalaureate degrees, they will still face the same challenges the twenty-two- or twenty-three-year-old graduates face with having little job experience. It is better to face that earlier than later." These are opinions. The Hardings offer no statistical evidence to support these statements.

What it all boils down to is that a homeschooler's experiences (in life and with education) influence his or her educational philosophy. Maybe Kip Harding (who went back to school when his oldest children were very young, and is currently working on a doctorate in education) wishes he'd had the opportunity to accomplish more earlier and wants to give that opportunity to his children. I think the Hardings are well-intentioned and what they are doing works for them. But this book should be read as more of a memoir than a manual of "The Harding Family Method to College Ready by Age Twelve" (the book's subtitle).

For the two previous posts about this book, click here and here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

More on "The Brainy Bunch" book

The Brainy Bunch by Kip and Mona Lisa Harding has some useful information, but there are parts with which I disagree:

1)"Professional educators" do not diagnose children with ADD. (On page 16, the Hardings write, "We won’t address the issue of ADD in this book except to say that many a child has been mislabeled by professional educators only to completely excel when brought home to be educated.") ADD is a mental disorder (included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). Teachers train to teach; doctors train to diagnose and treat medical conditions. Teachers keep records of their observations, and sometimes those observations include things like This morning, shortly after entering the classroom, Student X took apart his mechanical pencil and, using the pieces and a rubber band, built a weapon with it. When a teacher is concerned about a student, the teacher requests a meeting with parents and other faculty (an administrator, a counselor, a resource teacher, the school psychologist, etc.). The parents may choose to have their child assessed by a doctor, but this is up to the parents. The child's doctor can then determine if the child has special needs. (To take this one step further, when I send a child to the nurse, I can only report facts, such as Student X says she feels hot. I cannot say Student X has a fever, because this is a diagnosis.) I agree that my student who took apart the mechanical pencil would be better educated in a one-on-one setting, however, I do not agree that he would be better educated at home because this particular child's stay-at-home parent cannot read.

2)Sometimes God orchestrates things so that the father will be the stay-at-home parent. (On page 31, the Hardings write, "My husband and I have an understanding that he will be the provider and I will be the keeper of the home. This works for us. My role as a wife and mother gives me a lot of joy and security. I put my trust in God to provide for us through my husband. I know this may not be a popular view, but it is a biblical one.") To doubt that God will provide through whomever He has placed in the role of provider would be anti-biblical, but it is not anti-biblical for a father to raise his child and a mother to work outside the home.

3)The Hardings have let their children live with relatives, in dorms, and in apartments while they are still minors. While this has worked for them, I think it is definitely one of the issues a parent has to consider before following the Hardings' college by 12 plan. 

4)On page 89, the Hardings write, "This is a great disaster that has come upon families around the world. Instead of beautiful, thriving, bountiful households, people settle for smaller visions, short-term results, and simpler expectations. We all need to trust in God's Word more. He did not say, 'Be fruitful and divide,' nor 'subtract,' nor even 'add,' but 'Be fruitful and multiply.'" It's wonderful that the Hardings have chosen to have ten children, but to use Old Testament commandments (to Adam and Eve to initially populate the earth, to Noah to repopulate the earth, and to Jacob to father the Israelite nation) to judge other - less fruitful - people as contributing to a great disaster is preposterous and offensive.

5)Short essays written by the Harding children are interspersed throughout the book. These essays are well-written and sweet, but not literary. One of the things that draws me to Charlotte Mason is the emphasis on literature. I want my daughter's writing to be grammatically correct, generous, and artful.

6)The Hardings don't do lab science with their children (pg. 147). Their children read books about science, and when they go to college, they do lab science at school.

7)Chapter 14 ("Ideas, Exercises, and Experiments") is uninspiring. There are better suggestions on homeschoolers' blogs and Pinterest pages.

8)On page 154, the Hardings write about why their children do not do extracurricular activities: "We do not always explain that we choose to pursue extracurriculars at the college level. We do not want to hurt their feelings but we think it is important for others to see our kids as college students." In Fresno, California, where I was born and raised, I participated in community theater with Good Company Players. On Sunday, another Fresnan and Good Company Players player Audra MacDonald won her sixth Tony Award. In her acceptance speech, MacDonald thanked her parents for "disobeying the doctors’ orders and not medicating the hyperactive girl, and finding out what she was into instead, and pushing her into the theater." This is up to parents. Extracurriculars can be costly and time consuming, or (like community theatre) free and time consuming, but they can also be the way children discover what they are good at and passionate about. 

For my earlier post about The Brainy Bunch, click here.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Tortilla Face

A fun preschool dinner your child can make

To make a tortilla face, you need 1 tortilla, a cherry tomato, refried beans, whole beans, olives, an orange (not pictured), and shredded cheese.
Your child can spread refried beans on a tortilla.
Let your child make bean eyebrows and bean smile.
This is where she got the idea.
Add sliced olives for eyes, a halved cherry tomato for a nose, and shredded cheese for hair. Microwave for one minute (my daughter didn't want to do this step). Add orange slices for ears. (You can add salsa or avocado, or both, if you like.)

In the end, my daughter ate the hair, the eyes, and the parts of the tortilla that weren't beany. I tried to get her to take a tiny taste of the other ingredients, but the only "new" food I could get her to taste (and by "taste" I mean lick) was an orange slice. So... it was a SUCCESS!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Brainy Bunch book review

I didn't post yesterday because I was busy reading Kip and Mona Lisa Harding's The Brainy Bunch, a book about how they homeschooled 6 of their 10 children into college by the age of 12.

It's an easy read - 195 pages.

The Hardings' story is intriguing. Their oldest daughter earned her BS in math at 17. Their second daughter finished her 5-year architecture program at 18 and became the American Institute of Architects' youngest member. Their third daughter graduated with a degree in biology at 17 and is now a Navy doctor. Their fourth child, a son, started college at 11, graduated with his BA in English at 15, and graduated with his MS in computer science at 17. Their fifth child, another son, is 15 and a senior in college, majoring in music.

How did they do it?

Basically, they found ways to enroll their children in college by 12:

*Some colleges offer high school concurrent enrollment. For example, at Santa Monica College, a child who has "completed 8th grade" can enroll in up to 6 units or 2 classes per semester, and receive credit in both high school and college simultaneously.

*In California, children in 10th grade (or - what the Hardings would call the back-door in - taking 10th grade level classes) can take the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE) and receive a high school diploma. The test only assesses language arts (reading and writing) and math. A child with a diploma can then enroll in college.

*Children of any age can take the SAT and the ACT - which also only test reading, writing, and math - and children can take it as many times as parents want to pay for it. A high enough score can qualify a student for college enrollment. This is how the Hardings do it now, because they now live in Alabama where there isn't an exam like the CHSPE.

I agree with letting your child move ahead when they're ready. At the beginning of my 12th grade year, I was bored with high school. I wanted out. I wasn't interested in prom, Grad Night (an all-nighter field trip to Disneyland), or high school graduation - which were the only carrots my high school counselor could dangle when he tried to talk me out of graduating a semester early.

Every year, I had participated in Mock Trial, earning a semester's credit each year. I had also taken chemistry in summer school so I could tutor two periods a day at the elementary school and take a third year of drama. I talked my Mock Trial coach (who also taught English) into letting me tack an independent study English class onto my schedule, and viola! I had enough credits to graduate in January instead of June.

I enrolled at the community college, and - because the college semester started before my high school semester ended - for the last two weeks of high school, I went to high school Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and college Tuesday and Thursday.

But back to the Hardings...

They do the following:
*Teach their children to read at age 4 or 5.
*Talk about what their children like to read and have them read more of it.
*Do math daily, getting to prealgebra and algebra by 8 or 9, even if their child doesn't have math facts memorized.
*Have their children write daily. Mom edits. Child corrects. They teach the 5-paragraph essay by age 11.
*They have their children read high-school level books (history, science, etc.) by 8 or 9.
*Have them start studying the SAT/ACT study guides by 8 or 9, have them take the SAT or ACT at age 10 as a practice run, and then work on whatever area that needs work.

I like a lot of this book. But I also disagree with some things. Maybe I'll post about this topic another day, but for now, I'll mention this:

The Hardings recommend having your child read anatomy books if they "want to go premed or Shakespeare if they want to major in English." But why shouldn't an English major have some understanding of anatomy? And why shouldn't a premed student read Shakespeare?

I think they should.

Friday, June 6, 2014

My Favorite Referral to the Nurse This Year

Are you able to read this? Back on May 7th, I sent a student to the school nurse because he had a "wheel in nose."

In case you have a hard time deciphering the nurse's writing, here is what it says:
Small wheel in [left] nostril. 
Unable to remove. 
Parent called. 
Home w/mom.
Curious as to what kind of wheel fits up a nostril? It was one of those tires off a miniature skateboard, and the student thought it would be funny if he shot the tire out of his nose by covering the other nostril and blowing. As you can see from the referral, it didn't work.

Going Off Script

The other day, I responded to a comment by saying that some public school teachers are afraid to think outside the box.

As homeschoolers, we already think outside the box. Homeschoolers are brave. So the idea that other educators would be afraid to think outside the box, to deviate from the mandated/scripted curriculum, is probably pretty perplexing.

But the reason many teachers follow the script is so they’ll have documentation they did so. Teachers are evaluated on a list of “elements” so long that it would take me a month’s worth of blog posts to detail them all. And while homeschool educators evaluate ourselves, public school teachers are evaluated by administrators who determine who is effective and ineffective. So it's documentation, documentation, documentation.

(There have been lots of complaints that teachers get “tenure,” which is not true; teachers go from probationary to permanent, but permanence does not mean permanent. It does not mean you get to laminate your lesson plans, prop your feet up on your desk, and read a newspaper, while your students answer questions at the end of a textbook chapter. As a permanent teacher with good evaluations, I was made to change subjects (from English/history to math/science). Then, I was – due to budget cuts – pink-slipped (and rehired) a couple of years in a row. Finally, three years ago, I was “displaced” from my first school, because my school’s population had decreased by about a hundred students, and I had the least seniority of all the 6th grade teachers. (Two of my 6th grade teacher-colleagues from my first school retired this year.)

How we’re evaluated…

Teachers must demonstrate that they know each subject they teach – and for elementary teachers, that means Reading, English Language Development Reading, Writing, English Language Development Writing, Listening, English Language Development Listening, Speaking, English Language Development Speaking, Math, Science, Health, Social Studies, Physical Education, and Arts (Visual, Performing, Dance, Music).

We must also show we know how the subjects within each discipline relate to each other, and integrate with each other. For example, in math, I need to know how algebra is related to and integrates with geometry, and I need to show that I know this.

We must show we understand the pedagogy of each subject we teach. For example, we must show we know effective ways to teach writing, based on research into writing pedagogy. The “effective” teacher uses technology, shows an understanding of 21st Century skills, and must show she has anticipated the misunderstandings students will have during lessons. Also, we must show we have an “extensive, current, and accurate knowledge of how” the students we teach learn (age group/development). And we can’t forget those 21st Century skills!

Teachers need to track each students’ “skills, knowledge, and language proficiency” and demonstrate the use of this data in lesson planning, and planning for intervention (remediation). We must also collect information about each students’ special needs to plan and accommodate. On top of that, we must use our students’ interests, families, and cultural heritages to plan our lessons, as to “encourage” students.

I had 33 students this year, and am evaluated as to whether or not I meet the needs of ALL of them. I am with them for one year. Only one year. And only from the hours of 8:20 a.m. to 2:44 p.m.

As parents, we know our children. We are with them from birth. We don’t have to learn their names each year, do ice breakers so they will – hopefully – like us each year, have them fill out questionnaires about their likes and dislikes each year. (This topic is worth a post of its own.)

I’m summarizing these “elements” from a 35-page booklet, and I’ve only discussed through page 6 so far.

So, when I say some teachers have a fear of going off script, I hope this helps begin to show why.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Geography in 4th Grade

This year, in my public school 4th grade classroom, Friday mornings I taught Geography. We read about different countries, colored maps, looked up how to pronounce place-names. Last night, I reread Charlotte Mason's writing about geography more closely and am wondering how I want to go about teaching geography next year...

Form II (A and B)* are engaged with the counties of England, county by county, for so diverse are the counties in aspect, history and occupations, that only so can children acquire such a knowledge of England as will prove a key to the geography of every part of the world, whether in the way of comparison or contrast. For instance, while I write, the children in IIA are studying the counties which contain the Thames basin and "Write verses on 'The Thames'" is part of their term's work. Our Sea Power, by H. W. Household, is of extraordinary value in linking England with the world by means of a spirited account of the glorious history of our navy, while the late Sir George Parkin, than whom there is no better qualified authority, carries children round the Empire. They are thrown on their own resources or those of their teachers for what may be called current Geography. For instance, "Learn what you can about The Political Map of Europe after the Great War."
(Vol. 6, pg. 225)

Students in grades 4 through 6 studied the geography of their country, not the world.

Do I want to continue to teach world geography? Or do I want to focus on the geography of California?

Brandy Vencel, Ambleside Online board member and Afterthoughts blog author, suggests using the book The Cruise of the Arctic Star by Scott O'Dell. She also laid out a 36-week schedule (here). After listening to a sample of the audiobook, I'm considering using this book as a read aloud next year.

I think it's important to look at the exam questions for Form IIB (4th grade). As a public school teacher, I have to backwards plan, which means I have to consider how I will test students before anything has been taught.

Exam questions looked like this:
1)Describe a visit to _____.
2)What do you know of _____? (Insert a specific geographical feature or historical figure.)
3)Give a short description of _____ and say where it is.
4)Give a rough sketch map of _____(county), putting in the boundaries, chief towns and rivers.
5)Describe (or What do you know of) [a series of three places]?
Specific questions included:
1)Tell the story of a piece of coal. [If you're curious, I found a book by Edward A. Martin titled The Story of a Piece of Coal.]
2)Why is it necessary to keep the ocean highways guarded? How did England become policeman of the seas in the Great War?
3)What products does New Zealand send to England?
4)Describe a visit to the Lake District. What mountains and lakes could you see?  
5)Write what you can about Drake and his "Golden Hind."


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Last Week

Tomorrow is the last day of school!

Today, my students had their end-of-year party. I let them bring board games and food, and they played while I filled out cumulative folders and English Language Development portfolios, packed a little more, and threw away things that could go.

Teachers who are moving from one grade level to another are also physically moving to other classrooms. (At my school, all of the third grade classrooms are close to each other, all of the fourth grades are close to each other, and so on.) So, there has been a lot of talk this week about the way teachers "hoard."

It's true. We hold on to what we have, and we amass more. When a teacher retires and puts out a box of freebies, we take all that our arms will carry, and we run back for more. We stuff our cabinets. When we are made to move from one classroom to the next, we take all we have and discover that the previous teacher has left things behind; we keep those too. We never know when we might need something. We fear that one day we will be made to change grade levels and so we take and hold onto books and supplies for grades other than our own; we might need them. We save all sorts of little objects because we might need them for crafts. We take items when they're offered, because we fear they will never be offered again.

But in thinking about Charlotte Mason, it's easier to let go. What is the best book I can use? Is this the best material I have to teach this topic, or do I have better?

One more day...

Monday, June 2, 2014

More Afterschooling Ideas

Yesterday, I posted about Charlotte Mason Afterschooling. Today, here are three more ways to supplement your child's public school education...

Read bedtime stories. When I was little, my mom read to my brother and me all through elementary school. She read one Bible story and one chapter from a classic. (Every four weeks, a leather-bound book with gold-edged pages and a sewn-in satin ribbon arrived in the mail from Easton Press.) Some parents stop reading bedtime stories to their children once their children can read independently. Don't. Read a story from the King James Version of the Bible. Read a couple of poems by the same poet. Read a classic like Alice in Wonderland or The Jungle Book. Read a story version of a play by Shakespeare (adapted by Nesbit or Lamb). Just read.

Have one night a week be Foreign Language night. Check out Mango Languages (available free from the public library), or DuoLingo (super super fun!). During the week, incorporate new vocabulary and speak French-lish, or Span-glish, or whatever "-lish" you've chosen.

Make one night a week be handicraft night. A very simple way to start could be a weekly origami project. Or cook together. Make one new recipe. It doesn't have to be a whole meal; it can be a side dish.

How do you afterschool?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Charlotte Mason Afterschooling

A friend and I were talking Friday. She is a full-time teacher, like me, but unlike me, her daughter goes to public school. My friend wishes she could to give her daughter a Charlotte Mason education, but homeschooling is not a possibility. One solution is to afterschool.

The word "afterschool" has become a verb. Some parents who send their children to public and private schools supplement their children's educations after school, on weekends, and on school vacations.

My first suggestion is to look at what your child is already receiving at school (language arts, math, possibly science, possibly social studies, etc.). The reason I say "possibly" is because language arts and math are tested, which means some teachers teach these subjects to the exclusion of other subjects.

More than likely, your child is not receiving classical music appreciation. Choose a composer to study for twelve weeks, buy a CD, or get one at the library, or pull up a video on YouTube, and listen. Listen on the car ride home, or while doing homework, or during bath time.

If your child is not receiving art instruction, buy your child and yourself sketchbooks and kneaded rubber erasers. Choose one day of the week to be Drawing Day, and stick to it. Give her an everyday object like a fruit or vegetable, or an object she found outside, or an object inside. Give her an apple, a shoe, a leaf, or a lemon. Draw with her.

There are four weekdays left...

Make one day Nature Walk Day. Just go for a walk. Buy the book What Tree is That? published by the Arbor Day Foundation. Find a tree to identify, and follow the book's directions. Repeat next week with a new tree.

Make one day Picture Study Day. Choose an artist to study for twelve weeks, find a new painting by the artist each week (this is a good place to start, and the Met just made its collection available online, and there are lots of paintings available through Wikimedia Commons), and ask your child to tell you about it. Don't tell, just ask questions. What do you see? What colors do you see? What shapes? Are they inside or outside?

Tomorrow, I'll post some ideas for the other two weekdays.