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.
 

Knitting Suggestions

Rhythmic handwork is part of Oak Meadow’s coursework for grades one through three. For this post, K-8 Oak Meadow teachers teamed up to offer some suggestions and simple alternatives that will help to meet the “heart” of handwork, specifically in teaching the technique of knitting.

Meg Minehan: My suggestions are to first try finger knitting, the knitting mushroom, or the wooden knitting star. My children loved those “tools,” and the process was simple, repetitive, and soothing (just like knitting should be). ​For what it’s worth, my son Ian didn’t really take to knitting when it was initially introduced in first grade. However, he picked it up again at age nine and loved it.

Michelle Menegaz: I agree that teaching knitting as an inexperienced teacher can be challenging. I suggest offering the “pre-knitting” activities and really encourage the home teacher to find a knitter to help them, if possible. Also, Sunny’s Mittens is a great book with a story that contains knitting directions right in the events of the tale. I would read a bit of this and knit along with the story. The child would also knit along, if interested. We would read a bit, knit a bit, stop and get our knitting sorted or show what the written directions in the story meant. Very satisfying!

Lesley Arnold: I highly recommend the DVD, The Art of Knitting 4 Kids . If a tutor isn’t available for knitting, then this video is great! Be sure to also check your library, for many libraries have knitting clubs.

Leslie Daniels: Another site that I absolutely adore and share with my Oak Meadow families is called “Knitted Bliss.” It includes story books to inspire future knitters for three different age groups: ages 2-4, ages 4-6, and ages 6-9. The title of each book is a joy in itself!

Meg Minehan: Shall I Knit You a Hat is one of our favorite Christmas books for 6-9 year olds!

Andy Kilroy: My friend Clare, a long-time kindergarten teacher, loves to take yarn into her classroom and just let her kids play with the yarn – wrap it, wind it, tie bows with it, braid it, touch it – just to get the feel of fabric/yarn on their skin. Then when it comes time to knit, they already have the awareness of yarn as a material. I taught my granddaughter to finger knit (she had never done it), and she was very excited at all the possibilities that opened for her! She has also enjoyed exploring loom knitting from kits. Long live fiber arts – let’s not give up on them!

Anna Logowitz: My microschoolers got a great start by making their own knitting needles. They sanded chopsticks smooth, and then glued wooden beads to the ends: nice and simple. It gave them a sense of ownership over their work before they began knitting, which also seemed to increase their frustration tolerance!

The Nobel Prizes

In November of 1895, Alfred Nobel passed away and left a very large amount of his money to go toward a variety of prizes. The prizes became known as the Nobel Prizes. It was a generous beginning to yearly honor work in the sciences, literature, and those people working for peace throughout the world.
I am always most interested in The Nobel Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel’s will stated that the Peace Prize would go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
The 2017 award went to an organization, rather than one person. The Nobel Peace Prize 2017 was awarded to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This is a world-wide partnership of organizations dedicated and focused on a nuclear weapon ban treaty for the world. What an honorable intention to free the world’s people from the use of a nuclear weapon.
In 1904 Ivan Pavlov won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Some of you may have already studied about him and his ideas. You may be studying Pavlov’s work in the Oak Meadow curriculum. On the Nobel Prize website there are educational pages that have some fun facts and games to play. The one about Ivan Pavlov is great!
It is also fascinating to watch the lectures and the award ceremonies. You can view them at: http://www.nobelprize.org/

My Dictionary is My Best Friend!

“I’m very sensitive to the English language. I studied the dictionary obsessively when I was a kid and collect old dictionaries. Words, I think, are very powerful and they convey an intention.” Drew Barrymore (www.brainyquote.com)

For those of you in 5th-8th grade, I hope you have your very own dictionary! I don’t mean a digital one. I mean a dictionary that you can hold in your own hand, turn the pages, mark it up, and carry it around with you. Get a dictionary to keep next to you as you study. Make it your constant companion and it will serve you well!

With a dictionary you can find the proper spelling of a word, what a word means, how to pronounce it, the part of speech that it is, and where the word originated. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years and into high school, find a Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent addition.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus. Both the dictionary and the thesaurus will become your best friends as you go through the year.

Also really useful will be a good atlas for discovering new places in the world. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!

  • While you are using the dictionary, why not make a dictionary of your own? Keep track of the new words you looked up or found while you were reading:
  • Get a notebook or put some lined paper into a binder. 
  • Mark a page with each letter of the alphabet leaving about 10 pages in between each letter.
  • Make a beautiful cover to your dictionary.
  • Start filling in those pages with the words and their definitions!
  • Enjoy learning new words.

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. 

Loving Teen Read Week!

“Teen Read Week™ is a national adolescent literacy initiative created by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). It began in 1998 and is held annually in October the same week as Columbus Day. Its purpose is to encourage teens to be regular readers and library users.” http://teenreadweek.ning.com/

It’s Teen Read Week! October 8-14, 2017! Support your local library!

I love this! If you have read any of these books vote for up to three that are your favorites. You have until the 15th of October to vote.

http://www.clipartkid.com/teen-school-cliparts/
http://www.clipartkid.com/teen-school-cliparts/

If you are in the 8th grade with Oak Meadow, you have the opportunity to choose a place to volunteer in your community as a community service project assignment. There are a variety of ways to provide service in a community.
My students have done projects as simple as picking up trash in their neighborhood, walking their neighbor’s dog, or playing cards once a week with a grandparent. Others have reached a bit further into the community by volunteering at a local Red Cross, community kitchen, or recreation center.
If you are wanting to do some community service and are undecided as to what to do, I encourage you to find the nearest public library during Teen Read Week and ask if you can volunteer. If the library doesn’t have positions for students your age, substitute your volunteering assignment with joining the teen club at your library. Most public libraries in the United States have teen clubs. Read for the fun of it!
 

The Benefit of Traditional Tales – Part One

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” 
― Albert Einstein

Fairy tales and other traditional stories are an essential part of childhood development, which is why they have lived on for centuries as a rich oral tradition and have remained in the Oak Meadow curriculum. Oral storytelling is a flexible art that allows stories to be adapted to the audience. Many stories that we know from our childhoods were adapted from stories our parents heard as children. In the same tradition, we encourage Oak Meadow parents to tell the stories in their own words rather than reading them verbatim. This lets each parent make changes that reflect their own values and life situation. This is the true spirit of oral storytelling.

Telling the stories aloud with no pictures accompanying the story helps children develop listening skills as well as the ability to create the images in their minds. Repeatedly retelling the story allows opportunities for children to join in telling the story, which enhances the personal images and allows them to focus on story elements that have personal relevance. The home teacher can also incorporate into the stories nature, family members, friends, and neighbors as a way of making them more personal and meaningful. The underlying themes of a good story are never gender- or race-based, but embody archetypes that are part of the human experience. Changing superficial elements of a story to make it more relatable will not affect the archetypes of the Nurturer, Leader, Jokester, Hero, Mentor, Innocent, or Villain. Retelling stories, drawing pictures, acting out the stories, putting on puppet presentations, or creating dioramas offer opportunities for children to absorb and reflect the underlying themes.

Another tip for telling an archetypal story is to verbally share without too much of an emotional tone ~ especially the emotions in the home teacher’s voice that might instill fear, anger, resentment, etc. As an adult with a rich history and varied experiences, you will respond to the archetypes in a story very differently than a child will. Telling the story without adding layers of your own emotional expression of the story events will allow your child to filter it through a childlike lens.

It’s also invaluable to allow children to absorb the story without interruption, both during the storytelling and afterwards. Talking with a child about every little detail of a story is an established habit for many adults. In fact, it’s practically a cultural norm now for children to be asked to talk about their feelings, impressions, and opinions. This may originate from the belief that we need to encourage children to be more aware and continually teach and quiz them to “make them smart.” It might stem from the efforts to treat the child as an equal voice in the family to build self-esteem and confidence. When a parent is conditioned to “discuss” a fairy tale’s disturbing images with children, this focus on specific elements unnaturally emphasizes details over underlying themes. Discussing the tales afterwards only brings an adult perspective and awareness to story elements and prevents children from developing and using their own filters, based on their developmental stage. Letting the story rest in the child’s mind and heart, and than asking for the child’s interpretation of the story the next day will be of greater benefit.

This post was co-written by Leslie Daniels and DeeDee Hughes, our Director of Curriculum Development. 

Guidelines for Home Teachers

Oak Meadow founders, Bonnie and Lawrence Williams, believed that, in order to manifest a child’s education successfully, certain guidelines must be followed. Here are detailed guidelines for helping in the teaching process.

Clear a physical as well as psychological space: There should exist a particular spot where the student does work. It should be well stocked with supplies: main lesson book, additional paper for first drafts, crayons, pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers, highlighters, folders, notebooks, etc. In addition, it should be organized in some designated way so that order may be restored at the end of the learning period. Most importantly, it should be a pleasant place to be and one that is well lighted, with maybe an appropriate poster on the wall. There should be a comfortable chair with back support; however, chairs that encourage lounging are to be avoided.

A time must be set aside so the student knows not to plan other activities for that period of time. It does not work well to choose the time on a daily basis. The brain needs a rhythm and will come to a focus more easily as the lesson time approaches if it is a consistent time each day. When a physical as well as psychological space have been cleared for schoolwork, half the battle with the undisciplined mind has been won.

Focus: If a student is having difficulty with focusing attention or understanding, the home teacher should sit beside the student and act as the “grounding agent” to bring the student to a point of focus. Ungrounded students must slowly be drawn into their lessons. For example, in grade 4 (and higher), a new sense of independence is encouraged in the coursework. However, this does not mean the student does everything independently. At the beginning of a new lesson, the home teacher should ask the student to read a paragraph, then ask the student to share the main idea of the paragraph. Highlight the word or words which are the main idea. Proceed to the next paragraph repeating the process. At the end of each page, the student should read back all the material that has been highlighted. Then putting paper or books aside, the home teacher should ask the student what was just read.

It may be slow and tedious at first, but as the brain stretches, the student will pick up speed. Always emphasize quality understanding over quantity of work done. Perhaps the student only does a fraction of the assignments while learning how to focus and organize the brainwork, which is fine. Accept this and praise the student for the fine progress. The only requirement is that you witness sincere progress.

How long each day should a home teacher focus with a student? At least one hour a day should be set aside for this kind of focused attention. The home teacher should not be in and out, but rather seated with the student for the whole hour without interruptions. Perhaps the home teacher may cover social studies and language arts three days a week and science two days a week in this manner for half an hour each day; and math for half an hour every day. Then the student should be left alone for another hour every day to do the assignment that can reasonably be done independently. This time should be eventually lengthened to three hours a day for a total amount of time spent on school work, with two of the hours being independent learning. More than that would be discouraging for the student who needs lots of time for physical activities.

When learning is difficult and a student is asked to spend more than three hours struggling through without help, it leads to burn out and the student shuts down altogether. Balance is very important. After each hour, the student should get up and do something physical. If the student has low blood sugar, offer at least one snack during the three hour period. The most important consideration is the rhythm of the schedule. The student should not be allowed to get up and go outside and get involved and forget the schoolwork. It should be more like a fifteen minute recess with an expectation that the work will be continued until the work for the day is completed, even if it is short of the assignment in the curriculum. (If enrolled in the school, Oak Meadow teachers are always willing to work with a student who needs a reduced load.)

Caring: Children need to feel that somebody cares about their work each day. The home teacher should read over the work and discuss it with the student. Praise and celebration for victories won are very important for all students, but especially the unfocused student. They need constant reminders that they are progressing and doing well. It is important to remind students where they have come from and how much they are accomplishing.

Accept your student with the present abilities: Do not present material the student is not ready for. Pressure creates negative stress and causes the mind to shut down. Begin with a review of material the student already knows, to get the mind moving and flowing. Then present the new material.

Remedial Students: If your student needs remedial work, choose one thing at a time to work on. For example, when working with reading comprehension and writing, do not be concerned about grammar initially. Then when the student is comfortable with the daily process, add grammar. Work with one grammar rule at a time. Start with each sentence beginning with a capital letter and ending with a punctuation mark. Proceed to capitalization rules, then punctuation, expanding sentences with adjectives and adverbs, then conjunctions, etc. If a student is a poor speller, present five words a week from the Dolch list. Also provide many ways to learn these words. Focus is the key to success.

Physical Activity: Emphasize the importance of daily physical activities to help the integration process. The martial arts are a wonderful tool for integration, as are walking and dance. Studies indicate that academic performance improves with daily vigorous physical activity. Discourage TV watching during the day.

Learning Styles: Become aware of your student’s learning style. Some people learn auditorily, others visually, and some are bodily kinesthetic learners. The best teachers use all three modes of teaching. If your student is a visual learner, drawing pictures or diagrams will help to remember information. If your student learns best through hearing the information explained, share an hour each day with your student and explain the material being covered. Make up songs and jingles to remember key points. Some students learn best by teaching it to somebody else. Be a willing student and let your student teach you the material. Skits are great for learning. Purchase a lap-size white board with marker (fruit flavored without the toxic fumes) so your student can draw, diagram, write jingles, and teach. Use it daily and you will be amazed at its effectiveness as a teaching tool.

I hope these guidelines will be helpful in making your home schooling adventure a very successful one. Wishing you all the best for an exciting year of learning!

Monarch Migration

Monarch Migration
Oak Meadow’s science coursework in grades k-4 includes various studies of the butterfly. In addition to the suggested lesson activities, you might include a guidebook, such as Robert Michael Pyle’s book, National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Perhaps you would enjoy sharing a butterfly story, such as Alan Madison’s Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly or Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Bruce Coville’s The Prince of Butterflies. 
Help track Monarch migration!

Photo Credit: The Liljegren Family

Awareness of the threats to pollinating insects is growing, and these beneficial pollinators need our help now more than ever. The Monarch butterflies have seen a population decline over 90% in recent years. Researchers and citizen scientists have been tagging the beautiful, graceful Monarch butterflies for many years. In fact, back in the late 1970s, tagging led to the discovery of the Monarchs’ wintering ground in Mexico.
Oak Meadow students have the perfect opportunity to participate in a Citizen Science project that can help to monitor an important population of pollinators. Here are a few sites that offer ways to assist in this exciting Monarch migration:
https://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/monarch/AboutFall.html
https://monarchjointventure.org/images/uploads/documents/citizen_science.pdf
Photo Credit: The Liljegren Family

The Plagiarism Sea!

This blog post is brought to you by Oak Meadow teacher, Michelle Menegaz.

Hello Middle Schoolers!
This is a very important alert about the shark-infested waters of the Plagiarism Sea into which many middle school students dive at one time or another. It always starts out as a search for treasure…the quick path to a wonderfully phrased and well-edited essay or report, but quite soon, the unsuspecting student becomes tangled in strands of broken copyright seaweed and the sharks begin to circle!

As an Oak Meadow teacher, I often notice that some of a student’s writing is almost word for word the same as parts of material in the sources used. (This, by the way, is one of the reasons for including citations for all sources. If no sources are cited, I can not be sure the work is original.) It’s really important that you always write in your own words and not copy sentences or paragraphs from other sources. Copying from other sources is considered cheating and is taken very seriously at Oak Meadow. The first time it happens teachers give a warning, and if it happens again, it will more seriously affect grades.

Please take time to read more in the Oak Meadow Parent Handbook, in the section called “Original Work Guidelines.” This can go a long way towards ensuring that you avoid the weeds and sharks on the way to the true treasure…an original, well-crafted piece of writing or research. I can also recommend the Purdue OWL website. It has some very good content that you could use.

Plagiarism is a very tricky thing to define at times, since excessive paraphrasing can also be considered copying of a sort. There are many reasons why students plagiarize their work, and there is definitely a learning curve about plagiarism in all its forms, especially with use of the internet. Using three reliable sources at all times and taking very brief notes from these sources can be enormously helpful. Another possible path to try would be to do the work in your own handwriting, in your own words of course, so there are not cut and paste errors. It is extremely time consuming for an Oak meadow teacher to verify plagiarized work. Once the first warning is given, any further work that is plagiarized will need to receive a failing grade. Let’s avoid this!

In summary, here is what to do:

  • Review the “Original Work Guidelines” in the Oak Meadow Parent Handbook.
  • Pay special attention to the bibliography piece called “Citing Your Sources.”
  • Discuss with your parents how to use your own words.
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