Jun 26, 2011

Friendships and the dreaded "s" word

- the dreaded "s" word in homeschool life. Without a doubt there has never been an initial conversation I have had with strangers about homeschool that hasn't included "what about socialisation?".

It was my greatest fear before pulling the girls out of bricks and mortar school. I had just swallowed that line that kids educated at home are in danger of becoming...well, unsocialised.

Seen the light
Ha! No longer. In fact, as a homeschool parent the other thing I know the other parent will say to me when we first meet is how unhappy they are with their child's school social situation..."she is being bullied and the teachers won't address it" or "have you seen how horrible kids are to each other, even in Kindergarten?" or "I don't think the teacher understands who my child is, or wants to". Followed by "but we all have to get used to that, don't we, ready for life at work".

Do we? I don't follow that line of thought. 

In fact, adults leave jobs where their bosses bully them, or when they don't like their colleagues. Adults who are emotionally healthy leave partners who control or abuse them, will choose to leave fair-weather "friends" who gossip about them or who only talk to them some days but not others.

Why do we expect children to put up with this behaviour in their daily school relationships?

What is that teaching kids about adult relationships?

We have two daughters who are very well "socialised". In school, they were surrounded by buddies, had the choice of being with one kid or another, had lots of play-dates and party invites. They had been very compliant with sitting down, lining up, putting on their shoes and socks when told to, and saying please and thank you. 

Socialisation begins at home
Now they are at home, little has changed. Except for putting on their shoes : )

We don't expect them to make friends with kids who are nasty to them, or ignore them. In fact, one of my proudest moments as a parent was overhearing July say to a child trying to push her around "Don't do that. It isn't your turn. You are being mean." The other kid backed off.

Live your truth
Mike and I really try to walk the talk. We spend time with other families like ours - with friendships between all the parents and all the kids. Ages of kids or gender aren't an issue. With our own adult behaviour we aim to teach good friend skills - taking turns to listen, being honest about feelings, supporting different ideas, learning together and having fun!

We are also out a lot in the week with kid activities - drama, circus, piano, kids choir, Nippers, and yoga - so there is plenty of opportunity to have those -  bumping into one another, team work, hanging with kids you don't really like - experiences to work through.

Thanks lovely people!
It means everything to have friends and family who support your ideas, and choices. A glass of wine over a delicious lunch with kids running around frenetically, or at the end of the day, tired kids bundled together on the lounge watching a movie...great moments.

Love of a good sibling
The hidden benefit of homeschool? Watching your children learn to work together, take turns, decipher codes together, assist in science experiments, listen to the other's opinion, conspire together in chirpy ways - I had not anticipated the happiness there. 

Whether you homeschool or not, strong relationships between siblings is a bond to build and treasure. Truly good "socialisation".

You may also enjoy this funny article on homeschooling socialisation.

Jun 18, 2011

Are you teaching turkeys or crows?

I have been following the Eide Neuro Learning blog with much interest. Drs Fernette and Brock Eide are medical doctors who specialize in treating children with learning challenges. 

While our girls don't strictly fit into this general area, they are rather unusual in their learning speed and there are issues that come along with that speed. I am currently reading "Smart but Scattered" for some ideas in improving their executive functioning, but am a bit frustrated with the cognitive skills emphasis - I am looking for more meat and theory and insight into helping understand our ways of thinking rather than techniques for remembering to take your school lunch!

In two years of homeschooling, I have been weaning myself off giving them workbooks, or trying to duplicate a "school at home". 

As a homeschool, we are moving away from that linear path into a more project-based exploratory style, though this takes self-confidence that I am sometimes lacking! Even armed with an SB5 report on their FSIQ/gifted profile, I realised I am short on "learning style" clues and ideas for each girl.

Hence my following of the Eides. 

Their latest post includes an 18 minute video (see below). They contrast two learning philosophies - Turkey and Crow. Obviously a simplification - but an effective one all the same.

Talking turkey
The main point for me was that much of education today is directed to a rigid learning style which they cleverly coin "Turkey" style: repetitive, learning by rote, mastering facts from the bottom up, learning step by step, worksheet and essay formulaic style that is essentially teach to the test. The aim is to "hard-wire" learning - to ensure that every child knows their tables, what a factual report is, the steps in writing a narrative.

Reliable in an unchanging world. Boring but dependable. Quantifiable. Justifiable budget spent on educational output measured on national tests like NAPLAN in Australia. 

But our world is not static. Training kids to take tests well is short-sighted, horribly short-sighted. For more on this see the video from Sir Ken Robinson at the end of this post.

Crow mind
Which is where "Crow" style comes in...these extraordinary birds are the only tool users other than man and higher order primates. They excel in problem solving - ask Mike who took years to beat our ravens and crows in their raids on the chickens' eggs

Neuro diverse, Crow style is creative and dynamic. 

Here learning outcomes are met through projects, applying designs, stories and performances, experiments, dramatisation, celebrating context and concept, research.

Hard to test in a concrete linear fashion, you are thinking Crow for application in careers of engineering, physics, conceptual professions like applied maths, problem solving in open-ended situations like cancer treatments, exploratory surgical fields, all creative and artistic areas. Following a good test technique won't help here.

We are definitely a Crow family, so we will continue talking less Turkey (reduce those worksheets) and keep searching for more neurolearning clues! It is an evolutionary process, home education.

Which I guess is just another example of Crow thinking - keeping your beady eye open constantly looking for the goodies.

How about you? Are you Turkey or Crow? Or moving from one to the other?

Jun 14, 2011

Have your cake and dress-up too - birthday party photo essay

It isn't all organic vegetables and fractions around here. Sometimes we get serious with buttercream and a visit to the lolly shop!

Birthday parties are a highlight of a child's life...or can be when all goes well! Here are our selection of the best over the years where the party theme happily collides with a well decorated cake, the kids dress-up and willingly participate in the themed games and the parents actually survive the day without a tantrum (not to mention the children's meltdowns).

Here follows in no particular order a photo essay of:

Christmas in July party

Can't forget the white on white actual 
Christmas cake (in December)

Cowgirl party
featuring only 2 Jessies from Toy Story 2, which must be a record...complete with gingham table cloths, a tractor and hay ride, individual animal cupcakes for the kids, apple swinging race, and "pin the face on the cowgirl" game.

Fairy Party
with an open dress-up code to cater to all the creative urges of the attendees.

 Garden Tea Party
Lots of fun on a luckily sunny day in the garden.

Harry Potter Party
What else would a book-crazy 6 year old want?

Pirate Party
Well, she was 3 and loved waving that dagger...note the licorice eye patches on the kids cupcakes.


Tropical pool party
This is hard to make work when it has been raining for weeks, but with lots of other parent helpers we did inside tug of war, and dressing up relay races. Luckily the rain stopped for the pinata and yes, the kids did go in for a swim. Brrrr.

Creepy Crawly Spooky Party
A little bit Halloween meets entymology, with some gratuitous mummy wrapping.

Can't end without a look at 
Sully from Monsters Inc. 
Love that green icing! 

With a bit of luck, at the end of the day, when the last sticky guest has departed with goody bag in hand, there will be at least a piece of cake and a clean plate. Phew.

Jun 8, 2011

Top homeschool education iPad apps review: Part 1

Here is Part 1 of the Mansted Family Project's review of our top educational picks for the iPad. Whether you homeschool, after-school, have kids in bricks and mortar schools, teach kids in schools, or just love the iPad, these posts are for you.

Dreaming on
I really really really wanted an iPad as I hoped it would be a portable app device, e-book reader, movie viewer and all round kid entertainer. There aren't many physical, shopping-style "perks" for the homeschooling parent but the iPad is all that and more...Mike relented and we went shopping. 

Of course, this also meant getting the perfect case and here it is in red patent leather (from Cygnett in case you are wondering). This is the original iPad now known as iPad 1. I had to have the terry towelling background as a little virtual texture from Paddern.

Naturally, now the iPad 2 is here...hmmm (cease typing as now thinking v-e-r-y hard trying to come up with a justification to have 2 iPads...).

After a quick intro into how to use the iPad in your homeschool there follows in Part 2 a subject breakdown of apps. 

Practicalities of this review
Recommended ages are just guesses really - as usual your mileage may vary! Some are simply iPhone apps that work fine on the pad. We are a long-term Apple Mac family so some of these have been around on our iPhones for years.

Go to your computer's iTunes and then the App Store to find all of the following goodies, or indeed on your iPad go straight to App Store and get downloading.

Most of the following are free, some are cheap, and a tiny minority are between $5 - $30. The most I ever paid was $30 or so for the Australian Oxford Dictionary and it is worth every cent.

WARNING: dead Australian animal photo coming up...

The iPad is finally useful
With system updates that now allow printing, easy export of docs, and nifty apps that let you write on "top" of PDFs I think the iPad is incredibly useful in the home classroom. I am constantly finding PDFs of activities, article extracts etc on the web on our usual homeschool computer which I then save through iTunes onto the iPad.

It is an excellent tool used in this way for independent work.

How to use the iPad in your homeschool
Here are the obvious:
• to play youtube and downloaded videos
• to receive and read emails - especially useful for weekly kids' emails like Science by Email and Maths by Email which have articles, links, experiments and activities, a quiz and other goodies every single week!

• surf the net
• read a huge range of available PDFs or make your own. These PDFs may be as substantial as e-books or as specific as worksheets and activity outlines
• access educational apps (more on this later)
• create documents on Pages for homeschool writing and presentations on book reports, poetry, narratives etc 
• to draw

and the less obvious:
• to view photos up close for nature study drawings and diagramming (like when this unlucky brown bandicoot drowned in our pool, and became the honoured subject of biology study for drawings and classification subject)
• for a calculator big enough for everyone to see the working processes

• to access a dictionary like the incredible Australian Oxford Dictionary complete with etymology and audio files for pronunciation

• tour the solar system, learn the constellations on Star Walk, get the guide for your sky tonight
• virtual art gallery and museum tours

• to give your child a spelling test
• google maps for geography and learning local landmarks, understanding "birds' eye view" using satellite views, how to draw and read a map, and contours
• to learn and practice compass use

• to watch TV documentaries and indeed all kids and adult shows for free on apps like the ABC's wonderfully useful iView (Australian Broadcasting Commission)
• to learn and practice your musical notation and solfege scales for the choristers in your family as well as the instrumentalists

Putting your mark on iPad apps
The hardest thing for me to adjust to with the iPad was that it is really a read-only screen. It looks like a pad of paper but apart from the actual drawing apps, I haven't really had success with using it like paper. It isn't a truly creative tool! 

However, there are some simple (slightly clunky) apps that allow you to "write" on a PDF and save the 2 layers to email or print such as Sign-N-Send

Sometimes you just have to use "old" technology
Have a worksheet with just a few answer fields that you would like your child to fill in?

I actually prefer to use a layer of clear plastic (or overhead projection sheet) and a thin whiteboard marker laid over the screen. This has been great when you don't want to print out from a PDF worksheet  file yet your child needs to fill in answers. Strange and primitive, but it works! Just make sure that the clear film is a lot bigger than the screen to minimise smudges of ink on the actual screen. Just wipe the clear screen off with a cloth when finished. 

More than 10 fields to fill in? Just print it out and then you have a copy for your homeschool registration records.

Part 2 to come
To follow is the nitty-gritty reviews of the apps that are used in high rotation in our homeschool. I'll leave you with a few pics from Mike's mini homeschool coop day on building "simple machines". He used a youtube video on the iPad (see 3rd pic in post) while out in the testing area to explain pulleys and then they went on to create their own pulley system for lifting hairy mammoths (in case you are wondering, Mike was the stand-in for the mammoth).

How do you use your iPad?
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