I didn’t think I wanted to homeschool at first…

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Amy Tudor. You can follow her homeschooling adventures on Instagram at amy.tudor and find her articles in Taproot magazine. We’re thrilled to have her share her homeschooling story.

Homeschooling never appealed to me. We live in a remote Vermont forest with very few other children nearby. My oldest spent her early years surrounded by grown-ups and I was looking forward to her having regular contact with other children.  But when we started her in preschool, her interest tapered off within the first few months. We repeated this the next year and the next for kindergarten.
As social creatures we humans often employ tactics, communications and power struggles in an attempt to have our needs met.  Unhealthy dynamics never, ever, escaped the notice of my oldest. Somewhere between three and five, she outlawed sarcasm, seeing the anger and cruelty it masks.  At eight, she cut the word weird from the family vocabulary, observing how people used it to isolate one person from a group. I can still picture her in the car, shrugging her shoulders to her friend in the backseat and offering a “well, everybody is different” reply after hearing a story about a ‘weird’ child.  Because of her sensitive nature, groups of people are very challenging for her to be part of.

Our homeschooling journey began with confusion and fear (on my part). There was so much to learn and even the process of registering in Vermont was overwhelmingly confusing. The home study office at the Department of Education confused me the most telling me to be much more thorough than I had to be. Experienced families offered nuggets of wisdom through various homeschooling Facebook groups. Because once you see the relief and joy on your child’s face, the struggles in your own heart quiet down.
The first technique we tried (that didn’t work) was school-at-home, that is, following the traditional school model of doing certain things at certain times, whether or not the children are interested in it.  I see new families quit at this point in the process because they can’t get their children to ‘do school.’ This frustration always makes me think of us grown-ups preparing our taxes. How many of us enjoy following such mind-numbing directions from the powerful Internal Revenue Service like “Add line 41 to 13.  If this number is less than $24,000 then skip to line 300“ and so on. Demanding that my child read chapter three and master skip counting on a set date feels like the same sort of external motivation that I don’t want to pass on to my children.

Many experienced homeschooling families will advise beginning with a few months (or more) of deschooling, especially if your child has been in traditional school for more than a few years.  Deschooling is the process of letting your children get back in touch with their own natural daily rhythms and rediscovering what sparks their own curiosity. If you didn’t have to be at school at a certain time, what time would your children naturally wake? When are they most hungry? When is their mind most active? What time of the day do they need to recharge?
Our night owl goes to bed at the same time every night, but can wake anywhere from 7 am to 9:30 am.   Teaching our children to place rest high on the priority list was lost in traditional school. When an idea sparks, she can work on self-directed projects on her own timeline. One day she spent seven hours setting-up and photographing the life stories of her doll families.  If one must break real life down into measurable learning, I observed art (photography, setting the scenes), social studies (adoption and family dynamics), storytelling (suspense, proper order of events), health (babies being born, arm injuries, physical activities), and science (tsunamis, blizzards, air temperatures) all rolled into one. In traditional kindergarten, the activities moved along so fast, it was common to hear her describe her school projects by saying “and I didn’t have time to finish that.”
Packaged curricula can be a good place to start for new families, because so many families are frightened that their children will miss some crucial benchmark and will never succeed.  Start there if you must but then try to remember that other people set those benchmarks (and then let them go, if you can). Children are individuals and learn different skills when they’re ready.  One of the things I now love most about homeschooling is the freedom.
Once your home environment is relaxed enough, you’ll know what to ‘teach’ your child because they will ask you questions about what they don’t understand.  In our house, if we parents don’t know, we write it on the chalkboard and our ‘schooling’ is usually researching it together at the library or by asking someone who knows.  Right now, we’re trying to figure out exactly how oysters filter water.

This year, our child-led model has resulted in knowing that cavemen ate nettles and other greens (because the children doubted that greens are really necessary in their diets). We studied how the Eiffel tower was built and what rare fish lived in the lakes of Tanzania. Our forestry studies have touched upon beech blight and the emerald ash borer.  And so much more. This learning-style is such a way-of-life for us that our youngest has picked up the habit. When big sister decided to make a lapbook on porcupines, our youngest was three. Without prompting, little sister decided to check out library books on bobcats for her first lapbook. Typical subjects like reading and writing are a by-product of their own curiosity.
I recently remembered that I had ordered the preschool books from Oak Meadow when my oldest was two years old.  The Heart of Learning remains one of the most influential parenting books I have ever read as it presents a way of guiding children that resonated very deeply.
I didn’t think I wanted to homeschool at first, but now that we’re over the beginning stages, it turns out my learning was just as important as theirs. And seeing their parents adapt to the unexpected teaches them to do the same. I am so glad we took the leap of faith and are pursuing an unconventional education for our children.
 

Recycled Spring Bouquet

Recycled Egg Carton Flower Bouquet Craft
Recycled Egg Carton Flower Bouquet Craft

Who else is ready for Spring?!? We have some fresh blooms and it is so exciting, beautiful, and awakening! It inspired us to make a flower craft. A great Easter gift, Spring craft or even a Mother’s day card!

“Came the Spring with all its splendor, All its birds and all its blossoms, All its flowers, and leaves, and grasses.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

craft supplies for recycled egg carton spring bouquet
Materials
Cardboard egg carton
Scissors
Paint – we used washable tempera paint
Background paper – we used a previous art project that was done on watercolor paper. It’s best to use a thicker paper will hold weight better
Construction paper – for stems and vase
Glue
cut up egg carton to form flowers
1. I cut the egg carton before giving them to my children because its kind of tricky and I have smaller kiddos. Great hand work for older kids, even for me!! Cut off the round part of the egg carton so you just end up with the oval/bowl portion. I cut mine off and then cleaned them up after I had them separated from the whole.
2. Paint your egg carton bowls to your hearts desire. We had fun mixing red, pink, and purple with peach and then added two yellow flowers for a pop of color. This part gets a little messy for the smaller children so we did it outside but a drop cloth would also work!
construction paper flower stems
3. Construction paper for stems and vase. You could even have them design their vase to their liking. We left ours blank because of the busy background. Another option would be to use another previous art project. I have a pile of art that I love to pull from. Of course I didn’t think of that until too late but in hindsight I would have used an old project for the vase! We may have to make another one…
background art for flower bouquet
4. Background- we used a previous project for our background. I’m always looking for ways to use previous art because I have a ton of it! This particular background was on watercolor paper and worked perfectly because you need a heavier weighted paper. I didn’t try but I’m sure a good cardstock would work as well. If you don’t have any previous projects to use this would be a fun activity in itself! Design a background for your flower vase.
finished flower bouquet art
5. Assemble with glue and let dry.
6. Enjoy your beautiful Spring bouquet!

Citrus Bird Feeder

We have been discussing how animals adapt and change through seasons, specifically Winter.   A few words we have discussed are adaptations, camouflage, hibernation and migration.  When we were researching birds and how they survived Winter we learned that it is harder for them to find food so we decided to help them out a little bit by making some bird feeders to hang on our trees.

orange bird feeder hanging in tree
Orange Bird Feeder Project

The first two feeders we made were hanging for a full day before the birds discovered it but once we put the second set out the next day they came right to it.  We also caught a squirrel trying to steal some seeds! Which led to a great discussion on squirrels and why they must store their food for the winter. It was so exciting for the kids to see the birds eating from their creation.  We even got a picture of it.  We enjoyed this fun and simple craft but our absolute favorite part was getting to watch the birds eat our creation.  
Orange Bird Feeder hanging on tree
Orange Bird Feeder hanging on tree

Materials

  • Cutting board
  • Oranges – one orange makes 2 feeders
  • Knife
  • Yarn
  • Skewer – worked best for me but a toothpick would work, anything sharp enough to penetrate the orange
  • Bird seed
  • Helpful material: a wet towel – this one gets a little sticky! 
  1. Cut orange in ½ right down the middle horizontally (so that you are cutting in the middle of the top and bottom). The halves will act as bowls for the seed.
  2. Take out the orange segments and enjoy a delicious snack. I used a knife to carve/loosen the slices and then had my eldest scoop out the insides with a spoon. This part gets a little messy.
  3. Using the skewer punch 4 holes in the peel of the orange bowl. Its best to evenly space your holes.
  4. Weave yarn through holes in orange. We pressed the yarn through the skewer, as if it were a needle and pushed the skewer through the hole.  It helped when we would twist the skewer.  Once we got the yarn through the hole we would use our fingers to pull it through.  Weaving through each hole.
  5. Pull yarn so that you can knot the two ends together.
  6. Once tied pull the two sides even so that you can evenly hang your orange bowl.
  7. Fill with bird seeds. Its best to fill outside or near where you plan to hang your feeder.  We dropped one of our feeders on the way outside and bird seed went everywhere!! Eeeeks!!!
  8. Make sure to place feeder somewhere you can observe the birds eating their treat.  It’s so exciting to catch them in the act!
orange bird feeder project close-up
Orange Bird Feeder project

Handwork in Winter

Hand (Unknown author)

Take my hand, imagine
What it will be someday
A hand that’s strong, a hand that’s kind
Is this what you forsee?

A hand that’s skilled, a hand that’s sure
A hand that someday may,
Take another little hand
and guide it on its way.

Oak Meadow’s kindergarten coursework introduces the art of finger knitting, the first-grade coursework introduces knitting with needles, and the second-grade coursework introduces crocheting. The main purpose of teaching children these creative, yet practical skills at this level of development is to refine and strengthen fine motor development and eye-hand coordination. It also aids in the preparation for learning math, reading and writing with more ease and less fatigue.

Sometimes a student will find these craft skills challenging to acquire. Perhaps it is because the home teacher does not know how to knit or crochet and finds it difficult to teach, or perhaps it is due to a child’s hands and fingers not nimble enough to handle working with yarn and/or needles. When the students are introduced to the handcraft at the beginning of the school year, it is often when they are still actively involved in outdoor play; therefore, learning this skill may be even more difficult for an active child to sit still for a time to master the skill. If you have experienced this with your own child and decided to set it aside, then the winter season may be the perfect time to reintroduce the suggested handwork. You might be surprised at the willingness and readiness in your child to try it again!

It’s important that that your child starts out with something comfortable, so if your child has never been introduced to finger knitting, you might try starting with the basics of finger knitting before working with needle knitting and crocheting. Taking time in developing the skill, even if it means knitting or crocheting only for a short time each day, is still providing the tools for healthy physiological development. Working alongside with your child, listening to quiet background music or a story tape, or even telling a handwork story to accompany the project could encourage more enthusiasm. Here’s a little video with a story that might help introduce finger knitting.

Any other type of activity that includes repetition and rhythm in movement will work well, too! If you have already re-visited the suggested Oak Meadow projects and discover they are still frustrating or uninteresting to your child, then keep in mind that developing fine motor control, no matter what the activity, should be the main focus of the student. Perhaps knitting with a fork or with a spool might be excellent substitutes.

Other craft activities that offer rhythm and repetition include beading, weaving, sewing by hand, lacing cards, stringing popcorn and cranberries (including for the winter bird residents), and building patterns with various materials. Be creative and work with something that creates enjoyment, for it is the joy of the process that furthers the healthy development.

The Benefit of Traditional Tales – Part Two

“I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream.” – Sleeping Beauty

Fairy tales and other traditional stories offer children many chances to witness the struggle of “good” versus “evil.” By introducing this in oral story form, children can connect with the parts that are important for their individual development at that point in time. When told in a matter-of-fact way, and from an adult who believes in the story’s merit and its place in child development, children will naturally relate to the underlying, archetypal themes of the stories. With this approach, the child’s imagination will not be taken to a place that is too frightening or disturbing, or be forced to focus on elements that are emotionally-charged in the adult perspective.

Fairy tales provide a reference for all the fears conjured up in a child’s world. Facing these fears at a young age can help the child to move through different challenges in later years and stages of life. Fairy tales are a way for the child to imagine—in the safety of the mind’s eye—what it feels like to be scared, honorable, brave, selfless, selfish, frustrated, wicked, embarrassed, silly, giddy, left out, confused, and more. This is one of the ways in which social and emotional intelligence is fortified. Many parents feel the need to sanitize stories to remove all the challenging elements, and yet stories that are grounded in archetypal themes can help children grow into strong adults.

Parents can often be at odds with the fairy tales because the characters are narrowly defined, known for their beauty, cruelty, foolishness, cleverness, or other singular attribute. Their actions are also, to the adult mind, frustratingly stereotyped: a princess waits for her prince, a simpleton loses his way, a wicked person tricks an innocent. While it’s tempting to attach these characters to their genders, orientations, or race, it is important to remember that archetypes speak to the universal traits that all human beings have within: the valiant solider, the trickster, the loving nurse, the wicked witch, the noble prince, the sweet and caring mother, the beautiful maiden, the knowledgeable father, and the lonely hero. We all are every character inside.

Fairy tales and traditional stories show that good overcomes evil, and provide children with an unconscious sense of empowerment when they face their own personal struggles. It is important for children to have an inner sense that good will prevail. We want young children to believe and embrace that the world is good.

Of course, not every story will resonate with every student or every parent. For this reason, Oak Meadow parents are asked to read the tales before telling them to their child and to modify or substitute when necessary. In addition, you are encouraged to read and choose stories that will meet the needs of your individual child. That’s the challenge of teachers in any educational setting: to meet the children where they are and to encourage them forward from there.

This post was co-written by Leslie Daniels and DeeDee Hughes, Oak Meadow’s Director of Curriculum Development. 

Creative Writing

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.”

– Robert Louis Stevenson

In a recent Oak Meadow blog, I wrote about the book character, Flat Stanley, and how author Jeff Brown initially created this funny fellow as a bedtime story for his sons. Creative writing, especially for the younger grades, often begins with oral and artistic expression. In Oak Meadow’s early elementary language arts lessons, the students are introduced to the art of storytelling by listening to stories and then practice retelling story events with detail and in sequential order. They compose simple story summaries and draw story scenes showing specific details. Puppet shows and play acting are also encouraged in the retelling of stories or in creating imaginative scenarios.
As the students mature and develop, creative writing is introduced through detailed story summaries, short stories, and original poetry and rhyming compositions, along with descriptive and opinion paragraphs. By the time the student reaches grades three and four, creative writing is generated through brainstorming story ideas, identifying story components (character, setting, story problem, conflict, and resolution), expressing thoughts and ideas in informal journal form, and completing other free writing exercises.
For some students creative writing flows with ease, while for others information research projects are much more appealing. As American novelist and non-fiction writer Anne Lamott once wrote, “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”  When I work with my local home school students on creative writing projects, we often tell stories together. It’s kind of like a Round-Robin storytelling session, where we sit in a circle and I (or one of the students) begin the story with a few sentences or a short scenario and then pass it on to the next person  to continue with a few more sentences. It goes all the way around the circle until the last person gives the story an ending. It’s not only a great activity for oral participation, it also provides a nice segue into writing ideas in story format.

Photo Credit: Leslie Ann Daniels

When my students and I learned about Flat Stanley and each participant made a “Flat Me”, we created adventurous settings and stories for our characters. Perhaps we visited a jungle or a deep enchanted forest, or we climbed atop a mountain or visited the deep blue sea. The stories that were written to accompany the activity included questions that helped in composing the imaginary stories:
 
 

1 – Who went with you?

2 – Why did you go?

3 – How did you travel?

4 – What trail did you follow?

5 – How long did it take?

6 – What did you see?

7 – Who did you meet?

8 – What special memories did you bring back with you?

No matter how you approach creative writing, it can enrich the student’s imagination. Knowing where to begin or what to write about allows the activity to flow easier, naturally, and more creatively. Inspiring the student to write with their own passion and excitement allows a new freedom to write about many things.

Extreme Weather

Here she comes again. April is her name.

One of twelve children, they all call her Rain.

All around the world, weather events are happening in every corner of the globe. In Oak Meadow’s coursework, observing seasonal weather and its effect on plants and animals is a significant part of the kindergarten, first grade and second grade science lessons. In the third grade science curriculum, weather conditions are studied by tracking weather and clouds, learning about lightning and thunder, and engaging in educational activities and artistic exercises in relation to tornadoes, blizzards, and hurricanes (or typhoons). According to econet.com, the definition for extreme weather is weather on a larger, more serious and devastating scale.
For additional information on weather, meteorologist Crystal Wicker created an informational site for children called Weather Wiz Kids. Kids Discover also created an interactive iPad app for kids, which displays the most extreme forms of weather on Earth. It includes an interactive cross-section of a hurricane, HD videos of tornadoes and lightning, and the science behind extreme climates.
In addition to the serious side of extreme weather, you might like to read the book, Thunder Cake, written by Patricia Polacco. It is a heartwarming and beautifully written story about Patricia (the author) when she was a young girl, and how she overcame the fear of storms with the help of her grandmother. You can also introduce some fun ways we use the weather through idioms and phrases, such as under the weather, weather the storm, or fair-weather friends. It might be a great time to include a spelling and vocabulary exercise on the difference between weather, whether and wether.
The wonders of science are wonderful!
 

Dr. Seuss Day

The more that you read, the more things you will know.

The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

Dr. Seuss

Curling up with a good book and reading a story with children is often considered a family’s favorite pastime. Whether it is a picture book for the younger child or a chapter book for a more advanced reader, sharing stories is not only a delightful experience but also aids in the development of independent reading.
For the young child, rhyme and repetition are the precursors for early literacy and reading readiness. In the Oak Meadow kindergarten and first grade coursework, the practice of rhyme and repetition are emphasized as critical skills in the preparation of reading. The student is encouraged to listen to books with repeated phrases, along with listening to and reciting short rhyming poems, verses and tongue twisters. The student is also encouraged to retell stories, as well as act out stories with puppets and other props. Oftentimes a child will even imitate what the parent has read by pretending to read books, which can also aid in the development of memorization. These types of activities provide the child with a sense of mastery and accomplishment, which naturally enhances the joy of literacy and the desire for reading.
A favorite American children’s author, illustrator, and co-founder of Beginner Books is Dr. Seuss. March 2 marks his 113th birthday and is now celebrated as Dr. Seuss Day. Did you know his real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel, but he used the pen name Dr. Seuss? Did you know his very first book (published in 1938), And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by the first forty-three publishers he showed it to? Since that time, forty-four of Dr. Seuss’s children’s books filled with zany rhymes and repetition have been published and are now available worldwide.
It’s a good week to visit the library and enjoy perusing the classics of Dr. Seuss. You might also like to visit Seussville or have fun testing your knowledge with the following Dr. Seuss book trivia quizzes:
https://www.familyeducation.com/quizzes/dr-seuss/dr-seusss-books
https://www.familyeducation.com/quizzes/dr-seuss/dr-seuss-book-trivia
My favorite Dr. Seuss book is The Cat in the Hat Comes Back. Which one is your favorite?

Snow!

“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.” Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley 1925
One of my favorite stories to share with children during the winter is Else Beskow’s book, Ollie’s Ski Trip. Ollie goes on a snowy adventure and discovers King Winter’s palace where he finds him sitting on his icy throne with sheer pride and pleasure. Ollie also meets King Winter’s spritely right hand man, Jack Frost, as well as Mrs. Thaw, who shows up with her broom to sweep away the last of the winter snow in preparation for the entrance of Lady Spring.
The season of winter goes hand in hand with the wonder of snow, which brings to mind a man by the name of Wilson Bentley, better known as the Snowflake Man. Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley was a farmer who grew up and lived in Vermont. As a young boy, he was home schooled. He had a natural affinity with nature, and with snowflakes in particular. He received his first microscope on his 15th birthday (in 1881) and began examining snowflakes. He soon discovered that no snowflake is like any other. At the age of 19, Bentley took his first micro-photograph of a snowflake, and this was the beginning of a passionate hobby. He spent his entire adult life photographing snowflakes, and by the time he died in 1931, he had photographed over 5,000 images. Imagine that!
William Bentley’s official home site also provides an assortment of books for all ages on this marvelous “Snowflake Man”. If you are fortunate to live close to or pass by Jericho, Vermont, you can visit the Bentley Museum to view his photographed snowflakes and to learn more about his fascinating life and the captivating beauty of snow!
The Oak Meadow syllabus in kindergarten and in first grade offers the artistic project of making paper snowflake designs. Oak Meadow’s fourth grade coursework offers a block on poetry, which involves creating a portfolio of freestyle, rhyming and acrostic poems. Student Maren Doughty wrote a lovely acrostic poem on “SNOWFLAKES”…
Smelling hot chocolate
Now winter is here
Outside we go!
Wind howling
Freezing fingers and noses
Lots of snow angels shaped in the snow
All the gournd is covered white
Kids building snowman
Everyone is excited
Seeing snowflakes falling

World Read Aloud Day

The Commission on Reading stated in a report, Becoming a Nation of Readers, that “THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT ACTIVITY for building knowledge for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”
This year, World Read Aloud Day is celebrated on Thursday, February 16. Whether your children are babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kindergartners, a primary school students or beyond, reading aloud provides a perfect opportunity to value the world of literature. It allows the child to become inspired and motivated to read independently, to strengthen reading and listening comprehension skills, and to learn new vocabulary words. It offers an introduction to new books and different types of literature that children might not discover on their own, such as the classics, poetry, short stories, biographies, etc. It offers the ability to use their imagination (and beyond personal experiences) to explore people and places from around the world, as well as events that occurred in the past or might occur in the future.
One of Oak Meadow’s primary focuses of the language arts in the early years is to build an appreciation for the richness of language, to emphasize the value of reading, and to attain strong foundational skills in reading. Reading aloud to young children is known to be one of the best reading readiness activities there is and lends a cozy closeness to your time together. You can read outside in a hammock, or under the table in a makeshift fort, or in a tree house. You can sit on the steps and read while your children are eating their snack. You can read anywhere, anytime. Read when your children are a bit too wild and need settling down, or when they are tired and just want to relax. Choose books that have themes your children are interested in and choose books that expose them to things they might not otherwise experience. Reading classic tales you remember from your childhood is a wonderful experience and often exposes children to language that has richness and depth that modern literature often lacks.
Story and book suggestions offered in Oak Meadow’s Grades K-4 language arts coursework, with intentions to form a foundation for rich and effective reading, include fairy tales and other archetypal stories, bedtime stories, poetry, tongue twisters, fables, folktales, world cultural stories and children’s classics. So now is the time to curl up with your little bookworms and celebrate World Read Aloud Day by reading books and sharing stories, not just on February 16, but each and every day!

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