Teacher Appreciation Week!

Photo Credit: Moreland Family

The mediocre teacher tells.

The good teacher explains.

The superior teacher demonstrates.

The great teacher inspires.

William Arthur Ward

This week, May 6 through May 12, is Teacher Appreciation Week, and I would like to show my deepest gratitude for the very important role all of you are performing. Whether you are the main home teacher, a co-teacher, or a provisional teacher, you need to be acknowledged, honored and thanked. You are sharing an amazing gift with your children/students!

Parenting and teaching children may be two of the hardest jobs ever experienced. It’s not always easy to share knowledge with enthusiasm. It’s not always easy to provide guidance with inspiration. It can be difficult to promote self-confidence when we may not be feeling completely confident in ourselves. It can truly be challenging to instill the love of learning and to offer wisdom while helping to prepare children for living to their fullest potential.

Journeys are never completely easy. We will be challenged with hard times and frustrating moments. However, amid the challenges, we will also experience those shining moments of complete joy and satisfaction. If we approach our teaching skills by developing a quality relationship with our students, then we will be approaching our teaching as a positive, transformative journey for all who are involved.

Photo Credit: Joyner Family

Not only do we need to honor our role as teachers, we also need to honor our children, for children can be our greatest teachers. They allow us the opportunity for personal growth. Children help us to remember our dutiful role in continuously providing the best and offering the most we can in every learning moment. We need to find that crucial balance between a loving heart and a determined mind. Being the best teacher is not the goal, because we are all humanly imperfect and incapable of such a title. However, if we strive to do the best we can, then we are being the best teacher possible in that moment. This striving is a strong testimony to the Oak Meadow’s educational philosophy of the process vs. the goal.

In all my years of teaching and guiding students, I have discovered that the most important lessons we can instill in our children is the joy of learning, the balance of life, and to never give up just because it’s hard.

I was recently reading through Oak Meadow’s guidebook, The Heart of Learningwritten by Oak Meadow’s founder, Lawrence Williams. It offers such amazing insight, inspiration and guidance. If you haven’t read it lately, I highly recommend perusing it. If you don’t own a copy of the revised and updated 40th Anniversary edition, it is available through the Oak Meadow Bookstore.

 

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.

 

Planting Seeds

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Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are heading into spring and many of us are looking forward to growing vegetables in our own summer gardens. In my state we have a Cooperative Extension Service that provides lots of information and offers activities about farming in my area. With snow still on the ground, I’m dreaming of planting my garden. Since I’m in the city, I’m planning to start small this year with a few tomato plants in big pots, and some spinach and onions in a small bed. I look forward to my tiny harvest of spaghetti sauce!

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We know that human activity does pollute the environment and that it can cause climate changes. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one way of helping to limit climate change. We also now know that driving a car is a major cause of climate change as the car emissions release carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. One way greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced is by growing one’s own food so that driving to market doesn’t happen so often. So, planting seeds is a great start to reducing the pollution of our planet!

Photo from Pixaby

Wishful thinking doesn’t make my garden grow, so first I have to buy some seeds and soil. Since my growing season is so short, I have to start my plants indoors. Many of you using the Oak Meadow science curriculum are planting seeds, recording their growth, and also exploring and reporting on different types of soils. This website from the Smithsonian National Museum of History is awesome: Dig It! The Secrets of Soil. I compost vegetable and fruit matter so I have some good soil to start with. I’ll also purchase some organic soil from a local landscape supplier to mix in. You may have studied the plant kingdom in the Oak Meadow 6th grade science curriculum and learned the difference between gymnosperms and angiosperms. I’ll be planting some angiosperms! My south facing windows will be a perfect place for starting my plants.

This student found a good spot outside to start the seeds!

If you are planting your own garden, and when you have a break from your farming, here’s a fun game to play to maintain a sustainable farm that grows healthy crops and reduces emissions! You might also enjoy reading Thor Hanson’s book The Triumph of Seeds. Visit his website to learn more about this. 

What are you planting? What are some ways that you help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in your community?

FUN With WORDS!

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke

I woke UP this morning, and after getting UP, watching the sun come UP and drinking UP my cUP of tea, I began thinking UP words. UP on top of my list was the word, UP. “What’s UP with UP?” I asked myself. If you look UP the word, UP, in the dictionary, you will discover that its origins come from Old English and its first known use was before the 12th century. It can be identified as a noun, a verb, an adverb, an adjective or a preposition; and as you can tell from reading this blogpost, it can also be used as an idiomatic expression.

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Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

There are so many ways to use the word, UP, in your vernacular. Here is a fun blogsite that brings us UP to date with all the ways we can use the word, UP. Now it’s your turn to come UP with your own playful word. It’s totally UP to you, but what I know is that this two-letter word has brightened UP my day! So start UP your day by smiling UP to your ears. Look UP and read UP on your favorite word of the day. Then load UP The 5th Dimension song, “UP, UP and Away“, pull UP a chair and write a poem with your UPstanding children using the UP word family – or – you might even come UP with the idea of playing a word-building board game such as “Scrabble” or “UPwords”!

Photo Credit: Ojeda Family

Words can be FUN and weird, especially in the English language! The Oak Meadow coursework offers a variety of ways to have fun with words. There are also many books to share with growing readers, such as My Fun With Words – 2 Volumes: A-K & L-Z , written by James Artel and illustrated by Geoffrey Brittingham. “The Book of Pooh – Fun with Words” is a sweet movie about words with all our favorite A. A. Milne characters. There are also enjoyable games and word exercises to strengthen your children’s reading and writing skills, such as the 10 Word Games for Kids.

So, thumbs UP for the words that keep us UP on top of the world!

 

 

 

Wild Birds Unlimited

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

“My favorite weather is bird chirping weather.” – Terri Guillemets

As folklorist, filmmaker and singer-songwriter Dillon Bustin once wrote: Oh, my friends, it’s springtime again. Buds are swelling on every limb. The peepers do call; small birds do sing, and my thoughts return to gardening.

Yes! Spring is on the march, and for many residents in the northern hemisphere, the signs are showing. Even if it still feels like winter where you live, you can watch for the signs that promise spring is on its way. Where I live, there is a fresh scent of spring wafting through the air. The trees are budding, the peepers are peeping, the songbirds are trilling, and the sighting of migration northward has begun. Our feathered friends are even demonstrating activities in preparation of constructing or reconstructing nest sites for their pending broods. The red-breasted robin is also displaying signs of insanity by knocking into windows, as it thinks its reflection is another male in the territory.

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

The other day, I was visiting a friend who lives in the heart of the country. The warmer spring winds were blowing around dusk, and I suddenly heard the courtship song of the American Woodcock. This ritualistic land and sky dance is like no other and is rarely observed. It felt like a treasured gift, and I reflected on the times I have witnessed this mating dance with my own family and how every spring we would read  the chapter on “April – Sky Dance” from Aldo Leopold’s book, A Sand County Almanac. It’s worth reading!

Oak Meadow’s Kindergarten through grade 4 science lessons include activities on studying bird behavior and observing birds in their natural habitats. The second-grade lessons even encourage the students to try their hands at constructing bird nests. If you are interested in learning more about birds through stories, I highly recommend Shelli Bond Pabis’s list of Storybooks for Young Bird Lovers.

Here is a fun fact for all you bird lovers… did you know that the world’s oldest known breeding bird is an albatross named Wisdom? She lives in the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Hawaii, and at age 67, she is currently raising her recently hatched young chick.

If you are an avid birdwatcher, Bill Thompson, Editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, has listed the “Top 10 Long-awaited Signs of Spring”.

Happy Bird Watching!

Wild Weather!

Tulips and Snow

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.

-Mark Twain

In the northern hemisphere, spring has arrived, but many parts of the U.S. can’t seem to shake off winter. No matter what season of the year, strange weather events occur in every corner of the globe. In Oak Meadow’s coursework, observing seasonal weather and its effect on plants and animals is a significant part of the kindergarten, first grade and second grade science lessons. In the third grade science curriculum, weather conditions are studied by tracking weather and clouds, learning about lightning and thunder, and engaging in educational activities and artistic exercises in relation to tornadoes, blizzards, and hurricanes (or typhoons). According to encyclopedia.com, the definition for extreme weather is a weather event such as snow, rain, drought, flood, or storm that is rare for the place where it occurs.

For additional information on weather, meteorologist Crystal Wicker created an informational site for children called Weather Wiz Kids. Kids Discover also created an interactive iPad app for kids, which displays the most extreme forms of weather on Earth. It includes an interactive cross-section of a hurricane, HD videos of tornadoes and lightning, and the science behind extreme climates.

In addition to the serious side of extreme weather, you might like to read the book, Thunder Cake, written by Patricia Polacco. It is a heartwarming and beautifully written story about Patricia (the author) when she was a young girl, and how she overcame the fear of storms with the help of her grandmother. You can also introduce some fun ways we use the weather through idioms and phrases, such as under the weather, weather the storm, or fair-weather friends. It might be a great time to include a spelling and vocabulary exercise on the difference between weather, whether and wether.

The wonders of weather are wonderful!

 

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.  ~Proverb

bluebell field in England

Bluebell Field in England (photo used under Creative Commons license)

Happy March Equinox Everyone!

Humankind’s imagination is as vast as the solar system we live in! Out of our imagination comes tools for working, farming, and building. If we let our imaginations soar we become inventors. In fact, inventive thinking and problem solving is something we do everyday. We see a problem and come up with a solution. In the Oak Meadow 5th grade science curriculum, students study technology and design and work on their own inventions.  It’s so much fun to see what they imagine and bring into the world! They construct things that help with a job around the house, create toys for pets, and design many other practical and useful items. Humankind just seems to long for answers to questions!

Long ago astronomers sought answers to the many questions about the universe. When an answer wasn’t in sight, they imagined and created stories or guidelines for their lives. They imagined stories about the stars they saw in the night sky, imagined the sun went to sleep each night, and imagined the world was flat. In future years we have come to understand more about the universe through observation. In observing the rising and setting of the sun, astronomers imagined a great dome over the Earth’s sky and called it the celestial sphere. They imagined the celestial equator as being in the middle of the north and south poles and right above the Earth’s equator. 

During the March equinox, when we have twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness, “the sun crosses the celestial equator, to enter the sky’s Northern Hemisphere. No matter where you are on Earth (except the North and South Poles), you have a due east and due west point on your horizon. That point marks the intersection of your horizon with the celestial equator, the imaginary line above the true equator of the Earth. And that’s why the sun rises due east and sets due west, for all of us, at the equinox. The equinox sun is on the celestial equator. No matter where you are on Earth, the celestial equator crosses your horizon at due east or due west.”

Photo and quote reprinted from EarthSky, written by Bruce McClure in Tonight

So get outside on March 20th and find due east and due west in your environment! It’s the first day of spring!

Mud Season

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

I’ve just walked down to the path by the river and through the woods near my house, which I haven’t walked since before the winter hit. It’s sunny today, and another snow storm is coming tomorrow. This is what late winter is famous for in New England – the drastic flip-flops back and forth between warm sun, more snowfall, more sun. But I love that about New England. I love that we have no control over nature’s actions, that we must work with what we’ve got. I love how, in late winter, we can’t tell yet what the outcome will be. Everything feels in-between.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

In New England, we call this time of year mud season (right around sugaring season!). I love mud season for all it represents–an uncovering, a messy digging, mucking through confusion and uncertainty. I love uncertainty because I love writing, and writing is about mucking through questions. It’s about walking the same old familiar path until you come to a clearing you don’t recognize, even though you’ve been there before. You suddenly feel lost, though you are standing still. You wonder how you got here. You wonder if you will ever find your way back.

Maybe it’s mud season that’s made me notice my students’ questions more lately–both the questions they ask over email, and the questions they include in their essays. Often over email, they will ask me direct questions that seek one clear, direct answer. But one correct answer is not typically what I send back. When the question relates to how they should approach a writing assignment, I can’t give them one correct answer because there is not one correct answer. I am looking for their own curiosities, their own questions, their own uncertainties. As a culture, we’re so uncomfortable with uncertainty that it has filtered into the way we teach writing–we’ve come to see essays as a space for demonstrating expert knowledge, instead of a place to write through one’s questions in order to discover truth.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

When I walk in the woods in New England in late winter, I think about the essays of Thoreau, and Emerson, and Diderot, and Rousseau. Their essays straddle autobiography, educational philosophy, and reflections on nature. They are firm in their opinions and beliefs, and express them strongly, but through writing and walking, and walking through writing, and writing through walking, they often found themselves on the next page believing the opposite of what they’d said before–expressing some new opinion they never imagined they would express.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

This is what I hope my writing classes can be for students–a late winter walk in New England, through snow and mud and sun, crunching through dried leaves and brittle twigs beside a frozen, yet melting, river. That in-between space. And so, it is this landscape that I try to conjure when my students ask me questions. Instead of telling them the one right way to write their essay, I try to conjure up the landscape that will help them come to find and see it on their own. Often, I don’t hear back from students after I have sent them my response. I wonder how they’re doing. Then, a few days letter, I receive their essay in my inbox. I open it and begin reading. In the essay, I see them walking, perhaps hesitantly at first, then more steadily, as their feet press into the leaves on the ground. A paragraph begins, and I see them standing in a familiar clearing, speaking to me. After a while, I see that we are somewhere new, somewhere I haven’t been before.

Fostering Self-Esteem

Photo Credit: Kat Porco

“Parents need to fill a child’s bucket of self-esteem so high that the rest of the world can’t poke enough holes to drain it dry.” 
― Alvin Price

For many students, the first semester is finished and the second semester begins the advancement towards the end of another school year. For parents and home teachers, this is a perfect time to look at ourselves and our behavior. We might ask ourselves: How can we resolve to be a better person, parent and home teacher? As homeschooling parents and the primary influence of our children’s lives, it is especially important for us to foster good self-esteem. Bonnie Williams, co-founder of Oak Meadow, shared some thoughts on the appropriate way to do this in her archived article, “The Opportunity of Children”.

As homeschooling parents, we are in the position of primary influence upon our children’s lives. We can therefore insure their self-esteem is not damaged in childhood. In turn, we can feel confident that our children will grow to be happy, contributing members of society. Good self-esteem leads to responsible behavior.

We learn to love and accept ourselves when we are loved and accepted by those closest to us. Children who must compete with their peers and sit in a classroom of 30 children every day very often do not learn to love and accept themselves, but rather learn to judge themselves harshly. This in turn can lead to crime, anti-social behavior, obsessive-compulsive behavior, depression, anxiety, and disordered thinking. When we are starved physically or emotionally, we do desperate things. Most children (and adults!) have a tendency to look for external factors to resolve their desperation. Drugs, food and other abuses arise out of this internal experience of emotional malnourishment. In addition, a child with low self-esteem often hides this lack of self-confidence behind a mask of bossy and aggressive behavior.

Photo Credit: Alice Potchen

We can see, from the effects noted above, the absolute necessity to protect our children’s self-esteem. I would like to suggest two things that we, as homeschooling parents, can do to help our children maintain good self-esteem:

  • Teach age-appropriate material in a manner suited to the individual learning style of the child. If your child is not yet ready to read, don’t panic and try to drill him or her. This will only cause your child to feel like a failure. Trust in your child’s innate intelligence and curiosity, and know that he will read when the time is right for him. The same is true for math. Some children take longer than others, but as adults, nobody will ever ask them how old they were when they learned fractions! In addition, if the material that you are presenting does not seem interesting to your child, try presenting it in another manner. Many, many children learn best through doing rather than reading.
  • When we find a quality in a child that we are unable to accept, it’s important to ask ourselves why this quality disturbs us so much. Is it a quality within ourselves that we don’t accept? For example, a child may be hyperactive and drive us crazy. If we were able to focus patiently with that child, would he find it easier to focus? Is it our own inability to focus comfortably that makes us so impatient with our child? When we criticize him, are we really chastising ourselves? Perhaps the child is unable to express his feelings positively and bursts into expression through temper tantrums. We have to look to see how well we express our own feelings, then ask ourselves if we encourage the child to express his. If we don’t express our own feelings positively, then we set an example for him that ultimately drives us crazy.

Not only are we in the position of being able to foster good self-esteem in our children, but we are also able to recover ourselves in adulthood. As our children push our emotional buttons – and they always will – we cannot send them off to school for a respite every day. We must live with our children 24 hours a day. Therefore, it is a little more compelling to find ways to resolve some of these personality conflicts that exist between ourselves and our children. This is “recovery of ourselves in adulthood”. We must take this opportunity to discover more about ourselves and the state of our own self-esteem. Do we love and accept ourselves, are we free to love and accept our children, or are we still reacting to the way in which we were parented? Is it time for us to make new decisions about how we want to parent? These new decisions will flow forth as we become aware of our old reactionary patterns that are no longer appropriate. Each of us deserves the opportunity to create our family unit as a work of art, adding colors of our choice and not somebody else’s!

Go Ahead and Doodle!

Photo: Lesley Arnold

Oak Meadow middle school students submit their lesson work to their teachers with such variety! Some students neatly type most of their assignments, others handwrite each page, while most submit a combination of both. As a teacher with Oak Meadow I love seeing the little extra bits on these pages of lesson work. I’m referring to the egg stain from breakfast, the rips from the new puppy, the notes that the student did the assignment but lost it somewhere, and the special little doodles (designs or scribbles) in the margins! These little extra bits can be clues for me as to how a student may be getting assignments done. I’m especially fond of the doodles.

Recently a doodle caught my eye on a student’s vocabulary page. It interested me, not because of the doodled design, but because I was interested to know what she may have been thinking about when doodling the design. What vocabulary word made her stop and doodle? Did the doodling help her to concentrate? Why did she choose to use this design?

I’m a fan of doodling so doodles on pages fascinate me! Through my research I’ve found that there are different types of doodlers and many are quite famous.  I’ve read that President Obama preferred to doodle faces, while Kennedy doodled words, and J.R.R. Tolkien doodled things from the natural world. Some doodlers just draw designs that are formed randomly as they doodle.

Very little research has been done on why people doodle as they are working or listening. There may be many reasons for doodling as you work, but I think that it helps us to concentrate. If you are looking for ways to concentrate, take a look at these 7.  (Number 7 is doodle!) So, I’m all in favor of doodling if it helps with the concentrating on an assignment! Doodle away and you may find that you can pay attention better to what you are doing.

What types of doodles do you do? Share some with us!