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Learning At Home:  Early Childhood

Welcome to my page about my family's experiences of learning at home!  We are embarking on our journey of home learning with our kids, our oldest being 5 1/2 years of age, and our youngest being one year old.  Our general philosophy about learning is that it  happens spontaneously at any time, and anywhere. 

Our family's interests include reading, music, hiking, gardening, some sports, and travelling.  We have found that our kids have picked up many interests  during any of our activities, or while just kicking back at home, making  their own discoveries.  We don't  make a point to create days full of "learning experiences" or "lessons", but rather hope our kids will just take in what they are interested in form the world around them. 

So why have we decided to homeschool?
Our son is a very perceptive who notices many sights, smells, sounds, textures, and feelings all at once that I feel many people don't perceive at any one time.  I think this quality has served him well, as he is very curious about the world, and doesn't run out of interests.  But in noticing so much around him, he tends to become very overwhealmed in situations involving new people, lots of people, lots of noise, and in new places.  He is most comfortable in familiar settings when meeting new people , or in new settings when it isn't crowded.  He really dislikes structured group "classes" or storytime where he needs to sit there and say things on cue or perform exactly as told.  However,  he does do very well in learning a new skill if he can take his time and figure it out on his own, with guidance when he has questions or wants help.  (and does he ever have questions!)   Becuse of this, we feel he is most "at home"  (and learns best)  in a setting that allows him space and time for his self-directed learning.  So it is homeschooling for us!

Since our personal experience lies with early childhood, that is what this page is mainly about.  I offer my thoughts and our experiences on what and how my son is learning about the world around him, and perhaps these experiences hold some value to some of you out there reading this page.  I do enjoy and am interested in the experiences of others, as we can all learn from each other.  Please feel free to email me!

To get started on this page, here are some thoughts on:

good reads
favorite web resources

Some thoughts on unschooling
There are many homeschooling philosophies, and what I am attracted most to is what John Holt has termed, "unschooling", which is unstructured learning at the child's own pace.  The child has experiences, materials, and people available to him as resources, but the child himself decides what, how much, and when to learn.  It involves having great trust in children to be willing learners, which goes against a common  assumption that children won't learn unless they are taught to do so in the structured enviornment of school.  I was very uneasy with this concept of "child-led" learning at first, but with further reading, and confirming my book information by watching my kids and other children, I have seen how well children can learn when they have as much time and flexibility as they want, and a few resources available to them . 

having a musical life
My family and I have a musical life.  Music breathes life, energy and feeling into our days.  I often have a tune playing in my conciousness throughout the day, my son (age 5) loves experimenting with different musical instruments, and my daughter (age one) moves her whole body to the beat of any music she is enjoying at any particular time.  My husband, though claiming himself to be "musically challenged", loves going to our local performances year 'round. 
Music means different things to all people.  To many, music+kids=musical instruction, including "mastery" of an instrument.  This is great, and their are many stories out there (especially among homeschoolers) of kids that have the desire and concentration for disciplined study of an instrument at an early age.  I am in awe of their talent, determination, and joy they find in making music.  You can probably tell by now that this doesn't fit the description of our family!  But serious study of a musical instrument isn't the only way for kids and their families to enjoy music. 

I myself have had years of formal instruction in two musical instruments, but (luckily) I was not pushed (for the most part) to practice to technical perfection.  I began playing the clarinet in the 5th grade, under the tutiledge of the public school system, some private lessons, and by my own exploration.  I learned to play this instrument fairly well through the years of high school, some time in college, and again regularly for a few years before motherhood.    Also, I began playing the piano around age 11, and after three years of lessons, continued playing on my own.  I may not be a virtuoso, but I do enjoy making music very much...I enjoy the spiritual exhileration and peace it gives me, and the "groove" of making music with others. 

But I also enjoy music when not actually making it on an instrument.  I love dancing to it, listening to it while just relaxing, while attending concerts, and while singing silly made-up songs with my kids.  I love the community music creates...wether we find ourselves as part of an audience, or as  participants in a gathering of musicians (my definition as those making music, regardless of their expertise)  playing together. 

my son's musical journey

My son is developing his own relationship with music, and I sit back and observe with great interest.  He is 5 years old, and has a very musical life.  He doesn't "play" a musical instrument in the sense of taking lessons on becoming technically proficient and reading witten music, but he does explore the world of music-making in his own way.  This section is a description of my observations of his musical journey.

I think it all began when Alan began his second summer at 15 months of age.  At this time, we had the same t.v. viewing fare every Saturday night at 7pm on PBS...the Lawrence Welk Show!  Alan loved to watch his "Welk" each week.  Oh, how he would love to dance and bob to the music! Sometimes if he happened to be taking a bath when the strains of the opening music filtered into the bathroom, he would run as fast as his wet, chubby legs would carry him to swing and sway in front of the tv.  He even came to know the celebrities by name. We started going to the summertime concerts in the park at about the same time, at which time he would pick up his chopstick and conduct the band from our little patch of grass in front of the bandshell. 

At about age two, conducting live, tv, and CD/taped performances was still a favorite pasttime for him.  At this age, his chopstick baton accurtately followed the tempo of the piece he was conducting.  We continued to see live performances in our community.

At age three, Alan noticed the vast array of musical instruments out there.  He now drummed on empty oatmeal boxes with two chopsticks, (who says they are just eating utensils?), drummed on large, inflated balls, and blew into toy trumpets and saxophones and slide whistles and kazoos.  That Autumn, Alan an another musical friend of his each "won" an inflated toy guitar at Oktoberfest, and jammed to the tunes of dixieland stomp in the beer tent !  One of the performers in the band took me aside after playing their set, and told me how he noticed Alan's joy for music and his ability to keep the beat.  "keep him involved in music" he said as we parted.  These were nice and encouraging words for a proud, music-minded mother to hear. 

As Alan approached four, the toy and "pretend" instruments became less satisfying to him.  He wanted to play the real thing!  He had my clarinet and our piano available to him, and we also had a ukelele and a small lap harp as well.  He played these, but was still restless.  He wanted to play a brass instrument!  And not just any brass instrument, but his all-time favorite...the tuba!  Hmm...just where I would find a tuba that wasn't expensive to keep, and that  a 4-year-old might physically manage one was a little unclear.   We hmmed and haued  and stalled for time on this one for awhile.  At this time, we saw the PBS performance of  Blast! on tv...which is a very energized, creative indoor drum and bugle corps performance...with lots of brass instruments!  Alan decided during his Blast mania (which is ongoing to this day) that he would like to play the trumpet.  We could handle that.  So, just a few months before his 5th birthday,  we rented a trumpet from our local music store for the exploration and enjoyment of our son.  We and he had no intentions of taking lessons or learning how "to play" it.  That would come later, when/if  he decided to.  So Alan "played" (blew into the horn and depressed the keys) to Blast and our Chuck Mangione CD for awhile. 

A few months later, Alan decided that he wanted to play the trombone after attending a  Winter holiday concert .  So the trumpet went back to the music store, and we exchanged it (and rental aggreements) for a trombone. Alan had to learn how to put this instrument together, and it wasn't too difficult for him to treat all of his rentals with care. 

Blast also inspired Alan to play the drums...mostly snare (our toy snare-like drum) and bass drums.  It seems to be a great outlet for his excited energy and emotions.  He has learned a few sticking rhythms from watching the show...some quite complicated!

But what about that tuba?  Alan kept gently (and sometimes very intensely) reminding us that he was still waiting to play one.  So he and I made a paper mache model (a work still in progress) life-size to scale.  When it was mostly done, we took it to a concert featuring Double Play, a flute/tuba duet.  With much encouragement of the performers' local host, we took the tuba up on stage after the show  to visit with the performers.  Patrick expertly took the paper mache tuba into his arms, feeling it's contours. (Patrick is blind) It is amazing how senses adapt, as he knew every curve of his own instrument, and we watched as he navigated himself around ours. 

So Alan was pacified with the paper mache tuba for awhile.  He made music with it by humming, brumming, and bellowing out his own voice.  The passion for the real mccoy returned while visiting friends of ours one evening very recently.  Our friend had been playing and constructing french horns for about 50 years, and he commented that Alan could probably handle a small baritone horn well.  Alan's passion was ignited, for he knew a baritone was like a small tuba.  So the next day,  the trombone was returned, and we are now the proud renters of a small baritone horn...which is the perfect size for our 5-year-old!

Now at age 5, Alan's favorite musical activity is still playing his instruments to various music performances on video and CD.  He will select the instruments he wants to use before the music begins. (including his "real" instrument of the time, various pillows, chopsticks, toy horns, etc.) Then he will use each one as he sees fit.  In this way, he (all by himself) has learned such things as recognizing and identifying a sound with it's instrument,  identifying when each musical family "has it's turn" (his words) to play in a piece, and has recognizing how various melodies and harmonies fit together.  He also sings and plays the various parts of a piece as he goes.  ("playing" to him means blowing or drumming out the rhythm of the part...he doesn't play the notes accurately at this point)  These observations are what is obvious to me.  I'm sure there are many other ideas and feelings and intuitions that are developing and adding to his rich understanding to, relationship with music. 

So where is he going from here?  Will he become satisfied with these musical explorations and eventually move on to other things, will he eventually want to produce his favorite melodies on his instruments, learn to read music, or want to play in a musical group?  It is all up to is his journey!

If I could cite only one gift that I feel humans have given to our Earth, it would be music.  My wish is that everyone enjoy it in their own, special ways.

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Some of our favorite music resources: 

local musical community and events  
There is something is almost every community.  We live in a small-ish city in a rural county of our state, and we have various musical groups ranging from one-person shows to a military band, a  small symphony orchestra, and varoius school performing groups.  There are youth concerts and contests...with about half of the participants being homeschooled.  Some of these events are at the same time of year and place year after year. (summer concerts in the park, Oktoberfest, etc) while others are not (we are fortunate to have an arts and music series sponsored by our city)  Some of the best performances we have attended were not given much public advertising, and were found in the nooks of our local community newspaper.

We attend concerts as a whole family.  Both kids enjoy long as we aggree that whenever anyone wants to leave, we do.  We don't force them to sit there and resent the fact...which I believe is a great way for people to learn to dislike going to concerts.  THere is no more enjoyment going on anymore when one is ready to leave, anyway.  We sit near the back and/or at the end of isles for easy movement without disturbing others.  For awhile during my son's toddler years, we didn't attend indoor events because loud sounds and crowds overwhealmed him.  We adjust and change as we need to.

video:             coming soon!

compact disk:

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Good reads

I am pleased to feature and recommend books by:

a family-based buisness that values the most important job of parenting.  Over the years our family has loved their selection of books that portray gentleness, love and respect for self, others, and our planet.  The recommended books below that are featured in Chinaberry are written with blue text.


Here are some books that address childhood learning and home-based education:
I have personally perused all of these books, and have found them to be extremely helpful.

books by John Holt: (these can be purchased from the John Holt Bookstore at the Growing Without Schooling website)

How Children Fail
Learning All The Time
Escape From Childhood

other excellent books:
And The Skylark Sings With Me by David Albert.  A unschooling father describes in detail his daughters' interests and how they persue them, and how he and his partner support their home-based and community education.  Truly excellent example of self-led really helped me to "get it" about unschooling, and how to support my kids along their learning journeys.
back to the top    more books below

our favorite books to read together:

A You're Adorable by Martha Alexander 
This book goes through the letters of the alphabet, giving the child adoring attributes.  Yep, this was also a classic song...for which the sheet music is provided at the end of the book.  This book/song is one of my favorite to sing to my kids!

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown  Another classic book...Bunny says good-night to everything in his room , the stars in the sky, and "noises everywhere".  Probably many kids and their parents can recite this one by heart!

Mama Mama by Joan Marzollo  Very gentle book about mother animals snuggling down with their babies at night.

Only The Cat Saw by Ashley Wolff  The family goes through their typical day on their farm/ranch from sundown to sunup, while their cat has his own routine and notices other things.  Also shows a lovely illustraion of Mommy breastfeeding her son.

Little Bear books by Else Minarik  There are about 4-6 books in this set, all with about 4 short stories each in chapter form.  This will probably be a good beginning reader book when our kids get there.  The stories are about Little Bear's days in the forest where he lives with his parents, and plays with his animal friends and one human friend.  His grandparents are also featured.  Very gentle, loving, funny stories. 

Henry and Mudge books by Cynthia Rylant  Our new family favorite!  There are many books in this series, each with 4 short stories in chapter form, like the Little Bear books.  They are about the friendship between a boy and his dog, and their adventures together.  Also featured is Henry's practical and outdoorsy mother, his artistic father, and their family activities together, like camping, building snowmen, etc. 

Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem  Another new favorite of ours!  They are about a mouse community..written with an awareness of the natural world and seasons of the year.  The characters are very peaceful, and the books are nurturing.  Illustrations are so finely detailed that you can imagine yourself there in the Hedge!  Gives a real sense of community, as all mice help contribute to the food supply, health, and well-being of each other. 

The Dandelion Seed by Joseph Anthony and Chris Arbo  Follow a dandelion seed as it leaves it's parent flower, flies through the air, germinates, and grows into it's own plant, then cycles again.  There is an underlying message that letting go of fears can lead to tremendous growth.

In a Nutshell by Joseph Anthony and Chris Arbo Visi the same oak tree from it's beginnings as a fallen acorn till it becomes the largest tree in the forest, and then how it dies, comes down, and nourishes the life of a new tree with it's compost.  This is a beautiful story of how life renews itself.

Night Tree by Eve Bunting  A boy and his family have a winter traditon of visiting the same forest evergreen every year, and leaving food for the wildlife in it's branches.  The story takes place at "Christmas", but this is a lovely Yuletide story for our family. 

Winter Lullaby by Barbara Seuling  Where do the animals go when winter comes?  This book shows the reader where, including the human animals.

The P.K. Hallinan books:
We are Very Good Friends, My Mother and I
We are Very Good Friends, My Father and I
That's What a Friend Is- Shows a son and each of his parents, or two boys who are friends, sharing favorite activities together...many are ones we share with our son!  These are some of our son's favorites.

The Bears' Nature Guide by Jan and Stan Berestain  I love the message of this we are all created by Nature, and how we are all children of the Earth...humans and animals alike.  Talks about mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, plants,  the food chain, etc.  This book is out of print, but I was successful securing a hardbound copy through eBay.

The Wheels on the Bus pop-up book by Paul Zelinsky  This is the classic song in a pop-up-book format.  The wipers on the bus move back and forth, the driver motions "move back, please", the door opens and shuts, etc.  We sing the song while our son works the moving parts.

Go Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman  Great book for learning things in relation to others...up, down, near, far, around, over, under, and have funny pictures and situations for kids to look at.  Could be a good first reader, too.

Hop on Pop! by Dr. Seuss  My husband is throughly pummeled on his back by little padding and jumping feet thanks to this book!  (Our son "hops on Pop"!)  Not as many nonsense words as typical Dr. Seuss books have, and there are rhyming texts, and learning objects relation to others like Go Dog, Go!

Fish Fry Tonight! by Jackie French Koller  A little mouse catches a fish as big as herself, and she is so excited by the prospects of a fish fry, she invites her friend squirrel to join her, and for him to bring a friend or two.  Well, the whole forest of creatures gets invited to Mouse's dinner over the course of the day, as their fish story grows and grows!  Cute ending!  This is a rhyiming text, and I needed to explain the story in plainer terms to my 5-year-old in order to clarify some of the story for him. 

Owly by Mike Thaler  Owly is a small owl who lives with his mother.  He is very curious, and asks his mother the questions with infinite answers, like, "How high is the sky?' and "How many waves are in the ocean?"  His mother replies, "Go and see."  So Owly finds the answers to his own questions. (Unschooling at it's finest!)  Then Mama Owl tells Owly that she loves him.  He asks her, "How much?"  Her answer is beautiful, and as infinite as the answers Owly found for himself.  I get a big neck hug every time we read this book! 

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Here are some links about homeschooling, unschooling, and early childhood learning that have been of great benefit to me:

Growing Without Schooling  This organization was founded by the late John Holt, educator and observer of childhood learning.  Unschooling philosophy is discussed through Mr. Holt's writings, and those of guest writers.  There is a subscription available to the publication, Growing Without Schooling, a resource for parents and anyone else interested in child-led learning.  Also available are books from the GWS library, and other learning resources available for purchase in any subject... from reading to math to music.....

Learning and Living: It Is Not About Fitting In  by Patrick Farenga, a homeschooling father.  His essay is on the Growing Without Schooling web site.  This is an in-depth discussion of how his children learn and develop, and compare their experience those children who are in school.

Heather's Homeschooling Page  This is an eye-opening web site by an insightful unschooler and mother.  She describes how her three children are learning, and gives her detailed point of view on unschooling in various subject areas.   Here you will find essays on unschooling principles and experiences, information on learning resources, individual state laws on homeschooling, and a support message board for parents and children.

Homeschooling Information and Resources Pages  This site makes available : messge boards, a free homeschooling resource guide, and a homeschooing library.

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return to the Full Circle contents  Perhaps there are some other pages on this site that are of some interest to you...

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