Monday, March 29, 2010

Learning About Intolerance, Learning About the Holocaust: A Gentle Introduction

For the most part, I aim to focus on fun and engaging educational materials in this blog, to help homeschoolers add learning through laughter to their days! That's my intention and 99% of what you'll find here will be tailored in that direction. However, as we all know, life is not composed solely of fun and games. It has a deeply serious, often painful side that most of us cannot escape, as much as we would like to. Life can be brutally difficult beyond comprehension.

Max and I ran head long into a deep and disturbing subject last week, one we've decided to delve into just a little further at this point. I don't think he's old enough yet to handle too much, so we're scraping the surface. Max is ten, so I have been very careful with what images he sees at this point as so much of what happened during this part of history is raw, bitter, horrible and shocking. I am writing here about the monstrous atrocities of the Holocaust. When he is in his middle school years, I will consider exploring this time period more thoroughly because he'll be at a different place emotionally. I want to be careful not to overwhelm him.

This detour started with Albert Einstein. Last Wednesday we watched the first lecture about Albert Einstein offered by Science Jim as part of his current webcast classes. Albert Einstein is a fascinating character primarily because he never stopped wondering; he likely drove his teachers nuts with all of his questions, his doubts, his need to prove statements of fact for himself. What an active mind he had! We listened to Science Jim describe Einstein's childhood with interest. At least I did, but then I'm in a different place than Max is because I can focus on a topic for longer than five minutes :). It was when Science Jim described Einstein's involvement in the making of the atomic bomb that Max's interest level perked up.

You may or may not know that Einstein wrote a letter to FDR in the late 1930's encouraging the US government to begin research on building an atomic bomb - he recommended the government get started as soon as possible because he wasn't certain how far the Nazis were in any bomb development. As often happens in homeschooling, the conversations are wide open and can go any which way on any given day. One thing leads to another. We eventually broached the life of Anne Frank and thus landed on the Holocaust. It was quite an interesting question/answer period. I was not planning on introducing such a heavy grief-filled subject any time soon, but I listened thoughtfully to Max's questions and understood clearly that of course he was having a hard time grasping the answer to his main question, "WHY?"

As luck would have it, a remarkable exhibit about Anne Frank's life and experience is currently on display in our city. On Friday afternoon we went to learn more about Anne and her family. We attended with a group of four of Max's friends, all boys. Generally they get so wrapped up in each other that the entire outside world becomes background noise. Not this time. Our tour guide was exceptional! They all stood in rapt attention as the tour guide described the two years while the Frank family hid in the attic of Otto Frank's business in Amsterdam. They could hardly conceive of having to be quiet for eight hours a day, having to whisper, not being able to walk around, not being able to flush the toilet during the day. As Anne's story progressed the kids became more somber and thoughtful. Max raised his hand and asked a few questions. He studied on the scale model of the attic. He gazed at the pictures of a girl not much older than him, at her smiling face. He tried to comprehend what happened to her and why. We also sat in on a short talk by a Holocaust survivor, a woman now seventy-two who was a hidden child during the war. Max's is the last generation that will get to speak to, to touch, to listen to a Holocaust survivor! This fact sunk in deep for me.

Today we watched a truly special story about a middle school in Tennessee and how the staff and students came to forge a very unique, very moving memorial to the six million Jewish people and the five million people of other descents who lost their lives at the hand of the Nazis. Here it is. Click on pictures for more information:

So magnificent! A tiny middle school in Whitwell, Tennessee, population 1600, embarks upon a project to learn about the Holocaust. The project soon takes on a life of its own as you'll see. The students wish to collect 6 million paperclips from all over the world to represent the Jews who died - they end up embarking on a meaningful journey that brings a community together and helps to teach others about what happens when intolerance and prejudice goes unchecked. Ack, I cried several times.

A version tailored to grades 6-12, though I don't know how it differs from the original.

Six Million Paper Clips: The Making Of A Children's Holocaust Memorial
An accompanying book written for the 9-12 age group.

"Fifteen thousand children under the age of fifteen passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp. Fewer than 100 survived. In these poems and pictures drawn by the young inmates, we see the daily misery of these uprooted children, as well as their hopes and fears, their courage and optimism. 60 color illustrations."

A well-done allegory of the Holocaust by Eve Bunting

Tailored for 9-12 year olds with lots of pictures of Anne and her family. Also contains clear and concise text interspersed throughout the pictures. I have not opened this book yet, so don't know how graphic the pictures become, but am thinking the authors took precautions for this age group.

I would consider these resources to be "fairly" gentle for opening up discussions about this stand-up-and-pay-critical-attention-to part of history. What an opportunity we have to begin to teach our children about acceptance, about injustice, about love and how it's depths can turn the tide in any situation. The movie and Anne Frank exhibit is as far as we are going for now. The others are offered as additional resources to explore as you wish.

I'm worn out from the past few days, to be honest. Words can't possibly wrap themselves around what happened. It's the kind of thing you have to feel in your body and you must let it rest there while you process. We've "seen" a lot in the past five days, but in truth have witnessed very little of what happened. As Max grows I hope his questions continue to surface. I hope I have some answers or directions to point him in.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cheers to Homeschoolers Supporting One Another

I discovered a super resource a few days ago in the form of a homeschooling site based in Colorado. It's called CHEER and stands for 'Colorado Home Educator's Eclectic Resource.' Here's what Ann, the mom who is responsible for this creative entity, says:

"As a long-time, homeschool mom and an obsessive cheerleader for homeschooling, I look at that potential and want it to come to realization with all my heart. Community is key for a well-rounded, homeschool success. Community is created by connection. CHEER is the place for all of Colorado’s homeschoolers to connect in a positive, meaningful way."

You needn't live in Colorado to benefit from perusing Ann's site. It's brimming with resources, curriculum ideas, philosophies about homeschooling and input from other moms and dads. If you do happen to reside in Colorado, contact Ann and join CHEER. Attend the spring conferences, support one another and continue to learn about the wonderful endeavor of homeschooling!

Go check it out!  Here's their WEBSITE.

You can find Cheer on Facebook HERE.
Thanks, Ann, for letting me post about it and for offering such fabulous support to other homeschoolers - where would we families be without support from each other?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Girls Rock! And So Can Everybody.

While looking at some more books by Trudy Romanek, I noticed a fantastic theme that can be celebrated in a homeschool environment for both girls AND boys. We will definitely choose some of these to read. As a mother to a son, I can help carve his perceptions of women in umpteen ways. Positive perceptions trickle to the next generation, so I look at it as helping to make my great-great-great granddaughters stronger and more adventurous!

If you are a mom to girls, consider investigating some of these. They look intriguing and encouraging and fun and ripe with ideas. If you are a mom of boys, consider investigating some of these. The foundation we lay now will help all of our children change the world for the better.

It started with this book by Trudy Romanek. Click on the links under the books for more information!

"Focusing specifically on the fun aspects, this book succeeds at showing how relevant science and technology are in the world in which we live, and tries to entice girls to explore the many possibilities in the field. Beginning at home with the television remote, automatic doors and automatic hand dryers, the author explains the intricate details of how these items actually work and the science involved....."

Personally, I would like to know how the remote and smoke detectors work, so I would enjoy this book. I think Max would, too. The book also profiles several women who have careers in technology.

Short biographies of thirty-three women who accomplished something tremendous before the age of twenty.

"This sequel volume features black-and-white photos and drawings to complement the inspiring stories of Golda Meir, Israeli prime minister, ambassador, and U.N. delegate; Rigoberta Menchu, Guatemalan activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; Italian physicist Laura Bassi, one of the first women scientists in western history; Lauryn Hill, American singer and winner of multiple Grammy awards who produced her first album at age 17; Alexandra Nechita, internationally acclaimed Romanian artist; and others. The book also contains photos and writings of over 30 contemporary young women from across America who respond to the question, 'How do you plan to rock the world?' In conjunction with the book's publication, these girls will tour their hometowns, inspiring their peers to go for their dreams."

Women discovered X and Y chromosomes, dark matter in the universe, 15,000 year old cave paintings - highlights some discoveries by 11 and 12-year-old girls, too!

"The six women portrayed in this book--Maria Merian (b.1647), Anna Comstock (b.1854), Frances Hamerstrom (b.1907), Rachel Carson (b.1907), Miriam Rothschild (b.1908) and Jane Goodall (b.1934--all grew up to become award-winning scientists, writers and artists, as comfortable with a pen as with a magnifying glass. Often they were discouraged from getting dirty, much less pursuing careers in science. But they all became renowned scientists, frequently the only women in their fields. They overcame opposition and found ways to pass on their vision of how all lives in nature are beautifully connected. Their stories remind us to look and to look harder and then to look again. Under rotten logs or in puddles, there are amazing things to see."

This theme could easily be expanded into a unit study, and a fun one at that. The message behind all of these books is: encourage, encourage, encourage! When you're done with that, encourage some more!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mysterious You Series

Max experienced his first blood draw as an 'aware' child today. I mean, this time he was old enough to piece together the information and realize that he was about to get stuck in the arm with a butterfly needle, 25 gauge to be exact. The last time blood was taken from him was when he was a newborn and that was the PKU heel stick - i.e. traumatic yet fleeting experience. Probably more traumatic for me, because I was postpartum and an emotional train wreck anyway. This time it was Max who carried on with the fits of tears (poor buddy) and I stayed steady.

The whole experience led to a conversation on the way home about blood and what the lab was going to do with it. Max was very curious and asked lots of questions, some of which I hadn't a clue as to how to answer. I couldn't remember how blood is typed and what type means - something about the histocompatibility complex, protein markers on the red blood cells, another life I knew this stuff! Poof. It's gone. An opportune moment to do some research and brush up! I have been pondering for a few months over a human body unit study, but will likely save it for next year. There are some exciting materials out there, so I'm stock-piling and tucking ideas away for when he's ready. Here's a series of books I ran into today while searching. There are seven or eight books in the series - some got good reviews, some reviewers claimed that the books were too busy, not enough real science offered. I was drawn to their somewhat goofy nature, the illustrations, and the sense of fun exploration they seem to possess. I think these look to be about perfect as supplementary materials to use. They are written for grades 4-6 and cover a range of topics, even genetic cloning.

I always attach links to the pictures, so click away if you want to find out more about each book!

Would answer some questions about today's trauma and drama (see above for explanation)

Most of these were written by Trudy Romanek and I'll post about a few of her other books shortly. She has a "how does this work" approach in her other books and a few of them look noteworthy.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Reaching Farther and Wider

Occasionally in my blog I will blather on about something that is on my mind, and I will do my very best to put it into words so that you can understand these things on my mind! Not so easy sometimes, but I am struck by deep thoughts periodically. Usually when I'm emptying the dishwasher or brushing my teeth. I'll share these ideas here and there as they come along. The blog is primarily focused on finding fun and unusual materials for homeschooling, but sometimes I feel the need to shout out an idea. This is one of those times.

Homeschooling doesn't just have to be solely focused on math, science, geography, know, all the usual stuff. We are in a very unique and rare position as homeschoolers because we can help our children grow up to enjoy the sheer task of living. We can help them find hobbies, passions, places to place their energies. We can help them learn to help others. This is an open door through which we should walk through, holding the hands of our kids as we cross the threshold! Think about the possibilities. Think far and wide about the implications of this opportunity, then grab onto it with all of your might and brain power and stay the course! See where it takes them.

Here's what I'm getting at. Yes, do the math, science, geography, history thing. Those are all important and will serve to lead your children down many varied and interesting paths, hopefully to college and beyond. Consider, too, the realm of living we do outside of traditional schooling, what we do with our time when we are not in school or at work (of course ideally, school and work can be focused on passions that a person has - ah! If only it were so for more people!) What sorts of things can you do NOW to help your children develop a love of life, giving and learning that will continue LATER?

Some ideas to get you started. This bears some serious thought, some brainstorming. Get together with your family and ask for ideas. Seek out things that excite you and them. Pay close attention to what excites your child (beyond video games, please). Does he or she have an affinity for animals? If so, investigate a wildlife rehabilitation nonprofit in your area. Volunteer there so your child can learn to assist baby birds, rabbits, owls and other injured wildlife. Probably stay away from working with the big cats until your kids are much older, though :). Check with a no-kill shelter for dogs and cats and see if volunteering is a possibility. Did you know that you can visit Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah - live in their cabins and help with the animals? They are the largest no-kill shelter in the US and they have a terrific mission. Find them on the web here.

Visit the humane society and see what possibilities for volunteering exist there. Maybe there is a horse-rescue group in town that needs help feeding the horses (again, for older children who understand how to work safely around horses.) How about getting involved with a bird census? Building houses for birds. Volunteering at the zoo or attending a camp at the zoo to learn about animal husbandry. Or start by reading books about these subjects and see where that leads. Nobody says you have to leave the house - yet.

My niece is 8 and wants to be a veterinarian. She got to spend an entire day at a vet's office a few months ago. She wore scrubs, had a stethoscope around her neck, got to 'assist' the vet, groom some animals and 'work' in the lab. She was exhausted but exhilarated at day's end. Now she eats up anything and everything related to animal care and animal medicine. See if you could arrange a day like this - no harm in trying!

Cooking? Investigate recipes together and experiment in the kitchen. Plan a child-directed meal every so often and make a big deal out of it. Pull out the china, the tablecloth and honor your child's efforts. Encourage, encourage, encourage. Find outlets for your child's interests and let him or her go where he or she needs to.

Photography? Invest in a small point and shoot digital camera and a memory card. Teach your child how to download and process pictures. Learn together! Help develop a designer's/artist's eye by letting your child experiment with editing techniques. Post their 'work' in a password protected album and share it with family and friends.

Set up a simple blog for your child and let him pound out his thoughts on the keyboard. Monitor his work and set privacy settings as you see fit. Help him to become the writer or poet he is trying to be!

Does your kiddo like to tell jokes (clean, of course), like to be around people and talk? Let him or her visit a senior living center and spend time with an older person who is craving some company. Sometimes those experiences lead to special relationships.

Graphic design. Computer programming (the 13-year-old down the street asks for Java scripting books for gifts and is becoming quite the programmer). Photoshop guru. Cross country runner. Lap swimmer. Yoga enthusiast. You get the idea. Don't think that because your child is only six that he or she can't do it. If you detect an interest, let them at it! Create space for exploration, but don't push. This is not about you. It's about them and the rest of their lives.

One way to teach your child in this direction is to be actively involved in a passion of your own. Show your child through your actions what you love to do and how much pleasure it brings you.

What a wide open adventure to embark upon! I think I can safely use 'should' in this context. You should think about it. You should consider it. You should do it. Take homeschooling farther and wider!

Let's hear some other ideas - please comment

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Clue Finders

Well, it all started with Carmen Sandiego, which led to me paying attention to the software company, which led to me looking up said software company, which led to finding all of this OTHER software.....this is how it always happens! Following these trails is exciting because the end result is usually good. Mapless, no global positioning system - just hunting for out-of-the-ordinary materials to make our school days more creative and fun.

The Learning Company produces a few noteworthy products for sure. We have thoroughly enjoyed chasing Carmen Sandiego hither and yon all over the globe, learning world geography along the way. She's just so darn slippery! Kind of like those games in Las Vegas, if you ask me - she's rigged to get away every time. The Learning Company is responsible for the Carmen Sandiego games and here are some others to hopefully get you and your kiddo excited:

Learn Essential Subjects in an Egyptian Adventure!

Math - Multiply the two numbers on the sign above each jeep to figure out which one can make it all the way to Cairo.

Reading - Build reading comprehension skills as you interpret reading passages and earn valuable Cairoglyphs to gain your next clue.

Geography - Master U.S. and world geography as you help ship packages around the world. Can you locate the city west of Denver?

Vocabulary - Learn antonyms, synonyms, and homonyms as you move blocks of stone one at a time to complete a sentence.

Science - Develop your knowledge of mass, force, and angle to construct a bridge across a river. Watch out for the crocodiles!

Math - Solve math problems with decimals as you stack the correct column sections to build a miniature palace.

Word Problems - Solve word problems to gain access into a mysterious ancient pyramid. More adventure awaits inside!

Spelling - Spell your way across the chasm to stop the evil archaeologist before he takes over. Be careful, one wrong letter can spell disaster!

***UPDATE AS OF 3/24/10: Well, I had high hopes for the above-mentioned software. I purchased it used on Amazon and we have stumbled upon some computer glitches. We are able to get maybe 15 minutes into the adventure and then the computer crashes. We've tried two different computers (Windows platform), to no avail. I'm really disappointed! I may contact The Learning Company to see if the problem can be resolved because what I saw of the game so far I really liked. Math, geography, history.......Max was having fun while it lasted. So, read the reviews and decide if you want to give it a try.

A tsunami, a lost island and a volcano ready to erupt add the adventure to this edition - this is probably the one we would start with.

Mutant plant warriors (?) threaten to take over a town and it's your job to protect it through sheer brain power!
All of these tap into math, reading, science, vocabulary, geography and spelling skills. They are formulated for your PC or Mac and are not expensive. Don't forget to check eBay or your local homeschool co-ops - you might be pleasantly surprised at the inexpensive or free materials floating around out there! Good luck on your hunt.

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