Subject Integration

Subject integration is something that home educators strive for more and more these days.  Topics are not so easily categorized in real life and have a natural overlap. This is why textbooks become dull. They force divisions of topics or disciplines that rob the student of the bigger picture.

Unit studies try to overcome this problem by creating links to other individual disciplines and show what they have in common, but this is also often forced and the child ends up with more worksheets and uninspiring “twaddle.” So, how do we show the integration of subject matter in a natural way that keeps our young learners curious and engaged?

One key way to keep children interested is to NOT give them the answers. In fact, wonder out loud why things were or are a certain way and create an opportunity for detective work to discover the reason! Become detectives and keep a notebook and sketchbook of your findings. Look for possible links of causality or other influences that may have brought about the status quo. What if something happened differently along the way? How may the outcome have changed?  There is no telling which direction your adventure may take you, but you may become a scientist, a researcher, a writer, a historian, a philosopher, an artist, a logician and in some cases, a mathematician (depending on what you’re finding out) in the process.  Go ahead and use the web to find answers, but also investigate by doing, where you can. Let them try things, and draw their own conclusions.

One topic our home school dealt with this year was the issue of creating a passageway from South America to Mexico for cougars – where they could be free to roam without being harmed or hunted. Concern for the animals well being also brought up other questions. What of the cattle they attacked along this corridor? These cattle were owned by ranchers who suffered loss because of it. At times, cougars also attacked people and harmed or killed them. Whose need should take priority, and what could be done to preserve an ecosystem without harming the population nearby? This issue touched on geography, animal science, philosophy, property rights and economy.

Another similar topic was the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park and their effect on it. The rivers stabilized in their course because erosion was less of a problem, meadows and woodlands became healthier because the deer population was kept in check and much wildlife, including beavers and rabbits returned to the park. In one case the introduction of wild animals to an area created a problem, and in the latter it solved several!  Again we covered animal science but also learned about ecology and the web of life with its interdependencies. We looked at paintings of landscapes and created artwork with our animal of choice. We also talked about whether it was “bad” or “good” for animals to attack and eat each other, and saw by this example that God’s design worked perfectly when nature as He planned it was kept in balance.

We also learned about how man’s attempt at “fixing problems” could backfire by bringing in a predator bug to destroy another. This was especially true when the predator was introduced from a foreign land. This was also true of plants. Learning about plants and their natural enemies led to a study of gardening and what would attract or repel certain visitors. In our study we looked at kinds of leaves to identify plants, how roots functioned and what nutrition they needed, and what conditions were optimal for creating food.

We learned about the migration habits of birds and butterflies and also the animals of the oceans. As we learned about the ocean currents we also learned about how sailors used these to navigate more quickly between America and Europe. We measured and baked food that the explorers would have eaten during the 17th century and visited an outdoor cultural museum. We watched a movie about early explorers and learned some songs that told about their exploits.

We studied weather and listened to Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” while creating a storyboard of a changing  maple tree.

While reading The Trumpet of the Swan, we learned about trumpets and jazz, drew birds (including swans) and learned about flight. We created kites and flew them on a sunny and breezy day, as well.

No, it isn’t easy to buy curriculum for such a method. If you have some good resources – use them as launching points instead of assigned books to be completed because of some arbitrary rule. In fact, you don’t need to purchase much. Instead, you need access to the world around  you, the library, and the Internet. Perhaps even people close to the topic that you can interview!

As they become more advanced they evaluate information based on their research and determine a conclusion. Taking a position they may develop an argument, write up the thesis beginning with the hypothesis, show the process of experimentation or reasoning, give evidence and their conclusion. In doing so, they have followed the scientific method and written a persuasive or expositional paper. All that remains is to publish it (in a family newsletter or website) or a YouTube video, or present it in person to an audience!  Publishing the finished work brings its own reward. Try to do this in a variety of ways.

It doesn’t really matter what topic you choose to begin. It can be what interests your child. As they grow in the process (and you do too), they can be given topics to research. Once they have the tools and are used to it, these assignments will not be so daunting.

I’ve only touched on a few things we covered this year, but you can see by God’s design, all of life is integrated in some way. Seek and learn along with your children. Through your example, inspire them to become life-long learners. Along the way you’ll awaken your own curiosity again. Your imagination and conversations around the dinner table will be richer for it.

Lessons for Life Through Games

“LIFE” may be the name of a game, but real life is certainly more than a game. The game itself has a limited number of options and is somewhat predictable. It’s not a favorite of mine for that reason.

However, there are games that do teach life lessons which have a wide application. Lessons are learned surreptitiously, easily and naturally. Children welcome valuable skills and strategies to win at a game, with no resistance to instruction.

Let’s keep this secret between us as parents and grandparents.

Competitive sports and games that move quickly, with multiple players cooperating for a goal, have a special advantage. Not only is each player having to exercise their own skill and knowledge, but they have to have a “big-picture” of what everyone else around them is doing. They learn to make good decisions “on the fly” in order to achieve the goal. If they take too much time bemoaning a mistake, another good opportunity may pass them by. You learn more by failing, than by succeeding. Words are not needed for this lesson to sink in.

Taking care of yourself so you can take care of your team mate is another life skill. Cheering for another who excels and comforting someone who is struggling are character strengths that can be developed through sports and team play. If you have found a wise coach, these character qualities will be exemplified to the team on a regular basis.

It is a wonderful thing to win against another team. It is an even better thing to overcome your own perceived limitations! Even middle-schoolers can set goals for self improvement and conquer themselves, before conquering another team. We must not protect children from this struggle. That is what builds character.

Encouragement helps in competition, but children often learn best when there isn’t too much criticism by adults. If they are left to figure out the best strategies for teamwork on their own and find solutions, they will stick. This skill will benefit them not only in sports, but in friendships, cooperation in community, academics and future employment.

As in competitive team games, Chess, Risk, Baduk, and other board or card games where strategies are involved, help children to anticipate their competitor’s moves. However, there is more time to analyze possible scenarios than in a sport or team game. Children also learn to read people, increasing their skills of perception. They learn the benefit of thoughtful play and become less impulsive. As they develop a greater understanding of the game, they can record their moves and evaluate what to do differently if that situation arises again.

Games that teach creativity and involve humor also have an important role. Games such as Pictionary, Guesstures, or the free version of Charades develop presentation skills, besides fostering closer trust relationships.

There are plenty of games that are clearly educational. Those can be fun too. However, those making the biggest claim to educational profit tend to be the least appealing to kids. Those resistant to school learn best when they don’t know they’re learning.

How to Help Your Kids Love Learning Again

Are your kids tired of “school?” Does learning seem like a chore to them? It’s probably not their fault. We’ve been trained to rely on textbooks as authorities of what our children must know, and persevere through them faithfully.

Oh, the tyranny of the textbook! Each subject is presented as separate and distinct, stripped of its vitality and laden with seemingly irrelevant facts. Why do we do this to ourselves? Or, to them? How can we teach the love of learning when it isn’t exciting to us?

Textbooks are useful as a resource. But if you want to teach without quenching curiosity, I think it’s best to keep it as one of several resources.  How about bringing subject matter into a real-life application? Instead of merely stuffing your memory with isolated facts,  you can refocus and create a living lesson!

It is true that advancement in understanding needs a foundation of basic information. Children enjoy memorizing lists and basic fact families from a very early age. This can be done through songs, games and challenges. The grammar stage is when they are hungry to know and identify items in categories. But if these facts do not become connected to a deeper meaning, by the time they hit 9 or 10 years old, their interest will evaporate. There is no reason to wait until they are on the verge of losing interest, either. Knowledge should be applied to bring understanding. They need to move from “the what” to “the how” and “the why.”

Several curricula make use of the library, experiments, and field trips. Even an occasional interview with an expert (or a video clip of one) may be included to add interest. These are a great help! But we still lose something when we strive to separate subjects from each other. Real life isn’t like that. It doesn’t seem natural. Meaning and significance are lost.

How can the four core subjects of math, reading, history/geography, and science come together in one lesson? What about Bible, spelling, handwriting, and literature? If you are following a distinct sequence for each subject, it wouldn’t be easy. But not all subjects need to be taught in a particular order. So, question the table of contents!

This week in history, we have been studying the Pilgrims meeting with Squanto. Here are a few associated topics that could be melded together fairly easily: in science –  germs and infectious disease, hygiene and food preparation, weather, horticulture, and physics (buildings and ships).

Science crosses into math when discussing navigation tools and means from the age of discovery, compared to today. Geography also plays a part both in routes taken and cultural differences. Bible lessons flow from the desire of the pilgrims to worship freely, their treatment of the natives they encountered, and their determination and work ethic in persevering.

Besides matters of faith, the Mayflower Compact touches on sociology, economics, and law. Vocabulary can be taken from this document and sections can be copied. Discussions of the moral rightness or wrongness of settling there against the king’s wishes can be discussed and even debated, with evidence brought for each position.

Math, Science and Reading can also be implemented as your children use original recipes and prepare Johnny Cakes (corn bread) or meat pies from early colonial days. If you double or triple the recipe you not only practice liquid and dry measurement but also add and multiply fractions. The nutritional value of the food available to the Pilgrims is another interesting topic.

Unit Studies make an effort to bring all the disciplines together and many of them do a good job. But again, a curriculum that someone else wrote can be limiting.

I encourage you to be spontaneous from time to time and talk with your children as you help them develop life skills. Let the questions that rise from real work inspire some research and reflection.

One other benefit of this type of learning is that your children see wonder in the world around them. Knowledge does not seem so difficult to attain. Ideas in isolation are soon forgotten. When the creative mind and the senses become engaged, they gain understanding of subject matter and transition into wisdom as knowledge is applied to their lives. There are plenty of mysteries to be discovered. Be free of the tyranny of the textbook. Let learning be a joyful adventure for you and your children!


My top 10 Picks for Webucational Youtube Subscriptions! (Middle-Schoolers)

In this digital age, webucational programming is readily available, providing engaging and accessible resources to the homeschooling family, at little or no cost!

My granddaughter is turning 10, and beginning 5th grade. Some of the educational channels we enjoyed are far too childish in their approach now. One thing that was most difficult to find was a quality Bible teaching that didn’t talk down or mix fantasy characters into Bible stories.  I’ve also been looking for something a bit more theological, and found one that is a great launching point for serious Bible study!

The Bible Project is a channel  I highly recommend this for ages 10 and up.  It would be supplemented with reading the Bible (as would any good theology source).   https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=KOUV7mWDI34&list=PLzqvZvU_c95EXuOia1644oaxMzQof7UYN 

For deeper thinkers and harder questions: The One-Minute Apologist is a great platform for important conversations.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMj3sKKn6a4

After finishing the amazing series, “Brain Games,” I found this gem on Youtube. Smarter Every Day will definitely make an impression.  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6107grRI4m0o2-emgoDnAA 
This science and illusion site makes you think outside the box. It inspires wonder. 🙂 Brusspup:  https://www.youtube.com/user/brusspup

Vi Hart calls herself a “Math Musician.” She uses math to make music and also creates doodle art while discussing math concepts. Very engaging!  https://www.youtube.com/user/Vihart 

What You Ought To Know has been a favorite for years! Great for middle schoolers and older.
 https://www.youtube.com/user/WhatYouOughtToKnow/playlists?sort=dd&view=1&shelf_id=2

The Story of US, put out by The History Channel, is riveting stuff!   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oV8np9i-6F8&list=PL3H6z037pboHLqNBBXjHTqaxpW6yhOINU

A favorite among homeschooling families:  TEDEd has a lot to offer. Some discussions may not fit your worldview, so look it over first.   https://www.youtube.com/user/TEDEducation/videos

Crash Course is very useful, though at times calls for a worldview discussion afterward. This is suitable for ages 10 and up.
https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcourse 

They also have a course for elementary, that some middle schoolers will still appreciate: Crash Course Kids.  https://www.youtube.com/user/crashcoursekids

What are some of your favorites?

My Top Picks of Free or Cheap Web-Sources for Elementary-Middle Schoolers.

We try to buy the best resources for the least money we can. But even the best curriculum may not give clear enough instruction for the student (or parent) to be able to master the material. I’m a visual learner, myself. Often I need an illustration of the problem worked out in front of me with a clear explanation of the instructor is doing what they are doing! It is also helpful to let someone else take on the time-consuming drill. Here’s a short-list of my favorite go-to online resources that are free or very inexpensive!

1http://www.mathantics.com  The videos are also available on Youtube, but the website has exercises and additional worksheets for a small fee. All videos on the site are free. The worksheets are well worth the small investment, though!

2. Kahn Academy has free instruction, and not only in math! They also have an introductory course in computer programming in JavaScript as well as other subjects. We use this as a supplement often, but it can also be the curriculum!   https://www.khanacademy.org/ 

3. For Spelling and Vocabulary (grades K-8th)  http://gradespelling.com/spelling-vocabulary-word-lists/  
This has lists, definitions,  games, review and tests and costs nothing!

4.  Free literature, biographies, and books about nature and history available at www.mainlesson.com.  Search the bar on the left by author, title, or genre to find the selection of free materials. You may also choose to purchase “Gateway to the Classics” which opens more options, but some of those may also be viewed for free. Here is an example of one we are using this year, on American History:  http://www.gatewaytotheclassics.com/samples/display.php?author=evans&book=america&story=_contents

Here is another sample of a book available on “Gateway to the Classics” which may be accessed as a sample.    http://www.gatewaytotheclassics.com/samples/display.php?author=burgess&book=bird&story=_contents

5.  Printable worksheets for free!!! Pick your grade and your subject. Instruction is also available.  https://www.education.com/worksheets/

Worksheets specifically for music – http://www.abcteach.com/directory/theme-units-music-8843-2-2

Printables for handwriting:  http://www.abcteach.com/directory/subjects-handwriting-20-2-1 

Handwriting Bible verses:  http://heartofwisdom.com/blog/free-handwriting-bible-verses

For reading comprehension and more!  http://www.k12reader.com/subject/reading-skills/  

6.  Grammar for 5th grade and above – review and practice.  This is pretty comprehensive!   https://www.englishgrammar101.com/ 

Another resource for Grammar, organized by topic! Click on a highlighted number for the lesson with answers.   http://www.dailygrammar.com/glossary.html

7.  Writing style and structure, available here!  http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/ 

8. Geography:   http://www.sheppardsoftware.com/USA_Geography/USA_Caps_L_1024.html  This link is to learn States and Capitals of the USA, but in the heading, you can pick any country or topic related to geography.
Also, http://geology.com/world/world-map.shtml  will give you clear maps of any part of the world.

9. Latin Charts:  http://classicalsubjects.com/resources/basiclatincharts_color.pdf  

Vocabulary from Henley 1      https://www.memrise.com/course/198250/henle-first-year-latin/    (Just click on the lessons, you don’t need to “join.”  Save the bookmark!
Also, Vocabulary from Henley 2:
https://www.memrise.com/course/519657/henle-second-year-latin/

10.  Bible – audio.  Choose the version you have, and listen while you read along. This will help your children absorb more of what they read because they won’t be stumbling over words. You can also open the text in another window if you want to read online.  https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/audio/ 

11. Science:
I have recently found this interactive series of lessons in science. It is perfect for teaching several grade levels at once. The kids love it!!!   https://mysteryscience.com

12. History:
This resource includes more than history, but their library of collected videos (free) is a great addition to any textbook!  https://brookdalehouse.com/ 

Next time, I will post my Top Ten Picks for Educational Youtube Channels!

What are your favorite educational sites? Post in the comments below!