Benefit of Natural Learning #10: Book-Loving Kids!

I discovered yet another benefit of natural, home-based learning last month:

My daughter asked for BOOKS for Christmas!

(I couldn’t get her to keep her eyes open for the camera flash. That’s okay–we’ll save those peepers for reading, I guess, LOL!)

That’s right–while everyone else was rushing to the toy stores, looking for animatronic hamsters or computerized dinosaurs, I was calling up a small, independent publisher in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, requesting their entire series of Native American children’s novels!

It all began when I bought this book for our in-home history studies: Naya Nuki

Naya Nuki is the (partly fictionalized) account of Sacajawea’s actual childhood friend; a girl who–like Sacajawea–was kidnapped and sold into slavery. But unlike Sacajawea (who remained in capitivity long enough to bare her captor’s children and to help guide the Lewis and Clark expedition), little Naya Nuki escaped!

This precious book chronicles the 1,000+ mile journey of Naya Nuki towards her home. After reading Naya Nuki, Prima loved it so much that she begged for another. So I bought Doe Sia (because our library doesn’t have any of these books on their shelves–boo!):

Doe Sia is the true (also partially fictionalized, to help fill in the blanks) story of a Native American girl who helped guide and protect a group of white settlers in their journey across the prairie.

After reading this book, my daughter said “Are there any more books like this?” I visited the publisher’s web site, and sure enough–there’s an entire series!

But our library didn’t have any. Neither did local bookstores. Prima was crushed.

When Christmastime came around, Prima’s constant refrain was, “All I want for Christmas is a set of books like Naya Nuki!” So we contacted Grandview Publishing in Jackson Wyoming, who not only shipped the entire series to our home before Christmas, but who also included a delightful book on CD, and a poster of the artwork from Naya Nuki!

If your children do not yet love history, I encourage you to check out these books, which are very entertaining and educational, and help history come alive in the hearts and minds of young children (whereas history textbooks only fill them with lifeless dates, dry facts, and summarized events).

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Raising Readers

You might say that my kids like to read. Check out these pictures!

Hanging out at home:

Alone in their rooms:

Reading with siblings:

Even reading with friends who come over to “play”

So people often ask me–“How do you get your kids to read so much?”

Here’s my secret:

1) Parenting

Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook is a parents’ guide (now being used as a teachers’ textbook by many colleges) that helps turn kids into avid readers, even if they are currently T.V.-addicted or unmotivated! Once we implemented his advice and strategies in our home–from nightly readings and strategic book-placings in the home to the more scientific “how to discuss books with kids in a way that makes them want to read more”–we noticed a huge change in our family as our children gravitated away from the television and towards books!

2) Education

From Bauer’s book The Well-Trained Mind, we learned how children of the past were taught–you know, the kids who devoured books like they were candy, back in the days before television. Whether you are a homeschooler, or just a parent wanting to enhance their child’s public education, the Well-Trained Mind is THE must-have guide for how to instill a love of learning and a passion for books in your child.

3) Activities

If your child struggles with reading comprehension, try using these Writing With Ease worksheets, which help enhance a child’s reading abilities through writing! This ingenious book takes sentences and paragraphs from classic children’s literature and asks students to read, respond to, copy, or put into their own words the things that they read. This easy-to-use program (small, 5-minute exercises!) introduces so many great books to my children that I am constantly driving to the library to feed my daughters’ “hey–I want to read that book, too!” requests after each lesson. I HIGHLY recommend these worksheets to any parent whose child struggles with reading or is not motivated to read.

Eco-Friendly and Organized

I’ve always wanted an organized school room like this or this. But let’s face it–all those plastic bins and synthetic materials are NOT earth-friendly, and definitely NOT conducive to the cozy, organic learning atmosphere that I’m trying to build.

Here’s a snapshot of the two spaces we use most in our homeschool.

First, the homeschool corner of my kitchen, where I keep the school books we use most often:

Note the earthy, non-plastic feel of this room, thanks to all-natural materials. Stays organized, too, thanks to the woven baskets and cupboard doors, which hide the messier stuff (pens, pencils, crayons, scissors, glue, etc).

Here is our family room, where a system of wooden built-ins serves as our “library.” I keep all of our “messier” stuff (coloring books, puzzles, games, flashcards, etc) behind those small doors underneath the shelves, to help keep that “messy” schoolroom look to a minimum:

Then I leave the rest of the room open (no coffee tables) and full of comfy furniture to make it an inviting place to curl up with a book. Interestingly enough, companies like Barnes & Noble also offer cozy chairs and sofas in their stores.

Why?

Because when people are comfortable, they’re more likely to read! In other words: cold, plastic-and-metal decor doesn’t sell books (and it won’t sell your kids on reading them, either).

Organized School Room Hall of Fame:

(note: some of these use plastics, but I like to envision them with earth-friendly containers, instead!)

The classiest homeschool room: http://theprettyneatcompany.blogspot.com/2009/10/home-school-room.html

Most fashionable school room: http://lifeoncountyroad39.blogspot.com/2009/07/homeschool-room-ideas.html

Most innovative locale (the loft!): http://satorismiles.com/homeschool-room-photos/learning-loft/

Best homeschool room for online learners: http://www.mingleovermocha.com/2009/06/our-homeschool-room.html

Best use of a small space: http://unclutterer.com/2009/08/14/workspace-of-the-week-home-school-room/

Best use of an old entertainment center (recycling!): http://www.homeschoolblogger.com/Tiany/115667/

Best mom’s room/kids’ room combo: http://allistamps.blogspot.com/2009/06/my-new-stamp-roomhomeschool-room.html

GRAND PRIZE WINNER–THE PRETTIEST, COZIEST, MOST FUNCTIONAL, BEST-EVER HOMESCHOOL ROOM OF *ALL TIME:

http://satorismiles.com/2009/07/20/library-reading-room/

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*Second runner-up: http://mommymattersblog.com/2009/07/designing-homeschool-classroom.html

Benefit #2 of Natural Learning: Science Buffs

After reading about a recent government study of high school science issues (voicing concerns that teens do more goofing off in science labs than actually learning science), I thought I would share the things I learned about instilling a passionate love of science in my children!

Here’s a picture of my daughter, Dizzy, working on a physics experiment during a recent trip to a children’s science museum:

My children love science (my two oldest daughters often declare that they want to be scientists when they grow up) because we read about it in WHOLE BOOKS, not textbooks (which read like encyclopedias, instead of speaking directly to the child with an interesting tale of life and scientific phenomena to explore). It takes an engaging narrative to make science exciting for children, not the dry, fact-filled paragraphs that fill most science textbooks these days.

Here are my recommendations:

Five in a Row

This delightful teacher’s guide helps you extrapolate scientific lessons from high-quality children’s stories (most of which are classics or Caldecott medal winners). My children LOVE this program, and absorb every detail of science learned from these exciting stories–which include lessons in biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science.

The Story of Science

Joy Hakim’s science series is an exciting way to help students get interested in science. Rather than introducing dry facts, figures, statistics, and formulae, Hakim tells the stories of great scientists–their questions, quandaries, and dilemmas that led to discovery. Science is never boring with delightful reads like these!

(Please note: I highly recommend these books, but the author occasionally lets her atheistic/anti-Christian views slip through. But only rarely–I don’t think my children encounter anything in these books that they wouldn’t experience among friends and neighbors with different beliefs, so rather than denying them this excellent science resource, I just point out that this particular author “does not believe as we do,” but that she is an excellent scholar, nonetheless).

But books aren’t enough! You have to get out and experience science in order to love it!

Here’s my son, Screech, learning about pulleys and gravity:

In this picture, Prima and Buttercup are learning about buoyancy, velocity, and surface area:

Interestingly enough, the day these pictures were taken, my children pretty much had the science museum to themselves (because during the day, most other children are at public school). Halfway through our visit, however, a bus load of public school kids arrived on a field trip. How my heart ached for them as they crowded in and were rushed through each exhibit, forced to stand in line and march in accord to the chaperone’s kid-counting orders. I wished that I could take a few of the more troubled-looking kids home with me and give them the delightful experience of learning science without being herded about in large groups like cattle.

And those poor teachers–only two of them with about fifty kids. They looked so exhausted and stressed; they were much too busy counting heads and keeping the peace to actually interact with their students and teach any science. My heart went out to them, too.

Here’s a shot of Dizzy, testing different wing spans in a wind tunnel:

The Bottom Line: whether you teach your children at home or send them to public school, I heartily recommend these science reads and real-life encounters with science to help kids get excited about this particular subject.

P.S. For a fun read about a family’s experience dissecting owl pellets at home, read Cellista’s “Owl Puke” posting!