Sunday, November 25

Thanksgiving Traditions

Froggy just turned two and this is our first Thanksgiving in our own house. My in-laws joined us for the holiday. That being the case traditions have been a tremendous focus of my thoughts and conversations for the past week. I need to meld two families worth of very contraditory traditions as well as try to create some special traditions for my daughter.

In my family, most of the traditions revolve around food and it is the woman's job (for good or bad) to make that food. I love our family traditions but I don't want my daughter to feel bound to the kitchen as the only way to special memories. But Thanksgiving and many other holidays are not the same without the traditional foods. And I love to make those traditional foods and teach my daughter to make those traditional foods. But while teaching her to cook, I try desperately to teach her that I cook because I love to cook not because it is a woman's job to cook.

As well, it is important to me that every holiday has traditions that do not involve food. This year we added a Thankful Tree to our holiday. It brings a bit of nature indoors and focus our attention on the meaning of the holiday. Each guest added one or more leaves to the tree showing what they are thankful for. Here is a picture of our leafy tree.

Friday, November 16

Phonics vs Whole Language

As an educator and a compulsive planner, I started investigating reading-readiness programs while Froggy was still a tadpole. There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to use a phonics program. The only question was which one. I looked at many many different programs over months and months before picking one, all before she turned one. Since it was clearly not needed for a long time, it got shelved and forgotten. Meanwhile as suggested, we purchased and played with letter puzzles and magnetic letters and an amazing toy, Fridge Phonics, which quickly became a favorite.

So time passed and Froggy turned 2. She knows her letters and the sound they make. She suddenly and unexpectedly (to me at least) starts filling in the words when I am slow completing a page in the book we are reading. So periodically, with some larger print books, I start pointing at the words as I read and deliberately pausing for her to "read" certain words.

She desperately wants to read and just because I have not explained thoroughly how phonics works and how the sounds go together does not mean she is going to wait. I did not intend to use a whole language approach or teach "sight" words (other than her name) but Froggy had other ideas and we will be using a combination of approaches.

I guess this is really what they mean by child-led learning.

Wednesday, November 14

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling I am Thankful edition is now up at Nerd Family. It is a nice preamble to the upcoming holiday. I enjoyed all the different things we are thankful for.

Tuesday, November 13

Learning Styles

I got an uncomfortable yet educational lesson in Learning Styles today.

When I was a classroom teacher, I tried to follow the prevailing wisdom of providing the students with several different types of assignments during each class period so that no single activity took more than about 10-15 minutes. I was horrible at it. Yet the students seemed to enjoy those classes more. So I kept trying. I would always come out of those days feeling horribly horribly frazzled. I thought it was because I was not sufficiently organized.

Today, as a student, I experienced the other side of the coin. In my class this evening, the professor moved from activity to activity switching between lecture, small group discussion, whole group discussion, and individual work. By the end of class, I felt raw. I cringed every time he started to introduce a new activity. The material is easy and fascinating for me. But the short time between transitions grated my nerves creating an unpleasant learning environment. Just as I became comfortable and relaxed in the activity, it was time to be done and begin something new.

An informal poll of the students during break and after class showed that they appreciated the varied activities. One student said "I would be bored otherwise".

I believe the same learning style characteristics that made me uncomfortable in class this evening made me uncomfortable teaching in this manner and that no level of organizational improvement would ever make this style flow.

I am glad to be teaching one student where we can negotiate our own pace without external requirements or influences.

Nutrition - toddler

Many parents (I hope) know that good nutrition is important to babies. But frequently when our children become toddlers, something gets lost. A recent study showed that 2% of children under 2 eat French fries daily and 24% eat hotdogs daily (Fox, Pac, Devaney, & Jankowski, 2004). As well, most preschoolers consume soft drinks regularly. I find those results shocking. Birth to 2yrs is the time of maximum brain growth. We are supposedly a culture that prides itself on intelligence and fast paced thinking but we are crippling our children’s ability to get there. Multiple studies have shown that children who receive the right nutrition from birth to 7 scored higher in quantitative thought and expression, reading, and vocabulary 10 years later (Pollit & Gorman,1994; Pollit, Watkins & Husaini 1997) .

Our society is crippling itself with poor nutrition. We have programs to help the nutrition of our school-aged children, as lame as it is. We have programs to help the nutrition of infants and provide formula to moms who need it but cannot afford it. There is no help or education for parents when the children are toddlers or preschool. Making low-cost or free nutritional supplements and parent education available for these children has become my new political agenda. I am not by nature a political person but this issue has motivated me. I am in the process of learning how to affect change in this area.

Saturday, November 10

Children's Questions

I love books that help me answer the questions my toddler asks. She asks questions that my scientist mind wants to answer with richness and depth. And I will someday. But I know these answers are not age-appropriate and she won't understand them. So I hunt out fun books that help me explain in honest yet simplistic terms to her the answers she wants. Our latest discovery is When the Wind Stops to explain why it gets dark at night. It is a bit complicated for her sense of space but I think with repeated readings, the ideas will sink in.

Tuesday, November 6

Lets get moving

Learning starts early, earlier than most people credit. It starts with brain development. Since sensory input and moter development in the brain are heavily linked, the entire field is called Sensory-motor development.

Unbeknowst to most people, a critical component of this system is the vestibular system of the inner ear. It controls movement and balance. It also influences the other sensory systems. Most of the development and building of this system occurs from birth to 2yrs. New research among scientist show that a lack of stimulation to this system can lead to dozens of learning problems. Early motor stimulation can help provide better attention, listening skills, reading scores and writing skills.

So how do we provide stimulation? Through movement. Even simple movement such as rocking. Recent studies show that most children do not receive enough stimulation. Babies are now spending so much time in their carseats (even when not in the car) that they are not getting the stimulation they need to develop properly.

What is an answer? Babywearing! Not only does it provide the bonding time and closeness and lead to a happier baby. Now it also leads to a healthier baby who is more able to learn as a child.

Multile Intelleginces and Learning Styles

In class today, we discussed Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles. According to the Multiple Intelligence indicator in So Each May Learn, I am a well rounded person who excels in both interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences. This comes as no surprise since I have always been described as a people person and I am very comfortable with myself and others.

Silver describes Multiple Intelligences as the what of learning and the learning styles as the how of learning. If I am following what this is saying is multiple intelligences indicates the way our brain works like a more detailed IQ while learning styles indicates study techniques and how to process material. Using that description, I can see where knowing the learning styles of your students and helping them understand their learning styles is important. According to text, I am a sensing-feeling learner. This makes perfect sense especially when compared with the MI results. I wonder if such a correlation exists for most learners.

How do teachers use this information on learning styles? One option is to make sure that each topic is addressed in multiple manners to reach as many learning styles as possible. Another option is to give students choices of activities or assessment techniques so that they can choose one that meets their learning style. Should teachers force or encourage students to work in learning styles in which they are not strong or comfortable? While using intelligences besides the dominant one encourages growth and better proficient like a skill, there in no evidence that using an uncomfortable learning style benefits a student. This would argue that a teacher/school should present material that requires the student to engage in all of the various intelligences but that assessments and assignments should be offered as options so that the student can choose a learning style that is comfortable.

No class room teacher or public school is ever going to be capable of doing that. They may be able to address the different intelligences (although even that is getting lost in budget cuts and the deluge of information required to be presented) but most classroom teachers don't have the time or resources to allow students to choose their own assignments or assessment often let alone consistently.

As a homeschooler, I can. I can provide the interdisciplinary tie ins that engage the less used intelligences. I can provide field trips and presentation techniques that focus on different intelligences in alternation. And I can structure the assessments to my child's particular learning style