homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Correlation

Or...coincidence, although that sounds too much like superstition and I'm trying really hard to avoid that. Anyway, cool...but not so much...story.

Sometime within the past two days (maybe Monday, maybe Sunday--I can't recall now), in the course of normal random conversation, Theo asked me for the "name" of the flap of cartilage in front of the ear canal. Puzzled, I said that I wasn't sure--that it most likely *has* a name, but that I didn't know it.

It's a tragus, folks. I learned this while reading up on Swimmer's Ear at 3 AM (self-diagnosing, alas).

Ah, learning when you least expect it. LOL and sigh.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Beginning. I guess.

Today is the first day of classes in our school district. The big guys are back in school. The little guys are here at home. The difference is...had I chosen to enroll him, Theodore would have started Kindergarten today.

It's a weird moment. On one hand, nothing has changed. But there's this *hole* in the expectation, if that makes sense...this sense of what could-have-been and a little twinge of nostalgia about the never-to-be "first day of school" pictures (although also a heaping helping of relief over no "first day of school" tears) and a bit of tension with me pondering anew my decisions.

Having spoken with a number of other homeschooling mothers, I'm starting to think that the occasional rethinking is pretty normal. And most of the time, it reminds me of all of the reasons WHY I wanted to try this route, and strengthens my resolve. However, just the fact that I do it at all makes me wonder if I need stronger faith (something I've always lacked in all areas of my life), and makes me feel like a waffler when I want to be more firm in my convictions. Sigh. Ah well, something to work on personally.

Anyway.

It's a "school" day. Part of me wants to do nothing at all different. Part of me wants to recognize the moment with some constructed rite of passage. Part of me feels not only external but a bit of internal pressure to "do" something tangible...to plan and structure and record our moments to justify to myself and to Others that this actually is a process and not just laziness. Part of me knows that true learning and comprehension, even when brought about by traditional means, is most often invisible and gradual and unpredictable and often indescribable. Oh, and NOT tied to a school year calendar. What is all of this stuff they've been filling their heads with up until now, if not knowledge and experience and understanding? I have always known--and want them to embrace--that education is not something that comes exclusively from approved texts, presented by trained lecturers and confirmed by standardized tests.

For those of you who hear "homeschooling" and think "flashcards"; yes, we are learning...but no, it doesn't look like that much, and no, there's no difference between yesterday and today to signify "starting" anything new. I'm still marching to an eclectic and rather free-form drummer...I'm attracted most strongly right now to Charlotte Mason (for the reading, reading, reading) and Waldorf (for the nature and cyclical rhythm) and both of those approaches will probably shape our journey for the immediate future. For my own sake, I am planning to record things a bit more frequently. For their sake, I'm still going to keep things as natural and joyful and unplanned as possible. We'll see how it goes.

The kids are still asleep (joy #1 of homeschooling!), but I think we may mark today with a trip to Holcomb's for a few basic supplies--notebooks for journaling, a basic globe for emerging discussions, etc. Then a stop at the local library, and perhaps a game of mini golf in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. Because if nothing else, the freedom to explore during those hours is one of the best gifts that home education allows us.

Happy Learning, everyone!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Some recent artwork

The kids love to do craft projects. Despite my own love of the same, I don't often sit down to "make stuff" with them, at least not outside of the kitchen. I need to commit to doing so more often. They come up with the most delightful things.

Our recent clay adventure produced:

BEADS (Theo)

and...

PORCUPINES (Cayden)

The clay has since been painted, but not photographed, alas.

I also splurged on some new watercolor supplies. (Or, as Theo requested, "the hard paints".) The materials were still rather low-quality in the grand scheme of things, but even the small step up from my frugal "here, use the back of this printer paper" typical way of doing things was amazing. Real, honest-to-goodness watercolor paper alone makes a galaxy of difference in the experience. I even got in on the fun, and truly enjoyed the tactile adventure.

Here are Theo and Taner, deep in creative mode:

And Cayden's completed "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang".

And finally, I wanted to share an older piece. This was done late this past spring...yes, on printer paper...using washable poster paints. What tickles me so very much about this one (and earned it a very long engagement on the hallway wall) is Theo's description of it.

"Storm in a Box"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is the grass any greener?

I recently asked a friend of mine who is an American living abroad to offer her perspective on the whole "culture of fear" we here seem to be mired in. Her thoughts are interesting, and I encourage you to give her blog entry a read.

I have more thoughts on the "culture of fear", to be explored in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Balance and the Culture of Fear

My watchword for personal growth and navigation lately seems to be balance, and the past few months have given me a lot to think about regarding protecting my children.

Let it be said that I recognize that there are real and tangible threats to anyone's safety. Bad things do sometimes happen to good people, often for no reason.

Let it also be said that statistically, many of these bad things are unlikely to happen.

And finally, let me preface by saying that I grew up during the age of the After-School Special. We children were constantly drilled with the idea that the world was a threatening and dangerous place. All strangers wanted to abduct and molest us, or pressure us to use illicit drugs which would instantly destroy us. All Halloween candy had the potential to contain poison or roofies or razor blades. We were taught about Stranger Danger and trained to "say no! then go! and tell!"

I don't want my kids to grow up in fear like I did. I firmly believe that despite the few bad apples, most people are basically decent and friendly folk who do not wish to cause harm. I encourage my children to get to know the adults in our community with whom we interact (librarians, cashiers and waitresses, the garbage collector, etc.) and they watch me smile and say a neighborly hello to strangers we encounter on our outings. I would much rather they learn to be outgoing and comfortable in their environment than to grow up eyeing everyone with suspicion of hostile intent. Caution is wise. Blind universal mistrust, however, can cause unnecessary negativity for everyone.

On a related note, I also wish to encourage as much independence in my children as they are prepared to and capable of and eager to handle. I scaffold, I guide, but ultimately I want them to have the confidence to do things for themselves. Isn't that part of the learning/growing/maturation process? I still shudder at the memory of a certain 10-year-old I knew who blithely stood by while his grandmother not only tied his shoes but actually put them, and his socks, on him. No way. My kids will do for themselves (as appropriate). This usually requires feeling comfortable in their environment.

So. Here are the series of events that happened in my little world.

Event A: I went for a run at our local community center, and took my 5yo and my then-12yo stepson with me. It is a small and relatively open building. I toured both children around, showing them the locations of the front desk, the youth lounge, the restrooms and water fountains, and finally the gym where they would be free to play ball while I ran. I also introduced them to the two staff members who were sitting at the front desk and made sure that the kids recognized them as Friendly and Helpful Adults. The 12yo went downstairs to play ball. The 5yo followed, but also occasionally came up to the running track (directly above the basketball courts, where I had a constant view of the kids) to happily jog after me. He did not, to my observation, disturb any other patrons.

Eventually he had to pee.

I escorted him down the short hallway to the restrooms (just to the side of the front desk). He insisted on going into the BOYS room, alone (instead of the GIRLS room with Mom). I was hesitant because of his age, but the door had been propped open and I was sure that I'd be able to hear anything. I agreed (with plenty of Mom-admonishments to Wash Your Hands...WITH SOAP) and stood by the door waiting for him. He emerged unscathed and proud, then made a request. He wanted to get a drink from the fountain and insisted that I return to my run and he would find his own way back. Well, why not. In a large, well-lit building, why wouldn't I let my son navigate a hallway All By Himself? I went back to the track, and he joined me less than a minute later.

When we were leaving the building, I was confronted by one of the staff members from the front desk, who angrily read me the riot act for letting my kids "run wild", and how he was "not a babysitter" and how I should be more careful, etc. etc. He was hostile and unfriendly and my 5yo ended up in tears, worried that he was in trouble. I left that night feeling attacked and resentful. And I spent the rest of the night questioning things and second-guessing and replaying the event. Was he just a grouchy old man who hates children? Was I (gasp!) an irresponsible mother who had put my child in danger?

Event B: A few days later, there was an incident in the municipal building across the street. This is also one of our frequent haunts, as it houses the public library. An adult man followed an (otherwise unaccompanied) 7yo boy into the public restroom in the common area of the building (just outside the main entrance to the library) and molested him.

O.M.G.

Now I was freaked out. That was OUR place. Our library! And something so awful, and so close to...well...it actually COULD have happened to us. OMG OMG OMG.

I went into Super Worry mode. Sure, I don't want my kids to fear universally. But trusting universally may not serve them any better. So how do I find that BALANCE??

I turned to a book: Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (And Parents Sane) by Gavin De Becker. Although this book is full of frightening anecdotes, its overall message is less alarmist than recommending caution and trusting one's instincts. It also provides plenty of statistics to help one sort out the likelihood of threats. (A familiar person is a more likely predator than a stranger, for example.)

I have also found a great touchstone of sanity at FreeRangeKids, a wonderful site--founded and maintained by Lenore Skenazy--which advocates for "sane parenting", including freedom for children to explore their environment responsibly. She even had a recent post about the public potty issue, with plenty of reader comments...including my own story from above.

After all of the recent soul-searching, I think I'm back where I started. Which is reassuring. Despite an Actual Event, I still believe that most people are not predatory and still believe in allowing my children as much freedom as they are prepared for, comfortable with, and as seems reasonable.

Non sequiturs

If there's one thing that a 3-year-old is good for, that's it. Little comments out of the blue, with little or no connection to anything that preceded them, and which may or may not even make sense. Some recent favorites:

"A dog has a tail and legs."

"Eating this will make my tummy pink."

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Gold Stars

I sometimes worry that the record-keeping element of homeschooling will be a real challenge for me. Yes, there's the habit aspect of it (just look at my blog--I'm not the best at maintaining a regular check-in for very long), but more than that, much of it goes so far counter to my feelings about learning (natural/organic/learner-directed) that I see it as a detraction from our journey.

Case in point: keeping a reading list. For my own reference, I love the idea. (Obviously! I even keep a widget here, to map my own explorations and perhaps spark discussion.) It gives us a visual record of the topics we've covered and the ideas we've discussed. But it can easily turn into a competition of sorts, and that turns me off. Our local library sponsors a Summer Reading Club every year. Children are encouraged to keep a log of the titles they've read (or had read to them), and they earn prizes based on the number of titles.

Um, yay?

Okay, I get that it's exciting to earn rewards, and to be recognized for your accomplishments.

But.

After a certain point, I worry that the external motivation changes the essence of experience. I am sure that for most if not all participants in such programs, reading becomes more about accumulating a high number of entries than it is about gaining knowledge, enjoying entertainment, or otherwise doing it for its own merit. I flash back to memories of "reading marathons" in my own grade school days and becoming disillusioned because while I worked diligently through chapter books, other classmates would rack up a long list of Easy Readers and Little Golden Books (a title is a title, after all) and win Fabulous Prizes. Not only was it "not fair" in the sense that I'd put more time and effort into my reading, but it was ultimately "not fair" in that the focus had shifted from What I'm Doing to Why I'm Doing It. The reward had become the Prize, not the Book.

Yes, I realize that many situations in life require us to show the self-discipline to perform a task not for our own fulfillment but to satisfy the goals or gain the approval of others. In that respect, this is probably very good (and relatively benign) training for the Adult World. But the Adult World will suck the fun out of learning soon enough. Can't we just enjoy it for its own sake without worrying about justifying it to outsiders...just for a little while longer?

Even if something such as a reading list is not part of a group event but is only for the year-end portfolio, I still worry that we will become so focused on recording things that we will not have the freedom for unstructured exploration, free of expectation. Learning (at least at this age) comes so naturally that I often do not even consider an event worth recording until I see it defined and justified on someone else's portfolio or website. ("Wow, we introduced concepts of clasification and spatial relationships. Golly, and I thought we were just *playing*...")

It discourages me that I'll sometimes pause in the middle of something that we're doing and try to think of ways to spin the experience into something that sounds like a plausible Lesson, so I can justify our activites (to myself or others) as worthwhile. It's a necessary evil that I will have to defend what we're doing. That doesn't make me any more comfortable with the notion.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A shift of perspective

Probably the biggest paradigm shift I've experienced lately speaks directly to my parenting style. I have spent years in full-immersion attachment parenting, to the point where accusations of "enmeshment" are definitely accurate. Now, I'm not going to debate whether there is One Superior Way to parent, because if I have learned anything from parenting more than one child it is that you often cannot even reliably use one approach for all parties within one family. So please don't read this and feel judged or attacked, or proselytized to. I'm just documenting my experience.

That said...yes, I was enmeshed with the kids. And things were working out fine, thanks. BUT. I started seeing some disturbing trends. An often panicked dependence on me by my eldest. Irritability on my own part. And a general sense of "it feels like I should be doing things this way...so why aren't we happy?".

After much, MUCH soul-searching (which sidelined into the inevitable questioning of my commitment to, reasons for, and preparation for, homeschooling), I have made a slight yet siginificantly world-changing adjustment to my parenting approach and expectations. The best way to describe it is to say that I have changed from "child led" to "child aware".

Many detractors of unschooling or attachment parenting often argue about "who's in control", and speaking from experience I can attest that focusing on honoring the child can indeed sometimes lead to situations where indeed one party feels dominated by the demands or needs of the other. It's no fun. And not just for the parent, either, which may come as a bit of a surprise. Any unbalance in the family affects everyone negatively. It took some stepping back for me to remind myself that the world does not need to be made of extremes. As with everything else, my ultimate goal is to strive for balance.

The difference? When I thought "child led", I had a tendency to think, "Do what they want/need at all costs." When I think "child aware", I consider their needs/abilities/desires/emotions, but ultimately make objective decisions based on not only their input but what is good/healthy/possible/desirable for all parties involved.

It wasn't the end of the world. I am learning how to set and enforce boundaries without guilt. They are learning how to take "no" for an answer gracefully. I am feeling far less overwhelmed and tense than I had in previous years. What a difference!! I'm still a relaxed parent compared to the standards of many I know...but I no longer feel as though I'm lax. We are all thriving.

(Insert sigh of relief here.)

Epiphanies and Apostasies

So, what have you been up to lately? :)

The "apostasy" part is a bit hyperbolic, I suppose, but I love the sound of the words, the juxtaposition of the ideas, and the fact that yet again I've appropriated the words of Neil Peart. (This was a chapter title from his book "The Masked Rider".)

What I do mean to say, as I recommit myself to blogging (yes, AGAIN), is that my life over the past few months has been filled with a great deal of introspection, self-assessment, and a deep philosophical questioning of many of my evolving values, ideas, beliefs, and plans.

Perhaps that's part of the nature of being a Thinking Parent...always questioning what "right" is, and how to best proceed toward that goal.

Perhaps I'm just incurably neurotic. (Ha! Perhaps?)

At any rate, I'm back. I recently noted in a Facebook exchange that I have a lifelong tendency to collect, and then never actually USE, journals. It has been true in my academic and personal life. I have two baby books full of blanks. I have a number of diaries with only a handful of entries. And I have a blog full of more apologies for not writing than actual writing.

Well, hold on. I have a lot of things on my mind. I'm about to start full-force rambling. Please do feel free to comment; much of this is intended to foster discussion!

Here we go...