Thursday, June 25, 2015

Summer Learning

As I've mentioned before, we cultivated a lifestyle of learning in our family. We were always eager to take a break from formal schooling for the summer, but the learning never stopped.

Summer days were definitely more relaxed and the kids had plenty of free time for playing outside and pursuing their individual interests. I think that's very important. I've noticed families who have practically every minute of the day scheduled for their kids year 'round... with sports, private lessons, and organized group activities. For my family, a little of that kind of thing went a long way. We found it worked better for us to keep our schedule flexible to allow for spontaneous activities.

When I was growing up my mother was very good to take us to the library weekly, especially through the summer. I remember devouring stacks of just-for-fun books. The library sponsored a summer reading program with a goal of a certain number of books to read by the end of the summer. I usually passed the goal within the first week or two, as I was a very avid reader. I continued that tradition with my own children. Sometimes we participated in library-sponsored events, and sometimes we just went to the library and checked out stacks of just-for-fun books.

 Mostly, though, our summer learning wasn't even that structured. My husband and I have made it a point to watch for and take advantage of teachable moments as we go about our normal lives.

Our family especially enjoys camping and travel. When we travel we find out where museums, national parks, and historical monuments are along our route, and we plan in extra time to stop and learn. My husband just automatically pulls over if we see a sign for “historical marker” along the way. Often we don’t even get out. We’ll just read the sign aloud, and talk about whatever historical event may have taken place at that spot, and then go on. Sometimes it doesn’t even take 5 minutes.

Here are a few of the educational benefits we have discovered while camping:

  • Nature Studies 
  • Survival Skills 
  • Primitive Cooking 
  • Physical Education (hiking, biking, pumping and carrying water...) 
  • Exploration and Discovery 
  • Socialization (They always meet any other kids whose families are camping at the same time!)
  • Reading (A very relaxing way to spend a lazy afternoon at the campground, when electronics aren't an option!) 
  •  Photography 
  •  Astronomy 
  •  Meteorology 

And that's not mention the great family relationships we are building in the process! What does your family like to do in the summer?
Sonlight Blog Party

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Violets on the Tea Cups

Last month when I was in Indiana, Rachel had a gift for me. She said it was a thank you gift for helping her with her blog. I was so excited to open it up and discover a cup-and-saucer set to add to my violet tea set collection. It's the cup with a pedestal between the sugar bowl and cream pitcher. Isn't it beautiful?

My collection started in 1995 when my mother brought me the tea pot from England. Later she gave me a cup-and-saucer set that coordinated but was actually a different brand. Over the years the collection has grown piece by piece. I first started blogging about it in 2008, at which time I had the tea pot plus three cup-and-saucer sets. I've found several pieces at thrift stores or garage sales, but the ones I treasure most are those given to me by special people in my life.

Sentiment aside, I have a hard time choosing a favorite piece. I think it's so much more interesting to have an eclectic set, than if they all matched and were purchased at once.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Fun with Fred

Life of Fred is a series of math books that Sonlight has recently begun to carry. I used several books in this series with Rebecca for her last couple of years of school. We thought they were great, so I wanted to share how we used them.

First, you need to understand that Rebecca learns differently than the average student. She requires a lot of repetition and review, and it seems to work best to present material in a variety of ways. She can get bogged down in one area while moving ahead quickly in another area. My approach was to encourage her to move on ahead where she could, while finding another way to present the material in the area where she seemed to be stuck. She understands concrete concepts but struggles with more abstract ideas.

With that in mind, we actually started with two different levels of Fred books. We got the first book in the elementary series, Life of Fred: Apples. This was basic (first grade level) math, so very easy for her to work through on her own. But it's not your average first grade level math book. It includes a silly story line, which made it fun, as well as extra, random, more advanced facts from all subject areas. The author works in things like that because it's a natural learning approach. This made it seem not too babyish, even though it was very basic math.

Having already done several years of other math programs, Rebecca was ready to learn about fractions, but I knew it would be a hard concept for her to understand and work through. I got the Life of Fred: Fractions book for me to work through with her at the same time she was doing Apples on her own. Each day I would read a chapter from the Fractions book, and then work through the problems one-by-one with her sitting beside me following along. She had memorized the multiplication tables (using the Flashmaster device) so she was able to work the basic math steps as we came to them, though I knew she wouldn't remember how to tackle the more complex problems on her own. She continued working through the elementary level books on her own, while we went through the Fractions and Decimals and Percents books more slowly. This helped reinforce concepts she had already been introduced to, while giving her a glimpse of ways math is used in real life.

Rebecca loved the silly stories about little Fred, the 5-year-old university math professor. We couldn't help but grin at the outlandish predicaments he gets into as he goes about his daily life. He's a serious and naive little fella who sleeps under his desk in a tiny sleeping bag with his happy-meal toy doll, Kingie.

What I like about the books is the natural learning approach tied into the story. Almost anything is easier to remember with a story tied to it, and in the stories Fred is eager to learn about the world around him. Not in a stilted, unnatural way like you might think a textbook would be. But normal curiosity about the random things of everyday life. That's why you'll learn interesting things like who Archimedes was, the invention of photography, why whales aren't fish, and the difference between herbivores and carnivores alongside basic math facts like 5 + 2 = 7 and 10 + 10 = 20 in the Apples book.

When you read through the list of titles for the elementary level books... Apples, Butterflies, Cats, Dogs, Edgewood, Farming, Goldfish, Honey, Ice Cream, and Jelly Beans... you do have to wonder what in the world those things have to do with math. First, notice that they are in alphabetical order. That helps you remember what order the books go in. And yes, it's important to start at the beginning and go through the books in order because the story flows from one book to the next, and the concepts build on things learned in previous levels. I promise, Apples is not babyish. And then, those seemingly random words really do have something to do with the story in that particular book.

I don't know that I would recommend Life of Fred as a stand-alone math program for an average student, but honestly, it's going to depend on your student. I think it makes a great supplement, and is especially great for a special needs situation such as we had.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Weevils in the Flour

Awhile back I was reading some (way) back issues in the archives of the Altus Times-Democrat newspaper on Google News. Altus is the county seat of the little town where my mother grew up. I am working on a novel set in the area during the Dust Bowl days of the Great Depression. This was an ad for a local grocery store during that time.

I guess they had more urgent things to worry about than weevils in their flour. "They are clean and harmless..." we are reassured. Yeah, I don't think I was all that worried about them being dirty and harmful. I just don't like the idea of bugs in my food. Apparently weevils fall in the category of First World problems.

On the other hand... I would like to have my groceries delivered right to my refrigerator, please.

Monday, June 1, 2015

African Safari

So I went to Africa for the weekend... um, I mean Sandusky, Ohio. It just seemed like Africa. Or at least a touristy facsimile of Africa.  The Teach Them Diligently conference was held at the Kalahari Resort, which has an African theme. It also features an indoor-outdoor water park. It is near Cedarpoint theme park, so I guess families in that part of the country go there on vacation.
The hotel and water park part of the resort were kinda cheesy, but the convention center itself was tastefully decorated with lots of African art and artifacts. It was interesting to just walk down the halls and see the various pieces.
 Sherry enjoys posing for silly pictures, so she took up with a couple of characters.
The conference went well. There were some slow times, but in general we were pretty steadily busy talking with homeschoolers.

Faux Africa aside, I was within 5 miles of Lake Erie and didn't even see it. We had planned to drive over to at least snap a few pictures on Saturday but it was pouring down rain, so we didn't. I changed planes in Nashville and Chicago and didn't see a bit of those cities, either. I guess you just have to find something interesting wherever you are, in case it doesn't work out to go out of your way for more sightseeing.

This concludes my ramblin' afield for May. I wonder what our next adventure will be?