Saturday, February 28, 2015

Eclectic Home Schooling: Gathering Up Bits of the World

Eclectic Home Schooling: 
Gathering Up Bits of the World

“Gathering up bits of the world and laying them out in an order her children can understand.” What a description of a mother who chooses the eclectic approach to home schooling!  

My third grade daughter Melody went for a speech therapy evaluation at A.LL Therapy Connection, and I spotted this quote on a piece of wall sculpture as soon as we walked into the waiting room. It is also available as a print with a whimsical graphic design. Nearby, I found the mosaic of a woman with children; it's made up of gathered bits and pieces of color. What else can you find in the picture? Delightful! 

Picture of a polar bear jumping from one piece of pack ice to the next
My favorite polar bear picture
We loved the therapist and the intern, and were pleased with their thorough assessment. We'll be going back twice a week starting next month, and the appointments and daily practice will be a vital part of her education. As we walked out of the therapy room, I commented to therapist about how observant my daughter is of things around her. Just at the moment, Melody asked me, “What is Polar Bear Day?” Huh? She pointed to a calendar on the wall: February 27, Polar Bear Day. Alrighty. That's a question for Google! It's also a “bit of the world” that I want my daughter to understand. Later in the evening, we enjoyed the awesome polar bear pictures here: Polar Bear Conservation at National Geographic

After we left the speech therapy place, we headed to the mall to find an Auntie Anne's pretzel shop. We had a BOGO coupon we'd gotten when they came to do a demonstration at our home school group. We rarely go to the mall, so we didn't know where the store was. Time for some life skills! I had Melody locate Auntie Anne's on the directory list and then on the diagram. Which way do we go? She figured it out and we got there! Yum!

Those are just a few ways this eclectic mama lays out the bits of the world for a little one to understand! What are some other methods we use to gather and present information?

Unit studies: 

In our early years of home schooling with my older kids (now teens and adults), we always used unit studies to cover history, geography, science, literature, creative writing, art, music, and even a little math enrichment. Now that we are no longer in formal academic co-op classes where curriculum was chosen by other teachers, we're back to the original plan! 

Right now we are studying the Civil War and late 1800's era for history. I didn't want to get too much into memorizing factoids or exploring the gore of war. Melody is still in the idea ~ story ~ picture phase of home schooling, and she loves biographies. I loaded up on both chapter books and picture books about famous people like Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary McLeod Bethune, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, Robert E. Lee, Helen Keller, Alexander Graham Bell, and Clara Barton. (We visited Clara's historic American Red Cross home in Maryland earlier this month.) 

We are also halfway through the American Girls series about Addie, an escaped slave. We have lots of the Cornerstones of Freedom series about specific happenings in the time period, such as the Underground Railroad and the transcontinental railroad. 

Are we reading about the actual war? Yes, a little. We're reading What Was the Battle of Gettysburg? by Jim O'Connor, which starts with an excellent overview of what issues and events led to the Civil War. 

Read more about unit studies here: How to Plan a Unit Study and American History Unit Studies at Our House.

YouTube and Google: 

What a goldmine! Any topic we want is right there on-line. I always have my iPod in my pocket, so sometimes when we're reading a library book, we'll look up something related to an interesting fact or a question she has. (Who was the president before Abraham Lincoln? Look it up!) We have the old NEST Animated Heroes videos that my mom gave us years ago, but not a working VHS player. We found a treasure trove of them on YouTube here: Animated Hero Classics. I have her watch these on my laptop when I need to do something else nearby. We also use YouTube videos to explain math concepts like multi-digit multiplication. She likes the ones produced by MathAntics. The new YouTube Kids app for mobile iOS and Android mobile devices – perfect for a child's tablet. I can't try it out yet because it requires iOS 7, but you can find it in your app store.

PBS Kids: 

On TV or on-line, PBS Kids is a marvelous educational resource. On their web site,, you can find videos, games, and interactive activities. At their teacher resource site,, it is easier to find the specific subjects and grade levels.

Reading whenever and wherever – and talking about it: 

We don't do all of our learning during formal school hours. The evenings are some of Melody's favorite book times. I'll often grab a book from our unit study pile that I think she'll enjoy, and we take turns reading aloud to each other. We read in the living room, in my bedroom, in the dining room, in waiting rooms - wherever! It is important for children to read aloud so they can practice their diction, vocal inflection, cadence, and expression - which they have picked up from listening to you read aloud. Having them read aloud helps you assess their decoding fluency. Which phonics patterns need work? Are they guessing or skipping or substituting words? I often remind her to read the words slowly, exactly as they are written. If necessary, she can track along with her finger to keep her on the right pace and in the right place. As we read, we also reinforce other language arts skills. This year, we're taking the time to notice compound words, homophones, synonyms, adverbs, and alliteration (adjacent words with same beginning sounds). 

We've also been pointing out words that are particularly descriptive rather than vague, such as “stagger” or "prance" instead of “walk” and “whispered” or "shrieked" instead of “said.” The book If You Were a Writer by Joan Lowery Nixon and Bruce Degen is a great way to introduce this concept. Looking for vivid language in books will help her choose interesting words for her own creative writing projects. We also comment on styles of illustrations in picture books and how they, too, communicate information and mood.

While reading, if there is a concept I want to emphasize, or she has a question, we stop and talk about it. I want her to interact with the information and develop critical thinking skills. We both frequently ask why and how questions about what we see on the page. How does this concept apply to us? I was struck by something we read about how the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads competed to lay more miles of track as they worked from opposite ends toward each other. The Central Pacific got stuck on the western side of the Rocky Mountains, trying to blast tunnels through in the winter. So they sent an extra crew ahead, packing all of their supplies and equipment (including disassembled train engines and cars!) onto sleds and hauling them over the mountain. They were able to simultaneously work on both sides of the mountain, saving valuable time and getting an extra 50 miles of track laid. I drew a diagram of this for Melody so she could understand the concept. Sometimes we have to think outside the box, a valuable skill to model to our kids. There was no rule that they had to work in one unbroken stretch of track from A to B! Then I thought, how can I use this in my own life as a mom? In what ways can I be working ahead and getting more done? So I'm learning a lot from reading aloud with her, too! I wouldn't miss it!

See more here: The Beauty of Reading Aloud and How to Read Aloud and Enjoy It.

Home school co-ops and classes: 

For younger children like Melody, I prefer a relaxed co-op for enrichment rather than for core formal academics, so that's what we're doing this year. I tutor high school and middle school history students at a local co-op. While I teach, Melody goes to a video-based history class. She also takes a current events class there, so she has to come prepared to present a news story she has found on-line. The group is hosting a Geography fair next month. Melody chose North Carolina for her project, so we checked out some books from the library and we'll put together a display board and a speech. 

Taking notes: 

North Carolina notes
Melody decided to take notes as we read about North Carolina. I helped her. We wrote down phrases to remind us of topics to look up again later. We're not very formal or organized about it yet, but even starting small in this practice will help her in later school years. We hope to take a trip to western North Carolina this summer, and we might visit some of the places we saw in the books. How about the Oconaluftee Cherokee village or the Biltmore Estate or the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Planning a trip adds interest to learning!

Charlotte Mason Method: 

I love the Charlotte Mason approach to education with her emphasis on living literature, art and music appreciation, nature study, etc. She didn't advocate busy work ("twaddle") but we still use some workbooks since Melody likes them and they get the job done. Miss Mason also believed in keeping lessons short, especially for young children. It is rare that we spend more than 15 minutes on a single paper-and-pencil activity. We don't have a schedule set in stone. She has a lot of say in what we do next, though I have the final word. For nature study, we get outside a lot and go visit parks. On the first Monday of the month, our local botanical gardens has free admission, so we're going next week. Read more here: What is the Charlotte Mason Approach to Education?

Random life happenings

On our way out the door to go to the library, we discovered a swarm of insects on our old tree stump. We went to to a pest control store and confirmed that they were reproductive termites. I decided it would be interesting to check out a book about termites. I had planned to study American Deserts for our next science unit, but switched to insects on the spur of the moment. We also checked out books on ladybugs, butterflies, bees, and ants to supplement what we already had at home. She comes with me to the chiropractor twice a week as I recover from back injuries I got in a car accident a few weeks ago. Dr. Harris showed us a life size model of a spine and explained to her how it worked with the vertebrae and discs.

Songs with borrowed tunes: 

Many years ago, I wanted to teach my kids the body parts of insects, so I came up with this ditty to the tune of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” - “Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen! Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen! Two antennae, six jointed legs! Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen!” Now that we're studying insects, of course I had to teach it to Melody. She loves to get up and do all the hand motions. 

We have also been practicing multiplication tables with skip counting songs. We sing the 3s the tune of “Jingle Bells” - “3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, and 27, isn't counting fun? 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, and 27, 30 and we're done!” We sings 4s to the tune of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” - “4, 8, 12, 16, 20, 24, 28, 32, 36, and 40.” She was having trouble remembering the last four numbers in that sequence, so we took turns repeating them rhythmically to each other several times before singing the song again. We sing these in the van all the time and it's fun for her!

Mobile apps: 

We can easily take along education on my iPod when we're out and about. The main one we use is Math Fact Master. You can choose any combination of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and tell which number ranges you want to use. It is very simple – nothing flashy - but quite effective. You can find more that look interesting here: 10 Apps for Math Fluency. You can find educational apps for all grade levels and subjects.

Tying it together: 

We hadn't finished A Pioneer Sampler during our early pioneers unit study, so we've continued to read it. As we read the story about pioneers finding and harvesting honey from a bee tree, I remembered that we had library books about bees for our insect unit. We read one of them, Brilliant Bees by Linda Glaser. Later, we watched several videos on YouTube about how bees make honey, and how they use the fascinating waggle dance to communicate with other bees about where food is. Here is another one we'll watch soon: Why Do Honey Bees Dance? and one for young children: Do the Waggle Dance.

Weekly worksheet packet: 

Because we spend a lot of time in the van and in waiting rooms, I like to bring schoolwork along to make the most of our time. Until today, we would lug a heavy tote bag full of workbooks that she wanted to use, and I worried about her leaving an important one behind somewhere. So today I took a three-prong vinyl folder and created a worksheet packet for her. I took a week's worth of pages from each of her workbooks – math, grammar, spelling, reading comprehension, and science – and fastened them into the folder. If she loses it, at least it's not the whole workbook. At the end of the week, I'll take out what's she's finished (unless it's needed as reference for a future page) and put in a fresh batch of pages. It also gives her a goal to accomplish, and now she doesn't have to get out several workbooks every day. Whether we are at home or away, she just needs to grab her red folder.

Art supplies: 

I recently bought a set of 36 Pentel oil pastels and a sketch book for Melody. Her artist sister is going to teach her how to use them properly very soon to create more realistic art than with crayons. In the meantime, she's been having fun making her own pictures. She likes to think of a category – fruits, things you find at a movie theater, etc. - and then draw several items on a page. I have been trying to teach myself chalkboard art. When I was working on a larger board that I had just purchased, I let her practice on a smaller one. She picked what she wanted to say: "Love one another with all your heart"! You can see my latest piece at Blessed Are the Peacemakers.

Role play: 

Melody is really imaginative and often dresses up, gathers props, and makes believe she is a movie director, a Chic-Fil-A worker, a teacher, a cooking show hostess, or whatever else her heart desires. I encourage this! It's not a waste of her educational time. She is creating her own scenarios and dialog, and is a form of oral composition. Check out her hilarious "Cream Cheese Toast" YouTube video that she made two years ago with my iPod, when she was only seven! She ends with "Like this video, or just like me! Press the suffocate button, or I'll be watching you!" Yes, that's another way to use YouTube - make your own videos!

What are some of your favorite methods for home schooling your kids? Tell us in a comment below!

Related posts:

This article link just appeared in my blog feed: Ten Obvious Truths About Educating Kids that Keep Getting Ignored. So many of these have played into the way I try to educate my little one!

And another one from a Facebook link today! On-going Education: 12 Tools I Really Dig by Tsh Oxenreider

Virginia Knowles

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