Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Math and UnMath

Hi. We're back. Things have been ups and downs here. We've been doing a lot of learning-on-the-fly, because our schedule has been topsy-turvy, and sometimes you just have to go with the lessons in front of you, instead of a lot of planned-out sit-down stuff.

Andy has been having some trouble with sit-down stuff. Partly, we've spoiled him, and he doesn't want to do stuff he considers "work." If it looks like work, it's Bad. This is not conducive to good study habits, or feeling good about homeschooling from the parental point of view. In fact, it's pretty frustrating to have a kid who can get through all three DragonBox apps in a couple of weeks, but when you pull out a math sheet, has a screaming meltdown fit.

But then I thought, wait; he got through all three of those math apps in a couple of weeks. He's got the logic of algebra down. Maybe part of the problem is that it is time to move on. Time to get into practicalities of math, and how it really is used. Algebra is how we really do math- we have formulas to solve a problem, and we need to find the missing information using the information we actually have.

We start pre-algebra when my classes end, so I am sure to have some solid time blocks to work with him. We start algebra this fall. He's ready.

Today, we worked on logic of coding and computer algorithms. This is the base work for starting computer programing and logical sequencing, and we are working on it through a game we got at the science museum. It has a minecrafty theme, and you have to get from point A to point B on the board, using the correct number of moves, with restrictions on direction you can move (this is level one. It's going to get more complicated, up to level 4.) He liked it, though we were both hoping it was going to have a two-player version of the game that might offer competition of some kind, so that we could both play; instead, the only multi-player involves one person creating the instructions and reading them off for the other person to put into action. Not even really a lot of teamwork there.

Yet we got through ten maps on level 1, and that was a pretty good math lesson for the day.

Then I told him I learned some basic coding from coding multi-user games. So he wanted to see one. And lo and behold, they still exist- and there were even some friends online! So I introduced my son to the world of MUDs. Text-based MUDs, people. Choose-your-own-adventure in real time. He was fascinated.

So coming attractions: Andy starts adventuring online, and having to READ to do it. Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Difference a Year Makes

Last year, we started with a little dude who seriously needed some recovery time.

School had been a disaster. Stress and anxiety had won. Bullies had won. I brought my son home so he could recover and start learning again, so he could be supported in his adventure and find that he was, actually, smart and competent and and lovable. He curled into a fetal ball under my desk and screamed when I showed him a math problem or a vocabulary word.

This year, we started with half-days, as Joey's school was also starting with a week of half-days. I wondered how far we would get, as summer had been a bit here, a bit there.

Our first day out, we did a few science observations, learning to use magnifiers and microscopes. We got into a discussion of how cells break apart and re-assemble proteins. We did some writing in his journal.

Our second day out, we did some experiments with vinegar, wrote the experiments up in his journal, did a short lesson on Sumerians (because we stumbled on a video about them while looking for something else), did a lesson on nouns and adjectives, and wrote five sentences pairing up nouns and adjectives (which I will be using to expand into adverbs, then verbs, and build into stronger sentences and writing by the end of the year). Oh, and we did some educational games during the breaks.

Then I reminded him that this was a half day.

Yep. It really is that different. So if you're just getting started, and you still are in the screaming puddle of reluctant child stage? Hang in there.

They re-discover the wonder if you give them the time they need.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Summertime, and the Learning is Easy

Teaming up!
Summer is flying by, and though we have eased up a bit on the hard-core lesson thing, Andy is still moving, shaking, and being awesome.

Pool days are the best, for the most part. We've had a few lessons on other people not being very kind, but we've rocked it by sharing our toys, including others in our games, and making sure Joey is involved. Brother love is awesome.

Making up our own games.
We have had a penchant for making up new games this summer- card games, battle games, games with small pieces and lots of people challenging the arena. We are thinking about learning to play Dungeons and Dragons soon.
Ready for camp!

We kicked off summer with a camp, the only one Andy asked to attend: History Camp! The program is through Ferry Farm/Kenmore, and features important colonial sites in town. Every day was a different site, with lots of awesome activities and new friends.

Attacked by Lear the Leech, sewed by his very own hands. 
We also had lots of fun learning about how to drive bumper boats.
Let's get SOAKED!
The bumper boats have been a great favorite in our discovery this summer of being able to tolerate Funland. With noise sensitivity under control, we can enjoy a lot more things that the big kids do.

Hooray! Aunt Emily!
 We have also been having adventures in visiting family. We drove to Tennessee, where we got to visit Aunt Emily and Granny Ann, and see the Nashville Zoo.
Our first grits, in our first Waffle House.
Andy tried some new foods, and mostly liked them. Most notable was the grits he tried at Waffle House. He decided they were pretty good.

Hooray! Granny Ann!

We set off fireworks for July 4, which was very exciting. Lots of big sparklers, and fireworks that went up into the air! We also enjoyed watching the town fireworks from the Sonic.

Andy was especially fond of Granny Ann's cats, who were also particularly fond of him.

Ta-da was especially fond of Andy. 

Nerf. It's a way of life.
 We got home to have a lesson in auction buying, and Mom's talent for bidding on large lots of Nerf guns and accessories.
Look on Andy's face when he saw the car was full of Nerf guns.
The best thing about Nerf guns is that Andy can make up all sorts of games with them. He also shares them with the whole neighborhood, so everybody gets to play. And we don't use the bullets, so no eyes are taken out. 

Andy's garden has been doing well. It hasn't needed a lot of tending, because there has been plenty of rain- just a little light weeding. However, lack of sunshine also means we haven't had a huge harvest, either. 
 We have had a few crook-neck squash. This one was picked a bit late, but it was still delicious. He decided they are very good picked young, cubed, and put raw on salads. We are going to learn to steam and sauté them before the summer is out.

We have also gotten a few tomatoes, mostly from the plants we put in pots near Grandma's deck. Apparently deer thing tomato plants are delicious.

So the summer is going by fast. It's already August! Before we know it, it will be time to get back to things like math and grammar. But for now, we are learning about being a boy, and having fun, and realizing that the world is one big classroom, with lots of world to explore. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Year One is a Wrap!

Well, what do you know. We're through a year. This time last year, we were figuring out how to make it official and exploring ways Andy would learn. We were nervous, manically planning and re-planning and skimming through materials and trying to figure out schedules and I was generally panicking, because I knew this had to happen. Public school was a wash for the Squirrel. Would I be up to the challenge of educating him myself?

Deschooling took the whole five months everyone promised me it would take, maybe a bit longer. Then he slowly came out of the dark and fear and resentment, and started to be interested in things. At this rate, we will be rocking and rolling by fall.

I had a lot of things absolutely confirmed for me, and I hope for Andy, this year.
->Andy is smart. Holy cow, that child can learn and make connections and is totally amazing.
->When given the time he needs, he can also demonstrate his intelligence.
->When not given the time he needs, he reverts to a fetal ball of screaming sobs, because he becomes frustrated and feels like an idiot, because he's been told he shouldn't need that extra time.
->You can be smart as hell and need extra time to process and communicate that intelligence.
->Andy works his patookas off. Sometimes even when he doesn't realize it.
->He is very, very dysgraphic.
->He has an imagination to die for. Fortunately, he is happy to tell you all about it. He just can't seem to write it down.

I also learned a lot of things this year; it was full of surprises.
->Unschooling. No, really. By letting him communicate to us what is interesting him, we can use that to catch him up and invest in his own learning. We can also fit skills he needs into topics that are engaging for him. It's much easier to learn to multiply if you learn it by seeing how it can be used for something you like. For example... Pokemon. It takes a lot of math.
->Expectations for fifth graders was far lower than I expected. When looking over the materials, they looked, well, too young and simplified. Teaching to my own expectations and memories of fifth grade, he easily passed the required testing with top marks. Even in his most challenging skills, such as spelling, he was above average.
->Andy likes history, especially if he can be hands-on in experiencing it. The only program he asked for this summer? History Camp. The waking-up moment when he emerged from the public school nightmare? We were at Jamestown. His favorite activity this year? Homeschool day at Kenmore, where they let him grind corn. Never underestimate the power of living history programs and hands-on activities.
->Reading to Andy is a great way to have him retain and think about material. You know he really likes it when he asks for it to be read again.

Now that we seem recovered from the trauma of school, I'm looking into getting him back into more organized and structured opportunities, such as local classes and library groups. It will soon be time to start thinking about what adventures we want to explore next. This time, I won't be so worried about that whole "grade level" thing. Sometimes, keeping it simple is OK. Having a variety of levels within a topic is great, so that he can familiarize himself with topics and skills. We may try a more unit-based approach this year. Not sure yet.

We will figure it out together.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Moving Right Along

 Well, we've been busy here at the squirrel's nest. In the last couple of months, we have seen a pick up in interest in learning, and working on projects, and doing things- so I've been going for it. We have found a number of new strategies for getting Andy to think about material, access information, and work on his learning, so we have more experiments to do.

We did make these cool suncatchers for Mother's Day presents for my mom. They were super easy. We use cake and pie pans, regular plastic pony beads, and the cookie cutters. For the flowers, we set the cookie cutter in a cake pan, filled it with a layer of beads, and then put it on the gas grill (medium-high heat) for about ten minutes. We turned the pan halfway through for that second one; the first one you can see the uneven bead melt.

For the bigger rounds, we used a foil pie pan. We liked that the pattern from the bottom of the pan was captured in the suncatcher, giving it a star pattern. We tried a couple ways to make a hole in the catchers without having to drill, but none of them worked.

We also made some in a muffin pan, but I think Andy wants to use those as targets or something for his nerf collection. Right.

Lots to talk about with it, though- heating, melting, color. We experimented with other kinds of beads, and talked about why those didn't work (for example, glow-in-the-dark beads, when melted, are too cloudy).

Andy as a flamingo. 
We also started our animal unit, where we study different animals, and then we are making a lap book for each one. This is actually my sneaky way of teaching him writing. With the lap book, you look up information and complete several small mini-projects. Then you organize those mini-projects into a larger project, like a book or poster. You end up with a nice interactive learning tool- but also a way to break down information, process it in smaller chunks, then organize it effectively into a larger project. It give him a visual and kinesthetic organization tool! Woo-hoo!

With eagles under our belt, and cats up next, we went to the Richmond Zoo to check out possibilities for future projects. I'm thinking of doing this all summer, as he likes the animals, he likes the lap books, and hey, organizing thoughts and information! Yay!

He loves the parakeets, and did his best to pet one of each color. He watched the penguins get fed. He touched a giraffe. What better way to pique interest?

He also took some of his own photos... mostly of the peacocks.

Oh, and this owl, because he knows I like owls. 

I have the feeling peacocks are going to be on our lapbook list. We also found an animal we had never heard of: the Patagonian Cavy. We totally need to do that one. 

So our cat project is under way, and we are learning about cats. We put together some note sheets to help him remember what information he needs to learn about different animals- their classification, their special adaptations, etc. Then, hey, what better way to study cats than to take them to the vet? They needed their check-ups anyway. We made a whole list of questions to ask our veterinarian. She very patiently answered them. He was interested in the shots they were getting, and wanted to know how they purr, what whiskers do, and how much to feed them. 
I think it may all be connected to his current obsession with Garfield, but hey, learning is learning, right? 

The first mini-projects he completed were about what cats eat, and generally about pets and why people keep pets. Next up: classification and what makes a feline a feline.

 Andy also got his garden started at long last. We started some seeds, and that went really well. He has celebrity tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, basil, watermelon, cantaloupe, and crookneck yellow squash started, and he also insisted we plant some cat nip. At home we put in sunflowers and zinnias in the front, as well as some of the tomato plants. We shall see what he learns.

Part of it will likely involve "you need to mix the soil better in your garden bed" and "rabbits think gardens are yummy", but I am also hoping we learn a lot about how to can tomatoes, freeze squash, and eat melons.

Planting watermelon.

We've come a long way from curling into a fetal ball and screaming every time "learn" was mentioned. This coming fall I am hoping he will be ready for classes and more structured lessons, and get that solid base of information under his feet. He's been clipping right along in math, though memorizing times tables is definitely not his "thing".

Monday, May 4, 2015

A little caterpillar love

Spring has arrived... the tent caterpillars are out and crawling. Andy loves to touch them and pick them up, and no wonder. They are cool, and don't bite or sting. We noticed them as we were leaving our ASL class this morning. Andy got upset that one was crawling into the road as we were getting back into the car, and he was afraid I would crush it pulling out, so he hopped out and this happened:

You may not be able to save all the creatures, but he made a difference for that one.

Friday, April 10, 2015

One Paragraph At a Time

Andy has been hitting the writing hard lately. He wrote a whole paragraph, by himself, last week.

This may not seem like a huge thing when we are talking about a fifth grader. However, we are talking about a fifth grader with dysgraphia.

We learned a lot in the writing of that paragraph. It took the whole day to do it. We did the editing part the next day. This was just the writing part.

We learned that writing is absolutely exhausting for the Squirrel. He needs so many breaks to even get the words out there, that we lose the thoughts. He spent most of the time talking to me... and what he wrote was a pale shadow of a glimpse of all the ideas in there, but it was all he could manage.

We learned that he can be perfectly organized in his head, and the words come out almost at random onto the paper.

We learned that trying to come up with the words all by ourselves, instead of copywork after scribing, is what is exhausting. If we can copy the words, we do pretty well. If we are trying to think, organize, focus, sit, and get our fingers to comply all at the same time, we end up with a jumbled mess. And the handwriting is bad, too.

For those of you who know anything about my handwriting, you know how bad it had to be for me to say the handwriting was bad.

We learned we need to do something else, or writing is not happening. So we went out and bought a headset with a microphone. The project for the coming week? Write a paragraph. First, we are going to speak it- and see if we can get our first draft out into the computer a wee bit faster this time. Then we will focus our energy not on the getting the ideas out, but on the editing so others can enjoy those ideas, too.

Wish us luck.