Friday, September 27, 2013

NaNoWriMo and the Young Writer's Program

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month.  It takes place in November each year and is described as 30 days and nights of literary abandon.  Does that sound like fun to you?

NaNoWriMo for me ...

I love to write, guess you know that already.  Here's a link to my writing blog, Ink Island.  I have something like 50 unfinished projects, which I put away in boxes when we decided to homeschool our children.

Do you wonder why couldn't I write AND home-educate?

When the kids were younger, it went something like this:

ME (parent, teacher, wife) + WRITING = preoccupied, distracted, frustrated, guilty, sad

In short, the combination wasn't good for me as a writer or mother, and one role had to be put on hold.  It was an easy choice!  There is a season for everything, and it wasn't the season for me to focus on writing.  Now, perhaps it is the season for me to write a little ... at least for an hour a day during the month of November.

I dipped my toes into NaNoWriMo last year, but quickly discovered the water was still too chilly.  There were other issues we had to deal with more urgently ... I was battling ill health, helping elderly relatives in need, and squeezing in a little home ed whenever I could manage.

Fast forward to this year.  I am much healthier (for which I can only praise the Lord).  Our relatives needs have changed and I have a little more free time.  And rather than trying to keep up with delightful but demanding children, I am home educating two (more independent) bright, keen young writers.

So, with a healthy mix of energy, caution, passion, commitment and prayerfulness, I am doing NaNoWriMo 2013.  I have updated my existing NaNoWriMo account.  I won't say what I am writing.  For me it is more about taking some time out to write each day, pulling together some ideas I have been jotting down in my spare time during the last couple of years.

... and my children!

They are coming along for the ride, in the NaNoWriMo Young Writer's Program.  They are keen, but there will be no pressure, just a lot of encouragement, fun and writing (with as much support as they need).  I created a teacher ID separate from my writer ID, registered our 'school' on the YWP page with a fun name and I enrolled my students.  We're ready to rock!

I already have some excellent resources for teaching children how to write, but was nevertheless happy to discover the Lesson Plans NaNoWriMo has provided for teachers.  I have chosen the Upper Elementary Curriculum, and will use whatever parts of it I think we will find useful.

There are also Student Workbooks.  I have downloaded one but don't know if we will use it yet.  My budding authors often prefer to do things orally.  I am sure some pages will be helpful during the planning stages.

If you want to register for the Young Writers Program, it's easy.  Start here, read what it's about and follow the instructions.  You will need an email address for each child.  We used pseudonyms and signed up for gmail ... my children are thrilled to have email addresses, even if I insist they are joint accounts with me.   I don't imagine they will need to access their email accounts anyway.  We can send each other messages within our NaNoWriMo YWP classroom.

Have you ever taken part in NaNoWriMo?  Do you think the Young Writers Program is something your children would enjoy?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mathematician's Lament

My husband knows I'm a maths geek.  It was he who told me about this article a few years ago, after hearing about it at work (what else would you talk about whilst building a train?)  It was the perfect gift and I eagerly wrote a blog post to share it ... then forgot to publish it.  Oops.  

I still think the Mathematician's Lament is very clever:

Lockhart's Lament was published in a book in 2009, then in 2012 a second book by Lockhart, Measurement, was released ... perhaps an answer to the question of how to change the status quo.

What is it?  According to Wikipedia, "A Mathematician's Lament is a short book on the pedagogics and philosophy of mathematics by Paul Lockhart, originally a research mathematician but for many years a math teacher at a private school. Characterised as a strongly-worded opinion piece arguing for an intuitive and heuristic approach to teaching and the importance of mathematics teaching reforms, the book frames learning mathematics as an artistic and imaginative pursuit which is not reflected at all in the way the subject is taught in the American educational system."

Here's an enticing quote from page 3 of "Measurement":  

"I am going to assume that you love beautiful things and are curious to learn about them.  The only things you will need on this journey are common sense and simple human curiosity.  So relax.  Art is to be enjoyed, and this is an art book.  Math is not a race or a contest;  it's just you playing with your own imagination.  Have a wonderful time!"

I think mathematics is tremendous fun.  I thought when I aced tests in Year 7, and when I happily battled through 4 unit maths in Year 12 with six classmates who would come over to do problems that took several pages to solve.  At that stage it was mostly about 'the test', but our goofy teacher still made it seem fun.  I felt quite disillusioned a month after our final exam when I realised I had already forgotten most of those abstract concepts, but I am still glad I had that opportunity to stretch my brain.

I am revisiting the marvels of maths, thanks to my children ... with their iPads, Vi Hart videos, Escher posters and a stack of brain-tickling maths books, the sky is the limit.  I'll share a list of our favourite resources and book lists soon.

This link is worth a look ... it presents Lockhart's Lament with a cool video, 'metamorphosis of a cube'.

I will leave you with a quote from an article written by Keith Devlin (whose column featured Lockhart's Lament) ...

"In fact, in the context of this country, bedeviled by the incessant math wars and the intense politicization of mathematics education that drives them, my view is that debate about the curriculum and the educational theory that drives it is a distraction best avoided (at least for now). To me the real issue facing us is a starkly simple one: Teacher education. No matter what the curriculum, and regardless of the psychological and educational theory it is built upon, teaching comes down to one human being interacting with a number of (usually) younger, other human beings. If that teacher does not love what he or she is teaching, and does not understand it, deeply and profoundly, then the results are simply not going to come. The solution? Attract the best and the brightest to become mathematics teachers, teach them well, pay them at a level commensurate with their training, skills, and responsibilities, and provide them with opportunities for continuous professional development. Just what we do in (for example) the medical or engineering professions. It's that simple."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

More or less perfect planning

Perfectionism can be paralysing.  Just ask me.  We started a unit study on Astronomy earlier this year.  It might have been ok if I just planned to use Apologia, on it's own with a handful of library books.  BUT as I often do, I got carried away.  I collected a pile of terrific supplementary books and resources, like the Intelligo unit study, Magic School Bus lapbook, and bookmarked a dozen online activities and video clips.  I put all the physical resources in a box ready to use, and moved on to planning the next subject.  That was my first mistake.  I LOVE planning, but to stay sane I need to organise my thoughts on paper.  I rarely follow a plan, but I like to know there is a plan.

I thought I was prepared.  We jumped in and enjoyed the first few weeks, dipping into the books, loosely following Apologia's index as a sequence.  It was all fun, until we made the planets.  There's nothing wrong with our planets.  The trouble is, I didn't know where to hang them.  So they sat on a tray in a corner of the room.  In the weeks that followed every time I thought about Astronomy, I saw those planets waiting for me.  We did some more reading but I had lost my spark.  It seems ridiculous, but they were like a big pause button that had jammed and stopped the show.

It took me a few months to realise perfectionism was to blame for my procrastination.  Thankfully, we worked out what to do about the planets.  A solution that didn't involve holes in walls or ceilings.

We got back into Astronomy last week, and it's come alive again.  I've also figured out some principles to help me move forward even when I feel stuck.  Take a simple step.  Do the next thing.  If we miss something great, we can look at it later.  Playful enthusiasm is probably more worthwhile than a dozen wonderful things we 'could' do but never get to for fear of not doing them right or in order.  That makes me sound really stunted and regimented but actually I'm an ideas person who gets stuck now and then when too many ideas collide and get tangled.

Must I insist on everything being an eclectic feast of epic proportions?  
Enrichment is great but I think I take it too far sometimes.  

Perfectly Imperfect ...

It's not just astronomy.  I did this last year with The Human Body, and our Trip Around the World.  We stayed in Kenya for a term because it was so interesting, but then I felt bad that we wouldn't have time to visit other countries.  "So what?" says the voice of reason, "Be grateful that you had a wonderful time in Kenya."

Then after we explored Egypt for a while the "shoulds" barged in and stole my joy again ... we should do Egypt 'properly' ... there is so much we could read about, make, play, watch.  I got carried away researching possibilities.  And I started judging the value of what we did by how much we hadn't done, not by the great things we actually did.

Tell me I'm not the only one who sometimes drowns in possibilities?  

Speed is one solution to perfectionism ... I work best when I ad lib, when I quickly grab a few ideas and books and light a warm, cosy campfire to chat around.  Give me too long to to plan, and collect tonnes of firewood but loose the spark.  Like it or not, I get paralysed by perfectionism. 

I need to get back to the spark of an idea and provide just enough fuel for a crackling bonfire ... cosy books, lively conversations, experiences and games.

My planning needs to be MORE perfect ...
-  feverish collecting is fun but I need to save some spark for doing.
-  write up simple plans instead of trying to juggle ten exciting subjects in my head.
-  eclectic homeschooling and freedom are great, but sometimes it helps to have a map.
-  prepare ahead of time, but don't stress if we decide to miss some good things in favour of others.
-  like it or not (not), time is a finite resource;  enjoy the freedom to skim the surface or dive deep.
-  accept that all choices have a price tag;  don't get caught up in wishes and what ifs.
-  stick with the plan, at least some of the time.
-  use momentum to avoid getting paralysed by perfectionism.
-  if the kids know the plan includes melting chocolate with a magnifying glass, they will keep you accountable!
-  although our inspectors don't want to see detailed plans for everything we do, sometimes a unit study plan can help collate and condense an excellent, impossibly huge plan into an enjoyable, doable plan.

and LESS perfect ...
-  use a few simple resources well, rather than drown in a bucketful of brilliant possibilities.
-  it doesn't matter if it's perfect, it matters that we do something and have fun doing it.
-  finish each step if possible, but ...
-  if that's too hard, move on confidently, without regret.

Failing all that, ditch the plan!  I knew why we left Egypt only half explored last year, and where we went instead (we needed to go home).  We were there long enough to get a couple of snapshots, and we really enjoyed flying along the course of the Nile.  We didn't see everything, and that's ok.  We will probably go there again 'one day.'

We'll never be perfect ... not this side of heaven at least ... we're just enjoying being here, imperfectly but joyfully learning.  As to WHAT we're learning, well that's actually pretty exciting.  I will tell you all about it soon!

P.S. As a reward for anyone who read to the very end ... here's a link to another blog with some terrific tips for releasing yourself from the trap of perfection.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Taming the Paperwork Monster

There's a paperwork monster in my house and it's making life difficult ...

Situation report (evidence of the monster's existence):
1.   Piles of paper all over the desk.
2.   There are huge 'sort out later' paper piles on the school/sun/dining room floor.
3.   Several shopping bags full of homeless resource books are lined up next to a cupboard.
4.   My filing drawer is never opened as it's full of old paperwork.
5.   Digital devices are also under attack:  emails, bookmarks and items saved to desktop are accumulating at an alarmingly rate.

Input is multiplying at an alarming rate, while action, disposal and filing are floundering in the depths of procrastination and perfectionism (more about those characters another day).

I know why this happens.  I like collecting ideas.  Resources.  Information.  I greedily read and save, bookmark and sometimes print.  Books are heavily tagged with post it notes.  I scribble on several notepad pages a day (despite having a ridiculous number of journals for every possible need).
I have a pinterest account, online reading list and Facebook articles tagged to revisit 'later'.  All are kept with good intentions (education, enrichment and inspiration) ... but maybe that's what hoarders say about how their collections of newspaper, tyres or jars started.

I LIKE having lots of ideas, but there must be a better way to manage them!

Now, I have made myself sound terribly messy.  Here's the dining table (very versatile, it is also our art studio, science lab and writer's den) ... half-organised, half-messy, half-visible on a sorting day a month ago:

I considered and dismissed some easy options:

run away from the mess
delegate the decluttering
toss it all in the bin

Then I googled "homeschool how to tame the paperwork monster" ...

These links were enough to encourage me it IS possible to evict the paperwork monster.  I am starting to form a plan.  I don't want a formal system ... I like to do things spontaneously, creatively and playfully.
I just to consider the desired outcome, allocate time and space to the initial (mammoth) task, and develop better daily habits.

I don't want to drown in a sea of possibilities that started with a harmless drip.  I do want to catch up on important paperwork that's been lost in transit for years, and enjoy a tidier future.  Of course, I also want to be a better role model for my children and a tidier companion for my organised husband.

I WILL tame the homeschool paperwork monster!

P.S.  Progress has been made since I drafted this ... I was left at home alone yesterday for several hours (gasp!)  Lots of filing, sorting, dusting, recycling and sorting were done.  Hooray!
Items 2 and 3 have been eliminated!  The monster is beating a hasty retreat.  Next target:  the desk.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book Club fun!

A favourite game at our place is 'libraries' ... the children set up a borrowing desk, library cards and book displays.  After buying over a hundred new books yesterday, I was not at all surprised when a book club sprang up this morning!

Bookclub Guide (according to Elijah, 9)
-  Entry costs 5 cents, or buy a 132 day season pass for $1.00 ... bargain!
-  Customers receive a membership card showing their first name, ID number and a tally of attendance.
-  Ages 5 plus are welcome ... children under 5 can come but must be accompanied by someone over 5.
-  You can bring books to read or share.
-  The shop is open when the music is playing (currently playing Jack Johnson Curious George soundtrack)
-  Pram parking and comfortable seating is available.

A hundred books for a hundred dollars!

We always look forward to the local University used book sale.  This year we went twice.  Here is what we came home with (so far ... it continues all week):

First we took our children and their friend.  They spent an hour searching the children's book tables while I was at the teacher resources table next to them.  We each found a bag full of books, and still had change to use in the other resources room (treasures found there included some springy chains for my gadget boy, maps, CDs and posters).  None of the children exceeded their $5 budget ... though I would have let them!  My husband found a few reference books which he will enjoy reading.

After a quick break at home I went back alone.  Again I gravitated towards the children's books, and added five more bulging shopping bags to the morning's purchases.

At the last minute I found some fiction (not shown) and other inspiring books for myself.

Here's a clearer view of some of our purchases:

Stories I have seen in the Sonlight catalogue or other booklists.  I would probably have them bought online ... today they cost 20 to 50 cents each.

A packet of terrific posters relevant to our current interests (solar system, times tables, Bible times, world map, human body) and ancient world maps of what people thought the world looked like.

A stack of books by Cynthia Voigt, one of my favourite authors as a teen.

Books which will be useful once in a while ... including a huge new book of poems for our Poetry Teatimes!

How Things Work, World History books and Did You Know ... books which have Elijah telling us interesting facts day and night (he's always like that, these are just extra ammunition)

A terrific joke book which Jasmine read to us last night ... the jokes were actually funny.

I also bought 4 books in the Think-Matics series, a Star Wars picture book, Far Side calendar (one day we'll have fun making up our own captions for the pictures), 3 CDs, a Roman Times activity book and Solar System activity book, and a two volume big-book children's medical encyclopaedia.  I am impressed with the quality ... many of these books are in excellent condition, and the ex-library ones are pretty clean and undamaged with only a few signs of age.

Can anyone guess what we'll be doing for the rest of today (aside from buying a new bookshelf and finding a place for it)?

Thursday, August 8, 2013

iPad apps for 8 and 9 year olds

We have an iPad and an iPad mini ... when the children started saving a couple of years ago they both intended to buy laptop computers.  We agreed to pay half.   After months of counting and calculating, the time came and both chose iPads.  We are really glad they did!

Our Favourite Apps

We learn plenty through games, and we have fun playing with education tools.  The lines between learning and fun are delightfully blurry!
These are all pretty good apps, but those marked * are frequently used and ** are current favourites

-  Squeebles Maths (KeyStageFun)     **
-  Dress Up Princess (Hooda Math)
-  Targeting Maths 3 and 5 (Blake)    *
-  Fun Soccer Math (Nghi Lee)   **
-  Tell the Time (Playerthree)
-  Math Drills (Instant Interactive)   *

-  PopMath Maths (AppBlit)   *
-  Ken Ken Classic (maths logic game)     **
-  Conceptis Hashi (Conceptis Ltd)
-  Speed!  (Jeffrey Norkoli)      **
-  Maths Trainer (Shalk)
-  Maths Songs Times Tables (1x-6x and 7x-12x)

-  Spelling 1-2 (School Zone)   **
-  Spellosaur   *
-  This Week's Words (Simulant)
-  Word Jigsaw (Megafauna software)
-  Phonics Genius      **
-  SpeakEasy French (Pocketglow)
-  Kids Apps (13 in 1)

-  Where in the World (UConnect)   **
-  Bridge Construction (Headup Games)   *
-  Bright Puzzles HD (Bright Idea Software)   *
-  Learn the World (Merge Mobile)   **

-  JamPad Plus (H2indie)   *
-  Sketchbook Pro (Autodesk)
-  iLuv Drawing People (MyVijan)
-  Drawing Pad

-  Read and Listen Now Bible KJV HD (Handech)   **
-  SimpleMind+ (xpt)
-  Notability (GingerLabs)

IF you want role play games, my children vote for:

-  My Horse (Natural Motion) ... they get a pet horse without the mess!    **
-  Survival Craft     **
-  Townsmen
-  Tiny Sheep  

Other favourite games include:

-  Harbor Master HD (Imangi)
-  Flow Free (Big Duck)   **
-  Banana Kong (FDG)
-  Angry Birds HD
-  Motorbike HD (baKno Games)   **
-  Mahjong (Byterun)   *
-  Mouse Maze
-  Montezuma Puzzle (ECO Pawel)
-  Square-Off Game (SchoolZone)
-  Memory (Irena Schens)   **
-  Cut the Rope
-  Jump Birdy Jump (Ovogame)

New arrivals, untested:

-  Star Walk HD (Vito) - astronomy
-  Planets (Q Continuum) - astronomy
-  Strip Designer (Vivid)  - cartoon making
-  BrainPOP

I haven't had to set limits for use ... except for myself!  We don't have a TV (only DVD and online viewing) so screen time isn't too much of an issue, and we have too many other interests to spend too much time staring at little screens.  We usually leave the WiFi turned OFF, but sometimes connect to use our Weebly site (a collection of all our online tools), for which I have created a desktop bookmark for easy access.

I would like a better writing app than our current Notes app ... preferably one with formatting options and somehow easy to share with the desktop computer.  If you have a suggestion please leave me a comment.

These cute little tablets have paid for themselves educationally and they add to the family fun!


A little extra waffle in case anyone is deciding what to buy, or wonders
why we choose iPads ...

*  I already share my lovely iMac and little ASUS netbook.
*  Lightweight, handheld tablets are easy to use anywhere (usually on the lounge).
*  The iPad combines loads of functionality in a tiny machine ... games, writing, art, movies, music, camera and video.  Games for fun and education were a priority.
*  It's super easy and inexpensive (often free) to add new apps.
*  Both children are keen writers.  For portable word processing the onscreen keyboards are fine.  Keyboard cases create a virtual laptop when desired.
*  We were slightly concerned about the smaller screen size of the mini for games and movies, but I changed my mind after trying it in the shop.
*  It's easy to turn WiFi on and off to control internet access.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Brave Writer

Brave Writer has helped me see the big picture when it comes to Language Arts.  
The Writer's Jungle taught me how to understand the real stages children go through as writers and introduced me to a gentle, living and wonderful way to mentor my young writers.  I knew it would suit me as soon as I read free online extracts like this ... 

"It’s my hope that you’ll come to love your young writer and his particular jungle in a whole new way. By traveling together, I want to point out the irises you’ve been missing. There’s a world of insight, creativity and passion in your children that writing is meant to capture. By taking some new trails, I hope to lead you to that secret place."  (See more)  

The Brave Writer blog and emails are full of ideas for nurturing writers, developing skills and showing how this writing philosophy translates into reality.  Brave Writer is a flexible resource which complements our eclectic, relaxed, book-loving, individualised approach to home ed.  

I want to write all about how our BraveWriter lifestyle works, what resources we use and what my brave young writers actually do, but it could take a while (I really like what we do but I worry about sounding like an infomercial!)  

This week I wrote a little article about our Poetry Teatimes for the Brave Writer blog.  

Fortunately I took photos before we sat down together ... hence the momentarily tidy table! 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Everything to do with dough and goo!

My toddlers loved playdough.  We had two types ... homemade and bought.  We also baked bread, mostly in the name of edible art, and used air-drying clay, Fimo and plasticine.  That was a lifetime ago, before our world exploded with ideas on blogs and facebook and pinterest (a lot has changed in 5 years!)

My children may not be toddlers anymore but we love to play (and share the experience with young friends ... who may just decide to bathe in oobleck ... luckily they were outside and the baby was asleep!)  We have thoroughly enjoyed finding recipes for many types of dough and goo ... enjoy!

Let's get messy!
Here are some types of dough and goo we have made or will make:

Oobleck ... Seuss Oobleck is a fun version!
Kool-Aid microwave dough (what's the Aussie version of Kool-Aid?)

Want more?  
On THIS blog you'll find out how to make an ivory soap explosion & homemade bouncing balls.
Here is a HUGE collection of incredible ideas like icecream dough, cake dough, DIY foam, rainbow slime, silly sludge, black cloud dough, moon sand, soap fluff, borax-free Gak and sidewalk goo paint.

When you've exhausted all the options for slime, goo and dough, it would be fun to revisit the original, home-made playdough which can be used with all kinds of other materials for colourful, sweet-smelling creative play.

We accidentally bought something like this at a Sensory shop, and I would NOT recommend it ... the children loved it of course!  (it was incredibly hard to clean up ... sprinkling generously with salt helped a little)

Who needs a reason to delight in dough and goo?!  But if you must have an excuse to explore goo with 8-9 year olds, consider:  fine motor skills, chemistry, physics, measurement, vocabulary, inspiration for writing and pure FUN!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Organising online resources with Weebly

Do your links get lost in the land of many bookmarks?  

We can sift through 50 bookmark folders to find the link we need, but that's not so quick or easy for young children ... and with so many online educational resources available, the bookmarks tab soon overflows.  To rescue our links I created a Weebly website ... it's a fun way to round up the numerous online resources my children have access to. 

Here's what I did:
*  Named our Weebly site.
*  Chose a basic layout, background picture and style from the free options.
*  Organised our online resources by subject, using drop-down menus and hyperlinks.  
*  Added a text box with ideas of fun things to do and other reminders, easily updated.
*  Made the final menu (on the dashboard) a list without links ... just text to remind us of other apps we use on the computer.  
 *  Made a card for the children with usernames and passwords for sites which require special access.

The initial setup took me a few hours, but it now saves us time and allows the children to use the computer more independently.  

Easy to access:
I made our Weebly page super-easy to find by creating a shortcut tab on my Safari browser bar ... simply clicking the word 'KIDS'  takes us straight to our Weebly page.  One happy customer said, "I love it!  You can easily get to links you'd otherwise have to research and you could accidentally get to a website where you buy something!"

Keeping the page up to date:
I created a bookmark folder labelled "Add to Weebly".  Any time I see something worth adding, I save a bookmark in that folder, then once a month or so (or as needed) I edit our Weebly site to add new links, write ideas and reminders.  I gave myself a shortcut tab to access the Weebly editing page so I'd have no reason to avoid this task (if you have sharp eyes you may see it in my grey bookmarks bar, 'Weebly V')!

Your turn:
If you'd like to create a Weebly website for your children, check out Suji's excellent how-to guide which inspired me to do this last year.  Let your own Weebly adventure begin.

Have fun and let me know how it goes!