Learning With Classroom Pets

All pets bring us closer to the natural world, but specialty pets, such as fish, small pets and reptiles, provide a unique way to inspire kids to learn about the world around them. As teachers and families gear up for the start of a new school year, pets can help teach kids responsibility and how to keep a routine. They can sharpen kids’ math and science skills through activities such as measuring food and water, keeping track of days of the week on a calendar and studying information about their care needs.

Learning in the classroom and beyond
Specialty pets can help make learning fun and help students learn more than just traditional academics. By working with their peers at school (or siblings at home), students learn teamwork and responsibility.

These pets also provide hands-on learning and teach lessons that will serve students their whole lives. According to Joel Sartore, National Geographic photographer and specialty pet owner, specialty pets offer many life skills and learning opportunities, such as:

• Teaching kids responsibility and the importance of routines. Pets need regular food, water and cleaning of their habitats, and these tasks make learning valuable skills fun.
• Helping kids learn to care for something beyond themselves. Kids often see pets as friends and want to protect them. Adults can explain that too much noise scares a pet, and the child will understand the need for good behavior.
• Providing a better understanding of the natural world. Learning about a country or climate becomes more meaningful when a child can interact directly with an animal that has roots there.
• Allowing kids to relate to their peers. Bonding with a pet can give kids common ground with each other and help build friendships.

Create a healthy habitat
If you are considering bringing a specialty pet into your classroom or home, you will need to provide an appropriate habitat. High-quality pet products that mimic animals’ natural environments are the best option to support pet health. Such environments can also spark the curiosity of children into the world of specialty pets with products that represent their habitats in realistic and authentic ways. The pet experts at National Geographic and PetSmart offer the following recommendations to get you started.

For aquatics pets:
The Aqua Oasis Aquarium is a complete starter kit, including an internal power filter with filtration media and a submersible heater. Available in various sizes, it features a curved, seamless bow-front, allowing for uninterrupted views with easy access for feeding. Low-profile hoods and integrated LED lighting add elegance, while the addition of coordinated 3-D backgrounds and decor allow pet parents to create a natural environment.

For reptile pets:
The Reptile Sanctuary ensures your pet will stay securely inside while allowing pet parents to feed, play with and interact through various points around the tank. Depending on the pet’s natural environment, the National Geographic line has tanks designed as desert or tropical climates and coordinated 3-D backgrounds and decor can be added to enhance these natural themes.

For small pets:
The Exploration Loft is available in two sizes and offers a 360-degree view into multi-level play areas and your pets’ daily lives and interesting instinctual behavior. A skylight provides easy access and fresh airflow, plus cleaning is simple with a removable top.

For additional information on the care of specialty pets, including proper habitats, feeding and more, visit http://www.petsmart.com/natgeo. Teachers can apply for a grant to receive a pet in their classroom at http://www.petsmart.com/teachers.

*This content provided from Family Features

There’s Always Room for New Members in the Club

Sometimes you do a thing so long that you forget what it was like when you first started. I have been homeschooling my two children for 8 years. I get contacted frequently by new homeschoolers and those just thinking about doing it, and they all want to know: Where do I begin? When should I pull my child out of school? Is it legal? What do I teach? Where do I get the supplies?
As I try to answer these questions without scaring the pants off new homeschoolers, I struggle to give them enough information to get started without overwhelming them completely. Here are some excerpts from a recent response to a distressed mother…
You can start homeschooling anytime. In fact, you probably have been for months already. All those hours you have no doubt spent after school and on weekends, doing homework, quizzing spelling words, reciting math facts…that’s teaching. (I like to call it “afterschooling”.) But combined with the 32+ hours a week they spend at school, it’s overkill. Cut out all the time spent waiting in line, going to the bathroom as a class, lunch, recess, assemblies, discipline, etc. and you don’t wind up with much time of actual instruction. In fact, I have a quote on my wall that has never stopped being true: “You can do more in one hour with your child than the school can do in a day.” So, homeschooling actually takes LESS time than public schooling, because you are focused on YOUR students and they don’t have to waste their time waiting on two dozen other people to get it together.
Leaving school at a vacation or semester break is probably easiest since there is a natural “good-bye” at that time. However, if your children are miserable, suffering, or falling drastically behind, anytime is a good time to pull them out. Just be sure to give a letter of intent to homeschool to the school principal so you aren’t reported as truant. The [state of residence] does not require any other form of registration or reporting to any agency (no matter what someone else may say). You can also check legal requirements through HSLDA’s website (Home School Legal Defense Association) or DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education).
Once you bring them home, expect a “detox” or “decompression” period. Children are under a tremendous amount of stress in the school system, and transitioning to home education is a process. Most experts suggest one month for every year of public schooling for a child to adjust fully to the routine. Many simply take a break for 2, 3, or more months from all formal education (workbooks, pages, assigned reading, etc.) so their children can fall in love with learning again and begin to pursue their own interests – a skill that is natural when they are toddlers, but worn out of them by hours seated at a desk. This is a good time to go to museums, the park, library, nature hikes, read fun books out loud together, visit festivals and historical sites, and so forth. EXPERIENCING learning in the real world is key to this rekindling of a love of knowledge and curiosity.
During this decompression period, explore your children’s learning styles. Be aware that they are probably different from each other. One may be a visual (read or draw a lot) learner, the other kinesthetic (needs to move, build, touch, etc.), while you yourself may learn best from hearing (auditory learner). Do they retain information best in a quiet atmosphere, or with music playing in the background? Do they like to sit at a table or hang upside down from the couch? The most difficult part of beginning homeschooling is unschooling YOURSELF and your perception of what learning looks like. The brain works in a variety of ways, and all of them contribute to learning. The public school format exists only because it is convenient to a single adult teacher working with many children to produce a factory-type model of student product. This is not at all the best way for a child to learn.
Once you have an idea of your family’s learning preferences, you can begin to look at curriculum. Ask what other homeschoolers are using, but be conscious that we all choose books and programs for different reasons. Some desire a strong christian perspective, others want a copy of the public school schedule (school-at-home), some choose accelerated academic programs for college prep, some have a child-directed approach (let your child choose what they want to study), and some (like myself) use an eclectic method. When I first started, I was so scared that I just wanted a school-in-a-box so I didn’t screw anything up. I used Calvert School, which is the program that military families on the move and homebound students often use. It was familiar in format to me, as a public school student and teacher, and worked great the first few years. I prefer to do my own religious instruction separately, so I desired a secular program. Many in this area use Abeka, Horizons, LifePac, or Bob Jones curriculum, which are all similar to Calvert, but with a christian perspective and varying levels of academic quality – but essentially close to a public school scope and sequence. Once I felt I had a handle on things, I branched out and started getting books and curriculum that were best suitable by subject, learning style, and quality.
As you delve into the world of homeschooling you will be overwhelmed by the amount of information available. You will need to learn to look at only what applies to your family and ignore the rest. You cannot teach them everything they need to know in life. You can only teach them HOW to learn, and let them take care of the rest. As long as they know how to acquire knowledge and have an interest in doing so, they will always be able to learn what they need when the time comes. Take a day [to visit your local bookstores.] These places will also give you an idea of new vs. used prices. I would usually scope out these stores, then look on Amazon.com for the lowest prices on what I really wanted. Also, I had an out-of-county library card for [local metropolitan area] while the kids were younger, and we took a trip every two weeks and loaded up (seriously, like 4 grocery bags of books). They let homeschoolers have something like 30 books per person for check out! (Now, we read longer books and don’t devour so many picture books as we used to!)

Now, you need a buddy, a mentor, and a friend in this homeschooling thing, so find a homeschooling family that is similar in lifestyle to yours and use other educating parents as resources. We all love to talk about homeschooling. Honestly, we never get tired of it, as you can tell by this book-length [email]. I coordinate a program at [our area] YMCA for homeschooling families. It is a co-operative, which means that all the parents take turns helping out in some way to provide classes one day a week for the things we can’t or don’t want to do alone. Our group meets every [week]. We have Art, P.E., Sign Language, French, Cooking, Theater, Music, and Science/History classes. We also have clubs for Crafts, Robotics, and Fiddle lessons.
There’s so much to starting on the road to Homeschooling. I hope these tidbits from recent conversations help point you in a direction that’s right for you. But before you go, take a look at the websites and books I suggest below. They are by no means a definitive list, and I’d love for you add your favorites in the comments. Tell me what websites and authors/books have made a difference in your experience!

https://kbnelson.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/the-right-homeschool-method/ (This post lists links to an article series I wrote about homeschooling methods, and also has a video interview about homeschooling methods.)

https://www.facebook.com/GiftedHomeschoolersForum (This is a great forum for all homeschoolers with questions or to get reviews about things.)

http://a2zhomeschooling.com/ (There are several sites out there like this, but this one is the most user-friendly and without quite so many ads.)
http://www.hslda.org/hs/ (HSLDA legal site. Good to have on hand.)


What Your Child Needs to Know When by Robin Sampson (This is a great checklist resource for grade-by-grade skills, plus a lot of bite-size information for parents homeschooling.)

CoreKnowledge Sequence: Content Guidelines for Grades K-8
(Not to be confused with Common Core, this book is like an outline of every subject for every grade. Of course, you don’t have to do any of this in the prescribed order, but you could easily take this book and get everything you needed from the library to homeschool. This is the same company that does the series “What Your 1st Grader Needs To Know” and so on.)

The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child: Your Complete Guide to Getting Off to the Right Start
by Linda Dobson (A good beginner’s book. You may learn all you need to know from talking to homeschoolers and looking at websites, but if you want a book, this will help a lot.)

The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto (This should be required reading for every parent and teacher. Not specifically about homeschooling, but will help make sense of why public school isn’t working and what is best for kids. You should definitely read this at some point before you die.)

The Buzz About Classical Conversations

Jazzercise.  The Atkins Diet.  Bell Bottoms.  Fads come and go – whether it’s in health, fitness, fashion, or…. education.  While the public school system is riding the wave of Common Core, my local homeschool community is experiencing its own version of this season’s buzz word – Classical Conversations.

I’ve written before about the Classical method of homeschooling in my series on education methods and philosophies.  I’ve also referred to it in HEDUA’s television series “Life Plus Homeschooling” on my segment “The ‘Right’ Homeschooling Method”. 

I’ve been active in the educational community for 30 years, both as a public school teacher and a home educator, at times serving as a private tutor and teaching in a homeschool co-operative.  I love our homeschool group.  I don’t think I could find a finer bunch of parents and children anywhere.  I love that our co-op is dedicated to welcoming people of all backgrounds, faiths, and philosophies, and that our focus is on providing creative enrichment and social opportunities to complement the efforts of parent teachers, regardless of what curriculum they use.

Many of my friends and acquaintances have been confused that “a new co-op” is starting in the area, called Classical Conversations.  Of course, we have lots of co-ops in the area, and there’s room for all of us.  Everyone can find a group that fits their needs.

What many newcomers to homeschooling or co-operatives don’t realize, is that Classical education as a method is NOT the same thing as Classical Conversations, Inc.  As a former reviewer for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, I was curious about this company that promises so much.  With that in mind, I’d like to outline a few pros and cons, and give anyone considering joining the CC community a few more resources than they are likely to get at an initial information meeting.

Here’s the breakdown about Classical education as a philosophy:

  • Originally used in ancient Greece, and in Europe during the Middle Ages
  • Based on the Trivium – a three-stage development theory that includes taking in knowledge, making connections from the facts acquired, and presenting opinions on the subject matter
  • Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric are key components of the Classical Method
  • Latin, the Socratic Method, and “Real” books (the great books of western civilization) are frequent players
  • Highly structured and rigorous, with an analytic approach to literature and history, heavy on debate and intellectual argument.
  • Arts, technology, and creativity often take a backseat to the written word and rote memorization

Here’s the breakdown of Classical Conversations, Inc. as a company:

  • Founded in the late 1990s by engineer and author Leigh Bortins
  • Uses Classical education as the model for the company’s products and community design
  •  Is an entire curriculum, with once-per-week meetings in local communities
  • “Communities” (not co-ops) have a paid director and tutors
  • Average cost per child per year is $500
  • Statement of Faith and admission screening process required for community acceptance

Now, there have been plenty of positive remarks about Classical Conversations (CC) which are plentiful at any of their introductory meetings, and I’m not here to bash their company.  I’ll be the first to admit that I have not used Classical Conversations, primarily because I don’t agree with all that the classical method of education is about, and secondarily because my research on the company did not inspire me to devote a year of my children’s life to it.  I simply want to note some of the concerns that others have had, since these seem to be swept aside by avid proponents of the campaign.

In my locale, the aggressive marketing to begin groups here has caused excitement, trepidation, and even fear that we have all been doing something wrong all these years. I hear comments like these:

“Classical (Conversations) is for the elite. No one will want to do anything else once they start with us. And if they do, it won’t be as good.”

“I went to their meeting, and it sounded like brainwashing to me.”

“Talk about drinking the kool-aid!”

“Sounds like a pyramid scheme or one of those multi-level marketing things.”

“We did it for 6 months, and our kids were so burned out that we had to stop schooling for 3 months just to get them interested in learning again.”

There are a lot of reviews out there from parents who have used the company’s complete community program, and I urge you to read through them – as well as the comments – to get a more complete picture of the company and its methods.  From what I can discern, it operates much like Tupperware or Mary Kay…

  • There’s a district manager and a local director and some “tutors” under that.
  • Representatives attend seminars for “training” (typically 3 days in length, much of it as online instruction)
  • These individuals are paid, as opposed to the usual parent volunteers at a homeschool co-operative.
  • Participants must use the company’s materials and books, which are frequently “revised”, prompting more purchases.
  • Participants are not allowed to resell their materials after use (a hallmark of multi-level marketing companies).

Families who have elected to leave the program have stated these reasons:

  • Issues with instructors are ignored by the supervisors and parent company
  • Lack of teaching ability in instructors
  • Parental presence required at all classes, since instructors are “modeling” how the parent should teach the same information the rest of the week
  • History not taught chronologically
  • Rote memorization and recitation is dull and unrelated to other learning
  • Little to no application of memorized material to real-world learning
  • No assessment, testing, or accountability to any standards of instruction
  • Participants who object to portions of the program or elect to leave are treated “like lepers”
  • Students not allowed to move up in the program if they are lacking in some other area
  • Art is a repetitive study of the same few masters, with little attention given to individual creativity and other schools of study
  • The 3-year cycle is a repeat, leaving students bored and parents feeling that they are no longer learning new or valuable information

My hope is that, like any decision to educate your child, you give it careful consideration and attention.  Every family must find a program of study that works best for them – without regard to ego, elitism, propaganda, or promises without verifiable results.  I suspect that those already on the Classical method track will find much to enjoy with Classical Conversations.  But for those who choose a different path, rest assured that you are doing what is best for your family, and you have no reason to apologize or doubt yourself.  Just imagine what the fad will be next year!

Additional Links:

Two-Year Veteran of CC Gives Her Review

To CC or Not To CC

CC: Verify, Then Trust

Classical Conversations In the Spotlight

Homeschool Resource Review: Classical Conversations