Thursday, January 30, 2014

Raising Up Hackers (Part 6)

The Dilemma

We've had a lot of problems lately with a certain student's time management skills. Ahem. Adding physical therapy twice a day hasn't helped the problem either. I should cut her some slack because she does have 45 minutes of exercises to do twice a day, but honestly one should be done before school and one before bed. That really shouldn't affect the school day in theory.

This particular student 'o mine really got my set of genes. She struggles with organization and I don't just mean "where's my book?" although that's a major problem on a daily basis. She struggles with "should I do this first? or this? Oh look! something shiny!!!" The last two weekends she's done hours of school on Saturday because she failed to finish so much during the week.

I've been trying to get her to see that small decisions all day long affect tomorrow. Yes, you can stop and play with Bee for a few minutes. Yes, you can play baseball after lunch. Yes, everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. These little choices mean you aren't going to finish today....and you'll be doing school on Saturday. I'm not sure the lesson has sunk in just yet.

And we've even dropped science for the time being and she still isn't getting finished! The other day I went over her lesson plans with her and said at the end, "So, go do math right now." Then I set the timer. It was 9 minutes until she actually started the lesson. Finding a pencil, sharpening pencil, gathering notebook, computer, cord, book, getting a drink, going to the bathroom. Good. Ness. Sake.

Sweetheart really does enjoy science experiments.
So how can I add in time to pursue her own interests? Her own interests right now seem to be stopping to watch Curious George with the baby. Until she gets herself more organized and her time management skills in check, how will she ever have time for interest-led learning? How will she ever have time to become a hacker??

I really didn't have an answer to this question until I found that link on the 20% project. (A little history here.)The idea that is forming in my head involves having both of them spend a portion of their day (at least 3-4 times a week) on learning something of their choosing. I will most likely set a time limit at first--like maybe 30 minutes a day. As they catch on to this, I hope to increase that time until they are spending quite a bit of time every week learning on their own.

Since we've never really done things like this, I can't just let it go and see what happens. All extra time I could carve out for them would get eaten up by playing and finding pencils. At first, we will have to be very purposeful about it. Perhaps it will flow more naturally later.

I also think I would like them to document their learning. In my mind, a smash-book type journal would be great. But I'll let them decide. The best thing I could do is set an example for them. I'm currently trying to learn about essential oils, so if they saw me making a smash-book on essential oils, that would be good. A lot of my research and learning I do on my ipad while sitting in the living room and so they really aren't even aware I'm doing anything other than looking at my ipad. A journal would show them that I am learning too. And they also will need to report to the family (maybe at the end of the month?) on what they have learned. Accountability.

So that's my plan. The dilemma stands. Time management and organization must be a part of our lives for this to work. But I will not wait until those skills are attained to begin. We will learn both and work on both simultaneously. And hopefully, this will turn into something they love and motivate them to get through that math work so they can do this each day.

Also I need a name for this time besides "20% project." Ideas?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Raising Up Hackers (Part 5)

One of the things I want to do to overhaul my daughters' education and make it more meaningful is to allow them time and resources to pursue their own interests. A child who is motivated to learn say....first going to learn SO much more than a child who has been assigned something to learn.

Of course there are things my daughters have no interest in learning that they still must--Math being king around here. That's not even up for discussion. Math is required by law. You need math to graduate. Math is happening. Within those parameters, we can play around a little. We will get into that next week.

Yesterday I asked you what your children chase after. What are they drawn to in their spare time? If you answered "watching TV" then we may have an issue. That certainly would have been my answer for Sweetheart about 5 years ago. She had definite couch potato tendencies. Getting rid of our TV was an excellent move for her future. So perhaps part of having time for children to pursue what interests them is having an environment that encourages that as well.

Sweetheart trying to learn math with Bee helping. 

In researching all of this, I found myself on a lot of unschooling blogs and websites. I have to tell you, reading about unschooling makes me twitch just a bit. When we first decided to homeschool and I was learning about it, I read Learning All the Time by John Holt. I remember I closed the book and said, "You know, I agree with what he's saying.....for little kids." I just couldn't see how my then 7 year old would EVER come to me and say, "Mom, I'd really like to learn how to do long division please???" Not happening. If I just totally let my children go with the attitude of "it doesn't really matter what they are doing because they are learning all the time!" I would have some seriously stupid kids. I do agree that Bee is learning all the time. Even the most mundane of activities helps her pick up new vocabulary and new concepts. Last night while I was rocking her before bed we  had to discuss the heater she heard come on, the air vent the heat comes out of, and the difference between heat and when we turn the fan on. With my 20 month old.

Captain Baby Sword
The Bible tells me that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child. Also that God is a God of order. That ramble around homeschooling lifestyle didn't seem wise to me. My children would not make wise choices. They would make easy choices. And their learning would be very disorganized.

Now before I get attacked by some unschoolers, let me say this. I KNOW there are unschoolers who have raised up successful, smart, awesome kids. Graduated them and sent them out into the world and it all worked great. I also think that that would work on some kids no matter what. But it's a percentage of children and families who could successfully do that--not everyone. Also, I know that unschooling families differ greatly in their methods. Some are truly hands-off, go on with life and leave the kids to their own thing. Others are very intentional about leaving the right resources lying about and guiding their children into learning. There is interest-led, delight-directed....all kinds of descriptions for what goes on in an unschooling homeschool.

But it got me thinking about the right environment. I think that is key. If I want Sweetheart to pursue writing, for example, then I need to provide her time and physical space to write! She has a school laptop she is writing her book on right now. Her dad has shown her how to do some things on the computer to make it easier. We make sure the girls keep their room cleaned up and the desk area straight. She has access to a camera to make the pictures for her book. Whatever she has asked for, I have tried to help her get. (She needed a board for a picture prop the other day.)
Little Bit working hard
If my child were interested in a topic, I would need to get them to the library and help them find resources. Or perhaps I would need to find a field trip for them to go on. I would need to help them search the web to answer questions they had. Knowing that some questions will require 5 minutes online and then they are satisfied, and some things might take days or weeks to pursue.

I thought about what I have done as an adult when I am interested in a topic. Here comes my super nerdy confession. I've kind of learned not to talk about this stuff because I always have gotten strange looks and yes been made fun of as an adult. We went to see Apollo 13 when it came out in theaters. I had never, I mean never heard of this event before! We went straight home from the movie theater and asked both S's mom and my dad if they remembered it.

Then while Dad was talking I was confused about the difference in the Apollo program, the Gemini program and the Mercury program. So I went to the library. Lost count of how many books I read. Watched documentaries on it. Watched an HBO special. Read more. Then I found myself sitting on the floor in "the stacks" at the old library thumbing through the bound copies of LIFE magazine that featured the articles on the astronauts and their wives and families. Man I miss the stacks. Point is, I LOVED learning about the early space program. Totally intriguing to me. A friend's Dad worked at NASA during the Apollo 13 event and he brought me a file folder with the entire transcript of every radio conversation between Mission Control and the spacecraft. SO awesome.

I can think of other things I've researched and learned about because I wanted or needed to. I read Consumer Reports at the library before I purchased a car seat for Sweetheart. I went to a car seat check up when she was tiny to have them help install it correctly after reading that most are installed wrong. The guy said, "Let me just check to see if there are any recalls on this car seat." I said, "Well, there shouldn't be. It was the top rated one in Consumer Reports." The guy and girl working there just looked at each other.

Yeah, I'll keep my nerdy mouth shut from now on.

The point is, I had time (pre children HA!) to research and read about what I was interested in. I not only loved every minute of it, I could tell you more than you ever want to know about the early space program. I learned and retained because I was interested.

What do you think we need to do for our children to be able to pursue their interests? I'm not talking about buying a horse because my child wants to ride horses. I'm talking about, for starters, Sweetheart picking something she wants to learn and learning it. Maybe it's something your child wants to learn to DO like juggling. I will almost say "this is part of your school day--do it."

Check out this awesome link I found last night. The 20% Project sounds like something we could easily do in our homeschools. It might begin what I want to become a habit and way of life around here. And help Sweetheart to wrap her head around what I'm asking her to do.

What do you think? What needs to happen for kids to pursue their own things?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Raising up Hackers (Part 4)

Sorry I didn't blog yesterday. Bee has a double ear infection and we went to the doctor yesterday morning. Also we managed to get school done and clean the house. AND that's the pretty much the full 16 hours I'm awake during the day. 

Now we get to the title of this series. If you watched the TED Talk featuring the 13 year old boy that I linked to previously, you know he talked about "hacking" his own education. He did say that he studies the basics. And then the rest of the time he spends learning what he's interested in. THIS is the part of our daughter's education that is lacking.

We started toward more independence a few years ago when Sweetheart began 6th grade. I wrote a post back then about how I had realized something was wrong with the way we were doing school. About how the homeschooling sun rose and set with me. It was because of the curriculum choices I had made really, but Sweetheart was waiting on me to do every subject. The only thing she could really do independently was Handwriting.

And that is why we switched to Sonlight in her 6th grade year. It really has helped too. Now, in 8th grade, the only things she needs me for are discussion/questions, help with math as needed, and spelling. And of course help with questions at any time. But I'm not actively teaching her all day. Light years away from where we were in 5th grade!

Now, in preparation for high school next year, I've got her doing so much there literally aren't enough hours in the day. Not good.

So there are really two parts of this education overhaul:

1. Teaching my kids to hack their own education.
2. Changing the way I do a few of those "non-required" subjects so that they still love to learn. (more on that later)

I really, really don't want my kids hating school. I dont' have a problem with them thinking of it as sort of a chore that has to be done. But I would like to them to intermittently get excited about it. Those two items listed above are both going to play into that I hope.

So I started texting Sweetheart because I wanted a record of this conversation for later. Plus she was all the way in the other room.

Me: What do you want to learn about? What interests you but you have no time to learn it?
S: Well I have lots of I want to be a painter, a dog owner, writer,  horse rider and so on and so on and also how to create a business.
Me: What kind of painting? You skip art every week!
S: What art?
Me: I used to put art lesson plans in your planner every week but you kept skipping them so I stopped!
S: Oh yeah
I'm just so busy with school! I don't even have time to do things I want to do cause we clean the house on Saturday and then on Sundays I don't have time
And I can't get a dog
Or a horse

(Yep, she summed it all up pretty well!)

Me: That's why I'm asking. Daddy and i are trying to knock school down to be more manageable. So what would you teach yourself if you had time?
A unit study?
S: What's that?
Me: Where you pick a topic and then learn all about it. Let's pretend you picked deer. Although why would you? But for fun let's pretend.
Then you would read books about deer, watch movies and documentaries about deer, learn to sketch and paint deer, go visit a petting zoo that had deer, etc.......
You just learn all about something you are interested in.
S: Well, I really want to make a book. It sounds fun and that's what I would like to do in my spare time. I looked on this website the other day and it had links to show you how to publish a kids book.
Me: Yes, writing is definitely something we need to focus on since that is your interest and talent. But I also want you to learn to be a self-directed learner.
S: ?????
Me: Here's the thing, unless we spend 20 hours a day doing school there is NO WAY I'm going to be able to teach you every single thing you need to know for life, right?
S: Yeah
Me: So do you agree that even after you have graduated there will still be lots of things for you to learn?
S: yes, you learn your whole life

(Ding ding ding!!!! good answer Sweetheart!)

Me: Right!!!
S: Okay so I have to teach myself to do things when I'm older sooooo....
Me: How will you do that if Mommy has been holding your hand every minute telling you exactly what to do and when?
S: Read?
Me: Reading is good. The point is you need to know how to learn yourself and teach yourself things you are interested in.
S: How do I teach myself something I don't know how to do?
Me: Unit studies!

We continued that conversation later. The point is, Sweetheart couldn't wrap her head around just having time to learn whatever she wanted. I'm still not sure she has grasped it.

I guess I will just have to make time for her to find out. Long term goal here. See, I know she said "writing and publishing a book" but that will almost be something we do in school. Or as a part of school anyway.

What do your kids chase after? What are they teaching themselves right now? What are their outside-of-school interests?

Next time I'll share my really nerdy side.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Raising Up Hackers (Part 3)

So I told S everything I was thinking and how I was very overwhelmed. He asked me, in his always calm manner, "Brenda, what are we required to teach them?"

So I read the state law to him. In Texas, we are required to teach reading, spelling, grammar, math and a course in good citizenship.

He said, "Then teach those things....and Bible...and let the rest go."


My mind immediately starting arguing why I HAD to teach _______________, and ___________, and _______________. It literally took me two days to wrap my head around just teaching what was required.

Why do we have to make everything so hard?

I told him all the reasons why I couldn't/shouldn't/wouldn't skip certain subjects. He told me I could do what I wanted, but if it were up to him, certain things would just be hit once a month or so. Teach them, but not daily.

Hmm. So I really had to think all this over. When it was time to make lesson plans, I sat down and made a list:

What I teach that's required: reading, spelling, grammar, math, good citizenship. 

What I teach that's extra: history, geography, writing, handwriting, typing, science, art, current events, Bible. 

Do you see an issue there? That doesn't even include the time we spend on music education (which I don't teach), physical therapy, vision therapy, and homemaking skills, etc.

How would a sane person think all of the above was possible, with two students, a one-year-old, a house to run, and a husband who works 2 jobs? I mean, why would I think I should have enough time in the day for all that?

Now remember...all those links I posted yesterday were still buzzing through my head. Especially the theme of children loving to learn and being able to learn what they are interested in and how it really doesn't all have to be about college prep.

What to do?

All the things I have studied and learned about homeschooling high school tell you to tailor your child's education to their interests and talents. If your son is very interested in a certain career, lean heavy on the math and science or whatever will be required of him for that job/degree. If your daughter wants to work with animals, get her into a program at the zoo or local vet.

The problem was, up until a few months ago, Sweetheart showed no special interest in anything. The question of what she wanted to be when she grew up was a big ol' question mark. But recently she has been writing a book. She talks about it all the time. She works on it any spare moment she has. She has her friends involved in it. And the thing is, she's still working on it! For months this has been going on.

Sweetheart, historically, has changed her mind as the wind blows. When she was 10 she begged me to decorate her room in pirates. She read about pirates, she played pirates, she drew pirates.

For 2 weeks.

I knew her well by that time. Well enough to know we would not be decorating her room in pirates. So this writing thing has pleasantly surprised me. She loves writing. She loves reading too. She's even told me she needs to learn to spell better so her writing will be easier. Wow.

So S and I talked about what a waste of time it was to spend time every single school day on science for her. She loves doing experiments. She hates slogging through the book and writing out answers on all the little flappy things I print out (a notebooking companion I bought). Come to think of it, Little Bit hates writing on those flappy things too. But she LOVES going outside to look at the stars. (She's studying astronomy this year.)

Am I killing my children's interest in science by the way I'm teaching it?

Why yes. Yes I am.

If I'm really serious about having my children love learning, I need to change up the way I am doing a few things. 

It took me nearly a week to be able to say that. That notebooking companion I bought is GOOD. And it helps them retain! And I was so proud we're making it through that astronomy book on schedule. Look how much we've done! Look how much I've been able to check off! I think we're actually going to finish the book this year! They just need to stop their complaining. I know what's best for them. Sweetheart NEEDS to do this book because it's getting her ready for high school. It's only going to get harder/worse from here so she better get used to it. It's just what you have to do!!!

Says who?

That little voice has been getting louder. Who says we HAVE to do it this way? Every homeschooler I know uses this science curriculum in 7th or 8th grade. It's what you do. Really, Sweetheart should have done this book last year. Really, we're behind!

So this week we just left science off completely. Mama hasn't had enough time to process it all into a plan of action just yet. The wheels are still turning.

My next step was to find out what Sweetheart was interested in learning (besides writing). I'll share our conversation with you next time.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Raising Up Hackers (Part 2)

So I was feeling really overwhelmed and decided school was the main culprit. I remember our first year of homeschooling. Sweetheart was in 2nd grade. Little Bit was 3. We used ABeka curriculum and added in lapbooks and unit studies and we were still finished by lunchtime every day. My children had tons of time to play and explore. I remember watching with delight as Sweetheart figured out what things SHE liked doing....not just what had been cool in first grade among the popular kids. (Turns out she didn't really enjoy Littlest Pet Shop nearly so much when she didn't see other kids with 50+ pet shops playing at recess every day.) The point was, they had time to do things they wanted to do AND get school done.

Now granted we weren't involved in very much that first year. We did go to gym days and field trips and parties with our homeschool group. We still do that. But over the years we've added in piano lessons and choir and now Toddler Time at the Library for Baby Bee. So we run a bit more than we used to. That won't change any time soon.

And of course 8th grade and 4th grade are a bit meatier than 2nd grade and no grade. Obviously there is more school.

But why should my homeschooled children spend their whole day doing lessons just like public school kids? Where is our benefit? Sure, they can sit on the couch or lay in the floor instead of sitting in a desk.....but that doesn't seem like enough difference to me. Shoes or no shoes? Small potatoes.

So in the midst of my dissatisfaction, I saw this article someone posted on Facebook. What I took away from that article was, "Shoot. MY kids are unhappy in school. THEY have lost their zest for learning!" Some of the descriptions of the public school kids rang true about my own daughters. I didn't like that. 

Then, my husband clicked on this TED Talk. I'd seen it before, but as I sat across the room listening to it again, it only solidified what I was thinking.

Time to hack their own education.
Time to explore what they are interested in.

These these were not true of our homeschool. They weren't happening.


And THEN, I read this blog post. And now my wheels were really turning.

Everyone says it's OK for your kids to not go to college and I totally agree. I suspect a lot of homeschoolers agree with that. Yet, we really still feel that we owe it to our kids to educate them as though they ARE going to college. I mean, you're supposed to. We don't want to write off their fate in the 9th grade and have a child graduating who doesn't have a transcript that will help them in their future! What failures we would be!

Plus, so-and-so's kids are studying ______________ and _______________! Is it really asking too much for my kids to study ________________? I mean, that's not even 1/4 of what this friend's kids are doing! And on the field trip, that kid knew so much about _______________ and asked such intelligent questions and my kids were just standing there looking dumb! I have failed them! We haven't done enough! We haven't learned enough! Must. Add. More. Courses. Must. Hit. (fill in subject). More Often!!

****deep breath****

And that's pretty much how we got to where we were at the beginning of this month. We were doing every single thing we could possibly fit in. And still I was lashing myself for not having Sweetheart spend time on that vocabulary app I downloaded. Because her vocabulary needs work. I know because she took a standardized test last spring. How can I fit vocabulary in? I know! I can have her do it while she's in the bathroom!!! Otherwise that's just wasted time!

OK I'm kidding. But that's how crazy we can get. Maybe it's just the pressure of being completely responsible for our children's education. Maybe I'm starting to crack.

But those three items started my wheels turning. And that started a conversation with my husband.

Next time....

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Raising Up Hackers (Part 1)

(By the way, we made it through December.)
(That's what my last post was about and I was told I should update all my readers.)
(So there.)
(All 3 of you can consider yourself updated.)

I hit a wall this last week. I laid in bed Sunday morning completely overwhelmed. Like, to the point where I just laid there and looked at the ceiling. It's all I could do.

I was so overwhelmed by everything I really couldn't even think what to do. What would help?

Would it help if we weren't so busy? Well, not really. Our schedule is do-able.
Would it help if we had a maid? Well, of course it would...but that's not exactly in the budget.
Would it help if I had a mother's helper? Well, yes...but what would I even have her do?

I decided what I needed was a nice, older woman like Michelle Duggar had that comes over to do my laundry. And my dishes. Where are my Titus 2 older women???

Then I decided it was school that was killing me. It's simply taking too many hours lately. My whole day is filled with that.

You know, pioneer women might have taught their children to read, but I know they spent precious little time on that compared to daily chores.

Housewives in the 1950s spent their time on the house. But their children were in school.

Working moms have to do a lot (it's hard, I know), but their houses look better because everyone is gone all day long.

Homeschoolers are the only idiots trying to completely educate their children and completely keep house at the same time. And about a million other things.

It's just not possible, I tell you. Not when we're doing school pretty much like the public school system.

It's time to think outside the box. I was OK with that in elementary. I had no need of school being exactly like the classroom when the girls were younger. I absolutely would take them to the museum and consider that checking off several subjects at once for the day.

But approaching high school has kind of got me freaked out. I thought, "It's go time. No more taking it easy. It's time to get real!"

Yes folks, as if we haven't been doing "real" school all along!

So I left the Christmas break with a renewed purpose. It was the second half of 8th grade and I had to get with it. High school is 6 months away! I haven't been practicing keeping records! I haven't been grading! We're all of us going to starve!!!

OK. Whew. I'm calmer now. Sorry.

So we launched January by getting up at 6 a.m. every morning. Sweetheart is doing physical therapy now but that was no matter. We had to get serious! And for about a week we got every single subject done. My checking-boxes-off self was very pleased.

And I was exhausted.

And the kids were unhappy.

And then I read or listened to three things. be continued...