Wednesday, September 28, 2016

{radical art of homeschooling} learning communities

(this post is 1 year old. a lot has changed since i wrote it! we moved far from florida, joined several other learning communities, delved into more online learning, and our long standing florida co op has transformed into a bigger and more community based project. a new post might be in order when i wrap my head around all that has shifted. the take away is that homeschoolers can make anything they want.)


our prehistoric month ended with a cave man party complete with caves to paint, raw meat to eat and costumes

Learning co ops are essential for most homeschooling families. They provide friendships for both kids and adults, create a community of learners and allow for parents and kids to share their expertise. There are different kinds of co ops, and you might need to explore what works best for your family.

Here is what we have in my community:

The big homeschool group Many communities have a huge homeschool group with up to hundreds of families as members. Don't let the size of these scare you! Even if you do not plan to be super involved these are often good groups to join. They are often excellent places to find out what is happening off your radar, to meet new friends and to join in field trips or group rated programs. There might even be several in your area. Give them a try. From these big groups, you can find your tribe and create ---->

The small learning co op This is the most vital part of all our groups. This co op (in its many forms) has been a weekly part of my kids lives for 8 years!

I am going to explain how ours works - the beauty is you can redefine the group as it changes. Kids will get older, people will come and go…

We have 4-6 families. Our group has just organically stayed at this size. We usually have about a dozen kids which makes us compact enough to go places easily as a group. 

We are a learning coop as opposed to a play co op, although there is a lot of play in our meetings
We meet once a week. Wednesdays have always been a good day. We have met in the morning, afternoon and for a while all day. It changes each year as our kids and our meeting places change.
I think this is important to realize. The group will most likely change as the years go on, and sometimes in dramatic ways. That is ok! We have had people come and go in graceful and contentious ways. Recognizing and appreciating the organic nature of the group has been helpful.




learning about arches by some local arches
We use monthly themes. A month seems to be a perfect amount of time to study an idea in depth and we find ourselves incorporating and circling back to content as other areas bump up against its boundaries.

Last year, we emphasized science and it was really successful so this year we are continuing. We used to do more cultural or historical themes but realized that we all study culture easily on our own (based on our interests, travels, books we are reading etc). We decided that science is particularly fun to study together and experiments are MUCH funner. In addition, our kids are all fascinated and knowledgeable about science and we have a great resource in that 2 of the moms in our group have scientific backgrounds.  Each semester we do a month of physical science (engineering and building things), a month of biology (bodies and dissections), a month chemistry (blowing things up) and another area based on interest and local events (astronomy, electricity etc.).

The parents meet every month or so to discuss what is working, what needs to be adjusted and what is coming up. We each take a week to lead but all the weeks are organized together. Each person creates an event for their day in our FB group and then adds links and information to share. 

I love this approach because the women involved are smart and have a varied backgrounds. They all bring something unique to each subject.

We strive to learn about subjects in creative and interdisciplinary ways. Even though we might be learning about the chemistry of the stars, we will also read what poets have to say about the stars and we will write our own constellation myths and listen to heavy metal songs that reference astrology. The planning meetings are where we really plumb the creative depths of how to explore a topic. 

Families study the subject in what ever way makes sense to them through out the month. They might read picture books, watch documentaries, do projects, write etc. The session leader will let families know if there is something in particular they should study, watch or prepare for before the meeting. 

Past investigations have included prehistoric times, bridges, stars, navigation, brains, the periodic table, colonial American culture, molecules, the planets, and more. I would love to talk more about these (as well as your) awesome themes in the FB group.
We have also been a part of many auxiliary groups over the years. These have allowed us to meet new friends and study particular subjects with a focus. They include: scouts, church groups, Roots and Shoots, writing groups, book clubs, and mighty girls camp. We also have organized one time events to gather our people like pop up picnics, art nights, and cooking classes.

Journal:

Think about your tribe.

Is it where you want it to be?

Do you need to create something new?

What works well with your group?

Monday, September 12, 2016

{the radical art of homeschooling} uncommon resources


When we leave the classroom and get into the world, learning opportunities abound. After a while, it is like you put on special glasses and begin to see everything as vibrant and rich for discussion. My graduate work was in American Studies and I feel like that interdisciplinary approach to history and culture prepared me for homeschooling. In my course work, we could read American culture through nearly any lens. Ice cream, snow, housekeeping magazines, tourism...any subject that we were interested in could be explored and placed into the context of the world in which it existed. I even lectured on Paint By Numbers in post WWII America. 

Taking that idea, that anything and everything is full of information and inspiration, the world becomes a book to be read or a treasure box to explore. I see my job as keeping my eyes and mind open to all around me AND filling our lives with resources that can be mined for meaning. We can go so far past a boxed lesson plan and plug into the curriculum of the world around us. 
 

 
Here are some of our favorite resources. These are the things that have sparked the most conversation and ideas: 

Audio books - Homeschoolers are on the road a lot, so audio books are a wonderful resource to embrace. We have listened to the Kane Chronicles and deepened our interest and knowledge in Egyptian History. The Star Wars radio drama taught us how radio shows work which led to discussions of early entertainment. We recently listened to The Story of the World which is offering a beautiful, conceptual time line of the history of civilization. And we all sat riveted and horrified as we listened to the War that Saved My Life. 

Strangers - I am a big believer in talking to strangers. To connect with people who are living their dream lives. We are always asking people - how do you like your job? what is the best part? what sort of schooling/training did you do? Hearing first person accounts from other people's lives are as (more) important as any book we could ever read. 

Daily work + living - We do not separate errands and work into kid and adult activities. Many doctor appointments are attended by everyone (even if kids end up in the waiting room, they always see or hear something interesting). When we ordered granite or had concrete poured or had a beehive removed from our eaves, the kids are there, watching and learning. I tend to ask people a lot of questions and usually end up with much new knowledge about a previously misunderstood field. We had a rental house that ended with a tragic eviction and they were part of it. When we bought a car, they were there watching us negotiate and fill out paperwork. We recently had to euthanize our dog and after a long discussion, we decided that they should be there for most of the procedure. My 9 year old just build a fence with my husband using a drill and screwing in all the planks. These things might just seem like day to day activities but I think because our kids can participate in them regularly, they become a linchpin in their education. They are able to link the skills they learn in their more formal school work to the real world. Learning about area in a mathwork book is dry. Measuring a room for new flooring and then figuring out how much it will cost is dynamic and exciting. 

Conventions - We have learned so much from the various conventions we have attended over the years. We started out attending conventions that specifically tied into a particular kid's interest, but are now more actively seeking a wider variety. We have been to doll shows, pigeon competitions, reptile conventions and Maker Faires. We are looking forward to a sailboat expo and Bluegrass festival in upcoming months. 

Open houses and alley trash - We love getting a peak into the lives of others. If there is a home tour, open house, or model home tour we are likely to take a look. Kids love checking out houses and always end up telling us (and journalling) how they will design their own homes. We live in an old neighborhood and frequently walk through the alleys where we see the cast offs of the residents. This is especially interesting when someone moves (or dies). Lots of treasures have been dumpster dived and used by my kids. Interesting finds have included a papasan chair that was used as a balance toy, golf clubs, and old minutes from a lawn bowling team.

Protests - We have been in a protest, which was a great experience,  but just as interesting is talking about protests we encounter in real life or even in the news. The Immokalee tomato workers have protested our local grocery store which led to discussions about immigration and farm worker rights. There are peace protests, abortion clinic protests, and political campaigners on our streets and we nearly always talk about them. We are interested in freedom of speech and the varied voices that are important in a democratic nation. 

Farmers market - Talking to farmers and makers is a wonderful way to learn more about where our food comes from, issues that growers might have, and potential careers. 

Yard sales and antique stores are such rich resources for exploring history and culture. 

Master Naturalist, Master Gardener, and 4H programs are offered fairly regularly and inexpensively in most states and offer educational opportunities, often with college professors. 

TedX and Pecha Kucha are two wonderful events that allow audiences to hear big and groundbreaking ideas as well as stories about passionate living. 


Journal
Make a list of outside-the-box resources available in your area. 

Make a plan to engage in one of the places you wrote on your list. My brain goes on autopilot a lot - so on these discovery outings, I have to work hard to keep my mind open, to really look and to listen to what my kids are noticing. It seems simple, but is actually a hard practice (at least for me!). 

Monday, September 5, 2016

{radical art of homeschooling} strewing

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Unschoolers have a term that is very useful to any parent, called strewing. What it basically means is leaving interesting items ( books, puzzles, toys, food, articles, anything) in the path of your children for them to discover. 

These items can be based on current interests or completely unrelated. By having a rich and novel environment, minds are enlivened and curiosity peaked. I do this by second nature now, mostly with books,  and I am always surprised and happy when one of my children find something fascinating and become engrossed.

It is important that you do not leave things out with an expectation for a particular outcome. If you do, no doubt the interest will wane as you are anxiously watching for engagement. Think of these items as invitations, and it is up to your child to accept them. This does not mean you can not offer your kid things, too. I am always coming back from errand or internet browsing with something to share. 

Strewing is just another layer that adds to a curiosity enriched home. Think of it as a booster shot - extra immunity against stagnant thinking. 

In addition to exposure of new and novel things, strewing allows for and encourages making new connections between disparate ideas and items. It encourages a sense of play, remixing and mashing up. 

Try leaving two unrelated craft or art items and see what happens. 

I adopt this mentality of  keeping our environment dynamic by "strewing" other things too. Try listening to a wide variety of music on Pandora. Watch movies and documentaries far outside what you normally lean towards. Read antique books. Listen to records. Go to concerts and lectures. Strew your whole life with new and interesting content. This should be casual and ongoing - not frantic or stressful. The work you do is minimal.

This works great for all ages. 

What you can strew
coffee table books - either your own or from the library
Pipe cleaners and beads
a basket of curated blocks (for older kids you could add a glue gun, wood burner, or sharpie markers)
a little bowl of foreign money (maybe you have a collection, if not you can find inexpensive money at a coin shop)
a globe or map with sticky arrows to mark places to go
a jar of marbles
a huge piece of paper taped to a window or wall with a little bucket of crayons
board game already set up
a stack of old newspapers and some masking tape

puzzle or riddle written on your chalk board
interesting word or poem written on the wall
balloons (deflated or blow up several before you go to bed)
fresh play doh
old photo albums or baby books (you would be surprised how much fun this one is)
a new to them comic
a funny picture from a magazine with a note on it (my kids love those ads with the cat who looks like he is holding himself - they make them giggle so much)
a craft kit (especially for olders who can do the project themselves) 
FIMO clay and a cookie sheet
cardboard boxes
electronics kit (like little bits or snap circuits)
a basket full of blank books (just folded over paper, stapled and taped) or comic blanks
origami paper and some instructions
coloring sheets (they make amazing ones for older kids now)
wooden pattern blocks
yarn and a knitting loom
extreme dot to dots

Where you can strew
My favorite place is the kitchen/dining room table, if I clear it off at night and put something interesting there, the kids nearly always engage. Other places include coffee tables, the bathroom walls, the car, the kids desk or bed. Also, if your kids are older, you can email or text them links that might be of interest to them. Keep the lines of communication flowing and encourage them to strew or share back with you!

Journal 
Walk around your house for 10 minutes and make notes about some things you might strew that you have not thought of. You do not have to go out and buy things to strew. Just find stuff around the house you already have and might have forgotten about.

Try leaving something out each day for a week and see what happens. Are your kids receptive? Do they like a certain type of activity? 

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