Open thread Saturday

Published by Lori Pickert on November 22, 2008 at 02:24 PM

I wasn’t sure I would be around today to host an open thread, but as it happens, I am. So if you are around, too, good day! Want to talk?

I hope everyone enjoys their weekend and, for those of you in the U.S., a happy Thanksgiving as well!


Comment by Sarah Jackson on November 22, 2008 at 02:59 PM

I'm here and have a funny to share. Yesterday I caught myself saying "Annika, I'm disappointed that you're sitting here doing math instead of playing with your friends."

We were at a homeschooling friend's house and they have a math program that she loves. So instead of building the awesome space shuttle out of appliance boxes, she snuck off to play the math game.

Silly kid. :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 22, 2008 at 03:12 PM

lol. i have a similar story for you. this week i caught my husband ordering my son to play a video game with him -- 11yo was begging to be allowed to read his new library books instead. husband: “you can read ANYTIME -- come play with me!”

Comment by Sarah Jackson on November 22, 2008 at 06:20 PM

what game are they playing? Jeff and the kids are way into Spore these days.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 22, 2008 at 06:27 PM

i don’t know -- i have zero interest in video games. something that involves chasing each other around. ;^)

Comment by Christina on November 22, 2008 at 07:45 PM

Oooooo. I checked earlier and there was no open thread, so I thought I was out of luck. Glad I checked back.

So I'm looking for information on how to choose a project topic. I've read all your posts on it, but I guess I'm looking for more specific information. Maybe geared for younger children? I don't know. This is all new to me.

This is our first "official" homeschooling year (my daughter's Kindergarten year) and I chose do do a sort-of (very loose) topic-based approach: Habitats (something that my 3-year old son can enjoy and get involved with too). So we've been studying various habitats each month, and the kids enjoy it, but I've been reading all your posts on project-based learning and I like it a lot. It feels like it suits my idea of learning. In lots of ways we already have this style. We spent a while studying frogs and snakes (during the pond/lake habitat month) since that's what the kids were more interested in. And each month I follow their lead, more or less. But I'm still the one choosing the general theme. Recently though, I talked to my 5-year-old about the concept of "projects" and discussed the idea of choosing a project topic for herself that she'll start in the new year. Here are my questions:

1. Is that too contrived? I mean, should I just let it happen organically? Or is there a benefit to sitting down, discussing options and "choosing" a project to pursue?

2. How has your approach to projects changed as your children have aged? Did you suggest project topics to your kids when they were younger? Or did they do it all themselves? How does this all work?

There. That's enough to get started on :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 22, 2008 at 08:15 PM

christina, hey, i got it up at 8:30 a.m. central, i thought that was pretty good! ;^)

re: how to choose a project topic, whether organically or more directly .. certainly it can be done either way. there are reasons to choose either one. once children are familiar with project learning and can look back and talk about their past projects, it makes sense to have them actively weigh different options and suggest topics to investigate. (room should still be left for inquiry to develop naturally and for the project to develop in unpredictable directions.)

i can think of a few reasons why you might want to simply document children’s interests and begin supporting their interest in a topic without directly discussing it with them.

1 - they are too young or inexperienced to understand what a project entails. in this case, supporting their interest without requiring them to articulate it can allow them to build up a varied number of different experiences that they can later understand is a project.

2 - they are too young or inexperienced to articulate their own interests. when pressed, they may either say they don’t know what they want to study or they say something far too simple or seemingly unrelated to their free play. in this case, pulling interests out of their conversation, art-making, and dramatic play may yield richer results.

3 - they are anti-learning. for older children who are in the deschooling process, perhaps recovering from an unhappy experience at school, they may associate “project” with negative experiences of forced drudgery. better to simply start feeding an interest and wait for them to slowly redefine what “work” means -- something enjoyable you pursue when you have a strong interest.

4 - your child continuously expresses a strong interest in only one thing. for a child who is fascinated beyond all reason with one topic (and who, presumably, has been allowed to study that topic to their heart’s content), documenting may allow you to pick out strands of other interests that you want to feed and develop.

there are no doubt other good reasons, but this at least gives some ideas.

re: being too contrived .. sitting down and considering options, then choosing a topic to study is how i work with my older children (age 9 and 11). it is also how we worked with our mixed-age class of children in K-3rd. these children all have extensive project-learning experience and know exactly what they are getting into, and their teacher (or parent ;^) weighs in with their opinion about what would make a good project. it is negotiated, with emphasis placed on finding something that the child is very interested in.

re: our approach to doing projects as our children have gotten older .. we discuss openly what projects the boys want to do during the upcoming year. they always continue working on their old projects -- they never let anything go! even if they haven’t done actual work on a previous project for a year, they will never admit they have dropped that project. ;^)

we talk about what they want to study during the upcoming year, and they make lists of things they think they’ll need (books, art supplies, journals, etc.). we discuss how they will represent their learning as they go (journaling, notebooks, blogs). they usually work on two projects at a time -- something i wouldn’t attempt with young children or children first doing project work.

i don’t see anything wrong with selecting a project topic with your child if that is what feels right to you. i recommend you start documenting as much as possible .. what she talks about, what she does, what she says, her plans, etc., and then look for areas where you can give more support, remind her of things she’s forgotten, etc. after choosing a project topic, there is still quite a lot of latitude for changing direction, focus, etc.

now does that help, or does it just confuse you more? :^)

Comment by Kerry on November 22, 2008 at 08:20 PM

Just popping in to say "hi", and wondering if anyone knows of a good reasonably price telescope that could be used by a seven year old? Our project is really taking off, and dd is wishing hard for a telescope for Christmas!

Comment by Christina on November 22, 2008 at 08:40 PM

Yes, yes. The time difference. I *guess* 8:30 a.m. is ok :)

This information helps. I especially like the idea of documenting interests. I need to look back over this year's activities to jog my memory and then begin to more actively note areas of interest, threads of discussion, etc. in the future.

I want my kids to be active participants in their own learning, but I also want them to *know* that they are actively participating . . . if that makes sense. I want them to realize that they are choosing (even at a young age)--which hopefully will empower them, but also make them feel a sense of responsibility, however appropriate at this age. Anyway, I suppose that's why it also appeals to me to sit down, weigh options, and choose a topic in a more formal sense. However, I also see the benefit of observing interests, and then feeding those interests, as a beginning to project-based learning. (I guess I've already been doing that a lot.)

This gives me something to work with. No doubt I will have more questions as this progresses!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 22, 2008 at 09:00 PM

kerry, i wish i could help! we bought ours at a garage sale. i do know that sometimes it is easier for cihldren to use binoculars (on a tripod) rather than a traditional telescope; i researched it back when the boys were really interested in astronomy. we usually take our binoculars outside. :^)

maybe someone else will weigh in with some good advice!

Comment by nancy on November 22, 2008 at 09:04 PM

I have a question about "the beast", a.k.a. the television. It is something that I have used to help with down time, when I need to get someting done, etc. I have a 6 year old (who does not ask to watch, but loves computer games), a 4 year old (who constantly asks to watch tv and movies, but loves books too) and a almost 2 year old (who doesn't watch). I grew up watching tv and I have recently stopped watching it all together. I do spend alot of time on the computer instead.
Anyway, my question is do your boys watch tv/movies during the day?
For two days this week, I didn't allow it and my boys found things to do and I spent more time with them, but I did not take a break.
I just think that there is alot of time to fill in the day and it's hard to take a mommy break without using the tv. Any advice? I know this is really long and might not pertain to project topic so I won't feel bad if you don't want to get into this:)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 22, 2008 at 09:07 PM

christina, i agree with you completely about children *knowing* they are the architects of their own learning .. i’m just okay with working toward that end. remember that you are learning, too -- and sometimes it is easier to bumble about on the outside edges of their learning when they aren’t staring directly at you. ;^)

at the end of any project, i want the children to feel complete ownership of the work, complete ownership of the learning process. so we are in total agreement.

and truly, once you begin naming project work as project work .. referring to “your project” .. they will begin enthusiastically demanding to do projects on what interests them. there is no slowing down that take-over process. i have yet to work with a child, no matter how young, who didn’t walk away from their first project understanding that they could now do it all over again with whatever topic they choose.

thank you for your great comments today!

Comment by Amanda @ on November 22, 2008 at 09:59 PM

Hi Lori,

I meant to come last week but didn't get around to it until Sunday when you were sweeping up the confetti :)

My question feels very broad and jumbled, but I'm hoping that you can help me make sense of my thoughts.

So here goes. My daughter started Kindergarten this past August at a carefully selected Catholic school: my husband is Catholic and went to Catholic school, and we hoped that Catholic school would have more consciously parented kids. That hasn't really happened (did you know that there are Kindergarteners who are into High School Musical 3?). I just don't like the child she's becoming, I don't feel that she's being challenged enough (she's reading very well already and we're very hands-on, which the school just doesn't seem to be), and well, I just don't like taking her to school and being away from her every day. I want her to be taught by someone who really appreciates and understands who she is, is really invested in helping her meet her potential, and I want her to have the time to really explore the things she's interested in rather than having to 'finish up so we can go to recess.' I feel like my husband and I could be great homeschoolers--we are very hands-on, love learning ourselves, are very DIY, and it feels like the way we interact with our kids is already very much about supporting their interests, teaching them about things, and allowing them the space to explore. The more I read about homeschooling and talk with people about it the more I feel that we can't afford NOT to do it (equally, I don't think we can really afford to send three kids to Catholic school, but that's a secondary matter!). I want them to be the people they were meant to be and I don't see that happening otherwise.

Sounds rosy, eh? I'm just terrified. My almost-six year old has a three year old brother and one year old sister, and we've talked about adding one more child. How can I do this? I don't see how I can give Josie the attention that she'll need and deserve while keeping Adelaide's tiny hands out of her projects and not excluding Jasper. I'm already driven a bit crazy by them, as much as I adore each of will I get through spending every day together? We have no family around here, and are prone to taking on too much already.

So, I guess that my question is...honestly, how can I do this? Am I nuts?

Thanks for reading this far, and I'm sorry if this is a bit out of the scope of your thread :)

xo, Amanda

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 23, 2008 at 12:22 AM

hi amanda :^)

open thread has no scope! that is the beauty of open thread.

unfortunately i *do* know that there are kindergarten students who are into HSM3.

here’s your own description of the teacher you want for your children: “I want her to be taught by someone who really appreciates and understands who she is, is really invested in helping her meet her potential, and I want her to have the time to really explore the things she's interested in rather than having to ‘finish up so we can go to recess.’”

there are teachers out there in public and private schools who meet those qualifications. there are teachers who are striving to be that, not just for one child or four children, but for twenty-four children (or more) every day, every year.

but when you roll the dice every year from kindergarten through high school, odds are, those teachers will not be the majority of the people who are working with your child.

the question is, could you be that person for your child.

homeschooling is about more than education. it requires more of you than managing your child’s learning. it requires you to make your life what you need it to be. not enough friends? you’ll have to find more friends. need more time out of the house, more time for your children with other caring adults? you’ll have to find that, too. or make it.

on the plus side, it’s very doable. it’s just a question of whether it’s something you want to choose to do.

what’s the worst thing that can happen? the negatives outweigh the positives, you decide it’s not a good fit for you and/or your child(ren). you tried it; it wasn’t for you. what did it cost? a year of your life? any parent with a child in public school can tell you about a “wasted” year with a teacher who was either a bad fit for their child or just bad in general. don’t be afraid of making a bold choice because it might not succeed. don’t worry about what other people will think.

life is a daring adventure, or nothing. helen keller. what lesson do you impart to your child when you take this on? what lesson do you impart to yourself? that you aren’t afraid to jump in feet first? that you are willing to change what needs to be changed?

i read a quote in the book i was reading today, by clare walker leslie. she was talking about art, but it applies to life as well: “Stop every now and then to evaluate whether you are really learning or enjoying as much as you would like. If not, have the courage to find out why and then change your path of study.”

a lot of people get on your case when you decide to homeschool. when you decide to do A and your friends (or relatives) do B, the less secure ones will think that your choice is saying something about them and their choices.

people who homeschool are no better or worse than people who don’t homeschool — plenty of homeschooled five-year-olds are into High School Musical 3 as well. *that* isn’t going to change. people are the same everywhere. now, you may find more like-minded souls, but you will have to seek them out.

a lot of people like to say “you can’t control your child’s life — they have to be around bullies, know about video games/HSM3/Myspace, deal with this, learn to handle that.” they will continue to bray this at you while you take up the reins and decide to have more control over your life and your family’s life. and you can have more control. you can make it over to suit yourself more. that’s why most of us do it. get used to a constant background noise of people telling you what a mistake you’re making. if you concentrate, you can make it sound like the ocean.

re: giving your oldest adequate attention while dealing with your younger children, i suspect you already have an inkling of how this works. once you decide to have more than one child, you know you can never give everything to everyone ever again. but then you find out that they start giving to each other, and there’s no deficit. in fact, you’re fine. you’re all taking care of each other. it doesn’t *hurt* your child to learn to accommodate others; it helps them. will they get everything they want or need as soon as they want or need it? no, and that’s fine.

now, i always feel like i’m backed into a corner and forced to cheerlead homeschooling, and i don’t particularly want to do that. for one thing, if more people do it, the library and the museum won’t be as quiet during the day. for another, it makes people mad at me, and i would rather quietly browse the buffet table than get into a heated argument with someone’s cousin about whether my children will be prepared to take their place in society 15 years hence. (i’m pretty sure they will.)

also, almost all my friends don’t homeschool, and i think they’re just swell, and their kids are just swell. and almost all my friends are teachers, and my friends who are teachers are the kind of teachers who are amazing and inspiring and the kind of teacher your kid would be lucky to have. or, they’re lapsed teachers who are now homeschooling their kids, which is cool, too.

so i don’t care whether you decide to homeschool or decide that your school isn’t that bad after all, and when you think about it, zac efron is really cute and the musical numbers are quite snappy, even if the whole picture has zero familiarity with actual high school. but i am completely sure that you are capable of homeschooling if that’s what you want to do — not that it will be completely easy from the get-go, but that you will be able to handle whatever comes along. whatever you decide to do, it doesn’t make you one whit less smart or loving or involved. but do i think you’re nuts? no. any time someone is really working hard at getting their best authentic life, i most decidedly do not think they are nuts.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 23, 2008 at 12:43 AM

hi nancy,

i’m happy to share what we do personally, but i’m not sure it has any bearing on your situation. maybe other people will want to chime in and talk about how they handle tv as well.

in our house, the tv is off until 2:00. after 2:00, they are free to watch it if they want to. on the weekends, there is no restriction on tv.

do your guys have other things they can do on their own besides watch tv? do they have accessible toys, art supplies, materials, etc., that they can get down, work with, and put back without your help?

do you think it’s more a need to wean them off needing your attention every minute or giving them more independent activities to choose from? there should be plenty of other things they can do other than watch tv .. let’s brainstorm. ;^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 23, 2008 at 12:46 AM
Comment by Theresa on November 23, 2008 at 01:27 AM

Lori, that was just a fabulous answer about discerning homeschooling. Fabulous. I get asked that same question all the time and I can never come up with anything as coherent and thoughtful in reply. From now on I will just send people here, okay?

Comment by Kerry on November 23, 2008 at 02:14 AM

Thanks for the link!
Also, I think we will take out the binoculars this week. We actually have a pretty good pair. I don't know why I didn't think of that, I used to do that all the time as a kid!
Our electronics are off until 3...I don't really limit it on weekends, but we moved the big tv upstairs and I find that that makes it more effort. The kids really don't watch tv, they are just busy doing other things!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 23, 2008 at 02:27 AM

kerry, i know! i would have never thought about either -- glad to pass it along! :^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 23, 2008 at 02:33 AM

theresa, thank you so much -- that makes my day. :^) i get asked it all the time as well!

Comment by Nancy on November 23, 2008 at 03:43 AM

I may have asked this before, but will you marry me? :) Your reply to Amanda about to homeschool/not to homeschool is simply brilliant. Quotable, witty, I'm in love with you. So much more I could say, but from now on whenever there's nattering in the background, I'm gonna make it sound like the ocean. Fabulous! xo Nancy in NC
PS - This homeschooling piece from Mothering (I think I've seen the author post here?) has much the same flavor as your response. Give it a read, Amanda.

Comment by Christie on November 23, 2008 at 04:35 AM

This is just brilliant:
"if you concentrate, you can make it sound like the ocean."
That's true for so many different situations. I think I'll work on that image all week.

Comment by Christie on November 23, 2008 at 04:36 AM

Some blogs let you subscribe to the comments. Does your platform have that option?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 23, 2008 at 05:02 AM

oh nancy, are you asking me to marry you again? ;^)

thank you so much -- your comment made me laugh out loud, and you know i love extrinsic praise!!! heap it on!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 23, 2008 at 05:04 AM

christie, thank you, lol. that’s when i get a faraway look in my eyes .. when i can hear the ocean ..


mm, there probably is some way to offer an RSS feed for the comments. er. i promise to look into that!

Comment by Aimee on November 24, 2008 at 02:14 PM

Hi, I missed this, but wanted to say thanks for keeping up the thread, so I could read it!

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