Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Problem With Math


October was a beautiful month. The weather was warm. We took a vacation. And my son told me he was enjoying geometry. Enjoying geometry may not sound like an earth-shattering comment, but it was for me. Math has been a constant struggle for about two years now. It hadn't always been that way. When he was young, math was one of his favorite subjects, next to history. He was quick to understand concepts and could do most calculations in his head. He was confident in his skills. Then we hit the big stuff - four digit multiplication, long division and the like. Stuff that I didn't think you could do in your head. Steps you had to work out on paper. He hates to work out stuff on paper. He hates lots of tedious steps. He fought me constantly. We struggled through fifth grade math. 

This year we went back to a full Waldorf curriculum, including math blocks, starting with geometry in October. In Waldorf,  sixth grade geometry is all hands on, making drawings with compass and straight edge - no calculations or formulas yet. He loved it. He looked forward to the drawings. He enjoyed the process and the coloring of the design. It was wonderful; yes, almost blissful. Then October ended, and so did geometry.

I was using Jamie York's Making Math Meaningful curriculum and daily practice. I think it's a good program - a mix of mental math, word problems and review problems of previously learned material every week, with only a few problems of each. It didn't look overwhelming, and yet we were back to the same struggle. He wouldn't finish his work for the week, or simply write down random numbers for answers. Eventually, he just refused to do anymore math. Ever. Period.

I would love to tell you that I handled all of this with the utmost grace and patience. I have tried to encourage and offer support. I have also yelled. I have threatened. I have predicted a life of burger slinging and poverty wages. Of course none of that made any difference. Of course it only made things worse.  We were both frustrated.

What I had also been doing was researching. It's a natural response for me, and it has served me well over the years. I had compiled lists of books and web sites. I was reading articles and going through curriculum. Before Christmas, I just happened to open an Amazon sale email one morning. Normally, I delete them without evening looking, but for some reason I opened it and there was a picture of Mathematical Mindsets, a book from my wish list, with the notice that it would be going on a flash sale at noon. I took it as a sign and bought the book. Yes, it was divine intervention.

I began reading Mathematical Mindsets in the week before Christmas and I thought, "I want to discuss this book with other moms." I wanted the kind of conversations I had during inspiring in-services when I was a classroom teacher. I wanted to pick brains, compare stories, dig deep into the revelatory information contained between those pages. Perhaps my friends might be interested? Perhaps there might be more? I had been watching the ever-inspiring Julie Bogart on Periscope and had joined the Bravescopes Facebook group. Julie often speaks of having "big juicy conversations" with your kids, so why not have them with other homeschooling moms? I let the idea lounge around for awhile because I was nervous. Nervous that nobody would be interested. Nervous that I would start a group with myself as the sole member. But once I have an idea in my head I don't let it go without a fight, so I took the leap and started the group, Big Juicy Conversations About Math. It's been about a month, and we have almost 100 members! 

I intend to share our math journey here as well as in the group. To reflect on what we did right when they were young. To analyze where we went wrong these last few years. To begin to chart a new course, a new way of approaching math without tedious steps and a page full of practice problems. To bring back the joy. I hope you will join me.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

No Excuses Art Journal

A Pinterest posting led me down a blog path that ended with the mention of the book the No Excuses Art Journaling book by Gina Rossi Armfield. The method looked interesting and I could borrow it for free on our Kindle Unlimited, so I thought I'd give it a try. Basically, it gives structure to your art journaling - things to record/draw each month, as well as a few quick daily and weekly projects. It's still pretty loose, but I think that little bit of structure has given me more incentive to practice more regular journaling (so far, but I've just started so we'll see how this goes). She recommends using a weekly planner as your art journal, but since I'm just starting this in September, I chose a partially used Moleskine sketchbook.

The collage inspiration for the month


Color, word and image inspiration for the month



Weekly watercolor card (and the weekly art journal challenge #1 for my art classes)


Page in progress

So, what is the difference between an art journal and a sketchbook? For some, nothing. For me, I tend to add more personal writing, quotes and ephemera to my art journals, and explore with more mediums. My sketchbooks tend to be drawing focused, and I usually stick with ink or pencil. However, survey 100 different artists and you'll get 100 different answers. Whatever you call it, just do it. The important part is getting that pen (or pencil or brush) to paper!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Happy Labor Day


To all of those who labor for their families and communities, thank you.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Super Cute Felt


During a web library search for a different felt book, I stumbled upon Super-Cute Felt Animals by Laura Howard and thought I'd give it a try. The patterns are simple, very simple, but that makes for perfect beginning sewing projects for kids. The animals are also small, around four inches on average, which makes them super quick to finish - another bonus when sewing with children! My eleven year old is learning to hand sew this year, so we worked together on a few projects from the book:


and here are the fish and the whale on this month's nature table:




If you have even moderate sewing experience, you may find this book a little disappointing. These designs have a single front and back piece, which makes them essentially flat, even when stuffed. For felt animals that I plan to sew for the little guy, I'm using slightly more complicated patterns from another book. That said, I have enjoyed working on these projects! They are super fast, as in whip one up after breakfast for play time that morning fast, and my son can complete one without getting frustrated. They would make cute ornaments or backpack friends, and although I could draw up the patterns myself, it is so much more convenient to trace or photocopy them and hand them off to be completed by the next available child. I would definitely give this book a whirl if you have a beginning sewer and can find it at your local library.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Guest post at Waldorf Essentials



I have a guest post today about planning for the school year over at the Waldorf Essentials blog. Please pop over and check it out!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dangerous Things



I spent an afternoon binge listening to the NPR TED Radio Hour podcast while I sorted through our bookshelves and homeschooling supplies recently.  If you've never heard them, you must subscribe; seriously, do it right now. You won't regret it. For the podcast, they pick a theme, then play portions of TED talks which relate to that theme, and also interview the presenters. A talk, 5 dangerous things you should let your kids do, caught my attention. Granted, the notion that you should allow your children to take risks or try activities that might not be approved by the AAP is not a new idea, but this talk sparked a little more reflection than usual on my part. The older kids were spending a week with their grandparents, and during a FaceTime call my son showed us the sewing machine he had just made a project on. My first reaction was surprise and a little thrill, since he really enjoyed sewing (hooray!). My husband's first reaction was something like, "Wow, be careful using that." He saw danger. I did not.

The next day my father in law called to ask how to cook the allergy friendly mac and cheese I sent up. After talking him through the steps I mentioned that Madeline could help, since she had made it before at home. He noted his concern about boiling water. He saw danger. I did not.

While camping, my husband taught Max how to make a camp fire. He let him build it, feed it and stoke it. It was a pretty big fire. I saw danger. He did not.

Upon reflection, I realized how intimately connected the risk we allow our kids is intertwined with our own feeling of expertise. My mother in law and myself are completely comfortable with kids using a sewing machine because we both sew. I sewed on machines at ten years old. I started cooking around that age, too. Baking actually - from scratch, the whole nine yards. So I feel comfortable with teaching my kids to use the stove and oven. My father in law, and my husband for that matter, see the risk, because they are not comfortable in the kitchen. Just as I saw the risk with the camp fire, which is not part of my responsibilities when we camp.

Of course, now the question becomes how do we get comfortable with risks that are outside our areas of expertise? Oh, that is the catch, isn't it? How did my mother feel comfortable with me using the oven when she'd never made a cookie from scratch in her life? While I'm pretty good at letting my kids use tools and appliances to create what they wish, I'm much more protective with physical risks. Climb that towering tree? Jump off of high places? That's much harder for me to approve. And yet we know that's exactly what we should be doing, within reason. We should be allowing for wings to expand, for space to explore, for challenges that just might cause injury, but definitely will cause pride and a sense of accomplishment.

It's still an open question for me. I am making more of a conscious effort this year to allow more risks in areas I feel comfortable with (more sewing!!!) but also encouraging my husband to expose the kids   to things he feels confident in (power tools, anyone?). And those dangerous things that scare me? Well, for now, once in awhile, I will try to smile and say, "sure, but be careful." Try.

Do you allow your kids to do "dangerous things"?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Not Back to School


Well, it's that time of year again, when we homeschoolers don't go back to school.  We started our day with a walk to the park, and unfortunately, the timing was just wrong on this shot so I didn't capture their sweet hand in hand stride.


Both kids are starting off with sound for physics this year, so our first board went with the poem by Rumi, "The Breeze at Dawn."


Alex got his own board to match the ocean theme of his nature table this month. We have been making little felt creatures to go with it, but more on that in the next post.

Two days in and we all survived. It's a heavy academic year, with both kids in middle school, and the planning this summer was tremendous. I know it will pay off, but I have to admit that I am somewhat mourning the loss of my last month of summer! It is fantastic to be back in that learning rhythm. I do like having more structure to the days, and that sense of accomplishment when items are checked off of the to-do list. The school rhythm is a work in progress, as right now I only have academics scheduled. I'll be using the next two weeks to figure out where to add in form drawing, handwork projects, exercise for the kids and piano. Yes, form drawing in middle school. We haven't done much of it, since we came to Waldorf late, but I think both kids could still benefit from it, especially to improve handwriting. Madeline enjoys it; she says she finds it meditative. Isn't it fantastic when they unexpectedly express exactly what is supposed to be happening on a deeper level? Then you really know this "crazy" Waldorf stuff is working!