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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Slow Homeschool Training for a Fast Mama

I’m a FAST worker: I have a list and I conquer it quickly. Then I’m happy when I’m “done”. 

My son, on the other hand, takes his SWEET TIME. He is not “done” when something has been checked off his list, rather, it is the full absorption and focus of what he is presently learning that is important. It could take forever. I guess, sooner or later, we were bound to have a homeschool scheduling conflict.

It has always surprised me when I hear friends tell me that their homeschool kids complete their work in 2 hours. HOW is that possible? 

For the past year, I have felt like our homeschool day dragged too long. I had so many other “things” to do. I needed to cook. I needed to shower. I needed to run a couple of errands. I wanted to check Facebook. Heck, I wanted to blog! Why couldn’t we just fly through our homeschool day? Why couldn’t we just quickly transition from one subject to another? Every day, I would eventually get really frustrated and tell my son to “Be Quick!” Unfortunately, forcing my kid to hurry up ultimately created a lot of stress in our homeschool day and hindered his progress. 

In the end, I realized I was imposing my will on how my son naturally learned. Why indeed must his homeschool take only 2 hours? What was wrong with taking more time for his homeschool? Wasn’t it wonderful that he was so absorbed and involved in his learning? I was obviously preoccupied with my own needs and wants, not his. Instead of encouraging his pursuits, I was stifling them by rushing him. It was a flawed cycle that I needed to break. Homeschooling my son, after all, is our family’s priority.

So I decided:

  • I would LET HIM PLAN our homeschool day first thing every morning. Yup. I was relinquishing ALL control over the schedule. We would discuss what he wanted to accomplish each day. We would follow his plan for the day. 
  • I would not impose a time frame on any of his subjects or projects but I would ask him BEFOREHAND how much time he wanted to dedicate to each.

The results? Pretty surprising:
  • He transitions between subjects or projects more easily and quickly than before. Following his own plan motivates him to move forward. (Surprise, surprise!)
  • Some days, homeschool doesn’t take as long. Some days, it takes longer. Some days, we both enjoy it without frustration. Some days, this Mama still needs to keep her frustration in check.
  • My son’s attitude toward our homeschool day has changed for the better. He is more inspired, energized, and stimulated. I can see how much my son enjoys his SLOW homeschooling. 
  • I am learning more about how my son wants to learn and how:
    • He prefers to do ALL his subjects every homeschool day rather than do them a few times a week. 
    • He doesn’t like assigning the same amount of time per subject every day. 
    • He chooses to dedicate about an hour each morning to his DIY projects. The sense of purpose and happiness this hour brings to our homeschool day is immense and irreplaceable. 
The Independent Kid's Harry Potter Monster Book of Monsters with a SAFE inside.

    • His interests have blossomed and his independent self-directed learning has deepened in ways I never anticipated.
This is a purely self-directed project over and above what we do for science everyday. After 2 weeks of tinkering around with Brian Cox's Wonders App, my son drew and wrote some of his notes for his upcoming Science Fair Project. His project is entitled "If I were an Astronaut, where would I go?" He has been learning more everyday in preparation for his 10 minute presentation.
  • I am present for these amazing daily moments and I am choosing to enjoy the process with him. With my camera and my Project Based Homeschooling (yes, click on that link!) notebook in hand, I document his progress and I am prioritizing my son’s education. Just as it should be!
One of his entries in his Grateful Journal.
    Almost E.V.E.R.Y. night since I allowed him the freedom to SLOW down, my son confides in me:

    “Mama, thank you for not rushing me. I loved school today. It was so much fun! I LOVE my projects!” 

    To my fellow FAST Mamas, do your kids prefer SLOW homeschooling? What are you doing in your homeschool to accommodate their intrinsic approach to learning?

    Monday, May 18, 2015

    Happy Quirks of Perfectionism in a Young Asynchronous Boy

    When my 2 year old son discovered that he wrote one letter of his name backwards, he threw himself on the floor and howled for 30 minutes. It was an unbelievable and uncontrollable temper tantrum. Nothing I did consoled him and I felt just as defeated. But since that first outburst, I have learned that perfectionism comes with happy quirks too.

    1. There is a place for everything and everything is in its place. 

    My son has always had his own meticulous sense of order. 

    2. The passion is intense and obsessive. And long-term.

    As Marianne Kuzujanakis states in her must-read post Unstoppable, "It is without question a hunger. A devouring of information and experiences. An unstoppable force of nature."

    For my son, this means an obsession with actors and the performance arts. When he was 3 years old , he confided in an immigration officer that his real name was "Michael Jackson".

    Since then, his pretend play developed into acting on stage. In the last three years, he has appeared as an Oompa Loompa in Willy Wonka, a Caroler Soloist in Bah Humbug, Charlie and the Pirate Ghost in the Headless Horseman, Noah Claypole in Oliver Twist, Michael Darling in Peter Pan, and in two local Improv and Comedy Sketch shows. When he is not acting in the theatre, he is taking an acting class or studying actors and their work. 

    In the recent few years, he has chosen to research on Rowan Atkinson, Matt Smith, Dana Carvey, Roy Rogers, Bruce Lee, and Johnny Depp for his Notables projects.

    3. "Test Me, Mama!" 

    There is an innate yearning to learn as much as he can on a subject of interest.

    My son started reading three letter words when we has 3 years old. Within months, he was reading chapter books on his own. He would often read something and ask, "Test me, Mama!" He wanted to show me that he completely understood something he read by himself. The clip below is my son reading a book aloud at 4 years old.

    This desire to be tested has not waned. He has always loved music and recently has enjoyed listening to the Doctor Who soundtrack. Soon enough, he asked me to "test" him on the different tracks. Although the theme music through the years sounded pretty similar to me, he found joy in being able to distinguish one from the other by year and Doctor. Check out the video below at 2:10 when I begin to test him.

    4. A Creator of Systems

    There is an intrinsic motivation to create something entirely original and new. In the video below, my son created the idea of an alien pet after he was told he could not have a real one. This project included origins, birth, stats, characteristics, etc.

    5. Jack of All Trades and Master of a Few.

    Perfectionists are excellent at many, many things because of their natural curiosity, interest, and determination. 

    6. Perfectionists are not People Pleasers.

    The Independent Kid prefers to have control over what he focuses on and how. Any suggestion otherwise brings on an intense struggle and unhappiness. Some days, this Little Rebel can be tough for his homeschool Mama. But there are also some days when I see him shine in ways I never thought he would and I can't help but be so proud of him.

    7. Perfectionists stand out in their own ways in different situations.

    While there are academic and performing achievements in my son's short history, a singular event stands out in my mind. Two years ago, we were eating out at a restaurant and my son saw a lady in her 60's eating by herself. He wrote her this note and asked a waitress to give it to her anonymously. It says "You look like a movie star in that shirt. From Superman."  

    What I've Learned

    While perfectionism offers many challenges, we often lose sight of its advantages. Let us remember that by celebrating these happy quirks, we allow our children to accept and delight in one of the fundamental parts of their being.

    I am participating in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum May 2015 Blog Hop: Perfectionism and Other Gifted/2E Quirks.

    Monday, April 20, 2015

    He's Really Gifted In Math?!?

    My son’s Math teacher looked at me through a web cam and smiled, “He’s gifted in Math!”

    “He is?” My jaw dropped. I simply did not believe it. “He’s really gifted in… MATH???”

    “YES! YES! YES!” he beamed.

    Of all the subjects we do everyday, I would NOT consider my son gifted in Math. NOT AT ALL. My son was never bad at Math. In fact, he was always at least a year ahead of his own grade level, but his effortless command of words and language far exceed his grasp of numbers. It seemed to me that learning Math required more effort on his part and he somehow learned to HATE the process. Math was the cause of any tension in our homeschool. Although on some days the work seemed easy for him, on other days he would suddenly forget how to do it. While he breezed through Kindergarten to Second Grade, Third Grade Math took over a year to complete. Two months into Fourth Grade Math and we were going nowhere. I did not know who between us was developing Math Anxiety

    I decided to approach Barry Gelston of Mr. Gelston's One Room Schoolhouse. He specializes in teaching Math to Gifted Kids and is highly recommended by my Gifted Homeschoolers Forum colleagues. During their handful of lessons, Barry coached my son in several areas, such as a math content, math mindset, problem solving, and some executive functioning

    Here are examples of their preliminary Math Tinkering sessions:

    Notice, my son wrote "COOL!"

    My son typed "YAYYYY!!!!

    With Barry, my son learned to tinker and perhaps even appreciate the process of struggling through a challenging problem. On days they didn't meet via computer, my son would practice Math via Khan Academy. At first he was obsessed with the Scratchpad colours. I honestly doubted he would do any work.

    But then, I saw his progress percentages increase everyday. Thank goodness for badges and avatars!

    A month after starting Khan Academy's Fourth Grade Math, my son's mission was complete. 

    Six days into Fifth Grade and he has already mastered 53% of the curriculum.

    Third Grade Math took over a year. But now he is just flying through the material!

    What is happening? 

    Is this what asynchronous learning looks like?

    His advancing pace amazes me. Most surprisingly, my son does not get as frustrated or hate Math with the same intensity anymore. He actually CHOOSES to do it. The other night, he told me, “Mama, some day, I may be a Mathematician.” 

    What I have learned:

    I have learned that just because he hates a subject doesn't mean he needs a break from it. Delving deeper into the cause of his feelings is more important in gaining understanding and solving the root of the problem.

    I have learned there is great potential in gamifying education. In fact, we are now trying out Class Craft for our homeschool.

    I have learned the importance of being part of a gifted community. My network of colleagues at Gifted Homeschoolers Forum know what they are talking about.

    I have learned the importance of gifted resources. Instead of squandering on curriculum that fail to work, spend it wisely instead on tried and true, reliable gifted resources.  Our "Qui Gon" Gelston, as my son calls him, is as patient and understanding about his student's asynchronous challenges and learning style, as he is adept in teaching Math. My son has learned more Math in a month with his coaching and the use of Khan Academy than a whole year with our other Math experiments. (Read about Mr. Gelston's SENG Honor Roll Nominations here. If you are a member of GHF, you get 2 FREE lessons with Mr. Gelston too!)

    Finally, I have learned that just because I spend 24 hours, 7 days a week with my child doesn't mean I completely understand his asynchronous development. There is still so much to discover about how he learns and how I need to change as his facilitator, guide, and homeschool Mama.

    Monday, March 16, 2015

    A Day in the Life of an 8 Year Old Asynchronous Homeschooler

    I used to think our homeschool schedule would be clearly determined:

    8:00   Start school
    12:00 School is DONE!  

    But in our experience, I have discovered that learning happens ALL THE TIME. I cannot imagine restricting education to specific times of the day.

    Our Typical Daily Schedule

    Our typical homeschool day at home (three to four times a week) looks like a mix of project-based learning and a very structured program that challenges our son. The Independent Kid is an imaginative, creative, and asynchronous learner:
    1. does NOT like to be rushed through academics,
    2. wants to mix in his own independent/child-led projects throughout the day,
    3. focuses on creative projects that require a LOT of TIME.
    This means our homeschool day CAN last all day: 

    • open communication with our son allows us to be aware of his homeschool needs and deliberate in our methods.
    • we all contribute to the homeschool day.
    • it is fun, engaging, and rigorous all at the same time.
    • learning happens ALL DAY long.
    • it is all-consuming.

    • finding an engaging program (curriculum, books, topics) may take a while and is a trial-and-error process.
    • we still haven't figured out Maths.
    • it is an all-consuming homeschool lifestyle.
    • few understand our intensity.

    7:00 Wake Up: Quiet Time

    This is the time when The Independent Kid reads or plays quietly by himself. He is now engrossed in the Harry Potter series and presented this letter to his Hogwarts Students (a.k.a. us/his parents) this morning. Why? Because he now wants a broom to add to his increasing costume wardrobe.

    It says:

    Dear Hogwarts Student,

    We are sad to inform you that the Nimbus 2000 and one is no longer the best broom. Ravenclaw has them and so does Hufflepuff and Slytherin. The Firebolt is recommended for Gryffindor. Do not confuse the Firebolt for the Shooting Star. 

    We have a new teacher for defense against the dark arts. It is Professor Lupin II. Snape II is not teaching potions but now wisarding wolverins. Professor Dumbledore II is not the head anymore since he is ill. Ron Weasley II and Harry Potter II must report to Snape's office immediately. Yes I know what you did.

    Fifty Points from Gryffyndor.

    Pro. Minerva McGonagall
    Head of Branch Gryffyndor

    8:45 Breakfast

    We watch CNN Student News and check our various iPad pets.

    9:30 (or later depending on our day) Start School

    The Independent Kid will sometimes choose to come to school in costume or with action figures or animals from his Stuff Land.

    1 hour of Math: Khan Academy.

    Right now, this is the subject that frustrates both of us. Three days into trying out Grade 4, so it is still too early to tell if he likes/doesn't like it.

    The Independent Kid likes the Scratch Pad mode and the Avatars.

    1 hour of History :  IEW's U.S. History-Based Writing Lessons, Vol. 1: Explorers–Gold Rush and supplementing with other resources. 

    He enjoys writing these outlines because he gets to draw.
    He doesn't enjoy writing out the paragraphs, but he understands how much he has learned from the IEW programs.
    If the first draft looks neat enough, I don't force him to rewrite.
    We use movies to supplement our curriulum. This is his first response to Roots Episode 1. Obviously, he was affected by how the Africans were treated.

    1 hour of Science: Real Science 4 Kids Middle School Biology. The Independent Kid didn’t feel like drawing cells today, so we worked together to build them on Minecraft instead. 

    Prokaryotic Cell - we labeled all the parts.

    Plant Cell

    We built the animal cell on another day, but I wanted to show you all three together.

    Animal Cell - notice he added a moving MineCart, i.e. his "roller coaster".

    20 minutes each Foreign Language (depending on the day): GermanSpanish (Grade 3-4 is very S.L.O.W., rethinking this), and Rosetta Stone Mandarin.

    Always a drawing. If you know the Muzzy stories, this is a drawing of Corvax.
    Today, Spiderman is in our house studying Mandarin. How he can see through the head gear, I don't know.

    1:30 Lunch Break 

    This usually means leftovers from last night. Easy for Mama.

    You will notice that we don’t have a morning break. This works for us. The Independent Kid usually doesn't need a snack or a break in the mornings. But by lunchtime, we both look forward to lunch!

    2:15 Resume School

    1 ½ hours English Language Arts

    Spelling: All About Spelling 6 without the manipulatives for my natural speller. I dictate the words/sentences and  he simply writes them. 

    Notice the drawings!

    Grammar: Michael Clay Thompson's Level 2. 

    The Independent Kid LOVES these word searches and questions.

    Of course, our day would not be complete without humor.

    And lots of doodling.

    Literature, we choose from the Age Levels 8-10 and 9-11 Moving Beyond the Pages units. 

    We just started reading Holes by Louis Sachar. Of course he loves it that one of the characters is called Armpit. And when you homeschool a boy, these are the sentences that they enjoy writing:

    If you think this is funny, you should see our Mad Libs books!
    After the unit activities, he wanted to watch Bill Nye’s Rock and Soil episode. And after that, he wanted to play outdoors.

    3:45 Break and Play Time

    What's the first thing he wanted to do during his break? He spent about 30 minutes to an hour role playing "Holes" by digging and /or pretending to have his own soil laboratory like Bill Nye.  This kind of pretend play related to homeschool work is a constant at our house. 

    Digging and sorting.

    Have you guys noticed the gloves yet??? Are any of your kids the same?

    5:00 Resume School: Daddy takes over now.


    We are indoor rowers. So the little guy does his share too.
    20 minutes or so Drum Practice

    A lot of dreams at our house.

    5:45 School is finally DONE: Quiet Time/Independent Work

    These days, if not reading, tinkering with his keyboard, creating a gadget, or playing out some imaginary scene in his head, he listens to his latest music obsession: the soundtrack of  Doctor Who. For the past few weeks, he has independently studied all the Doctor Who Theme Music from 1963 to the present and can now distinguish each song by year and Doctor.

    6:30 Dinner

    Slow cooked by Mama. I love that I have the time to do this for my family.

    7:30 Play with Daddy or watch a show/movie together as a family.

    These days, he enjoys playing video games, action figures (Superheroes, Star Wars, Doctor Who), or role playing scenes from favourite shows with his Daddy. He also asks to watch Who's Line Is It Anyway? in preparation for his own upcoming Improv Show at a local theatre.

    9:00 Bedtime 

    More reading and talking about the good things that happened during the day.

    The Best Part

    Homeschooling definitely brings us closer.

    Like all homeschool families, we have both good AND bad days. Homeschooling days do not always flow perfectly. They are definitely not always how I planned. And I often need to remind myself that the struggles, the challenges, and the frustrations (big or small) must be welcomed as part of the homeschool day because they will always be there. What is important is that we have created a deliberate homeschool lifestyle together that prioritises and encourages learning in a nurturing and enjoyable environment.

    Recently, someone asked The Independent Kid if likes homeschooling. Without missing a beat, his heart-warming response was: "I love it!" As for me, there is no other job I would rather have than to be his Homeschool Mama.

    I am participating in the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum March 2015 Blog Hop: A Day in the Life of a Gifted Homeschooler. Please visit the GHF website for more posts like this:

    Wednesday, February 25, 2015

    Mama, Three Things About Me?

    You can see his arms around me here while we homeschool (reading together). 

    I love homeschooling my son. There is no other "work" I would rather do and I am grateful I am able to do it. Homeschooling is not all perfect though. Sometimes, my week is a collection of imperfect days when I feel like a total failure as a mother. These imperfect days make me feel like I'm trying too hard to be "teacher" and forget that I'm really his "mama".

    So this year, I decided to mother more deliberately. I started 2015 with a wonderfully positive habit. At bedtime, I hug my son, we say our good nights, and I share THREE things he did during the day that I witnessed, loved, and admired about him. I make sure these are things that feed his spirit and soul. More often than not, I refer to events that required his effort, charity, and thoughtfulness.

    My son LOVES every minute of this new ritual. He now starts bedtime with a "Mama, three things about me?!" More significantly, he has started to share THREE things he witnessed, loved, and admired about me too. Bedtime has become an even more sacred time we share together as mother and child to communicate affectionately and to love one another. 

    Tuesday, February 24, 2015

    Homeschooling a Young Boy with Imaginational Overexcitabilities: What Does It Look Like?

    At 2 years old, this meant a lot of read alouds: 90 books at least a week!

    He would "dress up" everyday. Here he is as Merlin (with glasses).

    He would talk to statues and make a trip to a museum come alive.

    He was always role playing and constantly making up stories. 

    Here he is playing outside and creating his October Skeleton Man just in time for Halloween. 

    At 3 and 4 years old, his stories grew more elaborate which included character puppets and props.

    Most of his day consisted of acting in character. 

    Here he is as Beethoven composing by candlelight. 

    When he was 5, he wrote his very own fantasy novel.

    He wore more elaborate costumes.

    Here he is as the Mad Hatter and Edward Scissorhands.

    He finally joined the Theatre landing his first role as an Oompa Loompa.
    His love of acting never abated.

    He also studied actors he loved watching: Johnny Depp and Christopher Reeve. 

    A year later, he researched Bruce Lee, Roy Rogers, and Matt Smith.

    When he turned 6, this meant using his interests in our homeschool.

    Copywork was Star Wars copywork and, yes, doodling allowed.

    He asked to "dress up" for school. 

    Here is Superman at the keyboard and Zorro doing Math.

    He also homeschooled with his various "classmates" and

    we used curriculum that allowed creativity and imagination.

    Moving Beyond the Page Literature Units have always been a hit at our house.

    At 7 years old, his love for theatre only deepened. 

    He played Michael Darling in Peter Pan in our community production.

    In an Advanced Acting Workshop, his teacher chose him for Macbeth's Banquo and the Doctor. 

    He LOVED the process, as seen here in his script.

    His love for fantasy and humor also increased.

    He wrote a book entitled Pull My Finger by Toot N. Kamen and

    continued his elaborate role playing.

    He is now 8 and his sense of invention, imagination, and fantasy has not decreased in the least.

    For his recent homeschool independent project, he created his own alien creature. 

    I can't wait to see what else he comes up with!

    More of his YouTube videos here.