Sunday, February 19, 2006

Deep School

This was originally posted at my other site, Twice Bloomed Wisteria.

In my former life I was a public high school literature teacher in Chicago. My mentor teacher called this time of the school year Deep School -- the time at which you can not see the beginning or end. He said it was the period that separates the average and awful teachers from the awesome teachers. The challenge is to maintain energy and high standards and to keep the material and technique interesting even though the students have heard your jokes, know your typical activities, and can predict your questions during Socratic discussion. You lose the Deep School Syndrome at the college level because of the semester course changes and I would not have dreamed that Deep School would be an issue in the home school. But, I find that I am fighting the doldrums in my own home school.

We are half way through the incredibly predictable Saxon math text, 1/2 way through modern history, and 1/2 way through Latin Primer I, etc. As I plan our week, I feel bored, as if I am just going through the motions. Unfortunately, I know that the children will follow my lead and learning will suffer. How can I reclaim the excitement of the beginning of the year? I will use some of the tricks I learned as a public school teacher and some new ideas I have learned being a homeschooling teacher/mom.
  • Save one of your best or most exciting units for this time of the year. This can be a problem for home schools because you don't teach the same classes and material year after year. You can find a book or project that fits into your yearly plan that is particularly interesting or exciting for you. We are just starting Around the World in Eighty Days for geography. I am so excited about this plan.
  • Buy some new school supplies. The smell of new notebooks is certainly motivating and a new box of crayons or colored pencils simply irresistible.
  • Take a field trip -- something out of the ordinary, yet on topic. Perhaps a play or poetry reading, a camping or canoe trip, an art exhibition, or a trip to the capitol (state or national) could boost morale.
  • Take a mini break from the routine. We did not touch the Saxon math text last week and we won't this week. Instead we concentrated on one problem area in math and used other activities to master the concept (in our case multiplication facts).
  • Start something new! If art or picture studies fell by the wayside earlier in the year, use this time to add some zip into school. We have used 2 levels and 2 tracks of Meet the Masters art study and these are perfect curriculum boosters. Each artist lesson takes a few hours to complete (picture study, technique lesson, and master work creation), but the children learn much and have fun.
  • Play games! I often forget the learning opportunities of games. Dominoes is great for addition facts. Monopoly builds money handling skills and teaches making change (Let the child be the banker). Scrabble is a wonderful spelling teacher. The possibilities are endless, because the children love spending time with their parents and the learning goes unnoticed in the pursuit of victory.
  • Let your children enter a contest. Science fairs, writing contests, history fairs, 4-H competitions, spelling bees, and invention fairs provide opportunities for your children to show the things they have learned and to learn new things.
Remember, at least 1/2 of the attitude problem comes from your own boredom. Find activities that inspire you and your students will feed off your enthusiasm. Find and maintain your own joy of learning!!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Making the Most of Your Library Day

This entry was originally posted at my other site, Twice Bloomed Wisteria.

I don't know about you, but sometimes the weekly trip to the library can be a truly frustrating, disorganized disaster in which you come home to find you have nothing you need, many things completely inappropriate, and some things that must belong to someone else. I feel the children should be able to wander around and look at books and choose things they want to read, yet I want to monitor which things they actually take home (You caught me. I am a control freak). During this same trip I need to find books, books on tape, or videos that are used in more structured learning (i.e. history, geography, reading, literature). Obviously, this is nearly impossible to accomplish in the allotted library time.

Stressed, no fun for anyone, trips to the library used to be the norm for me and my family until I stepped back and solved some of the logistic problems so I could return the library to a treasured resource status. Make use of these ideas before you head out for the library and maybe your library days can become less stressful, too.
  1. What you see is not always what you get. Find out if your library is part of an association. I own more books than our tiny local library, but the library belongs to an association so they and I have access to the books in 20 + libraries.
  2. If your library has limited resources check to see if any reasonably close libraries have more. We use 2 libraries, our local library and a larger library in Jackson. I pay $50 a year for the guest library card, but the resources are worth far more.
  3. Use the library's online catalog. Order all books you want or know you need in advance. Find out how long it takes for delivery to your local library, ordering deadlines, and delivery days before you begin to depend on the service. The books will be waiting at the check out for you. You can then spend all your library time with your children, helping them make smart choices.
  4. Plan library visits on the day the delivery van runs. This is important for movies and books on tape since they have limited hold times. It also lets you adjust quickly if you can't get ordered books.
  5. Get to know the librarian or in larger libraries the librarian in the section you use (in our case, the juvenile books section). If your children know the librarians they will feel more comfortable asking questions and getting the help they need. They will also get invitations to special events.
  6. Keep a list on your Palm Pilot, in a notebook, or on anything you keep with you. On this list keep the names of authors your children enjoy, books you've already read, books that you plan to read, plans for upcoming lessons. If you have this information ready you can help your children bring home books that will be read, enjoyed and fit into your big plan. You, also, will find it useful if some of the books you reserved did not come in. The lists will help you redirect without stress.
  7. Make sure you and your children agree on "the rules" ahead of time. Clarify safety zones in each library you visit. There is nothing more stressful than losing a child. If you have rules about allowed books, make sure the children know.
Now, with everything in place you may interact with your children, helping them choose books on their level, that are appropriate and are deserving of their time. Remember to make the library experience fun and your children will continue to love to visit and take advantage of all the resources offered by the library.