Friday, 31 May 2013

The Italian Experience - The Tempest

The Tempest is Shakespeare's final play, making it a mature, complex, and highly symbolic piece of work.  It was also the theme that was used in last year's summer Olympic games opening ceremony.  We have been studying The Tempest as part of our Marco Polo study for its connection to Milan.

The way that we have prepared to study this play is a combination of:
  1. watching a film production of the play;
  2. reading a simplified version of it;
  3. listening to the audio recording of the entire play, and reading the full script. 

As a genre, Shakespeare's work is best learned in the way that it was intended: as a play.  While reading the script is one way to analyse the literary elements of the play, the most memorable and engaging way for children to experience Shakespeare's work is through acting/drama.  If that is not possible, the next best way to learn is to listen to the play, rather than reading it.

It is difficult to find good Shakespearean classes for children so when one of the homeschooling groups that we belong to offer a 4-day course on The Tempest, led by an experienced actor who is also a literature teacher, we jumped at the chance to participate in it.

In Workshop 1, the children started with drama games to help them relax, get acquainted with one another, and to get used to the different drama terms such as 'neutral position' which means to be ready for instruction or action.

This was followed by a brief introduction to the history of drama, in which the drama coach told us that Shakespeare was inspired by the commedia dell'arte characters.  The children were also introduced to the different "levels" in acting, which they learned to convey using different body positions.  Another technique that the children learned was using their facial expressions.  For example, they were challenged to express 'innocence' through their eyes, face, cheeks, mouth, movement, then finally in the ways in which they interacted with the space around them.

The next half of the workshop concentrated on analysing Act 1 Scene 1, which involved a few rounds of discussions about the shipwreck scene.  After that, the children worked in several groups to turn themselves into the ship, and they had to convey the shipwreck using movements.

Workshop 2 again started with drama games that helped to enforce the ideas of relaxation, cooperation and teamwork.  This was followed by a review of Act 1 Scene 1.  This time, the children were led into an analysis of the characters and the scene.  For example, the children were asked to discuss the significance of the play as Shakespeare's final work, the possibility of it being used as an autobiography via the character of Prospero, the use of symbolism, and what Shakespeare's message to the world (through this play) might be.

The focus of Workshop 2 was on Act 1 Scene 2.   Analysis of the scene included discussions about:
  • the element of suspense in the order of which the characters spoke
  • the effects on the audience to have another character (Miranda) introduce the main character (Prospero)
  • how rhythms and patterns in the speech conveyed the status of each character
  • the emotions in Miranda's speech - the children were then trained to identify and create the different emotions in speech
  • the motive behind having Miranda fall asleep when Ariel was summoned
  • the relationship between Ariel and Prospero
  • some background/historical inspiration for the character of Caliban - it stemed from Tudor records of "strange-looking" natives near the Falkland Islands
After this, the children worked in groups of four to create the character, Caliban.  They were to show, through working together and body movements, the character emerging out of the earth.

The children worked on Act 2 Scene 2 in Workshop 3, focusing on the characters of Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano.  In groups of five, the children were given the task of creating Caliban with multiple heads and legs under a piece of cloth.  To do this, they had to consider the characteristics of the character -- earthy, heavy movement, type of voice, it being half-animal and half-human, etc.  When they have developed their character, each child was given a line (Caliban's curse of Propsero) to add a voice to the Caliban that they have created.

The scene analysis in workshop 3 included:
  • thinking about the mouth movements required for Shakespeare's speech, i.e. the emphasis of vowels
  • considering how consonants and vowels work together to affect the sounds of what was spoken
  • readings of lines and explaining unfamiliar words
  • discussing the interactions between Caliban and the two human characters
  • considering the comic potential of the scene - and think about why Shakespeare created the comic element to the story
  • understanding Caliban's speech at the end of this scene - what he was trying to do and what it conveyed about him

The final workshop focused on analysing Act 3 and on understanding why Shakespeare has set the play on an island.  Specifically in Act 3 Scene 2, much time was spent on dicussing and analysing Caliban's speech:
  • what is his plan?
  • what emotions are portrayed in this speech?
  • what does he want Stephano and Trinculo to do, and how?
  • do the spirits like Caliban?
  • what does Caliban need to do before killing Propsero?
  • are his words believeable?
  • how the use of certain words convey Caliban's state of mind
  • what do we learn about Caliban here?
  • Caliban's relationships to Prospero and Miranda
The discussions on Caliban led to the children thinking about how the settings of the play might have been related to the slave trade that took place in Elizabethan times, that perhaps Shakespeare intended the audience to consider what would happen if you treat other people as sub-human (as in the case of how Caliban has been treated).

Working in pairs, the children were then given the tasks of:
1) finding an image from the speech to be used to represent a statue of Caliban, and
2) finding a phrase from the speech to represent, as a statue, of either Stephano or Trinculo.

In doing so, the children had to analyse the body language of the statue that they were to represent with their bodies, while also analysing why the two humans may want to help Caliban.  It was interesting to see the many different, creative interpretations of the same speech.

It is all very timely because the new 2013 season has opened at The Globe and we went to watch The Tempest there.  You can catch the final moments of this year's production here.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Look What We Did!
  2. Hobbies and Handicrafts - May 31
  3. Collage Friday - Joy and Loss
  4. Weekly Wrap-Up: The First Week of Summer Break 2013
  5. Hip Homeschool Hop - 6/4/13

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Science in Our Home

Science is one subject that I feel that I haven't figured it all out, even though we have been learning science since the beginning of our homeschool journey.  In many ways, our approach has been somewhat haphazard.  We tend not to follow any specific curriculum (although I have tried to do so several times in the past), and just tie the experiments with whatever topic Tiger is interested in at the moment.  To those who are left-brain orientated, such 'jumping around' can be very unsettling.

Nowadays our approach to maths looks, from the outside, to be skipping around as well since we no longer follow any specific curriculum.  However, I am more confident about applying the same approach to maths because Tiger has had a few years of covering the ground work (number sense, basic operations, etc), so to speak, but I don't feel that I have any means to measure what the ground work is in science.

"Where science does not teach a child to wonder and admire it has perhaps no educative value."
-- Charlotte Mason

We started off Year One following the Classical approach.  The recommendations from The Well Trained Mind sounded very logical to me: start with Life Science, followed by Earth Science, then Chemistry, and last comes Physics.  As the Classical approach started with Life Science, I was able to incorporate Nature Study at the same time.

The one year of following the general scope of Life Science was an interesting learning process for me.  We tried several science curricula but could not find a good match.  We would start off very enthusiastically only to find, after a few weeks, that one of the following scenarios would inevitably happen:

  • the curriculum that started off with great promise of rigour became underwhelming one-third of the way;
  • required too much writing that Tiger wasn't ready for;
  • the experiments leaned too much towards entertainment or craft rather than science;
  • too much theory; 
  • too confusing;
  • too much spoon-feeding;
  • unnecessarily complicated experiments

Despite the unsatisfactory start, we still bumbled along using various sources of hands-on experiments that were relevant to the topics that Tiger was learning, as well as keeping up with regular nature study.  At the same time, I began to realise that the compartmentalisation of science as suggested by WTM is counter-intuitive, and that science happens in real life in a myriad of fascinating, interrelated ways.  I also began to wonder whether there really exists a specific sequence to the learning of science.

I got my answer through observing how easily Tiger understood and completed the experiments at the science classes in the co-op last year.  That series of science classes were all physics topics which, according to WTM's schedue, we were nowhere close to covering in Year Two.  The ease at which Tiger grasped the lessons taught at those classes reassured me that learning science in the elementary years has much to do with:
  • using common sense
  • observing and participating in real life
  • being open to new and/or unconventional ideas
  • maintaining a sense of wonder and curiosity about a great many different topics
  • being interested to learn and understand
  • avoiding dogma
The above points are also the guiding principles of how we approach the learning of science in our home.

To get an idea of how science is learned by other homeschooling families, please visit the other contributors to this series:

This post is linked up to:
  1. Hip Homeschool Hop - 5/28/13
  2. Hearts for Home Blog Hop #19
  3. Collage Friday - Joy and Loss
  4. TGIF Linky Party #78
  5. Creative Learning #16
  6. Weekly Wrap-Up: The First Week of Summer Break 2013
  7. Share it Saturday - Awesome Science
  8. Sunday Showcase - 6/1/13
  9. Science Sunday: It's no kids week!
  10. Homeschool Science Share & Tell - May 2013 edition 
Inspiration Laboratories

Friday, 24 May 2013

The Italian Experience - Mosaics

When we look into the traditional art associated with Italy, the one that we come across the most is mosaics.  I wonder whether this is due to the influence of the Roman culture, which is also our main association to mosaics.

We started off our exploration of mosaics with a set of puzzles that Tiger had used when he was a preschooler.  Following last week's land and water forms exercise (also from his preschool days), we seem to be feeling rather nostalgic lately.  Maybe it's because the academic year is coming to a close soon and I am feeling more reflective about what we have done so far.

Once Tiger has the hang of forming a mosaic picture from the above exercise, I wanted us to make one out of paper.  To get our design inspiration from real mosaics, we went to look the V&A.  The V&A prides itself as a design museum, so everything in it is filled with ideas for designers.  We had a good look at the different patterns on its mosaic floors as well as a few more modern mosaic portraits on the wall.

 At home, we proceeded with our paper mosaic project.  We cut an A4-sized white card into two to use as our base.  Then we each sketched the outline of our designs using pencil before filling the designs in lightly with coloured pencils.  This is to help us plan where the colours go.

Tiger's design

My design

We gathered all the coloured craft papers we needed, measured and drew 1cm squares on each and cut them up with a pair of scissors.  The coloured paper tiles were put in plastic trays by colours for ease of use.  Then we glued each paper tile onto our designs carefully, one colour at a time.

The paper mosaics took a while to complete but it was a fun exercise.

Finally, I gave Tiger a mosaic tile set that I bought from a craft shop.  The set came with ready-cut tiles, a wooden base, ready-drawn design, and grout.  All Tiger had to do was to assemble it.

Tiger actually prefers to make his own paper mosaic rather than to use the ready-made set because:
1) he prefers to draw his own design, and
2) the tiles in the set are all standard 1cm squares, and we cannot cut the tiles easily without making a mess and breaking them.  The inability to cut the tiles results in a less refined finish.

This post is linked up to:
  1. Look What We Did!
  2. Virtual Refrigerator
  3. May Culture Swapper
  4. Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #4
  5. History and Geography Meme #75
  6. Hobbies and Handicrafts - May 24
  7. Homeschool Mother's Journal: May 24, 2013 
  8. Homeschool Review
  9. Collage Friday - Time for Nothing and an Exciting Something
  10. Weekly Wrap-Up: The One at NCHE
  11. Hip Homeschool Hop - 5/28/13

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Groups - Home Ed and Otherwise

I had a quick look through the various homeschooling e-groups that we belong to and this is a sample of what's on offer to homeschoolers:
  1. foreign languages (Chinese, Spanish, French, Latin)
  2. field trips
  3. theatre studies (drama, film studies)
  4. arts and crafts (weaving, sewing, basketry, woodwork, mixed media, arts awards)
  5. nature-based education (forest school, forest conservation, gardening)
  6. language arts workshops (creative writing, poetry)
  7. park days
  8. sports (karate, fencing, horse riding, sailing, trampolining, multisports, gymnastics, swimming, bowling, scouts/guides, climbing, kayaking, archery, ice skating)
  9. music (choir, instruments, music production, musicianship)
  10. science (engineering and electronics, robotics, physics, science fairs, various LEGO groups, science awards)
  11. history workshops
  12. geography workshops
  13. maths workshops
  14. special interests workshops (magic club, first aid, philsophy, cookery, circus skills)
  15. toddlers and preschoolers groups
The scope of activities is amazing, isn't it?  These homeschooling groups (or home ed groups, as they are normally called in England) are all run or organised by homeschooling parents and are pretty informal, in the sense that the length of each workshop can range from one day to an entire 10-week term.  I suppose in some ways their function overlaps with that of co-ops, except that they are much more relaxed, the nature of the activities are usually less academic, and they allow different families to dip in and out of them as necessary.

Most of the time interest groups are started by one or a few parents to fill in a gap when their own children has a need and the corresponding activity has not been offered yet.  These groups are basically created out of various homeschooling parents' initiatives.

As is obvious from the list above, it is very possible to home educate your child successfully in England by just signing up to the activities that are currently on offer.  I know of at least two families that do exactly that.

I apply the same basic principles in selecting how much external participation Tiger does as I have mentioned here.  It is really a question of finding the right balance for my family.  More than 90% of the activities listed above take place outside of our local area (i.e. more than 10 miles away from us) so Tiger's regular homeschooling group meet-ups has been for:
We have had more success with attending home ed groups than with co-ops -- we have been actively participating in various home ed groups' activities for four years now, but we only lasted six months in the co-op.  The high level of flexibility to move around to different groups at different times is crucial to us largely because of Tiger's asynchronous development.  In some areas he learns at the speed of the bullet train, in others he can be like an old man riding a mule, yet emotionally he is still a regular eight-year-old boy.  I don't expect anyone or any group to speed up or slow down for him, so one-off workshops or activities that allow for different learning speeds work best for him, e.g. drama and forest school.

Socially, the amount of regular interaction we have with other homeschoolers as stated above, is sufficient to keep us happy.  We don't limit our social interactions to homeschoolers so Tiger's social circle is very wide.  In other words, his peer group is not restricted by age group, locality, or methods of learning.  He is led by his interests to have regular meaningful interactions with adults as well as school-attending children, both locally and further afield.  For example, Tiger's passion in military history has resulted in him holding membership to a national history group that meets regularly to discuss, investigate, and debate over research and findings in archaeology, history, and battles.

These are books that Tiger reads at his own leisure.

Tiger is also a member of a junior chess club that competes at county and national levels, a local junior tennis club, and a regional junior archaeologist club run by working archaeologists.

Interestingly, I am aware that there are at least 10 homeschooling families that live locally to us, but there is no local group.  Everyone seems to have already found a comfortably suitable way forward without the need or desire to form a local group.

I have met a number of these families through our rounds in the home ed groups circuit over the years.  The common characteristics of these families, as far as I can gather, are that:
  • they are decent, honest families who are discreet and fiercely protective of their personal privacy;
  • they are very often blessed with an independent spirit that requires little external validation for what they consider to be a personal decision and indeed a private matter, i.e. to educate their own children.
  • they know why they are homeschooling their children, and they know what to do to best support their children's needs, so most of them just want to be left in peace to get on with their family life purposefully.
Some people may find the lack of a local homeschooling group to be disconcerting, but I see that as a blessing in disguise in that I am free to pick and choose different activities that appeal to Tiger's interests, without being limited to the ones that are being offered by the local group, had there been one.  As far as I can tell, the only drawback of not having an active homeschooling group local to us is that I have to work doubly hard to find appropriate opportunities for Tiger to participate in activities that matter to him, or to create those opportunities for him.  Luckily that doesn't bother me at all.  More importantly, Tiger is thriving in this extremely flexible environment.

Having said that, there is nothing to stop me from taking the lead in organising regular activities for the homeschooling community in the future should the need arise.  In fact, I often toy with the idea of starting regular group activities locally, but that hasn't happened yet because Tiger still needs individualised and focused support from me at the moment so trying to start something now would only distract me from giving him the attention he needs.  To meet Tiger's needs is, afterall, my top priority in this homeschooling journey.

With the wide variety of activities that are available to homeschoolers these days, there are so many ways to create a great education that is tailored to meet each child's needs, based on individual families' circumstances and requirements.  For other examples of how homeschooling groups might work for your family, please visit these ladies to read what they have to say on this topic:
  • Bernadette shares a sad story about the demise of a homeschooling group when some are Unable to Commit.
  • Erin has been involved in home education support groups for three decades.  She shares an overview of that journey and the importance the groups have played for her family in It Takes a Community.

This post is linked up to:
1) Hip Homeschool Hop - 5/21/13
2) Hearts for Home Blog Hop #18
3) Homeschool Mother's Journal: May 24, 2013
4) Collage Friday - Time for Nothing and an Exciting Something
5) TGIF Linky Party #77
6) Creative Learning #15
7) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One at NCHE
8) Share it Saturday! Creative Play with Kids
9) Sunday Showcase - 5/25/13

Friday, 17 May 2013

For England!

Following our very successful first poetry tea last week, Tiger has been looking forward to this week's tea time.  He has even volunteered to bake something new this week.

Tiger has been baking since he was three years old but not on a consistent basis, only because we didn't have a good reason for him to feel motivated enough to do so consistently.   Now the weekly poetry tea seems to have sparked a new interest in baking for him so I am more than happy to have him spend time in the kitchen to learn the important life skill of cooking.

This week Tiger decided make Jam Drops.

We had to be out on the day that we were scheduled to have poetry tea but Tiger was adamant that he didn't want to miss it, so I packed a handful of jam drops in a lunch box and a poetry book into my bag.  True to his word, Tiger and I spent 45 minutes in a cafe having our version of poetry tea.  We applied the same process as we would have done at home, i.e. taking turns to read verses out loud while the other person was eating.

There was nothing exceptional about what we did except that a French family (a couple with two young children of about five and seven years old ) sat at the table next to ours.  The tables in the cafe were placed very close to one another so they could hear and see what we were doing, and vice versa.

Because we were using Tiger's favourite poetry book at the moment, Edward Lear's Nonsense book, Tiger read page after page poetically and very animatedly before writing his own verses in his sketchbook when it was my turn to read.

I noticed the French mother listening to us and looking at us several times throughout our reading, then signalling to her husband and her older daughter to look at us.  Tiger was oblivious to it all but I felt slightly self-conscious to be stared at.  I have no idea what the French mother was thinking of but at least she didn't give me the disapproving, what-a-pushy-mum look so I assumed, from her facial expression, that she was impressed by what she saw.

This incident reminds me of a minor national outrage that took place last year caused by a caricature piece of writing that pitted stereotypes in French parenting against those in English parenting.  If Tiger and I had swayed the French mother's opinion to the positive about English children's behaviour in public, then we have done our part for England that day, not that we would ever claim to represent anybody but ourselves....

This post is linked up to:
1) Look What We Did!
2) Kids in the Kitchen - Some of Our Favourite Recipes
3) Hobbies and Handicrafts - May17
4) Collage Friday - Math, Appliances, and Other Goodies
5) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Didn't Go to Nashville
6) Hip Homeschool Hop - 5/21/13

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Land and Water

As part of our geography study (via Marco Polo) these days, we have been paying more attention to the various geography terms such as 'peninsula', 'island', 'bay', etc.  While we are still in Italy in our study, we have come across these terms as they apply to the various parts of the country.  For example, the mainland of Italy is a peninsula, while Sicily is an island, whereas Naples is situated by a bay.  I thought I could get away with a quick review using an exercise from the Great Map Games book, but I soon realised that Tiger could do with a better understanding of the difference between land forms and water forms.

From his Montesori preschool days, I recall an exercise that will teach this concept in a tactile manner.  Now that Tiger is older and more capable of creating materials for his own use (as opposed to his preschool years when I had to make most of the Montessori materials), I printed off the freely available Land Form Cards and explained to him that we were (mostly he was) going to make 3D models of those land and water forms.  Tiger has always been enthusiastic about clay modelling, so he was happy to take on the project.

The bag of Sculptamold that had been sitting in the cupboard for a few years finally saw the light of day!  In its dry form, Sculptamold is very much like shredded paper pulp.  After adding water and mixing it well, following instructions on the bag, it becomes very clay-like yet much more malleable.

It didn't take Tiger too long to complete the ten models.  We waited 24 hours to let the clay dry completely.

The following day Tiger painted the models with acrylic paint.  We left the models to dry for another two hours.

The real fun began when the models were completely dry.  Using a jug of water added with blue food colouring, Tiger poured carefully into each tray.

The strong contrast in colours between the land (brown) and water (blue) makes it very easy and clear for the child to distinguish between land forms and water forms.  Therefore, Tiger had no problem to identify them correctly with their corresponding nomenclature cards.

I was wondering whether there was any need to extend the activity when Tiger suggested that he wanted to try to identify the trays while being blindfolded.  This way, he would only rely on his sense of touch in the identification process.

After Tiger called out the correct names for each tray several times, I changed the game a little by reading out the definitions of each land/water form instead.  Still with his blindfold on, Tiger now has to: (1) identify which land/water form matches the definition that I give, and (2) find the corresponding tray by touch.  He did well to identify them all correctly.

Tiger must have done the identification game at least five times in a row.  I think by now he has a pretty good idea about the ten common land and water form, if their physical forms were not already etched in his mind.  He was having so much fun that he didn't want the exercise to end, so I printed off additional definition cards, mixed them up with the other two sets of cards that were used earlier, and asked him to categorise and label everything.

Tiger had to do the exercise on the floor as there were too many labels and trays to fit on the table.  Here is a close up of his floor work:

Over the next few days, Tiger was out in the garden most afternoons, mostly digging on his patch.

When I went to see what he was doing, he showed me the archipelago that he made:

On another day, he was again found digging on his patch with intense concentration:

When I went near, he told me that he had been creating a peninsula and an island:

Given a choice, I personally would much rather see my child demonstrate his knowledge this way than by taking a paper test.  I sometimes get asked the question "How do you know that your child is learning?"  My answer has always been that I know from observing his behaviour and attitude, from listening to what he tells me, and from looking closely at what he does.  The above is an example of how I know that he has internalised what he has learnt.

Having said that, we still used the command cards for a thorough review.  The majority of the questions were answered orally with Tiger using the globe to find his answers.

For my own peace of mind, I asked Tiger to:
  1. draw and label the different land/water forms on the paper as we went along, 
  2. identify each land form with its corresponding water form (e.g. straits and isthmus, bay and cape, gulf and peninsula), and
  3. tell me the difference and similiarities between each pair.

This post is linked up to:
1) Look What We Did!
2) History and Geography Meme: Learning History and Science Together
3) Hobbies and Handicrafts - May 17
4) Collage Friday - Math, Appliances, and Other Goodies
5) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Didn't Go to Nashville
6) Science Sunday: Tiger Hunt
7) Hip Homeschool Hop - 5/21/13
8) Homeschool Science Share & Tell - May 2013 edition

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The Italian Experience - The Most Famous Love Story

Tiger has already read the story from Tales of Shakespeare and other abridged versions.  He also remembers the masks that he decorated, which he thinks will come in handy in the masquerade party in the play.  He also watched the BBC animated version of Romeo and Juliet.

After our previous successful trip to The Globe, Tiger asked to go there again.  On his own accord, he started to read the original play at home and took it along on the day of the performance to "match what the actors are saying with the script" (his words).  The version that he read is one that is used in schools -- with the dialogues on one side and the corresponding analysis on the other.  I wasn't expecting him to read the actual play until later, but if he wanted to do that and has enjoyed doing so (as he told me afterwards), then I won't hold him back unnecessarily.

The production at The Globe that we watched was one that was specifically put up for the benefit of students who are taking literature GCSE exams this year, as Romeo and Juliet is one of the selected texts for the exam. 

The performance, although the actors still spoke in the original Shakespearean language, was modernised in its props and costumes, which reminded me more of West Side Story than the usual Elizabethan stage than we were expecting to see at The Globe.  It is very unusual for The Globe to perform in a modern version so I wonder whether it was a deliberate action to get the secondary school children interested.

I was very impressed by the performance nonetheless, as I felt that I now understand the play and the emotions within the characters more after watching the performance.  However, Tiger didn't like the modernised parts of the performance.  He wanted to see the traditional Elizabethan version that The Globe did a few years ago:

Tiger was also not impressed with the audience that day.  Compared to the very civilised, interested, paying public whom we sat amongst to watch The Taming of the Shrew, this time we were amongst secondary school groupsWatching from the side where we were sitting, it was clear that some of the school children / teenagers really didn't want to be there.  Tiger was slightly baffled at one point by the disinterest he saw in the majority of the school-attending audience.

The quality of the audience and the modernisation of the play, both of which Tiger didn't take to, helped me make up my mind about not attending school matinees at The Globe anymore.  I would rather pay the full price to have the same experience as we did with The Taming of the Shrew.

This post is linked up to:
1) Look What We Did!
2) Hobbies and Handicrafts - May 17
3) Collage Friday - Math, Appliances, and Other Goodies
4) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Didn't Go to Nashville
5) Hip Homeschool Hop - 5/21/13

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Our Co-op Experience

At the beginning of my homeschooling journey eight years ago, I used to read about the many interesting co-op experiences that the American homeschooling families have, and wished that there were homeschooling co-ops where we live.  I imagined that I would be able to enjoy educating my son with like-minded people.  However, since there was no such arrangement near us, I had to find my own way which eventually morphs into our own unique approach, which you read about on this blog.

In the past two years, I have seen an increase in the number of co-ops started in various areas near us.  Last year, we spent a fair bit of time with one particular group and I even taught art for a term to the children there.  At the start, it was a lot of fun -- new people, new friends, new environment, new way of learning (this particular co-op hired 'specialists' to teach science and maths).  Nonetheless, after six months, I felt the need to reevaluate our participation there for various reasons, including the type of social experience Tiger was having there, as well as the difference between the goals of the co-op and our family's educational goals.

The biggest concern that I had, which made me decide to discontinue with the co-op, was that it started to feel like and was being treated as a parent-coordinated version of a private school, with the accompanying (unspoken) requirement that all children who attend the sessions learn at the same pace.  This inevitably gave rise to motivational issues and disruptive behaviour in some children who were not able to keep up but whose parents dropped them off at the venue (as they would at any school) and thus were not on site to support their learning.  The atmosphere and environment of the co-op had become counterproductive to the types of learning that I want Tiger to be exposed to, so we don't go there anymore.

Despite our discontiuity at the co-op, the experience of having been there and taking the time to reflect upon our experience was helpful in the sense that:
  1. it helped me to make careful consideration about the types of environment (people, atmosphere, attitudes) that Tiger is exposed to;
  2. it helped to bring about more clarity and further refinement of our family goals;
  3. it gave Tiger an opportunity to start learning about the different types of environment that can result in different outcomes and behaviour;
  4. it gave me confidence that our home environment is the one that provides the most flexbility and effective learning experience to meet Tiger's evolving educational needs.
I think there are some benefits to joining a co-op where learning is coordinated as a group, for example when there is a group of children who are following the same curriculum or are preparing for the same examination.  The sameness in progression required to take the examinations on a common date or to achieve a shared learning objective makes a co-op arrangement useful for peer group motivation as well as for cost-sharing of materials and instructors.  There may exist certain benefits for such an arrangement to take place at a later stage for Tiger, probably at high school level, and the experience of shared learning may not necessarily have to be in the form of attending a class at a physical location.  Online classes and discussion forums are two possible ways to experience share learning that is not limited by geographical locations and chronological age requirements.

"Kids propser best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, not just a small range of them."

Based on our experience, I'd say this:
If you are lucky enough to find a co-op near you that shares your ethos for education, it would be a wonderful opportunity to explore; otherwise, a formal co-op arrangement is neither crucial nor essential to the success of your homeschool in your child's elementary years, more so if your vision for your child's childhood is one of natural exploration and learning at his/her own pace.

This is especially true if the child's home environment is warm, loving, and nurturing, and is one that provides plenty of well-rounded learning opportunities to support the development of a balanced individual.  Therefore, I think that a formal co-op for an elementary-aged child does not add anything substantial to the experiences that he/she is already getting at home.

"If you can light the spark of curiosity in the child, they will learn without further assistance, very often."

While I still keep my eye out for co-op opportunities, I have not yet found one that provides a high enough "value", as I have mentioned here, to entice us to commit to the large amount of time required outside of our home environment when it is already meeting Tiger's current need for an individualised, one-to-one educational setting.

Again, I can't emphasise enough that this is my personal view, based on our personal experience with one particular co-op group, evaluated using our family's goals and values.  There are certainly many different types of co-op experiences that others will no doubt have, so I strongly encourage you to read about them from the other contributors:
  • As co-ops are not common in Australia, Erin shares how she is Creating Synergy.
  • Bernadette sees Beneficial Co-op(eration) and tells why she looks forward to organising or joining a co-op in the next few years.

This post is linked up to:
1) Hip Homeschool Hop - 5/14/13
2) Hearts for Home Blog Hop #17
3) Collage Friday - Math, Appliances, and Other Goodies
4) TGIF Linky Party # 76
5) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One Where I Didn't Go to Nashville
6) Share it Saturday
7) Sunday Showcase - 5/18/13

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The Italian Experience - Music

We did a little bit of Composer Study related to Italy, where we learned about Palestrina by reading a short biography of him in this book:

and watched a documentary in which he was featured.

We also watched an Italian opera, La Boheme, at The Royal Opera House.  I wasn't sure whether Tiger would be able to sit through the entire performance without feeling bored, but he was captivated by the music and the set.

As a result of his interest in the opera above, we came home to learn more about its composer, Puccini:

This post is linked up to:
1) Look What We Did!
2) History and Geography Meme: Learning History and Math Together
3) Homeschool Mother's Journal: May 10, 2013
4) Hobbies and Handicrafts - May 10
5) Collage Friday - A Big Change and A Big Sale!
6) Homeschool Review
7) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One That Was a Roller Coaster
8) Hip Homeschool Hop - 5/14/13
9) Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop #4

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

A Very Civilised Afternoon of Tea and Poetry

Tiger has always loved the afternoon tea.  He loves that we make it a special occasion -- with beautiful china tea set, specially baked treats, and beautifully laid out table cloths.  You know, the full works.  It didn't occur to me to do anything more with our afternoon tea than just sitting and eating until I saw what Lucinda does with hers.

Poetry Tea!  What a great idea!  I followed the links in her post and felt greatly inspired by the Tuesday Teatimes to start making more of our afternoons.  It so happens that I am starting to think about focusing a little more on writing and poetry, so these inspirations couldn't have come at a better time.

I ran the idea past Tiger -- I am beginning to consult him more when I plan things to do with him so as to expose him to the planning process in order to prepare him for more autonomy in structuring his own education in the future -- and he was keen to try it out.

We had run out of teatime snacks so I asked him whether he wanted to bake something fresh to mark the occasion.  He was happy to do so and quickly decided that he wanted to make scones.  How appropriate!

He chose a scone recipe and pretty much did everything himself.  I stayed on the side to supervise and to help take some ingredients from the top shelf of the cupboard.

While the scones were baking in the oven, Tiger ran out to the garden to pick a few stalks of daffodils and arranged them neatly for our table.

After 20 minutes in the oven, we were treated to the smell and sight of freshly baked scones.  Tiger thought they looked more like buns but they definitely tasted exactly like scones.

We were now finally ready to have tea.  Usually I would be rushing around the house trying to tidy up during the short break in the afternoon, but on this day I actually sat down to enjoy poetry and tea.  It was wonderful to just sit and enjoy the moment.

Since it was our first time having poetry tea and with only two of us, it was a very relaxed and informal affair.  I gathered the poetry books we have on the bookshelves and explained to Tiger that the idea was to take turns sharing one or more poetry or verse that we like from any of the books, while the other person was eating.

After reading, Tiger was inspired to make up his own verses.  Seizing the opportunity, I quickly ran to get a pen and notebook to act as his scribe while he recited his impromptu poems.  This was going way beyond my expectation!

Tiger asked whether we could do this everyday, which shows how much he has enjoyed this trial run.  I suggested that we keep it to once a week for now since it's a new routine/habit that we are trying to establish so doing it at a reasonable pace will keep our interest up, rather than sprinting at it then losing our momentum when we run out of steam.  Once we get the hang of doing this, maybe by the end of summer, we will then look into increasing its frequency.

My previous attempt at introducing poetry to Tiger felt very clumsy and awkward, which was why it didn't get very far.  Now I am pleased to have finally found a natural way to introduce this beautiful part of language arts into our home. 

This post is linked up to:
1) Look What We Did!
2) Spring Carnival
3) Homeschool Mother's Journal: May 10, 2013
4) Collage Friday - A Big Change and A Big Sale!
5) Homeschool Review: May 10, 2013
6) Hobbies and Handicrafts - May10
7) Weekly Wrap-Up: The One That Was a Roller Coaster
8) Kids in the Kitchen  - Family Taco Night
9) Hip Homeschool Hop - 5/14/13

It is also featured on Tuesday Timetime: Daffodils.

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