Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Drawn by Hand

Tiger recognises Quentin Blake's illustrations straightaway from: (1) Quentin Blake's very unique illustration style, and (2) reading all of Roald Dahl's books.

Quentin Blake is probably best known as the 'official' illustrator of Roald Dahl's books but we decided to get to know the illustrator better by looking through his official website and books.

It was interesting to hear him talk about his working method and how he approaches illustrations as a way of storytelling: 

To understand his work in its own right, Tiger read many of his books with the focus on looking at the illustrations in relation to how effectively they convey the stories, as well as the techniques and materials used in the different books:

We chanced upon an exhibition of Quentin Blake's work at the Fitzwilliam Museum so we went in to take a look at original copies of some of his work.  It was a small exhibition but was fascinating nonetheless to see a living artist's original work, look at some of his working materials, and understand his techniques.

The idea of illustration is not new to Tiger.  It seems to me that it is a very natural act of self-expression for many children to write and draw about the stories that they create.  Tiger jumped right into the activity with gusto and enthusiasm.

Even though he has watched carefully Quentin Blake demonstrating how he draws and has access to the various art materials that Quentin Blake uses, Tiger decided to just use pens.  He drew directly using a fountain pen and filled in some of the colours with a ballpoint pen.  I gave him a few suggestions on how he could emulate Quentin Blake's style and use of materials, but Tiger was only interested to draw in his own style.  Below the story that Tiger has written so far -- it is still work in progress.

I can see from Tiger's drawings where the influences of his illustrations came from: the idea of the fair has come from the Winter Wonderland we went to last Christmas, the house is of the structure of castles that we have visited, the roller-coaster and resultant water splash idea come from a ride we took at Legoland.  I can also see that he is trying to combine both written words with the idea of wordless stories (as he has read in Quentin Blake's book, Clown).

What I'm really seeing are a few skills that can be introduced to provide some gentle guidance on more effective ways of storytelling, using either words or pictures or both.

This post is linked up to:
1) Look What We Did!
2) Virtual Refrigerator
3) Homeschool Mother's Journal: March 29, 2013
4) Hobbies and Handicrafts - March 29
5) Collage Friday - Books LEGOs, and Endings/Beginnings
6) Homeschool Review
7) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with More Birds
8) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/2/13

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Book Recommendations for New Homeschoolers

When I embark on anything new, what I do is to make sure I conduct a thorough research.  For me, that means to read everything about and around the subject.  It is the same with homeschooling.  The decision to homeschool my son was made when he was still in my womb.  As a result, I read everything I could get my hands on about child development, education theories, parenting, child psychology, special needs, and homeschooling approaches.  My view is that, to educate my child effectively, I need to understand not only about teaching/learning but also about the child as a whole being, which extends beyond his academic training.

Homeschool parents may start their journeys at different stages of their children's lives, so the books that are relevant to new homeschoolers vary depending on how old their children are when they embark upon this journey.  I still continue to read widely about homeschooling and its related topics but I will limit my booklist to the books that I think will be most useful to parents who are starting this journey at different stages of their children's lives.

If your child is 3 years old or younger
Secret of Childhood was the eye-opener for me in terms of understanding the natural needs of a very young child in relation to how he learns, and about the importance of an environment that supports his development.  I read it shortly after Tiger was born.  After this book, I continued to read all of Maria Montessori's writings and, with the support from my husband, turned our lounge into a full-blown Montessori nursery and preschool environment to facilitate Tiger's learning from ages one to four-and-a-half.

If your child is 4 - 6 years old
Tiger started to read independently when he was five years old, and had completed the entire Montessori preschool curriculum by then.  I was looking into the Montessori elementary school curriculum when I noticed that Tiger's needs were changing.  For a start, Tiger has always been a fast learner so he never liked the repetition-to-mastery notion purported by the Montessori method.  At the same time, I was starting to feel that the rigidity in the Montessori scope and sequence was getting in the way of Tiger's developmental needs at the time.

Therefore I started to investigate into other methods of homeschooling and came across the Charlotte Mason method via A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning, and the Classical Method from reading The Well Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home.  Both methods attracted me in different ways.  I liked the rigour of the Classical curriculum as well as the gentle approach of the Charlotte Mason method. Somehow I managed to incorporate both methods for two years, taking what I felt was the best of both for us.

The books listed above are part of my research that had started before my son was born, so what I had implemented based on those books is probably most applicable to those families with very young children who have not attended school yet, since there are various degrees of structured learning in the above methods.  I arrived at the conclusion, based on my research, that a prepared environment would be the most suitable one to support my son's early development.  However, there are many parents whom I know to hold the exact opposite view, in that they believe that there should not be any form of structure for the very young child.  Once again, I urge you to do your own research to draw your own conclusions as to what suits your family most.

If your child is 7 years old or older
For families with older children who have been through the school system, I recommend the following books:

1.  Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling - I find all of John Taylor Gatto's books to be exceedingly reassuring that homeschooling is the right thing to do for my family.

2.  Creative Homeschooling - This book gave me a broad overview of the different ways I can support Tiger's changing needs.

3.  Legendary Learning: The Famous Homeschoolers' Guide to Self-Directed Excellence - I read this when I needed some advice on autonomous learning that sounds reasonable and not radical.

4.  A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the Twenty-First Century - This is a variation on the Classical Method, based on the education of the American Founding Fathers, specifically Thomas Jefferson.  It also makes a strong case for parents to continue to educate themselves to be effective role models for their children.

5.  The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education - I have not read this yet but it is on my to-read list.

6.   School is Not Compulsory: An Introduction to Home Education - Written by a homeschooling charity in the UK, this book covers the legal aspects of homeschooling in England and Wales, gives advice on how to work with the authorities to successfully deregister your child from mainstream school, and gives several examples of autonomous learning practised by a selection of families in the UK.

7.  John Holt's books - John Holt has been callled 'the Father of Unschooling' and his books are very popular and reader-friendly.  His primary thesis is that children will learn what they need to know in their own time, in their individual ways.  I have read Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling but I don't relate to most of it.  Nonetheless, I am recommending his books based on the fact that many homeschooling parents who apply the autonomous-learning approach have told me that they absolutely love his books and feel inspired after reading them.

I also read many other homeschooling and unschooling books, all of which you can find easily by doing a search for "homeschooling" on Amazon, but I am only listing those that I personally have found to be the most interesting.

For more booklists and other insights, please visit the other four contributors of this series:
  • When Julie was considering homeschooling she read many books, but only one convinced her to do it.  Find out which book that is in her post, Considering Homeschooling.
  • Chareen feels that over the years there have been many how-to-homeschool books but only a few have stood the test of time.  She invites you to see her favourite four support books for homeschool mums in her post, Books to Support New Homeschool Moms.
  • Bernadette shares her books recommendations to help you along your homeschool journey in her post, Many Books, Many People.

If you would like to read more of this series, you might like to go back a few entries to read:
  1. the introductory post
  2. the first post on schedule and routines

This post is linked up to:
1) Hearts for Home Blog Hop #10
2) Homeschool Mother's Journal: March 29, 2013
3) Collage Friday - Books LEGOs, and Endings/Beginnings
4) TGIF Linky Party #69
5) Creative Learning #8
6) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with More Birds
7) Share it Saturday
8) Sunday Showcase
9) Hip Homeschool Hop - 4/2/13

It is featured on Share it Saturday.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

What is the real distance?

With the launch of our Marco Polo study, we are beginning to increase our focus on Geography-related activities.  One of the things Tiger learnt recently was to use a map scale.

I introduced the lesson by having him make a world map using cut-outs of the seven continents, labels for four oceans, and labels for the equator and the prime meridian.

Once he was happy with the relative positions of the labels and cut-outs, Tiger checked his layout with that printed in a children's atlas before gluing his pieces in place.

Here was his initial piece.  Did you spot the mistake?  I didn't either.

It was Tiger who, after a few minutes, remembered our trip to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich where he had stood on the prime meridian.

What does that mean?  That means that in his previous layout, Europe was placed too far away from the line that represented the prime meridan.  I was very glad that Tiger made the connection himself and spotted his own mistake before I did.

So, he removed the pieces carefully and re-did the right-hand side of his map:

The correct map
We then used the map above to discuss the practicalities of using a scale to represent the actual distance and size of locations on a map.

In order to understand the concept of map scale better, I asked Tiger to copy the scale found in a map onto an index card, then use that copied scale to measure the distance of a few places on the map, for example between Manchester and London.

We tried out a few different examples to make sure that Tiger has understood completely how to use and read a map scale.  All of the examples so far measured direct, straight-line distances.  Following that, I asked Tiger how he would measure the distance of a winding road or river on a map using the scale.  Tiger suggested twisting and turning his index card scale this way and that, but I suggested to him that perhaps there was an easier way.  When he failed to think of it after a few moments, I suggested using a piece of string.

We ended the lesson with a quick review.

Inspired by the book, Tiger drew a few maps of different scales -- from the location of our county to a floor plan of the house.

Country map
County map
Town map
Street map
Floor plan

It's great when the child extends the lessons himself!

Our application work came about by (1) Tiger taking measurements of his own feet before working out the actual measurements of the room first in feet, then converting the feet measurement into centimetres and metres.

(2) Scaling up a copy of a small drawing.  This is a very common scaling up method used by artists.

Once the scaled up drawing was completed, Tiger went over the outline with a black permanent marker before filling in watercolour.

The lessons above come from these books:

This post is linked up to:
1) Look What We Did!
2) Hearts for Home Blog Hop #9
3) History and Geography Meme #67
4) Virtual Refrigerator
5) Homeschool Mother's Journal: March 22, 2013
6) Hobbies and Handicrafts - March 22
7) Collage Friday - Poetry, Pastels and Purging
8) TGIF Linky Party #68
9) Homeschool Review
10) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One with All the Birds
11) Math Monday Blog Hop #92
12) Hip Homeschool Hop - 3/26/13

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Our Daily Schedule or Lack Thereof

One of the most frequent questions I get asked, when someone knows that we are homeschoolers, is whether I have some kind of timetable for our day.  I don't get such questions from other homeschoolers who have been doing this for a while so those who ask this question are usually parents who are either not homeschooling yet but are interested to know how to get started with lessons, or who are new to homeschooling.

I am guessing that the question arises as an extension of what most of us understand of how school works, that there is a set of allocated time for a certain activity before moving the herd to the next.  For those who are looking for the short answer to this question, my answer is: yes, I have a beautiful colour coded Excel spreadsheet pinned on the wall in front of our work table.

However, as I have written in another recent post about our day, the timetable is really a 'legacy system' that is leftover from our more structured days at the earlier part of our journey, especially in Tiger's kindergarten year when we adopted the Charlotte Mason approach of having short, 15-minute lessons.  We have since moved on from such a strict routine.

We are not totally without structure in our days though.  We have let go of structured timetable and curriculum schedules, but we have established a sense of "rhythm" for our days.  What I mean is that, from Monday to Friday, Tiger and I both understand that we will be productive from after breakfast to the time I start cooking dinner.  That's typically between 9:00a.m. to 5:00pm.  During this time, we can be engaged in a variety of different activities, for example:
  • academic learning at the table
  • watching documentaries
  • reading
  • researching
  • writing
  • artsy pursuits
  • going out on field trips
  • hands-on projects
  • having discussions
  • playing games (board games, chess, card games)
  • being in nature
  • external classes
There is a short break in the morning and a lunch break around mid-day.

The reasons I have let go of the formal structure (timetable, curriculum, and predetermined learning outcome) are:
1.  Tiger's ability to concentrate and follow up on a topic has increased as he gets older (compared to two years ago), so the short, timed lessons are not relevant anymore.

2.  When we are engrossed in a topic, we want to pursue it to our satisfaction so we often find ourselves spending an entire morning on Maths or sometimes an entire day on Military History.  On the other hand,  when the topic or learning resource does not inspire us (I still get it wrong sometimes) or when either one of us has had enough of it for the day, we can wrap it up in 10 to 15 minutes.  Tiger has been known to complete certain tasks in 5 minutes and I don't feel it is necessary to make him jump through more hoops on such occasions.

3.  Our learning isn't really limited to 9am-5pm either, which allows for flexibility in terms of 'down time' through sickness or simple non-productive moments.  At moments like these, I find it to be more effective to let Tiger rest, then pick up the study again after such moments have passed.  Therefore, we occasionally (not often) continue after dinner.

4.  When Tiger demonstrated his intention and ability to direct his own learning, I learned to reliquish the tight control I had over his time and curriculum.  I expect it will take a few years, but we have started the process of my gradually handing over the ownership and responsibility of learning to Tiger.  Our process is very dynamic.  The amount of ownership Tiger gets and the pace at which the handover takes place depend on his demonstrated level of maturity, discipline, and ability (both emtionally and intellectually).

5.  Some of Tiger's most interesting discoveries happened during unstructured time.  There is much value in self-discovery which cannot happen when the bulk of a child's day is overloaded with activities prescribed by someone else such that he is not left with any time or energy to be with his own thoughts or to find out who he is.

6.  As far as I know, all the great teachers throughout history -- from Confucius in the East to Socrates in the West -- did not use structured timetables or specific curricula with their students.  These great teachers taught a way of thinking, of learning, of being, of discovering which, unfortunately, do not come in a neat package off the shelf.  With this realisation, all forms of rigidity in terms of timetables and standardised curricula lost their appeal to me.  Having said that, if anyone knows which packaged curriculum or National Curriculum Socrates or Confucius had used, please let me know.  I'll be very interested to get my hands on them. 

Weekends are strictly family time.  That means no formal, sit-at-the-table type of learning, although much informal learning takes place without us consciously thinking about it.  As a family, we spend a lot of time conversing with one another.  The conversations and discussions that we have together often spark new ideas to be followed up in the following weeks.  The other function of our family conversation is that it is sometimes used as an informal assessment of what and how much Tiger has learnt during the week.

Those who are looking for a more structured approach, my post from two years ago of what our day looked like back then will give you a better idea of how to get started.

It is also beneficial to look at other homeschooling families' approaches to give yourself a few more ideas to apply to your family's unique situation:
  • Our Daily Schedule from Savannah @ HammockTracks, in which she talks about her life, from chore lists and meal planning to school work and extra curricular activities.
  • Homeschool Daily Schedules from Chareen @ Every Bed of Roses, in which she shares her love-hate relationship with schedules and how, over the years, she has had to learn to find a delicate balance between tight schedules and flexibility.

Next Tuesday, we will share our book recommendations for new homeschoolers.  I hope you will join us again then.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Homeschool Help: a new series

I started to blog about our homeschooling journey as a way to share our approach, as well as to connect with other families who are either already homeschooling their children or are considering the possibility of doing so.

Since the beginning of this journey, I have learned much from the many homeschooling bloggers who have generously shared their knowledge, ideas, and insights on their respective blogs.  As we are well into the eighth year of our own journey, I am coming across more parents, both online and in person, who are curious and interested to know more about homeschooling in general as well as more specific topics such as our schedule/routine, our curriculum, and how I balance my life.  Therefore, I gladly accepted an invitation to write a series on the basics of home education, together with four other homeschooling mothers.

This series is appropriately named Homeschool Help.  It is the brainchild of Savannah from Hammock Tracks.  The other contributors are:
  1. Julie from Highhill Homeschool
  2. Bernadette from Barefoot Hippie Girl
  3. Chareen from Every Bed of Roses
  4. myself
I'm excited about participating in this project for the potential mix of different perspectives and ideas on each shared topic, resulting from having a team from different backgrounds and who are living in different geographic regions (two in the USA, one in Australia, one in Germany, and one in England).  The potentially varied responses by each contributor will hopefully mirror the wide spectrum of possible ways to approach homeschooling.  Writing for the series also gives me a reason to talk about things that have become second nature to me after so long that I don't even think about them anymore, but I recognise that such things (e.g. juggling housework and homeschooling) may still be relevant and of interest to new homeschoolers.

How does the series work?
The series starts next week.  Each contributor will publish her individual response to the weekly topic on Tuesday at 1100hr GMT, with a link to the corresponding entries in the other four participating blogs.

What are the topics?
The specific topics may subject to some changes later on, but in the pipeline at the moment are the following:




Your Favourite Apps (iPad or Droid) or Learning Websites

  • What's New in Your Curriculum?
  • What's New in Your School Room?
  • What is Your Teaching Style for the New Year?
  • Poetry - How do you teach it?

  • Reading - What are you and your kids reading?
  • Journaling - How do you do it?  Art Journal?  Math Journal?
  • History - How do you do it?
  • Help!  My Child Hates Math!

  • Help!  My Child Hates Writing!
  • Dad: His Role in Homeschooling
  • Foreign Language
  • Your Top 3 Suggestions for Someone who Pulled Her Child Out of School Mid Year

  • Year Round, or Not Year Round?
  • Grades: Do you Give Them?  Why or Why Not?
  • Overload - What to do when You Run Out of Fuel
  • Your Top 6 Favourite Read-Alouds (Picture Books)

  • Your Top 6 Favourite Read-Alouds (Chapter Books)
  • The Year in Review: What You Want to Remember

I look forward to sharing my ideas with you on the various topics.  See you next Tuesday!

This series is featured on Homeschool Chicks.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The start of a new adventure

For the most part of this term and beyond, our learning will mostly be based on The Travels of Marco Polo.

When I did the planning for this topic, I found that this can be turned into a cross-curricula, theme-based learning -- much like a unit study -- since it covers so many different areas: history, geography, science, maths, art, craft, music, food, and literature.  Hence, I shall be posting about our learning adventures and resources as we follow Marco Polo's journey to the East and back.

As this unit is going to be heavy on geography, I had Tiger work through the Marvelous Map Activities for Young Learners and Fun-to-Solve Map Mysteries to gauge his understanding of basic physical geography knowledge.

Until now geography was not our focus, even though we have been incorporating map work consistently as part of our history lessons, so I feel it is important for me to have an idea of how much Tiger already knows (or not) to plan our lessons effectively.  He flew through the first two books, but needed some help with Great Map Mysteries, which covers topics such as grid map, map scale, and time zones.

With the basics out of the way, we started getting an overview of Marco Polo and his travels by reading generically about him:

We also found the following documentary very useful to prepare us to join Marco Polo on his adventures:

There seems to be various maps around that show slightly different locations of Marco Polo's journey.  We have tried to cross-reference the various maps to arrive at our own conclusion as to the present-day equivalent of where he would have been.

So far, we've figured that his outbound journey was as follows:
Venice (Italy) --> Jerusalem --> Lebanon --> Constantinople (Turkey) --> Armenia --> Baghdad (Iraq) --> Persia (Iran) --> Herat (Afghanistan) --> Kashgar (Central Asia) --> Tibet --> Mongolia --> Khanbaliq (Beijing in China)

When Marco Polo was at the service of Kublai Khan, he made the following journey:
Khanbaliq (China) --> Myanmar (Burma) --> Java (Indonesia) --> Eli (India) --> Khanbaliq (China)

His homeward journey was:
Zaitan (Xiamen in China) --> Vietnam --> Malaysia --> Singapore -->  Sumatra (Indonesia) --> Ceylon (Sri Lanka) --> India --> Persia (Iran) --> Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia) --> Constantinople (Turkey) --> Venice

Therefore, we will be studying the cultural and physical geography of the following countries/cities as we travel along with Marco Polo:
  1. Italy
  2. Jerusalem
  3. Lebanon
  4. Turkey
  5. Armenia
  6. Iraq
  7. Iran
  8. Afghanistan
  9. Kashgar
  10. Tibet
  11. Mongolia
  12. China
  13. Burma
  14. Vietnam
  15. Malaysia
  16. Singapore
  17. Indonesia
  18. Sri Lanka
  19. India

This post is linked up to:
1) Creative Kids Cultural Blog Hop #1
2) Great Book Lists and Literacy Projects for Kids
3) Hearts for Home Blog Hop #8
4) History and Geography Meme #66
5) Homeschool Mother's Journal: March 15, 2013
6) Hobbies and Handicrafts - March 15
7) Collage Friday - Making Hard Life Choices
8) TGIF Linky Party #67
9) Homeschool Review - March 15
10) Creative Learning Link Up #6
11) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Got to Go On a Retreat
12) Share it Saturday - St. Patrick's Day Features
13) The Sunday Showcase - 3/16/13
14) Hip Homeschool Hop - 3/19/13
15) Look What We Did!

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