Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2009 at 02:40 PM

Curriculum is the framework and rationale for doing what you do, not a list of activities. — Greenman and Stonehenge, Primetimes: A Handbook for Excellence in Infant and Toddler Programs

A few really meaty questions are already in for this weekend’s open thread. Check back here for pontificating and good times. Leave a comment; leave a question; leave a hello! And have a great weekend.


Comment by Cristina on April 10, 2009 at 03:23 PM

In other words, they're guidelines really. :o)

Peace and Laughter!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2009 at 03:43 PM

cristina, i love this quote because people put so much emphasis on the lesson plans, books, and etc. that they buy and forget that the important thing is how we interact with that raw material.

teachers and parents work with the exact same materials but their goals, purpose, focus, values, etc., are what make up the important part of their curriculum. how their children are encouraged to acquire knowledge and skills. how they show what they know. how they are “taught”. and so on.

Comment by Cristina on April 10, 2009 at 04:12 PM

I agree! And it took me a while to reach that understanding. When I first started homeschooling (yikes, ten years ago!) I was so hyperfocused on finishing everything and going "by the book" that I almost gave up on homeschooling because I thought it was too hard.
Now I use curriculum as a guide. Sometimes we follow the trail that is laid out, but usually we veer off the path to do some sightseeing.
The nice thing is that everyone can find a different path to explore from that same trail. :o)

Comment by Sarah Jackson on April 10, 2009 at 04:24 PM

This is such a great quote! I'm looking forward to participating this weekend after a busy busy last weekend. We've been talking so much about this subject around here as our homeschooling goals and methods are crystallizing (finally!).

Also, I have a favor to ask. Part of Annika's "jellybean math" is a survey about favorite flavors. Can you please take a minute and answer her 3 question survey? The link is at the bottom of this very long blog post.

Comment by jen on April 10, 2009 at 05:08 PM

Mmmm - I need to print this in GIANT letters and hang it somewhere that I will see it as we go about our day. It's not that I don't believe it or want to live it, it's that I simply forget. I get stressed about something or a friend with a great need calls in the middle of math, and suddenly - because it's easy for me to think this way - my mind goes right to the "get it checked off the list" mentality!

I've been looking for what we are going to do next year, and I'm finding it so much easier to pick now that have almost a year of "school" under our belts...yet, again, this is such a good reminder for me!


Comment by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2009 at 05:28 PM

hi sarah, i already did annika’s survey but maybe other open thread readers can take just a minute to help out! :^)

thank you, jen!

i think it is really easy to lose sight of the larger issues of how we teach and learn, because the focus *is* on the testable, measurable acquisition of knowledge and facts. that’s what most people care about when they quiz our kids to see if they know their times tables and state capitols. ;^)

but it is possible to teach the exact same material and meet the exact same learning standards in very different ways. and everything we talk about here is thoughtfully, purposefully choosing a path that helps children learn to direct and manage their own learning. *that* (to me!) is the most important part of the curriculum.

Comment by Kirsten on April 10, 2009 at 05:31 PM

Okay, I've spent some (more) time on your blog today, and I have a question for you. I've been wondering how to better incorporate project-learning into our homeschool ideas.

We love to let the kids explore their own interests, but it doesn't always culminate in a ‘project’ per se. For example, my 8yo recently was very interested in a National Geographic article about mummies. On our next library trip she decided to check out a bunch of books about mummies (this has happened many times before: the Titanic, volcanoes, etc.). She had them all read by the next day, and was satisfied with what she had learned. Does a ‘project’ always have to be something tangible?

I would prefer her to come up with the desire and the idea for a project about mummies, but she didn't seem to feel the need — is this where I would suggest a few ideas? Or just the idea of coming up with a project? Also, it seems like she'd probably think of something she's done/seen before — like making a model mummy, drawing one, etc. How do you encourage the ‘open-endedness’? I'm pretty sure she’d do a little project or two and declare herself done (probably because she’s decided to change topics already — her curiousity being satisfied).

Thank you for your help! Feel free to point me to one of your posts/threads if this has all been addressed before and I missed it!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2009 at 05:35 PM

hi kirsten, and thank you for your great questions!

re: “culminating in a ‘project’”, remember that the end products aren’t really the ‘project’ part of the project — the long-term investigation is. the representations make their learning visible, but the real point is to dig below the surface and spend time time building a more complex knowledge of the subject.

so, the kids have interests, and you are looking for ways to help them dig into those interests more deeply.

i’m going to throw out a few suggestions, and then give links to some posts that talk about these same ideas.

questions are important. talk about what they know and don’t know and what they wonder about. help them identify their questions and the things they aren’t certain about. then, looking through library books isn’t just discovering information about the topic but an opportunity to find answers to specific questions.

slow things down. interest --> giant pile of library books --> “i’m done” is a common pattern. questions help slow things down — conversations about what you know and want to know — making a list of questions to hang on the wall. you can also ask her “where else can you learn about mummies? have you ever seen a mummy on tv? does anyone you know know things about mummies?” — wonder aloud to help her start thinking of other possibilities.

help her hold her focus. copy a few interesting pages out of her books and hang them on her bulletin board. if she does do a drawing, hang it (or a copy) up as well. if she comes up with some questions, hang those up. create a spot to put her books. all these things will gently remind her of her interest and pull her back to it.

create provocations. lay out one or two of her library books on the table along with art supplies. make up some small blank books (e..g., folded & stapled paper with a construction paper cover). give her a pad of post-its and encourage her to mark favorite pages. a box of recycled materials and tape. put these things in juxtaposition with her books so she can get her own ideas about drawing and building what she’s thinking about.

“[I]t seems like she’d probably think of something she’s done/seen before — like making a model mummy, drawing one, etc.” you are quite right — she will continue to drive over those familiar tracks until a new idea is introduced. you can help provoke that by providing new materials (e.g., clay, paper maché), new experiences (e.g., visiting a local museum or watching a film), or encouraging her to explore her own ideas (journal to remind her of her own ideas, plans, etc.). you can also create opportunities for her to work with other children; invite over some friends that she can tell all about mummies and then let them loose with open-ended art materials and see what they inspire each other to create.

“How do you encourage ‘open-endedness’?” this is such a gorgeous question, i think i will save it and write a post about it! :^)

i hope this helps. please also take a look at the posts linked below. the aim is to work toward gently encouraging children to stick with their own interests and questions a bit longer, creating an environment that encourages them to do so, and gently but purposefully reminding them of their own ideas, plans, and interests. don’t expect miracles the first time, but know that over time both you and they will get more used to working this way and more successful at it. it is slow learning, and it builds learning habits that they will keep applying to new interests. good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Getting Beyond the Surface of Learning:

Getting Beyond the Learning Moment:

Teacher as Co-Learner:

How to Start:

Reinvent the Wheel:

Comment by Christina on April 10, 2009 at 05:49 PM

Ho. I've been AWOL the last couple of weeks. Amen to your last comment Lori (and the first quote). I often have friends and family--many of them supporters of our choice to homeschool--ask me if I'm worried we'll "miss" some area of knowledge. What if we forget to study . . . fill-in-the-blank? I have to explain that, well, most likely it won't matter. We're not going down a checklist of things the kids have to know by the time they finish "school." What do you remember learning in elementary school (or high school for that matter)? So if we study warthogs or African birds or Easter traditions or bird nest-building instead of more traditional subject matter, it really doesn't matter. What matters is that they learn to identify interests, research those interests, ask questions and answer those questions, recognize limitations, learn to overcome difficulties, teach each other, negotiate meaning, etc, etc. the list goes on. THAT is what we are learning. Hopefully :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2009 at 05:58 PM

christina, yes, that always amuses me. i mean, i graduated from high school having learned to type on a manual typewriter so that i could get a job as a secretary. (the boys were taking apart cars in shop class.) then my first real job (secretarial!) (at eighteen!) was working on an Apple Lisa (yes, the Mac hadn’t even been invented yet — i am *that* old). things change, and the most important things we learn allow us to change with them!

Comment by Stacey on April 10, 2009 at 07:31 PM

I wanted to say that I have really been enjoying these weekly conversations.

Although my A is still young the thing I like about homeschooling him most that I know that I am always keeping our philosophy and goals in mind. Even if I'm not planning in any great depth I see how things come together for him. Having been a teacher I remember that having a large classroom this is difficult (not impossible). I would love to hear other people's impressions of this with older children, does it become more difficult as you have more going on?

Comment by Elise on April 10, 2009 at 07:58 PM

A great quote, as always! Before we moved and I had the opportunity to stay at home (for a while, at least), I worked in public schools, using various types of curriculum - and asking teachers to use various types of curriculum. The more I learn about project-based learning and Reggio-inspired models... well, let's just say it's going to be challenging for me to go back to the work I used to do.

Several job postings have come up that involve some type of work around curriculum development - and I can't even bring myself to apply :) It doesn't fit anymore. I hope that if I end up working outside the home again, I can do something in education that fits more with my evolving/expanding viewpoint...

Comment by Amy on April 10, 2009 at 08:29 PM

Lori, will you adopt me? ;)

I am continually reminding myself of the benefits I saw in homeschooling before we started, so I don't hang myself with my own rope. I wanted freedom; and yet I find myself feeling beholden to a curriculum. I recognize that learning doesn't have to look like it does in school, yet I feel that pressure to do "school work." I'm constantly telling myself, Amy, if you want them to have a school experience, send 'em to school.

Lately I'm just sick of the sound of my own voice. I'm the one who reminds them to get dressed, finish eating, could you put your laundry away, etc? And I'm ALSO the one saying you need to practice your recorder, can we do some math, etc. I am trying to get my son to take more responsibility for his own learning. It can look the way he wants it to, I will help him and support him, but I am so tired of being the ringmaster. I think *I* need a spring break.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2009 at 08:34 PM

stacey, yes, and i think you have a real advantage because you started thinking things through while he was still young! taking time to observe young children can be very powerful — focusing on them without simultaneously thinking about what you want to be doing or where you want to be going. you can pause, take a breath, and really pay attention to how they interact with the world.

i think this becomes a habit when you start early. taking time to do nothing except observe and journal — it really helps me keep a quiet focus on where my boys are, where they are putting *their* focus, things that are new. my sons are now 9 and 12 and, as you say, there is a *lot* going on, but that old habit of journaling really helps me notice what is going on .. and then make sense of it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2009 at 08:36 PM

i hope you can, too, elise! i do think it’s very difficult to teach in an environment that doesn’t match your own values.

on the other hand, i have seen teachers doing amazing things in a very traditional atmosphere — as we were discussing up above with this weekend’s quote, they forge their own path while using the same materials as everyone else.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2009 at 08:52 PM

amy, you know i want nothing more than to adopt you and feed you crock-pot chicken every night.

you probably *do* need a spring break! when you’re grinding your wheels a little, it always helps to just do something radically different for a couple days and come back refreshed. :^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2009 at 08:56 PM

interesting post at joanne jacobs referencing an article about kids raised with relentless “good job” praise who are now affirmation addicts and can’t deal with “a world that finds them not very special after all”:

Comment by Maritza on April 10, 2009 at 10:27 PM

Hi there,
I just wanted to say it's nice to check in and get a refresher after tackling a project with my son when he & I aren't seeing eye to eye. Being that I am 34 and he is 5, I think it's up to me to get to his level & see from his perspective. : )
Thanks everyone for your thoughts on learning!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2009 at 10:33 PM

nicely put, maritza, about getting on his level — i think you are right! :^)

Comment by Nancy on April 10, 2009 at 11:27 PM

Hi Lori,

I need ideas for my sister-in-law who is homeschooling 2 boys, who are 10 and 8. I was talking with her recently and I asked her what a typical day looked like for them during the week. She proceeded to tell me about it and at one point described some things they did for “school” that she and the boys hated. So I asked her what the boys liked to do. Specifically for the 8-year-old, he likes sports and he creates his own games and teams on paper. Then, he creates bracket to keep track of the scores, etc. He is basically doing statistics.

Here’s my question, do you have any suggestions on how to direct or guide this type of project? How to turn it into something that could be used for “school”? My sister-in-law uses Sonlight, the instructor guide for planning and other textbooks. It just kills me that his work is not considered real. When she told me what he was doing in his “free” time, I just beamed and was so excited about it and she didn’t think to consider it “school”.

Thanks and I love your drawing of the bridge. I look forward to spending some time myself drawing outside.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2009 at 11:29 PM

hi nancy :^)

now, i am going to leave it up to you to gently work on your sister-in-law and get her to enlarge her view of what “school” can be. remind her that whatever learning the boys are doing under their own steam, in an area that really interests them, will be accomplished more easily, more quickly, more energetically, will be remembered longer, will be more understood, *and* will allow her to cross something off her “school” list — so it doesn’t take extra time!

how could she encourage this budding project?

one, she could give the gift of her attention. ask him to explain it to her. offer him really big paper to work on; ask him if there are any other materials he could use. clear off a work space for him and put out some new markers or multicolor pens. encourage him to show it to his dad.

two, she could look for connections for further exploration. ask how he knows about sports scores and statistics; where has he seen them before? (newspaper? baseball cards?) bring those thing in and keep them displayed nearby for more inspiration.

he’s already doing math, and i’m not sure what all is involved in creating his own games and teams but it sounds very creative and like it might involve both drawing and writing — he’s already pulling in a whole variety of school subjects, and he’s still working on his own! would he like to look for books about sports, teams, statistics, etc., at the library?

three, uncover questions for further exploration. what does he know about this and what does he wonder about? does he have any questions? is there something he would like to ask if he had access to an expert?

possibilities for developing this into a full-fledged project are endless. not only would it replace some of the “‘school’ that she and the boys hate” with something fun and interesting, but they all would presumably get an idea of the serious fun that comes with working on something meaningful.

now go work your magic! :^)

Comment by nancy on April 11, 2009 at 12:05 AM

thanks, I am totally inspired by the quote, all the comments and your answer to my question. i love having a place that I can come and everyone gets it or they are striving to. Have a great weekend!

Comment by amyk on April 11, 2009 at 02:14 AM

It's funny, but I felt like I know where you're both coming from, Elise and Amy. Like Elise said, I feel like it would be SO HARD to go back to teaching in public school when my philosophy of education has changed so much, but at the same time, like Amy said I have gone through feeling like I was "stuck" in doing "curriculum," that I felt like I was forcing upon both of us. Ever since we got back from a recent trip, I have really been trying to ease off and only have math and the projects. Believe it or not, even with only math as a "requirement," I've still been getting fussing about it from my daughter. I'm hoping that will improve. Excitement about the projects has been there, but now we're on spring break with a lot of play dates planned, catching up with old friends. I'm hoping they'll still be excited when we get back. Maybe I'll leave out some "provocations" as you put it, Lori, over spring break to see if they'll explore a little more over spring break anyway, try to keep the interest alive.

These suggestions you gave people about going further in depth on a project were helpful, Lori. I'll keep them in mind and try not to worry about them losing interest.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 11, 2009 at 02:53 AM

thank *you*, nancy, for the great topic! and i love this community, too. :^) have a great weekend!

thank you, amy, i’m glad you found the suggestions helpful. that idea of what “school” is supposed to be, those self-imposed expectations about curriculum — they can be tough to shake, even when you feel pulled to a new direction. hopefully if heart and mind are on the right path, the rest will follow. :^)

good luck not being derailed by spring break — it happens to me every time! :^)

Comment by gonzomama on April 11, 2009 at 03:48 AM

thank you for those links re:
getting beyond the surface of learning

though we haven't 'officially' started homeschooling yet, my biggest fear is that i will not know where to guide my little ones. i know i will be doing a lot of learning beside them, but my biggest wonder sometimes is where to start. this site and these discussions are really invaluable. thank you!

Comment by Dawn on April 11, 2009 at 04:20 AM

Perfect quote for me today! I was just on the phone with my mom and she was asking me about following a curriculum. I think she is getting questions from her friends.
My sister-in-law homeschools using a curriculum and keeping everything very "grade" oriented... which works for her but is just not the path we are on.

There is so much freedom with project work. I continue to be amazed at what she is learning just by pursuing her intrest in nature. This phase we are in right now is really broad but we kind of inhale and exhale with it. Intense intrest in one thing... birds... caterpillars... plants... bugs... Then looking at the big picture along the way... how "Mother Nature" makes it all work together. Cirlce of life kinda stuff.
I really can't imagine life with Fionna if I tried to make her sit down with "book work" every day! I would send her to school if that was the case. We would both go crazy!
As a side note. Dylan, almost 3, does not have his own offical project but is picking up on amazing amounts of information based on what Fionna is intrested in... He is coming up with all sorts of his own ideas about the topics. That has been really fun!
Thanks for another great discussion Lori and all of you who are sending out your questions and ideas!
Life is always on the verge of crazy around here but it would be total chaos if not for all I have learned here!

Comment by trish on April 11, 2009 at 06:06 AM

hi lori!

i love coming here to see what's up! there's inspiration and brain food everywhere i look.....

been doing some reading lately, and one idea from the book "first steps toward teaching the reggio way" by joanne hendrick (thanks for pointing this one out) has really resonated with me....

"in fact, the curriculum emerges in the process of each activity or project and is flexibly adjusted accordingly through this continuous dialogue among teachers and with children".

so emergent curriculum is a new concept for me, but it seems reasonable that by not pushing a pre-set curriculum, and waiting to observe what direction curiosity and the innate desire to learn prods a child toward, that beyond the goal of being literate, a curriculum may not even be necessary.

example: this morning the girl was looking at one of her little magazines, and barges into the bathroom, eyes shining, really excited. "i have to make this right now!". i glance at the page she's holding up, and there is a picture of a gingerbread house. candy, royal frosting, the whole nine yards. in my pre-caffienated state, i foggily agree to make frosting. twenty minutes later, she sits down to make her own gingerbread house, with whatever we had on hand. no graham crackers, pretzels will do. sprinkles, leftover halloween candy (what? i knew i was saving it for something!), toothpicks, marshmallows and ice cream cones from the verrrrry back of the cabinet. only she decides it's not going to be a house, it's a backyard. for the marshmallow people. and over the course of the next two hours, she measures, figures out how to support heavy objects, makes up a running story about her marshmallow people's habitat, and makes a frosting map of our backyard. and probably tons of other things. i just watched in amazement, and offered some how-to's if she asked or was at a momentary loss.

so, is curriculum even necessary at the younger ages? i'm thinking that if, as a parent, you don't allow yourself to get caught up in the traditional educator's idea of when children should be doing what, the kids will learn what they need to learn, when it's relevant to them, as they need the bits of information to accomplish their goals.

obviously, i'm still trying to grasp the full meaning of emergent curriculum, and am working the idea out as i go. has your understanding of curriculum evolved as your children have gotten older?

Comment by Andrea on April 11, 2009 at 02:43 PM

I sometimes feel like we don't have enough of a curriculum, and I feel like we aren't fully thriving right now. I learn better with step by step guides. I also like to be creative, and take my time. I am still figuring out what a curriculum is exactly.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 11, 2009 at 04:47 PM

gonzomama, thank you, i’m glad this is helping you.

one thing i would say, about figuring out a basic curriculum, is that there are lots and lots of people who have put together courses of study, and you can look at those to establish a *guideline* (not, hopefully, to follow blindly or dogmatically) and as an aid to help figure out what *you* think is most important. a lot of people have gone before, and you can use their work to help figure out your own path — just be sure to give equal (or more!) weight to your own beliefs about what is important to know, your own values about how children should learn to learn, etc. :^)

dawn, mm, i am familiar with that conversation you describe. ;^) although i usually have it with other homeschooling families. it’s funny how much trust people have in a sort of unknown other. they feel completely comfortable with some random publisher’s curriculum for fourth grade — that falls well within their comfort zone — but they are distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of someone making up their own curriculum. i find that funny. :^)

i love the freedom of project work, too, and the magical way that it tends to touch everything eventually — how every interest we pursue seems to eventually involve history, geography, science, math, everything!

what you describe with dylan is exactly what tends to happen in a multiage classroom of children as well — it’s wonderful to have children at home who are close enough in age and interested enough to work together on a project!

thank you so much for your comment and your update!

trish, if by “a curriculum may not even be necessary” you mean a separate, purchased curriculum, absolutely! because the curriculum grows out of the project, and if you give it enough time and space, it can do everything you needed it to do. is curriculum necessary? that gingerbread house exploration *was* curriculum. :^)

i agree with you that children will probably get everything they need to learn, and i would add that if one was concerned at all about it, they could keep a project journal, browse through their state’s learning standards, and make sure that their child had indeed gotten everything they wanted them to get.

re: emergent curriculum, look at it this way — what we have in the public schools is a trickle-down curriculum. the government says all our children need to be well educated, so we will define “well educated” by making a big list of everything they should know — a list that is forced to be somewhat detailed so as not to be too vague. schools, in order to make sure they do their job (and get their money) decide the easiest way to make sure they meet these standards is to teach them one by one. they give their teachers a script, a calendar, and a list of exactly what they need to teach and how they need to teach it (so no child is cheated), and the teachers deliver the goods.

what is emergent curriculum? children start with their interests and dig into them, teachers help them answer their questions and pursue their plans, teachers look for opportunities to integrate even more knowledge and skill areas, and the curriculum *emerges* from the interaction of teachers + children + content. the same exact learning standards can be met, but it’s a bottom-up system. it requires trust — schools have to trust teachers and everyone has to trust children. which is why it is rarely done that way.

as for myself, i’ve been focused on emergent and negotiated curriculum as the way to go since my boys were tiny, but what has evolved is the process itself — it constantly, slowly but surely changes as the boys get older and they are even more in charge of their own learning. that is one of the things i love about this approach to learning — i really can never anticipate what it will be like next year; it’s always evolving!

andrea, you have a lot of company! it takes courage — and work — to find your own happy balance.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on April 11, 2009 at 05:09 PM

I had such an interesting discussion with Gunnar last night about going to the arts charter school vs. homeschooling. He needs to write an essay for the application to the school, and he has had such a rough time writing it because he has to sit down and really think about what he wants from his education.

It turns out that his big resistance to homeschooling is that he thought he'd be doing the same things as Annika and that he wouldn't be getting what *he* wants and needs. We spent a long time talking about how they each would develop their own curriculum and their own interests, coming together when they intersected. I'm not sure he'll choose that path, but it was great to have the conversation about the possibilities. While I'd rather have him home and developing an emergent curriculum based on his interests over being in any "standards based" school, at least I know that his needs will largely be met either way.

Meanwhile, my new John Holt books arrived in the mail yesterday, so I'm going to go curl up in a chair and read on this rainy day instead of cleaning house.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 11, 2009 at 05:56 PM

sarah, i think this ties in very interestingly with adults coming from the outside who feel uncomfortable about the idea of a non-conventional unschool/homeschool approach .. children feel that way, too! it’s something so new and different .. and we all start from the place of what we already know. when you are doing something *truly* different, they have to hike a bit off the main path to see what you are talking about.

i had a conversation with a woman whose daughter had chosen to return to regular school after unschooling for a time. the woman felt very disappointed that her daughter was making this choice, and she felt her daughter was losing out on both a better education and a more relaxed lifestyle. but this is how i see it — the parents’ attitude has a *huge* effect on how a child experiences regular school. most children are in school, period, forever, and they know it — there are no other choices. but for children who *do* have a choice, and who furthermore know their parents put their learning and their lifestyle first and school expectations second, they are coming from a place of choice and control.

to me, this is the same point as — we are all really self-employed. once you understand that — that even if you take a job working for someone else, you are *really* self-employed, you are really working for yourself and making decisions based on your needs — your outlook changes. you are in control. you are responsible. you can, and will, make a different choice if necessary.

when we make deliberate choices from a place of freedom and control, and when we step up and take ultimate responsibility for those choices, that feeling of oppression falls away. we’re no longer victims of an employer or a school system, and we don’t abdicate anything by choosing to work with them.

enjoy the holt!

Comment by amyk on April 12, 2009 at 02:33 AM

something i was thinking about getting everything you need from the curriculum. My four year-old who is doing a project on flowers has been enjoying the book Reason for a Flower, and is suddenly obsessed with wanting to read every line after me, practicing pointing at the words as she goes. She's just beginning to grasp the concept of one printed word representing each spoken word. Usually she drags her finger along lines without stopping. Just cool to see how skills develop within a project.

But on the other hand with math, I am struggling a little more with working math into a project for an older child. I guess if I'm patient opportunities will arise and I'll see how it comes out. But what if you just want to keep a solid practice of math going, does anyone have a math "program" or a book or series they recommend that allows for continuous math practice but is kind of game-oriented or more holistic, or makes math seem like it's happening for more of a reason...Maybe we're not supposed to talk specific curricula here... But I was just wondering if anyone has suggestions on way to make math practice more fun and real...

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 12, 2009 at 02:59 AM

re: reading — it’s amazing what children can accomplish when it is tied to something they are truly interested in, and when they really see the use and purpose of the skill they are acquiring.

re: math — you simply cannot integrate everything naturally with project work. and even if you do integrate it naturally whenever you can, math is something that requires repetition to learn. needing to multiply a few times isn’t going to help you memorize your times tables. *still*, integrating math meaningfully where possible can show children why it is useful to have those skills and how they are applied to real-life problems. so it is still well worth doing. i just wouldn’t expect a full math curriculum to blossom out of most projects.

re: talking specific curricula, there are no rules. :^) some readers are using canned curricula for part of their homeschooling and others are unschooling. i hope someone can share their experiences with you.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on April 12, 2009 at 03:03 AM

Amy - we just started using Right Start Math. We're using it with our friends who have used it for a year, so the girls can play the math games together. It's an abacus based program that uses a LOT of math games. It's all about understanding how math works, not about memorizing math rules. So far, Annika has really enjoyed it.

Also, we're doing a lot of math in Annika's project work, but we're keeping this moving in tandem with it so that she's always working with math, even when it's not a part of her project.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 12, 2009 at 03:10 AM

i should say, i would love to weigh in on the math issue but my husband is in charge of math. have you seen that t-shirt that says “i’m an english major. you do the math.”? ’nuf said.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on April 12, 2009 at 03:14 AM

Ha!! I was a comparative literature major, but my whole career was math based. I'm one of those weirdos who loves both reading and math!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 12, 2009 at 03:18 AM

you may be a gifted left+right brainer, sarah, but *i* have this cool t-shirt.

Comment by Cathy T on April 12, 2009 at 03:20 PM

After being gone for a few weeks, it took me a long time to catch up on all the older posts! LOL, they were all good! A lot to think about, even now, as I clean the house, the yard, and what have you...

Stacey asked if it was harder when the kids get older. Nope, it is actually easier, especially when I truly trust my intuitions that they are doing fine and thriving. The only formal curriculum we use now, or have ever stuck with for that matter, has been math. The kids are beginning to really know what their resources are and how to use them and they trust that I will help them find what they need. They really do most of their homeschooling with little intervention from me. I have a notebook where I write any "requirements" down for the day (including chores) and then they can do whatever they wish - except visit computer forums or play computer games - after the list is completed until 3 pm when they can also add computer games or visiting forums to their list. Formal math is almost always on the list - unless they are doing something else with their dad!

As for math, I was in charge of it with my kids until they hit about age 10 when my husband wanted to be more involved. (He also does a lot of the science - watching and discussing television shows, making catapults, etc... I didn't use any formal math curriculum until they were 7.5 years - just counted, skip counted, made up lots of dot to dots that required skip counting, played with tangrams, pentameters, cooked a lot (measured), gardened (measured our plants), studied and charted the weather (temperature graphs, sun vs cloud vs rain graphs), and fit in maths with projects. Once they hit 7.5 years we started Singapore Math and they did fine with it. My husband took over math when they hit 10 years because he could and wanted to. He continues with it even now with my son now in "ninth grade." He researches the various curriculums out there for math as needed and they try them out - some have fit great, others were duds for our family.

Comment by Deirdre on April 12, 2009 at 08:38 PM

"the end products aren’t really the ‘project’ part of the project — the long-term investigation is."

I've been missing the open thread conversations. I always feel better after reading the comments and Lori's input. My sons change their minds often about the "end project" or how to show their knowledge, but love the investigating.

LOVE the part about being "self-employed"---rather than a victim of a school-system, etc.

I struggle with balancing being too loose, flitting from projects and materials and going the other way, trying to nail down my son's fascination with watching butterflies by using field guides and identifying. And every time the answer seem to comes from following their lead---their investigation is often different than I would ever have imagined or led.

Our framework can be simplified into that Annie Dillard quote: "We teach our children one thing only, as we were taught: to wake up."

When my children are fully engaged, following their passions and creating---they are awake and fully alive. If they leave home confident in how to do that, I'll be happy.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 12, 2009 at 10:20 PM

deirdre, i love that annie dillard quote. she’s one of my favorite writers.

love your statement, too, about being satisfied with their full engagement — that is what i am always aiming for as well!

Comment by Tracey on April 13, 2009 at 11:23 AM

HI! I'm delurking... I've been soaking in your site for the last couple weeks. Thanks for all the food for thought. My kids are preschoolers and I've found I'm beginning to trust them to learn on their own instead of creating experiences (that always seem to disappoint me). Thanks again! ~:-)

Comment by Cordelia on April 13, 2009 at 12:31 PM

Wonderful ideas here. Even when I don't have a specific question or thought, I love spending the time focusing on these ideas.

We find that math usually works its way into our lives alot, but we do dabble in math curricula, mostly led by my son's on-again/ off-again, mysterious fascination with worksheets and problem sets. Does this happen to anyone else. It's only with math. In any other area, worksheets and similar materials have always been scorned. I like to think that he knows when he needs to hunker down and practice and when (as is most often the case) math is just fun to explore.

In our more programmed moments, I like the activities and recommendations in the "Family Math" series out of lhe Lawrence Hall of science wonderful for growing math loving kids. I also love
Patterns in Arithmetic It is very close to the curriculum his school used, and they grow some very math comfy kids there. Even though alot of it is targetted at younger kids, we go back to the activities and approaches in moving forward.

Comment by Cordelia on April 13, 2009 at 12:31 PM

Wonderful ideas here. Even when I don't have a specific question or thought, I love spending the time focusing on these ideas.

We find that math usually works its way into our lives alot, but we do dabble in math curricula, mostly led by my son's on-again/ off-again, mysterious fascination with worksheets and problem sets. Does this happen to anyone else. It's only with math. In any other area, worksheets and similar materials have always been scorned. I like to think that he knows when he needs to hunker down and practice and when (as is most often the case) math is just fun to explore.

In our more programmed moments, I like the activities and recommendations in the "Family Math" series out of lhe Lawrence Hall of science wonderful for growing math loving kids. I also love
Patterns in Arithmetic It is very close to the curriculum his school used, and they grow some very math comfy kids there. Even though alot of it is targetted at younger kids, we go back to the activities and approaches in moving forward.

Comment by Cordelia on April 13, 2009 at 12:31 PM

Wonderful ideas here. Even when I don't have a specific question or thought, I love spending the time focusing on these ideas.

We find that math usually works its way into our lives alot, but we do dabble in math curricula, mostly led by my son's on-again/ off-again, mysterious fascination with worksheets and problem sets. Does this happen to anyone else. It's only with math. In any other area, worksheets and similar materials have always been scorned. I like to think that he knows when he needs to hunker down and practice and when (as is most often the case) math is just fun to explore.

In our more programmed moments, I like the activities and recommendations in the "Family Math" series out of lhe Lawrence Hall of science wonderful for growing math loving kids. I also love
Patterns in Arithmetic It is very close to the curriculum his school used, and they grow some very math comfy kids there. Even though alot of it is targetted at younger kids, we go back to the activities and approaches in moving forward.

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 13, 2009 at 08:16 PM

thank you, tracey! :^) and thank you for delurking!

thank you, cordelia — i agree, for me it’s good to keep bringing my mind (gently!) back to these ideas, so they stay uppermost in my intentions!

a lot of people have mentioned their kids’ love of worksheets or workbooks. my older son loved them when he was younger; i made use of them during car trips!

thank you for the recommendations!

Comment by Dawn on April 14, 2009 at 06:53 AM

Just getting caught up again... great thoughts and ideas!
We just had the math discussion this weekend... good to hear the experiences of others.

I feel like curriculum has everything to do with priorities. What "X" thinks is important to teach "Y"
With this idea of creating a curriculum as you go..."Y" is pursuing her/his own insterests and "x" is there to support and provide resources.

With this in mind I think about the things that I care about...things that are important to me... what I really want my kids to care about. Fionna can name almost every bug in our yard... or use the resources we have available to figure out the name, habitat, life cycle... The kid next door can name every car that drives by the house but knows almost nothing about what is right under his feet.
Both are learning identification skills... but for me the bugs mean more because they are fostering a connection with the earth and I want that for my kids...
On top of that I am not telling her the names... she is "discovering" them with a little reading help from me. So once she learns to read... she is on her way... she will have the ability to utilize her resources to identify anything.
Could the same use of identification methods be used for cars? Probably...

I guess it boils down what you want for your kids. What types of ideals you wish to instill in them. What they are going to remember from childhood... Take with them into adulthood...
For me it is not just about "education" in a book sense. It is about nurturing the whole child.

Hope this makes some sort of sense... it is really late... or should I say early! 3:45 am... not good!
Thanks Lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 14, 2009 at 01:29 PM

beautiful thoughts, dawn, and perfect to start my day on! :^)

you bring up something interesting — there is no way we can avoid shaping what our children learn, at least somewhat (depending on how strong-willed our children are), when we choose what interests we are going to support. i can see a different parent being very supportive of that interest in cars and a child’s future as a mechanic! ;^) and hey, maybe he’ll invent a green fuel alternative.

i agree completely re: it boiling down to your ideals and what you hope for your children. i can really see now that the choices we’ve made for our sons have reflected our own values — freedom, intellectual curiosity, creative expression. as they get older, there is a clear pattern to the choices we’ve made — often unconsciously!

have a wonderful week, dawn — and thank you to everyone for making this a great open thread!

Comment by Meredith on April 21, 2009 at 02:37 PM

I enjoyed reading all of these comments, so insightful Lori and as always I come away with something new and useful for my own brood :) Sorry I've been away for so long, ahem, we had a break in the routine ;-) Many blessings!

Comment by Lori Pickert on April 21, 2009 at 06:10 PM

hi meredith, and it’s good to see you! ;^)

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