Category Archives: Homeschooling

Book Report :: A Visual-Spatial Experience

My children are my greatest teachers.

I could go on (and on and on) about how much I have grown mentally, spiritually, and physically just by being their mother. But, I have also grown as a teacher because I am able to observe them closely and watch how they learn. Because it’s different than the way I learn.

He prefers a cluttered desk - whereas I can't stand it!

He prefers a cluttered desk – whereas I can’t stand it!

My older son has given me permission to share his work on this blog and I hope that it will help other visual-spatial learners.

A little background to his relationship with writing – he hated to write as a young boy. Asking him to write anything was tantamount to watching a volcano erupt. Lots of rumbling and growling before a full-blown explosion occurred out of sheer frustration. He was frustrated that it didn’t look perfect. He was frustrated that it hurt his hand (he pushed really hard on his pencil). He was frustrated that he didn’t know how to spell anything and that would block his thoughts.

So, this was one thing I let go. I didn’t push it and I hoped that by the time he hit middle school many of these issues would be resolved. Plus, we’ve always written thank you notes and homemade birthday cards, so it wasn’t as if I never asked him to write anything. But in the last year, something clicked for him.

He discovered the value of writing fluently and his resistance has lessened. Maybe the muscles in his hand are further developed, or perhaps he isn’t struggling with spelling as much (to which I attribute his extraordinary love of reading). I’m not sure why the time is right, but it is. He has unconsciously decided to communicate more in the written form.

His first draft - which he went back through with a red marker and marked his needed corrections.

His first draft – which he went back through and marked potential corrections.

In fact, the idea of a book report was his idea – spurred on by some outside events. Since 2003, I have been part of a book club of friends. Each month, we rotate houses to host the group. This month was my turn to host – and to choose the book. I chose The Lightening Thief . My kids and I have been studying ancient history in our Story of the World (SOTW) curriculum and we’re taking a deeper look at the Greek myths in the coming weeks . Plus, a juvenile book is always a good choice for our busy, mom-filled book club.

Well, my son was ecstatic. He read the book before I did and he mentioned that he wanted to give a report at the book club. I told him he could write a book report, to which he responded, “Huh? What’s a book report?” So, I proceeded to tell him and he accepted the challenge.

Visual-Spatial book report. First step is to make a story map. We broke ours down by color - yellow was for the setting and time; blue, green and red represented the beginning, middle and end of the story.

Visual-Spatial book report. The first step is to make a story map. We broke ours down by color – yellow was for the setting and time; whereas blue, green and red represented the beginning, middle and end of the story.

The project was a bit overwhelming, so I suggested that he make a word map of what happened in the story. He’s very used to this concept since this how we talk about each chapter of SOTW. He found this to be fun and relatively easy. I prompted him when he got stuck.

When it came to writing the actual report, you could see the terror come into his eyes, so I found a way to break down the map: colors. We went online and found this easy “how to write a book report” web site and broke down the report into three main categories. He chose the colors and I circled the setting and character ideas using a yellow marker.

Then, he chose blue and decided what was significant to the beginning of the story. Next, came green for the middle part and finally, a red marker for the end of the story. Some of the ideas didn’t quite fit into one category so they got two colors.

Some simple writing reminders - capitalize the beginning of each sentence!

Some simple writing reminders – capitalize the beginning of each sentence!

After a bit of grumbling, he got down to writing and came to show me his work. He was so proud of himself (and I was too), so I praised his hard work. Then, he went over it (on his own) and followed the above editing rules. That way, I wasn’t marking up his work – he was. And, for him that makes all the difference. He went over his draft and capitalized the start of every sentence, proper noun and circled his suspected misspellings. Then, we fixed it together.

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I wrote down the correct spelling for the words he didn’t know.

Over the course of three days, he made a story map, wrote a first draft, edited his work and rewrote the final version of his book report. Last month, I introduced the concept of a first draft when he wrote a thank you note to a city official (as part of his city project). I’ve also set the expectation that your first draft is for creative ideas, and then you go back and fix the grammar, spelling and sentence structure. My favorite explanation for this process can be found here.

But, the best part of this whole project? He instigated it. Would he be as proud if I had demanded it? Probably not. Of course, he’s at this point because we have incorporated tiny real-world writings into our weekly routine. He’s also a voracious reader who doesn’t equate reading with writing. And, we all know that in order to be a great writer, you have to be a prolific reader.

Book report on The Lightning Thief

Final book report on The Lightning Thief

 

Project-Based Learning :: Water Cycle

In an ongoing effort to document our project-based learning, I wanted to talk about how my family first got started with self-directed projects.

A water cycle experiment that was in one of the books he found.

A water cycle experiment that was in one of the books he found.

When I first read the book, Project-Based Homeschooling, my oldest son was kindergarten-age and I just couldn’t see how he would be able to learn to read, write or do math solely with a project-based curriculum. At that point, he was a struggling reader and while we had always read books that he had chosen, he was showing no inclination to replicate anything based on this research. Therefore, I dismissed it and went on with our “Montessori at home” curriculum. And, thank goodness for that because my eldest child turned out to be a visual-spatial learner and without a Montessori way of learning, he would have struggled even more so. Today, at almost ten-years-old, he is a fabulous reader, but more importantly, he loves to read. But, I digress.

After we pulled him back out of public school (nice place, but way too much homework for 2nd grade), I abandoned all formal learning for the Spring and told him we would just work on projects. His choice of topic, his choice of final project. My strong-willed child loved the idea.

He initially chose to learn more about how we get our water from the faucet. He was quite fascinated by this Magic School Bus book. Since I was being as open-ended as possible, I tried not to direct him in any way. But, as we both learned, my newly-minted eight-year-old needed direction.

To find out about how we get water, we have to understand how the Earth gets water.

To find out about how we get water, we have to understand how the Earth gets water.

So, after an initial library search where he got to choose the books, I asked a few questions. I asked if there was anything in particular that he wanted to know about our city’s water. He did. He wanted to know how the water got into our house. So, we talked about where we could find that information. Since it wasn’t available online, we had to figure out who to speak with at our city.

Thankfully, we live in nice-sized rural city and the office staff are quite friendly. We went a few times to visit city hall and spoke with the workers to find out more information. He did a lot of the speaking, but I made sure to follow up on his ideas. I made the calls and the appointments and prompted him with the next step.

Eventually, he expanded his city water project to include the water cycle and concluded with a visit to our local wastewater treatment plant. All because he was curious. My child, who hated to write, was writing and taking notes.

Neatly writing out his final summary. He dictated to me and I wrote it so he could copy the correct spelling.

Neatly writing out his final summary. He dictated to me and I wrote it so he could copy the correct spelling.

That’s not to say that his final project – a poster – was completely self-chosen or that he would wake up every morning begging to get started. Nor does it mean that presently my kids only learn with projects – they don’t. I assign some work too. However, as we completed the project together, I learned that for a young child (under age 13?) they are going to need a lot more help with a formal project, which was not so clear in the book. While I made sure to follow his lead, I also did some “behind the scenes” research and ensured that a book on water would be one of the selected bedtime reading books. Or, we made a point to drive by the water tower on our way home. I needed to show him how to find out information. I had to be the example, but in a back-door sort of way so as to not co-opt his project. It wasn’t always easy.

Water tower. Initially, I forced us all to stay by the road and sketch. One of my many learning mistakes as my child was not keen on sketching anything by the side of the road.

Water tower. Initially, I forced us all to stay on the grass and sketch. It was one of my many learning mistakes. My child was not keen on sketching anything by the side of the road.

I did offer lots of examples for final projects – a drawing, a sculpture, a book, a poster. Since this was our first project, I needed him to understand that he was working toward a goal of creating something. He really wanted to do a poster and I made sure to follow his progress and encourage him when it became too overwhelming – or boring.

I also made sure that he finished it. There’s a lot of debate about whether a self-chosen project should be abandoned by the child, but I think that if you get halfway into a project, you need to help them to complete it – at least in some “final” way. The end product can change, but there needs to be some way to show what they’ve learned. I see that as my job as a teacher-facilitator. Nudge them – not too hard – and help them to stay on track. Quite frankly, I have a number of half-finished projects that I would love to have someone help me finish.

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Ironically, I have no picture of his completed poster.