Monday, March 23, 2015

Natural Learning, Intentionally - Part II

Intentional. It is my mantra, whether teaching my littles (and bigs) or embracing life. Intentionality has served me (and my family) well. 

How can I be intentional this minute to make a difference in the minutes yet to come?

The word intentional means (back to definitions):

From the 1957 Webster's New 20th Century dictionary, intentional was defined as

  • Having to do with intention or purpose
  • Intended; designed; done with design or purpose; not accidental

According to, intentional is defined as
  • done with intention or on purpose
  • of or relating to intention or purpose

What proceeded the afternoon (minutes, hours or years before) contributing to the fruit of the day featured in Part I?

These were all lessons in and of themselves.
  • Art supplies were purchased, then organized and stored in a manner accessible to the children with the developmental ability to determine appropriate use for said items (don't want acrylics on my walls, unless it is first on a canvas).

  • Prior expectations and boundaries were set as to where the acrylics could be used (easel, kitchen table).
  • Prior instruction was given as to how the brushes and tools were to be cared for, cleaned, and stored (otherwise brush hairs would be haywire and my house would become a paint palette). 
  • Painting was an intrinsic interest I observed and fostered, something that mattered to them with the ultimate goal of spending time with my Dad (who loves to paint with them) and entering arts and handcrafts into the local county fair. 
  • A library visit was scheduled and carried out where children checked out books of interest.

  • Prior to that visit, children were given a tour as to where their books of interest would be shelved. For one child instruction was "this is where you will find animal books". For another, "this is the biography section". 
  • Years ago, we discussed choosing appropriate materials, library etiquette, and check-out procedures.

The end result of many intentional decisions: I scheduled appointments, two learners finished fair projects, and two learners created three entrees in their writing notebooks. 

So, though natural learning occurred last week, there was intentional thought and instruction that proceeded the fruitful afternoon.

Natural Learning, Intentionally Part III coming soon!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Natural Learning, Intentionally - Part I

Definitions change. New editions dictionaries printed, new words added. In with the new, out with the old. I know it's cliche. But it is true (even if I personally prefer an older definition).

In twenty years of home education definitions have changed. Well, maybe not changed, perhaps understood and implemented differently.

I recently pondered comments made and questions received by parents who have entered the home education journey within the past five years. My conclusion: natural learning (sometimes referred to as delight-directed or interest-led) of yesteryear can be quite different from natural learning of today.

Natural learning of yesteryear, as I understood and lived it, was learning that happened as a result of a intrinsic interest but was often preceded by intentional actions, with lots of cheering on the sidelines. 

Today's natural learning is expected to happen instantly with no direction or prior foundation, no thought given to the natural interests of the child. In fact, I talk with parents who just "hope" learning will spark and children will "take off" but no time is allotted to provide training or significant resources.

There must be groundwork laid to make learning all it can be.

Don't get me wrong, there is truth to both perspectives of natural learning, and there is also truth in the matter that children will learn from life. However, children also need direction, tools, and intentional placement of resources in their environment for learning to move deeper, to "take off".

Last week, natural learning "took off" in my house. It wasn't planned. It was not on the "lesson plan" of the day, surely wasn't on my radar. After a morning of typical routine (you know teeth brushing, breakfast, and bed making), math and language arts instruction, and lunch, I had to sit with a calendar and phone to make several doctor appointments. I told the children I needed thirty minutes (so they knew the expectation) to make phone calls and than we would move on with the day.

A few phone calls and thirty minutes ended in a few more phone calls and an additional fifteen minutes. When I emerged from my calendar, I was amazed at what transpired in my kitchen and living room. So amazed and pleased, I let the rest of the afternoon play out and didn't interrupt with my plans. In the end they learned significantly more and were proud of their accomplishment to devise a plan to be productive while I was on the phone and carry it out....a plan that lasted hours and produced much fruit. They knew it and understood they were capable of self-learning even when I wasn't available to direct every step.

The afternoon of natural learning would not have transpired without prior intentional actions built on the intrinsic interests of the children. 

Those intentional actions will be Part II of this series. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fall Spelling Fun

Have acorns? Spell!

This week my daughter had a wonderful impromptu idea.

"Remember those acorns I collected--all 224 of them? I used them to spell words!"

Brilliant idea. 

I walked to the kitchen to see her masterpieces.

Indeed creative. Indeed reinforcing learning.

After discussion, it was determined that gluing the words to cardboard would make festive Thanksgiving decorations. Just add a bow hanger.

And so goes the day when acorns become spelling practice. 

(Just one day after the bursting  baggie of acorns were the place value and counting lesson. Simple, available, and intriguing equal many days and ways of learning.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Discovery Biographies: Living History with Living Books

Garrard Publishing Company's Discovery biographies have been some of our favorite reads, encouraging independent reading in newly fluent readers. These books are often the next choice after Step-Up books, also biographies.

Discovery biographies are historical adventures written for little learners at the mid-elementary level. The cover copy on one book states "Discovery Books have been tested by the Spache Readability Formula and edited so they can be read by children in grades 2-4". We found our later elementary learners also enjoy these books due to the engaging content and find much satisfaction in finishing a book in one day.

The books--we especially like the hardcovers--offer full page, three-color illustrations with larger font size. Garrard states "all facts are authentic for they have been carefully checked by leading sources for historical accuracy". This series has definitely opened another reading level of living books for us!

We have not read all the titles, choosing to save some titles for later learning. Also, note the varied covers. Nice to have visuals when shopping a used bookstore or garage sale.


Ulysses S. Grant: Horseman and Fighter
Colonel Red Reeder
Abraham Lincoln: For the People
Anne Colver and Polly Anne Graff
Andrew Jackson: Pioneer and President
John Parlin
Thomas Jefferson: Author of Independence
Anne Colver and Polly Anne Graff
John F. Kennedy: New Frontiersman
Charles P. Graves
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Four Times President
Wyatt Blassingame
Theodore Roosevelt: Man of Action
James C. Beach
Harry S. Truman: People's President
David Collins
George Washington: Father of Freedom
Steward Graff

First Ladies

Abigail Adams: Dear Partner
Helen Stone Peterson
Mary Todd Lincoln: President's Wife
LaVere Anderson
Dolly Madison: Famous First Lady
Mary Richmond Davidson
Eleanor Roosevelt: First Lady of the World
Charles P. Graves
Martha Washington: First Lady of the Land
LaVere Anderson

Explorers, Navigators, Aviators, Adventurers

Amelia Earhart: Pioneer in the Sky
John Parlin
Henry Hudson: Captain of the Ice Bound Seas
Carl Carmer
Charles Lindbergh: Hero Pilot
David R. Collins

Men and Women of the Frontier

Buffalo Bill: Wild West Showman
Mary Richardson Davidson
Daniel Boone: Taming the Wilds
Katherine E. Wilkie
George Rogers Clark: Frontier Fighter
Adele deLeeuw
Davy Crockett: Hero of the Wild Frontier
Elizabeth Robards Mosely
Annie Oakley: The Shooting Star
Charles P. Graves
Jeb Smith: Trailblazer and Trapper
Frank Brown Latham

Inventors, Scientists, Medical Pioneers

Clara Barton: Soldier of Mercy
Mary Catherine Rose
Elizabeth Blackwell: Pioneer Woman Doctor
Jean Lee Latham
Alexander Graham Bell: Man of Sound
Elizabeth Rider Montgomery
George Washington Carver: Negro Scientist
Samuel and Beryl Epstein
Dorothea L. Dix: Hospital Founder
Mary Malone
Benjamin Franklin: Man of Ideas
Charles P. Graves
George W. Goethals: Panama Canal Engineer
Jean Lee Lathm
Florence Nightingale: War Nurse
Anne Colver and Polly Anne Graff
Eli Whitney: Great Inventor
Jean Lee Latham

Statesmen, Political Figures, Revolutionaries, War Heroes

Jane Addams: Pioneer of the Hull House
Helen Stone Peterson
Henry Clay: Leader in Congress
Helen Stone Peterson
Fredrick Douglass: Freedom Fighter
Lillie Patterson
David Glasgow Farragut: Our First Admiral
Jean Lee Latham
Francis Marion: Swamp Fox of the Carolinas
Elizabeth and Carl Carmer
Booker T. Washington: Leader of His People
Lillie Patterson

Authors, Artists, Entrepreneurs

Helen Keller: Toward the Light
Stewart and Polly Anne Graff
Francis Scott Key: Poet and Patriot
Lillie Patterson
Ernest Thompson Seton: Scout and Naturalist
Wyatt Blassingame
Booker T. Washington: Leader of His People
Lillie Patterson

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Teaching Prepositions

"Mom, what is a preposition?"

That question started the day's language arts lesson...because curious minds are ripe for learning!

A preposition is a word that connects or shows the relationship between two nouns or a noun and pronoun. Prepositions are always with an object or person.

We reviewed nouns and pronouns. I gave examples of each and used them in a sentence.

We chose two nouns for our preposition play, mice and cars.

Paper mice were made from 3x5 cards, each child coloring a mouse family. I found some Duplo cars from our collection of blocks.

Once all the mice were colored and decorated, tails in place, our preposition discovery began.

I explained that for our play we would act out sentences, stating the relationship between the mice and the cars. I demonstrated by placing the mice on the cars while stating,"the mice are on the cars".  I wrote "on" on a 3x5 card and placed it near the cars.

One by one I asked each of the child to place their mice in some relation to the cars and then state the position in relation to one another.

The mice are under the cars.
The mice are on the cars.
The mice are aside of the cars.
The mice are behind the cars.

As the children placed the mice and verbally expressed their position, I wrote the preposition on a card. Before long we had a handful of preposition cards. By the end of a few hours, we used our creative thinking, working on spatial relationships, applied artistic uniqueness, and KNEW what prepositions are and how to use them in sentences.

We also had a handful of spelling cards to use for other lessons.


Learning started with a question. 

"Mom, what is a preposition?"