posts tagged with 'home'

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?!

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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

friends

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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

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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.

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socialization

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.

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we make bread too

Our friend Angel recently sent us a link to a "Waldorf-inspired family resource center" a few towns away. Basically, it's a home-school group just like ours, but these folks are clever enough to ask for money. There's so much I want to know about the enterprise, but the website is not particularly forthcoming with details; the one thing that's totally clear is that they make bread.

Well so do we!

Harvey and Zion shaping their loaves at the kitchen table

intent bakers

Our friends were sick so our weekly farm-school co-op date was just us, but we didn't let that stop us from getting our hands into some dough. I was recently gifted a sourdough started (perfectly timed: I was ready to try again after some years off) and I'm working on figuring out how to make good bread with it. This particular batch was perfect for the boys: sticky enough to be interesting, but still easy to squish and shape. They both chose to make baguettes—or "long bread", as they're known in our household.

As nice as it was, the dough was still too sticky for Lijah, and he stuck to manipulating the raw ingredients.

Lijah in the high chair making a mess with flour

looking pleased with himself

The loaves came out good (though Zion doesn't really like the crustiness of a sourdough bread), but somehow I failed to take a picture of the finished product. We'll just have to do it again next week!

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entertaining visitors

After our big Christmas party a few weekends ago was a bust (in numerical terms—we had a great time with friends and family who did come!) we decided to focus our entertaining energy a little less on giant open-invitation events and a little more on asking specific folks to come over. That's why today, when we had a total of 15 people over we had them in two batches. Farm-school coop and lunch saw two visiting adults and six kids (not counting ours; and one of the visitors didn't wake up the whole time so I don't know that I should really count him). Then another three adults and three kids for dinner. The best part was that we served some of the same food both meals!

No wait, that's not true; the best part was that we got to hang out with a lot of awesome people. And since many of them helped clean up, it wasn't even that much work! Let's do it again next Tuesday.

three moms and lots of kids in our living room

the preschool side of farm-school coop

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at the bus stop

kids getting on the school bus

iconic scene

One of the nicest things about homeschooling is the freedom we have in the morning to take things at a relaxed pace. Sunday mornings, when we do have to get everyone dressed and fed and out the door at a prescribed time, are always pretty stressful. Imagine if we had to get Harvey on the bus every morning! Since we don't, though, why can you find us out at the bus stop at least a couple mornings a week?

Well, to begin with it's a lot easier to make it out the door when we don't have to—the stakes are low. And of course we don't need to worry about packing up for a whole day away; we're just going to head back to the house in a couple minutes to do school or (much more likely) play. Plus our kids get up early anyways. So it's not such a challenge.

And not only is there not anything stopping us, the rewards for showing up are pretty high. We're building some homeschooling community—it's a work in progress—but our friends who homeschool are scattered all over the Greater Boston area. The folks who live near us send their kids to school and head off to work themselves, so if we want to connect with them the bus stop is the place to do it.

I particularly enjoy it because I'm not so good at being neighborly, naturally. I find it easier to assume that everyone else is busy and probably doesn't want to talk to me, so I don't make much of an effort to reach out to them. When everybody is standing around with nothing to do but yell at the kids not to run in front of cars, I figure it's safe to chat. Going to the bus we've met a new neighbor, and been able to learn a little more about our old ones. I do care about other people; it's nice to have a little bit of a chance to show it.

Plus it's good for the kids. Not only do they enjoy running with their friends playing tag or "Fishy Fishy Cross My Ocean" or "Jackpot" (we used call it "300"), it also gets em out of their PJs and outside in the fresh air. Then when all the other kids get on the bus, our day is well and truly started... and nobody has to waste seven hours of it at school!

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fearless education

There are good things about public schools. It's great for kids of different backgrounds to be together, curriculum coordinators and adventurous teachers come up with great learning activities, and the Common Core standards have some solid ideas about helping kids really understand math. But beneath all that, there's a problem: at its heart, the whole operation is driven by fear.

The other day I was passing by the Waldorf School in Lexington around mid-morning, and I had to pause on the bike path to let a class of first- or second-graders cross from the conservation land behind the school back onto school grounds. It was a chilly day, but they were all well-bundled up and seemed happy enough to be outside enjoying the November sunshine. As I understand it, all the classes at the school spend time outside every day. That would never fly in the public school.

For one thing, the kids might get cold! Kids being cold or wet is a huge concern of public school educators in the suburbs, and most of them are quite happy to disappoint kids' hopes of playing in puddles—or even going outside at all—in order to save them from the dangers of the elements. And even teachers who think that wet feet are their own reasonable deterrent hesitate, less they incur the wrath of parents. Would most parents be particularly upset to have a kid come home still damp? I expect not; but one might be. And that's enough to shut down any puddle fun across the board, and all spring the cry of "Stay out of the puddles!" echoes across Massachusetts schoolyards.

And then of course there's the concern that, if kids are outside—even to "take regular nature walks and observe the daily and seasonal changes in the natural environment"—they'll be missing vital pedagogical opportunities. We're not going to catch up with Singapore if we're wasting time in nature! As is the case with the fear of weather, it's not clear who first decided that first grade would set the academic tone and decide if a student would be able to gain admission to a prestigious college... but now everyone seems to think that. So there are no more toys in first grade rooms, except those to use during the 20 minutes of indoor recess a day kids get when it's colder than 25 degrees or so.

As it is now, no one seems able to step back and take a deep breath and realize that, provided the right circumstances, kids really like learning.

Harvey and Taya doing math, Zion painting

school work delight

And I understand how seductive fear can be. I fall prey to it in my own teaching, and when I think about what I'd do if I were in charge of educating a whole town's worth of kids—or even a dozen at a time—I start to have "responsible" fears about how ready the average child is to make their own educational decisions. That's nonsense, just like it's nonsense to think that eight-year-olds can't be trusted to decide whether they're cold or not. As educators, our job should be to accept kids as they are, and do the best we can to make learning appealing: not forcing facts and methods into kids' heads, but creating an environment where they can explore what interests them and make their own educational path.

It's possible that doing that on a large scale would be a disaster, or even that I won't be able to manage it for our tiny farm-school co-op. But maybe it can work... and I'm not afraid to try!

Harvey and Zion shoveling compost as school work

this is school work too!

Especially when I get free farm work out of the deal!

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our fall leaves

Zion--in orange--crouching in a field of fallen leaves

he blends right in

With the warm fall this year the leaves were late to change color, and then they fell all at once. Climate change worries to one side, that was perfect for how we want to experience the fall. A few good hours of trying to catch fallen leaves on breezy days, and an easy ten minutes of raking to create a huge leaf pile.

Last year the highlight of the boys' fall was an attraction at the farmers market fall festival: a plastic kiddie pool filled with leaves, in which was hidden wonderful prizes. The prizes were so wonderful there was apparently a bit of a scuffle after we left—or some other unpleasantness, I didn't get the whole story—so this year the leaves were just for purposeless creative play. That was enough to occupy Zion and Lijah for about an hour, but Harvey wanted more: he wanted prizes! So we recreated the scene at home.

Well, almost. Though Harvey advocated for using our pool, I pointed out that we had about eight times more leaves than would ever fit—or more. So we just hid things in the pile. Besides giving the boys their own private shot at the hunt, we used our leaves for neighborhood outreach: neighbor kids one day, homeschool friends the next. Leah's big bag of plastic animals were plenty exciting as rewards, bulked out with a little extra halloween candy. Though actually, the pure thrill of the hunt may have been all the excitement they needed: witness Zion's reaction to finding an empty egg in the pile.

Zion delighted to have found an empty plastic egg in the leaf pile

exciting!

For our homeschool day Tuesday the activity was even tied to our curriculum: we also took a nature walk to collect leaves, then made rubbings and compared the shape and structure of some different specimens. And this Tuesday I'm going to have the kids spread the leaves from the pile on the garden beds for mulch. A complete fall experience.

What are you doing with your leaves?

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