“Mama, the corn was really hopping!” Finn is obviously excited.
“And Finn added sand to the jar, and that started hopping too!” Zoe doesn’t seem too happy with Finn’s creativity, but must admit that he turned it into quite a science project.
“He also added rocks. The small ones stayed on the bottom, and the large one floated. How is that possible!”
Today’s science experiment was to create hopping corn. Add baking soda, vinegar and corn to a jar of water and let the fun begin. Of course no amount of trailer search could locate the food coloring that I purchased for our homeschool projects, but there really was no need for that. We did however locate a long lost jar of jam in our search.
It has been interesting to get our homeschooling off the ground this year. It is the second year that we are at it. Last year we started enthusiastically with a fabulous curriculum: A Child’s World. Zoe in first grade, and Finn doing the preschool curriculum. A Child’s World is created based on the fact that children are natural learners. It assumes that children intrinsically want to learn, as long as you do not push them to do something when they are not ready for it. It assumes that when you create a rich learning environment, your child will automatically be drawn to learn. All you need to do is offer support and listen to their questions.
For us it did really work like this. For instance, we would go to the library, and before we got home half of the recommended books would already have been read by the oldest. She would get home, race through the trailer collecting what she needed to make a map. “I need coffee, I need scissors, where is the paper?” Turned out that one of the suggestions in the curriculum was to read this particular book, and then create your own map. Not that any of us had read that far into the lesson plan. It really illustrated how offering the right book in this case encouraged Zoe to, on her own accord, create a school project.
Not that Zoe didn’t do these kinds of things before. I can remember vividly how, when she found out that we had not signed her up to participate in the spring ballet performance (these performances cost an arm and a leg!!) she decided to create her own porch ballet performance. She created her own choreography (in stick figures), made and delivered invitations, picked out music and practiced her routine. Half the neighborhood showed up to see the show and it was a huge success.
Last year we ended up spending half a year traveling in Europe. The kids were invited to join a few weeks in a Dutch school, which was incredibly helpful to help Finn get more confident in speaking Dutch. Zoe turned out to be totally ahead in terms of reading and writing, and the social setting was a treat to her. The rest of our time overseas, we ended up using workbooks for Zoe in order to make sure that we covered the basics to finish first grade. Since she likes doing book work, that was no problem. And really, when you are traveling, basically going from one field trip to another, life is school. With Finn we really focused on language, a lot of time to play and crafts. After that trip I could tell you for several countries where to get your inexpensive craft material. Chino, anyone? Action? And how about playing soccer with Spanish friends one week, and with French kids the next?
I kind of used our European travel as an excuse for not continuing A Child’s World. How would I find all those recommended books after all? Truth to be told, I was just a little overwhelmed. Even stationary in Colorado it had been difficult to get the library books ordered (they never seemed to be just there) and then in our house while we were actually working on a subject. It was daunting.
So why did I decide to go ahead and continue with this curriculum?
I see how incredibly different my two oldest are in their learning experience, and realized that although Zoe is game for pretty much anything school that we offer her, Finn not so much. I believe that the love of learning, the curiosity that we were all born with, is so incredibly valuable that we have to do anything we can to preserve that, and to feed into that. And because we homeschool, what better opportunity could one have to make the most of it?
When we started this year, from Alaska, we visited libraries on the way. Hardly ever did we come across a book on our list, so we tried to read books that were at least related to the subject we were working on, and for second grade we purchase one book per theme. When we were winging school, we weren’t very effective in actually making our way through the various activities that are suggested in every theme. Then I started planning everything out, making sure that I purchased the crafts items we needed in time and informing my homeschooling husband in detail what to do and when, and we were able to more or less work through the themes at a reasonable pace.
Of course all kids got a stomach bug, getting us behind, and we experienced quite the overload on driving days and when we added in field trips and hikes. But not doing bookwork every day has sparked a renewed interest in getting the books out now and again, even for the kindergartner. I have come to the conclusion that we do best when we combine a few different homeschooling styles, which makes us more flexible in our travels. Using workbooks is great when we just need to get some school done and hit the road, A Child’s World is fabulous when we have time to be crafty, want to do experiments and generally can work together with our children without distraction. And of course we create depth in everything we do when we are on the road. Hikes in an area we have never been in are absolutely educating and visiting a museum just the same. But even grocery shopping in a way that involves the children and together making smart decisions is school in a sense. As long as we don’t just go through the motions which often used to happen when we were living our life in our house, with our oldest going to public school. It is so much easier to just get the job done, especially when you have your kids in tow and time is limited.
The reality is that yesterday Antoine did activities from A Child’s World with the kids, today we hiked almost three miles to a salt lake, reading the informative signs along the way and tomorrow you may see our second grader at the laundromat doing more common tasks in math and spelling workbooks, or the kindergartner carefully tracing B’s.
One thing I really enjoy about A Child’s World is how the Pre-K/K curriculum engages the 3-year-old as well as my son. We now always have a sensory bin available, which our Loveland preschool always provided but I on my own accord never before created in our house. It can be as simple as coffee beans or corn in a crate with a lid. Add a scoop, some plastic bugs or marbles and the toddler will come asking for it. We also do a lot more other sensory activities, where we smell different things, create sound or simply stick our hands in jello. We have certainly done our fair share of finger painting over the past few years, but I am now offered so many new ideas when it comes to sensory experiences.
When you ask the kids what they did for school today, they may not always answer right away. We don’t talk about school as a limited event. Maybe we just baked brownies, where one child read the recipe, another practiced motor skills while mixing and the third child learned to measure liquids. Not a bad activity on a random school day.