Thursday, January 27, 2011

DIY Math

You can spend a lot on money on math curricula, but Tim and N. have been making up their own.  Most of N.'s math learning so far has been intuitive, experiential, and oral but this year Tim wanted N. to add some written problems to his math repertoire.  For example, the other day Tim asked N. to write out all the ways to make 8 that he could think of.

Here's another example of a "worksheet" they made up together.  The first two lines are problems N. made up and then answered, and then Tim made up some and wrote down N.'s oral answers, etc.

So, several days a week they've been doing this more traditional math practice.  Tim wants to insure that N. develops some test-taking skills by practicing solving math problems in their most conventional form.  And as I wrote earlier this year, cognitive research shows that tests and quizzes are effective in reinforcing knowledge over the long term.  I'd guess that the act of writing the entire problem out, not just the answer, also reinforces learning.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fall Semester Report Card

Since the university semester calendar structures our family calendar and we are now beginning the Spring Semester, this seems like a good time to recap what N. has studied in first grade so far this year.  This is not an exhaustive or complete list, but I think it covers a major portion what N. has been focused on between late August and early January. 

Major immersion in:
  • Butterflies.  Tim and N. observed butterflies daily throughout the fall in our front yard.  They read many books from the library and our own collection and learned to identify a slew of species, as well as learning about butterflies' life cycles and butterfly-friendly plants.  N. began a Butterfly Notebook, drawing butterflies he'd seen and writing their names.  When we visited a big live butterfly exhibit this fall, I could see all that study pay off: N. was utterly absorbed in the exhibit, spending an hour looking for butterflies and teaching a friend how to identify them.  His deep attention was a complete contrast to the first time he'd seen this exhibit earlier in the summer before his fall butterfly study.
  • Early northern Minnesota history, via Minnesota's Iron Country.  This included railroad history, the Louisiana Purchase, a brief introduction to Thomas Jefferson.
  • Brick masonry.  [which involved: history, physics, structural engineering, artisanal craft.]
  • James Herriot.  Lots of life lessons about Herriot's early efforts to establish his career.  Science and problem-solving in his veterinary career.  World War II history as Herriot trains to be a pilot.  Vocabulary!
  • Music I.  N. is really loving learning to play the piano.
  • Music II.  Listening: some of the CDs in heavy rotation this fall:  18 original movie themes; Asian harp music; Hoagy Carmichael; Getz & Gilberto; Duotones; Carter Family; Finlandia; Christmas music.
  • Clouds.  Continuing to learn to identify cloud types.
  • Math & Numeracy.  Worked on: identifying 10s, 100s, 1000s, millions.  Learned concept of percent.  Worked on single-digit written addition and subtraction, basic mental multiplication and division facts.  Multiplication x10.  Basic fractions.  Counting and fractions via reading music.  Radius & diameter. 
  • Art.  The work of William Morris.  The construction of the Chrysler Building.
  • Reading.  N. can read almost any word he sees and is constantly reading us newspaper headlines, book titles, packages, signs, words in books, etc. without being asked.  He has read a few books aloud to us but resists doing this often.  He spends lots of time looking at books on his own (including long  books with few illustrations), and there is some silent reading is going on then.  He seems to be waiting for further confidence and facility before really jumping into reading books independently.
  • Read alouds: list here (through The Lord God Made Them All).
Minor immersion:
  • Scientific classification
  • Solar system
  • a bit of French vocabulary
  • myriad Random Encylcopedia entries
Plus: daily long walks, daily drawing, daily play.

      Monday, January 24, 2011

      Regency Dresses for Felicity

      I'm really just posting this to show off the pretty dresses I made for the new Felicity and Elizabeth dolls N. and his friends got for Christmas.  N. chose the fabrics and trimmings; the red dress is for his doll and the pink and purple are for the dolls of his friends.  He chose the most historically appropriate fabric for his own doll, of course, and in his favorite color.  Before Mattel bought it, Pleasant Company sold patterns so you could make historically appropriate dresses for the American Girl dolls, but these are now expensive and hard to find.  I asked Amy Karol if she had any leads on colonial-era patterns and she found this Regency pattern.  N. likes the dresses but due to his penchant for categories, he was a little disappointed when he noticed how different they are in style from Felicity's 1770s garb.  Fortunately, after I made these, my mom found the Felicity (and Samantha) Pleasant Company patterns she'd bought when my youngest sister was into American Girl dolls.  So I expect we'll be making historically accurate outfits for Felicity soon!

      Wednesday, January 12, 2011

      Pussycat Mother

      I have a few things in common with Amy Chua, author of the new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (which I have not read) which was excerpted in the Wall Street Journal (which I have read). Like her, I am a university professor, I don't let my child watch TV or play video games, and I recently convinced my child, despite his initial resistance, to begin piano lessons.  But there, it would appear, our commonalities end.  As an advocate of play, non-coercive education, and peaceful parenting, I recoiled at Chua's descriptions of the threats, violence, and degradation that she claims as the hallmarks of her parenting. 

      There have been myriad responses all over the internet to Chua's book; I was especially struck by Ann Hulbert's review in Slate in which she identifies the supposed envy Chua's book might elicit from parents, not merely of her daughter's achievements, but of Chua's seemingly blissful belief in herself, her "supreme maternal confidence and almost complete lack of ambivalence about her approach with her children."  I certainly do not envy her lack of ambivalence.  In fact, this very lack is what makes me most skeptical of her claims.  While doubt can be crippling or can foster inconsistency and hypocrisy (Hulbert describes "typical hyperparents buffeted by shifting expertise that leaves them anxious about overpressuring even as they push"), doubt is also productive: it makes us evaluate our beliefs and practices, question our assumptions, seek guidance, explore new ideas, think in more complex ways.  Without ambivalence, I would not have discovered the many resources that led me to homeschooling and that continue to shape my parenting.

      So many parenting books offer seemingly iron-clad "solutions" (the better to climb the bestseller list) and inspire die-hard devotees.  I would guess that most of us, however, have parenting philosophies that are rich in complexity and even some contradiction.  My dad has a great mantra that captures this: "Tolerate Ambiguity!"  When you tolerate ambiguity, you remain active as a thinker, working to reevaluate and perhaps reconcile contradictory beliefs.  I think this kind of active engagement can be a very effective approach to parenting.   

      [Meanwhile, for an excellent dissection Chua's WSJ piece and the relationship between happiness and "success" see Christine Carter's riposte "How to Raise an Unhappy Child"].