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Hindsight is 20/20. No where is that more apparent than when it comes to educating our children. How many hundreds of books did I try exposing my reluctant reader to before the spark was finally lit, not by a book, but by his scouting magazine. Who would have thought that fossil found on a family hike would have begun an all and out obsession with paleontology.

How Lincoln Learned to Read by Daniel Wolff looks back at what may have started famous Americans on their paths to success. It identifies what experiences, classrooms, people or hardships cultivated Henry Ford into a mechanical mastermind instead of an environmental scientist like Rachel Carson.

Some of the personal histories are steeped with connections to homeschooling, more specifically unschooling and self directed education, while others are more traditional. But each retrospective reminds the reader that so much of the vital learning that takes place is not what was part of a plan or pre-described goal. Often, it is what happened despite the plan.

Reading this book will not give you a systematic guide to teaching your child to read. Nor will it give you the basic rules to help you raise the next famous American to add to the history books. Instead, this book clearly points out that each journey is different, influenced by countless factors, not reproducible, and only truly understood in retrospect.

Never the less, it inspires and guides. It opens your eyes to finding the value in the education being given by so many sources other than yourself. The influences of a child’s home, individuals they meet on a museum tour or nature center class, the world and local events of the time and so many more. Will the next great American biography include a description of how a field trip to a super computer began a lifelong passion or a TV documentary was the jumping block into figuring out a solution no one had thought of before? I guess we will wait and see. But as we wait, we will look at each day and activity as a piece of a puzzle without the box cover to know where each piece goes, at least not yet.

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Needlepoint Fun

My kids have always drawn or played Lego while I read aloud. Once I learned that research shows that using your hands while listening actually helps you concentrate and remember better, I added to the list of quiet listening activities with things like latch hook, beading and snow flake cutting. The new favorite in our house is needlepoint.

Not only is needlepoint relatively easy for my kids who are as young as 7 but instead of following a pattern to make a picture like on latch hook, they love being able to take a premade needlepoint plastic form and choose whatever colors they want to use. We have made hearts or crosses. We have given them as gifts and made them just for fun. This latest visit to the craft store introduced my daughters to a fantastic new plastic pattern – a purse. Simply fill it in with needlepoint, fold and stitch the sides together. Add a button and a handle if you like.

A pack of small heart shapes is under 2 dollars and can be easily completed by Valentine’s Day so give it a try!

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Family Game Review

I had never heard of the game CAMP until one of my kids received it for a gift. Now after playing it several times, I have found there are several aspects of the game that I really enjoy.

CAMP is a winner of the Dr. Toy Best 100 Children’s Products. It is listed as a game for ages 4 and up which makes most people think it must be a very easy game but it uniquely incorporates questions cards that offer 4 levels depending on the age of the player answering the question.

As you roll and move around the game board you my land on a Go To Clubhouse space. In some cases this moves you ahead, and at other times sends you back. No one is too upset when this happens, however, since going to the clubhouse means you get a read a fun fact to everyone. Did you know that a baby oyster is called a spat?

And don’t worry if you are not a camping family, most of the questions are animal facts such as “Which bird can fly backward?” and “What is a baby owl called?” All are multiple choice and again easy questions are available for young kids with 3 more levels for older kids and adults.

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Homeschool Holiday Poem

My son and I wrote this poem. He would say it was mostly him but I would have to disagree. Hope you enjoy.

‘Twas the night before Tuesday, and all through the house,
Each homeschooler was stirring, not hush as a mouse.

Remembering what they had learned yesterday,
And anxiously awaiting a field trip, next day.

The books were all nestled next to the trombone,
And a science experiment on top of the phone.

If you walked just downstairs, on that cold winter’s night,
The sight awaiting would be a slight fright.

With the cookbooks! And music! (But not such a mess)
Markers! A Star Map! And a half game of chess!

Mom had hung up the keys for the automobiles
For the following Wednesday, they gave Meals on Wheels.

And up in their beds, the three children where waiting,
By reading, and drawing, and Lego creating.

At eight a.m. sharp, all three jumped out of bed,
And into ol’ Mom’s room they hurriedly fled.

“Hey Mom, can we please just get going today,
To the zoo, or 4H, or Shakespearean play?”

Mom slowly rolled over, she buried her head,
“We just went last week,” she wearily said.

“So what!” all three kidlings shouted out quickly,
“You must not feel good Mom, you’re acting quite sickly!”

“You don’t want to go to a field trip or class,
Spend the day at the library finding books about glass,”

“Play scrabble, and sled with good friends at the park,
Or see how quick our eyes adjust in the dark,”

“Computer programming, and hamburger frying,
Shoveling sidewalks, and paper plane flying.”

“I’m joking,” their Mom said, “And, Oh, By the way”
“Today we’ll go, tomorrow; in PJ’s reading all day”

Mom is thankful to witness every tooth that falls out
And know what the novel the kids are reading is about

Pleased that while looking up Alexander the Great
Follows many interesting tangents without wait.

At the Museum that day the whole family had fun,
With their MHA membership, tickets cheaper a ton.

For learning was something they did throughout life
They followed their interests and dreams without strife.

Being Actors, and Writers, and Artists and Drummers,
Skaters, and Jugglers, and Swimmers, and Plumbers,

Cooks, and Reporters, and Pink Ballet Dancers,
Train Engineers, and Business Financers.

At the Top of the World!
Their minds set ablaze!
Yeah, Homeschooling, Homeschooling, Homeschooling Days!

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Holiday crafts

With Thanksgiving only days away, marking the official start of the holiday season, it is time to start planning holiday gifts!

Although schedules are even tighter than normal this time of year, we still try to make some of our holiday gifts.

This year, framed art tops our list. The kids draw almost every night while I read to them anyway, so why not turn those pictures into gifts for grandparents? After the purchase of some heavyweight, 5.5 x 8.5 white sketch paper, and a few 5 x 7 frames, we just need to get to work on our drawings. The kids plan for their drawings to be specific to what each grandparent likes, for example, a bird for Nani and a fish for grandpa.

Fun, easy, personal, and inexpensive!

One more easy idea we are considering, especially ideal for folks living  in the Midwest, are homemade hand warmers.

I am posting a link for this project!

http://www.littlepeoplewealth.com/2011/10/diy-thursday-homemade-hand-warmer/

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=pie+weights&x=0&y=0

Happy Holidays!

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Brain Selznick is in a league of his own when it comes to his book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The novel tells a story using both text and illustrations (both done by Selznick). As the winner of the Caldecott Award, we see how special the illustrations are, but unlike picture books, this novel is also an intricate story. This book is a joy to readers who love a juvenile length, complicated story but miss those years of beautifully illustrated picture books.

In addition to being a great read, The Invention Of Hugo Cabret, has a world of ideas to explore further. The fantastic website http://www.theinventionofhugocabret.com will give you countless ideas from watching a youtube clip of the old movie referenced in the novel to automata information to a bio of the author. I suggest having fresh croissants for a snack (as eaten by the main character) while you explore!

And the fun doesn’t stop there . . . November 23rd is the opening day for the new movie version HUGO directed by Martin Scorsese. Brain Selznick told the audience at a recent book signing presentation that he was able to spend 2 weeks on the set of the movie where he describe the dedicated effort made by all the cast and crew to create a movie that closely follows the book. Brain also recently released a companion book where he interviews a wide variety of people working on the movie, asking questions that would interest his young audience.

So whether it is a good read you are looking for or a great website with a variety of learning activities to explore or a family movie, The Invention of Hugo Cabret has them all.

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I am not a teacher

After several wonderful discussions with other homeschoolers and speakers at the recent MHA conference, I have come to the amazing conclusion that I am not a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I am not stopping homeschooling nor am I ever slightly upset at this realization. It finally makes our years of homeschooling perfectly clear.

As I kid myself, I rarely read a book and then only when assigned and learning about history was not only boring but overwhelming and scary. As a kid I liked math. Two plus two always equaled four and it was never confusing.

So why, now, after 8+ years of homeschooling, do we gravitate toward reading and history and do math as quickly as possible to get back to reading? The answer was my recent revelation – I am not a teacher.

When we read a novel or history book, my kids and I are learning together. Yes, I know more vocabulary and can often answer a question when it arises but those questions are part of an open dialog between myself and my children not just me asking the questions and seeing if they can answer them correctly.

In many cases I do not know the answer to the question and it is then that we discover it together, unlike in math where I still play the roll of the teacher and they play the parts of the students. In writing and spelling I give the assignment and then correct it. This is not as comfortable scenario in our family school.

Luckily, so much of those less comfortable subjects come up in the books we love to read. Heartbeat by Sharron Creech involved a character learning about and using footnotes. This inspired my family to try some writing using footnotes. I did not create the assignment but I help if someone is struggling with the concept along the way.

In Hatchet by Gary Paulsen we read about a boy who figured out that water refraction was making things look like they were in different places and therefore preventing him from successfully spearing a fish. Using an old aquarium we investigated the same principle and even turned it into a bit of a game seeing who to come the closest to the object underwater. While they played the game, I used some basic books and the internet to find a chart showing how and why water refraction works then we looked at those together and talked. No worksheet, quiz or lesson plan involved.

So thank you Sharron Creech and Gary Paulsen and all the amazing authors that help me not have to be a teacher.

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