January passed by fast, probably due to the fact that I had such fun in the classroom. Compared with the despair, frustration, and lack of motivation that ended last semester, taking 3 weeks for prep and vacation restarted my fire. During prep week, I installed a new math shelf in the classroom, bought new materials (Geography maps, math, sandpaper letters), and re-arranged my the classroom layout so we can have a Japanese kotatsu to keep us warm in the cold basement classroom. I focused a lot of my attention to prepping Chinese language materials. I shared them on my blog and got responses, which also excites me, knowing I’m not all alone and there is a community out there of people who are passionate about Chinese and material making. Doing things I love excites me. Those are the two things I learned this month. Being allowed to do things you love, at your own time schedule, propels your motivation and passion for life. (And how do I arrange my classroom environment to really allow for this?) Second, sometimes taking a break is all you need to start the learning process or motivation all over again. (Read this in How We Learn, but really nothing beats having to experience it to bring it home.) I try to keep this in mind when I get frustrated or when the kids get frustrated with school.
So with all this rest to think and get re-motivated, I made a few changes to our routine. I introduced some daily chore time, morning exercise, and checking on the garden before we start work. It’s helped us transition better I think. I also read a post about the work plan. As a result, I asked her before we started the semester on her goals for learning this semester. This is how we arrived at her Money Research project. We also work on the daily work plan together more and I follow her interests more. I think this also has made for happier school this month.
However, not all’s fun and roses. I still have “issues” I’m working through. The biggest is the how in the homeschool environment, it seems any “teaching” activity we bring out, the kids are done with it after presentation. They don’t want to work on it anymore. But since I have no solution, there’s nothing much to talk about.
We are somehow once again doing school, it seems, all day. I’m trying to dial back but we start school late (10am) and the kids don’t really settle down because they get hungry or I get hungry. One thing I’m wondering about is if the children just work better after some physical activity in the morning. Or if they are one of those kids who do better with afternoon work period and night work period. This is partly why we have school all day. But I don’t think I can last too long on this schedule. Not enough downtime for me. The other reason is because I thought about how adults who have lots of time on their hands work, and really 8 hour work days is just factory model. If you had the time to plan your own day, you would do what you want to do at any time of the day. It doesn’t have to be limited to 3 hours each day. So I’m trying to reconcile between the need for rest for myself, and what I think of as the ideal working condition concept to impart to the children.
Poor Astroboy. I feel like I’m neglecting him while I work with his sister during the work period. Two factors at work, he prefers that I work with him in general and I keep working with his sister since I constantly feel like she’s wasting time. By the end of the month, I had to really stop myself and my tendencies and had talks with both of them. I told him that sometimes he needs to do his work by himself (fell on deaf ears) and told his sister I want to try and not nag her at all for an hour at least a day about her work (kind of worked). Funnily enough, though I complain about Thumper and how I don’t know what to do with her creative ways and how she gets distracted so often with her own ideas, once I decided to (kind of) accept it, I realized she is much easier to work with. Because she gets concepts fast, if I present work that is up her work-style, then she’s actually pretty self-sufficient. Part of my reason for feeling the need to present cultural work with her. But Astroboy is more clingy and I don’t know what to do about that.
There were many days when Astroboy tells me, “I’m bored, I don’t have anything to do.” And he has no interest in anything no the shelves. He is usually fine after I start working one-on-one with him. But it isn’t what I want to do for three hours. Because with the constant interruption from Thumper (she needs books read to her, help with her work, etc), my brain gets very tired after awhile and I get very short tempered. I usually end up needing a nap to recover. That’s the introvert factor kicking in. Too much stimulation.
Art: Working with acrylic, Chinese brush painting.
Language: Sagebook Series 3, finished zhuyin writing practice, finished alphabet cursive practice, restarted watching Chinese cartoons, read Little Bear series.
We started back in Chinese this month and tried really hard to cover 12 characters a week from Sagebooks Orange Series. Thumper had to make a sentence for every 3 characters introduced and some were funny and some were long. She started really using her dictionary by writing in the blank cards of words she doesn’t know or their zhuyin, in order to compose her sentence. We’re SO CLOSE to finishing Series 3. She read one book in the Little Bear series without much problem. When I asked her how she knew certain characters she said that she read it enough time in zhuyin and just learned it. I continue to be amazed at the ease and speed a 7 year old learns and in a way, am now more relaxed about Astroboy.
We’re also finally finished with zhuyin and alphabet writing practice. She can now write and spell her own name in cursive. Next month we’ll start in practicing writing Chinese characters. The kids were also losing their Chinese because they watched so much Magic School bus. I took away the weeknight TV watching because they need to learn to read. But we restarted with weekend TV watching with more Chinese videos.
Math: Addition up to 8, large bead frame (multiplication single digit), 1000 bead chains, fractions equivalence, money, common factors
Though we continue with the math memorization, we’re slowing down a bit. I read a book about what kids may be expected to learn and really get and I think it may be awhile before Thumper can comfortably remember the higher numbers in addition and multiplication memorization. However, because she’s memorized her lower numbers, we are now starting on multiplication operation since we finished dynamic subtraction last semester. She isn’t 100% fluent in subtraction so I will come back to it after I make more materials. We watched 2 videos on how money is made and minted in the US and read a few books on the concept of money, all in preparation of the research paper she will work on next month.
As I’ve documented, we played the fraction game and she finished her work in fraction equivalence. Since I bought the Peg Board because I saw this is introduced in first grade, I introduced the concept of common factor. But I didn’t get the point of it because I saw no follow up work for it.
Culture: salamanders, fortune cookies, Radio Lab (Speed), Australia
She found a salamander in the garden and wanted to video record it. I allowed her to do that on my iPhone and then she went ahead and drew it on her paper. Reviewing what she’d recorded on her video, I helped her compose what she wanted to write about it. I wrote it all out for her, and she copied onto her paper. Coincidentally, the East Bay Park had a salamander and newt hike on a Saturday. The kids went with Baba and had much fun looking for salamanders. We looked through the English DK Natural History encyclopedia I bought from Costco in Chinese. (best buy ever!) and listened to a Chinese encyclopedia entry on the subject. Then I asked her to talk about it with her father so she is able to translate what she learned in Chinese to English. This is party why school was so much fun this month. I tried really hard to follow the child more when she shows an interest in something, and allowed our daily “todos” to be interrupted.
We also visited a fortune cookie factory and also listened to Radio Lab episode on speed. She was really fascinated by the segment on stopping light in its tracks. I indirectly had her practice language by asking her to tell Baba what she’d heard on the Radio.
Pratical Life: Making hot chocolate from beginning, mending her dress, time management.
This month, I added one last component to the hot chocolate making process. (We drink it many mornings in lieu of milk.) She is now able to (mostly) make hot chocolate by herself. I showed her how to pour two cups worth of milk into our little pot, transfer it to the stove, and turn on the gas. The kids already know how to prepare the hot cocoa. All I have to do now is to pour the hot milk for them. Now I just really need them to remember to clean up everything and the “process development” part of Practical Life for this exercise is complete.
She wanted to mend her dress one morning and though I really really didn’t want her to (because so many other things to do!), I allowed her to change her plans for the day. And I also didn’t chide her when she stopped half way through because she got tired of it and didn’t actually finish mending her dress. I know there are other ways to get the motivation and desire to have patience and see things through in. But it was so tempting to just force the issue by having her finish it. Sigh. The hardest part about teaching is letting go of your own agenda.
Anyways, there is also an improvement on time management. She is now able to choose all the work she wants to do during the day, and just follow through them without me nagging her. She is now working on the habit of planning her day before she starts work. This is really a work in progress for the both of us because I have to hold my tongue. One day I praised her instead. (“I saw that you went downstairs to follow your work plan instead of playing while I napped. 很棒喲…etc”) and she beamed. The next days she was so much better about working by herself rather than having me nagging.
Language: Sagebook Blue Series book 1.
After many Chinese games, we finally finished the first book. I feel like either Astroboy’s interest isn’t really in language yet or I’m just not making it interesting enough. He loves the games we play but he’s not necessarily showing a lot of interest in daily life in recognizing characters the way he is with numbers. I’m trying not to push him hard but I know we have to cover some characters due to the reading Chinese before English issue. Instead, I’m trying to up my reading of books to him because comprehension of what you read is equally important. And he does love me reading.
Math: 1000 bead chain, 100 bead chain. Linear counting #1-#10 chains, fractions naming, addition operation, addition strip board, squaring chains, thousand board
Of course in contrast, we do lots and lots of math. More counting than ever. We’re starting to move into using the Golden Beads to add up to the thousands. I was despairing because he didn’t seem interested. Then I wondered if he wasn’t interested because I made my own materials and the thousand cube did not have real weight as opposed to the real thing. And the weight of the material is there because the 3-6 year olds are still working on motor skills, plus it gives them a real sense how much 1000 weighs vs 100 (indirect kinesthetic sense of numbers). All this to say I ended up borrowing a Golden Beads set from a friend and we’re now going to try it out.
We re-visited our thousand board work. I introduced the 10,000 board since you count up to that in Chinese, but Astroboy wasn’t really interested. I think I need some concrete work first in this area. But no Montessori materials exist!
One day we worked on the addition strip board and I realized that Astroboy has a really hard time with the concept of x+1 and 0+x. I’m not sure if this means he needs practice or if it means he’s not really ready for the concept altogether.
Culture: Introduction to World Map, Australia
After introduction to the globe last semester, I introduced how the flat World Map came about. Unfortunately, Astroboy really is not showing any interest in Cultural subjects, in the classroom setting. Since our focus this semester will be Australia, I read him some mythology stories from Australia and he did love that.
Practical Life: Play dough
Though he was not too interested in the World Map, he loved how I cut my play dough (representing Earth), in half to get the flat map. He spent the next three days working with the play dough. Last semester we started with some pratical life but it quickly went into a lot of math. I wonder if kids kind of go in cycles, showing interest in one thing and then back to something else for awhile.
All in all a good month. I feel myself swinging back to making Math material. But I need to really work on cultural items for Thumper and figure out what Astroboy’s interests are.
Fun activities we did together: Playdate with lots of mandarin speaking kids, a lovely hike at Jewel lake with lots of 6-9 year olds, a tourist day in SF.
We really enjoyed our outing to Little Farm and hike at Jewel Lake this month, with families in the neighborhood who are homeschoolers. One of the things I continue to have trouble with is consistent playmates for Thumper. She plays with kids of various ages but never for long periods or often because they all go to school. The 6-9 children are into a lot of social games because they’re busy making up rules. It’s the development feature of this time. I see this in her constant desire to play tag. And many days I feel guilty I’m not providing this aspect for her. Here’s hoping we see these families more often in the coming months!