posts tagged with 'homeschooling'

happy equinox

I hear from a reader who prefers to tell me things in person rather than comment that the chrysanthemum post might have been too harsh. I hear that! It's really about my own hangups—I'm glad I'm not in charge of anyone else, so they don't have to worry about my peculiarities. Or read my blog either, for that matter! Even in their pots all the mums will look nice once they bloom, which they'll do any day now... because it's fall!

We celebrated this afternoon with a lesson on the equinox and fall harvest festivals worldwide (our school work was this afternoon, because this morning we celebrated my dad's birthday... Happy Birthday Grandpa!). And this evening we totally ignored the reality of our ever-shorter days by staying up super late hanging out with friends. All very fun, only I'm a little concerned that we won't have the energy needed to for the real fall fun tomorrow, as we take in the Bedford Day festivities. Well, we'll be doing it either way! I'll most likely write about the day's excitement... if nothing else, it's better than complaining about other people's decoration choices.

that sounds like poetry!

For our poetry unit last year we spent much of the time talking about what makes a poem a poem—which is to say, poetic language. Unlike the year before we didn't actually read that many poems, because what tends to make poems interesting to the boys—rhyme and steady rhythm—isn't worth talking much about at this point. Instead, we read well-written prose, mostly in picture books, and noticed consonance and assonance, natural word rhythms, and figurative language. And it was totally worth it because now, a couple times a week, they point out poetic moments in the books we're reading. "That sounds like poetry!" they'll say.

This evening it was a bit from Winter Holiday, by Arthur Ransome. "A few of the oaks still carried some of the dried leaves of last year, which made a noise almost like water when the wind stirred them" called out to Harvey—or Zion, I forget which. Either way, somebody liked it and pointed it out. I enjoyed some beautiful language myself in What Forest Knows, which I read to Lijah this morning: "Forest knows fruit— / berries, nuts, cones / to seed new trees / and feed forest folk / through winter." And there's lots more where that comes from.

I think it's nice to notice that there's not a binary distinction between poems and not-poems. What poets do is pay attention to the sound of words and the way they fit together—but so do all good writers. Sound matters, images matter—to me at least. And, I'm delighted to say, to my children.

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kicking off the homeschool year

Harvey holding up his

third grader

We enjoy following the Bedford Public School schedule when it suits us. The buses came for the kids this morning, so we figured we could get going too.

Zion holding up his

first grader

With two big kids to get educated we need to be more focused than ever before. In the hopes of getting off to a good start we spent the last couple weeks building systems and previewing expectations. For day one, at least, it seems to be working.

the boys working at their desk

so far so good

Of course, we're flexible too. We squeezed in the morning's work around a visit to the doctor to get physicals for the two school kids, and then in the afternoon when it warmed up we took off for the pond.

Zion and Lijah swimming in shallow water

the place to be on a hot school day

Hey, all the work was done by then anyway! All but phys-ed, that is; some vigorous swimming was just the thing after all that mental effort. (Harvey showed us all how it's done by treading water for 66 seconds!)

Harvey swimming a little ways away from the beach

3rd grade swimming

We also went to the farmers market, picked my parents up from the train station, visited a library, and went out to dinner with friends. That's a homeschool day!

We're using Jonathan Bean's wonderful book This Is My Home, This Is My School to focus our thoughts a little bit these first couple weeks. We read it twice today and thought about the roles each of characters played in the homeschooling life of their family, as we talked about what homeschooling means to us. Then Harvey and I looked at the art, and tried our hand at our own version of Jonathan Bean's messy-on-purpose ink, watercolor, and pencil art. I'm pretty happy with how mine came out... Zion liked it too, so he took a picture.

my painting of our house

truth

You can ask Harvey if you want to see his. Suffice it to say, we all agree with the sentiments. Homeschooling 2017-2018 is off to a fine start.

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when every party is a pot-luck

We celebrated Labor Day with a cookout this evening, like you do. We ended up inviting all our friends who moved to Bedford after long pre-existing friendships—which is, surprisingly, three families. It was kind of an impromptu affair, with just what food we could scrounge from the freezer or grab on a quick trip by the store, but everyone contributed and we ended up with a regular feast! I'm still recovering from over-consumption of both food and drink as I finish up the tasks of the evening. There are other areas in my life—running events at church, for instance—where even with official notice it's hard to get folks to bring something to share for a pot-luck, so it's so refreshing to be part of a community of friends where sharing food and work just comes automatically. Thanks guys, and happy Labor Day!

The party didn't go long—with the first day of school looming tomorrow everyone wanted to make sure to get home to bed at a reasonable hour—and it's just as well! We're planning on kicking off our own school year too, and despite all good intentions I find I still have a lot of planning and prep work to do. With that plus the dishes and bedtime stories and all I've currently blown past my hard make-homeschooling-successful bedtime by an hour and ten minutes and counting. Oh well, the school year is long; I'll have more chances.

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socialization again

We're getting geared up to start our homeschool school year; concurrently we're defending ourselves against critics of the practice. Well, not defending entirely, but... Yesterday morning I had a lovely conversation with a friend at church who questioned the socialization aspect of our homeschool program (it comes up a lot). She has a relative with kids in a small Christian private school, and she tells me that they haven't even heard of Oprah! Well, that is a cogent objection. I didn't think to tell her that, on the pop culture front, we're amply provided for by the weekly movie showing with Grandpa. The boys know all about movie properties I've never heard of myself. But I did mention that, never fear, they get lots of time to play with kids unlike themselves.

It's true they don't get to interact with other kids in a school setting. Our tiny homeschool group doesn't offer much in the way of social-economic-political diversity. The day camp group of 15 or so kids is limited to families who want their children going on multi-hour wilderness outings, only loosely supervised. But never fear: we have a great neighborhood for diverse social interaction! There are three families on our street with kids in early elementary school, including ours—and another couple around the corner. Playing with them our boys are exposed to a wide range of media consumption and plastic toy ownership!

And even more importantly, they get to mediate that interaction on their own. I suppose we do the occasional "play-date" with friends farther away, but for the most part when they want to play they just head out the door and look for someone to engage with. Sometimes I even kick them out! I think that's foreign to lots of school kids, especially during the school year. Besides not having a neighborhood as awesome as ours, lots of them are so exhausted by the day at school—not to mention occupied with homework and extracurriculars—that they don't have the energy to go out and just play. At best they might hop on a friend's Minecraft server for a while.

I don't mean to criticize—there's nothing wrong with any of that either. I just feel obliged to respond to the doubts of critics. And I have plenty of time to do it: both yesterday and today there were extended periods—hours!—when the boys were off somewhere playing with other kids... you know, socializing. I think they're doing alright.

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summer camp this year

the still waters of Fawn Lake reflecting trees and clouds

still waters

With so many kids around us on a school schedule, it makes sense for us to follow suit. And summer does seem special, anyway. But just not doing school doesn't make it special enough—we spend lots of time not doing school! No, to truly mark summer as distinct we need to do... summer camp.

Last time we ran a summer day camp program, back in 2015, it was fun but a little overwhelming. So this time I'm operating on kind of an invitation-only basis. That means it's only my fault if I get carried away and invite a whole lot of kids.

a crowd of kids stradling bicycles ready to ride

can I even count them all?

For our first outing, back on the last Monday in June, we biked a couple miles to Bedford's biggest pond, Fawn Lake, and hiked around it. Pausing of course to have lunch!

the kids eating lunch on the little cliff above the pond

a fine lunch view

With Leah at work I was a little worried about how Lijah would cope with the crowd—and with my divided attention—but he did fine. With plenty of good models around he sees himself at a pretty capable adventurer.

Lijah climbing up the rock

he can do it

All the kids felt capable; it was great to see them running and exploring and taking risks and communicating. My co-counselor Bridget and I did our best to give them free rein, even when they started negotiating street crossings on their own on the ride home.

kids cycling across a street on the ride home

happy campers

That's just what summer camp is for: confidence. That, and spending four hours outside on an outing and then running to play outside some more when you get home. Check and check.

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school summer

While weeks go by in a flash these days, it seems like forever ago that we started this year's "school year". Well now it's done: yesterday was the last day of school in Bedford, so we sent off this year's progress reports into the formless ether of the Bedford School System. It felt even more formless than usual this year, since I couldn't find an actual email address for the principal at the boys' putative school, so I had to use the web form. Presumably she'll get it; I don't imagine she cares very much either way. Which is fine, because neither do we. Both boys made lots of progress this year, some of which is even reflected in their school reports. You can read them for yourself if you're interested: Harvey and Zion.

I had some hopes this year of doing a mid-year report, and I'm disappointed that I didn't. Not because I feel like I should be sharing more information with the school—it's just that writing down all the things we did makes me think of even cooler things that we could have done. So a mid-year check-in would have spurred us to even greater heights! As it is, I'm starting planning work for next year right now. (OK, maybe after I sleep a little bit: I was up late last night scanning work samples.)

I don't know how different our "summer vacation" will be compared to our regular year. But it's nice to mark the end of Zion's kindergarten year and Harvey's 2nd grade, just as all their friends from the neighborhood are finishing up their school year. One big change is that all those kids now get to experience the freedom we have every day—and our boys are ready to have fun with them them! Happy summer.

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unschooling texts

So I finally pulled the trigger on the Amazon order I started back in January—I'm not good at spending money. One of the three books came today: I Learn Better By Teaching Myself, by Agnes Leistico. I'm about half way through it and I'm enjoying it for what it is, which is an early description and defense of student-led learning. It's not really telling me anything I didn't already know, but it's still nice to be reminded that other people have done homeschooling the way we're doing it. And it works! Stops me from busting out the worksheets or whatever when I start getting nervous. At 1¢ (plus $3.99 S&H) I consider it totally worth it.

Besides that and John Holt's How Children Learn, I also ordered a picture book called Frank and Lucky Get Schooled, by Lynne Rae Perkins. We got it from the library a couple weeks ago and all loved it, so it's totally worth owning. It's not a homeschooling book necessarily, but it's all about how life is full of learning opportunities—just like we unschoolers always say. It's about a boy (who goes to school, though not in the pages of the story) and his dog, and what they get up to together. All the adventures are described in terms of school subjects: math problems, science experiments, geography lessons. And it's super funny. Highly recommended by the Archibald family.

If you want to read or talk about any of these books (or any other of the thousands we own) just stop on by most any time! We're always learning around here.

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balancing

We're working on a complete remodel of our playroom/schoolroom (it's orange now, you can see here). When I look at old photos and see how long the previous arrangement held sway I'm amazed—that futon and "entertainment center" cabinet, repurposed for board game storage, weren't anything like ideal for how we use the space. The worst part was how little organized storage we had for the kids' school stuff: papers, art supplies, found treasures. Lots of good work has gotten lost and wrinkled. So I'm excited to be building new shelves and desks—desks!—where there will be a place for everything. Including our hard-working boys.

The only problem is, building custom furniture is hard and slow. And since Leah and I are mostly tag-teaming when it comes to balancing work and child-minding, when I'm deeply absorbed in wood-working the children are going unminded. Sometimes that's fine, like when they play outside happily with their friends; other times it's less fine, like when they get deeply absorbed in watching shows on the iPad. And it's always true that the longer I ignore them the rougher things start to feel.

So today, even though I had an out-of-the-ordinary Wednesday at home, I laid the tools aside to hang out a little bit. We built some with legos, read some books, played some ball tag, did some math and some drawing. Took a walk together. It wasn't all focused attention—that isn't good either. I did the regular chores of the household and put in an hour or so of work for my job. But the furniture hardly advanced at all (Lijah and I did work a teeny bit on what will soon be his desk). It's a balance. I guess there's no hurry anyway: even unfinished, the furniture is already getting lots of use.

Harvey, Zion, and Havana doing homework at the unfinished playroom desk

desk work

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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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