Saturday, January 24, 2009

Will they learn all they need to know?

The biggest challenge (and joy) in growing without schooling is learning to trust our children, to respect their desires and to allow them to take the lead. Sometimes it is difficult to say, “it’s fine that Sy doesn’t want to write this week,” or “24 hours of just make believe play is learning!” Yet, both of these statements are true. The problem is simply that we’ve all grown up in an educational system that removes us from the world we are supposed to understand, where only certain forms of knowledge are valid, and those are compartmentalized and stripped of all contexts. Sy and Violet are learning and they are learning a lot. Certainly, they are both amassing what one might consider “book” knowledge: Violet is already counting to 10 and saying her ABCs;  Sy can read words with various consonant blends and vowel combinations, count to 100, and tell you the difference between carnivorous and herbivorous dinosaurs. Yet, what is most interesting to me are the ways in which they have come to understand things and to do so in great depth. Sy knows more than I ever did about dinosaurs because he wants to know. No amount of coaxing, rewards, direction or punishment could move him to delve into a topic for so many hours per day the way his desire to know and learn can. This is how we came, today, to do research on amoebae. Before the nap, we read The Biggest Thing in the Ocean, about a giant squid that thinks it’s the largest thing in the ocean, but ends up being eaten by a whale. At the end of the book, a small fish on the copyright page says, “I’m bigger than plankton,” to which Sy responded, “Plankton’s not bigger than anything.” I responded by saying, “Well, a plankton is bigger than an amoeba,” which was enough for him to decide that we needed to look it up after the nap. We spent about 20 minutes on the internet looking at drawings and photos of amoebae, learning about how this single-celled organism can eat without a mouth, stomach or digestive system (using pseudopods and a food vacuole), learning about where they live (fresh water, salt water, in the soil, in other organisms - “like us!” Sy said). While it seems ludicrous that an almost 4 year old can assimilate such knowledge, I know he’s learning because it interests him, because he relates what he learns to experience, because he returns to the things he likes over and over again, and because those interests lead to other related interests (the discussion of amoebae actually led to research on hammerhead sharks - there is a shark in the book - which led to an attempt to identify all of the sea creatures on the final page of the book - eels, rays, sharks, squids, octopi, various fish, etc.)

Here’s just a brief glimpse of the things we worked on this week:

Music: Violet and Sy have both been singing A Rum-Sum-Sum and High and Low in music class this week (tapping out the macro and micro beats, changing words to fit various actions/scenarios, incorporating the names of friends into the revised songs); Sy has been playing Twinkle A-D, Honeybee, Hänschen Klein and Cuckoo on the piano, he’s supposed to start Mary Had a Little Lamb this week.

Art: “Flag of India” - at Indian buffet on Monday night, Sy saw the flag of India and decided to look it up online, he then made his own version; observational drawing (bananas, pencil can, lollipop drum, cardboard box); painting: batik (dripping wax onto paper, painting over, ironing off wax); window ornaments: tracing, cutting (star, heart, oval, circle from batik painting)

Storytelling: weaving parts of The Curious Demise of a Contrary Cat, Hänsel & Gretel, Rotkäppchen and various dinosaur facts, Sy is beginning to create “jokes” and “stories.”

Science: dinosaur, amoeba and shark research

Math: Uno (counting, matching, sequencing), Sy’s game of “I love you 160 million degrees” (we try to increase the number and form of measurement to the best of our ability)

Reading: “Word Card Game” (reading and matching words ending in  -an, -at, -ay, -e, -ee, -ick, -in, –ish, –it, -on, -op; consonant blends ch-, cl-, cr-, dr-, fl-, kn-, pl-, sh-, sl-, spl-, st-, th-, thr- )

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Turtles, Snakes and Brumation!

Our trip to Cincinnati for the holidays was lots of fun. In addition to trips to the Natural History Museum, Children’s Museum, and Newport Aquarium we attended two lectures offered by the Hamilton County Park and Recreation Board.

Raptors at Woodland Mound!

We observed 4 raptors that day: the Red-Tailed Hawk, Eastern Screech Owl, Barred Owl and Great Horned Owl. We learned about their predatory habits (day/night hunting, use of eyesight vs. hearing, size and types of prey, use of talons/beaks), their physical characteristics (feathers and markings, facial features, size and weight), and we discovered that that awesome sound an eagle makes in all of those Hollywood westerns is actually the call of the Red-Tailed Hawk! Who knew? Later we hiked on the nature trail and pretended to be owls hunting different small rodents. 

Snakes, turtles and brumation at Miami Whitewater Park!

We observed 3 turtles (2 Box Turtles and 1 Red-Eared Slider) and 2 snakes (Black Rat Snake and Fox Snake). We learned all kinds of things: Box Turtles get their names from their ability to pull all of their body parts into their shell, as if retreating into a box; they are omnivores (like us), who live mostly on land; females have flat bellies, males have a thumb-sized indentation on the belly; the scutes (circular scales on the shell) are shed like skin and grow in rings (like a tree trunk) each year - you can estimate a turtle’s age by counting the scutes on its shell; their backbones connect their soft bodies to their shells (which means that if they lose their shells, they die); Box Turtles can live up to 100 years! Brumation is the hibernation-like state that cold-blooded animals use during the cold weather: their circulation slows down, they become very lethargic and sleep, but not so much that they have to expend a lot of energy in order to eat, if they have to. They typically brumate in a burrow, rock crevice or, in the case of the Box Turtle, they use their back legs to dig deep into the leaf litter and cover themselves up.

For the rest of the week, we were playing “snakes in the cage” in Nana’s living room. Exhausting, but more stimulating than Super Mario.