Virtual Event Calendar: August 2021

Virtual Event Calendar: August 2021

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Galileo is an online learning platform for self-directed learners ages 8-18 who learn through projects in a community of global classmates!

They are the only official partner of West River Academy. 

The event calendar below was created by the Galileo team. All virtual events will be free and hosted by them.

Galileo Event Calendar

Event Calendar 8/21

Liam’s Experience

Liam’s Experience

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Liam is going on his sixth year with West River Academy and we’ve been intrigued by his Year-end Reports each time they come in. We’ve watched him and his family go through the stages of deschooling, curriculum-based homeschooling to full-time unschooling. We asked his mom, Deborah, if she’d like to chat with us about their experience.

Q: We’ve loved seeing Liam’s progress over the years. Can you tell us about how the transition from public school to WRA was for him and your family?

A: I think the deschooling process is SO important for the parents. I grew up in the public school system and was the chair of the arts committee at his old elementary school (after having taught creative dramatics and Shakespeare in the schools for over 30 years) – so I was really deep into the whole thing, trying to make it work. It was both a relief but also terrifying to think, “Now what?”

Fortunately, I had a friend whose daughter was enrolled in West River Academy. I didn’t understand the learning philosophy yet, and of course, friends and family were skeptical. In the beginning, we had Liam use a collection of different curricular subjects, including ST Math, but Liam lost patience with that style of learning. Eventually, we enrolled him in art and music classes that mirrored his interests.  We were part of a co-op group, where we learned about a free, after-school animation program run by Cal Arts and Sony Pictures (CAP), which was a great fit. He was also in two bands and joined School of Rock.

Fast forward four years, he now has a YouTube channel where he can publish his animation videos and he can use his music skills to create his own scores for the videos! He’s spent hours learning how to edit, how to interact with others online and is learning how to grow and monetize his channel. The value of natural-led learning just speaks for itself.

Q: You mentioned in the last Year-end Report that Liam’s most recent project is a video he animated called “Liam Butler and His Friends’ World” and it was featured in the Los Angeles Teen Film Festival. What was his process like while working on this project? 

A: The CAP animation program is great, but when the pandemic hit, the classes transitioned to a Zoom format. Being autistic, Liam doesn’t do well in Zoom classes because he doesn’t know where to look; he has to focus on a talking face and it’s just too much. Fortunately, there was an option for students to work one-on-one with the teachers as well. Once CAPclasses ended, we asked the assistant teacher, who is a student at Cal Arts right now, if we could pay for mentoring sessions. They had a great rapport going and this is someone who is studying animation, who’s deep into it every day and it’s a great step to help Liam navigate technical problems.

This project actually began because Liam and I talked about what a “pilot” episode means. You see, he loves animating the ending credits more than anything.

One day he created end credits for an imaginary show and said, “This should be on Nickelodeon.” I told him he’d need to create a show first, and so he set out to create the pilot episode of “Liam Butler and His Friends.”

When we first started working on his pilot episode, I asked him, “So what’s the stage for Liamland? Is it a city, a park, a mountain…” and he said, “It’s a park!” We took reference pictures and he drew from that. We wrote the script together, recorded it, created storyboards–the whole pre-production process. We learned a lot together. Sometimes we created storyboards that were a lot harder to animate than we thought, but we got some great technical help from the folks at CAP and Liam’s work has grown so much.

This project has taught him many positive lessons, but it has also taught him some tough ones. The day we were supposed to finalize the edit, the computer CRASHED! Thankfully we had saved a previous version, by accident, and it had some of the footage that we could rebuild from. It was a year’s worth of work, and it wasn’t only heartbreaking for Liam, it was also for everyone who helped him! There were people who were encouraging him, assisting him and were just really excited about his work. We didn’t end up recreating all of what was lost, but he was able to move forward and complete the story. After this experience, we sat down with his mentor and asked, “When you start a project, what do you do?” He learned that he needed to create systems to organize his projects. It’s important to create folders on your computer in advance so that when you’re in the middle of a project you can easily organize each piece and not have to go searching.

Q: It’s fantastic that focusing on a project, such as producing an animated video, can incorporate so many other lessons and practical knowledge. Can you go into more detail about similar examples?

A: Definitely. In creating one video, he’s writing a story, thinking through the narrative, which is hard for Liam. He’s starting to care about the quality of his work, so that he can get more subscribers (he’s close to 5,000) and watch hours.  He’s not quite at the monetization level yet, but he really wants that.  It teaches him goal-setting.

We use his process to teach basic transactional math skills. For example, I’ll set a value to a segment of work, like finishing a storyboard, then I’ll let him make a list of things he’d like to spend the money on. For example, “do you want to buy that font set that you really really wanted? Or do you want to upgrade one of your computer programs?” We’ve realized that this is such a great way to incorporate all of the learning subjects. It’s just like how we, as adults, learn things, too.

We’re just grateful to have WRA as a support system because you guys have been really encouraging through this whole process. When we realized that he had the drive to teach himself things, we just wanted to put as many options in front of him as possible. Then he can get an idea of what he wants to do and he has confidence that he can figure out what steps it will take to get there.

Thank you, Deb! 

Help Hugo Reach His Goal!

Help Hugo Reach His Goal!

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There is nothing more exciting than to see our students, who have poured themselves into their passions, be recognized for their talent. This November, 13 year-old Hugo will fly all the way from Romania to Las Vegas, NV to perform on a big stage just like he has always dreamed about. We interviewed him to learn more about how his dream of becoming a DJ started and what this means for his future.

Q: What first inspired you to learn how to DJ?

A: After being bullied for five years while in public school, I talked to my parents about transferring to another school. My mother took me seriously and started searching the internet for information about homeschooling, and then learned about unschooling. We found West River Academy in 2018 and it was the BEST thing that has happened to me! We then learned about “deschooling” and I was able to use all my free time to relax, calm down and heal from all that happened in school.

I’ve always loved listening to music but then my dad thought to buy me a DJ Controller, DDJ-SB3 PIONEER, which got me so excited to PLAY music! I taught myself by watching other DJs online and started an Instagram account, where people could find my profile and see my progression. I participated in a Romanian Talent Show, which was streamed online and on TV, and won 2nd place! I grew my Instagram following and started to think that being a professional DJ wasn’t too far of a reach. It would be amazing to become a great festival DJ, or even become one of the Top 10 in the world someday.

Q: Can you tell us more about how your family has supported this dream?

A: I’ll tell you a short story; I have a car on my desk. Now I will tell you why I say that. After twenty years, my parents fulfilled their dream of buying a brand new car, but when things changed for me and they saw that my dream was to become a DJ, they decided to sell it so that I could have the equipment I needed (my new DJ equipment) to follow my dream! I couldn’t believe it; I’m so grateful and I really want to make them proud!!! Now, my mom has created a GoFundMe page so that I can get to the next level and perform on a big stage in Las Vegas.

Q: After attending the World Championships, what steps will you take to develop your career?

A: First of all, I do hope to get there and attend WCOPA – this depends on the success of my GoFundMe page. If this dream is possible, I would LOVE to bring home the Gold for Romania. After this I would love to attend a professional DJ school and see where that takes me.

Additional comments: I would like to say, being an unschooler at West River Academy has allowed me the time and space to discover my passions and encourage all the kids that suffered from any reasons in public schools to find their place in this world full of dreams. But I must specify that kids must have parent support just like I’ve had and I thank God for the parents that I have for supporting all of my dreams.

West River Academy is not affiliated with GoFundMe and sponsors must keep in mind that any donation is non-refundable.

Josie’s Graduation Project

Josie’s Graduation Project

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Josie is an incredible artist, who has spent her time as a West River Academy student developing all aspects of her creativity. In this art piece, she has intertwined her love of books with her educational journey in a way that tells her own life story as a novel. We congratulate Josie on her acceptance at Pratt Institute and look forward to hearing about the success of her future endeavors!

(View full photo below – click to enlarge)

I became a student at West River Academy when I was 10 years old. I’m now 18 and will be moving to New York City in the fall to study Art at Pratt Institute. This Graduation Project explores my time at West River Academy and is loosely based on the Greek myth of Persephone, as I chronicle my journey from childhood to womanhood.

It starts at the house we lived in when I was in elementary school. My favorite thing about that house was the giant palm tree in the front yard that looked like a huge pineapple. It made our incredibly suburban house just a little more fun. You’ll also see my cat, Lucy, who loved to be outside and who I miss very much. In the back is my family who I, obviously, had to include in this! They’ve supported me every step of the way on my journey to adulthood.

In fourth grade, I was a voracious reader, so I filled the cloud space with my favorite books from that period of time. I changed the name of the ship we went on, “Queen Mary 2” to “Hades”, to represent the chariot in which Hades took Persephone to the Underworld. There are so many different tellings of the Persephone myth, but my favorite version is the one where, instead of being kidnapped, Persephone chooses to go to the Underworld with Hades, seeking adventure.

When we started unschooling, so many of my friends said I’d never be able to get a job or go to college if I didn’t stay in school. We knew from the very first day that it was a good decision for our family, but still, we were bored in the suburbs. With our new freedom, we put everything we owned in storage and embarked on what ended up being an almost two-year world schooling adventure – really going into the unknown.

The second section depicts the Queen Mary 2 which was the start of our adventure. You’ll see my dog, “Toffee”, and the friend she made in the portholes. On deck, the friend I made, playing the blow-up saxophone I still have and treasure. We each had a backpack and just a few personal items, but we each needed one formal outfit for the QM2. It was my first “gown.”

This is the dress I wear as I step off the boat into my middle school years, lantern raised as my curiosity, to explore Europe’s treasures. Here, I illustrate the skylines of Rome, Paris and London. Most of my memories are captured on film. I got my first good camera on this trip and curated a highlight book of my photography; several images of which helped form my portfolio for Pratt. As you might imagine, photography became a life-long love through those years of regularly exploring something totally new.

Eventually, my brother and I missed playing sports and wanted to settle back in SoCal. This third panel of my scroll represents my high school years. During this time, I learned what I do want to do, and what I don’t want to do, represented by volleyball and working at our local ice cream place. Volleyball represents my discipline and drive: working with others, making friends, achieving goals and having a lot of fun doing it. That would be the Elysian Fields in my Persephone analogy, whereas the ice cream job was more like Tartarus. I thought it would be fun and full of smiles, but no one there really liked their job, the management was demeaning, and the customers were entitled.

Books were the biggest part of my elementary years, the focus of middle school was exploring the world, and high school was all about music. During high school, I was introduced to new genres of music that I’ve come to love. This passion is represented with the names of my favorite artists in the dark clouds between this section and the next. It was a valuable lesson in things not necessarily being what I expect, and how to shift when I’m in the wrong spot.

The final section of my scroll represents spring, my future, and the adult Persephone returning to the world anew. The gusts of wind are full of my interests and what I plan to pursue, but I imagine there will be some surprises along the way. Unschooling has kept me ready to notice and respond to what’s new, to carve my path and to make my way.”

JosieGPsmall

Damian’s Story

Damian’s Story

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Damian has been enrolled in West River Academy since fifth grade and hasn’t let a day go by without learning something new or improving himself. Read excerpts from his Educational Biography and learn how the natural learning approach can transform a students’ entire perspective on life. We are so honored to have him graduate with the Class of 2021!

“As Nelson Mandela once said, I also believe that education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Not only does it give you confidence and satisfaction, but it also allows your dreams to become a reality. You can contribute to a better world.

In my case, education has been a factor of extreme importance. I was raised differently and was given the possibility to do another kind of school, which I’m very grateful for. West River Academy has offered me a unique chance to find out who I am, what I’m really good at and act upon my talents. Ever since 5th grade, which is when I got transferred from my previous public school and enrolled at W.R.A., I kept learning things from a different perspective and my process of learning won’t end, as one’s educational journey throughout his life never ends. I loved learning under the trees, being able to breathe fresh air and synchronize with the nature. The freedom this school provides has allowed me to do everything with pleasure; from school tasks to planting flowers in the garden. I’ve dedicated all my spare time to reading books and studying about animals, plants or history. I’m not going to mention all the titles of the books I’ve read because I won’t be able to fit them all in these pages. A separate biography should be made, only to describe their uniqueness and incredible artistic style in which the author wrote them. Each one of them means a lot to me. They taught me how to improve myself and become a better person—for me and for society. Everything has a meaning to me. The unpleasant things or the uncomfortable situations that occasionally happen to us have always a meaning. There’s always something to learn from them and this is important for me. I’m improving myself by understanding the moral of the story. Learning from my mistakes or others’ is the key point of realizing my dream: to become a wise person and spread love—the most important of them all—among the people.

I don’t know how I would think and act if I had studied in a public school, but I most certainly know that by being homeschooled, I could analyze everything from all the viewing angles and enjoy life’s biggest gifts for us all, such as the surrounding nature. Above all of this, I had much more freedom. While others fight for their life, we complain about how hard life is. It is important to be grateful for what you have, no matter how few things you possess. I remember a book called Pollyanna, where the protagonist (Pollyanna herself) always plays “the glad game” to avoid feeling sad and unhappy. She would find joy even in the most ordinary things and turn the sad moments into something with a good meaning.

I didn’t like Math but it has a big importance, so learning it is unavoidable. It also develops your sense. Learning can be fun if you do it properly. I would even learn during family trips. That’s because I was eager to accumulate new information. You can always find one or more books in my backpack. So, I mix pleasure with utility.  I don’t understand how watching documentaries is boring for some people. There are so many details, both mentally and visually pleasing.

Education has brought me self-acceptance and forgiveness because you need to have the power and courage to forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made, while also forgiving others. It takes courage, which is not easy. It does not happen overnight. On the contrary, it takes time.—sometimes too much. Now, you’re probably saying that we cannot afford the luxury of wasting time, but when dealing with such matters, pushing yourself too hard or rushing this process can be damaging to your health. So, what I would recommend to everyone is to take as much time as needed and be patient. I did well at all the school subjects. However, Physics and Math were not “my thing”. I found more joy in humanities, but I’ve put more effort into what I’m not so good at and gave myself time. This process of improving my “weak points” has taken a while, but it was definitely worth the wait.

I have many hobbies, but what I love to do most is take photos, read and travel. There is so much that can be shown and expressed through photography. This world has so many beauties, just waiting to be explored and captured on camera. You can visit historical places, find out new things about people’s customs and traditions and taste their food. Contemplate their art. Listen to their music and understand their sorrows.”

“I’m happy to share with you my educational journey and all the meaningful things in my life. I hope that my educational biography will touch your heart and put a smile on your face. I wrote it in a unique way and tried to provide as many details as possible. I leave here a piece of my heart. Reflecting upon my life and everything I did has made me realize once again, how much I love what I do. Passion is the key to success. Thank you for helping me become who I am today. You are very dear to me and I am sending you big hugs. The next step in my life will be to continue my studies at the university.

I want to become a professional writer and inspire others through my works and show them how beautiful life is, if you know how to live it. I want to make people love life and enjoy every nice moment they spend with each other. Teach their kids to be loving and forgiving and take care of our nature. We are the ones that can still fight for a better future.

When I do something, I always think about the next generation. How to do it better, to have a good impact upon them because the future will be in their hands. If they don’t learn from our mistakes, then the world will crash. I see many young people who are lost and searching for someone to inspire them. Maybe they did not have the chance I had. They are in pain. You can easily see that. They need to be encouraged and told that the chance for a better life is in their hands. They are important and the world needs them. Every moment of pain and fear is a test for them to pass, a lesson to learn from and use it for good purposes.”

“Life has so much to offer. You only need love, passion and the will to pursue your dreams. Basically, we have everything needed in order to do that.  Sometimes, it takes a lot of hard work and sweat, but in the end, there’s nothing to be lost, only achieved. How nice it is to know that you are capable of doing anything good. It makes me want to fly. This world is like heaven. We are the ones that can destroy it or heal it. It’s a matter of choice whether we do one or the other. I choose to be on the good side and fight for freedom and happiness over sadness and pain. I am a free young man who enjoys life at its best and tries to help others do the same.”

Does your child want to learn to code?

Does your child want to learn to code?

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At the end of each school year, our families send us a report of what their children have been interested in. Many families include computer programming in their reports, so we know it’s a popular field of study. If your child is interested in getting started in coding, this article will give you a jump start on the websites and resources available. We are pleased to share this guest post from Juni Learning.

Computer programming is rapidly becoming increasingly popular. In turn, more and more parents want their children to learn coding – and for good reason. According to the Bureau of Labor, median pay for software developers is $103,560 per year, with demand expected to increase by 24% between 2016 and 2026, a growth rate which is significantly faster than that of other occupations. Computer programming also teaches a number of important life skills, like perseverance, algorithmic thinking, and logic. Teaching your kids programming from a young age can set your child up for a lifetime of success.

While programming is offered by a some schools in the US, many schools don’t include regular computer science education or coding classes in their curriculum. When offered, it is usually limited to an introductory level, such as a few classes using Code.org or Scratch. This is mainly because effective education in computer programming generally depends on teachers with ample experience in computer science or engineering.

This is where Juni can help. With instructors from the top computer science universities in the US, Juni students work under the tutelage of instructors who have experience in the same advanced coding languages and tools used at companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon. Juni’s project-based approach gives students hands-on experience with professional languages like Python, Java, and HTML. The rest of this article addresses some of the most frequently asked questions about coding for kids.

How can I get my child interested in coding?

Tip 1: Make it Fun!

A good way to get your child excited about programming is to make it entertaining! Instead of starting with the traditional, “Hello World” approach to learning programming, intrigue your children with a curriculum that focuses on fun, engaging projects.

Tip 2: Make it Relatable

Children are more likely to stay interested in something that they can relate to. This is easy to do with coding because so many things, from videogames like Minecraft, to movies like Coco, are created with code! Reminding students that they can learn the coding skills necessary to create video games and animation is a great motivator.

Tip 2: Make it Approachable

Introducing programming to young children through lines of syntax-heavy code can make coding seem like a large, unfriendly beast. Starting with a language like Scratch instead, which uses programming with blocks that fit together, makes it easier for kids to focus on the logic and flow of programs.

How do I teach my child to code?

There are a few approaches you can take in teaching kids how to code. Private classes with well-versed instructors are one of the most conducive ways to not only expose your kids to programming and proficiently develop your children’s coding skills, but also sustain their interest in the subject.

At Juni, we offer private online classes for students ages 5-18 to learn to code at their own pace and from the comfort of their own homes.

Via video conference, our students and instructors share a screen. This way, the instructor is with them every step of the way. The instructor first begins by reviewing homework from the last class and answering questions. Then, the student works on the day’s coding lesson.

The instructor can take control of the environment or annotate the screen — this means the instructor can type out examples, help students navigate to a particular tool, or highlight where in the code the student should look for errors — all without switching seats. Read more about the experience of a private coding class with Juni.

We have designed a curriculum that leans into each student’s individual needs. We chose Scratch as the first programming language in our curriculum because its drag-and-drop coding system makes it easy to get started, focusing on the fundamental concepts. In later courses, we teach Python, Java, Web Development, AP Computer Science A, and a training program for the USA Computing Olympiad. We even have Juni Jr. for students ages 5-7.

Other Options: Coding Apps and Coding Games

There are a number of coding apps and coding games that children can use to get familiar with coding material. While these don’t have the same results as learning with an instructor, they are a good place to start.

Code.org has been featured by Hour of Code, and it is used by public schools to teach introductory computer science. Code.org’s beginner modules use a visual block interface, while later modules use a text-based interface. Code.org has partnered with Minecraft and Star Wars, often yielding themed projects.

Codeacademy is aimed at older students who are interested in learning text-based languages. Coding exercises are done in the browser, and have automatic accuracy-checking. This closed platform approach prevents students from the full experience of creating their own software, but the curriculum map is well thought out.

Khan Academy is an online learning platform, designed to provide free education to anyone on the internet. Khan Academy has published a series on computer science, which teaches JavaScript basics, HTML, CSS, and more. There are video lessons on a number of topics, from web page design to 2D game design. Many of the tutorials have written instructions rather than videos, making them better suited for high school students.

What is the best age to start learning to code?

Students as young as 5 years old can start learning how to code. At this age, we focus on basic problem solving and logic, while introducing foundational concepts like loops and conditionals. It is taught using kid-friendly content that is interesting as well as projects that involve creativity and an interface that isn’t as syntax-heavy. At ages 5-10, students are typically learning how to code using visual block-based interfaces.

What are the best programming languages for kids?

With young students (and even older students), a good place to start building programming skills is a visual block-based interface, such as Scratch. This allows students to learn how to think through a program and form and code logical steps to achieve a goal without having to learn syntax (i.e. worrying about spelling, punctuation, and indentation) at the same time.

When deciding on text-based languages, allow your child’s interests to guide you. For example, if your child is interested in creating a website, a good language to learn would be HTML. If they want to code up a game, they could learn Python or Java.

What kind of computer does my child need to learn to code?

This depends on your child’s interests, your budget, and the approach you would like to take. Many online coding platforms, like repl.it, are web-based and only require a high-speed internet connection. Web-based platforms do not require computers with much processing power, which means that they can be run on nearly any computer manufactured within the last few years. Higher-level programming using professional tools requires a Mac, PC, or Linux with a recommended 4G of RAM along with a high-speed internet connection.

Why should kids learn to code?

Reason 1: Learning to code builds resilience and creativity

Coding is all about the process, not the outcome.

The process of building software involves planning, testing, debugging, and iterating. The nature of coding involves checking things, piece by piece, and making small improvements until the product matches the vision. It’s okay if coders don’t get things right on the first attempt. Even stellar software engineers don’t get things right on the first try! Coding creates a safe environment for making mistakes and trying again.

Coding also allows students to stretch their imagination and build things that they use every day. Instead of just playing someone else’s video game, what if they could build a game of their own? Coding opens the doors to endless possibilities.

Reason 2: Learning to code gives kids the skills they need to bring their ideas to life

Coding isn’t about rote memorization or simple right or wrong answers. It’s about problem-solving. The beautiful thing about learning to problem solve is, once you learn it, you’re able to apply it across any discipline, from engineering to building a business.

Obviously students who learn computer science are able to build amazing video games, apps, and websites. But many students report that learning computer science has boosted their performance in their other subjects, as well. Computer science has clear ties to math, and has interdisciplinary connections to topics ranging from music to biology to language arts.

Learning computer science helps develop computational thinking. Students learn how to break down problems into manageable parts, observe patterns in data, identify how these patterns are generated, and develop the step-by-step instructions for solving those problems.

Reason 3: Learning to code prepares kids for the economy of the future

According to WIRED magazine, by 2020 there will be 1 million more computer science-related jobs than graduating students qualified to fill them. Computer science is becoming a fundamental part of many cross-disciplinary careers, including those in medicine, art, engineering, business, and law.

Many of the most innovative and interesting new companies are tackling traditional careers with new solutions using software. Software products have revolutionized industries, from travel (Kayak, AirBnB and Uber) to law (Rocket Lawyer and LegalZoom). Computing is becoming a cornerstone of products and services around the world, and getting a head start will give your child an added advantage.

Many leading CEOs and founders have built amazing companies after studying computer science. Just take a look at the founders of Google, Facebook, and Netflix!

Career Paths

Although computer science is a rigorous and scientific subject, it is also creative and collaborative. Though many computer scientists simply hold the title of Software Engineer or Software Developer, their scope of work is very interesting. Here is a look at some of the work that they do:

  • At Facebook, engineers built the first artificial intelligence that can beat professional poker players at 6-player poker.
  • At Microsoft, computer programmers built Seeing AI, an app that helps blind people read printed text from their smartphones.

Computer scientists also work as data scientists, who clean, analyze, and visualize large datasets. With more and more of our world being encoded as data in a server, this is a very important job. For example, the IRS uncovered $10 billion worth of tax fraud using advanced data analytics and detection algorithms. Programmers also work as video game developers. They specialize in building fun interactive games that reach millions of people around the world, from Fortnite to Minecraft.

All of these career paths and projects require cross-functional collaboration among industry professionals that have a background in programming, even if they hold different titles. Some of these people may be software engineers, data scientists, or video game designers, while others could be systems analysts, hardware engineers, or database administrators. The sky is the limit!

How can you get your kids started on any of these paths? By empowering them to code! Juni can help your kids get set up for a successful career in computer science and beyond. Our founders both worked at Google and developed Juni’s curriculum with real-world applications and careers in mind.

Coding for Kids is Important

Coding for kids is growing in popularity, as more and more families recognize coding as an important tool in the future job market. There is no “one-size-fits-all” for selecting a programming course for students. At Juni, our one-on-one classes allow instructors to tailor a course to meet a student’s specific needs. By learning how to code, your kids will not only pick up a new skill that is both fun and academic, but also gain confidence and learn important life skills that will serve them well in whatever career they choose.

This article originally appeared on junilearning.com

Lessons Learned Through Family Gaming: A Year-end Report

Lessons Learned Through Family Gaming: A Year-end Report

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At the end of each school year, we ask the families to send us a summary of how their natural learning journey went. Families can summarize their year however they choose.  It can be a letter, a report, a list with course names and grades, or a multi-media presentation using pictures, videos and slides.

In this year-end report, Erika illustrates how a family can come together and share in their children’s passions.  

Greetings, we want to share with you our past year.  If this year had a theme, it would most likely be gaming in all forms. 

In any given week in 2019 Dean could have up to four opportunities to play Dungeons & Dragons:  the Adventure League at the local gaming store, the online program Outschool, an after-school-teen group, or running his own games in our dining room.  He studies each Game Master (GM) he plays with to learn their methods and style of storytelling and tests them out on his friends during his dining room sessions.  He definitely prefers playing in-person games over virtual games with a regular group of people.  The most sustained group is with the after-school-teen group that met at the local rec center, run by Roll Play Lead (RPL).  Jamie, the founder of RPL, sees the value in what role-play games like D&D can offer beyond just gaming for fun.  Understanding that more kids and teens these days live with anxiety or other forms of mental illness, she sees how well-suited role-play games can be used to help kids learn social skills and how the games can cater the story to meet the individual’s needs or challenges. 

Dean and Vivienne both enjoy playing video games and both have their motives for getting what they want out of the games.  Dean is very interested in the gameplay and strategy, where as Vivienne gets swept up in the story and creatures she is working with or battling against.  Vivienne has become a rolodex of information on Pokemon and can’t seem to get enough of the unusual creatures and abilities.  The stories presented during the gameplay offer a uniquely catered story for Vivienne, which provides the desire and drive to improve her reading skills in order to follow along.  Vivienne is gaining a good sense of pre-planning and problem-solving skills in order to move forward in the story.  Whether she needs to have the correct Pokemon cued up ready to battle, or understand when it’s time to run from a fight, she is exercising her thinking ahead and planning for the future skills that are so important for daily life.  

Dean, on the other hand, is more interested in strategy, cause and effect, and manipulating situations to meet his needs.  Dean doesn’t have a favorite game; rather, he relishes finding a new game, observing others’ playstyle to help create his own.  Dean also enjoys seeing new artistic styles each game developer puts into their content and has grown fond of the music each game or level in the game presents.  Online games offer many good things, such as strengthening your ability to work together and improve communication skills, but there are also some darker aspects that we find ourselves discussing with Dean.  Not all gamers are playing the game for the same reasons and Dean finds himself interacting with some not-so-nice teammates that are more interested in trying to get under other players’ skin or are just downright rude.  Maturity also plays a big part in how Dean deals with these types of people.  Rather than going on the defensive or offensive, Dean uses the situation as a sort of social experiment and attempts to change their outlook.  Despite other players’ mean or aggressive attitudes and playstyles, his findings have shown that when only responding to them positively, the rude player either leaves the game or ends up changing their tune.  

Since Dean was seven years old, we’ve gone through waves between obsession and disinterest when it comes to Minecraft. Each Minecraft resurgence we try to find ways to play with friends without having to go through the trouble of starting our own server.  When COVID-19 struck, the kids missed their friends, so we knew it was the right time to figure out how to host our own server.  We dove into the daunting process of getting a server up and running and named it CoronaCraft.  We learned there is a lot we don’t know, but we got far enough to get a working server to host all the kids’ friends.  Besides giving the kids a virtual playground for the kids to stay connected, it has been an invaluable learning process for everyone in the family.  We play on the server along with the kids. Minecraft is one of the few video games that has captured our sustained interest. It’s great having a hobby the entire family participates in, especially during a lockdown! It proved to be a great distraction and escape from all the bad news outside the house. It took a while to master basic server hosting and we made mistakes along the way. The worst was a server crash or two, losing weeks of work, but we rebuilt and made it better the second time around, and we learned how to not let it happen again.  We helped the kids navigate setting boundaries with friends and have witnessed the amazing teamwork and building skills of all the kids on the server.   

Dean has shown real maturity during this pandemic.  He has made a real effort to understand all he can regarding the facts about COVID-19 and he has shared that information with his friends as a way to stem fears his friends were sharing with him and he was able to help his friends make sense of the situation as only a peer could.  It was rough for Vivienne to have a birthday during lockdown, since we couldn’t throw the usual big party.  So we set up a secret amusement park on the server and asked all the kids to build rides in time for her birthday.  We held a virtual surprise birthday party for her, spending the evening trying out all the rides and eating cake. It was just as fun as a regular birthday.  Since we are not experts in the world of Minecraft we are asking for the kids’ help all the time; they light up with confidence when they are teaching us how to make things work.  Many of our dinnertime discussions covered Minecraft topics and we’ll spend many evenings watching Minecraft YouTubers for inspiration.  Dean has challenged himself with complicated Redstone creations; he says it’s his “big brain” moment when he has successfully executed his design.  When Vivienne asks to show us what she built, we are always impressed with how well her plan comes to life.  It’s in the world of Minecraft that we have seen both kids at their most self-directed and resourceful, not to mention their most giddy and cheerful, selves, while playing online with their friends.

Vivienne is inquisitive and curious, as always.  Her favorite way to explore the world is through interacting with others with her pop quizzes.  She inquires into others’ minds by playing question games, asking top favorites on any variety of things.  For example: what is your favorite animal with wings or what is your favorite animal from Australia? But she can get complex at times; “pick an animal’s superpower (like an Axolotl’s limb regeneration)”. Then the other person is to counter it with the superpower’s weakness (but it grows back too big).

Vivienne continued to attend as many nature classes at our local nature center as she could in 2019, although she is aging out of the classes they offer and they are the same ones she’s been to year after year.  The nature center has a fairy garden for kids to decorate and arrange logs, sticks and rocks for the fairies. We were inspired by this, so we created a fairy garden plot in our backyard for all the nature Vivienne brings home from hikes and outings. The garden gives the stones and sticks she collects a place to live and be creative with that isn’t in her bedroom.  In August 2019 the reptile store, where we get feeder insects for our lizard, gave us a complimentary hornworm to feed our pet bearded dragon, Sneezy.  Vivienne was struck by its bright aqua color and was sure Sneezy would choke on its large size.  Not knowing what else to do with this worm, we decided to take it in as a temporary pet and named it Bobbert.  We learned how to care for Bobbert so we could watch it grow and transform, which was absolutely fascinating to witness!  We found information on caring for hornworms from Carolina Scientific, a place where teachers can order these worms to bring into their science classrooms. In our case, life brought us this science lesson.

Art and creativity are ingrained into Vivienne and she uses her skills to provide art sculptures and costumes for her stuffed animals or clay sculptures, among other artistic endeavors.  Waiting around and long car rides are usually filled with drawing in one of her many drawing pads.  There are moments where Vivienne is so lost in her drawing that she doesn’t hear her name being called.  Getting lost in something so deeply that the rest of the world is “tuned out” demonstrates Vivienne’s passion and concentration for what she is working on.  Vivienne recently received a new computer and also a drawing pad.  The pad is similar to the devices Vivienne’s favorite YouTube personalities use to create the animations she enjoys so much and gets inspiration from.  This provides yet another medium for her to try and gain experience from. 

The change in routine brought about by COVID-19 in some ways limited our opportunities to explore our world, but in other ways has stilled the waters of our life enough to see the things below the surface that had gone unaddressed since we began our homeschooling journey.  The year ahead is beginning like no other and we are looking forward to where the new twists and turns in our road will take us.

Best Regards,

Marc & Erika, Colorado USA

Top 5 Online Homeschooling Resources

Top 5 Online Homeschooling Resources

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We know there are many doors that open once you step into the world of homeschooling and the variety of options can seem overwhelming at first. Now that we are living in a time of “crisis schooling”, families are scrambling to quickly make a plan for the school year and are doing their best to absorb as much information from the internet as possible right now. As advocates for the natural learning approach to homeschooling, the first thing we encourage parents to do is to have an open dialogue with their children to find out how they would enjoy spending their time in a fun and productive way.

 

West River Academy is very unique because we encourage each family to create a routine and learning flow that feels good to them. We ask them, “if you didn’t have to think about standardized testing, what do you think is important for your children to learn? How can you incorporate life lessons into your conversations, and ignite their love for learning again?”.  These questions prompt a new way of thinking and re-introduce the child to a world where learning is fun and exciting again!

 

Once you have figured out where you land on the spectrum of learning styles, it will be easier to narrow down the resources that will fit your family best. We have compiled the top 5 of our most popular online homeschooling resources directly from the recommendations of our families enrolled in West River Academy.

 

Enjoy!

 

Galileo is the new, innovative, self-directed online school for students aged 8-18 who are world schoolers, homeschoolers, and/or unschoolers from all over the world. They provide opportunities to collaborate with other students on projects, with groups that do projects together on STEM subjects and electives like Coding and Robotics, Foreign Languages and International Cultures. Choose your own adventure by mixing and matching a variety of topics!
Cost: $240/month or $2000/year
Age Range: 8-18

 

They offer a huge variety of classes and options. From phonics to AP Physics to Minecraft to Piano. Outschool feeds your kid’s curiosity and elevates their learning with a variety of 50,000+ classes.
Cost: $10-$600/ class
Age Range: 4-18
 
They offer tuition-free online classes with high school and college credit for grades 6-12. Includes Financial Education by Dave Ramsey for teens, and college courses from Grand Canyon University. 300+ Credit-based courses.
Cost: Many classes are tuition-free
Age Range: 10-18
 
The main things homeschoolers want are high-quality resources and flexibility, and they offer both. Lesson plans consist of in-depth powerpoints with images and videos to enhance the material. Plus, they offer a wide range of optional supplemental activities so you can customize your child’s educational experience based on their individual learning style.
Cost: $60-$175/class
Age Range: 10-18
 
They offer personalized learning of all core subjects. There are modules that the student can do at their own pace, they offer scholarship contests and they are popular worldwide.
Cost: Free
Age Range: PreK-12th grade

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If you would like to talk more about finding a learning style for your family, feel free to schedule a phone consultation with Peggy Webb, the Founder and Director of West River Academy, here.

Homeschooling Global Summit 2020

Homeschooling Global Summit 2020

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An influx of questions has flooded the internet in recent months regarding homeschooling and we are thrilled to address an array of topics in this virtual event called the Homeschooling Global Summit!

There will be ten days of expert interviews, from the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Pat Farenga, Peggy Webb, Lainie Liberti, Melissa Church and many more! With hundreds of millions of kids around the world learning at home for the first time ever due to Coronavirus, this knowledge is needed by parents more than ever.

We will be interviewing some of our currently enrolled families, as well as West River Academy graduates. Learn how self-directed learning can be an advantage to navigating this rapidly-changing world.

Event Calendar:

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As this is the second annual event, anyone who is interested in watching the 40+ hours of footage from the 2019 Homeschooling Global Summit is now able to do so for free!

Visit https://hgsummit.com/ to get your FREE premium pass.

We are so grateful to all of our families and graduates who are participating in this event with us this year. We hope you register for it and share it with your loved ones!
~ The West River Academy Team