July 29, 2014

I'm actively starting to hate the Weber County Library System

I know, I know--you should never hate libraries, but the policies are so punitive and make it so costly to use the library that I find my blood pressure rise every time I have to interact in any way with the library system.  Oh, Davis County Library System, I miss you so!

First--Davis lets you renew books after they are overdue, Weber does not

Davis renewal period is two weeks and Weber is one week from the day you renew.  If you are on top of things and renew early than you only get an extra few days.  If you wait until the day the books are due to get the full week, you run the risk of forgetting and not being able to renew at all (no renewals after the books are overdue).

Davis doesn't make you have a pin number.

Davis you can use your card until you have $14.00 in fines (at least, that is the amount I need to pay on the card that is locked).  Weber it is $4.00.  Are you kidding me?

Davis you can put books on hold even if you have outstanding fines.  Not so, Weber.

Davis still has librarians check your books out and have outside drop-off boxes at all their locations.  The two Weber locations I have tried you have to check out your own materials (which is fine if you are there by yourself but not if you are there with six children) and the outside drop off boxes are only available after hours.

At one location I tried in the Weber County system you have to check in your own books one at a time on a little conveyor belt.  What do you think my six children were doing while I checked in 30 books one at a time?  I don't know--I couldn't watch them, I was checking in books!

One Weber location has the children's nonfiction mixed in with the adult nonfiction.  I understand that space is limited in that location, but that's a pretty anti-boy thing to do.  Most boys prefer non-fiction, and you should encourage boys to read every single way possible.  Also, as a parent, how am I supposed to patrol my offspring if the children's materials are not all in one location?

Weber you can't renew books if you have any outstanding fines.  What????????????????

I've been getting more and more frustrated but today when I sat down to renew some books and put some others on hold and I couldn't, my pregnancy hormones exploded and I had a bit of a melt down.  I recognize that for most normal, childless people, these regulations and organization are not a big deal.  I usually have about 60 library books at my house at all times.  My kids get to pick out three each (theoretically, if they find something awesome I let them get more) so that is 20 right there.  Then I usually have science books for our science unit (20 + 20), and then the history books for my history unit (20 + 20 + 20).  I don't mind the occasional fine for legitimate things, but I'm finding it really discouraging trying to navigate the Weber County System.

I wanted to put some books on hold today and then make a big trip to the library in a few days, but I can't because I can't renew the books because of fines and I can't put any on hold.  So that means two trips to the library this week.  I can't afford the gas, I can't afford the time, I can't afford the assault to my sanity of taking my children to the library that often.  And thus, my hating rant.

Does anyone else have these issues or are you all going to tell me to be more responsible and not rack up $4.00 in fines in the first place?

July 28, 2014

Dissecting--Life Science at Its Most Hands-on

I had this really awesome post planned, all about dissecting a cow eye and the books we read and the youtube videos we watched.  It was going to be thorough and helpful and worth reading.

Sadly, due to our move we have to use a new library system and it feels very much like I can only have the books for approximately three minutes before the books are overdue.  Also sad is that you can't renew the books once they are overdue, like our last library system, and the renewals are for one week from the day you renew.  If you renew early then you only get the books an extra day or so.  If you try to wait and renew on the day they are due, you forget and can't renew them and have to make frantic trips to the library so the fees don't get too outrageous because if you owe more than $4.00 you can no longer check out books.  What???!!!  My frustration is high.

The point is that I had to return the books to the library in haste and I failed to write down what we read.  None of the books were so good that I'm willing to search through online catalogs trying to figure out what they were.  We read them, the children liked them.  

After showing you the books we read, I was going to post the youtube cow eye dissection tutorial that we watched.  I just spent 15 minutes on youtube and couldn't find it.  There are lots of options.  Youtube knows how to do everything.  

To review, we read three books about eyes and how they work.  Then we watched a youtube tutorial on how to do a cow eye dissection.  Then we dissected a cow eye.  Sweet.

 The kids take the gloves very, very seriously.
 Eli has to have a buddy because I draw the line at giving a five year old a scalpel.
 First they cut away the excess fat.
 Eyes were cool.  Brains . . . a little boring.

 Miriam keeps pretending that she can't possibly dissect because it makes her "feel sick."  I say, "Fine" and the rest of the kids and I proceed.  Then Miriam wanders by about 50 times before giving in to her insatiable curiosity and joins us.
 Emeline loves dissecting.  She is very serious and methodical.

So far we've dissected a sheep heart, a cow brain, a cow eye, a crayfish, and a grasshopper.  After we started dissections all my children announced they were going to be scientists (except Miriam who stated, quite rightly, that private investigators have to use a lot of science so she will still be an actress and private investigator).

We watched a Bill Nye episode on hearts and another on brains on youtube.  The kids always think that is awesome.  TV for school!

Here is one of the youtube videos we watched about dissecting a heart.  I am sharing it because it was by far the most memorable dissection video of the several we watched.

We ordered all of our dissecting apparatus online at Home Science Tools.

We are wrapping up life science this next week and finishing up medieval history in August.  Then we'll be ready to jump into chemistry and the Renaissance/Early Modern time period in September when we officially start the next school year.  Any ideas are welcome.  I ordered Ellen McHenry's The Elements book as our chemistry spine since it was recommended on so many blogs.  I don't know enough about chemistry to write my own curriculum.  We'll see whether or not I can actually follow a curriculum--it has been so long since I tried!

Come September, I'll have four children officially enrolled in Frolic and Farce Homeschool.  Where is the time going?

Speaking of time flying by--I have my 20 week ultrasound on August 7th.  I'm halfway to having my 7th (and last) baby.  Remember when Miriam started kindergarten and I started this blog?? I don't remember it either!  Maybe the formaldehyde is affecting my brain.  :)

July 22, 2014

Book Review for Parents: Free to Learn by Peter Gray

I just finished reading Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and better Students for Life by Peter Gray and I have some thoughts.

First, everyone should read this--and I mean everyone.  Not so much because everyone should homeschool or unschool or even send their children to a "unschool-school" but because it helps provide a different vision of our schools than the media currently espouses wherein our children need to go to school younger and work more intensely to be more competitive.  While I am still on the fence about a lot of things Gray said, I am adamantly opposed to the politician/media model that is ruining our education system currently and stressing out our children.

Second, I think Gray's overall premise is correct: children learn better when they are having fun.  I disagree with Gray's conclusion that school inhibits all fun and learning.  I had a lot of fun in public school.  I read a lot of great books, assigned and unassigned. I had a lot of great friends and some excellent teachers.  I had three recesses, gym, art, and music.  I was good at school so I rarely felt much stress or pressure.  I may be the exception, but I think public school works just fine for a lot of kids.

Gray spends a lot of time in this book examining hunter-gather societies and how children are reared within those communities.  He then then takes certain characteristics of those child-rearing approaches and tries to apply them to our current first world society.  I didn't think it worked very well.

Then Gray moves on to talking about the importance of self-directed, adult-free play.  This is the section of the book that is easiest to buy into.  Gray defines play as: 1) self-chosen and self-directed, 2) motivated by means more than ends, 3) guided by mental rules, 4) imaginative, 5) conducted in an alert, active, but non-stressed frame of mind.  Gray then proceeds to explain how many people play while working because their work meets all the criteria of play.  I think my husband feels this way about his work as a computer programmer.  My hubby has often described his work as "spending all day solving really cool puzzles."  When my hubby was an accountant he dreaded going to work every day and he was not happy.  Accounting was never play for him.

I saw a lot of myself as a homeschool mom in this section of the book.  My favorite part of the day is when we are working on school.  I chose to homeschool my children and continue to choose to do so every day.  It is very much a creative outlet for me.  I love picking the books to read, reading to my children, putting together curriculum, enjoying my children's enjoyment of everything we do for school.  Sometimes my kids get annoyed about practicing piano, or computation practice, but overall the school part of our days are pretty awesome.  I wouldn't hesitate to call it play.  (Getting my children to do the chores around the house is another matter entirely.)  I sometimes worry a little bit that the reason I don't want to put my children in school is because I get so much out of homeschooling.  On the other hand, all of my children adamantly refuse to attend public school so I can't feel too guilty about it.

After he defines play, Gray explains why play is so valuable for children.  The man was clearly preaching to the choir (me).  He said everything I've ever thought about children needing more time away from adults to make their own decisions and take their own risks.  He also talked about the value of multi-age play and the value of "dangerous" play.  I liked that he has the science degrees to make what he says sound more legitimate than my ravings on these topics.  :)

Where are you on the free-range parenting vs. tiger mom parenting scale??  I'm so curious about other homeschoolers' perspectives on these topics.

So, overall, I thought his ideas were pretty awesome and inspiring.  The drawback, as I see it, is his absolute conviction that learning should be entirely self-led.  He is a huge fan of unschooling. His son attended Sudbury--a school model that is very like unschooling, only with lots of kids together in the same building.

I've thought about unschooling a lot over my five years of homeschooling.  When I first started homeschooling, I tended to worry a lot more about getting things done.  However, I've never thought children should be studying academics in the early grades so my approach to homeschool was a tad more flexible than many newbie homeschoolers.  As Gray correctly pointed out on his blog, most homeschoolers start out fairly rigid and then relax as the years go by and they realize that their children learn all the time, with or without much effort on the part of the parent.  I am far more trusting of my children's basic curiosity then I was at the beginning.

However, I am not an unschooler and am not entirely convinced that unschooling is a good model of schooling in the younger grades.  As a child gets older--say early teens and upwards--they develop more pointed interests.  An unschooling approach, at that point, makes a lot of sense to me.  The older child can create a plan of action to develop those interests and he is old enough to understand why a broad base of knowledge (we'll call it a classical approach or cultural literacy approach) can be helpful. He can also cut out the unhelpful parts of a traditional education (like high school gym) and streamline his learning to best work with other areas of his life.

A younger child doesn't have the life experience and knowledge to know what his interests are.  I know unschoolers would adamantly disagree, and I understand their point of view and freely admit that I might be wrong.  However, I see a lot of value in exposing my children to a more typical classical approach in the younger years to help make therm aware of all the possibilities out there.  Also, I think they should have a familiarity with some general concepts like WWII and atoms.  Sure, if my 16 year old had no interest in history I could see myself not being too worried about it, but only because I'd already have covered history during the elementary and middle school years.  Teenager has been exposed to ideas, is not interested in said ideas at this time, does not have to pursue those ideas.  This works for me.

The child-directed model from birth does not.  How does a seven year old know if he's interested in history or not?  How does a seven year old know if he's interested in chemistry or not?  How does a seven year old even know what chemistry is unless an adult introduces him to the idea?    

Maybe I still don't trust my kids enough, but I feel strongly that my purpose as a homeschooler of young children is to expose my children to a variety of ideas in all subject areas.  When my children have been exposed to many subjects and ideas then they can start to specialize.

Where are you on the unschooling scale?  I would love to know.

Regardless of my disagreeing or, at least, questioning some of Gray's conclusions, I really think the book is a must-read.

Now really, tell me where you are on the unschooling scale.

July 2, 2014

Clay Castles

We're still working on history in fits and starts.  One day we read a bunch of books about castles (none of them were so fantastic that I felt they needed to be mentioned on the blog) and then tried to make castles out of clay.

It was pretty much a flop.

The kids had a lot of fun, however.  I even baked their creations and let them paint the next day.  Yes, you read that right.  I let my children paint.  I'm basically a rock star.