Friday, March 16, 2007

It's time of year again for many homeschoolers who start in September. Burn-out kicks in around mid-March. You start wondering, why did I start homeschooling in the first place? Am I ruining my kids? Manu such doubts enter the stratosphere of your thinking and the horizon, the end of the year, seems cloudy. Some ideas to get a kick in the pants:

- Slow down your routine
- Spend more time outdoors (whether it's reading or math on the grass, it will do your children good)
- Take a field trip or two
- Read why other homeschoolers homeschool (check out blogs such as this) and be reminded of your goals and values in the first place. Next year you can be proactive and write out in September or October why you're homeschooling and a letter to yourself that you know it's going to get tough, but it's important to you to stick to it. Read the letter when burn-out strikes.
- Schedule a family vacation. The children will learn through your travels anyway.
- Make sure the essentials are covered, such as reading, writing and math, and take it easy on the rest
- Schedule a visit with a local specialist, be it a dentist, craftsman, florist, jeweler, construction worker, farmer or artist and learn about what kind of work they do

Good luck getting through the slump! For those of you who are not homeschooling with the traditional school year, like me, it may hit you at a different time. Since we're homeschooling from January to November (with breaks in between), burnout will likely hit us in early Summer.. June or so. Perfect time to hit the beach, pool or take a vacation in a slightly cooler place (yes, you read that right.. cooler. We live in South Florida, and it gets very hot and humid here in the Summer!).

So take it easy, one day at a time. Make sure you recharge your batteries so you can be extra fresh to teach your children.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Charlotte Mason called it atmosphere, Montessori stressed it was all-important in her system of education. Yes, the environment. So how do we structure our environment in the home to make it easy for children to learn? I've read many books on the subject. It can seem daunting and time-consuming when you first hear about creating an environment. How do I do it? What if I don't have any room? Is it too expensive? Fortunately every one of these issues, with the exception of the second question in extreme cases, can be easily resolved.

The key is, as the book Playful Learning and many more point out, is to accentuate what you already have in the home. The truth is, a preschool or kindergarten recreates the home. There is a food prep station, a section for toys, a dress-up area, a computer area, shelves with books, etc. Getting the picture?

I can tell you what has worked well for us. We have learning area all throughout the house, as in any home, but we put emphasis on each of them and really created a library and art area in one of our rooms. We set up some bookshelves with Brandon's collection of books within his reach and some educational toys on top. This way he can interact with the material whenever he wishes to (a Montessori idea). We also put up an ABC chart. He loves to look at them and point them each out. He also has an art table (a gift from grandparents) where he can draw, color and fingerpaint to his heart's content. We have rows and rows of books of our own to inspire him and to convey to him in a natural way that we value knowledge in this house.

Our closet is his dress-up room. He helps us cook in the kitchen. His specialty is pizza and muffins. I try to play soothing classical music a few times a week. He dances in the living room, which is cleared up for dancing space, and we have the computer to serve as an educational tool. His room is also the toy room.

As you see, it's easy to create an environment where learning can take place easily.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Well, it's been a long time since I've posted. I found out I was pregnant in December and boom.. exhaustion and morning sickness kicked in a big way. It's not until recently, about a month or so, that I feel up to the task of meeting life head-on again. I've gotten my energy back and I've been doing the Before Five in a Row curriculum slowly with Brandon. He really likes it. As predicted, he's at ease with the repetitive reading (I read it every day for at least a week). Brandon likes to really sink his teeth into something if it captures his imagination. He's very much into animals, and Daddy, who's an artist, has recently taken to sketching any animal that Brandon requests. The rule is Daddy doesn't tell him, he comes up with them.

He finds them through some educational TV programs like Go, Diego, Go! and Little Einsteins, in the books we've been reading together or he looks them up in his PK-1st Grade Animal Encyclopedia. He asks questions about them such as, What do they eat? And where do they live? and learns much in the process. Sometimes we watch Animal Planet with him when there are shows that are low-key and about different types of animals. We try to answer all his question as best as we can. If we don't know the answer we'll look it up together in the Animal Encyclopedia he owns or online. I find he really learns a lot in this somewhat casual way.

At home we also listen to classical music which Brandon loves to dance to. He recognizes the trumpet, violin, cello, flute and piano. He also recognizes pieces from Beethoven, Vivaldi, and Mozart. His favorite is Edward Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King. This piece is featured on the episode of Little Einsteins where Chinese dragon kites are missing.

I've also bought a Basic Preschool Skills book. This is not the real title, it's just one of those activity books you get at most grocery stores, pharmacies or office stores. I got mine at Office Depot. We just did a couple of pages today, for fun. When he gets bored we stop. He loves the focused attention he gets from me and the fact that he can circle around objects. I'm amazed at how easily, at 3 1/2, he counts in two languages up to 20 and really knows the numerical values. He also knows the letters of the alphabet and recognizes his name, mine (Mama), Daddy's and his grandmother Alita everywhere he sees them in print.

He also enjoys working for hours on a 100-piece rainforest puzzle that he dismantles and puts back again over and over again. This is not real "homeschooling" in a sense, but he learns much about patterns, shapes, depth perception and the manipulation of objects which I'm sure will be helpful in mathematics someday.

Next time I'm going to explain what has worked for us in terms of "setting up spaces where learning can take place", the all-important concept of educators Charlotte Mason and Maria Montessori "the environment".