Sunday, May 23, 2010

The evolution of interest (or media-free weeks)

I wrote this on Wednesday, but am only now posting it.
I don't know why.

We're enjoying a (mostly) media-free week. We're not big regular TV watchers (other than American Idol and Amazing Race), but we do love our computers. We use them for reading, writing, researching, playing games, using our library system, pictures, organizing, videos, communicating, you name it.

The kids don't generally use the computers until after dinner, except for some stuff in the mornings that we do almost daily like typing tutor, Portuguese, and looking stuff up that we're studying. And when the weather is nice, we are outside as much as is humanly possible -- usually in the backyard, but also at a park, at the pool, or something.

So usually, after dinner and when we don't have other, outside or out-of-the-home plans, they like to play Webkinz, Wizard101, and other super fun games. But every once in a while, we declare a media-free week for ourselves and see where that leads us. We always, always enjoy it.

It's kind of like being Amish for a week (only, not really).

Suddenly, they play with toys they haven't maybe noticed in a while. Or they pick up those how-to-draw books they love. Or we do puzzle books. Or we listen to more books on tape (something we do a lot anyway). We read even more (even more than "a lot"). We cook. We bake. We play games. We get stuff done. We work on projects.

Well, this week is a media-free week (and we've even put off Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon to after dinner and, astonishingly, they haven't even made many appearances!). So, we've been doing whatever strikes our fancy.

Some of the interesting things we've done so far this week include:

* A violin recital
* A 4-H cooking class
* An art class
* Writer's group
* Homemade Orange Rolls
* Poker (5-card draw)
* Pretzel M&Ms (for gambling while playing poker) :P
* Letter writing to companies to let them know we like their products (yes, we're hoping for letters back and maybe coupons for free stuff)
* Silent movies
* Zorro!

One of the things I love about go "au natural" (as far as technology goes--c'mon now, what kind of a homeschool do you think we run around here?) is seeing where our interests carry us.

Buster Keaton

I'm on a mailing list for homeschoolers and someone there mentioned that their child was interested in silent movies. "Huh," I thought. "That kind of sounds like fun." So, I got on our online library catalog system and ordered 2 Buster Keaton movies and 1 Charlie Chaplin movie.

Yesterday, we watched "The General." We absolutely loved it. I hadn't ever seen a Buster Keaton movie before! Why? I have no idea, but now I get why people love him. It was fantastic!

I remember him being referenced in Friends and also in Benny and Joon (I think), but he was just some iconic figure to which people referred, not someone I actually had ever seen. Until now. Love him! And so do the kids.

Little interesting tidbit from Wikipedia:

Orson Welles has stated that Keaton's The General is the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made. A 2002 worldwide poll by Sight & Sound ranked Keaton's The General as the 15th best film of all time.

Trains/Civil War

Well, watching "The General" got Thing 2 interested (yet again -- he went through a major train phase when he was about 3) in trains and how they work. It also got both Thing 1 and Thing 2 totally interested in the Civil War. So, now we're in the midst of gathering documentaries, activity books, novels, and other fun stuff for us to research and enjoy, as we learn more about that time period. And we are all excited about it! Nerds.

Baking Bread

I've been craving good breakfast bread for a while now. So, yesterday, I decided to pull out an old recipe I got from an old college roommate and make some orange rolls. They were delicious! It was an all-day affair to make them. During the early stages, I worked on the bread while the kids practiced their instruments, did some spelling stuff (we watched the documentary "Spellbound" this past week and played a bunch of word games and did a bunch of activities, and researched some of the contestants, all in preparation for the televised National Spelling Bee coming up), and played poker. When it came time to roll them out, spread the filling, cut them, and roll them, the kids totally helped out. It was so much fun (and so, so yummy to celebrate a great Idol night by eating warm, glazed rolls afterward). Mmmmm.


On Monday at the library, we found a free book (they always have a whole lobby of free books you can take and we usually do a quick scan to see what's there) on card games. Well, by that afternoon, the kids had read up on several games and were begging us to play.

So we tried out some new games and one of the games they like best? Poker. They're now using poker chips, but we started out using those new Pretzel M&Ms (have you tried them? They are DELICIOUS!!).

It's actually really fun to learn math by betting, figuring out odds, strategy, and chances instead of some boring, old worksheet. Plus, we got to play poker! It's a riot to hear our kids toss in a chip and say, "Ante up!"

Letter Writing

Eating the M&Ms also got Thing 1 wondering, "Why do they call them M&Ms?" I looked it up (and found myself reading the entire wiki page on M&Ms -- who knew a candy's history could be so interesting?), but Thing 1 didn't want me to tell her. She wrote a letter to the company to ask them herself. She thought it would be more fun that way.


And while we're playing poker, eating dinner, baking rolls, we look out the window and watch the bird feeders and see red cardinals, gray sparrows, brown finches, red-headed house finches, blue jays, golden finches, and more. We use our bird book (that we keep in that room) to figure out what the birds are called and to learn more about them. We love our birds (and Scout mostly does, too, unless they're big birds -- crows, starlings, and mourning doves? Not so much.).


Speaking of eating dinner, a favorite game around here is "What's the healthiest thing on my plate?" Anyone initiates it anytime and we rank order the foods we're eating. It always, inevitably, leads to more discussions on healthy eating, nutrition, good eating habits, the food pyramid, vitamins, avoiding the not-good-for-you stuff, etc. We, of course, balance this by eating M&Ms and donuts now and then. :)


Today, we've had some other things going on -- mulch delivery for some yard work, planting our garden (kids have their own sections, too), figure skating lessons, etc. But the kids have started watching Zorro! (the old, black and white version) and we've also played a game called Calamityville (kind of like Monopoly for the Wild West/Gold Rush era) that we're borrowing from a friend in our homeschool group.

Data Entry

Not sure what we're doing for dinner yet, but we've all been working on organizing our recipes into an online and book form. The kids have been using their typing skills and doing data entry (.25/recipe) and that's been a lot of fun, too.


Thing 1 has been saving up her money to buy herself a Nintendo DS and I'm really proud of her for doing so. Thing 2 is saving up, too, for a Yu-Gi-Oh card, but sometimes he changes his mind on what he wants to get. I'm hoping he saves up for a DS, too, because I think it's a great experience for them to work and save like that. They will always treasure them and care for them, because they've worked so hard to save for them. (Update: inspired by his sister's saving and our success in finding her an awesome deal, he's now saving for a DS!)

They both have regular jobs helping out in the clinic and they do side jobs to help out, too (extra money for bigger outdoor jobs, data entry on the recipes, etc.). Thing 1 even gets paid to be a "Mother's Helper" now and then by a friend of ours. She gets to go over and help with the little ones so the mom can get some stuff done. A brilliant concept.

Both kids track their earnings and expenditures in their own ledgers, which has really been a nice way for them to see how this whole money thing works.

Natural Learning

I guess what I'm loving most about our media-free weeks, besides the fun, relaxed feel of it and how much we're enjoying it in general, is watching the process of natural learning. I didn't come up with some kind of rigid lesson plan and make our kids stick to it, whether they were interested or not. I have a vague idea (and a checklist) of what we hope to get to each day, but we approach it with flexibility that allows for natural interest, curiosity, and excitement. After all, that's how we learn before school. And that's how we learn after we graduate. Naturally.

When I'm interested in something, I look it up, read a book, talk to someone, watch a movie, take a course. So, we try to incorporate that same attitude in our own "schooling." It's really such a natural process anyway, that if I can let go and trust (easier said than done at times), it's amazing where it takes us. I love it when this happens.

Is it all roses, pretzel M&Ms, unicorns, and poker chips? No.

Some days/weeks are hard or don't flow quite so easily (therein lies the challenge--being in tune with the energy of the good weeks and learning from, instead of getting sucked down by, the rough ones). It's challenging to find time for myself or to keep up on things around the house or in my work in our clinic. It really takes some serious finagling at times for me and Mark to simply touch base and stay caught up on things we share with each other (read: we use the instant messenger a lot, but how cool is that? Our kids can literally look up our marital conversations and read transcripts! What other generation can boast that? Or maybe that's not boast-worthy? :P).

It can be tricky to find the balance of all that we do. It's not easy to keep the house clean (ha!) or stay caught up on laundry or dishes or work on organizing that closet. It's an enormous responsibility to home educate and it's one we do not take lightly. It's a trick to try to stay ahead of the calendar and be on top of what we're doing day to day, let alone what's coming up. I do a lot of research. I do a lot of reading. I worry about finances sometimes. I get tired and even downright grumpy sometimes, but all in all? I love, love, love spending time together as a family. I love the flexibility it affords us. I love the learning. We love our homeschool group. We love what we do.

The noise and activity level can sometimes test the limits of my patience, but I can't think of anyone else I'd rather spend daily time with--I absolutely love my husband, my kids, and yes, even our puppy. And learning together? Naturally? For us? Thankfully, it's a perfect match. Because these kids are growing up so quickly right before our very eyes and I'm glad we are together so much and can honestly, even though we all drive each other crazy sometimes, call each other "friend." That's another benefit to our days -- learning through trial and error, through time together and quiet time apart, how to daily work on lasting relationships together. I love, love, love my family.

Oh, and thank you, media-free week.


the emily said...

Ahhhh. It sounds so calm! I wanna make my kids do it...but not me. I NEED the computer. :)

Zelia said...

This was by far the best entry to your blog. Loved it, loved it.
It all made so much sense. It made me "homesick" to not being in the middle of it all.

Robynne said...

What a great week - I'm tired just listening to all the stuff you did! ;p You have such a great way with words, I really enjoy reading your posts! :)

Jimmy said...

That sounds like a great approach, especially as I find myself begging our 12 year old to do anything with us because she'd rather stay home and play on the computer.

Chelle said...

This is a great post. It takes a dedicated, committed, creative person to do what you do! I love all the ideas. I'm hoping to focus on cooking/baking with my girls this summer and hopefully we'll work some other things into that mix as well. I love your attitude in regards to your approach to education.

J Fo said...

What a great way to learn! I think it's a good mix of busy and calm. I think I need to plan a media free day or two. I'm not sure I could do a week yet! ;)