Throughout this post you’ll see snaps of our unschooling week that I recorded using the app Snapchat.
My daughter’s scout troop leaders are a whizz on social media. When the scouts are off on camps we enjoy vicarious adventures thanks to a stream of messages and photos they send on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.
When Cordie joined Scouts I didn’t know how to use any of those apps. Scouts gave me a reason to learn. (Though I confess I still don’t really understand what Tumblr’s all about.)
On their last summer camp the scout leaders branched into Snapchat stories. Their tongue-in-cheek blog warned us:
“The scouts are absolutely appalled that their parents have set up Snapchat accounts in order to see our stories there. The last thing they need is you on their social media of choice. They’re demanding that we tell you not to friend them on there. Just view our stories from the camp and then delete your account, delete the app, and throw away your phone.”
(I tweeted back, “Tell Cordie she’s safe. Every time I open Snapchat I’m convinced I’m going to send the world a picture of my nostrils.”)
Snapchat lets you annotate, filter and share photos and video clips (snaps) over a 24-hour rolling period.
If you’ve ever looked over a teen’s shoulder and wondered in bafflement why she looks like a dog in all her smartphone photos, you’ve seen Snapchat in action.
Photos and videos are deleted from your Snapchat story after 24 hours, so your story’s always up to date. You can choose to save your snaps to memories, though.
These days I can safely navigate my around Snapchat (there were a few nostril shots on the way). And – with a bit of tween help – I’ve even made some Snapchat stories of my own.
Cordie and Jasper were left to their own devices for much of this week while I recovered from a headache. Thanks to Snapchat I was able to record some of what was going on around me. Looking back over my snaps, I was reminded that unschooled kids can not only cope with a little benign neglect now and then – they can thrive on it.
I know most of you don’t use Snapchat, so I thought I’d share a few of our Snaps here.
Instagram recently released an alternative to Snapchat – Instagram Stories. I think a few more homeschooling parents are probably on Instagram so I’m going to have a play with that next.
Do you unschool on Snapchat or Instagram?
Do you share your homeschooling life using Snapchat or Instagram stories? If you do, leave a comment with your username – I’d love to follow you. Find me on Snapchat and Instagramas lucindaleo.
I’ll leave you with a 10 second video snap of Cordie singing and playing a song she taught herself. You can see the full version over on YouTube.
Last week Cordie thought up a fun liver and hydrogen peroxide enzyme experiment. The idea is an interesting extension of elephant toothpaste. And it extends the chemistry learning into biology (useful for homeschool records).
When we make elephant toothpaste we use yeast as a catalyst in the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen gas. By adding soap and food dye, we get oodles of colourful foam that make for a fun and memorable science lesson.
Cordie recently discovered that liver also contains a catalyst which breaks down hydrogen peroxide. She decided to try to inflate a balloon with the gas produced and to test it for oxygen. (Is it just my kids that love experiments where they get to play with fire?)
You can watch Cordie demonstrating her experiment in the video [4:39] below (with crumpet cameo from Jasper).
What you need
Liver (we used about 200g)
Hydrogen peroxide (we used about 75ml / 1/3 cup of 9% / 30 vol)
Small plastic water bottle
Peg or clip
If you want to test for oxygen you’ll also need:
Splint (thin piece of wood)
What you do
1. Chop the liver and put it into the bottle
2. Pour the hydrogen peroxide into the balloon via the funnel
3. Carefully put the neck of the balloon over the bottle so that the hydrogen peroxide pours onto the liver
4. Hold the balloon in place as it inflates with gas, then clip it closed
5. If you want to test the gas, light the splint then extinguish the flame. Immediately insert the still-glowing splint into the bottle
As soon as the hydrogen peroxide touches the liver, foam appears and the bottle gets warm. After a few seconds the balloon begins to inflate.
When you lower the glowing splint into the bottle, the flame rekindles. (My kids’ favourite bit!) There should be enough oxygen to do this over and over again.
Just as with elephant toothpaste, the hydrogen peroxide is broken down into water and oxygen in the presence of a catalyst. (A catalyst speeds up chemical reactions without being changed itself.) The reaction is exothermic – it produces heat.
2H2O2 —-> 2H2O + O2
Liver contains a biological catalyst, the enzyme catalase.
Just as the liver in our experiment breaks down a poisonous chemical into harmless substances, an animal’s liver breaks down toxins and renders them harmless.
Take it further
Heat and cold affect how enzymes work. In Cordie’s science class she timed her experiments using boiled and frozen liver alongside liver at room temperature.
BBC Bitesize – Webpage and video about liver, hydrogen peroxide and enzymes
Science is one of the easiest and most enjoyable subjects to learn without a curriculum. Science experiments are also surprisingly easy to strew.
What kid – big or small – can resist the temptation to find out what will happen when we add this liquid to that powder, or when we connect a battery to this strange contraption?
What’s in my unschooling science video?
In my video this week I talk about – and show you – a fun afternoon we spent experimenting. As you’ll see, my children each took the initial idea to make red cabbage indicator in a completely different direction.
And you’ll hear about the shocking discovery I made when I recently browsed a science curriculum for KS3 children (aged 11-14).
My son would (approvingly) call the previous sentence ‘click bait’. Sorry about that. I first wrote ‘surprising discovery’ but I went back and changed it because my jaw really did drop at what I saw!
I plan to compile two more mini videos from the footage of our afternoon’s science:
(1) Our demonstration of how to make red cabbage indicator, and
(2) Cordie’s liver and hydrogen peroxide experiment that I talk about in this video.
You might also like to look at my science page for other fun experiments we’ve done.
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Thank you so much for all your lovely comments about my first video, and for your inspiring ideas for future videos. I did record another last week in which I talked about how we decide what to learn, but I’m not sure about it. (Perfectionism? Or fear of not being seen as a ‘proper’ unschooler? Maybe I’ll quietly put it up on YouTube anyway.)
What all my heroes had in common was that they were each, in their own ways, out there making a difference in the world. They didn’t wait until they had a perfect product before they put themselves out there. They knew that, if they waited, their ideas might never see the light of day.
‘Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there but it won’t be pretty along the way, and that’s as it should be.’
Sue Elvis – now a friend, I’m happy to say – continues to inspire me in the way she’s never afraid to publicly try new things. When I woke up yesterday morning to a new video Sue had made I thought, ‘Why not make a video of my own?’ So here it is – my first Navigating By Joy video!
My non-pretty video about our unschooling day
I recorded my video at the end of a lovely day with Cordie and Jasper. I didn’t do anything special to prepare. The little bit of make-up I’d put on in the morning had disappeared with the tears of laughter I’d cried during the day. But . . . ‘Don’t wait for things to be perfect…’!
In the video I talk about our day and the different ways my children learn.
Cordie showed me how to trim the ends of the film, but other than that it’s unedited.
Would you be kind enough to watch and let me know what you think? (Kind feedback appreciated!)
Perhaps I could make a short video every now and then, sharing what we’re doing. I could record the audio separately as a podcast for people who prefer to listen as they get on with other things. What do you think?
Here are links to the resources I mention in the video. Let me know if I’ve missed anything. 🙂
That was three years ago now. I’m pleased to say our approach is still going strong and that Cordie (12) and Jasper (11) love maths more than ever.
Today I thought I’d reflect on what aspects of our maths approach have been most successful, then in my next post I’ll share in more detail what each of my kids are doing for maths right now and what our maths plans are for their senior school years.
1. Let them ask questions
When I learned maths at school my goal was only ever to get the right answers. I would watch the teacher do an example, memorise the procedure and obediently do my sums. It never once occurred to me to ask why a particular maths method worked. (Or perhaps I just learned to suppress that curiosity very early on.)
When it came to exams, I crammed a bunch of procedures into my head, passed with A grades, then promptly forgot everything. For the next 20 years I had nightmares about going into a maths exam unprepared and not being able to answer a single question.
In contrast, my kids have always been allowed – encouraged – to ask questions. To be honest, by this point there’s no stopping them. In maths, as in life, they don’t accept anything unless they know why. Yes, sometimes regret this. 😉
Over the years I’ve learned to anticipate their questions by encouraging them to work things out for themselves in the first place.
In geometry, most textbooks just present formulae for the area of shapes. But I knew that my children would want to know why these worked, so we figured them out for ourselves (see below for more details).
And when we recently came upon trigonometry, Cordie not only wanted to know what this branch of maths was used for but also what all those strange words actually meant. Which was possibly the first time it had occurred to me that sin, cos and tan were anything other than magic buttons on a calculator that when pressed while reciting the appropriate incantation – ‘SohCahToa!’ – spewed out the correct answer.
Of course when your kids ask questions, you need to . . .
2. Be willing to go off on tangents
The best thing about not following a curriculum is that you’re never tempted steamroll over your child’s curiosity in an effort to finish a bunch of material by the end of term.
So there’s always time for games…
And you have time to investigate questions, like ‘What’s the area of a non right-angled triangle?’ Which leads to several weeks of playing with shapes as you figure out the relationships between rectangles, parallelograms, triangles, trapeziums and even circles. Which means your kids never panic about forgetting a formula, because they know everything follows from cutting up a rectangle.
Having time to follow rabbit trails means you have time to explore questions like, ‘What’s trigonometry used for?’ Which leads you to research the history of trigonometry, from right back when ancient astronomers used it to calculate the positions of the stars, to how triangulation is used today in everything from MRI scanners to animation software.
And when your daughter who’s passionate about linguistics asks where the words sine, cosine and tangent come from, you can spend a pleasant half hour discovering how ‘sine’, like the word used to describe our facial cavities (sinuses) comes from the Sanskrit word for ‘bowstring’.
Of course, your child may not be as interested as mine in the etymology of maths terms, but by following whatever it is they are interested in, you’ll deepen their understanding of what they’re learning and make it more memorable.
3. Do buddy maths
Since the early days of homeschooling right up until now when they’re 11 and 12, I’ve done maths alongside my children.
In this way I’ve been able to share my passion for maths, clear up any confusion as soon as it occurs, and head off boredom by moving on as soon as I can see a concept’s been mastered. (Plus of course I’m there to help navigate rabbit trails and answer ‘why’ questions.)
4. Don’t drill them on maths facts (unless they ask you to)
This is a controversial one, and I won’t pretend I’ve never casually suggested to my kids how useful it might be for them to rote-learn their multiplication tables, but they were having none of it.
Jasper couldn’t see the point of memorising something he can quickly work out every time, and (like a lot of bright people) Cordie gets stressed by time pressure.
So I decided I may as well trust mathematicians like Jo Boaler who says that not drilling kids on maths facts is a sure way to increase both their maths confidence and their number sense.
“Drilling without understanding is harmful … I’m not saying that math facts aren’t important. I’m saying that math facts are best learned when we understand them and use them in different situations.”
Guess what? It worked! After years of having fun with numbers, neither of my children has a problem with doing rapid mental calculations – for numbers both below and above 12.
5. Do maths anywhere that works for your child
In an ideal world I’d teach my kids sitting down nicely at the table as they write neatly using pencil and paper. I’m easily distracted and repetitive movement in my peripheral vision drives me crazy.
However… as the adult I’ve had to adapt myself to accommodate how my kids learn best – on any given day.
So if my son wakes up with the wiggles and wants to do maths while he leaps around on a giant ball, I take deep breaths, read problems aloud, and hold up a whiteboard for him.
I used to worry that Jasper would never be able to be still enough to write out his answers, but I’ve noticed that when his mind is sufficiently engaged he’s quick to grab a whiteboard to draw a diagram or scribble some notes to help him figure out a problem. As maths gets more complex (and interesting) I anticipate him naturally doing this more and more.
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How do you do maths in your house?
What approach to maths works best for your children?
I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
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PSBonus maths story – For a behind-the-scenes story about what maths is really like in our house, hop over to my blog about life in a family that embraces its quirkiness, Laugh, Love, Learn.
PPS Remember my maths nightmares? I haven’t had a single one since I started learning maths this way alongside my children!
Teaching trigonometry Resourceaholic. When you introduce your child to trig, I highly recommend printing off a set of logarithmic ratios in table form before you reach for the calculator, and that you start out with the kind of approach outlined in this article.
Have you ever wondered why there are so few blogs about homeschooling older children? I used to. Then my kids became tweens.
We’re still unschoolers, but the hands-on activities that used to make up our day are gradually being replaced by independent projects, reading and outside classes. And photos of tweens reading, watching YouTube or even quietly crafting aren’t quite the same as cute pics of little ones doing colourful science experiments and messy art projects.
Our homeschooling is just as much fun, but these days the enjoyment lies more in the conversations we have, the puzzles we ponder and the jokes we share.
Looking back over the first six years of homeschooling
Back in the anxious, early days when we started homeschooling I used to wonder how I’d cope with the pressure when my kids reached senior-school age (11, here in the UK). But now with one child near the end of her first senior-school year and the other just turned 11, I feel calmer and more confident than ever.
One of the reasons I feel so relaxed is that having spent the last six years alongside my children, I know them pretty well. I know how they learn, what interests them, what their quirks are and what inspires them. Of course Cordie and Jasper are still changing – now more than ever, perhaps – but thanks to our time together I have a much better understanding of who they are and how I can support them.
Time’s also given me perspective. Over each year that I’ve watched these two young people blossom, my faith in unschooling and in their ability to learn what they need grows stronger.
As homeschoolers we’ve always forged our own path. Whenever I’ve had a wobble and tried to steer us in a more schooly direction, my kids have made it clear they were having none of it. Like when they refused to follow any maths curriculum – which led us down the living maths route, something I’m truly appreciative of (at least in hindsight!).
Looking ahead to the teen years
Now we’re looking ahead to the teen years and exams, I’m so thankful for how we’ve done things.
All those ‘random’ science experiments really did both spark an interest in science and give my kids a solid grounding in chemistry and physics.
Living maths prepared them better than I could even have imagined for taking on trigonometry, algebra and geometry.
And I recently realised that the reason it’s taken us five years to read three volumes of The Story of the World is because these days I can barely read a sentence without stimulating an intense debate about how such-and-such leader is repeating the mistakes of so-and-so who came before him, or how the Napoleonic Empire relates to the UK’s forthcoming referendum on whether to stay in Europe!
Last year was a huge turning point for me. I discovered that my son is twice-exceptional and that both my kids and I have the innate personality traits known as overexcitabilities, which explains why we’ve always found ourselves at the fringes of homeschooling communities. After years of feeling isolated I found my tribe and launched a new blog to help others find theirs, too.
Now, equipped with even better information about who my children are and how I can support their learning, I’m looking forward to the next stage of our us-schooling adventure.
What’s next on Navigating By Joy
Launching Laugh, Love, Learn has taken most of my blogging energy so far this year, but now it’s up and running I’d like to check back in here more regularly.
I’m so appreciative of the bloggers who continue to write about their teens’ learning. I may not be as creative and organised as my friends Sue and Claire but if I can even inspire one person to trust their instincts and keep on home-educating their kids in the way that feels right to them, it will be worth it!
Here are a few ideas for what I could write about:
How living maths has worked out for us
How Jasper (11) has taught himself to read, write and spell
Cordie’s (12) passion for linguistics
How Jasper’s learning chemistry
How we’ve been learning foreign languages
Our unschooling routine
What each of my children is learning about
My kids’ goals and dreams
What would you be interesting in reading about? I’d love to hear from you. 🙂
“Oh dear,” I thought as I looked at the model magic teddy bear C(12) had made the day before. Deep cracks had appeared in it overnight. I hoped she wouldn’t be too upset that her beautiful work had been damaged.
The cracks might have formed because our Model Magic* was so old. I bought it when my children first left school over five years ago. Back then I was anxious that they shouldn’t miss out on any experiences as a result of being home-educated (they’d had Model Magic at school, so they must have it at home!)
But perhaps because they were busy doing other things, or maybe because I was always waiting for the perfect project, the Model Magic stayed in our cupboard until I came across it during a clear-out.
Later, I found C(12) happily dipping a paintbrush into a pot of red acrylic paint. She was painting the deep cracks in her teddy bear, making them into bloodstains!
C(12) often paints, but usually on paper. “I like painting in real cracks – you don’t have to add shadows,” she happily explained. “Do you like the way I turned my sculpture into a Beautiful Oops?”
Beautiful Oops* is a sweet little book we have about how mistakes can be transformed into opportunities.
Jo Boaler, a Stanford University maths professor who’s passionate about giving children confidence in maths, talks a lot about the value of making mistakes. Her website YouCubed recently released a video for students about how important mistakes are for learning.
J(10) hates making mistakes. I show him the YouCubed video. “Don’t you think it’s amazing that our brains literally grow every time we make a mistake?” I say. ” When we get the wrong answer, then try to figure out our mistake, we learn even more than if we’d got it right in the first place!” J(10) isn’t convinced yet, but I’ll keep trying.
I’m not sure I’d want C(12)’s gruesome bear in my bedroom, but she’s very pleased with it. She’s put it in our Halloween basket with our cute rock monsters. 🙂
“I’d like to write a blog post about your beautiful oops,” I say to C(12). “The trouble is, I don’t think it’s the kind of thing people are interested in reading. They seem to be more interested in our science experiments.”
“Why don’t you write it anyway?” C(12) smiles. “Your blog is for you. It doesn’t have to be perfect.”
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I’ll leave you with sneak peek at something I’ve been working on over the last few weeks…
I’ll write more about my new blog Laugh, Love, Learn soon, but for now here’s a taster – I’d love you to head over and check it out.
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* Affiliate link to something you might like as much as I do.
I’m appreciatively linking up at Weird Unsocialised Homeschoolers’ Weekly Wrap Up.
Every summer when I declutter my science supplies cupboard I come across a few hidden treasures. (The reality: “Oops, we never did get around to making shadow leaf prints / home made light bulbs / popsicle stick trebuchets,” accompanied by a pang of guilt. Is that just me?)
The Epsom salts were bought to make bath fizzies with C(11) last Christmas. The fizzies never happened, but on the bright side, we had an unopened pack of Epsom salts when CSIRO’s cool crystals email landed in my inbox.
J(10) asked if Epsom salt was like the stuff we put on our fries, which was a good opportunity to remind ourselves what we learned about salts when we concocted our own fizzy drinks a few months back: A salt is created when an acid and a base neutralise each other.
Epsom salt is another name for magnesium sulfate. We looked up magnesium and sulfur in our book, The Elements, and noticed how very different the salt is from its constituent elements.
What you need
Epsom salt (1/2 cup)
Hot water (1/2 cup)
Food colouring (optional)
What you do
Put the salt and water in the glass together with a few drops of food colouring. Stir for about five minutes, then put the glass in the fridge for at least three hours.
After just a few hours in the fridge, you get beautiful crystals like these.
We carefully drained the water to get a better look at our crystals.
How do crystals form? The scientific explanation
Epsom salt is an ionic compound. It’s made up of magnesium and sulfur ions joined together by ionic bonds. When we dissolve the salt in hot water, these bonds break and the two elements become separated .
Later, when we cool the salt solution in the fridge, the magnesium sulfate ions no longer have enough energy to move about freely. The ions begin to re-bond, first as single molecules and then – as the molecules themselves begin to join together – as crystals.
Different types of molecule always the same shape of crystal, every time they form.
In the past we’ve also made crystals from table salt (sodium chloride), borax and sugar. The process for each of those is slightly more fiddly, but comparing the different shaped crystals is interesting. Borax crystals make pretty decorations, and sugar crystals are yummy!
And now the Epsom salt packet has been opened, we’re one step closer to making those bath bombs. 🙂
A few weeks ago I was chatting with a young friend who was about to start senior school. “I’m excited, and a bit nervous too,” admitted Lily.
“And how are you feeling about not starting senior school, Cordie?” Lily’s mother asked C(11).
C(11) considered for a moment, then replied with a smile, “I’m feeling very not nervous.”
People have often asked how long we plan to continue home-educating. Many assumed we’d stop at the end of junior school (age 11), or before GCSE’s (age 14). While I’m hoping to support my children learning at home until they’re at least 16, I would never stop them from going to school if they wanted to.
Daniel, one of C(11)’s old school friends has chosen to go away to boarding school. His mother was telling me how excited he was about the prospect of spending so much time with his friends doing fun activities. “I bet Cordie would love it, too,” she added.
My husband’s parents generously contribute to all their grandchildren’s education, so boarding school wouldn’t be out of the question if either of our children ever wanted to go. I mentioned Daniel’s excitement to my extroverted, energetic daughter.
“Do you think you would like to go to a school like that?”
“It sounds amazing,” replied C(11). Then she sighed contentedly and added, “But I could never give up all this.”
I used to think that as a home-educating parent I’d feel the pressure rise when my children reached senior school age. Towards the end of the last summer holidays I kept expecting to suddenly wake up one morning thinking “Holy cow! Cordie’s going to be in big school! We’d better get serious!”
But that didn’t happen. Instead, I found myself thinking about how much C(11) had learned by herself all summer long. I reflected on the thought-provoking conversations I have with her and J(10), during which I find myself wondering where they got their huge vocabularies and ability to express themselves. I marvel at their enormous zest for life, their self-confidence, the self-set goals they eagerly work towards. And I feel so thankful we’ve found our unschooling groove.
I’m appreciatively linking up with Weird Unsocialized Homeschooler’s Weekly Wrap-Up.