Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fairy math class and boring books

We just wrapped up our first (partial) week of homeschool and, despite lots of worry, it went really well. By the second day, the kids worked with focus and engagement on their individual work plans. I braced myself for a few weeks of settling in to the structure that school work demands, but the kids seemed ready for the challenge.

We had some interesting milestones this week. I finally figured out how to spark Avery's interest in math and Alexander figured out for himself how to get motivated to read books that are not of his choosing.

Traditionally I have had trouble with Avery moving beyond the learning phase of a concept and into the practice phase required for mastery. She really loses interest in the work and approaches the monotany of practice with dread (if not anguish). In the past, I have tried to spice up the practice problems with personalized mystery codes she needs to crack, magic potions that she can earn that will reveal messages written in invisible ink or small prizes received once all the work is complete. While all of these efforts improved her attitude, none of them truly engaged her and created that "spark" that is the hallmark of genuinely loving learning.

So for Avery, this week marked the beginning of "Fairy Math Class" and the start of truly enjoying mathematics. Avery is an avid story teller with a rich imagination. She needs context, plot, and characters to be engaged. She is also very socially wired and prefers to have a buddy alongside her rather than work in isolation. As a result, we created "Fairy Math Class". When Avery is ready to start math each day, I call her "class" to order. I gather all 7 of her fairy figurines and sit them on a mat. While the fairies watch, I give her a traditional Montessori lesson and then guide her as she completes the first few examples of the Montessori work. Once she has the concept down, the fun begins. I tell her a story about the fairies that requires her to use the new concept and material she has learned to finish the story. Sometimes she needs to solve problems to help them and save the day (i.e., count out the correct number of beads to buy shoes for a fairy ball). Other times, she needs to solve problems to help them play a game (i.e., adding up and deciding who has the most points in a contest). The best times are when she must solve problems to play a game with the fairies (i.e., taking a fairy friend to find ladybugs I hid about the house with math problems under their wings, solving them and determining which fairy found the ladybug with the highest answer). Math has come to life for her now and she has that wonderful spark in her eye as she engages with her work. It is wonderful to see and even more fun to "play" math with her.

Alexander has had a wonderful break through in reading. He has always enjoyed reading, but has had a narrow interest in reading material. Not only has this made it hard to find enough books for him (he reads with blazing speed), but one of the best things about reading is how it can broaden our minds and expose us to so much beyond our ordinary circumstances or traditional interests. That is one of the reasons I have chosen to assign some reading this year.

Assigned reading was not at all welcomed by Alexander. When the 22 age appropriate books arrived in the mail last week, I opened the box with great excitement and poured over each title with Alexander. He absolutely did not buy my enthusiasm and actually ran into his room crying that he only had boring books and that he wanted to return to Kindergarten where there were "interesting things to read". I was a little concerned about how assigned reading was going to work. But, as I numbered and ordered the books on our classroom shelf, I discovered that Alexander simply needed an organized goal (and implied challenge) to this work. Once he saw the books numerically ordered on the bookshelf, he challenged himself to read through all of them ahead of schedule. He absolutely loves a competition, especially when it is without any external pressure. So before I could worry myself into figuring this out, he plowed through the first four books (4 weeks of reading material) in the first two days of homeschool. And, wonderfully, he discovered an interest and enjoyment of reading books that he would not normally choose for himself. This is the real blessing of reading isn't it? The journey and discovery of an amazing world beyond us. He is officially on this journey now and I am so excited for him!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

And so it begins

Avery having a lesson with the golden bead material.

After much anxiety and preparation, we began our first full year of homeschool. We started with s'more waffles-- a creation the kids invented that morning. It was a wild success and really delicious (if totally messy). Next, we embarked on a treasure hunt to find the school supplies and materials we collected for the school year. The kids were completely into the hunt that took them inside and outside the house as well as down the street and into the neighborhood. They took turns opening their treasure boxes and examining all the items inside. Love that new markers and pencils delight them as much as they did me back then! They spent the rest of the day pouring over each item and getting their pencil boxes and supplies organized.

Tuesday proved to be our first true day of school. Our lessons and work period went pretty smoothly, but not perfectly. They are getting back into the swing of sitting still and focusing on things not always of their choosing and I am getting back into the swing of having patience while they settle into place. We were all pretty wiped out by the end of our work period. I have not even introduced the afternoon session yet! I think it is something we will need to work up to. After school we went to swim team. The kids swam tiredly, but rallied afterwards for play swim with their friends. They closed down the pool with energetic glee. Where do they get their energy?

Here are a few pictures so far from our week...

S'more waffles

Reading clues from the treasure hunt.

Examining the bounty.