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

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History or Social Studies?

Did you know that most schools teach Social Studies, instead of history? Here’s why:

“A common assumption found in history curricula seems to be that children can’t comprehend (or be interested in) people and events distant from their own experience. So first-grade history class is renamed Social Studies and begins with what the child knows: first, himself and his family, followed by his community, his state, his country, and only then the rest of the world.

This intensely self-focused pattern of study encourages the student of history to relate everything he studies to himself, to measure the cultures and customs of other people against his own experience. And that’s exactly what the classical education fights against–a self-absorbed, self-referential approach to knowledge. History learned this way makes our needs and wants the center of the human endeavor. This attitude is destructive at any time, but it is especially destructive in the present global civilization.” —Susan Wise Bauer, The Well-Trained Mind (p. 108, emphasis in bold is mine).

Here is a copy of Dizzy’s recent history assignment–a report on ancient Crete:

Are public school kids learning about ancient civilizations in the 3rd grade? If not, their parents should consider these fun history learning and activity books:

Here’s a sample learning activity from Volume 2 of this series (middle ages)–

Thanks to the Story of the World series, my children not only enjoy learning about history, but they also do history projects and read history books in their spare time. In fact, our daughter Prima requested a series of history books for Christmas! But more about that after December 25th . . .

Children Need Time to Create

Charlotte Mason (the renowned educator/founder of Ambleside teacher’s college in England) taught parents and educators that,

“The morning . . . is much the best time for lessons and every sort of mental work; if the whole afternoon cannot be spared for out-of-door recreation, that is the time for mechanical tasks such as [crafts], drawing, practising . . . ” —Home Education, p. 23

While in public school, my children did not have afternoon time to explore the outdoors or to be creative, because they spent their entire evening doing homework!

But in the more natural, organic setting of our home school, all EIGHT subjects are easily completed before lunchtime (because home schools move quickly, due to the lack of crowd control issues), and afterwards, my children are free to explore and create the things that interest them!

Here’s one example–my daughter Prima wants a pony. I told her “no way.” So what did she do? She began to construct one herself, out of old cardboard boxes:

See the pajamas? If I had let her, she would’ve stayed up ALL NIGHT working on this thing. Charlotte Mason was right–afternoon/evening is definitely the time to let children explore their creativity!

I couldn’t believe she was able to design and implement this entire project without any patterns or adult assistance. In school, every project had instructions and a list of requisite supplies. But Prima apparently prefers to create things freehand:

During Prima’s public school days, projects like this were unheard of–she was too busy trying to get all of her homework done before bed.

A few weeks ago, the kids saw me making a pie. This is something they didn’t get to see when they were in public school, because I prefer to bake at midday (while the baby naps). This time, they got to join me:

And while they rolled, cut, and baked, you can bet that I was teaching about the art of pie-making (and its historical roots in the American colonies) which put a tangible (and tasty!) spin on history that led to further discussions of early colonial life. I actually had to get out the history books to answer their questions!

Our discussion became so lively and educational that I found myself wishing I had started inviting the kids to help me out in the kitchen a lot earlier–little Buttercup actually showed more interest in history that day than I ever experienced at her age!

But the best result that day (aside from yummy pies!) was the passion for learning and the feeling of accomplishment that my children experienced that day–proving that education isn’t all about worksheets and standardized tests.

Learning MUST include the feeling of accomplishment that comes from creating something meaningful, while at the same time recognizing one’s place in history!

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!

Where’d She Learn to Talk Like That?

True story:

My 8 year-old, Dizzy, is talking to a ten year-old during a recent home school gathering.

“Are you good at art?” my daughter asks her.

“Well,” the ten year-old muses, “I do try to pay attention to detail when I draw. This means I’ll be good at art if I keep practicing.”

Say what? I’ve never heard ten year-old kids use phrases like “attention to detail” or mention the importance of “practice makes perfect.” This girl has the vocabulary and understanding of a young adult! Yet another side effect of spending her days learning in the home, I suppose! 🙂