Radical Notions


Last night I grabbed my copy of One-to-One: A Practical Guide to Learning at Home Age 0-11 by Martin Williams, for bedtime reading.  I simply must read before falling asleep, and if I’m out of magazines and library books I rummage till I find some dusty book to fall in love with again.  I have fallen in love with One-to-One many times. I kept getting to quotes that made me stop and think.  Here’s a little one:

The object of primary education is to teach a child to read, to write and to be able to do simple arithmetic.  This can be achieved by any parents in a few hours per day (for a few months at a time) at some point before a child is ten or eleven years old.  It does not require five or six years of full-time school work.

Wow.  For a non-unschooling book, that’s a pretty radical statement!  And I’m not so sure he’s very far off.  If we really think about it, what are SOTH (School Outside The Home) kids learning all day?

  • Reading, often from an early age when it is going to take much longer than it ought to, just because it’s simply too soon.  Which kids really do on their own and gobble up if just left alone 95% of the time.
  • Writing, which is another one of those things they’ll do anyway.
  • Basic math and math concepts like time, money and measurement (and the time, money and measurement… more stuff they learn on their own anyway).
  • History, which is generally taught on a 3 year loop of ancient history, world history and then American history, and taught over and over so they learn the same things in elementary, middle and high school (in different ways and in different depths, of course).
  • Art, if they get it (it seems to be a once a week thing, if that, these days) and in creativity-stifling ways like predesigned projects.
  • Science, which I always hear is so good in public school (they have equipment!) but in primary years is so effortlessly taught through life (gardening, cooking, nature studies, etc.).  Again, this is a subject that many schools are eliminating to focus more on the tested subjects.
  • Social studies, which seems to be a whole lot of learning what jobs people do and how people live in various places, which being out in the world and renting some cool Netflix DVD’s can pretty much handle.

What else do SOTH kids learn?  Labels.  It seems as if most of the work they do in school for the elementary years consists of learning labels.  What’s a participle?  What’s the commutative property?  What part of the letter is the salutation?  What’s the divisor?  What’s a homophone?

I occasionally see lists of things children “should” know in elementary years and freak out because I don’t even know what half the words mean.  They should know ordinal and cardinal numbers.  Ooh.  Yeah, if memory serves me, that’s numbers– 1, 2, 3 and 1st, 2nd, 3rd.  I’m not even sure of that, and I’m an adult!  But I think it’s okay since I know how to count.

When is the last time in adulthood you EVER needed to know the definition of a homophone? Why do we require such exhausting lists of nothing for young children?  Could it be that Williams is right, that schools were originally designed to teach kids these 3 things and now they’re just using filler to still seem relevant, educational and worthy?

We always hear how our schools have to do better at teaching our kids because they have to be able to compete in the global market.  Someone tell me how teaching a 4th grader how to diagram a sentence or the definition of a homophone will help her compete in the global market as an adult.  How will these things be relevant in any way in her adult life?

As homeschoolers, I think it’s easy to look at the stuff they’re learning at the local schools and panic.  Eek!  Not only do my kids NOT know the commutative property, but I don’t think I know it!  How can I be qualified to teach them?  Never mind that we all know it (3+2 is the same as 2+3), we just didn’t know the label.

Besides that, this is all short-term memory learning, especially for young children.  This is the stuff that we all learned 3 or 4 times in school, retained long enough to be tested on it, never needed it and promptly shook right out of our brains.   So why dedicate so many hours of their lives to “learning” it?

Williams is not saying that children don’t need to learn lots more.  He just is of the opinion that what they need in primary grades is pretty basic and pretty easy to handle.  And then his book is filled with fun ways to do it.

Just wait till you hear what he does think is important in primary grades though…… 😉

I’m not saying I completely agree, but I love the question of all of this.  And the things that I think are important to teach in these years tend to be completely absent in SOTH classrooms.

So what do you think?  How much of early education is busywork?  How much will just have to be taught again when they’re older?  Do HSers try too hard to keep up with artificial educational goals that really aren’t needed?  Just how much “schooling” do elementary aged HS kids need?  And what things are important to you when you teach yours? And just what is the difference between a homophone and a homonym?


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The Importance of Planning Ahead

Victoria recently discovered the joy of plastic canvas.  She did a few crafts from patterns and then started making little squares with her own creations on them — smiley faces, flowers and so on.

Then she made this one for me.  It’s supposed to say “hello” but she quite obviously ran out of room.  Ahem.

I told her to finish it anyway and I happily hung it up.  Some days it’s strangely fitting!

10 Fun Ways…

…we’ve learned, exercised, etc. around here lately:

1.  We started our balloon planters

We used old seeds that would probably not be good for our garden and not nearly enough dirt.  We also compared the sizes and shapes of each of the seeds and talked about why some seeds are small even though the end plant is just as large as those with bigger seeds.  The germination rate for these is around 7-10 days so we’re hoping to see some sprouts in a week.

2.  We read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic.  Victoria and I took turns reading since I kept having coughing fits.  It made me smile because on one hand she is growing up so much and does such a good job reading (voices and all) and on the other hand she giggled like a little girl at some parts as she read them.  🙂

(Jack wanted his picture taken too)  🙂

3.  We did Time4Learning.   The company contacted me recently and asked if we’d try it for a month free and write a review about it.  So far neither I nor the kids are big fans, though I can see why others would like it.  I’ve been having the kids do a half hour of various subjects every so often and they’ve learned about things like roman numerals, fractions and Vikings.

4.  We explored parks.

5. We’ve been following the flood dangers in Fargo and other areas, discussing their causes and ways to prevent them and talking about dams and erosion.  Yesterday we stopped at a park in Windom and looked at the way the rushing river has cut a path around the dam to get through despite it.  We talked about why it happened and how they could have reinforced the area better to prevent it, plus why they needed to dam it to begin with.  Victoria noticed slabs of concrete all along the banks and asked about them, so we had her brainstorm why they might be there.  Then we took a look farther down the river at the banks where there was no concrete and saw the effects of erosion (tree roots exposed, huge chunks of the hillside gone…).

6.  We went to HS swimming in Mt. Lake.

7.  Anna wrote a short story about a girl who was raised by deer and then finds her father.

8.  The kids did various worksheets.  Jack did a second grade one and aced it!  Not bad for a kindergartener!

9.  Daryl taught the kids that light travels a foot in a billionth of a second so they technically see people the way they looked a billionth of a second ago (at one foot away) and not now.  We also talked about how stars are so far away that we see them as they looked 25 years ago (Victoria pointed out that 25 years refers to the Vega star and not all stars, since they’re all different distances– thanks kid and quit reading over my shoulder!) and we talked about how much time it would take to see people from various distances. 

10. Reading, reading, reading.  Victoria and Anna continue to devour novels at a ferocious pace.  Jack picks up their books and reads a bit in them just to feel included but he’s also reading picture books, magazines and ads.  Some of Victoria’s recent reads that she recommends:  Coraline; All Alone in the Universe; Diary of a Wimpy Kid; Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret; Hank the Cowdog (series) and Scat.  Anna is still a big fan of the Enclyclopedia Brown books and is also reading many of Victoria’s when she’s done with them.

As for me, I’m still sick and seriously wondering if it’s pneumonia or walking pneumonia that I’ve been battling all month.  Nights are the hardest.  I have coughing fits and feel like I’m drowning, and wake up exhausted.  I am still embarrassingly weak and just plain hurt.  I dutifully took all of my antibiotics (my doctor thought it was probably a cold that led to a bacterial infection but she didn’t run any tests other than to rule out the flu) and I’m also taking some supplements a friend sent me, but I just can’t seem to get over this.  If I’m not better by Monday, I’m going back to the doctor even though I hate to think of the cost (I have lousy health insurance and a high co-pay).  I suppose I should turn this into a learning experience and teach the kids about respiratory illnesses, huh?!  😉

Right now things are lovely and quiet though.  Alex is napping and Daryl just took the older kids to the library for a bit.  It’s gray and cold outside, but it feels cozy and nice inside and things are even starting to green up a bit out there.  Plus, we’re not in danger of the floods or blizzards that are menacing much of the country right now.  Sick or not, life is good. 

And with that, I’m going to go rummage for food, throw a load of laundry in and glare at my dining room table until it cleans itself. 



Earth Hour

This Saturday at 8:30 p.m. (your time) is Earth Hour.  People, companies and cities are turning off their lights in one way or another for one hour.  Visit the Earth Hour web site to find out why, join the discussion about whether it’s valid or not, view pics and videos and learn more about global warming. 

Here’s an article about the subject too, including info on the ice cream shop owner who is trying to encourage people to use as much extra electriticity as possible during Earth Hour to protest it.  

We’re planning on taking part.  The kids generally like a good blackout anyway and we’ll do some fun things by candlelight.   🙂

Unswimming Season

Now that it’s spring, it’s time for weekly HS swimming at the Mt. Lake pool.  Oddly enough, the Mt. Lake pool is in the elementary school so my kids go to school on Thursdays in the spring and listen to bells and fire drills while splashing and playing with other HS kids.

One of my favorite memories from HS swimming days in Mt. Lake last year was suddenly being struck by something to blog about and writing my Unswimming post on the inside back cover of my kukuro book as I watched my girls.  🙂  (The pictures are from a trip to a motel.)  It’s still one of my favorite posts and sums up how I feel about this grand homeschool journey.

And with that, I have to throw on some clothes and go play with my family!  Have a great day!

Saturday at the State Park

Saturday we went to Lake Shetek State Park to enjoy the beautiful weather.  I was still recovering from this month’s monster illness so I was pretty weak and having coughing fits, but the kids had a blast.  We stopped the van and Victoria took off into the woods with her binoculars, Jack took off to the playground in front of us and Anna & Alex took off to explore the trails and trees.  Daryl and I read in the van, bird watched and kid watched until I took off to be a good mom and he drove around a bit to see what else was up in the park.

Victoria ended up following a herd of deer often spotted in the park and they all took off running.  Later a bicycling family stopped and chatted, and reported they’d counted 42 of them!  This is not the first time the kids have gotten very close to the herd, which is pretty neat.

Here’s some pics from the day…

Alex kept trying to lift this giant rock!  He was trying so hard!  Finally Jack came up and told him he’d lift it for him.  🙂

I love this series of pictures of Alex.  I was calling for Victoria, who was way up ahead of us and not coming.  Alex started to shout for her too, and became more and more indignant as he hollered “TA!  TA TA!” and she would not come to him.  He finally gave up and stomped back to the playground with me, but he was clearly displeased with her!  🙂

There is nothing like walking hand in hand with a toddler on a beautiful spring day.  🙂

Forgive the get-up.  🙂  The purple headband was all I could find to put back my hair and Daryl lent me his sunglasses.   I was still so sick I had to rest walking up the hill!

Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day.  🙂

The Sunflower Project

It’s time again to sign up for the Sunflower Project!  We joined last year but they ran out of sunflower seeds and sent a packet of seeds that didn’t work for our area.  I’ve requested seeds again and am hoping we’ll be able to participate this year.

Visit the site to join (free) and sign up for free Lemon Queen sunflower seeds.  These are bee favorites and then you update the site to record bee visitors to your sunflowers.  You can also join the forum, check out educational ideas, learn more about bees and more at the site.

Cookie Poll!

We’re doing a graphing project (that will culminate in a cooking project!) and need your input!  Please comment and tell us your favorite cookie!  Anything goes — chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, shortbread, Oreo, peanut butter, frosted sugar cookie…..

A week from today we’ll tally the results and make some graphs to show how they stack up.  Then we’ll make a batch of the winning kind and perhaps a batch of the most interesting kind mentioned (leave a recipe or link if yours is exotic!).

Thanks a bunch!

5 Fun Ways to Learn Today

1.  Do spelling tosses.  Gather up a bowl of tossable goodies (popcorn works well, M&M’s are a little too small and chokeable!) and start assigning spelling words (or multiplication questions or whatever you’d like to drill).  If the kids get them right, you toss a goodie into their laughing mouths.  If not, try another word.  My delightfully goofy friend Tiffany did this with a van full of children and a box of popcorn chicken one afternoon and the shrieks of laughter probably reached the next county.

2.  Hold an auction.  Make some paddles (cut some cardboard handles and then staple or tape on a paper plate and write a number on it) and give each one a handful of play money.  Also give them each a piece of paper and a pen to keep track of what they’ve spent and how much they have left.  Then start the auction!  Up for bid?  Special priviledges like extra dessert or computer time, fun things like a trip to the park or small treats like packets of stickers or silly putty.  Or you can make it all silly– bid on the right to wear this silly hat, the title of Queen of the house for the day, getting a piggyback ride or to get to rename every household member for the day.  Have the kids hold up their paddles to bid and the highest bidder wins.  They need to keep track as they go of what they’ve spent and how much they have left.  

3.  Have them look through a history book and find a time period to read about, then write a journal entry as a character from that time.  Encourage them to be dramatic and creative.

4.  Play alphabet adjectives.  Pick something to describe, and then take turns going through the alphabet thinking of adjectives that start with each letter to describe the thing.  Work together and help each other out for tough letters.  Example– birds: aerial, bald (eagles), colorful, downy, energetic, graceful…  To make it easier, pick a broader category (like nature or people in the room).

5.  Give them a store ad or catalog and have them go on a fantasy shopping spree.  Tell them they have $300 imaginary dollars (or whatever) and their job is to figure out how they’d spend it.  Remind them to figure out sales tax and shipping too.  Let them use a calculator and show them how to figure these things out, including shipping charge charts if they use a catalog.  They can list their items with the amounts on paper or they can cut them out and glue them onto paper to make a visual shopping cart.  Challenge them to spend almost the last penny and then look through their “purchases” together.