Thursday, March 17, 2011

SAHM Struggle: Clean Rooms

I am a proponent of teaching kids organizational skills, just like any other life skill - hand washing, polite speaking, and nice treatment to animals. We organize lots at my house (see my Organizing the Kitchen series) and I like discussing with Ty and Za where items belong, and why this goes here, that there, etc. Picking up is part of life, so we do it.

Then why does my house look like this?

It isn't my entire house I realize, but the toy room/my 'work' room (see my computer in the left corner?) is typically unwalkable. Most nights it is reassembled and most nights the kids and parents do it together.

See Za? She is having so much fun, surrounded by her books. She is 'reading' them, which thrills me as a mommy-teacher. She is in one of the first stages of reading, yay! So while I think that, the other mommy side of me thinks, "she should take one or two out, put it back, and then get more." The root of this worry is that I don't want my kids to be dependent people who rely on others to clean after them.

I also know that learning is a messy process. When I assemble a portfolio, I spread my papers everywhere and then sort them. When I write a research paper, I make piles of notecards and library books on the kitchen table. Learning is not a neat path that only takes place at a desk. I know this.

So then why do I stress so much over having a neat house? I shouldn't. I have two little kids, who want to learn and explore. I prefer their messiness to a lack of motivation or interest.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Education Theory: Unschooling

Type 'unschooling' into the search field in Twitter (or see it hashtagged as I often do with all my education pals), and you will gleam that an education movement is gaining momentum. I clicked on a few posts concerning unschooling and found interesting websites. One stood out, Why Unschool.
The website gave the following as the definition for unschooling:

Unschooling is an educational philosophy which holds that all children are born with a natural and insatiable curiosity, and that people learn best in non-coerced, self-directed situations. Unschooled children and teens choose which topics to learn and when, with encouragement from their parents, and without a curriculum. In other words, learning occurs when the child is engaged and interested in a subject that they themselves chose to study.

Several ideas popped into my mind when I read that. One, I related it to myself. I did not really care for high school, but enjoyed college beyond any expectations. I have always credited this to the idea that I chose what I studied. My degree is in English, and I packed my schedules with literature and writing courses. I had fun, and I learned in an honest, soul-wrenching way. I did not just pass tests and quizzes, I understood the material. When I researched papers, I grabbed more books off the library shelves then I needed because the subject matter thrilled me. I voraciously consumed information.

The second thought was that I do a bit of unschooling with Ty and Za, especially in the way that I allow them to lead me in their learning. Ty loves vehicles, and I used that interest to teach him colors. He was curious about everything concerning vehicles, so once we discussed their colors, I added on the parts - windshield, tires, wheels, doors - and we covered the letters required to spell all those parts. This of course led to other conversations about who assembled cars, where they were made, and how they needed fuel to run.

Za learned her colors in a different manner. She was actually more interested in learning her letters first, so when we would read alphabet books or identify letters associated with her toys or the household, colors came secondary. The order that my kids learned colors and letters was reversed, but they learned them in a way that had emotional connections for them, which is actually a brain-based learning theory, but that is way off topic.

So slowing down my thoughts, I am excited that I stumbled upon unschooling and researched it a bit. As a teacher, I had never heard of it, but it seems that teachers are encouraged to use some of its properties.

Unschooling still isn't well known enough for my Google spell-check to stop underlining it in red as I type this post. Unschooling, however, does have roots and valid points. I believe that some instances I have unschooled my children, and other parents have as well without realizing so.

For this education blog, I would appreciate more information about this subject. Any unschooling bloggers or writers who would like to leave a comment - feel free. I have a hunch I will be covering this for years to come.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Financial Friday: Birthday Savings

Birthday parties can be crazy expensive. I always want to find innovative and unique celebration ideas that do not require a bank loan. I also like ideas that are simple.

Are my kids the only ones who manage to destroy part of the cake before it is cut?

An interesting way to engage guests is to have them remark on the birthday child. For Ty and Za, my husband and I make a "top ten list" of the biggest changes, accomplishments, or cute things the birthday child has done in the past year. We make a poster out of them and post it during the party. We encourage our guests to add to the list. We compile the ideas into a page for the baby book. 

It is fun, interactive, and very cheap. It makes for good conversation fodder when you have people around who don't necessarily know each other, too!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Wonder Why Wednesday: Cheating Time

I wonder why (this Wednesday) how I am going to manage not cheating my second child out of time. I already know that this happens and I knew it would before Za was born. When she was a newborn, I did not sit and stare at her for the hours that I did with Ty. She got put in her bouncy seat so I could fix him lunch. I asked less questions at the pediatrician's office not necessarily because I knew more, but because I was too tired to write the questions down or remember them.

Baby Za feet.
I see this difference of time spent so clearly in their baby books. Ty's is thick with details, stories, journaling, and pictures. Za's, well, I wanted to do this section of her baby toes and fingers and I have just now realized that while I took pictures of her feet, I forgot to take them of her hands.

How do I stop this from happening? Why does it happen? Am I really that tired that the first child had so much more than the second? (And why did I not take pictures of her newborn hands after I took them of her feet?!)

I understand that no two children have the same experiences but I wonder why I cannot remember to do the extras for my second child. I realize that I am not forgetting important aspects, like feeding or reading, but it is those little extras that children so often remember, that make childhood the special time it is. Those extras are not always happening, and I wonder why and how I can fix it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Education Topic: Class Size

Small Classes vs. Large Classes: Another debate concerning education reform is class size. Bill Gates recently wrote for the Washington Post about education reform. In a later interview (again for the Washington Post) he had this to say:

If you look at something like class sizes going from 22 to 27, and paying that teacher a third of the savings, and you make sure it's the effective teachers you're retaining," he said, "by any measure, you're raising the quality of education as you do that."

No matter your opinion on Bill Gates' involvement in education, this is an important topic as it will influence our children. So... here are pros and cons concerning class size. Chime in with more examples in the comments and I will do a follow-up and give credit for your ideas!

Overall, positive associations with small class sizes deal with time. Teachers can devote more time to teach each student with a small class. Teachers can devote more time to each student, lesson planing to accommodate different types of learners, and grading for valuable feedback. Smaller classes also allow teachers to see more of what is occurring, like bullying. Sometimes small classes lead to close-knit groups which will also encourage group work and lessen bullying. The education is deemed personalized and tailored with small classes.

Negative associations with a small class size deal with student interaction. A problem exists if a small class has too many levels of students. If only one student out of fourteen continually struggles, she may be less likely to speak up, unlike if several students (more likely in a large class) had questions. A student may also be an outsider if cliques form in the small class. Additionally, teachers may finish material and not continue past where he would with another class he currently teaches, probably a larger class. This, however, may be an advantage for anti-homework advocates.

So are the advantages/disadvantages of large classes the exact opposite? Sure, and a bit more.

Positive associations of large classes deal with competition. If students are involved in a class topic or assignment, theoretically they will want to 'win.' The education is deemed realistic and preparatory for the students' next life stage. Large classes can create competition to drive students to study more, but that does not always happen.

Negative associations of large classes deal with how students get 'lost' among so many peers. Shy students may gladly blend into the rows of desks and apathetic ones will become more apathetic. Teachers cannot grade papers as thoroughly, even if they only have five extra to grade. Some schools do not have classrooms large enough to accommodate large classes, and students get the message that they are in the way.

Those are the positives and negatives I could think of concerning class size. So now it is your turn. What needs added to the pro/con conversation about small and large classes? Is Bill Gates right? Or should education continue aiming for small class sizes?

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