Links to specific posts are categorized by subject below the explanation of why we homeschool, our general philosophies, and our educational background. Since homeschooling began, our family has not only learned a lot together, but we have evolved significantly into a nature focused family which believes quite solidly in generalized knowledge.
Curriculum Specifics: 2011-2012 2nd-ish Grade
Homeschool Versus Public School
I used to be an math and science teacher for at-risk high school students, though I worked throughout elementary and middle as well. Jules is currently an English teacher for at-risk high school students. Working in public school was always hard for me. I have been a hardcore unschool and independent learning advocate for quite some time. Homeschooling was no jump or leap of faith. However, Jules' teaching abilities lead him to teach harder kids. Having worked with inner city gang youth, the public school system was one of the only ways out for many of these kids. He watched the public school system open doors and save many amazing youth. It was the great equalizer which gave every child, regardless of birth, a fair shake and multiple options. For him, having our child be homeschooled was very difficult. In the end, what it comes down to is the nature of public school and how that fits in to our lives.
Public school is not bad. (That used to be very hard for me to write, but now I understand it from more of Jules' perspective.) What is designed to do is to normalize a population. It has to be. With a classroom full of kids there is the direct need to teach to the general population, enculturate the general population, and teach concepts which will benefit the most kids. This is fine and necessary. However, we aren't normal and asking my child to become normal would hurt our family.
Why We Choose Homeschooling
Our lifestyle isn't normal. We deliberately don't have a TV and listen to National Public Radio. We use rain barrels for all our water, our son is expected to filter the household water in the morning, and refill the toilet after using it. Our son is better with his BB gun that I am, carries a pocket knife at 6, and can explain the action on most firearms. We chop firewood, our son has his own axe, and we began advocating him learning to build fires at 4. I bake our bread, can all our food, and we pick most of it locally as a family. We actively discuss things like peak oil, global warming, volunteer and protest regularly, and the Eve of Destruction by Bob Dylan was our son's favorite song for quite some time. We long distance backpack, expect our son to carry at least 7 pounds and walk 8 miles a day, and he sleeps in his own tent in the backyard almost 4 months a year. The Barracuda asked to begin learning Spanish a couple years ago and now wants to learn Mandrin because he loves languages. This is the same reason he is enamored with rap music, beat boxing, and wants to learn to hip-hop dance. As a friend said, "The Barracuda strikes me as a kid who grabs life by the balls." This lust for life we encourage most everywhere and do not treat him like a kid very much. We have had to catch ourselves a few times saying things like, "You are an adult; act like one!" (he was 5 and a half) or "Stop acting like a 4 year old!" (he was actually 4 at the time).
We're weird and we've embraced that, but we also realize that many of the messages coming from general enculturation would fly in the face of what we do at home. Rather than bombard our son with this at 5 and 6, we would rather him have a few years under his belt before he has to defend our lifestyle. If, at that point, he makes the choice to go to public school, more power to him.
How We Homeschool
One of the things that works so well with us about homeschooling is that so much of our life interconnected. Rather than study most subjects in isolation, we tend to incorporate them everywhere. We are not a Unit Study family, (Mommy just couldn't handle that), but we tend to discuss a few concepts and then connect them or make connections as we go so the concepts are better understood. In example: While hiking we define the cloud forms, create a nature journal, discuss symmetry, discuss distinguishing features and word choice, make connection with John Muir quotations and writing, discuss the creation of our National Parks, discuss and view ecosystems, calculate miles, read maps. Later we study Lewis and Clark, learn about native people, read early American transcendentalists, and memorize poetry of American romanticism. We culture our dairy products, discuss molecules and states of matter, discuss completely nutrition, practice fractions, learn anatomy and physiology, talk about photosynthesis and growing food, discuss global hunger and volunteer at the food bank. We are holistic learners.
I would love to say this is due to my amazing motherly planning, but not exactly. I am a linear, concrete, big picture learner; The Barracuda is a visual, kinesthetic learner; Jules is a spacial, experiential, small picture learner. Basically, we all think completely differently and approach learning in opposite ways. At first this was very frustrating, however it is now quite cool. When a subject comes up, I can explain it how I see it and then so does Jules. We can talk about the links we make in our minds to other subjects. It has meant a lot more communication, but resulted in knowing multiple ways to explain many subjects that are often taught only one way. It has also shown The Barracuda how to express himself, ask questions, and find his own perspective. Both Jules and I have learned a ton too! Who knew that early romantic poets were so cool, or that defining clauses wasn't all that crazy?!
Physics: Red Remover, the Catapult, Atlatls, and Water Rockets
Currently, we play a lot with physics. Newtons Laws of Thermodynamics are a lot of fun if they are approached playfully (like an 8 foot catapult). Charles' and Boyles law come alive with Water Rockets. Bernoulli has practical applications with paper airplanes. Leonardo da Vinci is just rad by himself. Within the next year we will begin putting the math behind them, but currently we are focusing on the foundational principals.
Photosynthesis: Homemade Grow Lights for Cheap
We currently grow most of our food outback and the rest is U-Picked from local farms. The Barracuda is responsible for helping us with this entire process. He currently sprouts and grows our seed in his room every year. He is much more successful that I am :)
Water Cycle: Yocum Ridge, Snow, Elliot Glacier,
Rather than just study the watercycle, we decided to actively hike it. This way our son could witness the process happening and intimately know his own watershed. In this way, he now grasps the concept on a personal level. Combine this with the rain barrels we use for our family's water supply and filtering each morning, he knows water quite well. We attempt to make our homeschooling fit into "the personal is political" and have understanding on the human scale.
Worthwhile TV: Beakman's World
Childhood obesity runs in fear of our house. The Barracuda is a kinesthetic learner in that he has a constant desire to move and greatly improves understanding when he can physically manipulate his body though the motions. Combine this with parents who are long distance backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts and we get to moving around quite a bit.
This community event is repeated every week. The Barracuda now owns rollerblades and reminds me every Tuesday night that we get to skate in the morning.
Currently, we are doing 8 mile days back to back and are about to embark on our first end to end of 80 miles. A few of the National Parks we visited this past summer are going to be revisited for long backcountry hike in the coming spring.
Jules was a crag rat before The Barracuda and now has our son learning his knots to join Dad. Both are very excited.
Our son has loved to dance since before he could talk. Recent lessons have given him the chance to start competing professionally. It is incredibly adorable and WAY more hardcore than I thought it would be. Talk about learning some math!
English is one of the least favorite subjects of our son. He LOVES languages, but not direct study. For this reason, we incorporate English in most everything rather than directly learning it from rote. Now that the basics of parts of speech, punctuation, clauses, and essay construction have been covered, he gets to more freely write letters, emails, identifications in his nature journal and other life stuff. Dad being an English major and my desire to always learn more skills keeps our house stacked in books and always reading.
Worthwhile TV: Word World, Word Girl,
Reading: Family Read Aloud Classic Literature List
When I taught math, I taught the kids that no one else wanted. These were the children who had decided (or in some cases had been told) they "didn't get math." By this point they were high schoolers and many struggled with the simple skills which had already been frustrating for years. It was my job to get them to pass at least 2 years of algebra and in some instances Trig or higher. In the end, I think they taught me way more than I taught them. Most importantly, they threw all the things I learned in college out the window and forced me to recognize that our school system teaches math in the worst way possible. If your kid is having trouble in math or you don't know how to teach it check some of this out for a different look at an old subject.
Social Studies, Geography and History
Much of these subjects are covered in our hiking, reading of literature and environmental lit, and service learning. We utilize a lot of technology here, too. Though television and computer games, our son his happy learning these subjects. Dad has begun discussing with him famous battles, weapons, and the impacts of weaponry on cultural change/collapse. As far as The Barracuda is concerned, there is nothing better than Lego versions of the battle of Thermopolae or Kentucky Rifles versus British Muskets.
Worthwhile TV and Games: Huntik, Fetch! with Ruff Ruffman, Liberty Kids, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Geography Games,
Service Learning and Civics: Food Bank, Rioting 4 Austerity, Rioting: 6 Month Follow Up
While currently in the city, we participate in as many service learning activities as possible. From Depaving asphalt and cleaning the local slough to Old growth logging hikes and ground truthing, we want to put our science to work and our bodies to helping. There is no point in teaching democracy or citizen action if you are not willing to actively participate every week in trying to help.