Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Un-lesson un-plans

Things are feeling schooly around here in recent days, when we're not at the beach, fishing, or fighting giant beasts with our incredible weapons and magical powers.

Karl has taken an interest in math workbooks. He also loves to practice writing, so he has been burning through color markers writing anything we will spell for him. Karl's focus on his "schoolwork" gets the older boys interested, so quite often we have all three sitting at the dinette, bent over workbooks for roughly the duration of a class period.

Billy and Leo are practicing multiplication tables while taking walks. We've been watching Schoolhouse Rock. Okay, that probably doesn't seem schooly to schoolers, but when a week can go by without us doing anything that resembles a traditional lesson, Schoolhouse Rock is practically a lecture series.

Computer games are ever more popular. We don't have a gaming system, but we have PC, Mac, and iPhone platforms, with a fair number of free or cheap games for each. Chess is as popular as the fancy cinematic flying dinosaur (?) game. Specifically educational games are still in the mix, including a barebones typing tutor that they demand turns at -- it has no entertainment component, but they love it. Go figure.

The older boys are finally enjoying reading aloud and to themselves. This is huge for me. I was an early and eager reader. Joe was also a voracious reader as a child, but only after he learned to read fluently, which was "late" by the common standard. Although I am really happy with unschooling, I admit I've had some anxiety about reading acquisition.

Joe and I read plenty, for ourselves and aloud to the kids, but we don't insist that they do so. We keep books at all levels available to them. They read signs and cereal boxes. They navigate with the GPS and read instructions and backstory in their games. And we all listen to audiobooks.

Audiobooks are great because they allow them to hear language and story development that is beyond their reading level, building vocabulary and a natural sense of grammar and literary rhythm. We download audiobooks for free through the state library system. We also listen to podcasts, such as Stuff You Missed in History Class. There are also some excellent science podcasts out there.

But while listening builds some aspects of literacy, it doesn't replace reading and writing practice. So it's been fun to have them becoming more interested in reading the printed word. We have carefully selected books and random hand-me-downs in our tiny library. The ones they're currently excited about were gleaned from giveaways because I will never forget how much I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books (and similar series, like Twist-A-Plot).

The older two take turns reading and choosing, and they help each other with new or difficult words. They seem to process language in slightly different ways--Billy a bit more like Joe, Leo more like me, but not as far apart on the spectrum as Joe and I are. We all enjoy the anticipation and the discussion of the choices, and even Karl is consulted for his opinion as often as not.

It's really fun sharing their discovery of books with interactive plots. And it's kind of a relief to hear them read, to see that they love to read, and to know they will choose to read when there are other options available to them.

Finally, a shoutout to an unlikely unschooling tool: Google Voice Search (for iPhone). They are wild for it. The first thrill comes when they decide what words to use to search for something. The second comes from delivering the miniature "presentation" -- speaking clearly enough into the receiver to be properly interpreted. Then they get to read what Google "thought" they said (many, many giggles start here), and to view the pages or videos that their search turned up. This game requires close parental monitoring, which is fun and educational for us -- what would our 9-year-old selves have asked the global computer index?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Home, sweet Florida!

For the first time since choosing this as our state of legal domicile, we are here in Florida. We have registered our vehicles and picked up new drivers' licenses. We still need to transfer our health insurance, register as voters, and enroll in our chosen umbrella school for homeschooling. A few more hoops, but nothing difficult.

We spent the first nights in our new home state at Fort Clinch State Park, which is just across an inlet from Georgia. Our campsite was just a few feet from a beach with shells, nifty marine life (we found a tiny pipefish!), and a long fishing pier. A dredging operation was setting up and moving up and down the beach, and fishing boats motored by, dropping and hauling nets. For kids who love Dirty Jobs, dredging prep and fishing are good entertainment!

We didn't go see the fort, but there is one. And we also didn't take a native's suggestion to visit Big Talbot Island State Park on the way south. And that's okay. We're not out to "do it all" or to see everything possible -- we're just living.

After a few days there, we had to move on, as Fort Clinch had a full dance card for the weekend. We moved south to Faver-Dykes State Park where we booked a full two weeks. So far, we've spent time canoeing, playing computer games, bicycling, practicing math and reading, walking the nature trail, and "just" playing. We drove to Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, and enjoyed the contrast of planned rose gardens and spring-fed carp ponds with nature trails through the wild hammock.

We've enjoyed learning the history of the parks we visit. I'll post a bit about that soon.