Diana's Homeschool Blog

Welcome to my homeschool blog, which offers insights into loving learning, loving your family, loving history, loving homeschooling, and enjoying your life! With your cup of coffee in hand, take a break to laugh with me, to have your heart refreshed, to be reminded of how cool your kids really are, and to consider the amazing adventure of being a homeschool mom. AND, if you are interested in the History Revealed curriculum, be sure to check out my Teaching Tips!

Learning Like a Buffalo, Part Two

Learning Like a Buffalo, Part Two

Gazing at the IMMENSE hole of a buffalo jump in Beulah, Wyoming (as described in the previous post), I suddenly saw a relationship between making it easy to process buffalo for winter and making it easy for kids to learn.

To explain, let me start with a few questions:

Do you remember when you were in school?

      • Were you sometimes bored?
      • Were you uninterested in what had to be memorized?
      • Did it seem that school work was disconnected from "real life"?
      • Would you ask your teacher, "Why do I have to do this?"

If so, you are not alone.

For me, school often felt like being sentenced to twelve years—with no chance of parole! Occasionally, there would be a flash of interest, an insightful teacher, a momentary experience of discovery, but that was certainly not the norm. Mostly, we were shuffled from one class to another, regardless of interest, until graduation.

You may be one of the lucky few who do not relate to this, but thousands upon thousands of homeschooling parents have agreed in workshops that this was their experience.

When we try to teach our own children at home, these school-days experiences can come back to haunt us. Here sit our precious offspring, yawning, their eyes glazed over, and asking, "Mommy, do we HAVE to do this?" Ouch! We understand exactly what they mean, but we don't know how to make their experience different from ours.

Excited to learn!Buffalo Jumps in Learning

In contrast to the yawning, glazed-eye student, have your children ever been totally self-motivated to learn about something? Whether baseball, dead bugs, piano, or how to make fried ice cream, they were eager, rarin' to go, and couldn't wait to know!

That, my friends, is a Buffalo Jump. Your student's natural hunger to discover and learn is one of the most powerful forces that you will ever find! The trick is to recognize it when it is happening (or to offer opportunities for it to happen), and then allow the full "weight" of their curiosity to propel them deep into whatever they are learning.

Here's an example:

Twenty-two years ago, after we had moved from the West Coast to South Dakota, my nine-year old son asked me, "Mom, why do steel ships float?"

Nowadays, this would be a no-brainer. An iPhone, a quick Google search, and an answer. But not in 1992.

Why do steel ships float?With out a single steel ship in sight, I was sunk.

But then, I did what homeschoolers used to do all the time. "I don't know the answer to your great question, Michael, but I know where we can go to find out!"

And, with great expectations, we sailed off to the library. When the librarian was asked, "Excuse me, do you know why steel ships float?", she looked around in dismay. Evidently, that question was not real common in South Dakota.

"Hmmm... Try this book." It was a college level book on boat building, and way beyond me. I slunk out of the library, kids in tow, still clueless.

Never one to give up, my son kept asking the question: "Why do steel ships float?"

We looked through other books at home. We looked high, we looked low. We looked through every book we thought might have the answer. Still clueless.

It got so we were asking everyone we met, "Excuse me, but do you know why...?"

After two weeks of searching, late one night I remembered a box of books in the closet. "Mmmm. I wonder..." I sprang from the bed to the box, found a book on how things work by Reader's Digest, and quickly turned to the index. Incredibly, I saw this listing, "Why steel ships float". EUREKA! Our answer was at hand.

As the whole family learned about the principle of buoyancy, about surface tension, and about the ancient scientist/mathematician/inventor Archimedes, we thought up several creative ideas for experiments with lead fishing weights. We pounded and dropped and observed and recorded. By the time it was done, Michael's curiosity about why steel ships float had motivated the whole family to jump into exploring with him, learning things beyond our ken and certainly beyond our lesson book!

Opportunities Abound!

Many, many dinner table discussions have resulted in perusing encyclopedias, requesting library books, searching internet listings, and questioning experts. Questions have come up during mathematics that were totally off the point but worth pursuing nonetheless. Ideas have been generated during car rides that require lots of thinking and discussing. There have been on-the-spot opportunities to learn while having an x-ray (How can you tell if my finger is broken?); while eating at a Chinese restaurant (What was your home like in China?); while visiting a cattle ranch (Where did those brands come from?).

These moments, when someone wonders, "why?" or, "when?" or, "how?" or, "who?" or, "what if," are the Buffalo Jumps. They present the perfect opportunities to use the tremendous force of natural curiosity to propel a student into interesting, meaningful learning.

BuffaloJust as the buffalo jumps were used as an effective, efficient means of procuring meat for the tribe, so are the buffalo jumps of learning a very effective, efficient means of getting knowledge into a child. Rather than the few inches of refuse found in normal archaeological sites, the buffalo jump in Wyoming provided archaeologists with more than twenty feet of "stuff"! In the same way, learning that is motivated by a hunger to know—where the student rushes headlong into it—is far more productive; it leaves far more evidence of knowledge acquired than the normal method of "read the chapter and answer the questions in the back."

"Okay, okay. But will our children, on their own, EVER fall into one of these educational buffalo jumps?"

Motivating Them

Good question! The buffalo, ambling along on their own, wouldn't have just fallen in. The Plains tribes skillfully used their knowledge. They knew where the buffalo were and the location of the jump. All they needed was to move the herd in that general direction, and at the appropriate moment, "motivate" them! The natural law of gravity took care of the rest.

So, in buffalo jumps of learning, the parent is the one who knows where their students are in skill level, in experience, and in ability. A parent, spying out the land, will also be aware of what sorts of things really interest their children, whether it has to do with inventions, or biographies, or sports, or crafts, or hands-on experiments, or drama, or whatever it might be. What the parent can do is to begin moving the students toward a possible area of interest, and, at the appropriate moment, motivate some excitement into that area (in other words, activate their natural curiosity.)

Here are some suggestions:

  •  find a fantastic book in the library and read a few chapters out loud (like Carry On, Mr. Bowditch);
  •  watch a YouTube video which shows how cathedrals were built in the Middle Ages (like "Cathedral" by David Macaulay);
  •  take a field trip to see a sculptor sculpting;
  •  visit a veteran who fought in a war;
  •  go to a symphony performance of Peter and the Wolf;
    and much, much more.

These motivating moments, that you help provide, will get those children stampeding right smack into real learning! Then all you have to do is stand by, ready to assist.

That, dear friends, is learning like a buffalo!

Remember, stay relational.

Diana


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Learning like a Buffalo

Learning like a Buffalo

Many years ago, while living in the Black Hills of South Dakota, Bill and I decided one afternoon that it was time to take time. Bidding our teens a fond adieu, we headed off to parts unknown for the evening. Remembering the injunction, "Go West, Young Man, Go West!", we turned toward Wyoming, which teems with wildlife and scenery in nearly every nook and cranny.

We took the scenic route from Spearfish, South Dakota to Beulah, Wyoming (just across the border), and continued along the deserted blacktop. The weather that summer evening was very unusual for the high plains. Rather than hot, sunny, and nary a cloud in the sky (think "Home on the Range"), it was cool, misty and laden with atmosphere. It had a wonderful ambience, a sort of mist-hung backdrop for our moment of solitude.

Bill was looking for a certain site he had noticed from previous journeys down the freeway. A sign had indicated there was a "buffalo jump"—something used for several centuries by Native American tribes—which seemed like a good place to visit. We found a small marker on the side of the road which indicated we had arrived, though there was certainly nothing yet to see.

I guess that's the deal with buffalo jumps. One minute you're running along over the plains, and the next, you fall—plop—into the hole. If it were obvious, the buffalo would have noticed.

Signs warned that we were to approach at our own risk, that rattlesnakes were a hazard, and to stay on the dirt path. We saw pictures of archaeological digs previously completed at the site where twenty feet of buffalo bones had accumulated over the six hundred years of use. Though we could still see nothing unusual, the signs were promising bigger and better things to come.

We walked a dozen yards up the path (with my rattlesnake antennae well extended), and then, suddenly, the ground stopped. There was a HUGE hole in the ground, about one hundred feet deep and two hundred feet in diameter. This was a serious buffalo jump!

At the bottom of the Vore Buffalo JumpThe utter immensity of this hole in the ground, and the unexpectedness of it on the continuous plains, provided an amazing opportunity for the Plains tribes. In preparation for their winter food supply, they would position men at the edges of the jump and bowmen around the inside of the hole. Then a group would turn a herd of buffalo toward the jump and, at the last minute, frighten them into stampeding. Once a buffalo was moving fast and in the right direction, gravity took over. Many of the buffalo died as a result of the fall. Others died from falling neighbors. And the few who didn't die naturally were helped along by arrows from the men on the sides of the hole.

The archaeological digs have shown that the people who used this jump were able to process a lot of meat in a very short time. It was both a successful and relatively easy procedure, since they used the  immense hole in the ground—along with gravity—to help them.

Now, you may be asking, "Just what do a buffalo jump and homeschooling have in common?"

There's a GREAT answer to that question. And I'll share it with you next time.

To be continued . . .


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Break Down Each Step of Learning

In 2004, homeschoolers in Rotorua, New Zealand, joined us for an evening of dialogue about parents teaching children at home. It was a precious time, particularly poignant for me because it was being hosted by a Maori family.  The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, with a somewhat similar history to Native Americans in America or First Nations people in Canada, and to have many Maori families at this gathering was a significant indicator of how homeschooling was gaining acceptance—despite the cultural challenges —among the native people.

One of the questions posed to me during our Q & A was that of teaching writing—especially of the incredible frustration on the part of many younger students (which translated into incredible frustration for their parents!). As I was trying to gather my travel-weary wits, a Maori father began to share marvelous wisdom that I would like to share with you.

He spoke to us all about the many steps which must simultaneously be taken in order to write something:

      • handwriting, or penmanship;
      • spelling;
      • sentence construction, or grammar;
      • adequate and accurate use of vocabulary;
      • concepts and ideas to be expressed;
      • logical flow of ideas;
      • and more.
      • As adults, if there is something to write, we simply write it. We don't struggle over penmanship, spelling, sentence construction. or vocabulary. We spend most of our time on the concepts and logic. However, it's not the same at all for younger students who are just beginning the journey of communicating through the written word. For them, it's a massive, glacier-covered mountain with formidable ice-fields and no visible paths.

So, as parents with children who need to learn to write, what do we do?

helping hand This incredibly wise and thoughtful father suggested that we break down the steps for our children. Where is it that they are finding the insurmountable obstacle? Is it in penmanship? Spelling? Grammar? Vocabulary? Idea? Logic? At which point along the way are they being overwhelmed? If we can break down each of the steps, walking them through one by one, it will soon become evident where the difficulties lie, and we can gently provide help—coming alongside lovingly and kindly—until they have the needed skills for that point.

It's not a quick fix. It doesn't work if you are frustrated and angry. It will not happen if you are pressured by the goals set by someone else who does not know your child and their unique situation.

But, if you can patiently break down the task, helping them little by little to acquire the necessary dexterity for writing, they will eventually climb that mountain!

Thanks,

Diana

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