Fun with Magnets and Electricity

Magnetism and electricity are strange and amazing forces. How can one object act on another object at a distance without any apparent intermediary contact? If I blow a piece of paper, I act on the paper via the breeze I create. But magnets do surprising and nonintuitive things. Although young children are not ready for the full theoretical basis of electromagnetism (I’m not even ready for the full basis), with some basic supplies they can explore how magnets and electricity operate in the world.

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Franny K. Stein’s Warning to Overstressed Families

What happens when children and their parents overstress themselves with activities? Grandparents gave us a book that my child loved and that, once my wife explained the story (she’d read the book to our child), I had to read too. The book is from the Franny K. Stein series (which I’d never heard of); the title in question is The Fran with Four Brains (paid link). It’s about one stressed out little girl.

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A Spontaneous Lesson on Dimensions

I was working with my five-year-old in Dimensions math, and we came across an exercise that asks the students to circle all of the circles shown. Some of the shapes represent cylinders; one represents a football. Obviously the top and bottom of a cylinder are circles. But what about a football? This led to an interesting discussion about dimensions.

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Dads Homeschool Too

Most parents who take lead on homeschooling their children are moms. That’s fine, but sometimes the dads are overlooked. Although I’ve never met another dad who takes lead on homeschooling, as I do, I know such dads are out there.

Many homeschooling groups on social media are dominated by women, so much so that the presumption sometimes seems to be that only women participate. I regularly run across messages addressed to “Mamas” and invitations to events for “moms.” I’m not complaining. But I would like to gently encourage homeschooling moms to remember that some of us are homeschooling dads—and to encourage the dads to actively participate.

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Watching ‘Class Dismissed’

The 2015 documentary, Class Dismissed, covers the basics of homeschooling in theory and practice. My wife and I recently watched and enjoyed the film, and I would recommend it especially to people first thinking about homeschooling, new to it, or struggling with it.

The film follows one main family as the “grumpy and overworked” kids withdraw from school and the family seeks to homeschool. They struggle with it, and we watch how they change tactics over time. The film spends less time, but important time, with several other homeschooling families.

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A Day in the Life of an Independent Learner

The more I witness independent learning in action, the more I am convinced that children can successfully chart their own paths. Yesterday I wrote an essay, “Fostering Kids’ Autonomy Works,” on this topic. This is a follow-up to describe my son’s self-directed adventure yesterday.

My wife, who had the day off, again took lead on homeschooling. (So this was not a typical day; usually both of us parents are busier with our own projects.) She started the day by asking our child what he wanted to do during the course of the day. He initially laid out three projects on a chair: a magnet kit, a card-matching game, and a dinosaur 3D wood model kit. Then he added a Lego T-Rex kit and a printed 3D figure set that a friend had given us.

Then it was time for breakfast, and my wife asked our son if he wanted to help make it. He said yes, and together they made pancakes out of a recipe book that a relative had given our son as a gift. (Our child is interested in cooking, so we try to foster that.) To help make the pancakes, my son had to work with measurements and simple math.

Then, all of his own accord, my son played the card-matching game with my wife for half an hour. This is a good memory exercise. Then our son colored a print-out for a 12-sided shape, and my wife helped him cut it out and glue it into the 3D shape. That took around an hour. He spent another hour working with a magnet kit. Then he spent a solid 2.5 hours building the Lego T-Rex. That is extraordinary concentration. (I wrote more about Lego kits elsewhere.)

Then our child obviously was getting tired, so we agreed that he could watch TV. He chose something about mechanized “dinosaurs.” Then, as a family, we watched the original Pete’s Dragon (see my post about films) and discussed aspects of it. Our son closed out the day watching some science videos and then reading with Mom. (He never did get to the wood kit.)

Obviously self-directed learning does not mean learning in a vacuum. We’ve collected lots of materials for possible projects for our son to do based on his interests. We sometimes suggest projects he might be interested in and also help him with his projects. As I’ve written, self-directed learning is compatible with, and I’d even say dependent on, interactive parenting.

In short, this was an extraordinarily productive day in terms of my son’s education. He was basically in charge of crafting his day at every step, and he thoroughly enjoyed his day. Self-directed learning works!

In Praise of Lego Kits

Lego kits help kids develop spacial reasoning, learn to patiently follow detailed directions, and grasp some basics about mechanics. They provide a great opportunity for parents and their children especially at younger ages to work on a project together. And kids end up with fun toys.

Various themed lego kits (dinosaurs, space exploration) also present an easy segue to lessons about science.

Although some of the kits recommend ages 7–12, my son started working with them (with adult supervision) at age four. Just be sure kids have gotten over putting small objects in their mouths! Use at your own risk.

A couple of my son’s favorite kits involve dinosaurs and spaceships (paid links). One thing I really like about the T-Rex kit is that it has some interesting hinges and ball joints to allow movement.

Films for Kids

Here I briefly review films that I like that children often enjoy.

Pete’s Dragon, 1977, Disney+
I rewatched this film with my five-year-old and had forgotten how violent it is! It shows threats of child torture and enslavement, child abuse (a teacher beats a child in class), and public drunkenness. It also has some wonderful songs and a great story about friendship and family. The basic story is that Pete, having run away from a brutal family that had enslaved him, finds a new home with a kind woman who runs a lighthouse. Oh, and Pete has befriended a dragon that can turn invisible. When a snake-oil salesman comes to town, he sets his sights on capturing the dragon. We paused the film a few times to discuss child abuse, drunkenness, and snake-oil products.

More to come . . .

Fostering Kids’ Autonomy Works

Kids want and need substantial autonomy. When, as parents, we help our children develop self-responsible control over their lives, we make their lives better and our lives easier. Yet the temptation to default to authority (“because I said so”) can be strong.

A regular sort of post on the homeschooling groups I follow runs something like this: “My child just won’t do the work I’ve assigned. He/she keeps fighting me about it, refuses to do it, and acts bored and listless. Help! This is driving me bonkers and I don’t know what to do!”

But think about this from the child’s perspective, and I think the main problem will quickly become apparent. If, as an adult, someone decided what tasks you would do regardless of your interests and buy-in, forced you to do those tasks every day for a set number of hours, and then continually berated you for not doing the job very well, how would you feel and react? My guess is you’d be grumpy and irritated about it. So why are we surprised when kids react that way?

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Parasitism in Nature

If you’re looking for a creepy science lesson, check out parasitism in nature.

There’s a type of fungus that takes over an ant and causes the ant to crawl up a branch and latch on, where the fungus grows and spreads. Different types of fungus can attack different animals.

Wikipedia has an entry. The Atlantic and National Geographic also have articles.

National Geographic has a short video about this.

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