documentaries

Stuff We Like :: 2.17.17

home|school|life’s Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

Are you going to the SEA homeschool conference this spring? Suzanne and I will be there from June 1-4 giving away copies of HSL and feeling socially awkward, so please stop by and say hi if you’re there!

around the web

Just when the weight of the world feels like too much to bear, someone makes a list of book-ice cream pairings, and you know you’ll make it through.

I really love these alternative approaches to high school math.

I have so many feelings about the new James Baldwin documentary, but the main one is that everyone should go and see it.

Ursula Le Guin on "alternative facts" versus science fiction

 

at home/school/life

on the blog: A big woo-hoo to Shelli who wrapped up her year-long citizen science project with this week’s post. And Oak Meadow's winter sale is going on through the 28th!

one year ago: Rebecca reviews a curriculum for young philosophers

two years ago: Why boredom is an important part of learning

three years ago: Simple strategies to turn around a bad homeschool day

 

reading list

I’m rereading Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency so that I can watch the new television series, and I’d forgotten what a pleasure it is to make fun of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

I love when you think you’ve read everything by an author and then discover that nope, in fact, you are wrong, and there is another book. So I was delighted to discover Mischievous Meg by Astrid Lindgren, and we’ve been enjoying it as a readaloud.

My 9-year-old is reading The Wonderful Adventures of Nils. My daughter is being horrified by The Jungle for U.S. History and reading Fangirl for fun.

 

in the kitchen

Now that we’ve actually gotten back to some semblance of routine after the Tragic Ankle Breaks of 2015, I’m finding my way back to the kitchen on a regular basis. My kids mock me relentlessly, though, because I always fail Taco Tuesday—I plan tacos for Tuesday every week but something always goes sideways and we end up having them a different night. We did not have them on Tuesday, but these beef picadillo puffy tacos were much enjoyed anyway.

It’s definitely still comfort food season, and this wild rice-mushroom soup hits the spot.

Cookie of the week: Salty oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies

 

at home

I’m having trouble finding balance between staying informed and active politically (which feels important to do right now) and staying sane and available to my everyday cooking-dinner, reading-books-together, doing-the-laundry (who am I kidding? I would take any excuse to skip the laundry) life. Political happenings are like chicken pox—I’m just constantly aware of them in an uncomfortable kind of way, so much so that the rest of my life suffers, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. And yet, how can I not pay attention every minute? How are you guys handling this? Is this just the new normal?

I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ The West while I knit at my Heaven and Space. (I love patterns like this that are almost-but-not-quite brainless, and really, who can ever have enough scarves?)


Monday Pep Talk No. 33

home|school|life magazine's Monday Pep Talk has lots of fun ideas for planning your homeschool week.

3 FUN THINGS TO DO THIS WEEK

Commemorate Richter Scale Day (on Tuesday) by building your own seismograph.

Save the Frogs Day (Saturday) was created to raise awareness about the threat of frog extinction—a real possibility if certain environmental factors don’t change. Nature’s Frogs: The Thin Green Line make a good introduction to the subject.

Take a cue from the spring issue of home | school | life, and celebrate William Randolph Hearst’s birthday (on April 29) by watching American Experience: The Battle over Citizen Kane, a fascinating look at the battle that raged around one of the world’s great movies. (There are more Citizen Kane resources in the spring issue.)

 

3 IDEAS FOR THIS WEEK’S DINNERS

I think these artichoke gratin toasts might be one of my favorite spring recipes.

Upgrade your standard side salad with this pea, feta, and prosciutto salad, and your regular grilled chicken rotation will feel new and exciting again.

There is some advanced kitchen puttering involved in making Rick Bayless’s creamy enchiladas with chicken, tomatoes and green chile, but if you’ve got a lazy day at home on the calendar, they’re worth the effort.

 

ONE GREAT READALOUD

Celebrate Children’s Day / Book Day—El dia de los niños / El da de los libros—a.k.a. Dia—a multicultural celebration of the joys of reading by reading Tomas and the Library Lady, the true story of a child of migrant workers who discovers new worlds with the help of a kind librarian. The author, Pat Mora, established Dia in 1996, which makes this year its 20th birthday.

 

ONE THOUGHT TO PONDER

I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder
— Lawrence Ferlinghetti

 

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY (BECAUSE SOMETIMES YOU NEED SOMETHING STRONGER THAN INSPIRATION)

icy-cool green tea mojitos


Don’t Cut the Screen Time—Just Make Sure It Counts

Love this! Great read about homeschooling and screen time: "Screen time is and should be unique to each family. Follow your instincts for what works and feels healthy for your children."

During those idle moments when I’m too tired to think, I start surfing the web. Without fail, I’ll usually come across some kind of article warning parents about the perils of screen time for their children. I’ve read that screen time can hurt children’s social skills, can cause obesity, or it hurts children’s brain development. I’m not arguing that these points are completely false. Too much screen time isn’t good for anybody, but I’m growing wary of these articles. How about an article telling parents to trust their instincts when it comes to screen time?  How about an article saying that if your life is well balanced with many different activities throughout the day, including screen time, you don’t have to worry so much?

If your child begins to misbehave, or you notice other negative consequences from letting your child play digital games or watch television, then by all means, create the boundaries you feel they need.  For me, I believe screen time should complement an already busy day. We watch a lot of documentaries and entertaining shows together as a family (about 30 minutes each at lunch and dinner), and as we watch, we laugh, pose questions, and sometimes get inspired to try new things. You might be surprised that we allow this during mealtimes, but my husband and I very much consider our program-watching part of our home education. It’s yielded too many good things to consider it otherwise.

In the late afternoon, the boys have about 1-1.5 hour to play digital games. After this, they either go outside to play if the weather is nice, or they watch some television, if the weather isn’t nice. At night right before bed, they also watch a couple of programs.

When I talk to other mothers and learn about their screen time allowances, I realize we let our kids watch and play more than most parents allow. But I also hear a lot about children’s misbehavior…or perceived misbehavior. They cry and fight because they want more television. They get lost in a video game and won’t stop, etc. I don’t know if it’s my boy’s personalities or the way we deal with screen time, but my boys never ask for more screen time or give us other trouble about it. At the most, I sometimes have a hard time getting them to quit a game, but it rarely escalates. I always allow them to reach a natural stopping point, which seems fair to me, so they are usually fine when it’s quitting time. 

Speaking of quitting time, we’ve kept the same schedule, which evolved naturally when my eldest was very young, for all these years. Our mornings and early afternoons are steeped in activity…lessons, playtime, time to create or run around outside. The late afternoons and evenings contain most of the screen time, though we often go outside for a while during this time too, and my eldest practices piano after dinner as well. Children crave routine, and I think this schedule has made it easier for them. They know exactly when it’s time to watch a little TV or play their games. They also know when it’s time to work on lessons, play outside or inside, make some art, practice piano, eat a meal, clean up, cuddle with mom, visit with a friend, take a family day trip, or do some other activity.

As their mom, I want to recognize and honor what is most important to them. So this means allowing them to have their screen time.

One thing I have noticed with my boys is that the time they get to play a game or watch TV is extremely important to them. It’s the thing they look forward to most in their day. I think a lot of parents (including myself) can feel disappointed when a child values screen time over, say, playing outdoors, reading a book, or any other number of activities we like to consider “productive.” But I’ve come to see that my boy’s screen time is very productive. Not only are they learning skills through the games they are playing (or the programming we allow them to watch), they are interacting, collaborating, and having discussions with one another. When they aren’t playing, they often discuss their games with each other, planning strategy ahead of time. 

As their mom, I want to recognize and honor what is most important to them. So this means allowing them to have their screen time. Also as their mom, I want to make sure they are participating in a variety of activities, so I consider it my job to facilitate time for reading, playing outside, going hiking, going on a field trip, time with friends, or even science experiments… all things my boys love to do, but they aren’t necessarily going to make plans to do these things like they would plan on building a zoo in Minecraft together.

Screen time is and should be unique to each family. Follow your instincts for what works and feels healthy for your children. Don’t let the media (or even me) make you feel bad for what works for your family.


Stuff We Like :: 4.15.16

home|school|life's Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

This week, Shelli's got the scoop on what's lighting up her April homeschool. 

spring

We’re a birding family, so we love the spring weather and watching the birds nest and fly about in our yard! My six-year-old especially loved this interactive website that lets you explore bird anatomy, and in the evenings we’re also enjoying watching some wild bird videos too.

 

at home/school/iife

in the magazine: Subscribers can download our free meal planning sheet (with spaces for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks because homeschoolers need spaces for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks!) when you log into the subscribers-only portal.

on the blog: Amy shares what she's learned teaching homeschoolers creative writing

on instagram: Why yes, our Friday nights are pretty thrilling

 

Homeschool

This month we’ve been learning about the Cherokee Indians because our local art museum has a Cherokee Basketry exhibit I want to attend, and this is an important part of our state’s history the boys should understand. (So, yes, this is a Mama-led activity!) I began by reading The Cherokee: native basket weavers by Therese DeAngelis, Sequoyah by Doraine Bennett, and The Cherokees by Jill Ward, which were all short (elementary level) books I checked out from the library.  Then we read the (middle school-ish) book Only the Names Remain by Alex W. Bealer, a sad account of the Trail of Tears. These were all good books.

 

My New Adventure

It’s not always about the boys’ projects around here. This spring I have been delving into the world of bread baking, and not only that, I have captured my own wild yeast, too! The series Cooked (exclusive to Netflix) inspired me. I am using the book Classic Sourdoughs, but it hasn’t answered all my questions, so I’ve frequented YouTube and friends on Twitter as well! (Thank you, Twitter friends!) After four loaves of bread, I’m still trying to get it right! (I did have great success with pizza dough, however.)

 

Books

The boys are constantly looking at our collection of Calvin and Hobbes books, which I keep on the kitchen table with the weekly newspaper. At least my nine-year-old is reading something without being told!

A couple of years ago, my nine-year-old lost interest in the Little House books when we got to By the Shores of Silver Lake. Now we’ve picked it up again, and he’s enjoying it. I think we’ll finish the series now!

For myself, I just finished reading Taking Lottie Home by Terry Kay. It’s a Southern novel, and I thought it was going to be predictable, but as the story gained momentum, I realized it was not! It was a very good read and a meaningful story.

 

T.V.

Our most current beloved documentaries: 

--NOVA’s Rise of the Robots (PBS)

--Nature’s Wild France (PBS)

--Cooked (Netflix exclusive)

--Chef’s Table (Netflix exclusive) (These last two were insanely great.)

Just for me: Mr. Selfridge (Masterpiece Theatre PBS; available on Amazon Prime)


Monday Pep Talk No. 30

home|school|life magazine's Monday Pep Talk has lots of fun ideas for planning your homeschool week.

Thanks for bearing with us as we made some website tweaks over the last couple of weeks. We now return you to your regularly scheduled Monday kickstart.

3 fun things to do this week

Watch Leave It to Beavers (it’s free if you have Amazon Prime), a fascinating PBS documentary about everybody’s favorite dam builders, to mark Beaver Day on Thursday.

Celebrate Draw a Picture of a Bird Day (on Friday) by—wait for it—drawing a picture of a bird. The John Muir Laws website has some great tips for budding bird artists.

Get ready for warmer-nights stargazing by making constellation jars.
 

3 ideas for this week’s dinners

Whatever looks good at the farmers market will probably taste good in this spring panzanella—just don’t forget the asparagus!

Cheap, fast, and yummy: chickpea salad onigirazu

If you, too, overload your basket with asparagus this time of year (because: asparagus!), you need this asparagus stir-fry with sesame-miso sauce in your repertoire.
 

one great readaloud

Anatole
By Eve Titus
 

How many readalouds are also a perfect excuse to break out a cheese plate? Anatole by Eve Titus is the story of a mouse with a refined palate that he puts to work helping local cheesemakers improve their product, and it’s one of my favorite readalouds.
 

one thought to ponder

“Live not for Battles Won.
Live not for The-End-of-the-Song.
Live in the along.
— Gwendolyn Brooks

 

in case of emergency (because sometimes you need something stronger than inspiration)

jelly bean mimosas


Unit Study: The Harlem Renaissance

Unit Study: The Harlem Renaissance

The Harlem Renaissance was an explosion of creative energy fueled by Black Americans, and it’s a rich topic for your homeschool high school.

Monday Pep Talk No. 15

home|school|life magazine's Monday Pep Talk has lots of fun ideas for planning your homeschool week.

November’s here, and we've got a little homeschool inspiration to help you start the month off right.

3 fun things to do this week

Election Day is Nov. 3, and just because the Presidential election isn’t until 2016 doesn't mean the local, state, and national elections this year aren’t worth following. Ballotpedia is a quick resource to help you catch up on big state elections worth tracking as the exit polls come in.

Celebrate Jellyfish Day (on Tuesday) by watching the documentary Vicious Beauties: The Secret World of the Jellyfish. (It’s free!)

Get into the autumnal spirit by making Kandinsky-inspired fall tree art.

 

3 ideas for this week’s dinners

Braised chicken with dates and Moroccan spices is one of our favorite comfort food dinners. Serve it over a big pile of couscous or rice.

If you’re looking for something to do with that spaghetti squash you picked up at the market, you’ll want to try this spaghetti squash noodle bowl with lime-peanut sauce.

This chicken parmesan bake uses leftover chicken and can be assembled any time and then heated up when you're ready to eat—win-win.

 

one great readaloud

Mark Marie Curie’s birthday (on Nov. 7) by reading A Thousand Bonds: Marie Curie and the Discovery of Radium, a collection of narrative poems about Curie’s life and scientific achievements by poet Eleanor Swanson.

 

one thought to ponder

 

in case of emergency {because sometimes you need something stronger than inspiration} 

Adam and Eve (apple pie moonshine + salted caramel vodka)


Stuff We Like :: 10.9.15

home|school|life's Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

While the fall issue gets it final tweaks (subscribers should have it by the end of the weekend!), Shelli's sharing some of her favorite homeschool fun in this week's Stuff We Like.

at home

My kids are growing, and so are my mornings as I have so much more to teach! But so far, so good. I really like All About Spelling Level 1, which I bought for my nine-year-old. It’s easy to use and thorough, and since he can already read, we’re moving quickly. I can tell it would be easy to use with younger kids too as I could just go at a slower pace, so I’m thinking of using it with my six-year-old next year. I’ll be buying Level 2 soon.

My nine-year-old and I went back to Life of Fred: Dogs, and we just finished, and I have ordered the next book! I’ve tried a lot of different math resources, but for my eldest, we’ve always returned to Life of Fred. It suits him.

But for practicing math facts, I finally found a cool little app that my son doesn’t mind playing. Check out Math vs. Zombies. It’s available on Apple products and Androids.

 

all the craze

What my boys would want to tell you about is Blocksworld. They can build anything on it and program their creations to do all sorts of movements and cool things. The more you play, the more functionality you get. Unfortunately, it’s only available on the iPad though.

 

at home/school/life

on the blog: I love Tracy’s latest post about the autumn of unschooling.

pinterest: I’m going to have to show my sons some of these nerdy Halloween costume ideas that Amy has pinned.

future issue: And speaking of Halloween, that means more holidays are on their way. I am looking forward to seeing the Holiday Gift Guide in the next issue of home/school/life, which is usually full of unique gifts that are perfect for homeschoolers!

 

documentaries

My six-year-old loves birds, so we’ve mostly been watching David Attenborough’s Life of Birds series. It’s phenomenal. (This is the third time we’ve watched it.) Before we started it, however, we watched Decoding Neanderthals, and we thought that was pretty fascinating too. For fun, we’ve been watching Iron Chef America. Netflix offers a “best of” series. (Okay, that’s not exactly a documentary, but the boys love it!)

 

reading

For Kids: Right now I’m reading The Jungle Book to my nine-year-old, and we’re both thoroughly enjoying in.

For Adults: I finished reading Lalita Tademy’s book, Cane River, a fictional account about four generations of her Louisiana ancestors who endured slavery and the aftermath. I could tell you how much I liked it, but instead, I’m going to tell you that Stanford University just made this book required reading for all incoming freshmen in 2015. Need I say more?

And since I was talking so much about Cane River, my history professor husband told me I needed to read Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves In the Plantation South by Deborah Gray White. This is non-fiction and well researched. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an important work that everyone should read.


Stuff We Like :: 8.21.15

home|school|life's Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

Shelli's taking a break from her busy week of birthday fun to round up some of the things that are making her homeschool life happy right now.  

at home

I’m in the midst of planning my soon-to-be-6-year-old’s birthday party, and I thought this nature-themed party I found online was adorable.

We just finished a short “staycation” of sorts, and we renewed our love of taking day trips to places we’ve never been before. We took three within a week and a half, and it was very relaxing to come home, sleep in our own beds, do minimal preparations for the trips, yet we have a handful of new memories to cherish. If you need some inspiration to take your own day trips, see Seven Reasons You Should Take a Day Trip.

I’m not much of a cook, but finding Alton Brown’s salsa recipe has given me another feather in my chef’s cap. (But I use only one jalapeno, 2 garlic cloves, 1 Tablespoon of dried ancho chili powder instead of fresh ancho chiles, and cilantro is always a must.) And that salsa made this Crockpot Mexican Tortilla Lasagna from weelicious.com even tastier.

 

at home/school/life

on the blog: I think these Gold Rush readalouds all look great.

on instagram: I love this quote.

from the magazine: There is so much practical inspiration for planning your homeschool year in this excerpt from our first issue.

 

documentaries

We are still making our way through Wildest Africa Series 1 and Series 2, and I don’t think we ever watch it without saying, “This is so good,” and “I never knew that place existed,” and “Other documentaries about Africa never show you this.”

We also began our first documentary about human history with a docudrama about the history of archaeology and ancient history in Egypt. Egypt is fascinating, and it’s so well acted that it feels like watching a movie.I’m happy to say that my eight-year-old is enjoying it, and up until now, he’s had little interest in history that didn’t have to do with animals. It’s probably a little hard for my five-year-old to understand, but since watching documentaries is a daily ritual for us, he’s patiently watching it too.

 

in our homeschool

I finally managed to get Mathematicians are People Too, Volume 1, from the library, and now I understand why everyone wants to check out this book. My 8-year-old and I are thoroughly enjoying these mini-biographies of famous mathematicians.

One of my goals this coming school year is to get my 8-year-old to start reading silently to himself by finding books he’ll really love to read. Well, my husband took care of that by buying him several vintage comic books for $1 each in some antique stores we shopped at while on our day trips. I would have never guessed that all the cartoons I grew up with – Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Donald Duck and others– would someday motivate my son to sit down and read without being asked! So check in some antique stores, if you’re looking for some fun comics. (But be sure to check their prices. Some vintage comics can be quite pricey!)

My 5-year-old is all about birds lately, and I’ve been delighted to spend every evening with him perusing our iBird app in lieu of reading a bedtime story.

 

reading list

I'm thoroughly enjoying reading, for the first time, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum to my eight-year-old. I watched the movie multiple times as a child, and though the book is different, it's proving to be just as delightful.

I'm a little jealous that my husband snatched the first Harry Potter book to read to my son. I wanted to read it to him! Oh well. From their glowing reviews, I can tell I'll enjoy it whenever I get the chance.

As for me, I recently finished reading the adult novel Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, and I loved it. It had been on my bookshelf for only 15 years. Why did I wait so long?

Speaking of neglected books, I'm determined to read those other books that have been on my bookshelf awhile, so I just picked up Lalita Tademy's Cane River, another adult novel that is fiction yet rooted in extensive research of Tademy's family history. It’s a family saga of four generations of women born into slavery in Louisiana.


Stuff We Like :: 6.5.15

home|school|life's Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

At Home

Perhaps the best part of this time of year is seeing all the critters around our house make homes and raise families of their own.

Right now we have a cardinal mama sitting in a nest right outside our living room window! When my eight-year-old discovered her making the nest, we got all giddy! I'm going to post whatever pictures I can on our Facebook page, so be sure to follow us there for updates.

 

Around the Web

My husband is always finding cool music videos for us to watch, and this week the boys especially liked this Star Wars spoof by the Piano Guys. After all, they are Star Wars geeks.

Speaking of music, my husband has been talking up the Songza app, and I think it's pretty cool too. It has some ready-made playlists for all your listening preferences! I only wish I had more time to listen.

My five-year-old loves dinosaurs. Does that surprise you? My husband has been telling him stories about Dig Dig the Dinosaur every night for about two years, but lately he has found some relief by showing my son these funny dino comics instead. (Only one year and 360 days of reading these every night to go!)

 

Documentaries

As I've written before, everyone in my family is a documentary junkie. These past few weeks we have been enjoying watching a wonderful set of documentaries on Netflix that are produced by Off The Fence Distribution. We have enjoyed Wildest India, Wildest Indochina, Wildest Middle East, and Wildest Islands, just to name a few! They focus on the wildlife of each region, but the shows also touch on history and the intersection where humans and animals meet. They are very unique and have shown us places that we have never seen before!

Also on Netflix, we've been loving Modern Marvels. Who would have thought that learning about food trucks could be so interesting?!

 

Homeschool

For a long time, I was wanting to find a way to introduce current events to my eight-year-old in a way that he would find engaging. Luckily, I found News-O-Matic in Apple's app store (it's also available in Google Play and on the Kindle). We have been experimenting with the free trial version, and it took awhile for it to become habit, but finally I found it worth it to purchase the unlimited version. ($19.99) The best part of News-O-Matic is that kids have the choice of reading articles or having it read to them. There are also slideshows and videos attached to some stories, and plenty of other ways to interact! The articles are kid-friendly while also covering important topics of the day.

 

Reading

A friend of mine loaned me I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and this book captured my heart! (You are probably familiar with Dodie Smith's 101 Dalmatians.)

I just finished reading The High Skies Adventures of Blue Jay the Pirate by Scott Nash to my eight-year-old, and he and I loved it. It does have some issues, though, so be sure to read my (forthcoming) book review before you buy it for your children .


Family Time: A Few of Our Favorite Documentaries

Family Time: A Few of Our Favorite Documentaries

Ever since my boys were babies, we have had a lunchtime ritual of watching documentaries with them. Since our boys are still young, they enjoy nature documentaries the most, but we have veered off into some science and cultural documentaries too. As they get older, we will probably add more history and social documentaries to our list.

When they were smaller, I was hesitant to watch T.V. during mealtimes. (Isn’t that some kind of parental sin?) But I don’t believe the hype that T.V. is bad for kids. I believe some kinds of programming and how it is administered is bad for kids, but watching together as a family is different.

I dare say I think my boys learn more from our daily dose of documentaries than from my formal lessons with them. And I think it rivals my son’s projects in educational value. Because when we watch documentaries, we are all engaged and learning together. We comment on it, create more questions to answer, refer to our globe, and delight at what we see and learn. It has fostered a desire to explore, learn and appreciate our world. The programming has informed my son’s projects and given him more ideas to pursue too.

As I said, we do it together. We always look forward to where “we are going” that day. Sri Lanka? The Galapagos Islands? A raccoon’s den? These programs have opened up the world up to my sons. They understand much better than I did at their age that we live in one small place on a very large planet. It may not be the same as actually traveling there, but at this age, it’s just about perfect.

Another important note to share is that, yes, some of the programming is hard to watch. Watching animals eat each other or battle the elements is not always easy. By watching together from the time they were little, my sons have learned, as one documentarian noted, that “Life depends on death.” This hasn’t made them insensitive. I think my sons cherish nature and their own lives more. My eight-year-old has even told me he wants to be a conservationist when he grows up.

We love David Attenborough so much we wrote him a letter—and he wrote back1 Photo by Shelli Bond Pabis

We love David Attenborough so much we wrote him a letter—and he wrote back1 Photo by Shelli Bond Pabis

We have watched countless documentaries, and I can’t list them all. I try to keep a list on Pinterest, but sometimes I forget to post what we watch there. I can give you a list of documentaries that stand out in my mind as some of our favorites. Before I do that, though, I’ll tell you what we don’t like:

Every documentary maker has to somehow weave narrative and cinematography into a form that will hold our (the viewer’s) interest. So all documentaries use suspense or splice different frames together to tell a story. We have had good conversations with our sons about how sometimes that lion isn’t stalking that gazelle. It’s two different moments put together, but certainly lions do stalk gazelles, so it’s depicting something that is real. Or how the music and script make things seem more suspenseful. We explain how the photographers probably spent months tracking animals just to get one shot. Sometimes the script will give animals human-like qualities and emotions, which isn’t always fair. These are all things to be aware of.

There are some documentaries, however, that can get a little annoying when they dramatize things too much or repeat the same sequence over and over again, holding onto the outcome until the end of the show, to add to the suspense. We’ve noticed that the Discovery channel documentaries lean in this direction, so we usually avoid those. (Not to say that we haven’t seen some excellent Discovery documentaries too.) Once in a while, my husband will hear facts that are contrary to some science article he just read. It’s always good to let your children know that we can’t rely on a documentary (especially older ones) just like we can’t rely on everything we read. If you are interested in a subject, you should do more research on it.

That being said, here’s a list of a few favorites that we have watched over the years. It’s really hard to pick just a few. (We watched these on Netflix or PBS. Unfortunately, some of them are no longer available, but some of them you can find online or through Amazon.)

 

The Life of Birds :: Anything by the BBC and narrated by David Attenborough tops our lists of favorites. This series about birds was especially wonderful.

 

PBS Nature :: We have never seen a Nature documentary that we didn’t love, but these stand out in my memory: My Life as a Turkey, Fabulous Frogs (probably because it’s narrated by David Attenborough + I just love frogs), River of No Return, An Original DUCKumentary, Honey Badgers: Master of Mayhem, Birds of the Gods

 

Disneynature Wings Of Life
Starring Meryl Streep
 

Wings of Life by DisneyNature :: This has got to be the most beautiful documentary ever made. If you are studying plants or pollinators, you must watch it.

 

NOVA’s Making Stuff by PBS :: My eight-year-old has watched this series about the science of materials several times. Every time I watch, I learn something new. It really is a favorite of the whole family.

 

Dogs with Jobs Season 1
Starring John Ralston
 

Dogs with Jobs :: This is a series of short episodes we found on Netflix, and this show was excellent on so many levels. If you love dogs, you have to see it. Even if you don’t love dogs, this show will introduce young children to people with disabilities, workers with dangerous jobs, and how we rely on this incredible animal to help us with incredibly important tasks. Dogs are amazing. (Preview first, if you have sensitive viewers.)

 

Saving the Ocean :: This is also a series of short episodes. Incredibly interesting, and I love how Carl Safina focuses not just on the problems hurting our oceans, but on the solutions and good things many people are doing to correct them. You can find several full episodes online.

 

When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions by Discovery :: This is one of those exceptions for Discovery documentaries. It was excellent! My kids learned so much about U.S. history as this documentary took us through all the NASA missions. I highly recommend it, especially if you have a kid who loves rockets!

 

What are your family’s favorite documentaries?


At Home with the Editors: Shelli’s Project-based Homeschool

At Home with the Editors: How Project-Based Homeschooling Works for Shelli's Family

When Amy approached me about working on home / school / life, we both agreed that we wanted a magazine and website that would welcome all homeschoolers no matter what their style or reasons for homeschooling. We continue to strive to bring you a variety of resources that will inspire you as you consider what is best for your family. Because we know most homeschoolers enjoy sharing the resources and insights they have learned through homeschooling, we thought we would start a series on our blog about our own homeschools. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better!

This is my second post about our homeschool. In my first one, I listed all the curriculum and resources I use for the more formal part of my sons’ homeschool. Monday-Thursday we spend about two hours on our “lessons,” and on Fridays, we do an art lesson. But after our formal lessons, or on a day that I dedicate to it, I make myself available for what to me is the most important part of my son’s education – his own projects. These are projects that are completely initiated and controlled by him. I consider them important because it’s through these projects (or interests) that he is learning how to learn, how to do research, how to make decisions, what to spend his time on, learning what he’s really passionate about, and he is developing his imagination and problem-solving skills.

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So what is project-based homeschooling, and how do I do it? I wrote the definition that you will find in home/school/life magazine’s Toolkit, the magazine’s guide for beginning homeschoolers (we define eleven of the most popular methods of homeschooling), so I will include that here:

Project-Based homeschooling (PBH) is inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, and the term was coined by Lori Pickert. It is a method in which parents become mentors to their children in order to help the child direct and manage his/her own learning. Children may undertake long-term projects and will be given the time and tools that allow them to dig deep into their interests. PBH can be used in conjunction with any curriculum or style of homeschooling, from classical to unschooling.

But it’s much more than that too, and it’s not easy to explain how I do PBH in a blog post, so instead I’ll give you a few snapshots of what my son has accomplished while I have used these techniques. Though, in many ways, I was already following his interests and creating an environment where questions, creating, and discovering were encouraged, I am thankful for the tips I’ve received by following PBH. I’m not sure I would have mentored him as well without them. So I’ll try to explain some of what I’ve learned during this process as well.

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When my eight-year-old was five, I learned to take one of his crazy ideas seriously. That is, an idea that didn’t seem educational at first and an idea that was going to be time-consuming, messy, and wasteful too. Instead of giving a quick, “that won’t work,” or “but you’ll need to do this to get to that work,” or “we don’t have time,” or “that would make too much of a mess,” I just let him do what he wanted and see for himself how it would turn out. This was his attempt to a make a Celery Lettuce Cake. (He learned for himself that it didn’t make a very palatable dish, but oh the fun he had! He took it so seriously, and I was happy with his effort.)

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When my son was interested in the Titanic, I began to understand how to let him lead a project and how letting him make mistakes was important to this process. It also taught me how a well-placed suggestion can be golden. This project even proved to me that enduring temper tantrums was worth it because in the end he had a product that was completely his own, and he was so proud of it! (Yes, I helped him make it, but he was the designer and director, telling me what to do. I only made suggestions when he was completely stumped and looked at me for help.)

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When my son wanted to make a model of the Apollo Saturn V, I learned more how to balance that “let him lead” with “help him when absolutely necessary.” But more importantly, I was able to see how important it is to show my son examples of other people working on projects, failing, and trying again. (This has helped those temper tantrums!) Watching the documentary When We Left Earth, which is about the NASA missions, was perfect for this.

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When my son was very interested in carnivorous plants, I had the opportunity to model to my son how we could seek out other experts to learn from. I also learned how some projects will peak but then stay in the background over years because my son is still interested in the plants, and he still grows them, although he doesn’t actively seek to learn more about them right now. But whenever we see them in a documentary or find a live one, we get very excited!

Some projects are short, others are long, and others meander like winding rivers, popping up here and there. I have learned to connect the dots in my son’s projects (journaling helps with this), and I’ve learned that his deep interests include nature, science, and building things….

Looking back, I also see how important it has been to create an environment where materials for creating and building were readily available to my son. It’s also been important for me to show him how to use these materials, say “yes” a lot, and not worry about the messes. We began making paper animals together when he was four, and slowly, I have seen that my son is a true builder and maker – someone who likes working with his hands.

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Because I’ve let him use a variety of mediums, I have been able to see what he has a true interest in because these are things he continues to go back to and ask for more. One of these has been working with clay—to the point where he has taken pottery classes at a nearby studio. And also building lots of structures with cardboard, including a model of the Mayflower, a big robot, and two Star Wars ships.

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Each of these building projects, such as that awesome Mayflower ship, could have been a different kind of project. We did learn about the Mayflower, read a book about it, but it wasn’t the history my son had a deep interest in. As he continued on to make airplanes, boats and other things, I see he’s a builder and a designer. Even his special interest in Star Wars, I think, is largely due to his deeper interest in the models created in making the special effects and the robots used in those movies.

So it was not surprising that as soon as he learned what robots are, he became interested in that, and now he has a robotics kit. He’s teaching himself computer programming too. (I haven’t written about that yet, but you can see the photo at the top.) I have also noticed how he has watched NOVA’s Making Things Wilder at least four times so far. It, coincidentally, combines all his deep interests. (It’s about bioengineering.) The first time he watched it, he leaned forward in his chair, and said loudly, “I want to do that!”

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My five-year-old also has interests, and I’ve been seeing him work through a few projects of his own, though they meander and they aren’t as likely to produce something solid I can show the world like his older brother’s creations. He has been interested in dinosaurs for a very long time, and we have read countless books, watched many documentaries, visited museums, and he plays with his toy dinosaurs frequently, making a sort of “dinosaur land.” (So don't worry if your child isn't into building, art, or tinkering. Projects are simply a long-term investigation into an interest, and what your child produces could take on many forms.)

I also do a lot of modeling for my younger son because it seems to be the best way to encourage him in his interests right now. For example, he loves to draw, so I started my own sketchbook habit, and whenever I pull out my sketchbook, I usually inspire him to do the same.

I have learned with both my boys that the best way to get them to do something is to just start doing it myself! Having my own interests, learning about things that I’ve always wanted to learn about, and casually sharing my own process of exploration with them, is one of the best ways to mentor without pushing an agenda on them. Even if they don't have the same interests, they are learning my behavior and investigation techniques.

I have also learned that it is okay to require certain work from them that I dictate (whether cleaning the house or doing a math lesson), but when it comes to their own projects, I should let them be in charge, and sometimes that means letting them quit before something is completed. I remind them of their work, encourage them, but if I ultimately want them to be in charge of their education, they have to take ownership. So I have learned to take away my own expectations of my children and let them blossom in their own time and through their own discoveries.

Are you interested in learning more about project-based homeschooling? I am always accessible to anyone who would like to discuss homeschooling or who has any questions. Just email me. If you want to talk on the phone, we can set up an appointment. (FYI: My advice is free! I love chatting!) Also, here are a few links for you:

  • You will want to read the book What Is Project-Based Homeschooling? by Lori Pickert, see her fabulous website, and join one of her forums. She is also very accessible through her social media, forums and even email, and she offers classes too.
  • I have written extensively about this journey with PBH on my blog, and I will continue to do so. See my page Project-based Homeschooling. There is also a very good interview with Lori on my site about beginning PBH with younger children. Click here for part 1 of that.