In the past year Bella and I had developed a pretty good habit of snuggling down in the afternoons while the boys were napping to read several chapters from the various read alouds that we have going. (Usually we have somewhere between 3 and 6 books in rotation at any given time and we read one or two chapters from each book, depending on the chapter length, not every book gets read every day.) But in the last few months that has slid away. Bella was more than understanding when I explained to her that the first part of pregnancy makes me really tired and I wasn’t sure that we’d always have time for her “special” time. “It’s ok,” she told me before I even got to the punch, “We don’t have to have my special mommy reading time until you feel better.” She was so willing to make the sacrifice. But that doesn’t make it any easier for me to ask it of her especially because that’s all the formal school time we’ve been having. (Learning, of course, happens all the time; but I do like to have some learning that is a bit more focused and directed.)
Bella’s continent “chart” with an animal for each continent: raccoon for North America, giant anteater for South America, penguin for Antarctica, elephant for Africa, boar for Europe, giant panda for Asia, kangaroo for Australia.
So today I was thrilled when we were chatting about something or other and she announced, “I want you to make me a chart of the seven continents with a picture of an animal that lives on each continent so it will help me remember what the continents are. Like my fives chart and my alphabet chart.” So we went online and found a blank map and printed it out and she colored each of the continents a different color, using another, colored, online map as a guide. Then we decided on the animals she wanted and printed out a black and white line drawing of each one and then I made a tiny thumbnail sketch from that printout and she taped the animal pictures to the map and we taped the map to the wall. How often does your child announce that she wants to do some map work and study geography?
Part of the inspiration comes from the book that Dom’s been reading with her, one I found at a used book sale many years ago, called The Fantastic Flying Journey. It’s about a trio of siblings who take a trip around the world with their eccentric great uncle in a hot air balloon. Along the way they meet various animals and talk with them and learn about them. It’s a great introduction to geography even if I do wish that the author had chosen to call the mechanism by which they are able to speak to the animals magic instead of pretending it was somehow scientific. This is Bella’s third time through the book, I think. She loves the story and learning about the animals. Also, I bought a globe and we’ve been taking it down occasionally to find where various stories we’ve read occurred. Gradually she’s finding a need to learn more, a desire to remember names and places.
I’m thinking that in addition to her map maybe we’ll begin to keep a sort of geography notebook. I can print off a map of each continent and then we can print off pictures of every animal we can think of and put them into her own book about the continents. Perhaps we can do pictures of saints and literary figures and put them in their respective continent chapters as well. St Rose of Lima for South America and St Isaac Jogues and Blessed Kateri and St Juan Diego for North America, etc. (Anyone know any Australian saints?) As she gets older we can add maps of individual countries.
I love to see that learning really can be child-directed. We gave her some resources which ignited her curiosity and gave her some reasons to want to learn more and then when she discovered a problem she wanted to solve—how to remember a set of information—she plotted her own solution to the problem. It isn’t the solution I’d have found at all; but for my non-reading visual learner it is perfect. I love that she has some tools that she can already use to take charge of her own education. I am merely a partner in the endeavor.
While Bella worked on her map, Sophie and Ben did some finger painting and then worked on some puzzles. Then Sophie pulled down the story cards and told a bunch of stories.
To follow upon our awesome afternoon of learning, I noticed from a friend’s post on Facebook that today was Edgar Degas’ birthday so I went hunting for some pictures to look at with the kids. I found a great website with over a thousand of his works. Isn’t the internet great? They already are familiar with Degas from a board book we have, Dancing with Degas, so I thought they would enjoy revisiting old favorites in a new context and seeing a few new paintings and drawings as well. I was right. Bella, Sophie, and Ben all crowded around to look and Sophie especially wanted to look at quite a few paintings, pointing to the thumbnails of the pictures she wanted to see full sized.
All in all today restored my faith in my laid-back approach to homeschooling. Learning is always happening wherever children are and when I stop to participate and to be a partner in their endeavors, they can really flourish. I am still eagerly awaiting a leave taking from my nausea and exhaustion and anticipating my second trimester burst of energy; but until then today has given me a little reminder that good things, amazing things really are all around me.
Some of my amazing things: