Friday, June 20, 2014

Keeping the Home in Homeschool

People who don't homeschool often don't realize there is often very little "home" in homeschooling. We spend a lot of time going and doing. This week we've explored a wetland, gone to see a play, spent hours at gymnastics, gone to a history museum, gone to the library twice, and run to a kid's consignment store to clear out toys. Then when we are home, much of the time is spent on the computer, viewing and interacting with the world. With all that going and doing, plus the high energy of sun and heat, and the lack of our during-the-school-year weekly enrichment program, my kids are actually suffering. They are having trouble sleeping and getting sick. I gave them supplements, rubbed my anxious gymnast's shoulders nightly, instituted nightly epsom salt baths (it does help), and talked about feelings.

But it hit me today: the problem is all the going. We've forgotten to ground in home. Grounding in home makes us feel safe, and it's one of the gifts of homeschooling. But we moms have to remember to keep the home in homeschooling.

So today we actually sat down at the kitchen table and did workbooks.

This is not a homeschooling activity I do very often, despite the stereotype. School-at-home as it's often referred to isn't really how we roll. I'm not interested in coercing my kids into activities they hate. I realized, however, that regular activities that center in the home - cleaning, family prayer, meals, and, yes, school work - help center and ground my family.

My oldest didn't like it. She pouted the whole time she did some fraction review, just as she had while she vacuumed immediately before sitting down with the workbook and a sharp pencil. My younger child was happier - he got to clean the sliding glass door, which means manning the spray bottle, and his "school" work involved cute pictures of animals. But today I didn't worry about the resistance. I just held in my heart the reason we were doing this, to ground and center at home. I even told my daughter this, and figured it was something she'd get later, much later. She will benefit from it now.

I'm not saying that workbooks ground you, mind. It's what was easily and instantly available to me, the stuff I keep around to make sure we cover all our bases whilst we gallivant about the countryside and spend hours watching and playing Pokemon and My Little Pony. The intention can be carried out in many ways. How do you ground in home?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What My Son Learns from Pokemon

My nearly-five-year-old son is really, really into Pokemon. He's the kind of learner who goes deeply into something for a long time. When he was a baby, he loved bears. And bugs. As a toddler he discovered trains, and we learned a lot about Thomas' world and real trains. Then it was super heroes, and the world of good and bad, helping people, and team work. His latest obsession is Pokemon. As an eclectic homeschooling mom, I am fascinated to discover what he learns about the world through Pokemon. Lots of online sources will tell you how Pokemon the card game teaches statistics and algebra, but my son is just learning to read, so that level of the Pocket Monster world is not part of ours yet. But by engaging with and encouraging his interest, I see myriad layers of learning going on.


Pokemon creatures are often combinations of real life creatures, like Bulbasaur, who is a cartoon dinosaur with a bulb on his back. As he evolves, the bulb sprouts into a bud and then an open flower that looks a lot like a raflesia. This guy <-- is its middle evolution, Ivysaur. In math this is called a chimera, a combination of two or more factors. This thinking lays the foundation for understanding factors and multiplication, as well as much higher math.

One of the aspects of Pokemon is that the little creatures evolve. They start out as cute little baby evolutions and change into higher levels. Most of them have three evolutions, though some have two and some don't evolve at all. Some of them can evolve into different possible evolutions, called branching evolutions. Branching, changing, layers, and growing complexity are underlying themes in math and of course science.


Yesterday my son and I went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where we enjoyed a visit to Prehistoric Journey, which takes a person visually through the beginnings of the earth, the genesis of life, the evolution and extinction of dinosaurs, mammoths and mastodons (including real bones being processed from the Snowmass site) and then a little bit on early homo sapiens. A volunteer (pretty sure he was a retired scientist) shared with us some fossilized ammonites. That evening, my son discovered Omonyte, a prehistoric Pokemon. It's obviously based directly on ammonites. Because this Pokemon is in a show, and a cute little animated creature, he will always remember about ammonites and the scientist who showed us those fossils. The guy was even a little scary until I whispered to my son that the guy seemed like a Pokemon professor. He grinned and relaxed. The known and comfortable bridges the unknown, and we learn.

When my son discovers an animal or plant in the real world that a Pokemon is based on, he gets all fired up and tells me all about this Pokemon's abilities, type, and attributes. Like this orchid he will remember for a long time, which reminds him of Zapdos. Making connections among different categories, like stories, art, and nature, is one of the foundations of both scientific thinking and art-making.

Reading and Writing and Art

My son is reading at a first grade level, sounding out simple short-vowel words. But he pours over the Pokemon websites, peers at the small collection of cards he has, and flips through the easy-reader Pokemon books. Exposure to print is basically the number one way to learn to read. Since he's motivated to want to read these words, he will learn to read at a very advanced level at his own pace - but probably very quickly. He also likes to copy the names onto his drawings, practicing his letters and spelling. 

Media and Theater Arts

My son has perfected his computer skills by poking around the online Pokedex, playing games on the Pokemon website, and using Google to search for images of Pokemon and pokeballs. He also enjoys watching the anime show, which he then shares scenes from with me. His acting skills and comedic timing are hilarious and quite skilled. While these are not part of the common core (ha) they are obviously important skills for social interaction and possible hobby or career in theater, film, computer media, and more. 

Social Studies

The world of Pokemon includes different regions, history, and politics, all tied to the goings-on of the Pokemon creatures. By reading the stories and watching the show, my son learns about a fictional world that is based on our real world. These lay the foundation for understanding politics and geography in our world. Someday he will read about regions of the US, Japan, or Russia, and have the simpler framework build by poring over Pokemon on which to build the more complex real world, perhaps helping him to categorize in ways he wouldn't otherwise do. 

Pokemon was created by a Japanese father who enjoyed collecting insects as a child. It originated as a Nintendo game where the character, Red, tries to capture, categorize, and train as many Pokemon as he can. Much of the anime world is Japanese, which has lead to the beginnings of interest in Japanese culture. Even if this doesn't lead to learning Japanese or a similar pursuit, it teaches my son about another culture in a respectful and meaningful way.

Integrated Learning

Any subject our children go into deeply will spur learning on multiple levels. Much of it we never see. But some of it we do, and we homeschoolers can step back and let the learning happen. Not all kids learn this way, but all humans learn through things we love and are interested in. And therein lies one of the may beauties of homeschooling.