Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Great Time to Start

Welcome to Counting Pinecones. This is basically a diary for me to keep track of lessons that my children do in the course of our homeschooling journey.

If you're curious about the name, well, I have my son to thank for that.. My son is spectrum (Einstein's syndrome) and the two things he's most fascinated with would be water and pine cones. There are pine cones all over my house since there's a small pine tree outside my front door that drops them each year and my son collects them. Pine cones have become a staple in our home and many of our first lessons in counting and basic mathematics involved the use of those pine cones since they were so plentiful. It seemed only fitting to name this blog after those early experiences with my son.
First, I should state I am not much of a blogger. I've tried this a few times but never found anything interesting to write about. I mean, we're an average family who live less than average lives. Even my parents get bored when I give them updates on what we've been doing because really, it's pretty mundane. We live on a military base out in the middle of nowhere, there's nothing to do and our days primarily consist of staying at home. We eat homecooked meals as there's really nowhere to go out to eat at within a 30 mile radius and our entertainment consists of television and the occasional board games as there's nothing to do here.  We are basically John Q Public, only even less exciting.

Learning about the Renaissance with Thaddeus the Dentist

The only thing that makes our family a bit different from the typical modern family is that we have chosen to homeschool our children. There's an elementary school less than 3 blocks away from our home but we instead chose to be in charge of two of our children's education. Our oldest daughter who is a 9th grader in High School does attend public schools but our two youngest are learning while sitting in their pajamas (or in my son's case, shirtless as he has sensory issues) in the comfort of our home. Originally this decision was one of necessity: our son is special needs and sitting in a traditional classroom setting really wasn't an option. To make matters worse, the school did not offer a special education program and wanted to bus our son 45 minutes one way to the closest school that did offer special education. This was something we did not feel comfortable with and instead opted to keep our son out of school and instead teach him in a home environment.

One year later and we were debating sending our youngest off to the nearby school for Kindergarten. California, however, seems to have a shortage of qualified teachers and we learned that classes were being combined (Kindergarten with 1st Grade, 2nd with 3rd) with one teacher trying to teach both grades. My husband and I discussed this and finally decided that public education just wasn't appropriate for either of our children and I added full time teacher to the list of many other titles that I currently have.

Observing birds from eggs to fledgelings

We are more of an "Unschooling" family then what is traditionally considered homeschooling. We do occasionally do worksheets and lessons from textbooks but much of our lessons are from sources like movies, youtube, storybooks and personal experiences.  This style developed over the course of trial and error last year with my son. I originally went into homeschooling with the idea that it was basically just public school at home: very structured with a very clear and concise plan as to what should be learned, when it should be learned, and in what order. The problem with this is that my son does not learn that way. He cannot learn that way. Trying to make him learn that way resulting in nothing more that alot of shouting and frustration for mom and alot of tears and frustration for my son.  Neither of us were happy.
Learning about Butterflies

Origami while studying China
That's one of the great things about unschooling. We don't have to be unhappy.  We don't have to spend hours at a table, my children's heads bent over a textbook upset because mom is forcing them to do it in order to "learn" the way the school system says they should learn. The same outcome can be accomplished in ways that don't involve a structured 6 hour day full of textbooks and worksheets.  I could use a textbook to try to teach my children about the value of coins, getting upset when they don't pay attention or I could make the same lesson fun by throwing a handful of coins in the air, allowing them to collect as many of the coins as possibly and having them identify the value of each and total up the sum of what they've collected.. The first method accomplished absolutely nothing.. The second method has my kids asking for me to do it again and again.

I've been asked many times if I expect my children to get as quality of an education at home as they would in a traditional school environment. I answer this question honestly. No, I don't.  I have little faith in public schools after having a teenage daughter who has been in the system for 10 years now.  Schools today are too worried about standardized testing that results in money from the state. They teach the tests and really nothing more. My oldest daughter is in high school and cannot tell you where the state of New York is located. She cannot look at a non-digital clock and tell you the time. She has never learned to write in cursive and even her printing is hard to read.  There is no longer any home economic classes like when I was in school where students learned basic cooking, cleaning and sewing skills. There's no challenge in her school so long as she can pass the yearly test the State
Even momma bobcats need a break from time to time.
requires.  On the opposite side of the coin, my son (1st grade) and my youngest daughter (Kindergarten) can identify all fifty states of the United States as well as several countries throughout the world. They can identify many historical figures such as the Queen, the important Presidents, Ben Franklin, Galileo Galilei, and Nicola Tesla. My kids help with meal planning (organization), shopping (consumer math) and cooking (home economics) and my 7 year old can help make some mean tacos and olga bread.  We've observed the life cycle of a butterfly, watched birds hatch from eggs and documented their growth every day from hatching til they day the fledged and left the nest. We've observed a bobcat and her kittens in our yard (from a distance), grown tomatoes and flowers, made volcanoes erupt, watched hummingbirds from our front porch, cooked and eaten authentic foods from countries around the world.  Do I expect them to get as good of an education as what the school could offer? No, I expect better.

Garrett browning meat

Which brings me to the purpose of this blog. As said before, I've tried to blog thing before but had no clue what to talk about. I blogged about our move from Michigan to California when my husband was stationed here by the Air Force but beyond that, I had nothing to really write about. However, today on a facebook group I am a part of for Unschooling, someone mentioned blogging what we do each day in order to keep record of what we learn. I never considered doing it, but the idea is awesome.  So that's what I'm going to do... I'll use this blog to document our studies and our activities. I'm starting this late in our school year (although, our school "year" is 24/7/365 instead of just from August to May like traditional schooling) which is sad for me as this year we covered the development of butterflies from caterpillars, the pyramids of Egypt, volcanoes and many other really fun units. It would have been nice to document them better for posterity.  Now, I can. And who knows, maybe someone just starting homeschooling or unschooling who is in the same position I was in, getting frustrated and at their breaking point because the standard model of education doesn't fit their child, well, maybe they will find this blog and realize that it doesn't have to be that way.

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