Monday, August 25, 2008

So, how's homeschooling going?

Although I haven't had time to do much blog posting, thanks to the contract work I have stacked up, we have had some fun and interesting times. Here's a photo essay to serve as a guide.

Here's the Lego that was stuck in the Ducklings nose for 5 days. Here's the short story. Yes, she told me there was a sparkly green Lego in her nose; yes, I looked, kind of, but didn't see anything, asked her to blow her nose a few times, and then decided she was a crazy story-teller; yes, she complained for a few days about the Lego in her nose but I thought it was sinus problems. You can see how this ends, right? Five days later, maybe four (I really wasn't paying much attention), she said the Lego was starting to come out. I took another look, this time with a flashlight, and, sure enough, a sparkly green Lego was in her nose. I tried tweezers, hoping for the best, hoping I wouldn't have to bring her to the doctor and have to say that it's been in there for four, maybe five days. No luck with the tweezers. She blew her nose a few times and out it came. I hugged her, cried, an apologized profusely for not believing her. I am officially a bad mother.

Or am I? Here's the way I'm seeing it now. Yes, there was a sparkly green Lego in her nose for five days and I didn't believe her, despite her telling me repeatedly. Let's look past that part. If I had believed her, this would have gone down a lot differently. Remember, I didn't see the Lego up there on first inspection. I don't think a light would have helped because it was up very, very high. When she said it was starting to come down, it was still up high, visible this time, but beyond the reach of my tweezers. This is an important point to note. If I had been a responsible mother and brought her to the doctor when she first told me, they would have had to perform a very invasive, uncomfortable at best, procedure to dig that Lego out from the highest peaks of her nasal chamber. That would have been extremely traumatic for her, don't you think? She might never trust me again after that!

So, you see, I spared her immense pain and trauma. I patiently waited for nature to take it's course, for her body to gently release the foreign intruder. And that's exactly what happened. I'm not a bad mother. I'm a mother with insight, patience, and a deep trust in my children and their natural abilities. See?

Here's how you'll find the Monkey these days.

Some beautiful whole wheat french rolls I made from scratch, while I patiently waited for my daughter to expel the Lego.

A caterpillar we caught in our backyard. It died, of course.

The Monkey's Lego creation that he wants me to submit to the Lego magazine. It's a bad guy command center.

Some more pics of our week...

The Duckling observing the caterpillar. This was, of course, before it died. I don't traumatize her regularly!
The Monkey and I were working on ordinal numbers, but I had to add some trickiness for him. Here are some examples. Can you follow along?

Q: If the red toad is the 1st toad and the purple toad is the last amphibian, what is in 5th place?
A: A red frog.

Q:What's first?
A: A purple frog.

Q: What position is the blue frog in?
A: 7th

This was while the Lego was in her nose. See, she's fine.

We made our family tree. The kids lost interest once it was colored and their names were put on it. The Monkey appeased me by staying but I could hear his fingers tapping.

Monday, August 18, 2008

No hot frogs here

The Monkey has been having an especially difficult time the last few weeks. He's been chewing up a storm (thank goodness for his new necklace, though we've already had to replace the tubing and I need to get some more soon), struggling with his ability to pain attention, and is generally more physically and emotionally sensitive than usual. The world is a tough place for the Monkey. Things that most would not find hurtful cause him great emotional pain, whether it is unkind words from a friend, a television commercial that is scary, or the image of a wounded animal. Some would say that his acute sense of empathy for all living things (seeing the trees get trimmed brings tears to his eyes) is a gift. Perhaps that will be true later in his life but, for now, it is a hardship.

Many well-meaning people, people who care for and love the Monkey, have suggested that he needs to build thicker skin, that it would be good for him to face the harshness of life (or school) in order to get used to it, to learn to deal with it. My instincts have repeatedly guided me away from this strategy, leading me instead to keep him close, to help him learn how to protect himself in a safe, loving environment. We trust that, as he matures, he'll have the strength to live in the big, bad world but we want his sensitivity to remain intact so that he can be a compassionate adult who has the skills to change this world, rather than accept its harshness. Some would say that we are sheltering him, but I think of it as providing a safe-haven.

I received the following e-mail last week and it reassured me about our decisions regarding the Monkey Ducks. It came at a great time, as we watch our cultural hype about "going back to school," and that small voice of doubt starts to get louder as it screams to follow the crowd. But, now I can remind myself that we don't want any hot frogs here!

THE DAILY GROOVE ~ by Scott Noelle

:: "I'm Not A Frog-Boiler!" ::

When you reject authoritarian, coercive parenting in
favor of non-punitive, pleasure-oriented parenting,
critics and naysayers will warn you that your child
won't be able to cope in the "real" world.

The assumption is that "it's a jungle out there" and
we should gradually toughen up our kids and get them
used to suffering so they won't be shocked when they
venture out into the big, bad world.

It's like that famous experiment where they tossed a
healthy frog in boiling water and it leaped right out.
But if they put the frog in cool water and raised the
temperature gradually over several days, the frog
would be able to *adjust* and stay in the water.

The slow boil seems more humane, but that
"well-adjusted" frog eventually *died* from the heat!
Whereas the non-adjusted frog's intact sensitivity
protected it from being boiled.

Today, look for evidence that your child's sensitivity
is intact (e.g., negative reactions to unwanted
conditions) and be *grateful* for it! Tell yourself,
"My child will *never* get boiled!"

Feel free to forward this message to your friends!
(Please include this paragraph and everything above.)
Copyright (c) 2008 by Scott Noelle

"Inspiration & Coaching for Progressive Parents"

1044 Water Street, Suite 342
Port Townsend, WA 98368

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympic moments

I really am working on that post about de-schooling. I've been bogged down with contract work but I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And, strangely, the end of the tunnel has a big "DE-SCHOOLING" sign. Weird. I thought that light was suppose to be, um, something a little... more.

In the meantime, here's some commentary from the Monkey Ducks about the Olympics.

While watching the women's marathon...

Duckling: They are very good at running. Look, they don't even trip!

Monkey: Wow, they've been running for 55 minutes. I bet they've run, like, a whole mile already.
(and the expression on his face was priceless when we told him they were running 26 miles.)

And, not an Olympic moment but still worth writing down...

ME: It's time for lunch guys.
Duckling: I am NOT a guy. I am a queen!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Am I An Unschooler with a Math Book? (Or, my educational philosophy)

I’ve been grappling with the labels of homeschooling. Am I an unschooler with a math workbook? Do I have to keep it hidden? Am I eclectic? Am I relaxed classical? Do we practice child-led learning? What’s the difference between homeschooling and school-at-home? Self-definition is always overwhelming, especially with so many choices. The Internet has made self-definition much more complicated than it used to be. In the end, or rather, at the beginning, I’ve realized that labels are irrelevant. What I’ve really been grappling with is my educational philosophy; identifying my reasons for homeschooling, what I hope to achieve and what path is best for us on the journey.

Unschooling has a wide range of definitions, ranging from radical unschooling to what many would describe as child-led learning. I am not a radical unschooler. I set limits for my children in areas where I think excess can be detrimental. We limit (but don’t deny) television, video games, junk food, violence, etc. I hope, though, that we educating more than we are controlling. We discuss the reasons for the limitations and that, to me, is considerably different than limits without explanation. I believe we are planting seeds and I see it come to fruition as my children choose books over television and apples over cookies (at least some of the time.)

I’m not a radical unschooler but am I an unschooler? In short, I think unschooling is following the interests and needs of the child. With that definition, I’m an unschooler… with a math book. I’m also a relaxed homeschooler with leanings toward classical education. Can I be both? There are things I want my children to learn. I want them to have a firm grasp of mathematics. I want them to understand history, and not just the short history of the United States. I want them to read quality literature for their own enjoyment and also as a model for quality writing and language. I want them to be able to think and problem-solve, to express themselves in different ways, and to form and test their own hypotheses. Above all, I want them to have a deep-routed, intrinsic love of learning that will last them a lifetime. That is a primary reason why we are homeschooling. It is also the reason we don’t school-at-home.

When many people think of homeschooling, they picture a school-at-home scenario, a day that mimics those found throughout public schools across the country, but without the peer groups, bullies and pad-lock combinations. The “schooling” is scheduled, happens within “normal” school hours (as defined by the public school system), and is, in essence, instructor driven. Perhaps the children are expected to be up by a certain time, be sitting at a desk, and following a list of assignments that will later be graded or tested upon. Or, perhaps they are learning from instructional DVDs or the Internet. I know that these methods of homeschooling work very well for a lot of families. I don’t think it is in the best interest of my children and family (but, my motto for homeschooling is, “never say never.”)

Our new “workroom” has a math curriculum (two actually), a history curriculum, science, writing, and even art. Yet I still consider us to be, in the wider definition of the term, unschoolers. I choose the curriculum we are using in partnership with my son. I talked with him about his interests, what he hoped to learn, and how he wanted to learn it. Honestly, he is an ideal candidate for “true” unschooling but I wasn’t able to keep up with the breadth and intensity of his interests. He truly is a natural learner and I wish I had the energy and resources to help him pursue each branch of his interests. I don’t see this as personal failture but as an honest appraisal of who I am and what my skills and strengths are. I don’t expect my children to be anyone other than who they are and I hope to model that by remaining true to myself. Perhaps “true” unschooling is an option we will consider together in the future (remember, never say never.)

I know I wasn’t meeting his intellectual needs and, as an unschooler at heart, it is my desire to follow the needs and interests of my children. Having more (but still not a lot of) structure in our day and having a plan to follow seems to be the best way to meet the Monkey’s intellectual interests. (For now, the Duckling is still thriving with a lot of imaginative play, art supplies, puzzles and books.) Now, when he asks me one of his 100 daily questions, I am able to answer, at least for some of them, “we’re going to cover that soon in history” (or science, math, writing, etc.). I think he likes that answer a lot more than “I don’t know.” Of course, in an ideal world, every “I don’t know” would be “I don’t know. Let’s look into that together.” For us, that only worked for the first 10 or so questions of the day and then the dishes in the sink started to smell. Of course, this will only work if the subjects we have planned are ones that he is interested in. We discussed what he wanted to learn and what I wanted him to learn, I researched, I talked with him and we made our decisions together. He said he wanted to learn grammar so I bought an excellent grammar program. Upon further discussion, I realized that he really wanted to learn about writing (punctuation, specifically) so the grammar program has been put away (I’ll write another day about my process of de-schooling myself in order to put it away!) I thought he needed phonics but he said it was boring (which makes perfect sense since he is reading proficiently.) Nothing is set in stone.

We had a trial run during the summer. We studied pre-history, from the Big Bang to the early humans. Our only goal was to get through it during the summer months. We are almost finished – just a few more library books to read and some stickers to put on a timeline we made. We didn’t do it every day. We took tangents when his interests were especially peaked (the Big Bang, the Ice Age, human evolution.) He talks often about Australopithecus and Homo Erectus. He works outside making stone tools from scraps of our concrete driveway. Early humans are the most recent dinnertime hot-topic and Lucy is talked about like an old friend (a VERY old friend.) There were no worksheets (thanks to that de-schooling I’ve been working on), no grading sheets and no set schedule. But, there was a history book, an overall plan and a library card. I expect our study of Ancient History, Life Science and even math will have that same overall approach.

I can honestly say that we wouldn’t have learned all we did if we were unschooling in the stricter definition. This wouldn’t have been because of his lack of interest or motivation, but because of my inability to follow those whims. His questions about pre-history would have been a scattering amongst the plethora of his questions. I may not have even taken notice. Instead, I choose a path that would allow me to meet his needs (or at least some of them) in a more complete way. He is very grateful and I am thrilled to have learned it along with him (did you know that if you sat down to count to a billion, it would take 95 years?!) At the end of our summer experiment, his love of learning is not only intact; it has been ignited. Is it unschooling? Well, it doesn’t really matter; it works.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

The Duckling's idea of a good time.

Playmobile Boot Camp

Back to the Barracks

Hands outstretched for lone balloon

No, I'm not worried.

Monday, August 4, 2008

One down, 6,999 to go!

That 6,999 is approximate, though I did use a calculator (for those questioning my math, that's 36 weeks X 15 years to get the Duckling through, minus one.) It makes the big assumption that I will stick with this homeschooling thing. I have signed no pledge. There is no written or oral contract. We take this day by day.

Here's day one. I was showered, dressed, and eating breakfast by 8:30 a.m., with a load of laundry in the wash (I'm not sure I can do another 2,699 days of THAT.) By 10:00 a.m., another load was in the wash, the Monkey Ducks were dressed and ready, the bathroom sink was wiped down, the kitchen cleaned up, the kitchen floor swept, and the floor mopped, which was not part of the plan. Whew! I was lucky I wasn't burned out before we started!

Here's a picture of the kids sitting down to "start." It became clear that the Duckling was expecting me to do something
homeschool-ish with her. My plan was that she was going to sit at the little worktable and play with puzzles, draw or color. Um, let's just say she wasn't up for that. She's no fool; she knows the hot action was at the big worktable.

We started with Singapore Math. We reviewed number bonds since that is a concept that is used often in Singapore and one we haven't spent time on. We used the linking cubes but they were mostly used by the Duckling as a building tool. She counted the cubes in her tower so now I can check "count to 16" off the list. Phew! That took a load off. The Monkey took a break from Singapore to build a shooter guy out of the links. There is a picture of him chewing on his necklace, made by my friend Mandy for this very purpose. The boy needs to chew and this option is so much better than his shirts, his fingers, or his sister's hair.

Math took about 20 minutes, if that. We moved into the living room and read some history. We started with First Families from the Usborne Internet Linked Encyclopedia and then finished up some library books on the Ice Age and Woolly Mammoths. We mixed in some books that the Duckling brought to us. The reading took about an hour and then the kids asked to paint. Rather than say what I was thinking, I said yes (no matter what I buy, it is still a pain in the ass to clean up the paint.) The Monkey painted a picture of a Roman soldier in a chariot being pulled by a horse. I have no idea where he got this idea from because, as I said, we are only up to early humans in our history book. The Duckling painted an abstract.

After painting we ate lunch and then learned that we're in the path of a tropical storm, potential hurricane. This isn't something I'm worried about but it seems the forces are trying to derail my efforts. A hurricane, on only the 2nd day of official homeschooling? A message, perhaps, to reconsider unschooling? Thankfully we have bottled water in the pantry and I threw some bread into the bread machine so now we have food.

After a trip to the bank, we went to the library to get Monkey his first library card. It is, after all, the first day of first grade (arbitrarily decided by me) and getting a library card is the rite of passage for this occasion. I know I totally made that up, but the Monkey thought it was very official and was THRILLED to get his card. He checked all of our books out on his card, which was a good thing since my card expired and I couldn't renew it without paying my fines.

The last pictures are from this evening. The Monkey Ducks were helping Sharyn put the outside equipment in the garage in case we get heavy winds when they found a toad. The kids were too scared to touch it, especially after seeing the large quantity of toad pee dripping down Sharyn's hand. Wimps. Okay, I was also too scared to touch it. Whatever.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Wish us luck!

We are going to officially "start" tomorrow, though I'm hoping there won't be much of a difference in our routine. Our days are naturally filled with books. The Monkey reads a lot during the day. The Duck likes looking at books and being read to. The Monkey enjoys long read-alouds at night as well as books about science and history. He has really enjoyed our work over the summer on pre-history (from the Big Bang to Early Humans). They both like to build with unit blocks and legos. The art supplies are used often and plentifully. I think if we keep doing what we've been doing, they’ll have a solid educational foundation. The rest is icing on the cake. Who doesn't like icing?

The first layer of icing is Math and the week after that we'll add Handwriting, then Writing, Science and Art. I'm hoping to add some structure to our days. Notice I didn't say schedule. I have no intention of ringing a bell to "get class started" or stop doing something we're interested in because the clock tells us our time is done. I am not designating times at all, except for the things we need to leave the house for. I am not scheduling lessons or weekly goals. You won't find a red grading pen in my house, though you will find me covered with marker and glitter at the end of the day. We'll work at whatever pace suits us, delving deeper into topics of greater interest. He is, after all, only 6. His natural love of learning leaves me with very little concern about how much he'll "achieve." Achievement isn't my goal. My goal is to nurture and feed his (and her) innate love of learning.

My plan is to be up by 8:00 a.m. (which means go to bed earlier!) and be dressed with my chores done by 10:00 a.m. (Now, that will be a BIG change for me. I'm always surprised when they run out of underwear. The structure is clearly for me.) We'll spend a few hours "homeschooling." We’ll have some time in the workroom with math and handwriting then head to the couch for reading history or science. Then, back to the workroom for whatever activities he is interested in for history of science. We'll finish by lunch so we can have an afternoon with friends, activities, and play. Of course, we'll continue to spend a lot of time reading. If we choose to go to the museum instead, then that's what we'll do. A great day for the beach? Put on the sunscreen kids! Mama has bad PMS? Bring up The Magic School Bus on the DVR.

Here's a grid I made so that I have a reminder of what I'd like to get to that day.