Monday, January 21, 2013

Homeschool Badges Week 1: Animal Care

Studying the matamata turtles

Week One of the Badge system of homeschooling has gone extremely well. We fleshed out our list (I can post as a document as soon as I figure out how :) ) and the children were so excited they didn't know what to choose first. They wanted to tackle the entire list in a month. What can I say? They share my starry-eyed idealism.

Their required badges, Spelling Star, Reading and Mathematics, are mine to choose. I'm still working on a way to break those subjects, especially spelling and reading, down into pieces that will be both challenging and manageable for continuous study. I'm open to suggestions, by the way, if anyone has any ideas. At the moment I am thinking that reading may work similar to the Book It program we had when I was a kid. If they read a certain number of age appropriate books in a month (no credit given for board books, for example), they will earn their Reading Badge for the month. I've been breaking math down by core skills. Spelling remains a bit of a challenge to quantify.

 The optional badges were easier. This months selections were Animal Care, First Aid, Detective Science and Archery.

I did some reasearch and adapted the Animal Care requirements from this list of Cub Scout activities from the UK. Our list is a bit different, but it gave me a jumping off point.

Animal Care Badge Requirements
Choose Four Activities

1. Visit a zoo or nature center. Interview a Zookeeper or Naturalist about the habitats and feeding habits of three different animals.

2. Visit a farm and assist with farm chores. Learn about common animal illnesses and how to prevent and treat them. Learn about the feeding and grooming of three different farm animals. Find out about how animals are cared for before, during and after birth.

3.  Read a book on the care of a specific animal you are interested in knowing more about.

4. Learn about five different fish or sea creatures in a particular aquatic habitat (rivers, lakes, deep sea, coral reef, etc.) Write a paper or give a presentation to your family and friends about the animals you have studied

5. Keep a nature journal for one month. Record the animals you view, or any evidence of animals you see (footprints, scat...) along with your observations of the animals. What are they doing? What do they eat? Are they alone or in groups? Are they frightened of you? Are they calm? Are they sleeping?

6. Care for an animal for one month.

Extra Credit:
-Participate in a junior farm or zookeeper volunteer program or class, such as the Junior Docent program at Como Zoo ( or a variety of programs at Gale Woods Farm in Minnestrista,
programs at the Minnesota Zoo (including a teen volunteer program) or the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center.

The kids chose #s 1, 2, 3 and 6, although they are interested in doing all of them. We've already gone to the zoo and interviewed the zookeeper on the care and feeding of tigers. We registered for a farm helper program at Gale Woods Farm park (which includes breakfast from the farm, yum!) and they have taken over the care of our cat Shadow. All that's left is a trip to the library for a book about cat care and we are done with our first badge. Technically. I suspect they will push to accomplish all of the tasks, and I will be more than happy to accomodate their enthusiasm.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Our New Approach to Homeschooling: Scout Style

Image courtesy of Adafruit

I've been in a weird place with homeschooling lately. Sometimes my brain reminds me of a snowglobe. I've got all of these seemingly random ideas floating around in my head, and until I give them a chance to settle, I have a hard time seeing the pattern. I've been in one of these snowglobe phases with homeschooling the last few months. I could tell there was a plan brewing, but I couldn't really see it yet.

I have never been able to totally nail down our homeschooling style. On one hand, I really, really love classical education. I love its focus on quality reading materials and its rigorous standards. I was not especially challenged in school, at least academically. I'm not saying I was a straight A student, but the main cause of my stumbles was boredom. As an adult, I have struggled with the consequences of the lazy, undisciplined attitude that grew out of too many years of remaining unchallenged. Classical education does an excellent job of addressing that. The downfall is that a lot of classical education is very book oriented. That's great in some ways. We love to read. We love our poetry recitation and our Latin. We're a little obsessed with books, actually, but we are also very hands on learners. Any approach I take that doesn't consider that part of our learning style is going to be incomplete.

Because of our hands-on style, I also have a great love of project based homeschooling. I love its interdisciplinary approach. In the real world, almost nothing falls into neatly divided categories. You don't go to work and work on your math, reading and science. You go to work and do a whole job, often divided into projects. It seems like a more natural way of approaching a lot of learning oriented tasks and the hands-on aspect of it really helps to cement the concepts in the children's minds. We can (and do, all winter) read about gardening, but there's no amount of reading that replicates the experience of taking a garden through all of its stages, planning, planting, tending and harvesting. A project like that touches on a variety of subjects, from the composition of e-mails to a gardener friend asking for advice, reading books on different methods of growing, to the obvious science of actually planting and growing a variety of flowers and foods. The big downfall of this method is that it can be extremely hard to quantify what we have learned and make sure that nothing gets through the cracks.


I've been trying to integrate these ideas for a while, with varying degrees of success, but I've lacked that key something that would make it feel like a more cohesive school experience. Then yesterday, while I was conversing with a friend about her son's progress in Boy Scouts, it hit me. Badges!

I've seen these Maker Skill Badges from Adafruit before and really liked the idea, but what if I put together my own system of badges that correspond with skills or academic units that we want to cover? Each badge will have a specific set of activities associated with it that have to be completed. Some badges, like mathematics related badges or reading related badges, will be required. Others will be chosen by me on a monthly basis and others will be chosen by the children themselves. Badges that cannot be purchased, we will make using a button maker. We'll make each of the children a wall-hanging to put over their bed to display the badges they have earned.

We have been brainstorming our lists all morning as we recover from our latest bout of sickness. Here is a sample of what we are thinking of. Some of these ideas are borrowed from the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or Adafruit, others are our own creation.

Car care
Fossil Hunter
Tesla Coil
Ohm's Law
Soldering (already working on)
Solar Panels
Cooking (Series of Badges)
Money Manager
Adventure (borrowed from Cub scout list)
Animal Care
Reader (Series)
Marine Biology
Faith (Series of badges)
Personal Safety
Road Safety
First Aid
Out of Your Comfort Zone
Mathematician (series of badges by skill)
Historian (series of badges by historical era)
Winter Sports/Recreation
Summer Sports/Recreation
Child Development
Spelling Star
Foreign Language (Series)
Family Camp
Fire Safety
Knife safety
Knots and ropes
Fiber Arts (series, knitting, crochet, sewing, embroidery)
Fine Arts (series, drawing, painting, sculpture)
Paper crafts
Bike Repair
Wild Life
Adventure Racing
Music (series)
World Cultures
Scientist (series)
Domestic Skills
The Great Outdoors
Jewelery making
Map Master (Geography)
Corporal Works of Mercy
Citizenship and Government
Fiction Writing
Non-fiction writing
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)
Nature Journaling
Memory Master
Handwriting Hero
Adventure Sports/Recreation
Crafts (series)
Human Anatomy
Martial Arts
Scuba Diving

Obviously, this is quite a hodge podge of ideas, some of which will have to be sifted through, organized and sorted, but its an exciting list of learning activities that should help to get the brain juice flowing.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Help us Solve a Mystery!

Bella is a mystery lover, especially when the mysteries involve art. She spent a full month talking her siblings out of playing Avengers and into playing Finding the Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee for the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum. If she were any less sincere, it would be unbearably pretentious. She comes by it honestly. We are art lovers in our family. My sister owns an art gallery. When she and I were homeschooled as teens we'd get our work done by noon and spend the rest of the day at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. 
That said, we are not exactly on a fine art budget here in the Griffith household, so I get most of my artwork at the Goodwill Gallery. I brought these two pictures home the other day for $5 a piece, with another $5 for the candle sconce between them. I was sick to death of looking at the bare walls and these just kind of fell into my cart. (tangentially, whenever I am thrift store shopping I'll look at the prices and think, "Are you kidding? $5! This is not Target! You're a thrift store. Price like one." Then I get home and think, "Actually, that was a pretty sweet deal.")
As we were hangning these beauties, Isabella read the back of this one, on which someone had written A Little Princess, with a bunch of numbers above and below it. (and a price, written in another hand, of $40. I guess it was a good deal.) She set about trying to find out which princess and prince these pictures could be.


We searched the internet for the name of the picture and, not surprisingly, came up with nothing but a bunch of links to Amazon selling the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel by the same name. 
Next we decided to look for the clues in the pictures. The castle in the background, for example. Windsor Castle, maybe? We're not sure, but it could be. 
We asked my dad, who thought they looked a bit like the work of Thomas Gainsborough (The Blue Boy, which we saw at the Huntington Library just last winter). 

I can see his point. We did a search on Gainsborough and discovered that he painted King George III, who had 15 children. We looked up each of his children and found nothing that convinced us one way or the other.

And then I thought, I have a whole lot of nerdball friends and family. There's someone out there who can help us with this. Any ideas? What era is the clothing? Recognize the castle? The country? The style of painting? Do a nerdy seven year old a solid and help her find the answers.