Frustrating The Educational Powers-That-Be Since August, 2009

Yep. Today was the day.

Our first official “not back to school day.”  Our introductory foray into the real, true world of interest-led learning. 

Thanks to Jena, over at Yarns of the Heart, I felt “called” all last year to move away from structured curriculum, and move toward releasing the learning into the hands of my very bright, capable kiddos.

We researched a lot last year.  And read together the Teenage Liberation Handbook.  And I sat at Jena’s virtual feet as she waxed eloquently about entrusting her three wonderful kids with their own goals and passions.

Then I decided to go for it!

And yes, I know it is ridiculous to need a starting point for learning, but we love our traditions around here in Topsy-Techieland, so we had an official starting date for our dive into the deep end of the pool of interest-led learning…and today was the day!

Interestingly, both boys decided over the summer to keep a structured curriculum for math.  H-T has always loved the math at Time4Learning, and he decided to continue on with that course…he also wants to continue with the Time4Learning American history lessons (I can’t blame him a bit…they are SO much fun!).  Uber found an online curriculum for geometry that he really felt suited him, so he’s working his way through that as well.

Otherwise, today was structure-free!  Each of the boys has quite a few interests they are excited to sponge up info on:

Uber: Learning Japanese, continuing piano lessons, studying Ancient Chinese culture, getting a grip on informational technology, and creating a nature journal.

H-T: His current interests are cryptozoology (I had to have him explain what in the heck that one was to me), Spanish, dog behavior, watching B-Horror flicks and reviewing them online, and continuing with guitar lessons

They are also keeping ongoing journals of what they are learning (my suggestion thanks to my writer instincts).  Today we spent a lot of time at the library finding books that matched their interests, and looking up websites and searching the Netflix catalog for good supplementary materials.  The rest of the time I hardly saw them –  they were deep into…well…learning, I suppose.

So, by simply surviving this day, I guess we’ve already gone a long way toward frustrating the educational powers-that-be, eh? 

This is going to be a very interesting journey……

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SpellingCity.com Adds Student Record Keeping

spellingcitylogo If you already use SpellingCity in your homeschool, then I’m preaching to the choir, but if you don’t…you should definitely check it out!

SpellingCity is a free spelling practice program online that lets you input your own lists, or use ones already on the site.  Then your kids can practice their spelling words by playing ten different word games with their list.  A real human voice speaks each of the words aloud, so kids can hear the word, read it, play games, and make connections. 

There are also SO many great lists already entered on the site by parents and teachers all over the country.  There are lists for most children’s books, lists for most any subject of school study, and lists by grade level and reading level.  But like I said, you can also input your own personalized lists, based on what you are studying, or from a spelling curriculum you may be using.

And for the new school year, they have added another cool feature…student record keeping.  This feature does require a subscription, but theoretically, you could use the site to give your homeschoolers all their spelling tests, and the system would keep track of their success.  Neat idea! 

I’m betting it will be especially helpful for classroom teachers who want to have their students take their spelling tests on the classroom computer! 

Anyway, if you have been looking for a fun spelling program, or a way to make spelling tests more palatable, definitely take a look at SpellingCity.com.

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Does Your Baby Prefer Frontline or Nova?

Sometimes I get totally fascinated by the most boring subjects.

Like learning styles, for instance.

I’m sure that reading about the way people learn would be lower than say – – watching an infomercial at 2 a.m. – – on some people’s priority scale, but I find it perfectly absorbing.

If you don’t know a lot about learning styles, then I’ll give you my super-condensed Topsy-Techie primer.

Visual Learners  – -  if your kid would steer his baby walker to the tv at age 6 mos., and stop to watch anything on – – even the Newshour on PBS – -  then you might have a visual learner. (Yep, H-T was a huge Newshour fan as a babe)

Auditory Learners – – if your kid talks  non-stop, repeats back everything other people say, or sings from morning till night – – then you might have an auditory learner. (Uber has to discuss EVERYTHING before it takes hold in his head.  He will readily admit that most anything he has retained has been because he has had a conversation about it with someone)

Kinesthetic/Tactile Learners – – if your kid has built two Lego castles and one Lego moat before you could finish reading one chapter aloud of his favorite King Arthur story – – then you might have a kinesthetic/tactile learner. (my boys each have kinesthetic/tactile as their secondary learning style)

Now you might be saying…”Topsy is such a genius. Look at all she knows about learning styles!”  And I would reply…”I’ll send you the 20 bucks via Paypal." But the truth is…I had to learn this stuff the hard way.  By slamming into the brick wall of curriculum choice vs. learning style. 

Early in our homeschool career, I desperately wanted to use Sonlight.  I LOVED the idea of reading aloud to my kids all day, and discussing good literature, and doing projects based on what we were reading.  I couldn’t possibly imagine a more lovely way to learn.

SLAM!

That was me hitting the brick wall of reality, when my boys became bored – quickly – – with me reading to them all day, and discussing good literature, and doing projects based on what we were reading.  “This is LAME,” I heard, more than once. 

Impossible!  I couldn’t figure out why this lovely, perfectly educational curriculum wasn’t working for us.  And then I read about learning styles, and how some homeschool materials and curricula are better suited for certain kids, based on HOW they learn.

One cool resource I recently discovered was the Homeschooling Books website, which lets you search for homeschool materials by learning style, thinking style, personality, and expression.  Now THAT’S a good idea!  Understanding the uniqueness of your child and using an eclectic assortment of resources to help him or her learn best. (For more info on eclectic homeschooling, check out my post on Home-School Online today.)

What about you?  Does your child(ren) have a noticeable learning style?  How does it play out in their homeschooling?

(Note: Homeschooling Books has a decidedly Christian slant, but offers secular resources as well)

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M.I.T. Calls Academia’s Bluff by Gary North

An article I think all unschoolers, interest-led learners, and just homeschoolers in general ought to read!  Excellent!

M.I.T. Calls Academia’s Bluff by Gary North

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They Like Me…They Really Like Me

Have I ever bemoaned the fact that I don’t have a good local homeschool support group here on T-T?  I seriously can’t remember. 

Maybe if I haven’t it’s because I gave up years ago even hoping for one.  I live in the Bible Belt.  Which means that most of the homeschooling support groups around here have been created by and for folks who are homeschooling for religious reasons.  Now, don’t get me wrong,  I haven’t got a single problem with people homeschooling for religious reasons.

I’m simply just not one of them.

I homeschool because it happens to be the best thing for my two children.  My faith doesn’t play into the homeschooling equation at all.  Well, o.k., I guess my faith makes me somewhat of who I AM as a mom and a person – – so maybe I could stretch it and say that it influences our homeschool – – but that would be about as far as I am willing to take it.

Most of the homeschooling groups around here take it much, much further.  Not a class, an activity, or a mom’s night out occurs without religion playing a HUGE part in it.  That would be all fine and well if everyone had exactly the same beliefs and exactly the same traditions – – but they don’t.  And that makes some of those homeschool gatherings completely awkward and uncomfortable.

So I quit trying to fit in to those groups years ago.  Figured I’d maverick my way through on my own – somehow.  But always still wishing there were someplace I fit in.  Someplace that accepted me the way I am.

Cut to – – THIS WEEK.

This week, I made a marvelous discovery.  A momentous discovery, in fact.

Right in my very own town is a fairly new homeschooling support group that calls itself “Inclusive.”  Isn’t that the most beautiful word you’ve ever heard in your life?? 

Inclusive means that they accept homeschoolers of every faith (or lack, thereof) – – every belief system – – every culture – – every color – – every difference.  Every EVERYTHING!!

So far, I’ve attended two events with this group and they have yet  to banish me because I don’t have the “secret decoder ring.”  They have a beautiful assortment of Christians, seekers, crunchy-wannabes, mainstreamers, and a mom or two who look like they could use a good vacation. (Well, ok, maybe that was just me catching my reflection in the car window)  And NONE of those people seemed to think I was the least bit out of place there. 

They smiled at me.  They talked to me.  They let me hang out with their kids.  I might even go so far as to say that some of them liked me.

Will wonders never cease??!!

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The Not-So-Great Outdoors

I’ve blogged many times that the Topsies offset their techie obsessions by heading off into nature on the weekends in search of the road less travelled.  Our adventures usually take us to a secluded waterfall or a hidden swimming hole.

We were pretty sure we hit pay-dirt a couple weekends ago when we headed to a completely isolated spot deep in the woods with a beautiful natural rock water-slide that ended in a chest-deep pool of frigid mountain refreshment.

It was the perfect destination on a 90+ degree afternoon, and H-T and I couldn’t wait to take our newfound amusement for a trial run! We trod over the rocks and sand, up the edge of the rock face, to where the water made its steepest decline – – and down we slid, caring not for the rock burns on our hind quarters as we glided down and landed in the cold bottom waters with squeals of delight.

Of course, once is never enough, so H-T and I made trek after trek up and down the watery amusement ride.  After several trips, though, I felt nature calling, and I headed off into the denser part of the undergrowth to where I could modestly take care of business. 

When I pulled down my swimsuit, however, I quickly realized that our family wasn’t the only one who found this abandoned watering hole to be perfectly lovely on a summer day.

Attached to my swimsuit, my legs, and my nether regions were a very ample supply of small, black leeches.

Now, I have to tell you right out that I am still in shock from how well I handled this discovery.  I calmly plucked the little “suckers” from their vacations spots, and started immediately thinking about the future. Like, how I was going to break it to my completely bug-a-phobic 13 year old, that he was likely to have some stow-aways himself.

There didn’t seem to be any easy way to share this news, so I just did it.  And we had the quickest transition from wooded swimming hole to nude beach you can ever imagine!  H-T had his shorts off in 1.5 seconds and was shouting “get them off! get them off!”  so loudly that some of the creatures probably detached and jumped back in the water themselves just from the pure fright of it all! 

I spent the next twenty minutes de-leeching H-T and his clothes and trying everything in my power to convince him that no, he could not hike back to the truck naked, even though his shorts had recently been home to unwanted guests. 

Two weeks later, we can now laugh about this experience – – a little bit.  But we have learned a very valuable life lesson in the process.

Sometimes being a family of computer geeks is a perfectly respectable aspiration in and of itself.

Why Gmail Is The Only “Real” Email

I lead a youth group.  Most of these young men and women think  that having an email address is basically laughable.  But for a busy, work-at-home, homeschooling, 30-something mom, email is still an absolutely indispensable part of life.

And in the two years that I’ve had a Gmail account, I’ve basically abandoned all my other email providers and gone full-on Gmail addiction.

Reasons:

  1. Gmail provides a way to check all other emails (except Yahoo) from one address.  And I have a LOT of different emails…several different ones for work, one for my freelance writing, one for family, one for online shopping, etc, etc.  I was about to go crazy until I recently discovered I could conglomerate almost all of them into one location.  AND it will let you send from whatever account the email came to. I can even have them come in with different colors for different accounts.  Priceless!!
  2. Labels!!!  Gmail has this terrific system for adding labels to your messages.  Its kind of like tagging pictures in a photo software, I guess.  But you can give labels, or categories, to any incoming or outgoing message so that when you need to find that email three months ago with the cannoli recipe your aunt sent you, you simply search your labels for “recipes” and voila – – there it is!  Ingenious!!
  3. Gmail Chat.  Although I don’t use it that often, I love looking over at my sidebar to see who is and isn’t online when I am.  If someone has sent me an email, sometimes its just more fun to respond to them in real time.  Snazzy!!
  4. I don’t know about you, but I live and die by “to-do” lists.  I always have at least 157 balls in the air at any one time, and if I didn’t keep track of what I need to do NEXT, then they would all come tumbling down on my head.  Gmail Tasks takes care of this easy-peasy.  You can simply type in your daily tasks (which is also automatically imported into the Google calendar), but you can also turn an email INTO a task, which is awesome!  So you get an email reminder from Joan at your co-op that you are supposed to bake 3 dozen Danish wedding cookies for the International Cuisine celebration two weeks from Tuesday.  You simply click on “Add to Tasks”, and it will let you choose the date, and will also connect directly back to that email, and it will all come to you in a big ole’ reminder two weeks from Tuesday on the dot!  Has. saved. my. life.   Miraculous!!
  5. How many times have you sent an email and forgotten to include the attachment?  Yep, me too.  Or you wrote an angry message you immediate wish you hadn’t.  Well, gmail gives you several seconds after hitting “send” to then click “UNDO.”  The message stops sending, you get to correct your boo-boos, and all is well with the world.  Stupendous!!
  6. If you use your email for work, or blogging, or any repetitious type of information, then you often need to include different web links in your messages. Gmail has a feature called “Quick Links” that sits in your sidebar and lets you insert any common web link into your email in one click.  So if you have told 20 different email friends about this new restaurant they need to try, and you have had to go searching for the link each and every time, you will never have to do that again with Quick Links.  It is always waiting there for you to click right in.  Wonderful!!

I’m telling you, if you aren’t using Gmail, you aren’t really emailing.

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