Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Personal Education Plan Conference

After working through about six weeks of the school year it was important to have a conference with each of my students (children) to discuss their accomplishments, what they are currently working on and their ideas of future study for the year. Because my kids have lots of control over their education and primarily work independently throughout the day conferences are important to ensure we have a solid education plan.

First, I asked them to list activities they spend their time on during a typical day and to estimate how much time is spent on each activity.

My son's list:
Engineering Class at High School 1 hr
Band Class at High School 1 hr
DuoLingo 30 minutes
Programming 30 minutes
Reading different books 1 hr
Geometry 1 hr
Walking 30 minutes

My daughter's list:
Reading 1-2 hrs
Algebra II 1 hr
Sewing 30 minutes

We discussed each of their activities and whether it was a short, medium or long term activity. Short term activities take one week or less to complete. They include easy research topics such as what is the Maginot line, but can lead into research of additional tangent topics. Medium term activities take 6-10 weeks. A few examples include unit studies such as Greek History, or the solar system. Long term activities can last the entire year. Completing an algebra book or continued study of a foreign language are good examples.

Therefore, if the school day lasts six hours, six long term activities are the most that can be fit in one school year. If one hour per day is dedicated to medium term activities, approximately 3-6 can be covered in a year and 36 or more short term activities can be covered in a one hour period over the course of a school year. 

For my son, his day is pretty full and most of his activities are long term. I suggested that he add short term research topics into his day especially if he feels he has finished something. That will give him the opportunity to briefly touch on many different topics.

My daughter has some time available in her day. In addition to what she listed, she had been visiting a doctor three days per week, cooking at least one meal per day and attending rehearsals for theater four days per week. Therefore her schedule is a bit busier than it first appears.

Next I listed standard school subjects: reading, writing, math, history, geography, science, foreign language, art, music, p.e., and technical classes. Then I asked them to determine which subjects were being covered and which subjects were lacking.

With an idea of time available in the schedule and subjects that could be covered better I asked them both to list a few things they would like to study in the near future. My son wants to learn about Henry Ford, Steve Jobs and Hitler. My daughter didn't have any strong desires.

So for the next six to eight weeks or so, my son will continue down the same path until we sit down and reevaluate again together. I felt my daughter needed some more guidance. So I added several activities to her schedule including: reading the Story of the Greeks, finishing the book In the Hall of the Dragon King, working through Lightning Literature and Composition, finishing a spelling program we began at the end of last year called Uncovering the Logic of English, studying the Human Body with the book The Way We Work, and watching various musicals that are great for kids such as Singing in the Rain. Many of these activities I will be doing with her but she can do some on her own. Just like with my son, I will sit down with my daughter in another two months or so to discuss our plan.

My goal is the make the independent learners so I want to give them lots of freedom, but I also want to make sure they are progressing and learning each day. It is definitely a balancing act of give and take, suggestion and trial to meet those goals, but I we are all satisfied with our current plan.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Coding for Kids - Snake Game in Python

My son created a snake computer game using the Python language.

Since my son was about two years old I have predicted that he will become some type of engineer. Now I think he may become a computer programmer. He is very interested in programming and will work for hours trying to make his games work.

Last week he decided to learn a little about the Python language. Since he has never worked with this language he found a tutorial to get him started.

Following the steps in this video he was able to create a simple game where a snake moves around the screen to eat a piece of cake (another square dot). This was not a complicated activity since it only took him one afternoon, but a great way to learn a little about another programming language.

For me, the program was cool, but my son taking the initiative was the success story. I really like the fact that this was a self-directed activity. This entire project was completely my son's idea. Somehow he got the idea to create a game using Python, and then searched youtube to find a resource to get started.

When kids have basic skills of reading, writing and math they are capable of learning more about anything which interests them. One of my main goals for this school year is to teach my kids how to learn. I want them to become more independent, able to find resources on their own and more passionate about their learning. This is definitely a step in that direction.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Learning about Theater

My daughter was an orphan in a local production of Annie.

Participating in community theater is a great addition to any education program. Attending performances is an excellent place to start. You might just have a child who wants to be on stage and watching a show may be all the inspiration that's needed.

My youngest child has loved being on stage since she was about three years old and had her first opportunity to be in the spotlight. In Germany, we participated in a traditional German dance class that put on numerous performances during the carnival season. When my youngest was three years old she happened to be much younger than any of the other kids in the program. I think the nearest her age was around 6-7 years old. She was involved because both her older sister and I were dancing at the time. She learned the dances by attending our practices and could actually do the moves and remembered the dance. Needless to say, she was noticed because she was young and because she had a little talent. The dance club decided to dress her in a special outfit and had her lead the other dancers onto the stage.

After she performed her dance with her class she was supposed to stand still on the stage with the other kids while the MC talked about the kids. She saw this as her opportunity and rather than standing still, wowed the crowd with a series of high kicks, cartwheels and splits.

The second night she performed her dance the teachers made sure she knew she was supposed to stand still, but she still managed to steal the spotlight. She did the pee-pee dance throughout her routine. It was quite entertaining.

Later that year, her pre-school teacher in Germany gave her a prominent role in the school play. Dressed as a mouse, she had to dance with a six year old on the stage. My daughter didn't hesitate as she knew people would be watching.

Fast forward several years...... The past two summers she attended a two week theater day camp and loved it. So when we heard the local theater community was putting on Annie, I knew she had to try out.

This was my first experience with theater and my daughter's as well and we've both been very happy with it. First, I was stunned when 60 children turned out to audition for the seven orphans parts in the musical. The director ended up choosing the seven, plus an additional fifteen or so for the orphan chorus. That is the part my daughter received.

Since the initial audition, she attended a call back audition, and then began rehearsing. As show time approached, rehearsals became more intense and ended later at night. I'm thankful that homeschooling allowed her the flexibility to sleep in after late nights. I'm also thankful that the director and all those involved with the production kept such a positive, encouraging attitude.

This was a memorable experience and she learned so much. She learned there is lots of down time backstage when you are not in a scene. Down time presents great opportunities for making friends and having some fun. Performers don't just turn up on show night for thundering applause. Instead, they train like athletes for several months before performances. She learned a lot about singing. With no formal training, participating in the musical is at least worth a music credit. Practice and hard work are required. In the end when the audience cheers, it is worth it!

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend participating in a small production of some sort. Kids gain so much knowledge with each unique experience they have and this is a great way to introduce them to new opportunities, people and the local community.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Gerrymandering Explained to Kids

Here is a free and fun worksheet used to explain the concept of gerrymandering to kids.

Gerrymandering Worksheet

Gerrymandering is a way politicians draw voting district lines in a way that helps them retain power. With elections coming on November 6th some states have proposals on the ballot to reduce gerrymandering. Regardless of your stance on the issue, this presents a good opportunity to understand the issue.

 This video from CBC news explains the issue and how it works.

After watching the video I printed out the worksheets and told the kids each of the four groups of blue and red people represented a state. Each state would have five voting districts with five people in each district. I showed them two ways the district lines could be drawn and then asked them if they could draw the lines in a way that the blue guys won the election.

Just like the politicians, they had to draw oddly shaped groups. Once they were finished I declared them qualified to draw voting district lines for actual politicians.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Free Motion Quilting with Kids

My daughter and I are learning free motion quilting. Free motion quilting is a technique used to hold quilts together. Once the top is pieced together and that top is sandwiched with a backing and batting layer free motion quilting can begin.

Free motion quilting is something like doodling, but instead of paper and pen, you use fabric and a sewing machine. We are very lucky to have access to a high quality sewing machine to learn this craft, but there are many cost effective machines equally capable of being used to create free motion designs. All that's required is for the machine to have the ability to lower the feed dogs.

Feed dogs are the pieces of metal below the needle that move when sewing to suck the fabric through the machine. When the feed dogs are lowered, the seamstress is in control of moving the fabric and can move it in any direction desired. 

My daughter has been sewing since she was about 4 years old. She loves it. All my kids were introduced to sewing at a young age, but only two out of the three pursued sewing.  Kids are just as capable as adults at mastering free motion quilting and they don't have to have much prior knowledge of sewing. They should be comfortable with a sewing machine, but not an expert. The first key is practice! and the second key is a great resource or teacher!

We love Angela Walters. She is a great internet teacher who began by learning to quilt, progressed to machine quilting for others and now is the author of several books, has created her own quilting rulers and has created an excellent series of video tutorials.

We highly recommend her Free Motion Challenge videos that begin with teaching basic stitches such as the meander and progress into waves and swirls.

We began learning to free motion quilt when finishing up our 2017-18 school year quilts.

You can see swirls stitched above the basket.

This is one of my daughter's first attempts at free motion quilting. She did this on a traditional sewing machine with the feed dogs lowered. You can see her meanders in the upper right hand corner, and her swirls in the lower left. Above in the middle she tried some work with the rulers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Refinishing Furniture with Kids

My daughter refinished a cabinet.

This year the kids have lots of control over their education in that they can select research topics and activities from a pre-approved list or suggest their own. One of the items on the list was refinish the small cabinet in the family room. My hands-on crafty daughter selected this item right away.

After she decided to refinish the cabinet, I told her she would have to do some research and put together a plan before starting. Therefore, she began by spending an afternoon watching DIY videos on youtube and then describing her plan. Once the plan was in place, we headed off to Home Depot to get supplies.

Since she wanted to paint the cabinet instead of restain it, we learned that she didn't need to fully remove the existing stain. Thus, her first major task was sanding.

But before sanding, she removed the hardware from the front door and removed the front door from the cabinet. I doubt the hardware had ever been cleaned. So she researched how to clean brass and learned she should coat it in catsup and let it sit for an hour and then wipe it clean. She did and now the hardware really shines.

Sanding even a small cabinet sounds like a big task for a little girl, but she actually had some prior exposure to sanding so had an idea of what to expect. A few years ago we did a major family project and refinished twelve Adirondack chairs.

Since there were so many chairs and foot rests, everyone in the family had an opportunity to use an electric sander.

We all got to stain, and stain some more.

I think, seeing such a dramatic improvement in the chairs motivated her to select this project.

During the sanding process, the back of the cabinet practically fell off because it was so old. So my daughter went back to the store, this time with her dad, and purchased some wood to create a new back for the cabinet.

Together they measured and marked the new back piece and then my husband cut it out.

 Once the sanding was complete, she began with primer and finished up with paint.

The entire project ended up taking about three weeks. She had to take a few days off because of a sore throat and a few more days off because the humidity was extremely high. Nevertheless, she persevered through the entire project and now is very proud of her finished cabinet. We are proud of her too.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Advanced Sewing and Color Theory for Middle Schoolers

My daughter implemented color theory to create a beautiful table runner.

Last week I described a few of my sewing educational goals for my daughter as well as her first project; a robe. Since she hopes to be a designer in the future, I thought a good skill to improve would be her knowledge and use of color. Therefore, one item on the list of acceptable school activities was learn about color theory and create a table runner implementing the newfound knowledge.

The first thing she did was read the book Color Play by Joen Wolfrom. This book is written for quilters and begins by explaining the color wheel, and how colors relate to the seasons. Tints are colors that contain white, shades are colors that contain black and tones are colors that contain gray. It goes on to explain analogous and complementary colors then describes color combinations that work well together, the reasons why they are appealing and many examples.

Once she was finished reading the book she used the quilting program within Bernina Embroidery Software 8 to design her table runner. What she did using this program could have been done using a paper and colored pencils. The point was for her to make a plan before beginning to sew.

 Once the plan was made she selected fabric and began cutting and piecing.

I love the way she used the complementary colors of yellow and lavender as well as many of their tints and shades to move around the table runner.

I think reading this color theory book will have a big impact on the clothes she creates this year, but we will have to wait and see.
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