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Around the World in 150 Days

6 Mar

Yes, after a year, I am finally getting back to writing on this page. A lot has happened in the year behind me. We relocated to Europe, my father became terminally ill, we rushed back to the states, my father died, and now I am here. Again. I would almost say I’m back where I started except that everything is so different now; even though the location is the same, the attitude and feelings are not.

So, I look forward to sharing lots of thoughts and ideas again, but with a different heart and a different way to look at the world.

Coming next will be my evaluation of a book, Stop Stealing Dreams by Seth Godin, which was recommended to me by a friend who knows of my obsessive passion for education. (and he still wants to be my friend! LOL)

So, into the future, I’m looking forward to it.

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Zoo Field Trip – learning about more than just animals

25 Mar


Planning and map reading skills in use.

We recently took a trip to the zoo. Squirrel had a zoo map that he had saved from our last trip to the zoo (almost a year ago). As we are preparing to leave he makes a big deal about packing his backpack with the map. This was very important to him. But we didn’t realize how important until we got to the zoo and he pulls out the map and proceeds to inform us of what he wants to see and how to get there.

So, yes… We got to see lots of animals and observe their behavior in a controlled environment and all of the normal zoo stuff. The map reading was an extra bonus. I love unschooling. It’s amazing what they come up with all on their own.

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Unschooling is hard and dangerous work

26 Feb

Sometimes the best thing to do is to do nothing.

I love unschooling. But it is very hard sometimes. So often I want to jump in and try to manipulate the learning process. And every time I do that, learning stalls. It is hard to be patient and let my kids learn what they need to learn when they are ready to learn it.

Just recently my husband was talking to me about Pumpkin and how she needed to start working on her multiplication tables. Sure, she is at the age when they start learning it at school. So we picked up some books at the library and proceeded to instruct her. What a Stonewall Jackson she can be.

“I don’t want to.”

“I already read that book.”

“Why can’t I do [insert any other activity] instead?”

Bah. Headache followed frustration.

And really. Was this all necessary? I just recently talked to her Sunday School teacher. She had nothing but glowing praise for Pumpkin. How much better she was at reading than the other kids. How Pumpkin was able to look up Bible verses without any help, unlike the other kids. And how she noticed that Pumpkin went almost instantly from not reading at all to being almost totally independent.

We had the same frustrations with reading a couple of years ago that we are having with math now. We kept trying to MAKE her read. Kept trying to force it because we were afraid that she was somehow BEHIND. But once we left her alone and backed off, suddenly she started asking about reading books in the older kids section of the library. Suddenly she started talking to us about different books that she had read (that we didn’t even know she was reading!) Suddenly she was asking to look up more information on little tidbits that she had read here and there. (Like “Are there any reptiles that don’t lay eggs?”) Suddenly she was an independent reader. All without any headache, any effort, and distress. She became a reader because she wanted to and because she was ready for it.

This, for me, is the hardest part of unschooling. I want to be involved. I want to do something. I’ve got years of pedagogical experience. Come on! I’m important. You can’t learn without a teacher!

… or can you?

Knowledge is fixed in time, whereas, knowing is continual. Knowledge comes from a sourse, from an accumulation, from a conclusion, while knowing is a movement.”

“The additive process is merely a cultivation of memory which becomes mechanical. Learning is never cumulative; it is a movement of knowing which has no beginning and no end.”

~Bruce Lee, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do

Learning a new language?

23 Feb

How do you learn a foreign language when you don’t know anyone who knows the language?

We are getting ready for a big move to Europe. One of the biggest obstacles for travel… and homeschooling… is learning a foreign language.

Our family is learning Czech. It’s not the most common language out there. I don’t know anyone that speaks it. There are no local college courses to learn it. (And I am working on a limited budget, so even if there were classes available, cost would be an issue). So what to do. Rosetta Stone is a very popular program available, but the results are iffy and the cost is steep. So I did some searching and found Byki. They have a free express program that you can download right onto your computer for over 70 different languages. And, of course, upgrading to a paid and more indepth program is available.

They use the typical flashcard method. Very effective and very easy. And it incorporates both reading, writing, and listening. (Speaking if you talk to yourself or other family members out loud!) They have an easy to use special character system that allows you to type in the words using the special characters. So no need to invest in a foreign keyboard or rework your computer. And even though the express program is free it is jam packed with words and phrases. And you also have the option to download more free lists from their server. Very cool.

Once the program is downloaded, you can add other users onto the same computer. So me, my husband, and each of the kids can have their own file on one computer. You go through the list practicing the words and phrases. And it saves all the words you’ve learned. Then, when you go back another day, you can start a new list or review an old list. It is very easy to use. And I like that you are learning to read and write the language as well as speak and hear it. Typing in the correct answer can be a bit of a pain sometimes. For example, “I am will be considered wrong if the program recognizes “I’m”. But with just a few clicks of the mouse you can have the computer remember it, as well as excuse a couple of typos or forgotten punctuation.

They even have a “stale items” list that helps you to stay fresh on words that you don’t use very often. I’ve been really impressed with how easy and effective it is to use. I haven’t purchased the upgraded version as I am still working through the free lists. But I can’t believe how much WOW there is on just the free version.

So if your home schooler is keen to learn a new language, or if you are getting ready to do some traveling, I highly recommond Byki. Even the youngest kids (4 and 5) have been using it.

Old Dogs, New Math – book review and give away

26 Nov

Old Dogs, New Math: homework help for puzzled parents

Many thanks to The Experiment Publishing for sending me this book to review and offering to give a book away to one lucky reader!

Now onto the juicy bits…

I was a bit worried at first, but very curious. Math is NOT my strong point. And, following the principles of unschooling, I pretty much let my kids try to figure out a lot of stuff on their own after pointing them in the right direction. Plus, my husband is a whiz at math. So I manage to avoid a lot of painful questions by directing them to their father. But there are times when they ask me questions and I try to answer. They don’t know that I am struggling, but it is awkward and frustrating for me.

I was pleased to discover that this book was VERY easy to read. I mean, it was like reading a joke book or a choose-your-own-adventure book. Really easy. I was surprised. They made my difficulties seem rather brainless with simple explanations and examples. There are even little puzzles and games.

And what’s really fun for educational geeks like me… they explain how things used to be taught, how they are taught now, why teaching methods have changed, and why those changes make it difficult for parents to help their kids.

They also have test questions with real life kid answers and point out facts that help you discover how the kid got the answer (Nothing trickier for the parent than trying to figure out how and why the answer the kid came up with the wrong answer!)

My teenager even started reading it. He didn’t get very far because I kept hiding the book from him. (Oops) But he keeps bugging me for it. So that’s a pretty good sign too.

It is broken down into nice little sections:

Preparation – this is mostly for the parents covering such painful topics as “how do I overcome my own fear of math?” to “why do they do it differently these days?” as well as everyday tools that can be used for math education and an approximate grade/age guideline for math education in schools.

Arithmetic–And How It Has Changed – this goes into basic mathematics. There are nice simple to understand explanations, examples, and pictures, and even games to play.

Beyond Arithmetic – now we start getting into fractions and decimals and a little bit of geometry.

Questions and Answers – this not only has the answers to the puzzles that they give you throughout the book, but it also covers questions your kids will encounter throughout their schooling along with the answers (with or without a calculator). The best thing is they explain HOW to get the correct answer (and if there is more than one way to come to the correct answer they show that too).

And finally – of course there is a glossary and index and stuff.

Now, the big test. My daughter asks me the question “How old where you when I was 3?” So I pull out this handy little book and launch into an explanation of number lines and stuff. Not sure how much it helped her, but I sure felt a lot more confident.

Sure Math and fun didn’t seem to go together for me either. But let’s face it, math is a reality of school life. And we all want to help our kids to succeed. How can we help them if we don’t know how to play? This book makes that math nightmare less scary and much more fun.

And now for the give away!

The Experiment has agreed to send out a book to one of my readers. So how do you get one?

1. Mention this contest in your blog/tweet/Facebook status/forum. (Please don’t spam forums and groups. Only post on a forum or group if it is allowed and you are a regular member.)
2. Leave a comment on this post with a valid email address and a link to your posting. Please use a valid email address so I can contact you if you win.
3. Comments must be received by Sunday December 12, 2010 at midnight CST. Anyone who comments more than 3 times forfeits their chances. The winner will be selected by random drawing and announced on Thursday December 16, 2010.

The Sun – science study made easy thanks to the internet

15 Oct

We started the day by reading a little book we aquired years ago. It’s just a small little pamphlet from NASA, but they enjoy reading it. On the last page we were referred to the NASA website ( and they wanted to check it out. And away we went.

We started by looking at some of the pictures of the sun, stars, and the galaxy. We stumbled across some pictures of a new group of stars being born. “What! Stars are born? How does that happen?”

So we start digging some more…

Pulling up handy google search we type in “how are stars born” and we get a list of university websites and research pages and so on. “No mom, type in video after it so we can find some movies about stars.” Oh, okay. And we find more info. Some of them are videos of professors discussing stars and astronomy.

Good stuff, but the kids were not really that interested in a dry lecture – even though it was a topic they wanted to study. So we kept digging and found a few handy resources.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Very cool, but this video didn’t have any explanations.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

That’s better. And How Stuff Works also queued up more videos that were related or in a series. After this group, we watched a whole series on “Savage Sun”.

New Math – Fun with Cards

14 Oct

I’m reading Old Dogs, New Math by Rob Eastaway and Mike Askew. It inspired me to try out some ideas with the kids to encourage math learning. So, today we spent some time playing cards.

First we played “13”. A solitary card game my mother taught me when I was a wee young lass. You start out by making a pyramid with the cards. Seven rows, with the top and bottom rows face-up, starting with one card in the first row and ending with seven cards in the bottom row. All cards are face value numbers, with the Jack for 11, Queen for 12, and King for 13. The objective is to clear the cards by matching up pairs to equal 13.

Even the five year old was counting and subtracting, trying to figure out which cards he would need to equal 13. The eight year old quickly figured out the 6+7 ALWAYS equals 13. And they all had fun.

After lunch we played “21” (which is really just Black Jack without the gambling debt). I’m sure most of you know the rules, but just in case – you start out with two cards (for older kids, one face-down, and the second face-up). And you hit (for more cards) or hold to try to get as close to 21 without going over, or “bust”. As you can see, the five-year old was all about the counting.

And we got to incorporate the number line into the whole fun as we tried to figure out what cards we would need to get close to 21 without going over. There was also the added bonus of aces being used for 1 or 11 added to the math fun.

Stay tuned for more on this interesting book. The teenager is reading it right now to see what all the fuss is about and I will be writing a review in the next few weeks. The publisher has also agreed to send a copy of this book to one of my lucky readers so stay tuned for more math fun. (Is that an oxymoron or can math really be that interesting?)

*Thanks to The Experiment Publishing for sending me a copy of Old Dogs, New Math to review.