Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Self-Directed Learning

Many homeschoolers have read the articles by Peter Gray, who blogs at Psychology Today in Freedom to Learn. He wrote an article on the differences between Progressive Education and Self Directed Learning, which I thought was a useful distinction, and wanted to note here that Self Directed Learning is an environment in which the child:

1.  has unlimited time and freedom to play and explore
2.  has access to the most useful tools of the culture
3. is embedded in a caring community of people who range widely in age and exemplify a wide variety of skills, knowledge, and ideas
4. has access to a number of adults who are willing to answer questions (or try to answer them) and provide help when asked

He writes, further, Education, in this view, is not a collaboration of student and a teacher; it is entirely the responsibility of the student.  While progressive educators continue to see it as their responsibility to ensure that students acquire certain knowledge, skills, and values, and to evaluate students’ progress, facilitators of Self-Directed Education do not see that as their responsibility. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Yousician for Ukulele

 Our friend Chris here in Helsinki started a company a few years back called Yousician. They develop software that teaches people how to play ukulele, guitar and piano, and we've found it to be excellent. We started out learning piano and are now subscribers. You can see a screenshot of how it works...you play along with a kind of tablature, seen above, at a tempo that you can speed up and slow down as you wish. It works well.

At Slush last year we received a Yousician ukulele, which we hadn't been using, but which we picked up and started playing this spring. We've used Yousician to learn piano, and ukulele was just as easy.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Trip to Japan

Being able to travel off peak travel times is one of the best things about homeschooling. We managed to get ourselves some last minute tickets to Japan in April, and were able to take a quick trip there. Cherry Blossoms were blooming and Sakura Day happened while we were there, and we walked on the grounds of the Palace in Ueno Park to see the blossoms falling from the trees.

Japanese culture is very different from ours. As a writing and research project, our daughter was assigned the project of taking photos of, and writing an essay about, all the differnt and novel kinds of food she encountered there. We took a few trips to the grocery store, ate at a variety of restaurants, including a ramen place, a shabu-shabu restaurant, a sushi restaurant, a bakery and a yakitori place. Tokyo is full of amazing restaurants.

We organized for a local teenage girl to show our daughter to all the special "cafes" with animals that are all over Tokyo--the Cat Cafe, the Hedgehog Cafe, the Bird Cafe. There is a huge kawaii culture in Japan--the culture of cute! Even the dogs in Japan are cuter than dogs anywhere else.

I want to go back next year! our daughter exclaimed.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


This week we are learning about setting goals, and how it is that people achieve the things they set out to do. We talked about how without setting goals you don't have a road map of where you are going and could end up just anywhere.

We talked through our goals for Sesat School this year, which are:
  • Mastery of Fourth Grade Math
  • Speak Basic Spanish
  • Reading 200 books this year (then we discussed whether or not this was possible, or even desirable!)
  • Play 6-8 songs on the piano with two hands
  • Finish writing a story and Submit to Stone Soup
Then we set 15 year goals, 10 year goals and 1 year goals. These were fun! Dreaming about what could be, where we'd want to live, who we'd have in our lives. Do we want to have a lot of friends, or just 2-3 really good friends? Do we want to live in the country or the city? Where do we want to travel?

We've been continuing today with more learning about goal setting, and how you achieve things a little bit at a time, by working every day. We watched this video about this:

Then, to really drive the point home (and because my daughter has expressed an interest in learning how to play the violin) we watched these videos from a Norwegian woman who taught herself to play the violin, and videotaped her progress as she improved. She went from being a complete beginner to being able to play extremely well in two years. It is quite impressive!

We wanted to learn more about how she had done it, how much she had practiced, so we watched her follow up video. Turns out she practiced sometimes an hour a day, sometimes 15 minutes, and sometimes, not any practice at all. She took a total of 8 lessons during the two years, and taught herself to play by watching videos on YouTube. But she kept at it day after day.

 This has been a really great area of study for us! And it's only been two days. Looking forward to the rest of this week as we work more on goal creation, and getting closer to them every day.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Non-Stop Reading: The Land of Stories

Well, we're on to the fifth book in The Land of Stories series, and it looks like there is a sixth and final book on its way. Maybe after she reads that I'll see my daughter again? She was introduced to this series by one of her friends in Language Arts and Book Club.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Book Club: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

For book club this month my daughter mistakenly started reading The Black Stallion. But that was not the book this month! So we got started reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and finished it just in time.

I was never a fan of fantasy books when I was young--that was my sister's domain. I didn't like The Hobbit, or any of the Lord of the Rings (though I read them all!). I got into science fiction as a teenager, but not for long. And fantasy never took hold. I remembered starting this book, and got as far as Lucy meeting the faun, and visiting his house, and coming back through the wardrobe and her siblings not believing her when she told of her journey. But I never got any further. I am a new convert!

It was not my daughter's favorite, though she said as she was nearing the end, "This is a REALLY good book." It is.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A love of writing

One of the things I had hoped to instill in our children is a love of reading, and a love of writing. We've been studying writing with our groups of homeschool friends using the Institute of Excellence in Writing, and the results have been amazing. Her vocabulary has grown tremendously and her sentence structure has become wonderfully complex. She has learned to express herself in different voices, different tones, different moods. She elaborates and simplifies. So good!

Another workbook we have been using for vocabulary building is Wordly Wise, which also seems to be working well.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Class outside

It has been raining in San Francisco for the past five months, with barely a break. So when the sun came out, it was almost impossible for Lisa to keep the kids inside and focused on learning the lines in their scripts. So they took class outside.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Learning Languages

We already speak two languages at home, and recently have begun adding a third. We chose Spanish, because it is a language I already speak passably well, because it is one of the most widespread languages in the world, and because it has always seemed to me to be one of the easier languages to learn.

I recently read Fluent Forever, an excellent book about learning languages, which recommends learning pronunciation first, getting in the habit of daily practice, even in small amounts, using flashcards, specifically the Anki app (which repeats words at intervals shown to be the most effective).

I have used iTalki to learn Finnish, but I found an even more effective route for learning Spanish, the Homeschool Spanish Academy. It has been great! Every morning we speak to a native Spanish speaker from Guatemala for a half an hour. The prices are affordable enough to schedule a daily lesson--$9 a class, and $6.50 if you buy classes in bulk. We have had a different Spanish teacher each day, but they stick to a consistent course, and so it is not an issue.

There is homework to review. but there is nothing like a private 1:1 lesson to get you speaking the language quickly and easily.

Learning a language is most easily done in where it is spoken, so we hope to travel and enroll in a language school in Spain or somewhere in South or Central America. But until then this is a great way to learn.

Friday, February 24, 2017

I love a good planetarium

While we were in Salt Lake City, we visited the Clark Planetarium, and the kids loved it. There was an exhibit where you could construct your own rockets and see how they fared after launch -- if they were able to get into orbit, or break free of Earth's gravity. Another exhibit was a scale that you could stand on and see what you weighed on various planets.

We had originally come to see a movie about extreme weather, which was so-so, but stayed to experience all the interactive exhibits.

We spent several hours there.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Phys Ed, Homeschool Style

Oh how I dreaded Phys. Ed. when I was a kid. I hated everything about it: changing my clothes in the locker room, being the least athletic kid in the class, coming last in the foot races, and even though I had always been the best kickball player during recess, and could chase the boys faster than any other girl, I never excelled in anything in Phys. Ed. After school sports I liked: tennis, ski team, even archery and dance class. But ugh, Phys Ed.

So as a homeschooler, there are both fewer and more chances to engage in physical activity. You can run around outside all the time, even take your classes outside, or learn while walking (which we adapted from our grown-up "walking meetings"). Hikes are doable during the weekdays, even. Dancing class happens. And whenever you want you can go skiing.

We just took a week and went skiing in Utah. We skiied and skiied as much as we could. Our legs were sore. We learned to keep our skis parallel. We graduated from Green slopes to Blue (with the grownups and the more adventuresome kids breaking off to do the occasional black diamonds.) The best kind of physical activity: fun, exhilarating, exhausting.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Llamas in Washington

We went up to Washington earlier this week to visit Rachel, who had been, until a couple years ago, our childrens' beloved nanny, and teacher. She was my daughter's first teacher, starting from birth. So warm and loving and thoughtful and kind and full of life and wisdom and sweetness. The very best kind of teacher to have.

We were lucky enough to stay in the Arcadia Farm and Inn in Port Angeles, where there were dozens of animals--7 dogs, 2 llamas, 2 horses, 16 sheep, chickens, about a dozen goats--baby goats, even!--cats. It was wonderful. The llamas even came to our window looking for snacks, and we were allowed to help out in the barn, feeding and caring for the animals.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Theatre practice

Theatre class is a wonderful way of learning to work together, to collaborate and create something with others. Many people say team sports are a good way to do those things, but for those not thusly inclined, plays are a great way to accomplish many of the same things.

Lisa Townsend is a gifted theatre teacher in Bolinas and the kids have been learning the words, music, script and dances of Matilda, a play based on the book by Roald Dahl.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Oakland Zoo Visit

A spontaneous visit to the Oakland Zoo with some of our homeschool friends. We met this delightful turtle, and saw for the first time actual hyenas! Our daughter has been studying and admiring hyenas for a while, and I'd been promising her we'd visit this zoo in Oakland where we'd see some.

We also heard the lion roar.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Book Club: Five Children and It

The first book of our homeschool book club this September was Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit. We've read so many excellent books this past year, and this one wasn't one of my favorites, or my daughter's. But for each book club we have a project, based on the book. Some of the kids make dioramas of certain scenes, others make games based on a books' themes, and once one of the girls wrote an entire rap, which she performed, called The Rap of Nimh. It was so good.

My daughter made a model in clay of the "it" in the book, the sand-fairy. It was an ugly little thing, but the sand fairy was not meant to be pretty. He was grumpy, reluctant and scowling.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Astrup Fernley Museet, Oslo

We really enjoyed our visit to the Astrup Fearnley Museum in Oslo when we were passing through. There are dozens of outdoor sculptures around the museum, and a guide to them made for children to find them--it was quite a game to find them all, especially the Gormley sculpture attached to the side of the building. We learned about sculptures of Louise Bourgeois, Udo Rondinone, Paul Kelly, and even Damien Hirst, whose sliced up cows were not particularly appreciated by this one art lover. We talked about all the art we saw--we spent hours there--and what they could mean, what the artist could be trying to tell us, what we saw in them ourselves. A perfect day of art.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Big Tables

I love big tables, much needed for homeschooling. In this picture you can see our workbooks, handwriting practice, my Roberto BolaƱo and I Ching, storyboards for a proposed vampire movie starring child vampires, drawings inspired by our latest reading about London evacuees from WWII, and a diagram of the parts of a mushroom.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Visiting the Peruskoulu in Helsinki

Our daughter's friend Kerttu invited her to join her for a day in the Finnish elementary school she attended, so she went. School only lasted half a day, for about 4 hours, had lots of breaks to go outside and play and involved a lot of art projects, such as finger-weaving. The teacher was friendly and welcoming.

Finnish schools don't have iPads, or smart boards or anything our 'advanced' schools in the US have--and yet they are famous for being the best-ranked schools in the world. This classroom could have been set up in the 1960s: not a computer in sight!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

String Figures

There has been a mania for string figures recently, with the kids mastering Jacob's Ladder, Cat's Cradle, the Witch's Broom, and even the dynamic Walk the Dog. You can learn most of them by using YouTube videos.

There is also a book about String Figures by Harry Smith, the guy who created the amazing, weird, and wonderful Anthology of American Folk Music and who served as Shaman-In-Residence at the Naropa Institute.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Playing Chess

Clas Olson was having a sale on a 5 game set (chess, checkers, backgammon, five man morris, and dominoes) so I bought it, and the children wanted to learn to play chess. I taught them the basic rules, and they got the hang of it, playing many games over the summer.
I never was a very good chess player, but I remember wanting to play well, because the smart kids played chess. I even joined the chess club in 5th grade. It’s a great game.