homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas Spirit

One of the many things to which I devote entirely too much time overanalyzing is Santa Claus. I'm torn on the whole thing. I hate the deception, but treasure the magic. I love dialing up the ReindeerCam and squealing when the BigMan turns up to put on a show, but I hate the inherent threat (Santa doesn't watch my kids sleep or weigh their merit based on a behavior evaluation before determining whether they deserve the earned reward of love). I'm conflicted, and more than a decade into this parenting gig, I still haven't really developed a policy with which I'm completely comfortable.

But we do Santa, in some custom form. And part of my Santa policy with them is that Santa gets them items from their wish list that I have either said no to, or seem unlikely to buy. That's what makes Santa awesome. He overrides disappointment and lets them dream beyond the practical. Or something like that. If Mom says no, ask Santa!

T has been pining hard for the Eleventh Doctor's sonic screwdriver. Obsessing. Talking nonstop. So of course, Santa bought it for him and plans for it to be his spotlight gift (the Most Wanted, not necessarily the Most Expensive) and Mom has been waging a frown-and-sigh campaign of "I don't know honey, it's so expensive...". (which it isn't, but so far he's only quietly raised an eyebrow. I keep thinking he's on the cusp of deciding to not play the game...and being wrong.)

Then last night C pulled me aside and said that he wants to get it for T for Christmas. My initial reaction was resistance. This will throw Santa's plan out of whack--with the spotlight gift out of the way, there are no real contenders among the supporting Santa gifts to be that "WOW" moment first thing on Christmas morning. I brushed him off with a comment about "expensive" (Seriously, I'm cheap and my kids have learned that quoting prices is my go-to shutdown for any conversation.) He countered that he will give me the money he has saved and pay back the rest in installments each allowance day.

And then I stopped and really thought about what was going on here.

It has always been important to me to model GIVING at Christmas. Instead of just throwing the kids' names on gifts for other family members, I involve them in the shopping process and often let them choose things on their own. They have learned from many years of watching both their father and me crafting, that making a gift for a loved one entails a special value just in the doing. And I plan to eventually wrap up these half-assed Santa years by explaining the Man in Red as an extension of the joy of giving, as the anonymity allows you to focus on the receiver, not the giver.

And my son wants more than anything to give his brother this year's Golden Ticket. The Red Ryder of Christmas wishes. THE. GIFT.

That's the best gift I've received this holiday season. I doubt anything will top it.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

You don't say...

My blog is not a place for airing dirty laundry. But bear with me; this isn't a complaint about my husband. It's a commentary about school, and another facet of the "why" behind our homeschooling adventure.

My beloved is a computer professional, and as such he periodically attends seminars and training courses to keep his skills up to date. He's been at training this week. Every evening, he has been increasingly foul-tempered. Initially, he was just tired/grumpy, but things got worse as the week progressed. He became clumsy. Snappish. Bitter. Short-tempered. Unfocused. And finally, he threw a real live tantrum. Then as he apologized/explained, he was sullen.

The boy is NOT happy.

When I pressed him for a reason for his Jekyll-and-Hyde behavior, he complained about the class. He said that it is boring, and the presenter is not engaging. That there aren't enough breaks. That he's tired from all of the reading, but mostly all of the sitting. That if he were at his regular job, he'd be able to "get up and walk around as needed" but that he was stiff and tired and unable to focus. By tonight (Thursday), he admitted to wanting to call off sick tomorrow to avoid the final class.

And I listened without comparison, but OH MY GOD PEOPLE, do *you* see the parallel?

Do you see that we expect this of children--little children, and getting younger every year--every day, for 180 days a year, for 13 or more years of their lives? That we're cutting recess for energy-driven 7-year-olds and cutting physical education for hormone-flooded 17-year-olds, and expecting them to endure what even 47-year-olds can't do without complaint?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Oh, my heart

On a recent bookstore trip (alone, huzzah!) I made an impulse purchase: a kids' journal, with themes and writing prompts on each page. T is a very reluctant writer, but on his own he enthusiastically produces lists. An entire section of this journal is for list-making; so I figured that this would appeal to what he already enjoys and perhaps encourage further practice. Plus, I *loved* fill-in journals at that age.

I bought two, because I didn't want C to feel left out.

This morning, I found C at the table, working hard on a very long paragraph. Before he caught my gaze and quickly hid it from prying eyes, I saw:

MI BEST FRIEND IS MI BRUTHER T...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

In which I gain a little humility

So, earlier this week I had had one of *those* days. You know the kind; just nonstop and energy-draining. It happens. It happens with kids a lot. As usual, the fallout was that I crashed with J at bedtime, and left the mountain of dishes until the morning.

When I awoke the next morning to finish dealing with the previous day's mess before the current one's took over, I shuffled out to the kitchen and it was worse. To wit, someone had removed the drain plugs from both sides of the double sink and then rinsed rice into the drains (lovely). Also, ALL of the remaining clean dishtowels were in a sopping pile on the counter. "SEVEN?" I muttered not-under-my-breath. "SEVEN!?!" Not only did I have a slightly more messy kitchen to contend with, but now I was out of frickin' dishtowels.

I considered just lighting a match and walking away.

Okay, not really. But I was grouchy.

Because I figured that the TeenBoy (16yo stepson) had done some middle of the night kitchen-destroying. Or my husband had inexplicably felt the need to use up seven dishtowels before he left for work that morning. I don't know. I was just slamming around with my woe-is-Mom little stormcloud over my head and thinking bitter, self-pitying thoughts about the Inconsiderate People with whom I share space.

A little while later, while I was sulking and avoiding the kitchen, C woke up. He woke up happy. He came out, all smiles, and said, "Did you see what I did, Mom?"

He went on to explain that since I was so tired the night before, he thought he'd surprise me by scrubbing the crock from the slow cooker. Which he had. By hand. And it was sparkling and perfect.

And then [twist knife] he said, "I'm sorry I used so many towels. I spilled some water."

And I felt, oh, about this high.

Although truth be told, my heart kinda felt this big. Because my kid...my unintentionally messy kid...is so loving and kind.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Test Results

Because we homeschool in Pennsylvania and T was the age of a typical third-grader this past academic year, I had to administer a standard achievement test and submit the results as part of our portfolio for the school district.

Because he is in a class of one, this was our first test of any kind. Tests are typically used to assess comprehension and mastery. If you have a class of one and are not sure whether a subject has been covered throroughly or whether your student grasps the concept, there is something drastically wrong.

Because a big part of my decision to homeschool has to do with being in-tune with the individual and remaining mindful/aware of my children's developmental readiness to handle/perform various tasks, we are following a delayed academic plan. In other words, I'm not concerned with whether they are learning in parallel with their age-peers, just with whether they are making healthy progress.

In other words, we did the test because we had to. And although I was curious (and a bit nervous) about the results, I am not putting undue weight on them. I am aware of what we've covered and what remains to be covered. I know what he "gets". I know what he still needs help with.

But we did the test. And today we received the results.

And he asked to see them.

I was concerned about that. I don't want him to tie his self-worth to a score (like, ahem, his mother did and took decades to let go of). I didn't want learning to become performance-driven, and I didn't want him to be discouraged.

But he wanted to know. So I opened the envelope and we reviewed the results together.

As I knew before we started the test, and as I confirmed during the testing, he was all over the map. Some areas, he was well above average. Some areas, we hadn't covered at all and he guessed with confidence but kind of bombed anyway. The overall score was a nice solid "average".

I couched the results in protective, explanatory language. "Remember, this is the part I said not to worry about because we never did that..."

Didn't matter.

Because my son? My beautiful, joyful, innocent, enthusiastic, well-adjusted, confident son...cheered. And did a happy little dance. And with sparkling eyes, announced, "I did GREAT, Mom!!"

Yes. Yes, you did.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A quick rant about semantics

We have a toddler again. We often watch toddler programming on television. Even on PBS, there are commercials for ABCMouse.com, many of which include wording to set up the product pitch along the theme of "my child didn't like learning". Or the flip side of the sentiment, "Now he loves learning!"

Every time I hear this, I want to rip my hair out and throw it at the screen. (But I don't, because that would  be certifiably insane.)

I can't think of anyone, of any age, who doesn't like learning.

I can think of plenty of people who don't enjoy/do well with/pursue academics or pedantic/forced instruction and related practice.

And if you don't know the difference, well, anything else I could say on the subject is not for you, because you will not get it.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Done

Today I declared an end to the worksheets and the beginning of a summer break: a time when after a year of increasing paranoia and stress and second-guessing about the volume, nature, and quality of our learning, I force myself to just stop and take a deep breath and regroup.

I want to apologize for neglecting my blog, and also pile on the excuses for why that happened.

I want to do a recap of our school year, and muse on what worked and what didn't.

I want to try to catch up on EVERYTHING that has been going on around here: learning-stuff and just-living-stuff, and everything that I had Deep Thoughts about but didn't get around to exploring over the past few months.

I want to make a set of resolutions for what I plan to do in the near, and extended, future.

But see, that's just the point. Right now I don't need any of that. Right now I need to simply put those last few worksheets into the binder, print out my cover letter, and wait for the test results so I can send the whole shebang off to the school district. And then I need to just Walk. Away.

Do none of that.

Have no agenda.

And stop giving a damn about whoever might be judging me/us for it.

We've earned a break. Now if I can just make myself RELAX during it, I will win.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Baby Who

Five things which suggest that my toddler may be a Time Lord:

1. He has an affinity for robot dogs.
2. He's rarely called by his given name, but most often by an accepted generic appellation: (The Doctor/ The Baby).
3. He loves bananas.
4. He's usually either inside of, headed for, or talking about his box. (Mind you, J's is a sandbox...)
5. When he sees something new, unusual, or especially dangerous, his instinct is to run toward it. Gleefully.


* * * * *
ETA: Ha. And given that my baby-making days are behind me for good, I guess he is also the last of his kind. ;)

Friday, April 12, 2013

In Which I Remember That I Have a Blog

...a poor, lonely, tragically neglected blog.

Eh, so goes life. I am busy to distraction with the kids and frustrated that 90% of the comments section is filled with spam ads for the Fleshlight (seriously? What keyword did I unwittingly drop to target myself for that?) and also, I am mostly just tired. So tired.

Toddlers at nearly-40 are way more exhausting than toddlers at barely-30, yinz guys. When I do get a "free" moment, I usually spend it doing something totally selfish like cooking a meal, trying to stave off the world-devouring clutter, frantically scrambling to cram some data into the heads of my older children, or, you know, pooping alone.

How I do appreciate pooping alone!

I do have productive time; I can recognize that when I'm not complaining about the constant barrage of conflicting demands on my time/attention. True, even my mentally-drafted essays about Big Issues I'm Thinking About don't get fully fleshed out these days (SQUIRREL!) because the rapid-fire nature of my life at the moment doesn't really nurture focus (OMG I literally just had to stop typing to acknowledge the book that J shoved into my face--and I blanked out on the name for polar bear) but there are things that are getting done nevertheless. I've been knitting, which makes me happy, and despite my spotty record with formal lesson-planning, the big boys are learning all sorts of things. And no one is dead or even badly injured, which shows that I am at least doing that much adequately.

Also, I cannot concentrate on reading anymore and have pretty much stopped doing so for my own amusement. I tried to read Game of Thrones but couldn't concentrate so that, alas, will be saved for another day. ;) (and as for nonfiction, just HAHAHAHAHAHA.) I have, however, grown seriously addicted to TV shows on Netflix. I've been getting such a nerdgirl fix lately with Battlestar Galactica and Fringe and Dr. Who. Downton Abbey? Torchwood? Lost Girl? Dollhouse? You're next, my friends...


So, yeah. I'm out here. I have trouble forming complete sentences and suck at time management. But we're okay. We're making it through. Maybe someday I'll tell ya all about it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Context

I don't blog more because free time is precious and there are so many other tasks clamoring for my attention. But I have a few minutes, and a need to rant.

See, for a number of reasons, I have been moving away from wholly unschooling and toward a more guided approach to quantifiable instruction. Part of me needs it, part of me hates it, and I'm conflicted. Someday perhaps I'll blog about that. But for the time being, just suffice it to say that I'm trying to organize both our plans and our natural-happenings into some sort of lesson plan structure. And it has brought me full-circle with regards to this whole homeschooling thing.

There are a big messy handful of reasons I have chosen this path, and one of the ones that I come back to over and over again is *context*. The notion that realms of information exist, and can be taught, in isolation from each other is absurd. How can you learn science without math? History without geography? And so on.

In an ideal learning journey, I think that multiple disciplines should be explored as they relate to one another. This is why unit studies appeal to me so deeply. I want a full, vivid picture of the subject, and a broad understanding of how it fits in with everything it may affect (or be affected by). I owe a great debt to my high school history professor, Art Richardson, for making us read outside our history textbook. He had us read contemporary philosophers, religious leaders, economists, and more. We hated it at first, but then...ah ha! It was like new connections started to weave through our understanding, and instead of packets of compartmentalized data, we began to build a web of knowledge. What is the point of memorizing dates? To regurgitate them correctly on a multiple-choice test and be done with it? Or to reconcile one event with other things that were happening at the same time? Can you really understand the Age of Exploration without fully considering that era's economics, religion, scientific inquiry, politics, etc?

All of this is meant to illustrate my current daily rant, which is...where do I put the "geography" materials? We pull out the atlas or the globe when we study history, but also when we learn about science (identify an animal's biome, identify examples of geological formations...) and also when we're reading literature...

It seems to me that some things can't be separated from their context. But our accepted model of education does so...and I'm left wondering why. To me, it seems inefficient at best, ineffective at worst...

Friday, January 4, 2013

Respect and Compassion

Remember how I mentioned in my last post that I've been intending to do a unit study on Benjamin Franklin ever since our September readings about the Montgolfier balloon? And how I was also trying to do a chronological American History survey...so we needed to cover the French & Indian War before we could move on and focus on the Revolution?

Well January 17th is not only Benjamin Franklin's birthday, but also KID INVENTORS' DAY, to commemorate him. Not only is this super awesome in a topical sense, but hello? C is an inventor (a big part of the reason I wanted to revisit BF--to tie the invention interest into some political history learning). YAY. So, French & Indian War be damned--we're skipping ahead!

(We'll come back to address it at some point, though. We live in a region where you can't drive more than a few miles without encountering a historical marker or park or memorial to that era. Perhaps when the weather improves. And I'll jut hope that the timeline helps them understand the sequence of events.)

Ahem.

I started gathering information on ol' Ben, and inventors, and kid inventors. A quick Google search brought up some video clips from the Ellen show, where she featured kid inventors. It sounded like a perfect supplement. I previewed the video just to see what it involved. It was predictable...a few adorable kids with sincere, hopeful delivery, showing off unusual but ultimately clever contraptions. Win!

Except that a few minutes in, all I noticed was the laughter of the studio audience.

I haven't linked the video here because I do not blame Ellen for this. It's a cultural phenomenon that has been around for far longer than her show. ("Kids Say the Darndest Things", anyone?) And despite her own stifled chuckles, they were just that: stifled. She seemed to do her very best to be a good host and interviewer and address her guests with dignity. But the peals of laughter from the audience really started to bother me. Yes, kids can be so stinkin' *cute* in their naive enthusiasm. And yes, I've also been guilty of sharing a giggle over something that my kids took deadly seriously. But I'm trying very hard to be aware of my reactions.

Because KIDS HAVE FEELINGS.

If feminism is the radical notion that women are people, how much more radical is it to extend personhood to children?
--Wendy Priesnitz
Yes, of course kids have feelings. And they have great bullshit detection systems. They may not catch on at first, but eventually they do become very savvy at identifying condescension, and they most certainly know when they're being laughed at, not laughed with. And these kids were not laughing.

Part of me wants to pose the question whether the audience would have laughed at their peers so freely. Sadly, the current trend of ultra-competitive "reality" game shows has an answer for that. True, there's something to be said for having a thick skin and not needing crowd approval. But there *should* also be something said for simple empathy and manners.

A while back, I found C in seemingly random, spontaneous tears. I finally got him to open up. He had been thinking about a family gathering that we had been at several days before. "I was telling a story," he said, "and the cousins laughed at me. They said I was so cute. I wasn't trying to be cute. I was serious!" He was utterly heartbroken. Here he was, speaking from his heart, making what he felt to be a very rational observation about the world around him, and he was met with a smug pat on the head. And laughter. He was dismissed, and diminished.

The act of sharing yourself with others is a vulnerable one. I realize that the world is not a fair, or even a kind place. But it saddens me that more of us don't make a better effort to exercise compassion and try to be kinder people. I want to show my son some video of child inventors being celebrated--not giggled at. I want him to have a chance to share without being instantly disregarded simply because of his age or experience.

I want that for all of us. :(