Why I Decided to Unschool

We are into our fourth week of our 7th year of homeschooling (if you count our son’s preschool year as our “starting” year). My son would be entering grade 5 and my daughter grade 2. Anyone who has read past articles of my blog knows that we a) started homeschooling in a very traditional, school at home approach complete with workbooks and textbooks and b) that we have hopped curriculums more than… well, honestly, I’m drawing a blank for an appropriate analogy. But, something that hops a lot.

Why have we hopped around so much? Because like everyone else following a more traditional approach to homeschooling, we have always been looking for the “perfect” curriculum. We have wasted probably thousands of dollars on curriculum on this quest for perfection. We wanted something simple, easy, open and go, something with lessons all planned but that allowed flexibility, something engaging, that brought learning to life, that was hands on but not so hands on it required a lot of work, something that challenged them, but not too hard, so on and so forth. The list of criteria was endless and changing depending on our circumstances and needs at the time. No wonder we could never find a perfect match. And one need only to spend five minutes on any homeschooling group to know that our struggle is a common one.

Originally, in all of my curriculum-hopping, it did not ever occur to me that we were struggling so much because quite frankly, formal, forced learning is not how my child, or any child, learns best. Gradually, through the years, I started seeing comments online about topics such as delayed academics and unschooling, I saw people talking about the importance of following physiological, neurological and psychological development. I became curious, and thus started a roughly two year journey of reading and research.

Initially, what I learned and focused on in my reading and research, was that early academics (formal learning through workbooks, textbooks etc… before the age of 7), is actually shown to do more harm than good. (Interestingly enough, both Waldorf educator Rudolph Steiner and Charlotte Mason, knew this to be true, well before science was able to prove it.) This research  has been backed up time and time again with studies dating back to the 1920s, and yet is being ignored in public, private and homeschool education. Public education policy makers and homeschool curriculum publishers alike are completely ignoring what is best for the children, and instead pushing their own agenda and profits. Parents, ignorant of what research actually shows, are just following along like a herd of sheep, under the impression they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. I was no different, and even though I read and believed the research, I confess, that I was still too scared to let go of the only educational model I had ever known.

However, the more I read and learned, the most I started second guessing what I was doing. In fact, I could see the harm I was doing, as by grade 3, I had a son who absolutely despised math, and who by grade 4, truly was no longer enjoying “learning”. It was just something he had to do. But, hey, I was told by many parents that this was normal, and that really I just needed to teach him to “suck it up” because “that’s life”.  That ultimately, if I didn’t teach him the important lessons of, “You Have to Learn to Do Things You Don’t Like” and “Life Isn’t Always Fun”, I would be doing him a disservice. And of course, what better way to teach him this lesson than through education?

It wasn’t until the late fall of 2016, when I really started to see a need for change in our homeschool. I was asked to cover a film screening for Waldorf-educator Kim White’s film, “A Time To Play”.  The assignment led to a feature article discussing the decline in children’s play and it’s consequences. In doing research for the article, I came across the writings of Peter Grey, and I started to learn more about the history of unschooling, and what’s more, the evidence supporting it as being the most natural and arguably the most effective way that children learn*.

But, being perhaps the densest person on the planet, I still wasn’t ready to let go. We continued on our trudge through education through the winter and into the spring, as my son increasingly complained about “school time” and as my daughter had tantrum after tantrum during reading lessons. Week after week, we all became more discouraged.

At this point, all we were doing for lessons were the 3Rs – Math, Reading and Language Arts, because quite honestly, that was all we had left in us to give. We were using a very traditional workbook program (Christian Light Education). The lessons were so long and boring, that my son found it hard to stay focused. Consequently, it could take us 2 hours just to get through those subjects.

He had also started talking about using “lessons” as punishment for wrong-doers, and about inventing a robot that would do his lessons for him, so he wouldn’t have to. In hindsight, the signs were right there in neon, flashing in front of my face. Finally, one day he broke down crying, “Why do I have to do this? It just takes so long! It makes me so tired. I don’t want to learn anymore, it’s not fun.”

I felt like someone had kicked me in the gut, ripped my heart out and cracked me over the head, all at the same time. I had effectively crushed his joy of learning. The one goal I had in homeschooling (okay, one of the goals I had) was to instill a love of learning in my children. I had completely failed. Talk about a wake up call.  I grabbed all the children’s workbooks and pitched them in the garbage, and declared summer vacation, despite it only being May. I vowed that I would not crush my children with education. I would find a better way.

Fast forward to August. Despite everything that had happened in the spring, I found myself shopping the Christian Light website once more. What can I say? Old habits and insecurities die hard. I was afraid of breaking free from the traditional mold. I was afraid of my children falling behind. I was worried about what people would say if we went to a non-traditional approach.

I was also feeling emotionally overwhelmed, having just been through a very physically and emotionally draining summer, dealing with my father in law’s serious illness and helping with his care. We had also found out that major surgery was potentially looming on the horizon for our daughter, and that she was to be hospitalized the following month. At that particular moment in time, breaking free of what felt familiar and secure to me, was just not something that I could fathom. I felt in need of something open and go,  that would “hold my hand”. The idea of anything more parent-intensive was more than I felt like I could take on. I thought I was taking the easier route.

We made it through two full weeks, plus 5 minutes of the first day of the third week.  Every day was a fight. Every day there was a fit from our daughter at some point, during lessons. Her anxiety was through the roof during lessons. Our daughter has high functioning Autism, as well as health issues, and struggles with anxiety. She has always had very low coping abilities for new material, anything that presents as a challenge for her,  or for making mistakes.

Needless to say, our “school” was nothing like what I had envisioned for the year. All three of us were stressed out, my son often having to take his work upstairs to his bedroom so he could try to focus. Once again, we were merely muddling through the 3Rs, never getting to the “extra” subjects like science, history, literature and art – the subjects that are supposed to make education fun and enriching.

Finally, on the first day of our third week, what I am now calling our Homeschool Apocalypse, happened almost immediately after beginning lessons for the day. My daughter had the meltdown of all meltdowns during school. Ultimately it lasted two hours, was heart-wrenching and infuriating at the same time, ended with both my daughter and I in tears, and with me calling the local schools to find out information on enrollment. I was done. I could no longer do this. I was not going to completely disrupt my son’s education or my sanity any longer. Clearly my daughter had no respect for me as a teacher, so I would send her to school where someone else could teach her. Essentially, I was a failure and I was quitting. I sobbed for an hour.

That was without a doubt the lowest moment in our homeschool ever, and possibly in my ten years as a mother.

The storm passed, and I started to process everything logically, thinking through our options. Of course I couldn’t and wouldn’t send her to school – it was in no way what was best for her. But, neither was how things were going right now; they were not best for her, nor the entire family for that matter. Something had to change. I could see that clearly now. I was going to have to let go of all my insecurities, my hang ups, my worries and have faith in God that He was leading us on a new path, and that it would be okay.

I was talking to a friend of mine about the events of the morning, trying to pick her brain. She finally asked me this question, “Why not just unschool?” I mulled it over in my mind. Why not, indeed?  I went online and started searching, and finally stumbled across a Facebook group for unschooling with special needs. As I read through, I felt a sense of peace come over me. This was it. I was home.

Here were thousands of other parents who had dealt with similar struggles, who knew there had to be a better way to educate their children. Here were thousands of other parents who had decided to put their family and relationships first, before the almighty god of academia, that is so worshipped today. Here were thousands of other parents who were eschewing the check lists, multiple choice questions and rote learning, for something deeper.

In hindsight, I can see how God has been preparing me for this for quite some time, I was just too scared to head down another new and unfamiliar path. Choosing to step out of the box and homeschool is scary enough, let alone choosing to do so in a very non-traditional way. Initially, I was leaning towards full-blown unschooling.  I could see for myself how children can learn on their own, when they have the desire. Examples that I had been noticing over the last year in our own home included:

  • My daughter teaching herself how to play piano. She is now almost halfway through her Primer books. She can’t even read the instructions, yet she is figuring it out through the pictures. She loves to play the songs she has learned for us.
  • Likewise, I can already tell that she will teach herself music, in general. My mother (a now professional, completely self-taught singer, drummer, guitarist and harmonica player) gave her a guitar last year for Christmas. My daughter will sit up in her room, writing songs and trying to put them to music on the guitar and harmonica. No one has told her to do this, or showed her how to. It’s just something she wants to do, and is figuring it out.
  • In keeping with music, my son has a completely unprompted desire to learn to play the saxophone, and in fact we are buying him one for Christmas. We’ll provide the means, he’ll teach himself. He also loves to sing, and has an amazing ability to memorize melodies and lyrics alike, which he then loves to perform for others.
  • My son has a fascination with all animals, but especially birds. It is amazing what he has taught himself through his own self-driven interest. He is currently working through a 700-paged encyclopedia of North American birds, and we call him our little ornithologist. He can accurately identify upwards of 100 different species, and what’s more, tell you about their habitats, whether they’re scavengers, predators etc…
  • He is teaching himself how to draw. He pours through How to Draw books, will seek out examples of animated art online and then try to recreate them. As a result, he has a natural, budding talent as an animations artist. He also has developed incredible visual-spatial skills and the ability to reproduce a drawing with perfect accuracy in varying scales.
  • My daughter loves math. Of course, being on the spectrum, that can be a common “trait”. She loves discovering numerical patterns, and from an early age has loved playing with numbers. Consequently she has taught herself addition, subtraction, skip counting, money skills, time etc… Quite honestly, it has never ceased to amaze me how much she knows already, without having been taught.

I had believed that my children hated learning and the traditional academic subjects. After all, my son would be the first to tell you that he hated math, and my daughter would tell you that she hated reading. But what I’m realizing is that they hated them within the context of “school”. When you removed that direction, that pressure, that idea that it was something they had to do, suddenly, I was seeing a very different story. For example:

  • My son who hated math, absolutely loved playing math games on the computer. He also loved a unit study I had found called “Zoo Math”, where he was given a budget and was responsible for setting up and maintaining a zoo. The same child who would balk at having to do numerous math problems in a workbook, would add up golf and bowling scores for the entire family without batting an eye. He and his friends would easily do large number addition and subtraction when playing Yu Gi Oh. He loved being the banker during board games like Monopoly and Life.
  • My daughter who hated reading, absolutely loved to look through books. In fact, she preferred chapter books that were well above her reading level. She would sit and go through them page by page, running her finger along every line, seeking out the words she knew and challenging herself to try to figure out new words. She would constantly try to read the words that she found around her in life – whether on a sign at a store, or in the Missal at church.

What I had come to realize is that when those subjects had meaning to my children, when math or reading had a purpose, or when they were driven by interest, my children would eagerly engage. But when it was forced upon them, when it was just another new concept that had no particular meaning to them, or something they were not interested in learning at that time, they became disengaged and learning became something akin to pulling teeth.

I have always believed that interest-led learning was the way to go when it came to subjects like science and social studies, based on my own experiences in school. As an adult, like so many others, the only thing I remember from those subjects in school is that which I was interested in, or that which applied to my life. Children learn best and deepest that which they are interested in. So why is it so easy for us to believe this and follow this approach for all the “extra” subjects, but not the core subjects of reading, writing and math? Why do we trust children to learn some things, but then feel that others topics must be pounded into their head?

That was not what I wanted for my children. I didn’t want my children forced through rote learning. I want my children to desire learning about subjects because they could see the worth and value in their lives, because they have meaning to them.  I wanted learning to be something we could enjoy doing together as a family, I wanted it to be something that brings us closer together – not something that tears us apart.

Ultimately,  I wanted what my original vision of homeschooling was so many years ago: I wanted it to be a warm, engaging time together as a family.  A time where we curled up on the couch together reading, where we explored interesting science and history topics together, where we engaged in meaningful art projects, learned to appreciate nature and music, learned handicrafts and homemaking skills.

As I read more about unschooling, as I continued to talk to other parents who had made this choice, I was starting to see an education that no longer involved rigid workbooks with right and wrong answers that would stress my daughter out. Likewise, no more excessively long lessons that would make it hard for my son to stay focused. I saw a education of freedom that would allow my artistic and creative son to integrate his passion with his learning; that would allow us to support my daughter’s budding interest in music and handicrafts. In short, for the first time in a long time, I was starting to catch a glimpse of my original vision. Welcome back!

 

 

 

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Life and Learning

I am afraid this may turn into an eclectic post, filled with my rambling thoughts on life and learning, and how we approach each in our home. I’ve written a few times that this year has been a growing and changing year in our homeschool, but the truth is when I think about it, I realize that we’ve been growing and changing the past few years in home and school alike, and that our approach to homeschooling has grown out of the changes in our home life.

I first became aware of the Waldorf approach to education a few years ago, when we started our journey with Oak Meadow. While the Waldorf approach to the 3Rs did not work well for my children, aspects of the lifestyle which I was learning more about, did. In fact, I completely fell in love with many parts of it.

Now, we are far from purists, in fact I wouldn’t even remotely claim to say that we’re living a “Waldorf lifestyle”. But rather, that we have employed elements of it in our life. For example, we watch television and the kids own and play video games, but reading more about Waldorf did make us reassess and put stricter limits on how much they were getting of each. We don’t go to the extreme of eating certain foods and wearing certain colors on certain days, but we are striving to be more intentional about bringing rhythm to our days and weeks, even if just in little ways. We don’t strictly use only natural materials in our clothing and home, but we certainly are trying to use more. As Christians, we do not believe in Anthroposophy, but we do firmly believe in a holistic approach to raising and educating children.  We believe in equal importance of the heart, head and hands. Neglect one part and the whole being suffers.

Learning more about Waldorf led us to re-evaluate our children’s toys, both the quality and quantity. I admit, I never thought that my children had “too many toys”, until I compared them against the guidelines of Waldorf-inspired simplicity. We realized that we had a lot of toys that were never or hardly used – and most of those were the plastic, battery-chugging toys, or all those action figures that the kids just “had to have!” As we observed the children, we noticed that the toys they played with the most were the ones that allowed the most creativity – cars, wooden building blocks, Lego, wooden trains and Playmobil.  In the end, we got rid of almost everything else. It was refreshing.

We also ditched the cheap Crayola crayons and paints and colored pencils, and invested in rich, aromatic beeswax crayons, true watercolor paints with quality brushes, diving into the world of wet on wet watercolor painting. We bought wool roving and needles and tried wet and needle felting, making some Christmas ornaments which we donated to a charity event. We tried weaving and knitting, and baked more together.

I knew that I wanted nature, freedom and creativity to be the dominant forces in my children’s childhoods – not video games, television or organized activities. This isn’t to say the children aren’t involved in sports and activities, they are. But where once they may have had several activities per week, we now limited them to 1 each.  We placed a higher value on allowing the children more time for free play.

We also realized that in so doing, it afforded us another benefit that we didn’t even realize was missing – more time together as a family. My husband delights in his children, but like most working fathers, from Monday through Friday, he only sees the children for a few minutes in the morning and a couple hours in the evening. We realized that being on the go two or three nights a week for activities was seriously cutting into the time he got to spend with his children. And I’m sorry, but sitting on the sidelines watching your child play organized sports does not even come close to being the same as being home with the children reading books, playing board games, wrestling around in the living room, or kicking the soccer ball around in the backyard. Not that there isn’t value in supporting and cheering your child on in an activity they enjoy, but sideline parenting shouldn’t make up the bulk of your time together during the week.

Those were growing years, and this year, as I’ve been reflecting on our homeschool, I’ve come to realize that I want our homeschool to blend seamlessly within our lives, not to feel like an artificial extension. And yet, I have been struggling the last couple of years to find an approach that blends our personal values and goals, with a practical application that meets the hectic demands of a family with a child with special needs. To say nothing of matching the learning styles of our children, and the personality traits of all of us! Pure Waldorf didn’t work. Pure Charlotte Mason didn’t work. Pure traditional workbook-based didn’t work. Pure anything didn’t work.

As much as I have wanted there to be a neat and tidy, pre-packaged curriculum that is open and go, that works perfectly for both of my children, such a thing does not exist. As much as we loved the holistic, creative approach of Waldorf – it was far too much work for me to put together with our hectic lives, and their approach to reading and math was a horrible fit for my children, who thrive with workbooks.

Likewise, as much as I loved the short and sweet lessons of Charlotte Mason, the idea of narration being the only comprehension exercise necessary, and the beautiful idea of spreading a liberal arts feast before my children – the numerous short lessons drove my son up the wall, he hated narration, and try as we might, we just never could keep up to all the liberal arts studies.

While using a workbook only approach seemed like it would be the winner – after all, my children are both visual learners who love workbooks, and they are certainly an easy , open and go approach for a hectic life, workbooks for everything was just plain boring. It was also far too much writing for my son who has joint-related fine motor issues.

I was feeling pressure this year – after all, this was my son’s grade 4 year. He only had one more year of “elementary school” before he would be considered “middle school” – the years when one was supposed to start getting more serious about education. The years that prepare students for the academically challenging years of high school, which prepare them for college, their career, their life. Suddenly the distant future felt like it was looming on the horizon, and here we were, only managing to get the 3Rs done with any amount of formality or consistency.

Art and music lessons were non-existent, the only social studies my children had really learned was the names of the provinces – no ancient history other than some reading about Egypt and China, two countries that interested my son. As for science… well, I actually felt okay about science, because my son is a born naturalist who devours bird and animal encyclopedias. He is currently reading cover to cover, a 750+ paged encyclopedia on the birds of North America. Every day we were being told a new and interesting fact about some species. But outside of his self-directed learning, the most we did for science was the occasional Magic School Bus science kit or tv episode. Forget about learning a foreign language of any kind, let alone Latin. I felt like a homeschooling failure.

But why?

By whose standards was I a failure? The public education system we have chosen to eschew? By the standards of Rudolph Steiner? Or Charlotte Mason? Or the fellow homeschool Moms who used very heavy academic, traditional approaches full of textbooks and workbooks? It dawned on me that I have spent years believing others when they tell me that my children have to read “x” book or study “y” subject at “z” time, in order to have a successful education. That without these things I am somehow failing my children.

I’ve been waking up to the lie this year, and slowly taking a stand against it. In fact, I am now at the place where I refuse to believe it. Following some other person’s academic ideals with rigidity is not what makes me a success as a homeschool teacher. Teaching my 6 year old about Ancient Rome & Greece does not make me a success. Nor does doing picture study, composer study, hymn study or reading Shakespeare to a 9 year old.

What makes me a success is acknowledging  and respecting my children’s individual areas of strength and challenge, their learning styles, and their areas of interest – and then building their education around them. What makes me a success is realizing that by following their interests now, I am opening the door to future learning. I am helping them learn how to love learning, now, rather than burn them out with drudgery and required work that in no way applies to their lives.

As I sat reflecting on all that we haven’t accomplished in the past 5 years of learning, I decided to shift my thoughts, and instead think of all that we have accomplished:

  • I have taught one child to read well ahead of his years, and another is in the process of learning. What’s more – my children love to be read to. We have spent countless hours reading through storybooks, poetry, classic literature and the silly stories of Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl. Consequently they have impressive imaginations and excellent vocabularies.
  • Both children are proficient in math. My youngest is extremely skilled in math facts and my oldest is showing real aptitude in the visual realm of mathematics, such as geometry.
  • They both have excellent penmanship, and are learning cursive.
  • They enjoy writing stories and letters to their pen pals.
  • They have picked up computer skills naturally on their own, without it having to be a forced subject in school at the expense of others.
  • They have taken countless nature walks, learning the art of observation, and have an excellent awareness of and love for, the natural world.
  • They are both talented artists, with my son being skilled at drawing, and my daughter developing a penchant for painting. They enjoy going to art galleries, examining various styles of art.
  • They both are natural musicians who love to sing, and enjoy listening to all forms of music including classical. My son can accurately identify Vivaldi’s Seasons and some of Beethovens work as well.
  • Enjoying poetry, both children have now memorized several poems for fun, and have even given recitations at our homeschool Christmas party. This has helped with the skills of elocution, public speaking and has helped my daughter with her speech errors.
  • My son is an amateur ornithologist, not only capable of accurately identifying dozens and dozens of species of birds from across the globe, but he can also tell you their habitats, eating habits, if they’re endangered, protected and more.
  • My daughter has a love for homemaking and handicraft skills, and at only 6 years old, is quite a talented baker, enjoys cooking breakfast for the family, loves to help with sewing, and is learning how to knit.
  • They have helped every year with the garden – from rock picking to snapping beans, and everything in between. They also help with the grocery shopping, and are fully capable of making purchases themselves. They help with household chores and maintenance. Our daughter (out of her own free will) helped her father build our new deck at 6 years of age – skillfully using the tools alongside her father. One of our strongest desires is to raise children who are perfectly capable of running a household.
  • We have done financial math projects, where they are given a budget and have to manage a “store” – purchasing stock and supplies, dealing with unexpected expenses, paying employees etc…
  • They have learned numerous Bible stories and have already memorized several prayers of our Catholic faith. They have a love for the Lord that astounds me sometimes.
  • We have done countless field trips to a historical settlement village where they have milked a cow, fed pigs, washed horses, threshed flax, spun wool, baked using a wood stove, played antique games and been witness to a different era of living. On other field trips, they have learned how pizzas are made and how dairy farms work – they were even privy to watch a calf being born. They have been to one of the largest green houses in North America to learn about their operations, they have been to art museums, science museums, aquariums, zoos, general historical museums, and a planetarium. They have been to an apple orchard where they not only picked apples and made fresh pressed cider, but learned all about the workings of commercial apple growing. I’m sure there’s more that I’m forgetting.
  • They have participated in science and social studies project fairs, presenting their projects on Ancient Egypt, Canada, the Canada Goose, and Volcanoes.
  • They have watched countless hours of Dr. Quinn, which has led to discussions on women’s rights, the historical treatment of Native Americans and African Americans, slavery, prejudice, and much more.
  • And during our many trips to the children’s hospital, they have learned patience, tolerance, compassion and understanding, the reality of disease and disability and respecting others who look, speak and act different from us, and they have learned to appreciate the blessings that they have in life.

As I reflect on this much lengthier list, I can now see that my earlier assessment was wrong. My children have been learning much in the way of science and social studies, as well as home economics, arts and more, despite the lack of formal teaching thereof. I can also see now that perhaps while I thought I was searching for our “niche”, I had already found it. It would appear that our rather “unschooling” approach to “Everything Else”, has not been failing us, but rather, has given our children thus far a rich and varied education, one that is developing not just their minds, but their hearts and hands as well. Perhaps the traditionalists, Rudolph and Charlotte would be proud after all.

Tiny Houses, Rice and Poverty Appropriation

Am I the only one that thinks we seem to be a society obsessed with finding things to get offended and upset about? Every day my newsfeed is filling with people debating over this or that, or ranting about how they were offended by Joe Blow’s opinion which really has nothing to do with them.  Today, however, I saw a new one. I came across an article from a woman who is upset over, get this – tiny houses. Yup. She is claiming that those living in tiny houses are engaging in “Poverty Appropriation”. Don’t believe me? Read the article here.  Meanwhile, I feel like I must *sigh*. Surely, we have hit a new low in the list of Things to Get Offended About. 

Now, before we go any farther, I’ll  just stop right here and say that yes, I realize that her article is actually about more than tiny houses, and that yes, she does have a point – sort of. I also want to say that in absolutely no way  am I diminishing the experiences of those who live in poverty.  Poverty in today’s day and age is unacceptable, and something that I think we should be doing more to work towards ending, especially poverty caused by systemic oppression.

That said – while the author may have had a point, she lost credibility when she completely misinterpreted what cultural appropriation is by accusing things of being appropriation, when they really aren’t; when she decided to belittle people for their personal lifestyle choices, just because essentially, she’s upset that they have a choice.

So, to start with, to appropriate something means to take something that doesn’t belong to you. Cultural appropriation in it’s most stripped down version is when someone adopts aspects of a culture that is not their own. But it’s actually not that cut and dried, because we live in a culturally diverse country.

In Canada and the United States, our population is made up of hundreds of different ethnicities.  Save for the Native Americans, we all immigrated from other cultures and countries. We became a cultural melting pot, and when that happens, you will naturally have happen what is called cultural exchange – all the various dialects, customs, skills, and religious traditions rub off on each other.  This happens as a result of natural sharing.

The North American traditional celebrations of Halloween and Christmas are excellent examples of this – how we celebrate these holidays today, is really just a mix of centuries old traditions that were brought overseas by immigrants of different countries. We all eat corn today thanks to the Native Americans. We have our current English language thanks to the Anglo-Saxons, Germans, French, Greeks and so forth. We drink coffee today thanks to Ethiopians. The list goes on and on…

Cultural appropriation on the other hand has it’s roots in exploitation. Instead of merely exchanging information, sharing knowledge for survival, picking up on sayings or dialects just through general exposure, eating something because it was shared with you and you enjoy it, cultural appropriation is taking something for the purpose of gain, which isn’t always financial. An example would be white people using “black slang” (more appropriately known as African American Vernacular English) phrases and sayings that they have no knowledge and understanding of, just to sound “cool”.

But really, we need to take it even a step further, and to do so I’ll share a good description of cultural appropriation, which I found online: “Cultural appropriation refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of  a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systemically oppressed by that dominant group.”

So basically, cultural appropriation happens when those in power use a minority culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols etc…  for the purpose of personal gain, or in a way that misrepresents the culture in such a way that perpetuates negative stereotypes about that culture. An example would be Katy Perry dressing as a geisha during the 2013 American Music Awards.

So, with that, let’s go back and take a look at the article in question, and it’s claims of appropriation:

  1. The Tiny House MovementFor starters, the author didn’t even get her facts straight – while the latest movement started in the 90’s, tiny houses have been a thing off and on for many decades, well before the most recent movement began. But regardless, in no way, shape or form, is this poverty appropriation. Again, the definition of appropriation is to steal something from a typically oppressed culture for personal gain at the expense of said culture, or in a way that perpetuates negative stereotypes.

    “Tiny Homes” are not a poverty “thing”. While yes, when it comes to poverty, there can be (it’s not inherent) a stereotypical image of a run down trailer with corrugated sides and a trailer hitch, anyone who has seen the modern tiny homes, with their modern conveniences, lavish interiors and attractive exteriors, knows that these are in no way modeled off “trailer park” homes. In no way are these perpetuating the stereotypical poverty-stricken trailer park home image. As an aside, not everyone, or even the majority of people living in poverty live in mobiles. They can live in apartments, small homes, large homes, cars, under bridges etc…

    Secondly,  those choosing to live in tiny homes are in no way experiencing personal gain at the expense of those living in poverty. They are not exploiting anyone, in any way. They are simply making a personal choice on where they want to live, and how they want to spend their money.

    Lastly, and most importantly, those choosing to live in tiny homes come from a myriad of cultural and financial backgrounds.  This means that the power dynamic mentioned earlier, which is key in cultural appropriation, is missing.

    Those who choose to live in tiny homes due so for a wide variety of reasons, including people recovering from financial setbacks, young couples and students who want to save money, retired couples who no longer need as much space, people who want to live greener, those who recognize the current trend of having “too much” and want to simplify, or those who just like the houses themselves.

    Yes, the key here is that these people have made the choice to live in a small home, with less material possessions. No, not everyone has that choice. No, it’s not fair, but it is life.

    However, just because someone has the ability to own a larger home, yet chooses the same size home as someone living in poverty, doesn’t make them guilty of appropriation. Likewise, just because someone can afford to own more material possessions, does not mean that they are required to. If they want to choose to live simply, without multitudes of furniture, toys, books, electronics etc… that is their business. It is their own path to peace and satisfaction, and again, is not in any way cultural appropriation.

  2. “Trailer Park” themed restaurants and bars 

    Now yes, this one is cultural appropriation. Why? Because privileged people are essentially making money by mocking the circumstances of others. They are also perpetuating negative stereotypes, and yet at the same time, are also glossing over the harsh realities of the life of poverty.  It’s wrong and offensive.

  3. White people living on welfare/Food Not Bombs 

    Now, I’ll admit, I’m not actually sure if the author was trying to give this as an example of poverty appropriation, but considering she included it in her article we can assume so. Once again, she is wrong. Are these issues? Yes, for sure. But not ones of appropriation.The fact that the FNB donations were going to white people, instead of those of other races, in my opinion, was a prejudice issue.

    Now, as for her claim that white people “praise” other white people for living off the system, that’s far from reality. Are there some radical anarchists who would praise mooching off the very government they despise? Yes. And I’m sorry that was her experience. But, I want to point out that  those people are far from the majority. They are in fact the rare exception.

    Most of us “white” people criticize all people, of all color who abuse the system. Since our hard-earned tax dollars are going to pay for the system, we want to see our money go to the people who truly need it – regardless of race, creed or orientation.

  4. Poor People Food?

    Once again, this is not poverty appropriation. For starters, there is no set-in-stone, cultural food for poverty. Those living in poverty eat whatever is available. It might be pasta, it might be foraged greens, beans, rice, eggs from the chicken they own, bread etc… It will vary with whatever is available.I have family members that grew up in poverty. They ate a lot of liver because at that time it was a cheaply available meat. When my husband and I were broke and living paycheck to paycheck, barely above the poverty threshold, we lived on pasta – so. much. pasta. However, you do not hear us, nor my other family members complaining or being offended when restaurants serve liver or pasta. Why? Because there is nothing offensive about it. They are foods that millions of people across the globe enjoy.

    People of all races, from all financial backgrounds have been eating pickles, rice, beans, foraged and stewed greens, bone broth soups, bread, pasta etc… for thousands of years. In no way, is it poverty appropriation for a restaurant to serve these items. Just because someone living in poverty eats rice, does not mean that others can’t.

    Now, once again, I understand that these people have the choice to eat these foods, when other people don’t. But once again – just because someone has a choice that you don’t, doesn’t make them guilty of appropriation.

At the end of the day, aside from the Butter Bar, or whatever that place wants to call itself, there was absolutely nothing that the author talked about that even remotely fell under the definition of cultural appropriation. Sadly, her only legitimate complaint was that other people have/had choices that she didn’t. Which sucks. I get that, I really do. And I can appreciate how it can be hard for her to understand other people’s decisions when she comes from such a different background.

But therein lies the problem. Because, despite her claim that she wasn’t trying to “throw them under the bus”, the author of this article threw around some very real and serious accusations at people/situations that did not warrant them in the least. And we as a society need to stop doing that.

On one hand people today are saying we need to be more open and have discussions on the numerous issues at hand, including appropriation; and yet on the other hand, just like this author, these same people are refusing to try and understand the other points of view.  Instead, they shut down discussion by slapping powerful labels where they don’t belong – calling Christians who oppose gay marriage homophobes, calling people who have legitimate concerns on immigration policies xenophobes, calling people who choose to live in tiny homes poverty appropriationists.

You can’t have it both ways – you can’t claim to want to openly discuss issues, while shaming and erroneously name-calling those with different view points, or who make different choices than you feel they should.  When you do so, all you succeed in doing is shutting down communication and the chance for real education. And when that happens, change can not happen.

A Photo Essay of Spring

As a parent, I have snapped thousands of photos of my children, mostly for the sake of superficially capturing memories of the things we did – we came, we saw, we did this. But sometimes, it goes deeper than that. Sometimes, a photo becomes more than just a reminder that you were there and did this, instead, it captures the emotions of the moment, and you find yourself truly able to feel and live the experience with the subject.

I love to write, and yet, sometimes words fail to adequately express the emotion of a moment.  How to begin to describe a child’s face, when the expression thereupon is one of sheer joy and excitement and freedom? What words does one use to accurately paint the image in one’s mind of the exhilaration a child experiences when jumping into a puddle?

And so, I am going to let the pictures do the talking; I will let them tell you the story of a boy and a girl outside on a warm, sunny, April afternoon.

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Saying Goodbye to Charlotte

Back in the fall I wrote a couple posts about not feeling like you need to adhere to any particular pedagogy religiously. That it is okay to “tweak” things as necessary to work for you and your family. I wrote how I myself have struggled for years to find what works best for my children and our often hectic life.

I’ve known for awhile now that my son does best with workbooks, and yet, I’ll admit, the Charlotte Mason philosophy has been a hard one to let go of. I’m part of a few Charlotte Mason groups online and the fan base is rather large, with many who are rather zealous advocates. I learned a lot from the conversations on those groups, and overall I found their well-meaning and articulate comments were intended to be encouraging. However, I will admit that reading through those groups also often left me feeling guilty that I was not doing enough, or doing it right; that I just needed to try harder.

Here’s the thing: I really, really, wanted to follow the Charlotte Mason approach. We’ve been trying it for over two years now. Every fibre of my being agrees that it is a beautiful and enriching approach to education that can produce excellent results. But I have finally come to the realization that it just doesn’t work for us, no matter how much I want it to, no matter how hard I try. And finally, I have come to accept that this is okay.

This isn’t a realization that I came to suddenly, but rather something I have been gradually realizing over the last few months. In January our daughter ended up spending a couple days at our local ER which led to being admitted to her children’s hospital for seven days, six hours away from home.  Despite having just finished Christmas break, needless to say, lessons were put on hiatus again.  Once we were back home, I was too physically and mentally exhausted to even think about doing school, so we took another week off.

During this time off, I had a lot of time to think and reflect on our school – the past, the present, and what I wanted for our future. I had that little nagging voice in my head that was telling me that something just wasn’t working, and I needed to figure out what it was.

I finally came to realize that school felt like it had become nothing more than a check list of Charlotte Mason to-dos that just were not getting done, which was resulting in feelings of guilt and failure for me. There were so many subjects to keep track of at one time, and we were all tired of hopping from subject to subject every day. Just starting to read a chapter in this book on geography, and then the next day reading something different in science, then the next day reading something different again. We wanted to really be able to dive in and enjoy a subject, to soak it up – not be constantly stopping and starting.

Likewise, trying to keep up with the numerous enrichments was overwhelming me, even though people kept saying it’s easy to do. It was all feeling so forced – I was tired of trying to keep up to a list of which study we should be doing which day and constantly feeling behind when we missed that day for some reason. So I tried loop scheduling as some people suggested, but that didn’t change the fact that we  just weren’t getting to those “extra” subjects – which people kept telling me were actually the very core of a Charlotte Mason education.

In all honesty, many of the enrichments, picture study especially, were feeling contrived: telling my children they have to look at a picture they have no interest in, because some woman 100 years ago said we should. How on earth was that enriching their lives? My children love art, they love creating art, and they love seeing art – when we go to an art gallery. Because there they are free to explore many types of art, and they can find the pieces that speak to them, that interest them. There, in that setting, they will stand and stare, drinking that picture into their soul, figuring out what it is that they like, or perhaps dislike about it.

I was also tired of feeling guilty about our literature times together. Every morning at breakfast we read from our selected read-aloud, which we only ever do one of at a time. We love to dive into our books, and sometimes we will read 2 or 3 chapters of a delicious book in one sitting.

But according to Charlotte this was wrong – we shouldn’t be reading so much at one time, and we should always have multiple books going at a time. I wasn’t cultivating the habit of attention properly, and according to many, there was no way the material was truly sinking in like it would be, if I did it the “right way”. Never mind that after reading, my children would jump up and act out extremely detailed scenes from what we had just read. Or that sometimes our readings would lead to discussions on certain topics or ideas that had come up – things that they would remember long after we had read that particular chapter.

We also were enjoying a selection of adapted classics – something I never admitted on the groups, where these books were repeatedly called twaddle and were frowned upon.  I tried to do the “right” thing, and I did try to read the original versions to my children. But here is what I learned: when I tried to force the original versions with their archaic language on my children, they were completely disengaged. They did not enjoy the stories, nor did they take anything in.  They would essentially shut down while I was reading.

But see, here’s the thing: the language in the original classics was the language of the day (or at least recent enough that it was familiar), thus, these books were much easier for children of Charlotte’s era to understand. But that is not the case today. Right or wrong, the prose of 150 to 250 years ago,  is not the one our children are growing up with today. We need to respect that many children are going to need modernized versions, without criticizing the parents for not challenging their children enough.

I have come to realize that I fully believe it is better to read a modern-language version that allows the child to comprehend what they are hearing, and to become engaged in the story. This in turn encourages a love of literature, as opposed to forcing something on them they can’t understand, which only discourages them.

These are the things that I mulled over and over in my mind that week, and have continued to think about since then. Ultimately what I have come to is that I am tired of our education feeling like a constantly unfinished to-do list. I am tired of our education feeling like it never quite meets the incredibly high bar set out by others who are not living our life. I am tired of measuring our success by other people’s standards for their families. I want something that engages my children and makes them look forward to lessons, instead of something that has begun to feel like drudgery. Ultimately, I want them to love learning, and I want their learning delivered in a format that makes it easy for them to learn. This is not the same as saying they won’t be challenged.

And so, roughly a month ago, we dropped all the Charlotte Mason enrichment studies that had been part of our Morning Time. I was tired of forcing these enrichments on my children, just because Charlotte said my children needed them to have a fulfilled education and life. I realized that they were already being exposed to these things organically: singing hymns on Sunday, or whenever else the mood hit them – our daughter loves to sing the Gloria at random times. I realized we were already reading a variety of rich poetry and literature for fun. We already visited art galleries, museums, as well as the playhouse to enjoy plays and music.  We listen to classical music in the car when driving somewhere, or whenever my kids feel like a romp and want to act out the stampeding warriors of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.

I admit I had no idea when we would read Shakespeare, or if we would ever read Plutarch. Nor, quite frankly, did I care anymore. As for Nature Study, we never got it done anyways, so it really wasn’t a big loss from the schedule.  What we would continue to do however, was spend lots of time outside together and going for walks. Whenever my children find a rock, or shell or feather that excites them, we stop and examine it, and it inevitably finds a home on our “Nature Sill”.  I knew we would continue to stop and watch the squirrels scampering up a tree, or listen to the variety of birds singing. We would teach the art of observation organically, without having to come back and make a lesson out of it with water colors and a journal and oral or written narrations.

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And so it was a step towards joy to let go of a large chunk of “Charlotte”. Instead of trying to cram several different forms of literature and studies into our time together at the breakfast table, we enjoyed a Bible story, our read aloud, and then ended in prayer time. Short and sweet. Simple. Refreshing.

Life and lessons continued on. We kept up with the Charlotte Mason approach to language arts with copywork and dictation, science and history, and always of course the infernal narration. My son hates narration with a passion. We have been at it over two years now – he hated it when we started, and he still hates it today. And slowly I have been coming to realize that because of his hatred of narration, it is not working as a learning tool, as it is supposed to be. I would read to him, or assign him something to read, only to have him look at me pleadingly, sometimes anxiously, saying, “Please Mom, please, don’t make me narrate.”

And so, after much prayer and consideration, I decided to say goodbye to Charlotte completely. It has been a very hard decision – the toughest one I’ve made in our homeschooling journey. It has been very hard for me to give up on my picture of their education, but I’ve come to realize that my ideals are hindering them. So, I am letting them go because I know that deep down, it is what is best for my children and for our family. In letting go of Charlotte, I will be opening up their education to it’s full potential.

We are a week into our new approach, which is your very basic, traditional workbook approach – the complete opposite of what I wanted when I started homeschooling several years ago.  But already, I can see my children thriving, especially my son. Most in Charlotte Mason circles scorn workbooks, calling them the “easy way out”, claiming they don’t teach children to think as deeply as narration does. Yet, I am here to say that workbooks have opened up my son’s ability to think. Working through the workbook questions allows my son to process the information he has read, which in turns leaves him better able to discuss it. He is retaining information better and he is better able to articulate his thoughts. He is no longer dreading science or history lessons because of the narration he knew would come at the end. He is enjoying the variety of exercises in his grammar and spelling workbooks – he told me after the first few days that he was glad to have some variety. He had gotten tired of doing copywork and dictation day after day; always the same thing, just different words.

Our daughter, who has Autism and health issues, is loving her workbooks. She is taking great pride in being able to read the instructions to herself, always saying, “Look Mommy! Listen! I can read them Mommy! I can do it!” It gives her a small area of life that she can have some freedom and more importantly to her, control over. So much of her life is out of her control – the inability to manage her feelings and emotions, her struggles socially, and thanks to her bowel disorder, even what happens to her own body. It may seem such a small thing  – the ability to work independently with a workbook, but to her, it’s a big thing, and it’s bringing a smile to her face during lesson time that I have never seen before.

I wish the pure Charlotte Mason philosophy of education could have worked for us, I do. There is a part of me that feels a bit envious of those who were able to make it work, and not just “make it work”, but who truly thrived with it. But there’s a bigger part of me who is proud to have realized and acknowledged it wasn’t working, and to have had the courage to make such a radical change. I’ve finally learned that there is no curriculum or method out there  is inherently any better than any other, when it comes to achieving an excellent education for your children. Because the best curriculum is the one that meets your child’s individual needs, not your ideals.

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

As I write this, it is December 30, 2016, 10:03 pm. The final day of the year, and the start of the new year, are just around the corner. Already my Facebook news feed is blowing up with posts from those reminiscing about 2016, as well as their hopes for 2017. I confess that I am looking ahead to 2017, feeling rather discouraged. It’s not that I’m being pessimistic, but more that this year I am looking ahead with realism more than optimism.

We started 2016 with the hope that this would be the year we would find out what was causing our daughter’s GI issues, and be able to treat it. While we do now have a better idea of what is wrong, we are still no closer to having it treated. In fact, things are worse now at the end of 2016, than they were in the beginning. Attempts at treating her condition through medicine have fully failed our daughter, and it looks to be about a 99.9% certainty that major surgery looms on the horizon for 2017.

It’s a bit discouraging to know that 2017 will more than likely not be any easier than 2016 – and 2016 was a rough year. We racked up over 10,000 km for various medical appointments (of which there were over 30), our daughter went through an in-depth therapy evaluation at an Autism Rehab center, 3 full general anesthetics, an MRI, a rectal biopsy and a dental surgery. She also had 6 or 7 x-rays,  a holter study, a motility test, and 4 UTIs. Doctors tried her on a total of 8 different bowel medications. She received a soft diagnosis of a genetic disorder (confirmation via geneticist pending) and started a new social skills program with a new OT. She ended the year with a medical team which includes a general practitioner, two pediatricians, a gastroenterologist, rheumatologist, general surgeon/urologist,  psychologist, dietician, occupational therapist and social worker.

Despite our initial hopes otherwise, she has ended the year fully incontinent and in Pull Ups full time. We have watched her heart break as other children tease her.  We have watched her tiny belly bloat until you would think it might pop. We have watched her curl up on the floor whimpering in pain. At other times we have watched her double over, crying, almost screaming in pain as medicinal-induced spasms rack her belly. We have had to watch her cry, and beg us to tell the doctor’s to perform surgery to fix her, so she doesn’t have to, “wear diapers any more, take any more medicine and so my belly will feel better.”  We have ultimately watched our initial hopes for 2016 be dashed, and we have been rendered to the point of feeling completely helpless.

Unfortunately, while we did receive a few answers in 2016, we were still left with more questions and many unknowns. Granted, we know there will be more pain, more invasive testing, more time in hospitals and as I already mentioned, likely a major surgery. What we don’t know however, is when will this all happen? What tests exactly? What type of surgery? Or will they try one of the newer, experimental treatments? What will the impact of the treatment be on her life? Our lives? Will she still be able to play soccer? Will she be able to go swimming?  How much of a social impact will treatment have on her? Will she end up with a colostomy bag that will lead to more teasing? Will she cooperate with the daily flushes that a cecostomy would bring? Will the treatment even work?

And so, with more uncertainty than certainty in our future, I will start our new year with calls to her doctors, administering medications, keeping stool diaries, changing diapers, and reading medical journals about sacral nerve stimluation therapy, as well as researching the four different surgical options that could be used to treat her condition.

With that out of the way, as I reflect back on the rest of the year, I have to say, despite how it may sound, 2016 was not all bad. Despite all the negativity, we had many, many wonderful moments and made some precious memories. Some things were bigger like the impromptu weekend get away we took to St. Andrews and New River Beach. Or our family trip to New Hampshire, where we rented a trailer in the White Mountains for a few days and enjoyed the local theme parks.

Then there were the numerous “smaller” moments: the simple, every day moments that to me are the most cherished. Moments like soccer practices and dance recitals, going as a family to get our Christmas tree, silly moments of dress up and impromptu singing and Christmas plays, trips to the local park and fishing in the stream, snowmobiling in the back yard and snowboarding at the local ski hill.

There evenings as a family cuddled on the couch watching a tv show together; there were bedtime stories and bedtime snuggles, there were afternoons spent baking together in the kitchen or playing outside on a sunny day. There were the backyard fires in the summer evenings where we roasted marshmallows and there were birthday parties,  Easter, Thanksgiving and Halloween. There was the lemonade stand in the spring, and picking blackberries in the summer. Days of going to the farm market for a sausage and maple candy.

And of course, there were the countless hours we spent homeschooling the children. While there were obviously “those” days (the ones where I wondered why on earth we ever decided to do this in the first place?!), the vast majority of our days homeschooling were fun and rewarding. Our avid-reader son seems to have finally conquered his hatred of math, and our math-fanatic daughter has become a blossoming early reader. We enjoyed field trips, projects and experiments, reading great literature and examining classical art and music.

More than once this year I have been so grateful that we were led by God to homeschool. I can not imagine having to deal with all our daughter is going through, if it were all compounded by dealing with the public school system at the same time – dealing with IEPs and ensuring she has the right support, having to make up for countless missed days and the teasing our daughter would undoubtedly endure.

Being home together as a family has allowed us to support our daughter, and each other, in  ways that  would not be possible otherwise. The children have an incredibly strong bond, and my son is developing an empathetic maturity well beyond his years. Instead of being left behind with various family members when we have to travel for appointments so he can attend school, we get to travel as a family. We try hard to make each hospital trip feel like a “mini-vacation” to the children, by staying in a hotel with a pool, an experience which thankfully my children are still young enough to think is second only to Disney World.

And so, this New Year’s, I won’t say that I hope 2017 is going to be a better year than 2016. I’m being realistic. But, what I do hope, is that 2017 is much the same as 2016 – a year that while filled with many moments of worry, pain and uncertainty,  will also be filled with even more moments of the simple, every day pleasures of life. For they are the moments that give life it’s beauty among the chaos.

So Your Child Wants to Learn…

So as you can tell in my previous posts, I feel very strongly against early academics. This belief is not just some random personal opinion, but one that is backed up by countless studies and evidence. That said, I also believe that all children are individual, and as such, some children will naturally (meaning without Mom or Dad suggesting it or leading them to it) want to learn to read or write or do math problems, earlier than others.

So what do you do when your 4 or 5 year old wants to learn to read, yet you know that plunking a formal phonics in front of them is not developmentally appropriate? I’ve touched on this briefly in other posts, but today I thought that I would write out a list of great, early learning activities for the child that wants more!

A key to remember in the early years – make learning as multi-sensory as possible. All children learn best through multi-sensory means during the early years. This doesn’t mean that they will enjoy all approaches or may not have a preference, but that giving them a variety of sensory inputs is beneficial to their learning.

Reading/Writing

1. Introduce letter names and sounds first through alphabet picture books, Montessori sandpaper letters, alphabet blocks, songs, alphabet stickers or flashcards if the child is interested in them.

2. Reinforce letters and their sounds, and also work on early writing skills through fine motor activities such as drawing letters in the air, or in sand, flour, glitter, cornmeal, shaving foam (etc) on a baking tray with their finger. Gradually move to a stylus (a chopstick works well) in the above mediums. Let them finger paint the letters on paper. Then move to them writing their letters on a white board with marker, then a slate with chalk, then unlined paper with crayon, then a pencil. Always progress from easiest mode to hardest, and only at the child’s speed. They can also paint the letters with a brush.

Another fun activity might be getting the children to create their own set of alphabet flashcards in a crayon resist: Have them write the upper and letter case letters on the back of a recipe card (or a 4×6 piece of white cardboard) in crayon. Then, have them paint over the letters in water color (make sure they use lots of water so the paint isn’t too thick). The crayon will resist the paint and create an interesting effect.

3. Reinforce letters and their sounds through gross motor activities such as drawing letters on your back with their finger, and having you guess them (this puts them in the role of “teacher”, something most children enjoy). Then you can switch and you draw letters on their back and have them guess which letters – this is an excellent activity for helping them visualize the letters.  You can create masking tape letters on the living room floor or draw them in chalk outside on the driveway and have the children run, walk, hop, skip, crawl etc… over the letters while they chant the name/sound. You can also write the entire alphabet in chalk on the driveway, call out a letter or a sound, and have them jump to the letter you call out. For an indoor version, invest in one of the alphabet foam play mats, and scatter the letters across the playroom floor. Play a bean bag toss game where they toss a bean bag and have to say the letter name/sound of whatever letter the bean bag lands on.

4. Once the child has well learned their 26 basic phonograms, you can start to work on blending. Invest in a set of tactile letters (Lauri foam letters, magnetic letters, scrabble tiles, Montessori sandpaper letters, Montessori movable alphabet, even just printable letter tiles you make yourself etc…) and let them start word building using the tactile letters. You can create a blend ladder (in the style of Abeka or My Father’s World) on the floor with masking tape and let them lay on the floor working with the letters creating blends and words. Eventually once they start building words like rat, mat, hat, cat etc…  have them reinforce the word they have learned through a fine motor activity above (writing the word with their finger in sand, painting the word etc). Allow the child to progress at their speed, not yours. They may be content to learn nothing but -at family words for a month. So be it.

5. Go through readers together. I personally love the McGuffey Revised Eclectic Primer as well as the Canadian Catholic First Reader (part 1 & 2), as they are available free from http://www.archive.org. The Canadian Catholic reader especially follows a progression that is very similar to the popular (and expensive) All About Reading. Protestants need not fear – while they were created for Catholic schools, there is absolutely 0 doctrine in the reader, no Catholic references, and are easily used by those of any faith. They are merely a basic reader with sentences like “The cat is on the mat”.

Build the new words in each lesson together with your letter tiles, reinforce them through the fine motor activities listed above, and then finally practice reading the words in the reader. You could also create a reader vocabulary book, and have them copy the lesson words and then draw a picture of what they are.

6. Play games together – Bingo is a great one, you can do letters and use it to reinforce letter names or sounds, or you could create a sight or lesson word Bingo. You could also create Swat! – write letters or words on recipe cards and scatter them across the floor. Give the child a fly swatter and have them swat the letter/sound/word you say. Eventually make it a game of speed, and give challenges of seeing how many letters/sounds/words they can swat in one minute etc…

There are also many phonics/reading games available on Amazon, just do a search for phonics games, and you’ll get many options. Crazy As, Learning Resources Pop! games, Alphabet Go Fish from Peaceable Kingdom, Alphabet Spot It!, Alphabet Island, Didax Word Building Cards (with their reading rods) are some of my picks.

Math: 

1. Teach numbers much the same way you taught letters, using the same fine and gross motor reinforcement activities listed in #1-3 for Reading/Writing. Hopscotch is also a great game for number recognition and there are foam playmat options available for indoor play.

2. Expand that however with counting activities. Beads, rocks, pebbles etc… have them practice counting and making arrangements of 1-10 items. Call out a number and have them count out that many items. A goal is to have children able to recognize arrangements of 1-10. So, for example you could place 4 pebbles in front of them and without counting they would be able to recognize that there is 4. However, this is a skill that can take time to develop, and shouldn’t be pushed if the child isn’t ready.

3. Make math part of your every day life. Have them set the table and count out how many plates, forks, knives etc… Ask them problems like: if we have two plates on this side of the table and two plates on that side, how many plates are there all together? Have them count to find the answer. Or, ask them: We had four dirty plates and we just put one plate in the dishwasher, how many plates do we have now? Always make the questions concrete and allow them to count to find the answers.

You can also, bake and cook with them and introduce them to the concept of fractions and measurements. Have them measure things by their hands, feet, arms, steps. Ask questions like, what do you think is longer – the table or this stick and have them compare. Move to things like: how many (of your) feet long do you think this room is? Let them guess, and then measure it.  Invest in a small scale and let them have fun by comparing weights of items. Buy small building kits (Lowes sell good ones) and build them together, throwing out questions on measuring, counting, adding, subtracting etc…

Play basic board games together where they have to practice counting to move their character etc…  Jacks is also a fun game that lends itself nicely to counting and adding. Make it a point to point out the time to them on both digital and analog clocks. They will eventually learn to read the time. Keep it to time-reading only, the more difficult concepts of 60 seconds to a minute, 60 minutes to an hour, 24 hours to a day etc.. can wait until later when they are formally learning math. You can also take them to the calendar each day and point out the day of the week, the month, year, date etc… Make it short and sweet, and over time, they’ll learn it naturally.

4. There are many games that can be played or bought for math. Bingo is great for number recognition. There are many, many options available, so again, just do a search on Amazon for math games. Scholastic also offers many good math games which are very affordable (on a side note, homeschoolers are eligible to get their own Scholastic teacher’s account, so you can order books and items through their book club). Also, invest in pattern blocks, Cuisenaire Rods, and lacing beads. They are great toys to let children play with and discover patterns etc… for themselves.

5. Practice early addition and subtraction using sweet treats: take chocolate chips  (marshmallows, popcorn, nuts, grapes, blueberries etc) and have them lay out one. Then ask them to add one more, and tell you how many that is. You can teach them the number sentences,  1 + 1 = 2. Then have them add one more, to make 3, then four and so on, all the way up to 10. Then, once they’ve made 10, have them eat (subtract/take away) one. Ask them how many are now left. Get them to say the number sentence 10 – 1 = 9. Then ask them to eat one more, how many are left now? And so on, until there are 0. Likewise, you can practice fractions using baking: divide cookies, cakes, pizzas, casseroles etc… Make note of how many pieces you are dividing it into, then what happens when you take a piece away, how many are left etc…

There is so much learning that can happen organically with math, and you’ll be amazed at the foundation you can lay for future formal academics just  by focusing on everyday math and games in the early years. Studies show that by teaching math in this fashion – hands on, practical math only in the early years, your child will be farther ahead later on, than if they had started with workbooks etc…

Again, in the early years (which I and many others consider to be under the age of 7, but especially 5 & under), hands on, multi-sensory learning is best. Children do not need, and honestly, should not use, workbooks during these years. Keep it short, sweet, fun and multi-sensory, and you’ll have a child extremely well prepared for academics.