Monday, October 27, 2014

Rethinking the 4-Year Rotation Approach to History

One of the very first books I read before embarking on this homeschool adventure was The Well-Trained Mind, a well-known tome that touts the benefits of a classical education and outlines a course of study from bitty littles to graduating seniors. 

Why I DUMPED teh 4-Year Classical History Rotation in my homeschool.  Homeschooling Hearts & MindsThis is where the idea of studying world history on a 4-year rotation comes from. 

This is where the idea that there are particular stages of intellectual development that coincide with particular ages is endorsed.

The emphasis is on memorization of pegs to hand new knowledge upon. 

The focus is on fine literature and history. 

The goal is provide a rich learning environment that builds great minds. 

Not minds that think alike (this isn’t aimed at a particular worldview), but minds that think.

There’s a vibrant and varied community of homeschoolers that follow (or are at least influenced by) this particular classical model of education.  I say particular because there are other models of classical education---one might even say that WTM is not strictly based upon an historically classical education.  Some day I may (nah, I probably won’t, but you never know) write a commentary on WTM point-by-point based upon my (admittedly limited and anecdotal) research and real life experience in the realm of learning.  Yeah, I think entirely too much about this stuff.

But this post isn’t meant to be about classical education in general or the pros and cons of the various approaches to it. 

This post is about why I dumped the 4-year history rotation.

Way back when we took our oldest out of school for 2nd grade, I admit that my choices for educating him were influenced by what had gone before.  The Catholic school he was attending (K-8) taught the pilgrims every November in every grade---or at least it seemed so based upon their monthly “news” updates.

There were other things that seemed to be done to death.  I wanted my son to have a wider and deeper exposure to the world.

So we started with ancient world history.  It was a good year.  Making cuneiform seals was fun.  Pyramids were fun.  There’s a strong mythological component to early history that appeals to young children.

Medieval times was harder.  There was still some of the fairytale quality, but there’s also more hard information as you get closer and closer to modern times.  I found myself cleaning things up and skipping over bits that weren’t quite appropriate for young ears.

But here’s the thing---to my kids, these historical happenings were nothing more than stories.  The retention for those things that we’d spent so much time learning about about (and that I had spent so much time planning and amassing materials for) just wasn’t there.

My now 14-year-old only has very vague recollections of what we were learning in history when he was 8.  Very vague.  His younger sister’s remembering is, understandably, even more vague.

I’m not saying that what we did wasn’t of value, BUT…if I had it to do over with from the beginning, my approach would have been very different.

It probably would have been more like my approach with my two youngest kids now, which is very grounded in the here and now.  Although we do learn about the past and different cultures, that is not our primary focus.

Not to start a fight or anything---I think starting a chronological history with my kids from the beginning was misguided.

A young child needs a concrete framework upon which to build her knowledge.  Learning about pyramids in Egypt is cool.  Building them might be fun.  Seeing videos helps. 

Learning about more exotic things is exciting, adventurous, and shows her that there is a world outside of her immediate sensory domain---it’s worthwhile and part of a rich education. 

We want our children to know that the world is bigger than them, right?

But the fact remains that the Egyptian pyramids are halfway around the world from us and not something she is likely to see in person anytime soon.

A small child’s reality is what surrounds her every day.  It’s you, her family, her home, her backyard, her street, the library she goes to, the friends she sees at the playground, the things she can see, touch, hear, taste, and smell.  The bigger world is a phantom, a fairytale.

Some day she will know it is more than that, but unless you are a seasoned world traveler (and have a TARIS in your basement), I think you’ll agree that no matter how much we learn about the past and other cultures through books, videos, and hands on activities, our ability to know them is limited.

As a child matures developmentally, she becomes more intellectually capable of recognizing and understanding things outside of her everyday experience.  But her framework for hanging that information on is (like it or not) the concrete reality that surrounds her in the here and now.

So don’t spend too much of your time learning about thousands of years ago, when there is a lifetime of learning right here and now.

Learn from my mistakes.  They are not horrible, education-destroying mistakes, mind you.  It’s more about wasted energy and unnecessary frustration for Mom. 

Exposing my younger kids to different cultures and time periods is still a good thing, it just isn’t my primary focus in the “social studies” department right now.  Instead of beginning at the beginning, we work our way out from where we are, right now.

It’s a little like reading a map---it makes no sense to start at the far north-east corner.  Where you are going is always seen in relation to where you are starting from.

So, tell me:  Have you had any big realizations that drastically changed the way you homeschool?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Smart Weigh---Precision in Your Pocket (a review)


Looking for a small scale with exceptional precision to add to your homeschool science kit?  We recently had the opportunity to review the Smart Weigh Digital Pocket Scale.  This bitty wonder almost fits into the palm of your hand but can weight up to 500 grams (about a pound) within 1/100 of a gram. 

Perfect for measuring chemicals, small apparatus, marbles, washers, and all the other bits and pieces from your science experiments. 

Smart Weigh, perfect scale for your homeschool science at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Smart Weigh Digital Pocket Scale

      • stainless steel 3.94” x 3.7” platform
      • backlit display
      • 2 covers that can be flipped to use as trays
      • readings in g, OZ, OZT, dwt, GN, and CT
      • accurate to within .01 g
      • tare and hold functions
      • powered by 2 AAA batteries (included)

The Smart Weigh Pocket Scale is easy to use and features all the functions you’ve come to expect in larger digital scales. 

The hold function allows you to hold the reading while you remove the object from the scale.  The tare function allows you to set your container’s weight to zero so you can weight just the object in the container.  You can easily switch from ounces to grams and back again. 

There is also a cool counting function---you can place a certain number of same objects on the scale and program it to “count” how many similar items there are in random lots.


Here I weighed a stack of pennies.  Then I set it to the number of pennies that were in the stack.  Then I put random handfuls of pennies on the scale and the Smart Weigh could tell me how many there were.

IMG_0331It’s very accurate, every for very small objects.

IMG_0323The tare function works perfectly and the covers can be flipped to use as a tray to contain any objects that might roll off or dirty your scale.

What did I think of the Smart Weigh Pocket Scale?

This is a solid little piece of equipment that feels like it will hold up (it has certainly held up to my 5-year-old trying to weight everything she can lift on it).  It’s very accurate, even for very small things, and easy to use. 

The only negative I found was that the clearance between the scale’s platform and the buttons is so small that if you have an object that’s bigger than the weighing pad (say a manila folder) and you center it to get an accurate reading, you cannot see the display, but you also cannot get your finger under it to press the “hold” button so you can remove the object and then read the display without jostling the folder and messing up the weight measurement. 

This is a minor flaw in my case, since I plan to use it for science experiments and am unlikely to weigh many flat things that go beyond the platform, but worth noting if you wanted to use it as a light duty mail scale.

Overall, I recommend the Smart Weigh Pocket Scale as a good addition to your homeschool science kit.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Neil Diamond Hasn’t Changed! (a review of Melody Road)

…and that’s good news for children of the 70s and 80s who grew up listening to lyrics like…

I am, I said
To no one there
And no one heard at all
Not even the chair
I am, I cried
I am, said I
And I am lost, and I can't even say why…

from I am…I said

Can you hear it? 

I love Neil.  My husband loves Neil.  I’m not sure that I can explain why, except to say that hearing Neil on the radio was a happy part of my childhood.  He always sounded like he loved what he was doing and that came through the speakers.  Music doesn’t need to have a profound message or complicated rhyme scheme to speak to the soul.

So, when I found out that Neil had a new album coming out and that I could get in on reviewing it…my whole face was smiling.  How could I not do it?

Would you believe that I listened to the whole thing immediately after downloading?  Yes I did.  I admit it.

Melody Road

by Neil Diamond

available online and at retail stores, including:

iTunes and Amazon

Neil’s still got it. 

He sounds great.  At 73, he doesn’t really sound older than he did when I was listening to him all those years ago. 

My 5-year old “wuved” listening to his album.  The other kids had mixed reactions, as teens and near teens will have when listening to their parents’ music, lol.  I think they just thought we were goofy because we were smiling so much.

Neil’s looking great, too, as you can see in the video for “Something Blue.”  This is one of our faves.

Each song is unmistakably Neil Diamond.  If you are a fan, this album is a must for your collection.  My husband and I are both happy to have new songs to add to favorites.  Catchy melodies, easy to learn lyrics, simple story-telling, and smooth sounds…what’s not to love?

Bonus #1:  Safe for the kids (you know what I’m talking about).  This can be my go-to music for the car.

Bonus #2:  Purchase at Best Buy in-store or online and get $2 off

Official Neil Diamond Website

You can also find Neil:  on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube

Disclosure:  I participated in the Neil Diamond Melody Road album review program as a member of One2One Network. I was provided a free album to review, but all opinions are my own.