Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Today's lesson is brought to you by the stag beetle

I apologize to the non-homeschoolers among my readers. I realize it's been a lot of homeschooling posts in a row, and now I'm going to add one more. Evidently, this is currently a season of trying to get back into our homeschooling groove. Ever since coming home from China (and then a month off for our Arizona trip and then another bit of time off for house renovations) I haven't really felt as though we have a good rhythm. It is really beginning to bother me, and so I've become a little fixated on trying to sort out the problems. Thus the number of homeschooling related posts.

I also don't want to leave people with the impression that every day sails smoothly along with cooperative children and fantastically creative educational ideas. If only....  Yesterday was particularly dire and by the end of the day I was feeling pretty much like a consummate homeschooling failure. Yes, it was that bad.

It was so bad that I really wasn't looking forward to starting again this morning. I was putting it off. I was bracing myself for more unpleasantness. It was a recipe for a continuation of yesterday's fiasco because feeling pressed for time is a guarantee of a bad morning. Not a great start, especially when you add in a small girl screaming on the front porch because her father had to leave for work and leave her with the crabby mother. 

Yep, life is just rainbows and happy trees around here all the time.

I headed out to the porch to carry in the screaming girl with another child happened to spy a very large beetle on the sidewalk. Who would've thought that when in need of extreme parenting help, God would send you a beetle? I'm convinced that is what happened because this not-so-little beetle turned our day around. 

Our beetle so engrossed everyone that the screaming stopped. I decided that he was such an interesting (and large... about an inch long) beetle that we should bring him inside and spend some time looking at him and drawing pictures. This made the children very happy and everyone sprinted upstairs, colored pencils in hand. Having a well-stocked library, I grabbed our insect field guide to see if I could discover what kind of beetle we had. 

It turns out he was a stag beetle (just Google it for a picture, I forget to take one before we let him go.) and we were all amazed at how strong his pincers were. Everyone spent time looking at the beetle and drawing. We talked about what makes an insect an insect and labelled body parts. We read about stag beetles and discovered what they eat. Everyone participated. Everyone worked hard. It allowed us to move on to other things and we got through the rest of our usual subjects.

It's hard to see the drawings, so I only took a close-up of K.'s.


I hung everyone's work up on the wall. Like the blue painter's tape? It turns out that it is the only tape we have in the house at the moment.

(K's picture is labelled ground beetle, because we didn't realize it was stag beetle at this point.)

Even R. gave it a try. This is pretty huge that she was aware of what everyone was doing and was even able to approximate what they were drawing. Hers is on the bottom, below. She definitely got th idea about bug-shaped bodies with legs sticking out.


What I had really planned on writing about, before the terribly, horrible day happened yesterday, was how I'm rethinking how we do math. Sometimes revelations come from the oddest places. A week or two ago, I finished a book called, Home is a Roof Over a Pig by Aminta Arrington. It is a memoir about an American family who goes to China to teach English. There was one little bit that has completely changed my relationship to math. Really. Well, at least to teaching it. I've written about my lack of enthusiasm for the subject, so I won't go into that here. As much as I love creating different projects and resources to use in teaching my children, math has never played much of a role in that. In the memoir, the author recounts asking her students if they ever felt they could be creative in school since most of their schooling involved rote memorization and writing the correct answer on the test. Her students all agreed that math was one area where they felt they could be creative. She was shocked... and so was I. I had literally never thought about the ways math could be creative.

I was an AHA! moment. Math could be creative. Who knew? Just that one idea has opened up the possibilities for me. I feel as though I should have put these things together long before this, but, no such luck. I was too busy focusing on the sheer facts of math.

Since my children love to write stories, we were going to begin to figure out how to write math stories together. Our little stag beetle seemed to be the perfect introduction. I drew some stag beetles and some leaves (it's what they eat.) Then we started to make up some stories, followed by how to put those stories into a number sentence. I realize that this is hardly earth-shattering for many of you, but it felt as though I was really able to integrate math into what we were doing in other subjects in a meaningful way. And for at least one child, I saw the light bulb click that and and the '+' sign were pretty much the same thing.


Not bad for one little stag beetle, huh?

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