posts tagged with 'home'

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!).


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.


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!


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


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


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!


a nice evening for a birthday

Harvey turned 7 today. He has a great birthday; the longest day of the year means plenty of time for fun and excitement. He spent the end of the day today playing outside with the neighbors and shooting video on the new tablet device he got as a present yesterday (thanks Grandma Beth!), and we capped the evening sitting in the front yard watching bats as we listened to the 9:00 taps echo over at the Air Force base.

As well as birthday celebrations—which'll continue all week—today also marks the end of the school year in town. That doesn't mean so much to us, but since I failed to ever update anyone on Harvey's progress throughout the year I thought I'd better put together a "year-end" report before it was too late. It's nice to have deadlines. I did it all online, so you can take a look if you're interested in what our homeschooling looked like this year, when packaged for public-school educators.

Tomorrow we're getting up early for strawberry picking, if all goes well... why can't we have long nights and long days in the summer?!


farm-school outing

Way back a couple weeks ago the two older boys and I took an outing to Drumlin farm. It was on a Tuesday morning and we met our farm-school coop friends there, so the outing was totally in a home-schooling context. Of course, knowing us it wasn't entirely schooly!

Harvey, Zion, Taya, and Isaac running along the farm road

friends on the farm

Still, there was some learning done. Direct experiences are always valuable—especially so in preschool.

Zion petting a sheep through the slats of the pen

tactile learning

And being a teacherly sort I made sure to get some situationally-relevant math problems in there for the 1st graders. They also had some chances to explore the built-in teaching material on the farm, and I was proud of their interest and focus.

Harvey and Taya looking at instructional material about hay

reading in context

In fact, I was so amazed by how well Harvey was reading that it inspired my recent reevaluation of his progress!

But there was also plenty of time for good old-fashioned playing.

the kids atop a mountainous boulder

deep in kid territory

Whatever the educational justification, it's always nice just getting a chance to hang out with good friends!

Harvey, Taya, and Zion sitting on a log, Taya putting her hands on the boys' heads



unschooling: so far so good

As you may know, I'm a little nervous about this whole homeschooling thing. Well, sort of. I mean, I'm a pretty self-confident person once I get going on something, so it's not like I'm going to all of a sudden decide that I don't know what I'm doing—much less hear that from anybody else. But I've never been solely responsible for anyone's education so far, and I'm using some pretty non-mainstream methods, so I'm very interested to see if it'll actually all work. And so I'm very pleased to be able to report another positive result.

All this time I've been saying we're not teaching Harvey to read—because we haven't. Like, not at all. We did lots of fun pre-reading practice with rhyming, and we played around with the alphabet, but there's been practically no direct instruction in phonics or anything. Oh wait, that's not true; I did make sight word flash cards one time, and we went through them five or six times together. And of course, we read a lot of books, and I almost always answer Harvey's question when he asks about words or letter sounds. So I suppose the lack of instruction isn't as stark as I imagine.

But still! Harvey didn't know how to read, and didn't know how to read... but he seemed to be spending a suspicious amount of time with his nose buried in a book—and to be able to recount plot points for books we hadn't read to him. So the other day I tested him on a text he'd never seen before:

Although it is difficult to grow good food in Norway because the summer is so short, Knut plants wheat, rye, and barley on his land.

(From The Time-Traveller Book of Viking Raiders)

I gave him the "although" and we'd already talked about how to pronounce "Knut" (and the analogous "Canute" in Old English)—the rest he got perfectly by himself. I was particularly impressed with "rye".

So yay! And yet he's still not sure he can read, because he can't pick up any book and understand it perfectly. I told him reading development is a life-long process (I didn't tell him lots of people never even have that as a goal!). The next day he picked up a chapter book and read "as much of it as I can" in the car on the way to the feed store. I offered to help him with strategies for the words he couldn't get on his own, but he was non-committal. He's been doing fine so far—why change things now?! After all, this is the boy who taught himself to ride a two-wheeler...

At least I get to teach him math. I can't wait to see what he learns to do next!

Harvey drawing at the playroom table

at work on his "Mad Birds" video-game-on-paper


Harvey sharing books

We don't devote much daily time to "school work" here, and pretty much none at all to reading instruction. Our literacy time is all taken up with read-alouds, story-telling, and, this month, poetry. But nevertheless, while I was doing the dishes the other day this is how the boys were occupying themselves in the other room.

Harvey reading to his brothers on the couch

good brother

A couple different things going on. Like me Harvey doesn't want to work on something unless he's good at it, and unless he has a good reason to; he also likes to be helpful, especially when he doesn't have to work too hard. Practicing reading with me is frustrating and annoying to him—totally understandably! But he's spent a couple hours a day with his nose in a book every day for at least a year, slowly figuring things out by himself. So when I ask him to read to his brothers while I do some other work, he doesn't see a pointless difficult task, he sees a chance to be useful while showing off a developing skill—and being the focus of uncritical attention!

Don't tell him, but it's all great practice. He's moving up to comic books now—whether they like it or not!—and apologized to me for not being able to do the voices. I pointed out how well he reads with expression from the books he knows better; I'm sure the comic books will come in time too. His audience is delighted either way.

Of course, remember: he still doesn't know how to read.



One of the things people wonder about homeschooling is socialization. Like, how are our kids going to end up normal human beings when we keep them away from the joyful interplay of the public schoolyard? They needn't worry. Certainly, lots of homeschool kids are odd; but since their parents are far enough out of the mainstream to consider homeschooling to begin with, I think it's fair to say that a good portion of their oddness is pure genetics. Because kids who don't go to school have lots of chances to interact with other kids—at least, ours sure do!

Harvey and two friends playing on a treehouse in the dark

what the lights are for

Take yesterday. In the middle of the day we ventured into Cambridge to play on the best playground in the world (one of em, anyways). Despite it being lunchtime on a school day there were other families there, and before too long Harvey and Zion found some other boys to play with. They started out with a half-hour together on the merry-go-round, then spent some serious time at the sand factory doing something.

Harvey and Zion and a couple other boys cooperating on the playground merry-go-round

if not friends, then at least coworkers

I don't think they ever actually learned each-others' names, but that's not because they're homeschooled—it's because they're boys.

Then when we got home we had 45 minutes to rest before friends arrived—girls this time, for variety—to hang out for a few hours while their parents were at an appointment. They played and played, inside and out. Around supper time they were joined by more kids for our weekly community group gathering, including one boy who had never been to our house before. He was warmly welcomed by the rest of the gang, and was soon well-integrated into their play (that's him on top of the platform in the first picture above).

This afternoon the boys played with the neighbor kids and their friend—a friend who's name Harvey remembered despite only meeting him once or twice before (I take it all back!). Then later they went though the little woods to invite another neighbor to play—and then did play, outside and pretty much unsupervised for a couple hours.

All that activity is not atypical. So yes, there are certain aspects of school socialization that our kids are missing out on—but it's mostly the part around following directions from adults and transitioning easily. Working things out with other kids? No problem! Especially when you have all day long to practice it.