". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Friday, August 20, 2010

On the Fly Homeschooling

Last week I outlined our plan for homeschooling my youngest (age 6) this year. Revisiting that post this week, I think it looks a lot more complicated than it is. There are several areas in which the goal is primarily to splash around and have fun (science, history, math). There are a few other areas that are more intentional (writing, Bible/catechism, piano). Much of the time it's just a matter of seizing on the thing that is most interesting to Evan at the moment and extending it (that's the unschooling element of our approach). Here's an example.

A few weeks ago I was discussing the subject of children's literature with some of my Facebook friends. There were several recommendations for stories/series with which I was not familiar and I made a note to myself to look into them for Evan. One came courtesy of this guy (and he's the sort of guy you tend to listen to because he's just so danged smart). I knew immediately from the title that I needed to get this book: "Stand Back," said the Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!"

We read it yesterday, and I thought I would share a bit about what we did for those that might find it useful or interesting. None of this was planned. This was simply an instance of "Hmmm, I haven't thought about what we're going to do today; let's read that fun book that Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake suggested."

The story is about an elephant that announces he's going to sneeze. All the other animals, having been through this before, panic at what is coming and beg him to forbear. The story is written in verse, which makes it all the more fun. It's all silliness, but there are also opportunities for learning. When the buffalo protests--"Your sneezes send everyone flying along"--he compares the elephant's sneeze to a gale or hurricane. Voila! Ready-made vocabulary lesson! "Evan, do you know what a gale is?"

When it comes to the bees, their concern is that once again the elephant's sneeze will blow off their stingers and they'll have to again "make do / With rose thorns and glue." So we learn that bees don't bite but have stingers. The fish are afraid the elephant's sneeze is going to blow off their scales and give their gills the chills, so we learn about what scales and gills are. The bear worries that the elephant's sneeze is going to again blow off all his hair and leave him spending the winter (hibernation, anyone?) in long underwear: "Nothing's so sad as a bear that is bare."

Jackpot. Later in the day, after we had read the story several times through (and the part about the hippopotamus falling on his "bottom-us" at least ten times), I found a simple drawing book that we already had on our shelf. I gave Evan a sheet of storybook paper--blank on top and ruled on bottom--and had him draw a bear step-by-step with me modeling the steps for him on another sheet of paper. (As simple as the approach in the book above is, I simplified it even more. Our bears were mostly made of circles and ovals.) Then on the lines below the drawing we wrote, "The bear is bare." We talked about the words "bear" and "bare" and how they are different and discussed how sentences start with capital letters and end with periods.

So much more interesting than copying lines of a's and b's in a handwriting book or working our way in order through a spelling or drawing book. And because the lesson grew organically out of something Evan enjoyed he was fairly cooperative. Mostly. Invoking his points helped keep him on task. (We have a point system by which Evan is able to earn points for above and beyond behavior. Once he has earned 50 points he can cash them in on a reward, and right now he is particularly motivated because his DS is broken and he is trying to earn points so as to get help from Mom & Dad in buying a "new"--it will be used--one.)

When Evan was done with the picture and writing I had him carry it to his sister and brother for affirmation and then we hung it on the bulletin board to share with Dad when he got home. All in all a pretty successful lesson, and I didn't find it in a curriculum guide. And it may be a week or more before we do something similar, and that's okay. It will happen when we stumble on another great reading moment.

There's more to "Stand Back," Said the Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!" than I can adequately share here, both in learning possibilities (all those animals!) and enjoyment. I recommend it for anyone that has children in the preschool/primary age group.


Elephantschild said...

My parent's copy of that book eventually fell apart, if I recall, because it got read so often!

Ewe said...

Thanks for this. I own this book and I read it to my class when I was student teaching, but I never read it to my students at the Lutheran classical school or to my boys! I'll pull it out today.