Experiential Science: Weather

My kids wanted to learn all about weather, so I cobbled together several resources to make a unit.  You may notice that we watch a lot of videos in this unit.  Not only are videos an engaging way of presenting some of the more abstract concepts related to weather (like air pressure and air currents), but my kids are thoroughly excited about watching videos related to anything at all lately, so any video I found was a win.  I tried to find a video or three (almost all short ones!) to go with each topic, but also a hands-on activity for every topic, as well.  Hopefully you’ll find plenty of fodder for exploring weather, whether you are a video-lover or not.

Much of my unit was based on this 3rd grade unit from the Williams College website, though I adapted the activities for home use.

We started our science unit by talking about water.  Since 71% of the earth is covered by water, it has a big impact on weather.  To emphasize just how much water there is on the earth, we used our big inflatable globe and tossed it from person to person, tallying how often the tip of our right thumb hit land and how often it was in water when we caught the globe.  Sure enough, we had seven “land” tallies and 18 “water” tallies. Continue reading


how i became an accidental homeschooler

I homeschool my kids.  I still cringe to say it, still word it as “teaching them myself” or grimace apologetically when people ask where my kids go to school.  The area in which I grew up–where we lived until recently–was NOT a homeschool-friendly community.  Despite having been homeschooled myself in third and eighth grade (and loving it–though my mom didn’t dare do it long-term), I still shared that negative view of “weird homeschoolers.”  And then I became one.

How, you may wonder, does one unsuspectingly turn into a homeschooler?  Well, here’s our story, for what it’s worth.

The agony began early, when Peatie was three and folks started questioning why he wasn’t in preschool.  (He has a fall birthday and he’s tall, so people thought he should have been in school before he actually could have been.)  At that point, we took the time to peruse preschool options, ultimately deciding to invest no more than a year in preschool.  You can read about that agony in this post from 2012.

Just after his fourth birthday, Peatie was standing in the laundry room while I loaded the washer.  “Mommy, what’s wol?” he asked, pointing to the word “low” on the dryer–which he had just sounded out, backwards, but completely unprompted.  In addition, Peatie was very curious about numbers, and he had begun making up his own simple story problems in play.  At that point, a new conversation arrived in our household: what do we do with a child who’s developing basic reading and number skills all on his own a year-and-a-half before kindergarten?

At the same time, I began hearing stories from parents of the first wave of full-day kindergarteners.  Their kids were coming home tired and cranky.  They needed alone time and play time, but they were given an hour of homework each night.  Teachers informed the parents, “Your child WILL read by Thanksgiving!” without regard for individual readiness.  Children who had begun reading and loving it were quickly burnt out by the boring required reading they were assigned.  Classrooms had no toys, and children spent most of the day doing seatwork; the only recess was combined with lunchtime.

Still, the parents encouraged me to put my kids in preschool.  “If your child doesn’t know how to sit quietly and work on worksheets, he’s not going to do well.  They’ll make him sit out of the special classes like gym and art.”

I began to have misgivings.  Peatie showed every indication of sharing his father’s inattentive-type ADHD; potential academic boredom mixed with a full day of seatwork surrounded by over-stimulating decorations and two dozen wiggling peers would probably not produce a positive experience for him.

In the midst of this mental agony, I had a couple moms approach me and say, “So, I hear you’re homeschooling.”  They took me completely by surprise, and I denied the accusation.  I was in no way homeschooling; I was merely not sending my kids to preschool.  We did nothing remotely resembling schooling at our home.

But the seed was planted.  As ‘Love and I continued to agonize, the idea of homeschooling kept coming up.  I checked out several homeschooling books from the library and began looking for information online.  After a lot of reading and researching and pondering, I was sold on the idea–at least for the younger years.  ‘Love was still unconvinced.  Having never experienced homeschooling himself, he had no positive associations to combat the negative ones.  He did agree, however, that we could see how the kids progressed during Peatie’s final “preschool” year and even do a trial year of homeschool in kindergarten.

That was two years ago.  At this point, Peatie would be finishing public kindergarten and Goobie would be ending her preschool career.  In the past two years, ‘Love has become wholeheartedly enthusiastic about homeschooling.  That’s not to say we will never consider sending our kids to school, but for our family at this time, homeschooling is definitely proving to be the best option.

In the past two years, I’ve added dozens of other reasons for loving homeschooling to my once-short list.  Those, however, I’ll save for another day.

to preschool, or not to preschool?

When I was little, I didn’t go to preschool.  I thought this was normal: the little girl down the block didn’t go, either.  As an adult I have learned that, then and now, EVERYONE goes to preschool.  Our family and the one down the block were apparently anomalies.

Our oldest turned three last fall; thus, he would be eligible for a typical three-year-old preschool class this coming fall.  At the beginning of the calendar year, when all the local preschools were opening enrollment for the coming fall and advertising open houses (which, by the way, seems totally wrong—to have to sign up for preschool six months in advance for someone for whom six months is like a lifetime), ‘Love and I investigated.  So far, so good.

We visited the preschool that meets in our church.  It gets rave reviews from parents, and I’ve heard it favorably compared to other area preschools by more than one seemingly choosy mom.  Then it got complicated.  You see, I bothered to look at the curriculum outline provided at the open house.  It had a list of objectives, and it included items like the following (my responses in italics):

–          Learn to play nicely, taking turns and sharing.  Shouldn’t children already have a basic understanding of that if they’re preschool age?   I mean, I know they aren’t great at it, but isn’t this something that you’re supposed to be working on at home and on playdates?  I guess this one is fine and all, but it’s nothing earth-shattering.

–          Identify primary colors.  Surely they can’t mean primary colors, can they?  I mean, that’s only red, yellow, and blue.  No, no, they really do mean it—here in the four-year-old objectives it lists secondary color identification.  Seriously?  Our kids knew their primary colors by age two!  This is ridiculous.

–          Learn the alphabet.  Learn it?  That’s it?  Doesn’t every kid walk through the door already singing the alphabet song? 

–          Discuss seasons.  I don’t need to send the kids to school to discuss seasons.  I do that perfectly well at home. 

The whole list continued along those lines.  Now, I don’t think my kids are uncommonly brilliant or anything, so I’m surprised that items like these make it into a curriculum list.  Maybe I’m expecting too much of parents, figuring that they DO sing the alphabet song at home and talk about the world around them…but I’d like to think that’s pretty normal, basic parenting stuff.

One brief visit to the preschool revealed five little children seated at a table, quietly squeezing appropriate-sized drops of glue onto ever-larger dots; another stop at church found the whole preschool in pajamas, gathered to watch a Disney movie for the duration of their school day.

For this, I would pay about $150 per month.  If I wanted my child to “learn through fun,” I would have to pay an extra fee and send him for an additional day.

Shouldn’t all learning be done through play—fun—at this age?  Isn’t that what researchers have been telling folks?  I mean, I watch my son pour water in the tub, and he’s checking out how fast it flows through the different sized holes in the bottom of the cups, looking to see what happens if he pushes that hole-riddled cup into the tub water, what it does if he tips it sideways…  He’s learning all the time, and it’s accomplished through his own curious play and through the questions he thinks to ask me.

After being thus disappointed by a highly-regarded local preschool, I looked into a few more, only to be similarly let down.  Curricula included items that my kids have already soaked up, for the most part, and the formats just did not impress me–they were just like big kid school, only with pint-sized students.

First day of school

This is me on my first day of kindergarten. Little did I know the torture ahead of me…

I was a teacher.  I say this to clarify that I have nothing against school as an institution, necessarily, but…  For both my husband and me, school was not a pleasant place.  He was always a head taller than his classmates and was introverted to boot; I was a perfectionistic lover of learning with a large vocabulary.  Neither of us particularly fit in with our classmates.  Beyond that, it was boring—full of repetition, painfully slow lessons, and meaningless worksheets.

Our children are doomed.  Not only were their parents misfits, but we are passing our craziness along.  We never did bother to hook up the antenna on our analog TV after moving nearly two years ago.  We live very frugally and don’t spend much money on toys or entertainment.  We read—a lot.  We go to church weekly.  We garden.  We despise the commercialization of childhood and avoid anything with Disney’s Princess or Cars—or any other TV-character-turned-product-pusher— when humanly possible.  Our poor, precious little dears are not going to fit in well with their classmates.

My dilemma, then, is twofold.  First, is there any point to sending a child to preschool?  Do they actually gain anything from the experience?  I doubt they’re going to gain much on the academic front, but will any social gains be big enough to justify the price tag?  (It’s not cheap—and on a tight budget, there’s going to have to be significant sacrifice to find enough money to pay for the experience.)

And second, do I really want to send my kids off to school any earlier than I really have to?  School is where you discover that you don’t fit, where you learn that it’s not okay to make mistakes.  School is where you worry about whether others like you or not, and where you are laughed at and ridiculed by those who don’t.  Do I really want to send my little ones to that doom any earlier than I need to?  Or is it okay to keep them home with me for another year or two, to send them to Story Hour at the library and to Sunday School at church and to have playdates for “socialization”?  Can I let them learn in their own way and encourage their curiosity and delight in discovery at home—or will I be depriving them of something greater?

I know if I do choose to skip preschool, I will be branding myself a misfit among local mommies.  I’ve already begun to get the questions—“Isn’t Peatie old enough for preschool yet?”  “You’re not sending him in the fall?  Certainly you’ll send him NEXT year though!”  Must I be a misfit again to protect my little ones for a bit longer?  Or will it only make things worse for them, too?  Oh, the many questions of motherhood!