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Education at Home

Reading

For the past year and a half, I’ve been homeschooling my daughter. She’s now eight and in “second” grade. Most days we don’t follow a strict routine, and that works well for us. We manage to fit in all that we need to and I try not to stress about missing something that will impede her scholarly growth for the rest of her life. For example, last year we studied Martin Luther King Jr. for the entire week leading up to MLK Jr. Day. We went on virtual tours, watched him speak, and talked about the things that have and haven’t changed since his famous speech. But when I asked her this morning if she remembered who he was, she couldn’t recall. I know she knows – that the moment I pull up a photograph of him or play “I Have a Dream” that it will all come back to her. Maybe not in detail, but the important concepts.

The amount of information that children absorb is amazing. There have been those days that I feel are a complete failure; that I’m positive she hasn’t heard a thing I’ve said, but then she’ll do something like recite a poem we’ve read word for word. At this point in her education I’m not so concerned if she can’t remember the word “adjective”, but that she understands how they are used in a sentence.  The things I do worry about have more to do with the fundamentals: can she write her numbers in the correct direction, or can she tell the difference between a “B” and a “D”. I worry if she understands the concepts of basic math like addition and subtraction, or that she can pick up on the main ideas of a story. I love that she wants to know everything about a skunk (and will gladly teach most people many things they don’t know all about them) or that she’s passionate about science and art. And while I don’t necessarily worry that she’s 100% on track with what the common core, I still make sure she’s learning what she can, at her own pace, about all those subjects.

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Using a stopwatch app for a race to write properly

To me, that’s what homeschooling is about: finding a way to teach your children at a pace that’s comfortable for them while trying to make it enjoyable. I like to think of education less like a checklist or a puzzle and more like a montage that can be put together from different angles. I want her to have a love for searching for information. I hope that teaching her in a more creative manner compared to a linear approach will give her a better chance to find answers to the world’s problems. I want to help her become a thinker.

While public education can be effective and wonderful (both Hubby and I went to public school and I think we turned out just fine), it’s just not for us right now. I want to be more involved with and in control of my daughter’s education to be able to tailor it to her needs. How do you help your children achieve a love for learning within or outside of public or private school systems? What educational styles and techniques do you embrace?

I can also be found at Unearthing this Life, Twitter, Pinterest, and a smattering of other places around the interweb.

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Now that the heat is going away, we are spending even more time outdoors. I find it extremely important to teach my daughter about the environment around her, and how to take care of it. This morning we went for a hike on the nearby Natchez Trace. This is the second official “hike” she’s gone on with me and I was afraid we’d already taught her poor lessons about nature. Thanks goodness my sister came to the rescue. She’s been going to school for, well, years – I call her the tenured student. She’s studied geology, teaching, and biology; she’s worked as a tutor, homeschool teacher, nanny, camp counselor, nature guide; and she’s more patient than I have been as of late. If it wasn’t for my sweet sister, I’m not sure I’d have the desire to take my daughter back on a hike anytime soon.

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So what could be so hard about taking a six year old hiking on a nature trail? She got upset when I told her she could not take home some leaves and sticks to save in her nature box. The girl talked and talked and talked, then talked some more, as we were hiking – interrupting all the conversations we older gals would have. She wanted to stop at every water crossing for snacks and drinks. It was a special treat for her, but it was frustrating to stop every 15 minutes for a break. We quickly learned that we’d have to work around the Kid’s desires. I don’t feel the need to leave her at home for these shorter hikes, but we quickly found some tools to keep her interested in the world around her instead of the “plans” she’d made. Ahh, it’s tough having a perfectionist as a child, but even more difficult when you’re a perfectionist and idealist yourself!

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My little sister, she who is seven years younger than myself, she without her own children, she who’s been going to school for just this thing for, well, forever… she showed me how to manage my own daughter on a hike and I love her for all of it! In my excitement to spend time out in nature, exercising my tired bones and spending time with my sister, I’d forgotten that part of the reason of taking my daughter with was to teach her something.

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  • Get them thinking about the world around them by engaging their brains.
  •  Ask children about what they see.
  • Why would a plant grow in one place instead of another?
  • Why should we cross streams on rocks instead of tromping through the water, overturning every rock we come across?
  • Why is it important to stay on the trail?
  • What can your children see that is significant of the season?
  • Count the different sounds you hear.
  • birds, bugs, water, wind through trees, raindrops, sticks breaking, nuts falling.
  • Have the children guess what could be making those sounds. What type of bird do you think is singing? Do you think that squirrel is angry with us? And so on
  • Can you imagine why it would be so important for an animal to have good senses?
  • Why is it important to take only photographs and memories with you?
  • Imagine someone coming into your house and moving all of your food and furniture around. How would that make you feel?
  • Even items that aren’t food for animals can be food for other things like mushrooms, trees, and so on. The circle of life affects all organisms.

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Having my sister with us on our hike today gave me insight of how to teach my own child about the world around us. What techniques and tricks do you use with children when out in the wild?

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Summer is officially here in our part of the world. We are celebrating the last day of public school today as well as the beginning of a new adventure. Homeschooling. For personal, political, religious, and educational reasons (to name a few….) we’ve decided that our next new adventure will be to pursue a new brand of educating our daughter. None of us here at Unearthing This Life have ever been labeled as “Normal” or “Mainstream”. We’ve always marched to our own syncopated rhythms. And while we want our daughter to be able to adapt to any situation necessary, we believe that teaching her how to do just that, with confidence, will be best taught by her family and others with a similar mindset.

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I suppose one of the big factors in our decision to homeschool is based on my personal challenge to face my own fears. I had a fear of riding motorcycles until I forced myself to get on the back of one and tour the countryside with Hubby. I had a mild phobia of both grubs and large quantities of insects until I got bees (although grubs can still gross me out). I still struggle with a fear of success (as silly as that sounds) and a fear of failure. Learning that both go hand-in-hand has helped me overcome stagnation, and watching my garden grow and die has been a large part of that acceptance. My life has become so much richer for facing my fears, so it’s time that I face one that involves the enrichment of my daughter’s life.

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Creating adventures has been my methodology to deal with my fears. Make it fun. Enjoy the process instead of struggling through it bit by bit, just eeking by. This is what I want my daughter to learn – how to embrace her fears and joys so that she can enjoy her education and see life as a big adventure.

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What about you? What kind of adventures do you plan to create this summer?

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hands3As I was posting about our grape harvest on my blog last week I was drawn to the pictures of my children’s hands…

These hands were busy picking…

And then popping grapes into mouths…

It got me thinking about all the things my childrens’ hands do each day…

All the wonderful things they have learned to do on the farm…

 

 

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My kids’ hands know that grapes grow on vines, planted in the ground, tended and harvested in the warm sunshine…

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They know how a warm egg feels fresh from the nest…and know to be quick to avoid an irate hen!

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They know that bunnies are ohhh so soft…and camels…well not so much!

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Those hands have been scratched by wild blackberries…but have found that their mouths thought it was worth it!

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They have dug potatoes that they themselves had planted…

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Those hands have snuck tomatoes from their mama’s bowl right in the garden…and felt no guilt whatsoever!

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Little kids hands are good at gutting pumpkins…especially when the pumpkins are from their very own patch!

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My childrens’ hands have learned to care for animals…and that camels like watermelon!

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They have learned that the sweetest gift can be a wildflower…both to their mama and all the beneficial insects that they hold in the garden.

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As little as they are these hands know that blueberries do no grow in cartons on the grocery store shelves…

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And if you hold really, really still you can watch a tree frog breath as it sits on your thumb!

 

Yes it is amazing what little hands can learn…

It will be even more amazing what these little hands will do in the future to nurture and take care of the earth that they have grown to respect and love…

 

And sometimes eat…

Yummy, dirt good mama!

If you say so Baby Boy!

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Kim can also be found over at the inadvertent farmer where she raises organic fruits, veggies, critters, kids…and a camel!

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Our kids cook a lot.  We started out having them help us with what ever we were making.  They learned to mix, measure, crack eggs, identify ingredients, etc.  Gradually we did less and they did more.  Now JJ, who is 11, can make many things from scratch without any help from me at all (except getting a few things off high shelves she can’t easily reach.)  Lot’s of people think cooking is too hard or too dangerous for kids.  It’s not.  It does take some training (which is good, fun time spent together) and it takes a certain amount of willingness to accept messes (kids can’t cook without covering everything in flour and goo) and occasionally odd results.
 
 
Cinnamon Rolls




YUMMM!

Alan can also be found at Roberts Roost writing about his families adventures on their micro-eco-farm.

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As promised part two to my personal bread challenge (if you are looking for part 1 it can be found here.)

Now down to the nitty gritty…or they yummy part!

First of all here is my make twice a week whole wheat bread recipe that is almost identical to the one that my folks made for so many years…my go to recipe…everyday bread for sandwiches, toast, and just because I feel like bread!

Mix…2/3 Cup Oil (I use organic canola), 2/3 to 3/4 Cup Sweetener (honey, molasses or a combo), 5 1/2 Cup very warm water.

Add…3 Tablespoons yeast and let proof (stand until the yeast is all puffy!)

Mix…4 heaping Tablespoons Vital Wheat Gluten, 2 Tablespoons Salt, your ‘extra’ flours up to 4 cups (I usually use 1 Cup rye, 1 Cup oat, and 2 Cups White Whole Wheat flours)…you do not have to add these flours but it is fun!

Mix into liquid/yeast mixture.

Then add your Whole Wheat Flour

In total you use about 14 Cups of flour (this includes the ‘extra’ flours)…this is approximate as it is slightly different each time.

All of this I do in my Bosch Bread Mixer…you can do it by hand.

Knead 10 minutes. Turn into very large oil coated bowl.  Cover and let rise until doubled.  Punch down, form into loaves and let rise till it is about an inch above the rim of the bread pans.

Bake at 350 until a deep golden brown (or 195 on a bread thermometer)(or until it sounds hollow when tapped)

This makes 6 loaves or 1 large pan of sticky buns and four medium loaves.

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My sticky buns are made from this recipe.  I pre-cookk raisins with brown sugar and cinnamon and then roll out my dough into a rectangle and add the raisins on top.  Roll into a long log. Slice into rounds and put in a pan that has a little oil, brown sugar, cinnamon and chopped nuts at the bottom.  Flip the whole thing over when done so the sticky bottom is on the top and the plain top is on the bottom.  I am trying hard to resist the urge to be humorous here about sticky bottoms and sticky buns…but I will refrain!

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Next is one of my all time favorite recipes it is directly from the back of my bag of King Arthur Flour’s organic cracked wheat.  I don’t make it for us anymore since going vegan but I still make it for my friends and they always appreciate it….it is heavenly!

Pour 1 1/4 Cups boiling water over 1/2 Cup Cracked Wheat in a large bowl, cover and let rest for 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

Stir in 2 Tablespoons butter, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 Cup Honey or Molasses let cool to lukewarm.  Add 2 teaspoons yeast and let proof for about 10 minutes (skip this step if using instant yeast)

Stir in 1/4 Cup organic dry milk, 1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour, and 2 Cups White Whole Wheat or All Purpose Flour ( I used White Whole Wheat)

Knead by hand, mixer or bread machine to make a soft slightly sticky dough (8 minutes by hand is what I did).  Let rise covered till doubled (1 1/2 hours or so).  Shape into loaves and put into 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pan.  Cover and let rise till 1 to 2 inches above rim.  Cut a vertical slash down the middle of the loaf place in preheated 350 F oven.  Bake for 35 to 40 minutes until brown and hollow sounding when tapped or 195 degrees F on instant-read thermometer.

Makes 1 loaf.

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Finally there is a whole book that Alan asked me about that I use often.  It is called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It truly is a time saver and an incredibly easy way to make bread.  My go to recipe is the olive oil dough that I use with white whole wheat flour for pizza and focaccia bread.  There are recipes galore in there although most are not whole grain.  It takes a little playing with the recipes to adapt them for whole grain flours but it is well worth it.

The concept of this book is to mix without kneading, let rise and then put the dough in the frig for use every day.  Just grab some, shape, sometimes let it rise or sometimes not (depending on what you are using it for) and voila…bread in just minutes of prep time…awesome!  It keeps from 5 days to almost 2 weeks depending on the recipe…if you love sourdough leave it in he fridge a week and use, yummy!

Now for the technical stuff.  I use a very old Bosch Mixer, Grain Master Whisper Mill for grinding grain, I order most of my grains from Azure food co-op with some speciality flours from King Arthur.  King Arthur also has a great book called Whole Grain Baking…wonderful recipes!

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Lastly as far as baking with kids here are a few hints to make it easier and more fun.  I bake with two little ones ages 6 and 2, they both have their own stools to bring to the counter (although the baby ends up on the counter most often) They each get an itty bitty bread pan or two to make their own loaves…trust me this can take a loooong time.  We use measurements and reading recipes for reading and math for homeschool.  We often give bread as gifts which the kids love…they make a card and tie the loaf up with ribbon.  Sweet Girl likes to experiment with different spices in her bread…some have been hits (pumpkin pie spice) some not so much (white pepper).  Remember this is a learning experience for them…this is how we bring up the next generation of bakers and lovers of real food.

Most of all have fun…take the time…it is seriously worth the effort!

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Kim raises organic fruits, veggies, critter, kids, and a camel over at the inadvertent farmer

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Perhaps one of the most atypical things our family does that clearly lands us in the “not dabbling in normal” category is the way we educate. Or rather self-educate. You see, our family follows a type of learning sometimes referred to as “unschooling” or “life learning”.

For us, “life learning” means supporting our individual personalties, learning styles and abilities in a limitless, diverse, hands-on and creative way. It means creating in ourselves a desire to learn from everything we find interesting that crosses our paths and continuing to grow throughout the entirety of our lives. It means enjoying life to the fullest and exploring all it has to offer.

Life learning isn’t for everyone but lifelong learning should be! As our ever-changing world challenges our capacity to evolve, the need for self-motivated and interested learners grows stronger. We need to know how to roll with the punches, how to expand our lives in ways meaningful and useful to us and how to use our self-motivation to stay ahead of the game. I’m here to share ideas on how to apply the principles of life learning to your life and your family – no matter where you are or what you do, no matter if you’re kids are in public school or homeschooled, no matter what your budget.

I’m sure most of you are here because you’re already lifelong learners but we could all use a bit of inspiration along the way. Here are my ideas for cultivating lifelong learning in yourself, as well as those around you:

1. Natural Learning Takes Time

John Holt said it best: “Birds fly, fish swim, people learn.” It’s what we do! And in an ideal world, this wouldn’t change. But in our fast-faced, often stressful life we lose touch with our natural desire to learn. The “shoulds” take over and our passion for knowledge dwindles as a long list of things we need to do overwhelms or exhausts us. This leaves us with little energy, time or desire to explore new and exciting things.

Creating balance in our lives by eliminating sources of stress or simplifying our lifestyles may be necessary to defining our time or priorities. In order for learning to flourish, we need to create a lifestyle that is peaceful, joyful and conducive to nurturing our growth. This will look different to everyone but prioritizing, downsizing, saying no to too many commitments, and proper self-care all come to mind. But as this principle is really an article in its own, I’ll let you chew on your own solutions to creating a balanced, nourished and joyful life. ;)

2. Find Your Style

All of us have a learning style. Many of us probably didn’t realize our own until we were teens or adults. One of the best things you can do for yourself or those in your family is to know your learning styles and apply them. I’ve never known learning styles to be changed so knowing and working with your brain is a huge advantage to lifelong learning. The main styles of learning are:

  • Visual: You need to see to get it. You think in pictures and things such as diagrams or photos help you the most.
  • Auditory: You like to listen intently. You may close your eyes or stare at the ceiling to block out distractions around you as you take in the words. You like to read things aloud to really understand them.
  • Kinesthetic/Tactile: You’re a do-er. You have to touch it, move it around or get your hands in it to really absorb the information.

Most of us are some combination of those three and can use any one of them to learn. But we tend to lean heavily on one style of learning. There are numerous books on the matter and online sites and tests to help you determine your or your children’s style of learning. Perhaps you’ll find you’re better off watching a how-to video on YouTube instead of reading the manual. Or maybe your child needs less verbal instruction but instead benefits from hands-on activities. Once you know your own best way to learn, start applying those principles and see how much easier the learning happens.

3. Create The Right Environment

The “right” environment is going to be different for everyone. Some people may require a creative mess around them, while others need things free of clutter and as simplified as possible. For some, bright colors may stimulate and inspire, while others need darker tones. Depending on the members of your household, perhaps you’ll will need a bit of everything! Something that helps is to create personalized “zones”. A desk with a lamp, a bean bag next to a low shelf, and a table with loads of creative objects are just a few zones that may be conducive to different people.

Other than zones, colors and decorating tips, one thing that applies to every household is to create a “rich environment” by filling your space with interesting and diverse things. Books of all types, a telescope and microscope, dictionaries, a thesaurus, computer games, a direct link to Google, craft and art supplies, building materials, quality tools, maps, board games, hiking guides, Fact or Word-of-the-Day calendars are just a few ideas. Place almanacs, or funny fact books in the bathroom (try Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader). Decorate your fridge with magnetic poetry. Get creative in creating your own version of a “rich environment”.

4. Ask and Answer Questions

Anyone who’s been around a four year old knows how many questions can be asked in a single day. ;) But as we get older, we slowly begin to ask fewer and fewer questions. Sometimes it may be because we work out the answer internally or privately. Or perhaps we assume we know the answer. But sometimes it’s simply because we just stop asking! The great thing about ourselves is the more we self-feed, the fatter and hungrier our brains become. Likewise, the more we share our knowledge with interested folks, the more inspired and inspiring our lives become!

Engagement is a crucial key to lifelong learning and engaging through questions and answers with those around you or online will help feed that mind. So, don’t hold back. Engage in conversation with new people and allow yourself to be open to pondering or further researching new ideas and answers that come your way. Leave Google open to define new words you stumble across online. Or keep a list of things you want to learn.

Those of us with children, neices, nephews or neighbor’s kids can easily turn this principle around. Instead of telling the child to “look it up” understand the great honor they are giving you in turning to you as a source of knowledge. They are, essentially, “looking it up” in your brain! Answer that question! If you don’t know the answer, engage the mind of the child by finding the answer with them - head to the map and search out Argentina together, pull up Google to find out which animals are green, flip through the dictionary to find the definition of chary, or enjoy an interesting documentary on Ancient Egypt with them.

One last great way to engage our minds or our children’s minds is to ask (them or yourself) “What do you think” or “Why do you think that”. Talking aloud through ideas and thoughts, and brainstorming new ones never fails to lead to some amazing conversations and realizations.

5. Honor Your Passions

Too often we justify putting off interests because we believe they aren’t practical or are a waste of time. But lifelong learners know that every interest is valid and every passion should be supported. Most of the best learning happens when you’re insanely passionate about something and give yourself time and space to explore it to your hearts content.

Give yourself permission to delve into studying Mongolian battle fields, organizing your magazine clippings or collecting teacups. Support a child’s interest in horses by introducing them to a local breeder, adding to their stamp collection, or helping them design their own video game. Remember that all knowledge is valuable and allow your life to expand beyond the common. You just might be surprised where the road could lead you!

6. Allow Time To Process

Every one needs time to process information. Mindfully working regular mental down-time into your life gives your mind a chance to absorb the things it’s been given. Many people feel guilty over any form of “idleness”, thinking they should be doing something productive. But balance is needed in all areas of life and our minds needs rest, just as much as our bodies.

For some this downtime may be quiet walks in the evening or early morning, meditation, playing a simple game like Solitaire, keeping a journal, or even vegging with a movie or TV show.

7. Find and Set an Example

We all need a little inspiration. Surrounding yourself with people who interest or challenge you in a positive way could be seen as another way to create a rich environment. No one wants a friend who discourages our desire to grow. And finding a friend who is just as interested in starting a book club or participating in a Civil War reenactment as you are is just plain fun!

Whether you have children or just know children, you are an example to each one. Let them see you learn new things, even (or especially) if you struggle. Let them hear you asking questions, honoring your learning style as well as your passions, retreating to your “zone” with your favorite book or relaxing in the garden. Invite them along as you plant beans or bake bread. Accept their invitation to learn about fairies or Star Wars side-by-side with them. Listen and engage in their conversations.

Showing them with your words, tone, interest and actions that their thoughts, passions and ideas are important to you is perhaps the most important thing we can do to support a passion for knowledge in our children.

What things do you do to support lifelong learning in yourself or your family?

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