Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Maths choices years 5 and 6/grade 4 and 5

I've written about how we chose our curriculum but not about the actual choices.
This is about what we have chosen for maths and English, how we use those choices and our assessment of them ;that is, how they work for our family.
This has to have a health warning: what works for our son may not work in another family or even for other children in our family.

This year, and last year, we've used books from Galore Park as our main maths and English books. 

Galore Park is an English, secular publishing company which mainly supplies private schools. The course of study is wider than would be taken if we followed the National Curriculum. Many home educators use Galore Park and they have a Home Educator section on their website and home educator e-mailings.
Galore Park produce Junior maths and English books 1-3 to cover years 3-5 and then "So you want to learn maths/English" 1-3 to cover years 6-8. 


How we use these books: Unlike many subjects, as will become apparent later, we use these books thoroughly doing all the chapters and most of the exercises. Some of the early exercises in a chapter are very easy so we will either do these aloud or I will set a few to check that ds can remember how to do them, otherwise, I find the exercises about the right length. If we have some difficulty with a chapter, I tend to leave it and return to it later or occasionally supplement with examples from the older maths text book on Mother's Companion (more about this later!) or from the internet.
I lik maths so don't have an answer book but there is one available. I can't comment about this.
Ds uses Schofield and Simms for mental maths about once a week. This is cheap and cheerful, same as he used when he was in school and does the job.

How Galore Park maths works for us: really well-A*. We plan to continue using the "So you want to learn maths" series for the next couple of years. My only, minor, gripe is that it would make the book more interesting if there was some explanation of how a particular topic is used in "real" life.


How we use the book: We use the English book in a completely different way to the maths book. The word that best describes our use of this book is loose.
The English book contains two comprehensions around a theme, an exercise with suggestions for creative writing, two punctuation exercises, two grammar exercises, sections on vocabulary and spelling and on speaking and listening, followed by suggestions for further reading and for further research around the topic used for the comprehensions.  We actually use one comprehension, occasionally the creative writing and the punctuation exercise. The speaking and listening portion has provided some helpful ideas.
Occasional comprehensions have been avoided on the basis of their content.
We don't use the grammar as this is covered in more depth in Latin. I try to set writing around our history or geography. We also tend to use the real life opportunities of letters, e-mails and a private blog.
We use Schofield and Simms workbooks for spelling.

I am much less confident about marking English, particularly creative writing, than maths. Maths is either right or wrong and the right or wrong answer may have been achieved by a correct or incorrect method. English is a bit more complex. In view of  this, I brought the answer book thinking that it would help sadly it is just an answer book for the exercises and I have hardly used it.

How Galore Park English works for us: Not as well as the maths. B+. We may not use this curriculum next year for English. I am open to suggestions!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

This Time Last Year...

As we approached the American Thanksgiving last year, we were reading this book.
The Wee Guy was also studying 17th Century History. It was a fascinating time - both the 17th century and our time of studying it.

We had a lapbook from A Journey Through Learning, and we had a great time learning about King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I; about King James (I of England; VI of Scotland) and the Separatists

about the Mayflower, the Mayflower Compact and about the First Americans.

We went on to learn the amazing story of Squanto and of the First Thanksgiving

and decorated our walls.

We had a great time studying this period of history, and the fascination with it has never left the Wee Guy.

This year, we are moving further West. We're loving the Little House books, and the insight into this period of American history.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Comments: Genius Denied

Lots of interesting/thought provoking things have been said in the last few posts, so I thought instead of doing individual comments I'd try to pull my thoughts together. (I did say try :-))

Re Sharon's post on Genius Denied, my initial thoughts are that one of the huge advantages of home education is that it can be personalised for each child. In any family there will be children who excel at some things more than others.  Teaching at most schools is going to be aimed at the "average" child, and although there are programmes aimed at helping those who need extra help, that can never be the same as a curriculum which is chosen with that child specifically in mind.

No one knows as much about their child as a mother does (esp talking about infants here), and I am thankful that I am able to make the decisions as to what they study and when.

I also have to decide (much wisdom needed!) when they genuinely need a break from learning a topic to give them time to mature an absorb what they have learned; or conversely, when they need to be encouraged to overcome natural reluctance (or laziness!)

Some of my children would have really struggled with being in an "average" class; others would have fitted in ok. But at home, nothing is average. It doesn't matter too much if you are "behind" or "ahead". And any intervention needed to help a child (either an under or over achiever) can be made much sooner than would happen even in a caring school environment.

That all sounds very efficient and professional, grin, but there are times when it goes wrong. I have had once to move a child back three years in Maths (though she quickly caught up) because although she seemed to understand the concepts, she was using only her short term memory, quickly filling in answers (correctly) and then completely forgetting what she'd learned.

I've also had the children who are tempted to copy the answers out of the back of the book, so I think they are progressing well, and it's only a chance question that reveals they know nothing at all about what they appear to have learned (I've gotten wiser now, I remove the answers from the younger children's Maths books. . . !)

(Random photo of three little boys coming back from an art session at the library)
Edited to add that I have found with one child in particular, giving him more and harder work has made him work more and harder; prior to that he was bored and could be disruptive.  An idle mind is as dangerous as idle hands.

A day in the life

Not all days are like this (grin, just as well or I would have gone insane long ago) but I've just spent the last half hour singing through Times Tables Songs with two children, while another two children in the room wanted help and attention with their Maths workbooks; and I was also reading out words for a spelling test for a fifth. And on MSN helping yet another with an A Level English question; while marking some work (thankfully I have the answer book, so that bit was fairly mechanical). Oh, and praying intermittently for a child sitting an exam in London.

All at the same time as trying to keep a note of who is doing/has done and ought to do what today. But now it is peaceful, and I decided I'd write this for ten minutes.

(A rather poor photo showing the table where JTJ and Max sit - from my desk I can see them both clearly.)
(Another view from my desk  the wall opposite me is covered in shelves which are always full. And my leather jacket is hanging up there too - though I try as much as possible to keep everything out of the classroom which doesn't *have* to be in here, since we run out of space very easily.)

(We start lessons early, and have a break around 9am for 15 - 20 minutes so that the children can tidy their bedrooms, make sure the dishwasher has been put on, etc, and I get a chance to do some admin.)

(And I don't mean that last sentence to sound as though the children are the only ones to do housework, but at their ages, I'm not going to tidy their bedrooms for them)

(Another view of the classroom showing the sofa where we sit doing reading or sometimes watching a DVD - it's a cosy spot and the cat likes to make herself at home there!)

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Our Curriculum - Language, Primary 3/Grade 2

Hopefully, over the next few weeks I'll give some idea of what we use, or have used, for our children at their different stages. Here, I'll show what we use for Language for our youngest child.

Our youngest child is 7 years old just now. He would be on Pr 3 (Grade 2).

For Language, we use these

Along with the workbooks, there is a wonderful selection of reading books. We do not follow the curriculum down to the last jot and tittle, although we do the basic written Language lesson each day. We pick and choose the reading books, and use them as we wish. 

Sometimes, I read a story to CS; other times, I have him read it aloud to me. There are often questions after each story, and we often discuss these together. Sometimes, he writes a story connected with what we've read.

Apart from the Abeka materials, CS reads a lot on his own, and we read together as a family.

When we began our homeschooling journey, our eldest child was on Primary 3 (grade 2), and going on to Pr 4. We knew so little about homeschooling, and knew almost nothing of curriculum materials. We'd heard of Abeka, and sent for the whole curriculum from them for a Pr 4 child, a Pr 2 child and a Preschooler.

Having spent the money on Abeka books, which are beautifully produced (and still look as good as new!), we have used and re-used many of their textbooks for subsequent children.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Thoughts on curriculum

There is nothing special about a curriculum-it is just a course of study. It doesn't have to be bought. It doesn't have to involve books and certainly, the books don't need to be traditional textbooks. Having said that we have bought some books to help us along the way. In some subjects we follow the books closely-maths and Latin whereas in others they are used as a springboard-history and geography.

These thoughts are about decision making for our family-what works for someone else may be different. Many home educators have talked through curricular materials with me, generally, probably mostly, I haven't followed their choices but the discussion process has been invaluable in deciding about what would and what wouldn't work.

We decided, early in our thinking, to go for a formal approach. I loved Sharon's post about unschooling but I didn't have the confidence to go down this route as a new starter with a child just out of school. We have become more relaxed in someways as time has gone on but still have quite a formal approach.

These were the principles that we used
Christian worldview
I don't mean for a moment that we only use Christian books. We aim to teach our children from a Christian point of view and part of that is to treat the things of God with respect. I remember sitting in school, playing, with words. Not a problem if the sentence is "The cat sat on the mat" but it could easily become irreverent with a sentence about spiritual things. I don't have a problem with copying out the Bible but having some children who don't enjoy handwriting practice, I would prefer that they don't link the Bible with this!
We use Christian books for subjects which are usually taught from an atheistic point of view such as science, geography and history. We use a mix of books in history so that we can show that people do have different points of view-we are about the cover the English Civil War and want to explore the reasons for people choosing to be Cavaliers or Roundheads.

We are English
No disrespect to Americans! Our history interlinks but is different. Our spelling is different. Phonics are different-I completely missed a riddle as we pronounce "ant" and "aunt" distinctly. Word usage is different just think of the way that the verb "to visit" is used on different sides of the Pond.
We hope that our children will take UK exams, so do keep an eye on the National Curriculum.

Books had to look familiar
This was only an issue as we took a child out of school but did influence our choice of handwriting book and mental maths.

A minor issue-if the curriculum is right we hold that education is important and we should be prepared to sacrifice for it. Having said that, we don't have an issue with second hand books providing they are the current edition. After all, that is what children get in school! We found that buying books from publishers outside the UK is significantly more expensive and so decided it should only be done for a good reason.

Home educator friendly
Whilst many/most of our books aren't written specifically for home educators, it is helpful not to have to buy the rights to 30 copies. I don't know anyone with 30 children. More important, activities and experiments can use difficult to obtain and expensive equipment,if designed for schools.

Helpful teachers' manuals
I don't bother with teachers' manuals for some subjects. I quite enjoy working out the maths and think that it is useful to check that I can do this. However, manuals can be helpful. The availability of a through teachers' manual and online resources was a determining factor in deciding about a Latin curriculum. My Latin is distinctly rusty and I need all the help that I can get!

I was going to write about what we actually use but that would make this post far too long!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Book Review: Genius Denied

I recently read the book Genius Denied: How to Stop Wasting our Brightest Young Minds, by Jan and Bob Davidson.  The authors demonstrate how American public schools are failing their brightest students; then they suggest how to fix the schools to address those problems.

The book begins by profiling a number of gifted students ("more able" in UK terms) and their struggles in the US public school system.  This part of the book is very depressing to read!

Interestingly, though homeschooling is obviously an excellent fit for gifted students--and many of the children profiled here did end up happily homeschooled--the authors don't promote homeschooling as a solution, instead focusing on how public and private schools can be fixed to address the needs of gifted children.

Still, I think this book is an excellent read for those who have begun to suspect that school settings are not always a good "fit" for children who fall outside the norm in some way. 

Children can be unusual learners for many reasons: perhaps because they are gifted (or "more able") and learn very quickly, or because they struggle with a learning disability, or because they are both gifted and struggle with a learning disability.  Or perhaps a child is just a late bloomer, and isn't ready to learn something at six, but would sail through it and quickly catch up to his peers if allowed to learn it at eight.  Or perhaps a child develops asynchronously, meaning he is at substantially different levels of ability in different subjects. 

Many of these unusual learners struggle in classrooms, where the instruction is usually, for obvious and practical reasons, geared towards the 'average' student.  The brightest students often struggle the most, however, because while most school districts in the US provide "special education" for children with learning disabilities, fewer districts have gifted education programs, and what programs there are are usually highly inadequate--an hour per week of "enrichment time," for example.  And when money runs short, gifted programming is usually the first to be cut.

I would recommend this book, especially to US parents.  You can see summarized excerpts of the book on the Davidsons' website, here (the rest of their site may also be of interest).

Friday, 5 November 2010

Time management

I don't want to keep reposting things that have been posted on our various blogs but this link http://moneysavingmom.com/2010/11/time-management-101-stop-trying-to-do-it-all.html explains a lot about us and our approach to home ed.

I can do some things well; some things average; and some things I really don't do. I would like to learn to do some of those things, others I'd just hate.  I know (or have learned over the last 20 yrs) where my skills lie, and where they don't. And after a few guilt-induced efforts ("everyone should be able to sew/make bread/jam/polish their silver") I've given up on the things that I can't do or do less well; in order to concentrate on other things.

Because, as we realised pretty early on in our married lives (six children under six and a half and pregnant again was kind of a "light-bulb" moment for me), "I can't do it all".

Ultimately, we rely on God's grace and strength to get through each day, term, year; but none of us (regardless of family size) can "do it all".

People have asked me over the years "but how do you do it all?" - and I'm afraid the answer is, I don't.

As my children have gotten older, they have been very helpful with everyday household tasks. My husband (esp earlier on in our marriage did a lot to help in the house too). And what we can't do, doesn't get done.

That is a fact of life, that sometimes I don't want to accept. I'd like to have a perfect house, life, family - along with perfect hair and beautifully styled clothes with matching accessories :-) but that isn't going to happen.

I read somewhere recently "where two duties seem to clash, one of them is not a duty". I try to bear that in mind as I try to organise our lives.
(Children at fireworks party)
I realise I've not yet posted about an "ordinary day"; maybe because we've not had many ordinary days lately. November is a busy month; we have two birthdays, and three special educational topics/celebrations - Bonfire Night; Remembrance Day; and Thanksgiving. These extra projects take time out of our "ordinary day". This year we also have exams, and are caring for an elderly relative who needs daily visiting in (a thankfully local) hospital. (And apparently there is a gymnastics competition coming up before the end of the month, but I've not got that down on the calendar yet.)

To add to the complications of home education, I've had a flare up of my semi-permanent back pain. This has involved organising lessons while attached to a hot-water bottle; having to spend some time lying on the sofa in the classroom while doing e.g. reading with the infants; and trips to medical people.

The point I'm trying to make here is that it's not that real life gets in the way of home education; but rather that home education is part of real life.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Why we home educate

I've recently posted this on my blog but since it explains the pivotal reasoning around our decision to home educate, I will re-post it here.

We haven't always home educated. Our older three went to nursery aged either two or three and have then been to academic private schools. As time has gone on, we have become convicted of the need to "Provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nuture and admonition of the Lord" (Ephesians 6 v4) and that we should "train up a child in the way he should go" (Proverbs 22v6) and of the admonition on Deut 6v6-7 "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou riset up.".

We had also been increasingly convicted of our compromises in having the children in school. We were, perhaps, not interventional enough and Christians we love and respect have the courage and ability to challenge over more issues. We felt compromised by attempts at "worship" in school-nativity plays, "hymns" sung which certainly weren't reformed, the children being asked to colour pictures that were irreverent and depicted the Lord even when a travesty of Christianity was taught, other religions being taught as more than equal to Christianity, the Lord's name being taken in vain by children all the time and there being no rebuke for this. I haven't arrived at evolution and the non-teaching of creation as a credible alternative, atheistic geography and population teaching, sex education from an amoral perspective etc etc.
We had spoken to staff about issues such as witches in books, about the issue of irreverent pictures, about amoral sex education and about trips/orchestra on the Lord's Day. Our older children have missed several trips due to them being over the Lord's Day.

Almost eighteen months ago now, we withdrew our second son from school and made plans to home educate him and the younger two. We didn't have a Christian school alternative. We made the decision to leave the older two in school due to the fact that they were closer to the end of their education and major exams.
The last eighteen months haven't been easy. It isn't easy taking a child out of school, buying curriculum for a child several years into school, researching ways of teaching and explaining. It hasn't been easy starting home education with a baby and toddler. It hasn't been easy facing opposition to our decision. God hasn't promised us an easy ride.

We have been blessed with encouragements; the many people who pray for us often older people with little personnal experience of home education, the home educators and Christian teachers both in the state sector and in Christian schools who have spent time and effort talking us through curricula and methods of teaching subjects from phonics to art to Latin nouns.

We know that home educating is not a guarantee that our children will be converted, anymore than not home educating is a guarantee that they won't. God is sovereign. We can only cry to Him for mercy on our children. We realise that we can teach our children at home but still teach them from a worldy and not Christian world view. Our job is to be faithful and to follow His Word as closely as we can.

How it all began for us

Since a lot of people reading may have younger children, I thought I'd do a post about how we started, and what life was like way back then (grin - we began home ed about 15 yrs ago)

When our oldest son was born I gave up work (I worked in publishing as an editor/author) to stay home to care for him; but I did continue doing quite a bit of freelance work. Then we had another baby or two, and suddenly Alexander was three and everyone was asking where he was going to go to nursery; and what school did I have his name down for.

We were living in an affluent part of North London, near one of the best grammar schools in the country (Henrietta Barnet) and also in the catchment area for (as it was then) one of the best government  primary schools in London.

But we were uncomfortable with the local primary school - I had a friend whose son was attending it, and we didn't feel happy with the multi-faith approach the school had - and the amount of television that was watched (and this was 15 yrs ago!)

Julian had been privately educated, and had a natural disinclination towards government schools; I on the other hand have fond memories of my goverment school primary education.  We briefly considered private education,  but with three children and expecting a fourth, that was never going to be affordable.

We had heard of "home schooling" - Julian had come into contact (before I knew him) with a church group whose children used the ACE curriculum. And while waiting for an antenatal appointment I read a magazine with an article about Education Otherwise, and I made a note of the address, just in case.

(There was no internet and phone calls were expensive in those days :-))

So we made the tentative decision that I would try to teach Alexander to read. After all, if I couldn't teach him to read, I couldn't teach him at all, right?

Part of the reason I was convinced that I probably could teach my children, is that I grew up in a tiny two-teacher school, and was used to seeing one adult dealing with ten or twelve children in several age groups. It seemed natural to me to do "whole class learning" so that everyone joined in according to their ability, not their age.  If I hadn't had that sort of childhood school experience, I might have been more daunted by the prospect of teaching children of different ages.

So I started teaching reading. I bought a couple of Phonics Ladybird Books from a bookshop, and could not make any sense of them. I realise now how phonic works, and that it does work well for some people, but it wasn't the right thing for Alexander aged three.

I tried again, buying the first couple of books in the Ladybird "Look Say" scheme - and suddenly, Alexander was learning to read.  He was bright and easy to teach, reading only took half an hour a day (I split it into two sets of 15 mins), which I could easily fit in round my other responsibilities.

I kept a "lesson diary" then - I must dig it out and read it, I'm sure it will be interesting.

Will write more on this later; but have to go now; we are having a carpet fitted upstairs, so Lucy has been temporarily evicted from her bedroom and is studying in the lounge. The younger five are watching a phonics video (Words and Pictures - it is an excellent series); and I need to find out where the rest are. . . .

Monday, 1 November 2010

First eighteen months

We've been home educating for just 18 months. This seems like a good time to reflect on what has and hasn't worked for us, where the greatest benefits have been and where the challenges lie.

April 2009-we had a three month old baby, my husband had been made redundant two months before and was just starting to set up a free lance business from home, our next child was two and we took our eight year old out of school. We had planned to start home educating at that time but obviously hadn't planned the job changes. My lovely plans about having a school room were thrown-a study for dh was more important as were the plans for long trips and I soon found that my plans for short trips, about once a week, to museums in central London just wouldn't work-too difficult with a baby and toddler.

Our eight year old, R, wasn't sure about Mummy as a teacher and especially about the maths. Mummy thought she knew about maths and science but found that the science curriculum that she liked just didn't appeal to our son.

So what, if anything, worked? Praying-lots of praying. I don't think I've ever had to depend on the Lord as much as in those first few weeks.

Practically, the baby, J, was settling into a routine. He conveniently slept most of the morning. Our two year old, A, loves spending time with Grandma who lives with us so when she got bored with watching her brother work, she would wander off to talk to Grandma. Initially, I needed to supervise R very closely. We were partway through a year so it wasn't always clear which topics, for example, in maths, had been covered.
We used some of the same books as school  to help continuity. Major changes in curriculum didn't help, at that point.

Reading aloud turned out to be a major success of that difficult first term or so. I initially, used a book that was too hard, then one that wasn't especially well written but after this, hit on "Farmer boy" which was a major success. This was followed by all the rest of the series.

To my surprise, hands on activities were a success. I'm a "booky" sort of person and don't remember finding practicals or art activities even vaguely interesting compared with a book so I almost missed making the salt dough map of Australia, in that first term. I had to learn that our son thrives on activities which re-enforce work and learns in a very different way to me.

This is another continent-in cookie dough, this time.

Eighteen months on, what has changed? Well, the sleeping baby is now a very active toddler. He still sleeps in the afternoon but that lovely long morning sleep has gone. The two year old is now four and keen to be involved in some activities. Thankfully, with time has come independence so now once I have explained the maths, R can usually manage to do a practice exercise on his own while I do "preschool" with the little ones. This is a very informal time of singing, reading, making puzzles, counting, art, cooking and lasts about 20-30 minutes.

This is a recent cookery activity.

Our timetable has simplified from a school-style version with each day different to one where the first hour and a half of each day is the same: Bible reading, memory working and singing followed by maths for R and then his English. We are working on having a set time late morning for Latin. We also have a fixed half an hour after lunch for R to read on his own. This is my time with our four year old when we might do simple phonics and play a number game or puzzle of her choice. Today, she wanted to practice writing "c" in a wipe clean workbook then to have a game of number dominoes, followed by a number puzzle. She is beginning to listen while I read aloud  to R and today drew a picture of the world from space which fitted with the book being read.

Challenges-well there are plenty. I always need to fine tune the curriculum. Current work is in the area of French/modern languages and music. We have sent R to various sporting activities but need to ensure that the children have sufficient exercise.
House work-the less said the better.
More important, is the issue of not forgetting why we home educate. I like learning and can easily be distracted into worrying about which Latin curriculum to use and forgetting the more important issues of teaching about the Lord and how He would have us live. We need to live unto Him and pray that we will be good witnesses to our children.


Many people I come across express their concern that home educated children are too "cosseted" or unable to enjoy and benefit from interaction with other children and adults. There is a feeling in the wider non-home-community that we (home ed families) keep our children too close and too protected.

In my experience, home educated children do interact with other children and adults. This past week .   . . .on Monday Jeremy took Jemima and under to a home school football group - normally Rupert does this, and is the coach, but he was busy. Then Jeremy and Max came home, while the others stayed at a home schooled friend's house for a French lesson (the friend has children aged 12 down to less than a year, and they are native French/German speakers). (I didn't go with them)

On Tuesday Jemima and Annabelle were at gymnastics for two hours (I didn't go with them); on Wednesday the three youngest were at a library "craft and storytime" session, and later that day another four were at the library for an older children's reading group. The reading group is comprised of about a dozen school children from various schools, and my four (and again I didn't go with them)

I mention that last point to show that my children mix regularly without me - they have access to other children in the community and also to other adults, without my immediate oversight. One of the "safeguarding" complaints that is often made of home education is that children are so heavily "controlled" by their parents that they have no access to other significant adults, so that if they did have problems at home (which they are no more likely to than any child - in fact I'd argue less so), they would have no one to confide in.

Wednesday evening a handful of them went swimming with Julian, and met home schooled friends at the leisure centre; Thursday was swimming lessons (since it is younger children who go, they are accompanied but again, they know their swimming teachers well, and they mix with a variety of children). And on Thursday Sebastian went with Constance to visit J's Aunt who is seriously ill in hospital. While Lucy spent the night at a friend's farm, with three other girls from Christian homes.

And several of the children aged 10 and up regularly go out to buy groceries which  I've forgotten (we live very near a supermarket); they go to the post office to send mail; they interact a lot with people in the local community; and they are in and out of the local library constantly, and know several of the staff there very well.

Half an Hour of Unschooling

With the exception of Bible and math, our homeschooling has mostly been what I could call "unschooling," a word which means different things to different people; but to me it means that I provide an atmosphere conducive to learning, and my children learn what and when they will, for the most part.  If they express an interest, I encourage their interest and help them pursue it, but if they don't, I leave them be (for now--I plan to introduce more formality and structure as my children get older).  We aren't striving for complete mastery of everything we talk about; we're just exposing little minds to lots of interesting information, and hopefully inspiring a love of learning.  Here's an example from the other day.

Elijah (age six) has recently had a few questions about clouds and weather that I wasn't able to answer with certainty, so I picked up this book at the library:
Most of the books about weather at our library were sensationalistic, focusing on tornadoes and hurricanes, and with lots of exclamation points  But this one is a fine general overview of the atmosphere and weather.

Elijah read through this book on his own shortly after we got it, and Noah (age 3) looked through the pictures.  But then one morning at breakfast, we were looking out the window at the clouds and talking about the weather again, and I decided that after breakfast we would read the book together.  We read the way we usually do, with lots of pauses to answer questions and to talk about things in more detail.  

When I read the following sentence: "The sun's energy travels through space in the form of visible light waves and invisible ultraviolet and infrared waves" Elijah asked "What does that mean?"  I started to explain that "waves transmit energy," but couldn't remember enough to explain it well, so I said "Hang on a minute" and went and fetched the "L" volume of our encyclopedia.  I opened to the page on light, which had this illustration:

Elijah already knew that white light can be separated into different colors with a prism, as we'd had a conversation about light and color after seeing a rainbow a couple of weeks ago.  Now I explained that the different colors were actually different wave lengths; and with this illustration in front of us, it was easy to explain that ultraviolet rays have shorter wavelengths, and infrared rays longer wavelengths, than the visible spectrum.  I sent Elijah to get a scrap of paper and a pencil, and drew the following illustration:
As I drew the top lines I talked about waves in the ocean, and how energy moves through the water, and how the sun's energy travels through space in a similar manner.  Then I drew the waves with the bracket to the left of them to show that violet light has shorter wavelengths, and red light longer wavelengths; and finally I drew the ultraviolet and infrared waves.  I explained the big words as I went: "wavelengths" are "the distance between the peaks of each wave," and I made little tick marks above each wave to demonstrate (and added "nanometers are a unit of measurement" because Elijah had noticed the word "nanometers" in the encyclopedia).  The "visible spectrum" is "the waves that we can see, or light." etc.

We proceeded on through the book in similar fashion.  Both boys listened with interest at first, asking questions and making comments.  But after half an hour they started to get a bit wiggly.  We weren't quite done with the book, but at this age I don't push them for too long when they start to get fidgety.  So we skipped through the last few pages, only stopping to admire the photographs of snowflakes and hailstones; then we were off to our next task--boiling a kettle of water to pour on the fire ant hill by the garage. :)

So, that's an example of what I call an "unschooling moment."  (Not all "unschooling moments" are so obviously academic.  Most of them come when we are busily "living life"--baking, doing yard work, grocery shopping, etc.)

Did Elijah actually understand what we talked about?  I think so, at least sort of.  Will he remember it?  In this case, I think he will, because he had an opportunity to discuss what he'd learned later that day with his dad and then again with his uncle (both of whom happen to work in physics).  And a few days later, we were listening to public radio and heard an interesting segment about an infrared telescope, so we got to talk about infrared waves in a different context.  I like to look for those opportunities to revisit what he's learned.

In my opinion, if you want to "unschool" small children, the following are absolutely essential: a parent who likes to learn things herself and likes talking to her children about them, the patience to thoughtfully answer all (okay, most) of a child's questions, and the willingness to do some research in order to answer them properly. Also necessary: a good dictionary and encyclopedia (quite cheap at second-hand stores), and access to a local library.  Not necessary: special training, special facilities, expensive curricula.

Sorry this is so long! --Sharon