Friday, May 24, 2013

End of the first week of our Right (brain) school

A fun part of this week has been the new TAG reader book and Leapster Game that I got for the girls -"Brave" on Monday.  The former is pictured with Grace SO thrilled about getting to touch everything and hearing something!  Lily has used it too and I'm seeing her develop a better relationship with words and reading just in this one week alone.  "Brave" the leapster game is about science and nature and it was pretty fun to hear Renna explain how a lady bug larva turns into a lady bug and how excited she was about that!   (Note:  She explained it all to the guy at the nature exchange at the zoo who was teaching her about the bean pod that we brought in to him to exchange.)
So, how has it looked this week?  Compared to the rather intense list of do's and checking off boxes of things to do each day as it has been before, this week has felt .. well.. pretty amazing!  This week has been unwinding from what we have been doing as well as starting some new habits of what to slowly add in the more right-brain dominant way.  I'm actually much more comfortable with winging it each day for the most part, and of seizing those teachable moments.  In general we'll have a time of reading together at least once in the day, but this can be in the morning or just fun stories at night.  Teachable opportunities are so much easier for me to run with because they inspire me when I see where my kids are already wanting to learn!

My oldest has started to enjoy going outside to play rather than escape the house and school like she had been doing the last few weeks. 
Speaking of spontaneous learning-- One morning we were outside for a bit after breakfast to play and the girls found a couple lady-bugs and one flew off but the other one we put on our basil plant that really did need some help.  This led to my reading them the "Grouchy ladybug" by Eric Carl while we watched the ladybug enjoy the bugs on my basil plant (which Lily reminded us was actually a lady BEETLE because the guy at the nature exchange at the zoo said it was really a beetle and not a bug technically.  I was impressed that she remembered!)  Reading that book led to talking about time and size and imagination.  Renna (the five year old middle child) has such a great imagination and said that the one that flew away (that we'd found) must have been the grouchy ladybug and we get to keep the nice friendly one.
On Tuesday we met some friends at the Dallas zoo and Lily and Renna had so much fun spinning in the nest with one of their best friends, Josie and exploring the zoo and all their little spots together.  It was fun to see Lily and Renna so happy.  Times with friends is never long enough.

Get ready to spin!
I gave Lily my old camera as I think I mentioned in my last post, but guess who thought the camera was the best thing ever since chocolate milk with straws?  Yep, my little 2 year old!  She sat in her stroller and took picture after picture.  Delighted the whole time.  Later Lily and I laughed at how many pictures of her own feet and the back of the front seat in the double stroller there were that Gracie took, BUT she actually took a few good ones!
 I can see Grace with her shyness being someone who naturally would gravitate to being behind a camera instead of in front of it.

I've been pleasantly surprised this week at not only how much more happy my oldest has been and seeing her play more and being droopy less, but my middle child and even my 2 year old have been just blossoming!  In just one week!  I want this trend to continue.  I'm less stressed and all three girls are growing and learning on their own initiative and using their imaginations and creativity.  It's lovely to see.
My little kitchen helper making Kale chips with me.  These never last long in our house.  :)  Because of our gluten intolerance and because I just naturally want to eat healthy real foods I talk to the girls about what things are good or not good to eat.  This is such a great life lesson really because I could see all of my girls decide on their own when they'd had enough cupcakes for breakfast yesterday morning. 

Something that I changed in our house this week was putting the box of lego in our living room instead of in their bed room.  I played with them the first day building a car and sorting some of the colors and people parts.  Ever since then they've spent so much time building and imagining together!  It's been so great to see after these last weeks of wilting.
As I've observed Renna this last week I'm not sure that she actually is a left brain learner like I'd thought.  She is so imaginative and it's coming out more and more.  She made up this whole little soap opera with these lego figures.  It was such a great conversation too with her when she talked about them and what they were doing.  I'd talked to my girls at one point about abortion because it is such a big deal in our culture now and we were learning about creation and how we are all made in God's image.  Well, these two she said were bad guys (they had scary faces) but they didn't want to get married, they just loved each other she said, but since they didn't want to get married they killed their baby.  It's pretty amazing how much a 5 year old can pick up from our culture when we don't have regular tv (only Netflix shows) and they are homeschooled and always with me.  But what was great though is how I was able to talk with her about how that was wrong (not in a condemning way, but just so she'd understand by saying how sad that was) and later she changed the guys face so that he was "good."  And she explained how he'd chased the girl and hurt her and so the baby had died, but now he was good.  How do you know?  I asked, and we were able to talk about Jesus and how the bad guy was made new in Christ.  At least 3 times this week I've been able to talk about the gospel with Renna... from when she did something wrong to little things like this.  This is my favorite reason of why I homeschool my kids.  When one of them acts out (usually Renna) and sins (like lying) I can gently tell her that Jesus died for that sin and that He loves her so much even though He knew that she would sin, but that He loves us so much that he doesn't want us to have the yucky sin in our hearts and He wants to make us new.  I'm privileged to see my little one who was acting defiant and hard hearted melt into repentance and hug me knowing that she is unconditionally loved.  It's the biggest deal of all and I don't miss those precious opportunities with them near me so much. 

 As I said, Lily had been (in a sense) trying to escape the house and life for the last month or so.  She kept just acting droopy and not knowing what to do with herself and would ask to go outside to scooter around a bit.  ... Like she was searching for something but she didn't know what. As if she wasn't fully living.  This week I haven't seen much of that.  I haven't tried to control any tv time as I had before.  As in, by telling them to turn it off.  Rather, when she wanted to watch the new Smurfs movie from the library (which is pretty stupid, but whatever) instead of telling her not to watch it I encouraged her to make some clay smurfs at the same time.  Which she did!  After that I haven't seen her watching tv too much.  Definitely not like before where it was just that vegging and hardly any activity or creativity.  The lego is a great diversion from vegging and this week as a family we started doing more Wii sports games together that she's continued on her own with her sister.  Here in the picture they are playing Tennis I think.  They boxed in the Wii sports too and boy does that work out your arms!  This is so great because I have more time to focus on the littlest one that really does need more direction.  I even finally got to the small mountain of clothes that I needed to alter (I was getting tired of my sewing machine and the pile cluttering the living room) and I'm hoping some of my own creative projects will start getting more attention too, what with the older girls becoming more independent in their learning and projects.
Grace always asks to do "school" and her school is cutting things with scissors, writing tiny circles on her white board, and scooping beans or rice or tapioca pearls from one bowl to the next.  My house has felt messier this week, but everyone seems so much happier.  :)
We went to the library today and I found a bunch of great graphic novels for them.  My littlest was excited about the TinkerBell ones and the other two each found an interesting one that they actually kept looking at in line!  Note: normally they'd be bugging each other and trying to wrestle while we checked out the books, and today they were wanting to look at them on their own!  (And yes they are wearing their swimsuits... they wanted to increase their chances of swimming tonight after dinner...)

We stopped at a grocery store and they were still wanting to look at their books.

And STILL after checking out Lily is into the book (Note: She sounded out one of the words outloud and I also heard her talking about what she thought was going on in the pictures.)  Renna got distracted from her book because someone mentioned the chocolate that I bought.

And still on the way home she looked at her library book.
 So about Dominant Right-brain learners-- these people will want to know WHY.   Why do I need to learn to read?  Why do I need this math skill?  For them, instead of starting with facts and learning rules and classic rote skills they need context to motivate them to learn.  The idea of cooking a cake for instance would be a great motivation for realizing the need for math skills.  In Lily's case, seeing these interesting pictures is a great motivation for wanting to practice reading so that she knows what the story behind the pictures is talking about.

Lily asked, "Why are you taking our picture again?"

After swimming and quick showers tonight I read the girls 6 or so stories and even though they seemed tired they actually ASKED to look at books before going to sleep on their own!  I'm so excited about this new approach and way of doing our life.  It's exactly what I needed and I just got "The Right Side of Normal" in the mail tonight so I can read the whole book!  I also got a book about mentoring the self directed learner which had some great reviews and is really what I truly want to be for my kids.  I want to inspire them and learn with them!
And the helper helping to mix our gluten free bread.
She has some amazing circular moving muscle skills for her age.

For many of us, the classical style of learning and teaching we've heard so often about is said to be the "best."  Anything less, we've been reminded in one way or another, is insufficient or only for the weaker minded, but check out this quote from "The right side of normal" website--

A well-known education philosophy called classical education, popularized in the homeschooling circles by the book, The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise, advocates and follows this model of learning. About the elementary ages, Susan Wise Bauer states, “In the elementary school years…the mind is ready to absorb information. Children at this age actually find memorization fun. So during this period, education involves not self-expression and self-discovery, but rather the learning of facts.” She goes on to say about the middle school years, “Middle-school students are less interested in finding out facts than in asking ‘Why?’” And her overall assessment of the focus of this educational model: “Classical education is language-focused; learning is accomplished through words, written and spoken, rather than through images (pictures, videos, and television).”

Now perhaps you can understand why when this left-brain-dominant learning style is held up to be so "perfect" and when your child doesn't measure up to that left-brain yard-stick you can feel like a failure as a homeschooling parent.  Or just constantly be at your wits end as to how to change things.  You worry that there is something wrong with your child when in reality it's not your child that needs to change but the system and your own way of doing school and teaching.  While the classical method might be amazing for the naturally left-brain dominant learners, it's not the only right way to learn and to teach.

I loved the last paragraph of this particular article about the left-brain measuring stick.  She says--

Is there really only one right way to learn the various subjects? Why are we more concerned that our child know what a noun is first (learning by memorization) versus learning the names of countries and continents based on a child’s interest in various animals (learning by association)? Is it more important to know that 2+2=4 (facts) or that it actually isn’t always true (2 horses + 2 tractors does NOT equal 4 animals) (concepts)? And how many of your children could navigate the computer (picture-based) even before learning to read (word-based)? Mine did! Using the left-brained measuring stick to determine the path for learning for all children is narrow-minded, inaccurate, and even damaging. There are brilliant right-brained children waiting to thrive in a well-matched right-brained learning environment that requires its own measuring stick. There is a right side of normal!

Final observation about this past week.  My girls have demonstrated more knowledge and interest in learning in just this one week in this freer style then they ever did in the days was I was the most consistent about following our packaged lesson plan of checking boxes.  But now that I know what they need (and what I need) and I'm purposefully looking for those right-brain-dominant areas and interests and resources, it's all beginning to fall into place and I don't feel like I'm floundering with hitting and missing without realizing why something works and something else doesn't.

I hope some other mom's out there are being encouraged now as well!  Even if you don't homeschool you can use these ideas to encourage your child.  For instance, instead of the knee jerk reaction to not allow comic books (because they are thought to be of less quality reading then chapter books) go ahead and get them some good ones and see them get excited! 

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Revelation-- Right vs. Left brain dominant learners

This is the picture that I showed Lily (my right-brain dominant learner) when I explained how we were going to change her school.  When I described to her what school would look like from now on she got excited and said, "I love my school!"  This is so great because we've been plodding along for too long and I've been struggling with knowing what to do and how to teach her.  I don't want to force her through it all... I want her to be inspired to learn.  Is each day a bed of roses?  No, but everyday shouldn't be stressful and unhappy and tearful either.  I'm also realizing how I want to teach as a naturally right-brain dominant person!  It's all looking up.  :]

Last week I had a revelation of how to best teach my children at home.  I was doing my usual facebooking and opening up tabs and links from homeschooling communities and  blogs that I've "liked" and I don't know who first posted it, but I ran across this blog -- The Right Side of Normal

And everything she said about how right-brain dominate learners fit my 7 year old to a T.

Here's a quote from her website.
        In this same vein, right-brained dominant people are attracted to certain skills and subjects based on the two universal gifts of their brain processing preference: picture-based thinking and an extraordinary imagination. Think of the subjects or skills that would center on these traits. History and cultures use imagination to best understand these subjects. Same with mythology and science (which includes dinosaurs). All of these can be pictorially visualized as well, including nature, animals, and geography.  The creative outlets (art/drawing, theater/showmanship, cooking/gardening, dance/music, fashion/sewing, puzzles/mazes, math/numbers (concepts/spatial), building/electronics, video games/computers) utilize both of the right-brained universal gifts, also.

So my first born who has always been so visually oriented, amazing at puzzles and problem solving, she couldn't communicate as well as she could understand at a young age.  At 2 I could give her detailed instructions to follow and she could do it!  When I read to her she wants to take in all the pictures and understand what something looks like.  She falls in love with a book after seeing the film or cartoon version.  She could read and sound out words this year, but it was just so clearly something that she had to work so hard at, yet I can give her pattern block pieces and ask her to make a mirror image of what she just created and she can do it!  She's interested in photography and building things and crafting and art.  She plays with clay for an hour at least straight and makes rainbow haired mermaids and ponies (She literally will separate the colors to make this happen if they've gotten mixed a bit!)  I love all this about her!  I want to encourage that, but how do I do it and how do I still homeschool?  I'm torn because I don't want to just let her do anything all day.  She's 7.. she needs some direction, but I'm realizing that I need to refocus where I direct her and how much I'm involved in it.  I'm available, but not sitting over her shoulder.  For a lot of this I just have to think back to how I felt as a kid and what I would have liked.  I remember playing with a marble building run a bunch and having to figure out how to adjust each area to make the marbles go down just right. This is something she would work at for hours.

Her new school is pretty different than it was.  I'm no longer making her read outloud every day or doing spelling words each week.

Lily was watching "Monster's Inc" and created this Mike Wazouski character all by herself out of pipe cleaners.

Last week after reading about the Right-brain dominant learners and finding out how bad it is to start them with reading and spelling together and before they are old enough (you know when people say that they hated reading before they were a certain age and then it suddenly "clicked"?  Yeah, that's because they were physically old enough to get it.  Their brain was at the age to start bridging the gap between hemispheres.)  I decided that I could combine Lily's love of art and drawing and natural right-brain dominant ability to gather pictures and needing a visual association to a word/concept.  I wrote out her spelling words on little sheets of paper and told her what they were and asked her to color them in any way she'd like to remind her of what that word is.  For "Click" she excitedly tapped all over the letters because it made a clicking sound as she did so.  Next step is to do a fun word search for her "word arts" in books that she likes to look at.

Lily's school is the most drastically changed of the two of my girls.  Besides doing her "word arts" we got a note-book today with files of the alphabet so that she can have a place for her words and pictures.

The notebook is covered in cats because when I asked her what she wanted to learn about in school she said "All things cats!"  She looooves big cats and little cats, so besides these things to help her store and gather information I've ordered a bunch of books through Amazon all about cats.  The Natural geographic kids and many others.  Also some puzzles and games that are cat themed as well which she is super excited about

I wrote out the words that match the pictures we've been going through together (I turned MFW kindergarten alphabet learning into a unit study type thing.

And you can see them up on the wall.  Lily especially loves to look at the pictures and remind herself what the letter sounds are.

Here is a book we already had about cheetahs.  Next step is to just have her flip through it and count how many times she can find the word "Cheetah" like her word art card.  I'll read the book to her as well of course.

Last year my husband was given a free camera that was worth at least twice as much as the old one I had, but the old one isn't junk either!  So, now that Lily is old enough, I gave her my camera with instructions on how to take care of it.  She enjoyed going all over the house taking pictures and most of them were quite good!  I bet she'd like to learn how to do some trick photography as well just for fun:  positioning things to look bigger or smaller and so on.  :}

And now for the left-brain dominant learner which I think describes my 5 year old a bit more closely.
     Left-brained dominant people are attracted to certain skills and subjects based on the two universal gift of their brain processing preference: word-based thinking and sequential processes. Reading, spelling, and writing are all word-based subjects. Each of these are also highly sequential in nature, including arithmetic. It makes sense that each of these types of learners will gravitate to the skills and subjects that enhance their natural strengths and skills.

 This chart was taken from "The Right Side of Normal" blog Post

 While my 7 year old Right-brain dominant girl delights me with her right brain strengths my 5 year old left-brain dominant girl delights me with her enthusiasm for words!  She speaks better than her older sister over all and loves to use big words.  She might not know what they mean, but she will still use them!  While my oldest can more easily create what she is picturing than describing it, my middle one will describe the people she's around within their hearing a bit too thoroughly sometimes.

When I told Renna that we were going to change her school a little bit to do more of what she wanted to do she said, "You mean I get to read my new book???!!!"  Yes, you can read as many books as you want!

See, I'd been trying to slow her down a bit (as in, not letting her go as fast through stuff as she wanted to) because I was afraid that I'd burned Lily out from doing too much too early.  As it turns out it wasn't too early, it was just what subject was too early.  Renna is left-learner dominant so she finds it easy to sound out and spell a word and did so more quickly than her older sister when I'd been working with the older one much longer and the little one had only been just overhearing what we talked about.  They are both talented of course and saying that one thing is easier now for one of them than the other doesn't mean the other one CAN'T or won't be able to be as good or better at whatever that subject or interest is when they are older, BUT the point is to understand the progression of how they learn.  Note the chart above again.

Renna will get some special new school things as well.  I got her some scratch and sniff pencils today for her school since she likes to do her handwriting and spelling.  After learning about the brain thing I tried to pay attention to what each girl was looking at when I was reading them a story.  When I pointed at the words that I was reading, Renna's eyes would follow along, but Lily's would not (she was too busy looking at the pictures.)

I'm really thrilled about this new discovery and can't wait to read more about the left and right brain dominant learners!  We've only been homeschooling for 3 years now, but that whole time I just felt off balance, like I knew that something didn't quite jive but I didn't know how to identify what needed to change.  My whole parenting and teaching philosophy has been to respect my children and their individuality.  Even when they are babies I don't want to brush off shyness for example or fear as "not a big deal" and leave them to cry with someone they don't know.  I know that some people do have to do this and yes I know that children adapt.  I'm not putting down other parents decisions, just trying to describe how I see things.  No matter what life style choices we make or have to make can't we continually work at making it fit our children's needs better?  If we can grow to understand how a child learns than we can more easily understand what they need and who they are and how we can encourage them whether we homeschool or not, we as parents or teachers, can encourage those things that they are naturally great at and keep them from being labeled at a young age.

If your child doesn't fit the system perhaps there isn't anything wrong with your child.. perhaps the system is the thing that isn't the right fit.

My 7 year old sitting my the 2 year old.  I can't tell yet what my littlest will need in the right or left-brain dominant areas.  Right now she loves to be read to and is pretty amazing verbally for her age, but she will sit for long periods of time playing with clay and using scissors to cut stuff up.  Right now she's experiencing it all and we'll just wait and see what she wants to dive into.  I've been surprised recently how well she will sit through longer picture books and point at things and ask, "What dat?"

Being a mom is hard enough what with trying to teach the kids to clean up after themselves or the other household chores and "life skills" necessary for them to learn to grow up into responsible adults, but adding a homeschooling plan that is draining and difficult is just not worth it.  I not only learned what my children need from me I realized how I actually want to teach them and how I can use my own strengths.  Instead of getting bored following a lesson plan, I like to play it by ear.  Read a lot to them and just notice everything we come into contact with.  The snail in the grass, the lizard on the rocks, the butterflies in the air, the clouds in the sky, seeing their excitement as they show me something they've discovered.  That's what I love.  I want to focus more on those things and delighting in this time right now.