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Nebel's Elementary Education Review by Heidi Shaw

Bernard J. Nebel, PhD.

"To create a tapestry of learning" - this phrase intrigued me immediately upon opening Dr. Nebel's book. My dictionary defines a tapestry as "a tightly woven, ornamental fabric, used as a hanging. Hmm, so now I wanted to know how to create a tapestry of learning and what was to be the expected outcome. I would assume that it means to take all aspects of education, life, and experience, and interrelate them, connecting one to another so the result is a beautiful and educated person. So with this premise I embarked on my journey. Well, some months later, I am amazed to see how well Nr. Nebel's plan is meeting and exceeding most of my assumptions and expectations.

This book is really a plan, scope, and sequence all in one volume. Rather than focusing on one subject such as history or science, Dr. Nebel has endeavored to cover and combine what children should know between K and 5th grade in order to continue self-education and learning through the rest of their lives. This is not just a book full of facts, but rather a guidance manual for "how to learn." It is full of fascinating activities (over 200) and it has great descriptions of what your students should know when. Each topic is sub divided by grade level, so you don't need to worry about over filling their minds at any one time.

What I found really wonderful, refreshing, and intriguing is that Dr. Nebel never seems to assume that you, as teacher, need to be taught. He speaks (writes) in an educated manner, as if addressing peers, which, indeed, he is. There is a level of respect given to both teacher and student throughout this manual and I found that very encouraging. I love how Dr. Nebel builds his subject matter with a constant eye on tying into the children's existing knowledge base and building on it incrementally and systematically. "All lessons begin by drawing student's attention to be aware (sic) of what they already know or have experienced, then guiding them to make further observations through demonstrations, hands on activities and real life explorations. Finally they are drawn through interactive discussion to integrate the new knowledge or experience and thus expand their structure of understanding."

This is a great, logical, plan of action. Take what they already know, make them aware of it, expand, add to it, and build on it. It makes such good sense. And Dr. Nebel guides you effortlessly through the concepts and skills each grade level will meet. All subject matter and skills being covered are divided among seven themes. These are not your standard math, reading, and social studies themes. Rather, they provide a great structure, which you can use as your foundation for a life full of learning. These themes are:

1. Communication - includes reading, writing, and the fine arts. This manual does not contain a complete "teach your children to read" program, but it is filled with great ideas, handy tips, and ways to incorporate a lifestyle of learning so every experience can become a 'lesson'. The suggested activities are helpful, practical, and very workable. There is nothing overwhelming here.

2. Values, Purpose, History, and Society - includes economics and government, again building on the knowledge and experience base that the children already have. This section contains some neat ideas for creating a timeline scroll, and incorporating real, living biographies of historical characters into your daily schedules.

3. Discovering Our Planet Earth - includes solar system, basic astronomy, weather, climate, geography, map reading, and drawing skills. Lots of great applications and ideas to build their experiences.

4. Living, Non-living, & Human Made Things - includes tons of lessons, helps, and aids on everything from classification to ecology to ecosystems, anatomy, and physiology. It also includes awesome ideas on how to actually grow flowers and vegetables, even in a small space. I love the idea of using rain gutters as planters! This unit ventures into basic chemistry, and has so many great ideas and lessons. I couldn't even begin to list the best!

5. Numerical Skills - just what it suggests, emphasis here is on measuring, both standard and metric, and problem solving. Lots of good practical lessons for incorporating mathematics to make it a real part of real life!

6. Water Wonders - I was fascinated by the scope of this unit. Given that Dr. Nebel is a natural scientist with his PhD. in plant science, I was eager to absorb his suggestions here. What a wealth of information. Everything from the water cycle, to community water systems to pollution, even purification and treatment. My kids have always been interested in this topic. Water is a vital part of each life and the kids seem to know its importance.

7. Physical Forces and Principles - everything from sound, levers, and electric currents to light, energy, and how motors work. This is a hands-on practical introduction to physics and how things work in our very physical world.

Now remember, each theme is rooted to the child's early knowledge and experiences and builds seamlessly from one level to the next. The students will be learning reading and writing, but most of the actual teaching will occur as they address other topics. It is fascinating, real-life home schooling at its truest, in one accessible manual. I like how Dr. Nebel reminds us "learning only occurs in the mind of the learner." Merely packing their heads with facts doesn't imply that anything relevant is going on inside! We have to make the learning relevant to them so they can have those "Aha" moments and revel in them! I believe Dr. Nebel has brought us a long way towards helping our children become life-long independent, willing learners. I especially like his point that poor recall is a good example of how the mind "doesn't" work and how the common experience of most is that information not repeatedly called upon is forgotten. (I experience this every year when I have to relearn my accounting program at tax time.) Thus, we need to integrate from one level to the next what they have learned with what they are learning and what they will learn.

This book may appear intimidating at first glance, because most of us were not taught this way so it is unfamiliar to us. Once you spend time reading the great introduction and wrap your mind around how much even your youngest child already knows, simply thorough life experiences, you will be ready to fly! There are so many concrete examples and learning experiences, and they are so neatly partitioned as to suggested grade level, that you can compare with what your state requires of you and pick and choose the most appropriate activities. All you need to teach the topics is included in the manual. There is a lot of information here. I was constantly getting sidetracked as I read about one topic or another; I wanted to keep reading for my own knowledge.

You will want to read through the guide, noting where you will start and choosing which points to include. Each theme should be addressed with review first and adding a new increment at least once a week.

Remember also, that learning comes from experiences. If you have planned to study the rotation of the sun, but your child comes running in with a batch of fresh frogs' eggs, it's time to study living and non-living things! Don't push, don't rush, and don't stick to anyone else's timeline. What a great journey - life becomes education and education becomes life!

Dr. Nebel has provided a great teacher's guide for free download at the files section of the Yahoo group site that will help you decide where to start and what to pick first. This guide is not a day-to-day roadmap; you will be picking and choosing what to do with your particular child. Dr. Nebel is a scientist and his text reflects that focus and love. His career focused on environmental sciences a great deal, which helped him to see the interconnectedness of life. The story of his journey makes a great read and give insight into his reason for writing this manual. He is very open to discuss, help, and advise whenever he can, so feel free to visit the website and e-mail Dr. Nebel with any questions. There is also an active yahoo group which you can join -

Just one final note, this is not a religious text, nor written from an overtly Christian perspective. You will find discussion and references to dinosaurs and "65 million years," etc. As a Christian mom, I didn't encounter anything objectionable and I welcome the opportunity to present others' worldviews to my kids, in my environment, with God's focus. You can easily add any supplemental Bible Study, indeed any supplemental anything to this plan, and still make it your own and enjoy it thoroughly. This is a great road map for navigating the early years of education and learning how to create an environment of learning - especially where math and science are concerned. All you will need to provide for your students would be notebooks and supplies for the plethora of activities. These are all easily found around home or town and what you can't find, you can easily find an alternate. Really, this text and library access for avid readers are all you should need to begin your journey. I enjoyed this book and I am confident many of you will also.

-- Product Review by Heidi Shaw, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine