posts tagged with 'home'

not yet a homeschooling sage

Last week a friend from church emailed Leah and me, together with a couple other folks from the community, to ask about homeschooling. She has a preschooler and is planning ahead. Leah wrote right back with some practical tips on writing and submitting a home education plan, getting hooked up with AHEM, and surviving 14 to 18 hours a day with your child without a break. I haven't said anything; nothing really came to mind. No more did it last week when a couple of moms at that church fair showed some interest—"what possessed you to start homeschooling?" one of them asked, before clarifying that maybe "possessed" wasn't the word she was looking for.

"I don't know," I answered. "I guess I just like hanging out with my kids?"

I'm not at my theoretical or philosophical best these days. I think the results of the election were kind of a shock to my system, and in reaction I can only conceive of keeping my head down and living the kind of life that seems good to me. Maybe trying to convince other people of things is always doomed to failure and strife.

That said, I do really think homeschooling is a fine idea. And people are interested in it; one of the moms at the fair said she thought about it for her kids at least once every year, when September rolled around and they were crushed by the idea of going back to school. But I don't really know what to say from an advocacy point of view—no more do I have any ideas about practical advice to offer to families interested in trying out the homeschool lifestyle. What it really comes down to, I think, is simple but maybe pretty radical change in the way we think about our relationship to kids and their relationship to acquiring information.

It's kind of like what Bike Snob said once about converting a mountain bike to a commuter. Someone asked him about it. I paraphrase because there's no way I'm going to search that blog, and maybe it was in one of his books, but basically his answer was: "ride it to work." How do you start homeschooling? Don't send your kids to school, and let them learn at home instead. Done!

I'm aware that that's not the universal model. Our public library carries Practical Homeschooling, a magazine full of curriculum reviews, guides to creating schedules that work, and fear-mongering about public school education. To the editors there homeschooling is serious business and hard work, but also something that can be solved by the application of existing methods (once you find the right one for your family). Tips are absolutely central to that mode of operation. But I don't have the energy for that, and if I wanted my kids to have to adapt to curriculum—or have it adapted to them—I'd send them to school where at least someone else would be doing all that work.

So maybe I need to come up with some snappy answers to help people who want to homeschool our way understand... and relax. If people are going to be asking me anyway. I've ordered some books on the subject; check back in a couple weeks.

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blessed Martin pastor prophet

We celebrated Martin Luther King day in song this morning. With four MLK- and civil-rights-related songs, we were able to think about a few of the important aspects of Kings life and of the broader movement. (We also sang "All the Little Fish", because of overwhelming demand from the audience.) That was the extent of our lessons today—I planned to do a little more, but then we were invited on an indoor sports date, so we lost the rest of our school time. But that's fine: I love Dr. King and am always excited to celebrate his day, but we really need to talk about civil rights every day, not just one Monday in January. So we'll do a little more more tomorrow.

Generally, our curriculum is pretty heavy on anti-racist, anti-colonialist, anti-dominant-power narratives anyhow. We love the Little House books, but we always make sure to talk about how Laura's descriptions of the Indians are totally a product of the prejudices of her day. Our Thanksgiving lessons give equal time to the perspectives of the Wampanoag people. And don't get me started on Columbus! We haven't talked much yet about the specifics of the African American experience, but you can bet what we have done so far hasn't been the slightest bit equivocal about the awfulness of the reality of slavery and segregation, or the fact that as white folks we still have lots to do to even begin to make amends and make things right.

Which is to say, my thoughts from 12 years ago still stand. Good heavens, we've been blogging a long time.

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the interrogation

For some reason, people at the Community Dinner keep asking Harvey about school. It might just be because that's the only thing adults can thing to ask kids—they might be the type to ask other adults where they work. Or maybe there's an element of paternalism to it: we're the ones getting a free dinner, and the questioners have been the volunteers serving. In any case, he does very well. Like yesterday evening.

Question Lady: Look at these lovely children! Your name is Harvey? Harvey, what grade are you in?

Harvey: Um, second.

QL: Oh, so you're at Davis School?

H: No.

QL: Where do you go to school?

H: At home.

Question Lady—a former second-grade teacher herself, it must be said—then engaged me on the topic of why we chose to homeschool. I was trying to get Lijah to eat at the time, and also keep up a conversation with Zion, so I'm not sure I gave the subject the attention it deserved, but I did manage to say something. Then she asked Harvey about his favorite book, and kept on the question for a while (for record, he came up with the two extant books of the Tib and Tumtum series).

A few weeks ago a different QL asked him if he liked his teacher. He smiled and said something like, "I have to! It's Dada!" I appreciate that.

I don't object to people asking questions. Questions are good. But it's tough being non-normative in this case. I was thinking, sitting in the library a little later, than I was going to start doing something similar.

QD: Oh, your boys are at the elementary school in town? Why did you decide to send them to school?

Would that be rude?

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Happy Thanksgiving

me and the boys holding up our Thankful posters (and a squash)

thankful and joyful

We're packing up to head down to a giant gathering of relatives for the day, but we took a moment to pause and be thankful as a family. Luckily, given the chaos, we'd done lots of the thankfulness prep earlier this week when the boys and I made posters showing some things we're thankful for. Well, the bigger boys; Lijah made a squash friend like in Sophie's Squash.

Whatever you have going on today I hope it's delightful. May all the travel be safe and easy, all the food delicious and easily digestible, and all the interactions with relatives joyful and life-giving! Happy Thanksgiving!

as attempt at the photo above, with everybody moving

thankful for this crazy family

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things we can make work

To continue on my positive tip: we had a lovely day of homeschooling today. Harvey wrote a page of a story I told him to write (a ridiculous battle I should describe in another post), Zion was super excited to work on math, and Lijah got to do a week's worth of awesome preschool arts and crafts with Grandma (who also did the dishes from breakfast... thanks Mom!). And we had some great recess/PE time, and Harvey and Zion played appropriately with Lijah for a long time outside, even as light rain started to fall. But best of all were two musical moments.

Number one: I got all the boys together for a song-and-movement session. All three of them stayed engaged the whole time—not distracted by their own instruments or toys or each other—and did some great singing and direction-following. Some of it was kindergarten-appropriate, some of it aimed more at the two-year-old demographic, and Harvey was a great helper and demonstrator through it all. It may seem like a small thing—it may be a small thing—but our boys aren't easily led, so it felt like a great blessing to be able to do something like that with all three of them at once. And they had fun; maybe we can do it again some day.

Number two: immediately afterward I called rest time, sent Harvey and Zion to their beds with their books, put on some loud music, and told Lijah it was time to take a nap. He protested, but by the time "Brooklyn" was three-quarters done he was asleep. Just like old times! And when I told the big boys they could get up they asked if they could keep reading (it helped that the alternative I offered was helping me clean up).

So not everything is horrible. I'll note the good things here, and in our homeschooling log. In a month or so we'll maybe have enough to send in a progress report!

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homeschooling ups and downs, all in one day

I've written more than once about my degree of nervousness around unschooling. Mostly it's not about whether the boys are learning, but rather two other things: how well they can demonstrate that learning to other people, and the pace and scheduling of their skill acquisition.

For example. Because he lives with obstinate introverted anarchists, Harvey has become increasingly reluctant to "perform" in any situation where he's not completely comfortable. This is a problem when he needs to do a math pre-assessment for us, or when he needs to follow teacher directions in Kids Church, or when I try and get him to answer any single question he thinks I already know the answer to. No Socratic method for this boy! Zion, similarly, needs to work on how to hold a pencil and make marks on paper in any sort of deliberate way. But since he can't draw the pictures he wants, he won't work on it at all!

But maybe you see my mistake in the previous paragraph. It's all those "needs to"s. Because of course, from any rational perspective none of those things are strictly necessary at all. In one of those posts linked above (the one on "once") I mentioned worrying about the 4-year-old Harvey's pencil grip and artistic ability, and now he's a totally confident draftsman whose work often impresses (and sometimes confuses) unrelated adults. Not that he's an artistic prodigy by any means; just that he's comfortably middle of the pack. I have no doubt Zion will follow a similar trajectory—just maybe a little bit later, since he does lots of things later. He doesn't need to "practice"; more experience will do the trick.

In a perfect world, that would be that. Unfortunately, we really do need to make a portfolio, and showing progress via assessments is kind of useful. So how can we combine that sort of artificial process with the real learning the boys are working on? I don't know... that's what I'm working on! Today, we did our morning schooling at a friend's house, and worked companionably on our separate tasks. In the middle of his math, though—that pre-assessment, third try this year—Harvey got frustrated and stomped off. And Zion, as the youngest school-age learner there, was disengaged from any formal activity the whole time. So we gave up, and played instead, then had lunch, then walked to a playground. Then we drove home and had a rest, then Harvey and Zion played legos and fought, then we played catch and baseball (while Lijah listened to books on the ipad and Leah painted the interior trim). Then the boys played on the new swing while I fixed the fence, then they played in our neighbors yard while we made dinner.

Then I reminded Harvey that there was still that math to finish. He pulled it right out and got to work. Zion asked me if he could do some math too, so we talked about place value while Harvey worked independently. Zion did some drawing on the chalkboard. Lijah came over and asked to do math too; we gave him some dinosaurs to count, and he counted two and three. Then we thought up rhymes together. Lijah wanted to take a bath and wanted Zion to join him, but Zion wanted more math; he only went after I promised him "math in the bath". After our bedtime story together Harvey took a flashlight into his bed so he could keep reading his Magic Treehouse book, until I cut him off at 8:00.

So that all worked out pretty well. Besides just good luck and a little bit of patience, I think a new organizational scheme we just started may have helped things along. But it's brand new, so I'll let it settle in for a while before I start bragging about it... it's not the first new scheme I've come up with! Tomorrow is day two. We'll see how it goes (but don't expect an account this complete every day!).

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Columbus and Indigenous People's

With a kindergartener and a second grader around the place we can't fail to note Columbus Day. So this past Monday I told the boys a story in three parts: how Columbus "discovered America"; how Columbus Day came to be a holiday and Columbia a symbol of the American spirit; and how there are so many things wrong with Columbus, his story, and our celebrations of him. The flaws are too numerous and tedious to describe here—check out this famous comic on the subject if you're interested in reading more—but suffice it to say, we're happy learn about Columbus—the good and the bad—and join with the citizens of Cambridge and many other cities in celebrating Indigenous People's Day instead.

Although, when it came to the snacks it was Columbus who won the day. See, Harvey is into doing themed snacks these days, and he had a great idea for some Columbus Day boats, which he put together with only a little help from Mama.

a boat made of an apple slice, carrot mast, and cheese sail

sailing the banana sea

The Santa Maria was for him, of course; Zion was delighted with his Pinta.

Zion holding a snack boat, Harvey hard at work

chefs at work

They were both disappointed that our little child was napping, and they didn't get to make him a Niña; Harvey planned to later in the day but the opportunity didn't arise. But that doesn't mean he let go of the idea of nautically themed food! At dinner—a dinner planned without anything like art in mind—he instantly saw the possibility of another vessel under sail, and created a tomato boat (with quesadilla sails) on a sea of corn.

Harvey making a boat picture with his dinner

playing with his food

I don't know how much about Columbus either of them will retain from the work of the day. But I do think we've established a good groundwork in the names of the ships, the year 1492, and the fact that Columbus was a jerk. That seems age-appropriate.

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hey, we're doing school!

Zion looking energetic holding his kindergarten sign

school energy

So I guess we've started the "school" year; call it a soft launch. We did have an official first day a couple weeks ago and took pictures, so that's something!

Harvey made his own sign, and Zion decorated his. Unfortunately the colored-pencil details don't show up so well, but you can be assured Harvey took at least ten minutes on his work!

Harvey smiling holding his second grade sign

calm and confident

We're getting into our schedules and routines—mainly trying to find time to learn along with working, playing, cleaning, gardening, and keeping the house from falling down—and at habituating the boys to maybe just a little bit of coerced schoolwork. Happily we found someone else willing to do farm-school with us, and we've had a couple good days of learning together already. And there are plans afoot for stories and sword-making and math games, so I think we'll do alright this year!

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at the art show

fiber art by a 10-year-old

creativity on show

Our friends who are running a day camp this summer also hosted a kids art show Saturday afternoon. It was wonderful to see the variety of art on display, created by kids ages two to twelve: drawings, paintings, sculpture, poetry, fiber arts, and cartography. There were maybe a dozen artists involved, and a good crowd of kids and parents there to take it all in.

kids and adults looking at the art

appreciative audience

Besides the static display, we were also treated to performances of storytelling, jokes, and live and recorded music. Lijah took advantage of the projector for some impromptu performance art.

Lijah playing in the beam from the projector

illuminated

Many but not all of the kids involved are homeschooled—and all of them could be, given the dedication they showed to their artwork. They didn't all know each other going into the show; while they didn't leap to connect with each other, there was definitely a feeling of shared kinship as artists.

two boys playing with lego art together

artworking together

We weren't organized enough to be part of the show (I think we were the only family in attendance without a name or two in the program). Or I should say I wasn't organized enough; as soon as he heard of it (on Friday afternoon) he rushed some lego models and experimental cooking into production for the display. For my part, I was inspired by many of the pieces with ideas for the upcoming year of learning. There's another show planned for the winter; the boys are looking forward to being there with lots of their own art to show off!

Harvey and Zion looking at some illustrated poetry

impressive work

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looking forward to school

I wrote most of the boys' homeschool plans today. Two of them this time! We're all excited to get started with the school year; a couple days ago Harvey groaned when he heard that school in Bedford starts September fifth, because that seemed like much too far away for him. We probably won't make it that long. It may be kind of silly for us to follow an academic calendar, with all our big unschooling talk, but we do like new beginnings. There are high hopes for this one on all sides.

I can't speak to the hopes or excitement of the public school kids, but at least in this town they're heading off to a school that has some right ideas about transportation. A press release published in the local independent paper recommends kids get to school by bike or by foot as a first choice, or by school bus if that isn't possible. The last couple paragraphs take up the less preferred option: "If your child cannot walk or bike or ride the bus, DRIVE, BUT ONLY IF YOU MUST" (emphasis in original!). The piece mentions the dangers cars pose to kids, congestion, and air pollution as reasons to leave the car at home. I think we have a long way to go before everybody gets the message, but it's great just to have it out there so prominently! Almost enough to make me want to send my kids to school so they can bike there. But no, we're keeping them here: there's so much fun in store!

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