February 28, 2015

Grade Four :: { Week Seventeen }

Skin, nails and hair.  No!  I have not turned beauty blogger...those are the subjects we studied this week.  We  read about our skin in the wonderful 1992 version of the Steve Parker book, The Body and How it Works.  The book was published before Dorling-Kindersley embraced photos - it's filled with great illustrations!

Hair Follicle

Benjamin has always enjoyed the books in the See & Explore Library.  The human body book is his favorite.  Why?  He likes the miniature soldiers and construction workers depicted throughout -- and he liked the microscopic soldiers in this hair follicle.  He announced, "I am going to make some of those little skin soldiers!"  So, I got out the Fimo and Sculpey.

Skin Soldier - Front

Skin Soldier - Side

Isn't he adorable?  He stands only about 3-inches tall and he follows me around the house shouting, "A germ!  Don't worry, I'll tackle it!"  and other such reassuring statements.  He is a welcome addition to the household.  Although I usually like to keep my weekly wrap-up images monochrome, I changed the saturation on my photographs to show off his green fatigues -- kinda like I did a couple of weeks ago with the praying mantis -- isn't his little "skin soldier" the cutest thing?

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So this was our first week of studying the human body.  It's our one and only Science Block this school year.  And so far, we dedicated a week each to birds, fishes, amphibians, reptiles, insects and mammals.  There are some homeschool moms who might dedicate an entire month to each...and that is fine, too.

I have been taking advantage of our new Roku Streaming Stick and watching homeschool vlogs on YouTube on our television.  To be honest, we discovered them quite by accident.  I had no idea there were women videorecording themselves for "a day in the life" (DITL)-themed posts or, showing us their weekly "Target haul."  I don't recall how we discovered the first one, but for the past three weeks I have been addicted to seeing how the other half lives.

I am absolutely in awe of the amount of time mothers are spending on meaningless preparation.  And I cannot believe the amount of money they are spending on schoolroom decor, workboxing systems, notebooking and lapbooking supplies, and curricula.  One evening I watched a woman fill her children's magazine files with worksheets, workbooks and randomly chosen readers.  She explained that she used to have wheeled, 10-drawer carts for their work, but "the toddlers" destroyed them...that is, now that those two toddlers are no longer caged in the living room.  So, the older children must now work out of magazine files and tackle boxes while their siblings get into everything else around them and their mom records it all for her viewers.  In one episode (?) the vlogger -- while her children were put into bed by her husband -- filed work into her children's files.  Their work consisted of stuff like: Math-U-See worksheets, coloring pages (to be completed as they listen to audio-based curricula), and those disjointed workbooks you buy in places like grocery stores and pharmacies.  It was so odd.

I thought this particular vlogger was the exception, but then YouTube offered me "More Channels [I] Might Like.".  Soon I was watching 20-minute tutorials on how to make a notebook pretty and encouraged to add a snack to my child's workboxes (It will give him incentive to "keep going.")  WHAT?  Some families have intricate task card systems and Velcro tags.  All I could think is this:
Imagine a child being enrolled in a swanky private school.  Now, imagine each classroom having twenty-five 10-drawer rolling carts lined up along the wall.  And, every day each child is responsible for visiting his cart to retrieve his work.  Every child will carry his worksheet or workbook or coloring page to his desk and begin working independently. He might even find a random book to read in his drawer -- one in which he has no interest. There might be a Post-it note providing instruction. Maybe something like, "Pages 1-5."   When he is finished, he will replace the completed materials in his drawer and take a Velcro numeral from the left side of that drawer and move it to the opposite side of the drawer -- so the teacher knows he is completing his work.  All the while, she will be filming it with her iPhone.  The next day she might film herself in the parking lot at Costco.       
After weeks of watching this curious version of homeschooling, I am noticing how much information Benjamin and I consume and digest through our extremely minimalist approach to learning.  Although I plan, we approach each subject from the perspective of an autodidact. Each year, I plan a general outline of the themes in which I know Benjamin has an interest and together we explore each.  I believe that is why our method of homeschooling is so successful.  I also believe this accounts for his calm demeanor.  He doesn't feel like a caged animal, being given snacks for incentive to "keep going."  He's learning about that which interests him and he's learning as much or as little as he wishes.

I am also grateful I scaled back on photographs of him at (academic) work. When he was a preschooler I loved taking pictures of his chubby little hands holding a pencil or working on a handwriting exercise.  When he began to struggle with reading, I stopped pulling out the camera during schooltime.  Now, I photograph him only when he encourages me with, "Are you going to take pictures?"  And now, after watching the private lives of children on YouTube for three weeks, I joke with my husband, "Thank God I got cancer!"  My cancer treatments provided me with a window through which I might otherwise never have looked: my inability to over-plan his days allowed me to organically discover Benjamin's full potential. I soon learned "plowing through" material -- a term often used by the vloggers I watched -- is unnecessary.  Material, for that matter, is sometimes unnecessary.  

This week we studied skin, nails and hair.  I read to him from books we already own:  How the Body Works, The Body and How it Works, Body: An Amazing Your of Human Anatomy and See Inside Your Body.  He was immediately interested.  He pointed to diagrams and asked additional questions spurred on by the interesting facts he was hearing.  We talked about dead skin making up most of the dust in a house (yuck!) and, why skin colors vary between peoples. We learned redheads have more iron content in the melanin that colors their hair, and blondes have more sulfur!  We discovered the little white crescent at the base on our nails is called a lunula, from the Latin word for moon.  Each day we read a little bit, we talked A LOT, we did a little research, we talked A LOT and on occasion, he even completed a worksheet or two (gasp!).  Using Fascinating Facts about The Human Body (found secondhand and unused by my mom!), Benjamin unscrambled words, completed a crossword puzzle, colored and labeled a cross-section of skin and answered a series of True/False questions.  

Why do you think I suggested he complete worksheet pages?  Probably not the reason you are thinking.  Did you immediately assume I require tangible evidence of his accomplishments? Nope.  I explained to him that his dyslexia (plus a weak working memory) makes understanding and following complex directions stressful.  So, we are using the workbook throughout our entire study of the human body.  We are going to work through it not as busywork, not as evidence we are providing him with an appropriate education, but instead because I want to arm him with the essential tools he will need in all areas of his life -- listening skills, critical thinking skills, discernment of important information and of course, following directions. 
According to the State of Pennsylvania, "appropriate education" shall mean a program consisting of instruction in the required subjects for the time required in this act and in which the student demonstrates sustained progress in the overall program.
Michelangelo's David has also been our featured Art of the Week.  Have you ever really looked at David?  It is a remarkable piece of sculpture, probably on my Top 5 List.  We watched a Khan Academy video to accompany Art of the Week, and were reminded...at the time Michelangelo was completing David (1501-1504) science had only just begun to understand what lies beneath our skin.  So it is even more impressive when thought of in those terms -- of course that gave us A LOT to talk about, too!  We do a lot of talking in our home.  No workboxes and Post-it notes.  

I have tangible proof that an appropriate education is taking place in our home three-hundred and sixty-five days a year  -- we call him Benjamin.  And if he needs a snack to "keep on going," it is probably because he's hiking through the woods at Middle Creek.