Thursday, September 27, 2007

Life is a Miracle!

Life is a Miracle!
This is a direct quote from my beloved son. He said it as he was bounding and balancing his way to the park yesterday. “Don’t ya think, mom?” Well, yes, I do think that. And, being able to spend time with my kids each day seems pretty miraculous as well. Our new rhythm, homeschooling and all, means everyday is once again, filled with children. It means most of the time, happy kid noises are around me all day long, and some of the time not-so happy kid noises, too.
Everyone keeps asking, “How’s homeschooling?” Or, those that don’t know us and see us out and about say, “How’s school?” or “What grade are you in?” The kids seem bashful about this question, afraid or shy of saying, “We homeschool.” I realized a couple weeks ago, I was a feeling a bit the same. Maybe every newcomer to homeschooling feels this way. We ran into one of Gus’ former teacher’s husband in the store yesterday, and he asked one of those questions, and Gus said, “We homeschool, and it’s not very much fun.” EEEEk. That wasn’t something I wanted to hear, and yet, I wasn’t very surprised, especially since the guy was his handwork teacher’s husband and he really liked her a lot. So, rather than letting my doubts creep in this time, I just asked him on the way home what would make it more fun. He wants me to tell stories. I can do that! I told him that it wouldn’t always be as fun as school was for him, but that in some ways it would be more fun, and it is good if we can talk about it when it isn’t fun. Of course, school wasn’t always fun either. I reminded him of that yesterday, too.
So, how is school?
Well, I seem to have been gearing up for this journey for many years now. What, with my wild ride through a Danish alternative school system, and my job at The Little School in Bellevue, a fair amount of information about alternative education has come my way. Then there are all of the books that I have also been reading since the time of Gus’ gestation. There is something about the way the writers talk about how children learn better, the best, actually, when they are the ones steering the educational boat. In particular, John Holt’s ideas strike harmonic chords with me. So, previously, my thoughts about our family’s homeschooling experience is that it would be what John called ‘unschooling.’ Unschooling is not the same as non-schooling. In his book Teach Your Own, John Holt describes unschooling thus:
“This is also known as interest-driven, child-led, natural, organic, eclectic, or self-directed learning. Lately, the term “unschooling” has come to be associated with the type of homeschooling that doesn’t use a fixed curriculum. When pressed, I define unschooling as allowing children as much freedom to learn in the world as their parents can comfortably bear. The advantage of this method is that it doesn’t require you, the parent, to become someone else, i.e., a professional teacher pouring knowledge into child-vessels on a planned basis. Instead you live and learn together, pursuing questions and interests as they arise and using conventional schooling on an “on-demand” basis, if at all.”

I don’t know what I thought it would look like in practice, but I certainly believe that if it is possible to be with my children in such a way that we are all able to live and learn together, to stay curious, experience joy, and retain playfulness for as long as we can, I would like to do that.
The children, at this point, desire a lot of structure. Duh. I mean, of course I know that, and yet, it always seems to sort of wap me in the nose when I forget about it. I like the Waldorf word ‘rhythm’ for the kind of structure that children thrive on. It makes life seem more like a dance than a military drill.
Our rhythm looks like this these days:
Waking up—usually I wake up before the kids, but sometimes, Gus is already awake and reading in his bed (I think he's finished all of the Calvin and Hobbes books and is now just reading whatever book is on the top of the pile by his bed.)
When everyone (except Dad) is awake, we come together in the living room to greet each other and the day. Sometimes we sing a song, sometimes we do yoga, sometimes we recognize the four directions, light a candle and set our intention for the day. This is stuff I was doing by myself, but they were interested and so, I started including them. We usually leave the candle lit, and it reminds of our intentions.
Breakfast—One of the children helps me make each meal. If someone else really wants to help, I usually try to find something for him or her to do. This is working much more smoothly now that we’ve worked it out so each kid helps with a particular meal for a whole week at a time.
After Breakfast—We clean up the kitchen and Gus plays his violin. Violin and cello lessons are all going really well now that the kids have each been playing daily at a time of their choosing, but at the same time each day.
Journal Time—This is something that I learned in Steve’s class at The Little School. Everyone has a journal, and each day, they can draw whatever they want. The only rule is it has to be interesting to them. In this way they are learning to write, and also to read their own writing, since at the end of each journal time, they read it to me. Ella is just beginning to write and read. Gus is working on his lower case letters. Lucy is trying out writing, especially because she wants to keep up with everyone else.
Outside time—If we don’t have anywhere to go in the afternoon, we go outside after journals and either ride bikes or swing or go for a hike. Today, Ella and Gus were headed for ‘Fairy Ring Island’, which seems to be downhill and off the coast of Greasy Creek, to make a clubhouse. We haven’t planted a fall garden because of the water issue, but we did spread some worm castings on one of the beds the other day, in way of gardening. After our walks we do plant and animal identification.
Lunch—I need to figure out a way to get in more picnics before the glory of early fall is gone.
Afternoon—Gus plays his cello. The girls do puzzles or play a game, or work on a math project. Last week we had a bean jar and guessed how many beans, then measured, poured, counted some more…Someone recently gave us a math workbook, which has some material that is appropriate for each of the kids. Gus really enjoyed the story problems. I also got some cool books written by Mitsumasa Anno at the library that have interesting math games, puzzles and ways of presenting mathematical concepts. Usually this time is sort of a free flowing time, where each kid works on something different. I think next week I will start telling stories after Gus plays. There is almost always more outside time in the afternoon. On Mondays, Gus has cello lessons. On Tuesdays, we are busy in town all day with ballet and violin, and on Wednesdays, there is a group of other homeschoolers who meet at a park in town. The girls play their violins in the afternoon, so none of us get to tired to do it!
Dinner--Gus helped to make a really nice soup the other night. It's soup weather yahoo!
Evening—we have returned to the lovely fall habit of handwork after dinner. Yay! Ella has been needle felting, Lucy, too. Gus is working on a knit beanbag. I am making a sweater, and Robert is constructing an enormous paper castle. I have also been trying to play at least one instrument every day. (Mom has to practice, too!) I often play after dinner. It feels so good to do that.

So, that’s how homeschooling is. I get to the end of everyday pretty exhaustified. I would like to answer more of the questions in the ‘big book of questions’ which keeps getting filled. I am grateful to have the resources of many friends who have done this before, and have given me their old materials and advice. If I get stuck, I can look in one of many (MANY) books and find some new ways of approaching things. I am also grateful that Robert is around and supportive and interested in making this happen, too. Life is a miracle.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Another day....

Well, that was actually yesterday, Wednesday, and today is another day. My ankle is turning lots of pretty colors now, and after making dinner and pretending that nothing was wrong because I didn't want to be in bed all day again, it's pretty dang swollen. However, we have had a nice day, which included a rare event, a MOVIE! For those of you who haven't seen it, 'Miss Potter' is really lovely. I think I have been enchanted by Beatrix Potter's watercolors since first seeing them as a kid, and fell in love with them again, when our Doula, Kelley, and her family gave us a set of 12 when Gus was born. I still remember his tiny face looking so intelligent as he really listened to us read The Tale of Peter Rabbit the night after he was born. The children have all agreed that a weekly (at least) art time outside would be just the thing to help us all be a bit more like Beatrix. A lot of the movie was over their heads, especially all of the social nicety stuff, but they did enjoy the art.
Seeing the film made me wish Ella and I had adventured to the Lake District whilst in England. Alas, we did not, but here are a few gratuitous English Countryside shots to tide me over until I Flickr the rest of my photos:

not so back in the saddle....

So, today, the second day of school for all the other Philomathians, (Philomathematics? Philomathematicians?) of school age, I had a day out with some other home schoolers planned. It is a bit odd to have that first day come and go, and our friends in the neighborhood gone. They will get over the first week of school and be able to play next week, but for now, everyone is occupied during the day and too beat after school to be a good playmate. We were munching down the last bit of scrambled eggs with herbs, and out the door, nearly on time, with a snack, lunch, and water to boot, headed toward the farmer’s market then a hike on Bald Hill with these friends we always see at the co-op and say “Let’s get together!” But, it was not meant to be, apparently, because here I sit, since just about that time, in bed with my ankle wrapped up and the edamame on it. (they were older and more expendable than the peas.) A sprained ankle! After I howled in pain and probably really freaked the kids out, Robert was fetched and doctored me right up with arnica and an ace bandage and the ice pack, and sent me to bed.
I don’t think being on my bum in bed really suits me. However much I sometimes fantasize about lollygagging about in bed all day, not having to attend to all my mama duties, and the other stuff of life, well, it really sort of sucks! I didn’t actually stay in bed all day, but enough of it so that I am already sick of it. I thought, gee, maybe I’ll get some of that knitting done. I only have about 10 projects started. I think I knit 4 rows of the stripy sweater. My knitting baskets (3!) are all in a big ugly mess next to the bed, looking like a cat had a party.
The kids seemed to get over the surprise of me being hurt fairly quickly and moved on to wondering what to do, since our plan had been foiled. I suggested going outside to enjoy this splendid September weather. It was, of course, one of the best weather days of recent memory. Gus and Ella went off and built some kind of structure by the enormous vertical root system of the big fir that went over last December. I haven’t been down to see it yet. It’s one of the first things on my list when I can walk a little more smoothly.
Luckily, Lucy was having a hard time finding something to amuse herself with today. She came in after a short while, and I helped her do the knitting mushroom. She, too, was bored with knitting quickly. So, she went to check out our newly acquired stack of flash cards. She seems to enjoy figuring out what you’re ‘sposed to do’ with them, even if much of it is over her head. She brought in the telling time flash cards and we had a bit of a time learning about telling time. We moved out to the table, and she brought some phonics cards. Going along with the theory of letting kids come to reading and writing when they are ready, we haven’t done too much alphabet stuff with Lucy. She does seem to know all of the letters, and most of the lower case as well. She was cruising right along and then she came to this card with a picture of a BUG and a BUS on it and it had ‘Uu’ at the top. She looked at me, confused and said, ‘Mama, can Bus start with a U?” Then I explained that it was about the middle sound ‘uh’ instead of the first sound. I said, “There are other words like that, too, like: Gus, and what’s that called that we eat in between breakfast and supper?” Lucy: “NOODLES!” Ha! That’s when I called her a noodle head and she got mad at me for calling names. I guess I have to work on my social skills a bit.