Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gerbils Have Become Sophia's Curriculum

Friends, family and strangers often wonder how we can homeschool without using a prepackaged curriculum. Here is an example of how "child-led" learning works. When your child is interested in something and has plenty of free time, he/she will not stop until she fully understands everything about it. While trying to learn everything she can, she mysteriously covers just about every subject matter taught in schools.

Over the summer, Sophia expressed an interest in owning gerbils. My first response was "No way!" Steve, of course, backed me up! We kind of thought the subject was over, but soon Sophia was sharing all the new things she was learning about gerbils with us. She was figuring out the healthiest food for gerbils, that gerbils tend to become obese when they live alone (which means we need two instead of one) but that if they aren't together from the beginning; they will often fight, that it is better to buy from a breeder than a pet store, and on and on. She discovered a book that had great reviews and bought it. She has read it multiple times now. So, Steve and I reconsidered and said, "Yes.".

We drove to Chicago last night to pick up two gerbils. Sophia wanted to make sure she scooped them up just right. The book told her how to do it without scaring them.

Sophia has been saving for the gerbils now since the original idea was planted in her head over the summer by a friend who was planning on breeding gerbils. Sophia tends to enjoy spending her money as quickly as she earns it, but she has restrained herself to make sure she had enough money to cover the aquarium, bedding, food, activity centers, balls, and price of gerbils. Also, when things didn't work out with her friend breeding gerbils (the male and female she had didn't get along), she started emailing breeders herself. Along the way she learned some sad information about how animals are sometimes treated, but this only made the activist side of her personality stronger. She has also learned where to find the best information on gerbils and has had some fun meeting new people online.

Here are Sooty and Pumpkin. The are full of energy.

By following a "child led" learning philosophy, we don't follow a curriculum or even try to make sure we are covering certain subjects because we trust that our children will find life interesting enough to learn exactly what is right for them as individuals. Our job is just to be ready to help as needed. But, as a previous elementary teacher, I sometimes find it interesting to think about how I could have created this same learning situation in my classroom. I doubt I would have been as successful.

Math:
~Counting Money/Addition/Subtraction - Sophia had to save for the gerbils, figure out how much was still needed each week, and figure out how long it would take to save the money.
~Estimating - Sophia went to the pet store about a month ago and estimated how much money she would need for the gerbils.
~Measuring/predicting - She is having to measure out the amount of bedding she lays in the home and figure out how long it will last.
~Budgeting. Sophia now has to figure out how much of the money she earns needs to be set aside to replenish bedding and food.

Writing:
~Writing for an Audience - Sophia is emailing real life people that breed gerbils and asking great questions. (When I was teaching, the goal of one of my principals was that we were providing situations where the kids were writing for people that would actually read what they wrote.)
~Writing to Gain Knowledge - Sophia is participating in gerbil forums to gain information about gerbils and eventually to share information with others.
~Self Editing - When Sophia emails on forums or with a breeder, she is more cautious about her spelling and grammar and will ask for help if she is unsure.

Reading:
~Sophia has read everything she can get her hands on in regards to gerbils. She reminds me so much of myself right before we bought our dog Izzy. I wanted her to have the best diet and exercise plan and read everything I could on dogs.
~Summarizing. Sophia summarizes everything she learns about gerbils to me -not because I ask her too, but because it is so exciting, she can't resist!

Science/Health:
~Gerbil Breeds/Genetics. There is tons of interesting information out there about the different types of gerbils. You may wonder what a "self" gerbil is as I did. It means the belly is the same color as the rest of it's body.
~Breeding. Sophia has learned all kinds of valuable information on how to breed and things to be cautious of when breeding. We are not planning to breed but it is interesting information that has led to other conversations.
~Habitats. What is the best home for a gerbil? What is the habitat of a wild gerbil like?
~Health. What causes obesity in gerbils? How much exercise do they need? How much protein? She has been emailing with a gal about healthier brands of gerbil food because she doesn't want her gerbils to have any artificial colors or preservatives.
~Safety. What toys are harmful to a gerbil? What types of bedding do you need to avoid?
~Relationship to Self. Sophia has connected her eating habits to the gerbils and how each species has it's unique food needs.

Technology:
~Sophia is learning new ways to add pictures on different sites.
~She is setting up her own forum for people to talk about their puppies.

Art:
~After looking at different gerbil websites, it looks like you can create your own playgrounds for gerbils that are quite elaborate. I was even excited about this!

Social:
~Meeting new people with new ideas. Sophia is meeting new people on the gerbil forum with interesting and fun ideas that she hasn't found in books or thought up herself.
~Learning from friends. Sophia has been talking with her friend about gerbils and picking her brain about everything she knows.
~Sharing. Sophia is excited for our family to visit this weekend and over Thanksgiving to see her new gerbils and for all of her friends to come over and see what all the excitement is about.

I am sure there is much more she has covered. Feel free to add anything you think I missed.

Poor Sophia! Sooty and Pumpkin were reorganizing the bedding in their new home all of last night and Sophia could not sleep with all the noise.