About Me

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Michigan, United States
a registered yoga teacher, and a Thai/Yoga Bodywork practitioner.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My favorite part of homeschooling is the talking. My kids talk to me as people--not just as my children--more than when we were separate for most of the day. This happens best when one of them is working on something alone with me. With Madelyn, that's usually cooking or doing something artsy; with Nate, it's most apt to happen in the car or when we run.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Free-time follies

This is a sample of a free-time creation (courtesy of Madelyn). She has nested her stuffed toy bat in a basket, strapped her into a baby-doll "carseat" and put a plug-in video game system/joystick in front.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

What a day's work looks like

We're descending into the holiday break.

Ancient China and Human Body (2nd unit) ended the week before Thanksgiving. Although the load is a bit lighter, there's enough to occupy us for half a day. To supplement daily work --and to add a useful skill-- the kids began typing practice. As for "what else" we do in a day...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Guest Link--The "S" word

This pulls in more data and experience than I have available (or am willing to hunt for), so here's a response about how kids-who-homeschool are socialized (or not).

Yes, My Grown Homeschooled Children Are Odd — And Yours Will Be Too!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving, Madelyn-style

We're having a light schoolwork week due to the holiday. With all this spare time, Madelyn swung into Thanksgiving early, creating this interpretation inside her Barbie play tent:

Note the chess pieces in the middle--they are the salt and pepper. The poker chips are brussel sprouts and the limp balloons are potato skins.

For the meat, she has chosen from the endangered species menu: dolphin and tiger, as well as a pink Easter chick. (She said it was because a dolphin resembles a turkey leg).

Monday, November 21, 2011

Today is our anniversary.

Madelyn's last visit to school was a year ago, on the Monday before Thanksgiving.
Our first month was pretty much a free-for-all. In January, she began math one year back--1st grade-- and she is now five math assignments away from finishing 2nd grade. That's two years of math in eleven months. She will be starting 3rd grade and finished with that before her "4th grade year" begins next fall.

Monday, November 7, 2011

History was all hands-on this week.

There's a DVD/game rental store that offers exercise DVDs for free, so I picked up Tai Chi for Beginners. We did a twenty minute sequence, and the kids liked it. Nate tends to do everything with more effort than is required, so I reminded him every few minutes to "move like you're in warm honey, not like you're in drying cement. It's not supposed to hurt."

Despite his exaggerated effort, he pronounced Tai Chi "fun." Madelyn liked it a lot too, but she said her legs were "tired" and she sat down a few times. I don't understand how a girl who runs after the dog--at top speed--for 20 minutes in the park can feel tired after some gentle swaying. Perhaps a segment on physics or behavioral psychology will explain that mystery.

Two days later we did history again, revisiting a topic from last week: Chinese writing (pictograms). I have watercolor supplies--some tapered brushes and black watercolor paint. We used thick drawing paper (not construction paper). I printed out a tutorial and they went through several sheets of paper. Nate said, "This is the most fun history ever!" (He's enthusiastic, at least).

Science was partially interactive, too. We did a digestion experiment, using a glass jar as the "stomach." The directions called for rubber gloves and goggles. Each child gathered half the ingredients for the project. I told them to wear their glasses (the ones prescribed but never worn because they "don't need them."). Nate came out with an alternative:

Ready for the lab in swim goggles and cleaning gloves

The experiment was underwhelming. It was written for a classroom, so the directions took two pages (every move described) and it was condescending. The conversation was prescribed. There's one bit about asking the class what they ate for lunch and instructions to praise the kids who name vegetables. Ew. Come on. My kids just know--by now--that we eat that way.

The experiment is just putting milk in a jar, adding some vinegar (as if one would eat salad dressing), then adding baking soda (were one to eat a biscuit with the salad).

Ooooo. Bubbles.

Then we were to add liquid antacid, which we didn't have. I used a mortar and pestle to grind up some tablets, then added water. THAT was something the kids hadn't seen before. Once we added the antacid, the fizzing gradually subsided (as it would anyway with that tiny amount of vinegar and baking soda).

We wore glasses and gloves for this? Absurd. Oh well. It made for easy science. Now I know to read ahead before getting excited about wearing safety gear.

Monday, October 31, 2011

My daughter and bats

My daughter loves bats.

She bought herself a plush bat a couple years ago and named her Black Susan. When we adopted a dog who assumed that anything on the floor was "game" for chewing, Black Susan lost a fang and got a hole torn in her head.

I was in Minnesota when this happened. Madelyn took it well, but she did let me know over the phone:
"Black Susan needs you to fix her, Mom."
"Leave her by my bedside, and I'll fix her when I get home."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Adventures in writing

Our writing practice is the most flexible subject so far.

One day they recorded sensory observations. It seems the dog "tastes" like "the couch." Based on that, I guess there's some scientific experimentation, too.

Another favorite: socks "smell like sour milk."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Alternative Ed--2nd week, October

It's the most wonderful time of the year--for me. I could sack all the holidays in favor of that handful of golden-lit days in October when the temperature hangs between 55 - 75 degrees and the trees are radiant with fiery hues. According to The Weather Channel, this week was to be That Week. So we had an alternative education week.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

October, 1st week

I found this lecture in an NPR story comment:

TED Talks: Gaming Can Make a Better World

It was not part of our curriculum, but it kept Nate's interest and tilted my perception of how "useful" video games can be. The original NPR story was about "gamers" solving a scientific problem of how proteins fold. Once they turned the problem into a game, it was solved in ten days.

Friday, September 23, 2011

3rd week -- September

We're back from a break while Mom (I) finished Thai Yoga Bodywork training in MN. Onto to China (digitally)...

This episode of Wild China started in the north, just beyond the Great Wall. In one general latitude, it's mountainous, grassy plains, freezing, and barren desert.

It introduced the silk worm and showed how processing silk is done the old way--by hand. They collect the cocoons, drop them in hot water, pull the caterpillar out and use wooden spinning wheels to make thread. I'll never take a piece of silk for granted again!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

1st week -- September

I am enthralled with our Ancient China study and have borrowed a stack of books about Ancient China's inventors/inventions and ways of life. I knew next to nothing about this country, so each new source is like opening a gift. The kids humor me, mostly, but they pick up on references, too. They watched a cartoon that spoofed the Great Wall--which they now know is in Northern China.

Today's Wild China episode was about the Himalayas and Tibet. Some things we learned:

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Last week of August, 2011

We went canoeing, launching from some friends' dock into a river and using their canoe. At first, Madelyn did not want to go; the tipsy nature of the boat made her uneasy.

As we sat, ready to launch, she was chanting, "I don't want to do this, I don't want to do this." Her dad told her that canoes are always tipsy--just don't lean way over the side.

Then we started paddling and took turns spotting dark silhouettes ahead: "Is that a log or...something else?" It was a log several times, and once, a muskrat who was swimming parallel to us. Nate was concerned about the muskrat approaching.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When Moms collapse

I was so excited about history today. I found a few stream-able videos about China on Netflix. One is called "Wild China," about the various landscapes within this vast country. It has bitter cold, desert, rain forest, grass plains. So rather than blah-blah about this with text, I would put on a video and the kids would be entralled for the 50 minutes of episode 1.

Guess we should have told Computer about our plans. Yes, I'm personalizing it with a capital letter. After the way it behaved today, I'd like to call it out by its proper name and stomp its motherboarding circuits!

Monday, August 22, 2011

So it begins

We started using our full curriculum today. The kids had continued with math and reading through summer, but today was back to the array : math, handwriting practice, science, writing, and reading.

They did well for the first day. They had all but reading done by the time we had to leave at noon.
 Nate said, "It's good to be back to school."
(See my astonished face behind him?)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Little wonders of learning

A few observations about learning without guidance:

Nate figured out a food processor attachment in 30 seconds after I had made several failed attempts, had referenced the instruction book, and had given up. It's a blade for shredding that locks onto a shaft. The attaching end is oddly shaped, designed to fit in and click onto the blade. As I murmured about "getting the instructions," I heard a "click." He was so pleased, his eyes seemed to emit their own sparkle. "I love puzzles, Mom," he said. I thanked him profusely and then made a lovely coleslaw. Later he took me into the basement to ask about the cable cords and where they go. "I hope it's okay to ask questions, Mom." 

"Always," I replied.

Madelyn was given a blank book, with a stark white cover and empty pages. She has begun writing a story, but first she decorated the cover. It's The Case of the Missing Kitty (or something like that; she is sleeping with it, or I would get it and check that title). She inscribed the inside cover with details about the illustrator, the medium used, and with a dedication to herself. She made the first page a title page. I have not steered her toward these additions. There has been no "assigning" of anything. She has observed them herself.

Last night, I read them the first few pages of a math storybook, Why Pi : How Math Applies to Everyday Life. The librarians put new books on top of shelves, and that is how I choose most of our weekly library take. This math book is such a find, and it's fascinating, combining history with math. I can't wait to read more tonight. Me, wanting to read a math book. Miraculous.

Homeschooling has been good for all of us.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Getting down to business

Driving down our old street Sunday night, en route to the store, I saw a little girl with pigtails sitting at a plastic mini-picnic table. She was selling Kool Aid for a quarter. I pulled to the curb, rummaged through my coin purse and gave the kids each a quarter: "Go buy some Kool Aid from that girl back there."

They came back with their plastic cups. By the time we reached the store, Madelyn announced that she too would like to sell Kool Aid.
It's about 94 degrees at 6 PM. It's muggy. I feel as motivated as a waterlogged sloth. After some preemptive grumbling, I said, "I don't have it in me to do this tonight, honey."

She said, "I will do it all myself!"
I am tired enough not to fight this statement. But I doubt she will.

When we find the Kool Aid aisle, we do a little on-site math about how many packets she can buy with her 1.50 bottle return slip. We talk about getting more than one flavor, for variety. She pays for her purchase. By the time we get home, it appears she has forgotten about the stand. She heads into the basement. I dissect the grocery bags and spread the contents across every open surface.

She comes upstairs with a tall plastic tote. "This can be my table," she says. She makes her sign in large block letters, coloring them orange. I find a pitcher and wash it for her (my fatigue subsiding as my chores are near an end). She learns how to fill a cup with sugar (level) and then she guesses at the water amount before I realize she's poured it in. (It was a good guess; it tasted like the right balance of flavor and sweet.)

We have a talk about where to set up: the safest area is also the least traveled. I have seen no one on our street today, but the road behind our house always has traffic. It is outside our fence, however. "Nate, can I hire you for security, to sit out there with her?" Nate shrugs and indicates "okay." They haul out her gear and set up near the fence, in the shade. I sit in the yard with a drink and a book, close enough to see and hear, but far enough to give her space.

Several cars speed past. Madelyn's one sign faces the road, so no one can see what she's selling until they're parallel to her, going 35-40 mph. I carry out more paper and her marker. She makes another sign for her table.

"How 'bout you hold up one, like the pizza guys do?" I suggest.

She does, arms straight, sign held high.

One car goes past. It comes back. A young man driving asks "How much, " and when Madelyn and Nate carry the plastic cups over to him and his girlfriend, saying "A quarter each", he gives them a dollar.

"Keep the change, for bringing them over," he says. When Madelyn turns back toward the yard, her eyes are round and she can barely hold in a smile.

A few more cars stop, and each stop yields as much tip as payment. After an hour, she has earned almost as much money as a week's allowance.

"Mom, I'm going to do this again tomorrow!" (Well, not tomorrow; maybe next weekend).

When we come inside, she gathers together her gear, counts her money, and states: "I have a business. It's a small one, but I have one. It's hot and people need a drink, and I give them one."

Madelyn's first enterprise

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why not? Here's why not...

I began to consider homeschooling after reading a book. About three years ago, the library featured one about homeschooling: Real-Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home
Each chapter was about a different version of homeschooling-- the fundamentalist Christians, of course, but also the single parent, the unschooler (the what?), a same-sex couple, a neo-hippie vegan clan, progressive academics, the non-religious. There were tips about how to get started, and “how-to” books are appealing because they give the air of trying something without having to try it. It’s a free sample for the mind.

Homeschooling had been in my peripheral for a couple reasons. I have a cousin who homeschools a large family. I wondered why someone would volunteer to do a job for free that most consider a paid profession. It’s rather like the contractor-hobbyist who learns to do wiring and plumbing and carpentry all for the benefit of his own house rather than to earn a living. Also, I had made a friend who was homeschooled, and she was different. I mean, we are all different from each other, but she had a quality of thinking-about-far-away thoughts and a quiet self-sufficiency that set her apart; also, she was sweetly innocent of the debauchery that most high school kids (or college, for late bloomers) know too well. She had helped remodel her family home, had traveled overseas, and was helping her mom care for an autistic daughter, but she had never been more than kissed, and she was in her 20s. Why do people decide to do this, and where do they begin? I checked out the library book.

Something the book did not emphasize were the cons, detrimental aspects to teaching your own kids. Or, rather, they were covered in a backhanded way, like “We had some rough patches, but it’s been totally worthwhile” or “We started homeschooling, but then stopped a while and resumed again when x-y-z happened.” Perhaps the options of homeschooling make it too flexible to argue the cons. Whatever cons the families encountered could be changed. “My kids hated Saxon math, so we started them on Mammoth Math, and they thrived” and “We were burned out so we took a break for two weeks and started fresh.” I returned the book with the conviction that if one wanted to try this venture, the only limits were those imposed by the state. Otherwise, it could be whatever you wanted it to be.

When I began seriously considering homeschooling (see “What *Really* Started it”), I went online for the cons. If there’s a shortage of opinions on the web, I hadn’t noticed. However, I could not find an article that put homeschooling in such poor light as to change my mind. At worst, the reasons were “This is going to be hard and you can’t do whatever you want anymore.”  Well, I gave up all that in the delivery room ten years ago, so try again.

There were parents who had tried it but had to stop due to financial reasons, divorce, or because of state restrictions. Most regretted having to quit. There were some parents who said, “This was a problem but it turned out to be for the best because…” and then something about a good side to what had initially seemed like trouble. No one would come out and say, “I started homeschooling and it was the stupidest thing—don’t do it ever, ever, ever.” It was more like, “We tried it but I just couldn’t make it work and we are sorry it’s not for us.”

There were articles criticizing homeschooling by professional educators. If you figure out a way to do something yourself, I expect the people who do it professionally to argue against it. However, if I'm allowed to give birth and nurture a child until five years old, what makes me suddenly inept after that age? 

I also looked up adults who had been homeschooled and could not find much about how abused and neglected they felt having been educated by the family. A lot of homeschooled people wrote about how grateful and thankful they were not to be institutionalized.

Still—it’s hard and you don’t get to do whatever you want. After homeschooling for a little over half a year, here’s my own list.

Fighting kids.
They are with each other a lot, and they bicker. One is humming while the other wants absolute silence. One is playing keep-away and the other doesn’t want to. One is taunting, the other is losing a battle with patience. A part of me says, “If they were at school, you wouldn’t have to deal with this except in the afternoon/evening.”
Time to workout.
                I am a recovering gym-rat. I used to workout most days, 90-120 minutes, for many years, and now my workouts are walking or running the dog and doing ballet and yoga exercises. My muscles are not as big, but they’re still there, strong enough, and more flexible. To my surprise, I have not ballooned up a size or two, but I still miss the gym. At home, I don’t get to tune out, surrounded by thumpy music and trashy magazines to distract myself from 45 minutes on an elliptical machine. Nor is there the camaraderie of the weight room, all of us circling each other for turns on equipment and listening to each others’ conversations. At home, I always feel I haven’t worked out hard enough, rather like the alcoholic who wonders if she’s really had enough to drink if there’s still liquid in the bottle.
                If the kids act up, it’s solely my job to deal with it. There’s no school situation to blame: it’s not the teacher, the principal, the other kids, the class size, or how the school is run. It’s my child and it’s me.  When someone gets mouthy, a part of me wishes there was a military academy in town. I’ll show you, you little…(grumble). I am also confronted by my wish for an easy life (ah, fantasy) in which I direct them once how to act and they remember forever, intuiting how to apply my lesson in all circumstances. When your kids are home with you, any gaps or flaws in your teachings will be reflected back at you, eventually. Even if I have been impeccable, the personality of that less experienced person will have to be guided. My son is moody. He has always been moody. My daughter is sloppy, trailing her wares throughout the house from the time she could grasp a toy. This is who they are and there’s no avoiding it.
Job Accommodations.
     I work part-time at about three different kinds of work. I have always worked part-time and have finally evolved my jobs into those situations and people I enjoy the most. I have to integrate my kids, though. They come with me, sometimes whining or sniping at each other, sometimes needing a good prodding just to get out the door. When I work at home, there are interruptions, or I have to make concessions with their presence or permit more TV just to keep them out of view for a couple hours.

So even as I write happy snippets and reference articles that purport this to be the most righteous path, I don’t always feel like doing it.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Going with summer weather

Our summer school work gets pushed later into each day. We are staying up until 11, 11:30, 12 midnight and sleeping until 7, 8, 9 AM (Nate set a record this week going past 9:30).

When they were babies, my kids never slept in. Their version of sleeping in was 6:30 a.m. rather than until 6 a.m.. In summers past, I would have not allowed such a deviation from the school-required schedule. It would have been too much to get them back to waking at 6:30, ready to leave by 7:45. With the bus consolidation of last year, their bus now comes at 7 a.m. (!) which means they had to be up by 6, ready to go by 6:45. We started them on drinking coffee just to get them awake for school.

Now I don't care. Do your reading at 9:45 p.m.. Fine. Go to bed at 11:30. All I ask is that you brush  you teeth and floss!

Their latest hobby is using a camera, borrowed from a friend. It takes short movies, too. So far, they "film" themselves playing Mario Bros. or take footage of May, our outdoor cat. Nate has figured out how to upload his pictures/films on his laptop. When that kid is motivated, he will learn.

Madelyn has started a "Explorers Club." One must apply for membership. I signed my name on her forms almost as often as when we refinanced our house, and then she issued me a card. Members must explore ("anything, really" she says) and make drawings or notes of what they find. We pulled up the bricks around the mailbox last night and found baby crickets.

Our neighbors have a pool, bless them, and we have been swimming almost every day this week. So there are our swimming lessons, costing only the time it took for me to do a session of Yoga Bodywork on the owner.

I tried reading The Jungle Book to them, but having discovered an anime magazine at the library--Shonun Jump-- they would rather read to themselves right now. A few weeks ago, we read Pooh Bear, but that's different. I have different voices for each character and the stories are dry and make us laugh. Jungle Book is less humorous, and less interesting, I guess. My kids love humor and watch and memorize Brian Regan clips on YouTube like it's the catechism. Nate is definitely visual and more interested in the movie version of The Jungle Book. It's hard for a bookish mom to hear, but considering how film is a medium, I'll keep my book-snob opinions to a murmur.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Slush fun

Nathan always says, "No." Unless it's plugged in or battery-run, he resists trying whatever I propose. So when I reminded him that we were going to learn how to make paper Wednesday afternoon, he moaned and fussed.

"Why didn't you WARN me?" he droned.

"I did. Many times. You tuned it out." It's a yogic practice to keep from throttling your own children on some days.

Madelyn was all for it--she'll try most anything as whatever is new intrigues her.

A few months ago, I did a Yoga Bodywork session in exchange for learning how to make paper. The client is an artist, was a museum curator and teacher, and does paper-making workshops at area colleges, art centers, etc. She has a barn studio and all the materials. She had tables set up under two trees, in the shade (because making paper in the sun dries the pulp too quickly), and she told us to come "ready to get wet" because making paper is a slushy business.

First she asked: "Who made the first paper?"

After a few guesses and a pause, Nate mumbled, "I'm lost."

Our teacher exclaimed, "You're right! It was the wasp." (Lucky mumble, Nate). She showed us an empty wasps' nest, pulling off a piece of the top layer, paper so thin you could see through it.

"You can use anything to make paper," she continued, "but it must be from a plant." Then she pointed to a bush by the house. "That's papyrus, what the Egyptians used for their paper. The Egyptians and Chinese were the first to make paper."
(We'll be doing Egypt for history in the fall and Ancient China in the spring. Perfect!)

We poured watery pulp into a frame with a screen at the bottom, lowered it into a water bath, and slooshed the pulp in the water. Pulling the frame straight up, the water drained out, and a layer of wet, even pulp remained. Carefully detaching and lifting off the frame, there lay a sheet of paper. To press out the water, we used shammies, wringing out the water repeatedly.

We cut flower petals and leaves from around the garden to add to subsequent batches, and our teacher had bins-upon-bins full of spices, glitter, grasses, dyes and dye-cuts. Nathan made a couple sheets and proceeded to pace around the yard. Madelyn made several more, doing "better than my high school kids," according to our instructor.

"If I lived here, I would make paper all the time," Madelyn said.

As we prepared to leave, Nathan thanked our host. "This was a lot more fun than I expected," he said.

Monday, June 27, 2011

There's no problem!

We started watching The Adventures of Ociee Nash (pronounced "oh-see"), a library movie. It had the trying-too-hard earnestness of a TV movie and a sentimental sweetness that made Nate squirm. It was too cute, not in a good way. After ten minutes, he whined, "This is not a good movie." Then he followed up with why:

"There's no problem! A story needs a problem and there's nothing."

The conflict was so softly peddled that you'd have to squeeze through all the lovey-sappy dialogue and utopic setting to find it. That's something we talked about months ago, for a writing assignment: every story needs character, a setting and a problem to solve. It stuck.

I let Nate retreat to his room, but Madelyn liked it so we kept on until bedtime. She doesn't mind lots of talking and meandering and a vague problem to solve. She's happy with fuzzy edges and soft lighting and blacktop paved streets in the supposed 1890s. (Shudder).

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Tao of Parenting

Last night, I intervened in a fight. Madelyn was baiting Nate about losing a race, and Nate was swallowing her line, defending himself bitterly. They had been coming home for the night, but when Madelyn got home before he did, she proclaimed that "it was a race, and I won." This had Nate in a fury.

After sending Madelyn to a bath, Nate and I talked for half an hour.

Rather, I talked, drawing out why he was so bothered by losing a contest in which he wasn't even engaged. Once I got him to see that comparing ourselves to others is a guarantee for strife, that being in a race or any contest is really about challenging yourself to work harder, not to "beat" someone else, his face lost its scowl.

Then I veered into the fact that being simply born--after generations of people--and being the result of one sperm and egg (with the potential of being a million other sperm), and being born whole and healthy is itself a miracle.

"Just your being born, and being the unique combination that you are makes you worthwhile. What you choose to do with this life is what makes you valuable. Being better than someone else doesn't make you good. You're already good. Getting whacked out about losing to someone else doesn't make you great; it proves you don't believe yourself to be any good UNLESS you beat someone."

We wound around this idea several times, until I stopped and said, "I've been talking a lot. What do you want to say?"

His brow was smooth, eye serene. "I guess...I feel different. I'm not mad anymore."

Then I woke this morning and found this article, about the Tao way in parenting.
The Enlightened Parent: Who's in charge here?
It's about being a leader by not being forceful but supporting others to lead themselves. That's the sense I have from our talk last night--that Nate felt his own greatness.

His Nate-ness.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Learning by asking

It's 8:35. School's been in session for 35 minutes. Here are the questions that come:

During math (calendar): Why does Easter fall on a different day each year?
Because it comes on the Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Why do people in Africa go naked? (Last night we watched the West African folk tale Kirikou and the Sorceress.)
 Because people decide what is acceptable in their own countries. The women in the story go topless, but their legs were always covered, did you notice? Whereas here, we show our legs but not our breasts. In other countries, women cover their faces when they go out. It all depends on what people decide is normal. Africa is not a country, you know. It's a continent full of countries.

Which is the largest continent?
Asia, then Africa, then North America, South America...

What is this lump in the dog's throat?
Probably his hyoid bone, like you have, that goes up and down when he swallows.

(Prompted by his math), How big is an ounce?
It's two tablespoons--thank you red-checkered cookbook--and also exactly one shot-glass full.

I segued into a discussion of why someone needs to know serving sizes--diabetics, for example. We talked about how foods raise your blood sugar and eating too-large servings of starches and sugars can overload the system. We talked about how some people get diabetes because of genetics and some get diabetes because of eating insulin-triggering foods for years on end and the body gets "worn out" and doesn't know how to handle the sugars. I told them how to eat (fiber, protein) and that their staying active helps the body work through whatever they eat. Now they're out on the swings. It's 9:04. 

People think children might "get behind" by being homeschooled. Bah. I defy the public school kids to learn so much in an hour.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Summer comes early

The week before I left for more Thai Yoga Bodywork training, we finished our  last science lesson before summer break (Intellego Unit Studies, The Human Body Vol 1).

They took two weeks off to accommodate my absence and my return (a couple days to unpack, re-group). Now we're in summer-mode and the only structured learning is math. They read, too--books of their choosing. The kids have been doing daily reading for a couple years, mostly to give them something to do while I cleaned houses in summer months. (Three hours of cartoons is too indulgent.)

While I was away, Nathan discovered a comic bookish cartoon: One Piece. It's in Japanese, so they have to read subtitles while watching episodes on YouTube. While at the library, Nate found a magazine of like-comics called  Shōnen manga (is a popular genre of Japanese comics, generally about action/fighting but often contains a sense of humor and strong growing friendship-bonds between the characters). The magazine has installments of "One Piece," and it was the first thing read out the weekly library haul. Although Nathan found it, Madelyn seems more enamored of it. While in the car last week, Madelyn relayed the following:

She had told a neighborhood friend about this infatuation with "One Piece" a Japanese show about pirates, and the girl told her she was "crazy" to like that "boy show." Madelyn said, "Mom, I told her I can like anything I want, and that boys can like girl stuff, too, like skirts and make-up."

She didn't say this to get my approval; she said this as a matter of fact, defending her right to like what she wants. It proves that being more on her own is better than the immersion of school and peer groups. She doesn't have to align herself with her friends for security. She is secure with us, at home, and can assert herself without fear.

Nathan celebrated a birthday and requested an unusual gift: to spend the night, by himself, with a friend who is exactly sixty years older than he. He loves her company, and she accepted the offer to take him.This is the same friend who taught him how to ante up in poker, play a version of cribbage, and introduced a kiddie-version of Scrabble (Bananagrams). In turn, he has tutored her in Pokemon and Mario Brothers online games.

Here is a lecture Rob and I watched, from TED.com:
Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong
I found it through a blog about unschooling, and it was striking to realize how we avoid being wrong or perceived by others as wrong--because being wrong is what makes humans innovate and create. Avoiding being wrong is stagnation. Take twenty minutes to watch/listen. You'll like it, (but I could be wrong).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Late Spring Shorts

In math: 

Madelyn has finished 1st grade math (in four months) and is now in 2nd grade. We started her behind on purpose since the early 2nd grade math curriculum included concepts she had not yet seen (despite having been a public school 2nd grader). Nate continues working through 3rd grade (a year back, same reason), which has included forays into geometry. He has used a protractor and compass. Rob got out his little plastic kit of tools and spent an hour explaining the hows and whys, helping Nate with his work and going off on other uses for geometry. His next unit is measurement (cm, in, lbs, oz, etc). I bought a kitchen scale in anticipation. Finally! Math I use!

In writing:

Nate completed a story: self-conceived and modified many times. He's a natural with the action and dialogue. He typed the thing himself and made several corrections over many days. I doubt he'll let anyone read it this decade, but it's saved on my hard drive, at least. Madelyn continues to tinker with her story (she likes to change the story and embellish as she goes). We don't have a typing curriculum, but finding one's way while writing is a good start. Nate is learning parts of speech because he'd rather spend ten minutes on sentence structure than five minutes creating another story.

In science:

The ear: the anatomy of it, how it works, and experiments in the sounds around us. They sat on the patio for five minutes and wrote down everything they heard. We played the Mean Kitty Song (YouTube) and stood across the room, cupping our hands around our pinnae (outer ear) to better pull in the sound waves.

In real life:

We're tending chickens and ducks for a friend. Every day we "scratch" the poultry (throw out feed), change water, scrape poop off the roosting ledges, and toss lettuce for the ducks.
One day, Nate didn't watch the yard door and most of the chickens got out. Rob and Madelyn chased chickens while Nate held the door open/closed. Madelyn loves to collect the eggs and doesn't seem phased when they are sometimes found with poop residue. We wash them off, of course, but it's good she knows that life (and food) comes from dirt and generates some filth.
Sunday afternoon, we found one of the ducks dead in the duck coop, her companion lingering over her. We believe it was the female. There have been no duck eggs this whole week. We joked that the ducks were angry that they were left behind, but it must have been an illness or age.

Things Said:

Nate will chatter away if he has an audience of one. While I weeded the garden, he told me he likes to be home because he "doesn't have much in common with kids [his] age." (This after visiting a former neighbor--a homeschooler--and finding their interests have deviated).  He also told me he wants to invent something so that blind people can see. Then he asked what I thought if he never found a job because he "doesn't know what to do." This kind of meandering conversation was a rarity when he was in school. He was gone all day, there was homework in the afternoon, and then evenings were full of soccer or neighborhood kids or maybe TV. Nate would want to talk right at bedtime (my worst time of day, patience-wise). Now he can snag a talk whenever we're alone for a moment, or in the car, or walking the dog.

Madelyn starts little phrases and keeps them circulating around our home vernacular. After watching Of Mice and Men several weeks ago, she still says, "I don't have nuthin' in my pockets, George," mimicking the dopey speech of the mentally impaired character, Lenny, who is prone to picking up dead mice and petting them in his pocket.
In the car, Rob recounted having been in a bar--as a  young man--where there was usually a fight among the drunken customers. He said many times he was asked "To got outside," which he always declined.
Madelyn chimed in with her Lenny-voice: "Do ya wan tuh go outside and see whut's in my pockets?"

Friday, April 29, 2011

Easter Ante

Of all the things I did not expect to do on Easter, we learned how to play poker. I thought it was sacrilegious, but on second thought, it's perfect. We weigh the odds and hedge our bets in spring. I planted my cold weather crops in early April and have yet to see a pea  or loose leaf lettuce spout. Maybe I should have waited, holding those seeds a little longer. No matter; I also subscribed to a food co-op, so there's a good chance I'll have local greens anyway. We put away snow blowers only to have snow last week (The last snow? Care to bet on it?). At church, we had a roomful of people, some of whom I have never seen before. Why show up only on Easter-- to make sure the message is still the same? I'll bet.

How did we go from coloring eggs to the dealing cards?

For the token system we are using to motivate the kids, we needed a currency. Poker chips seemed the best idea. Meijer doesn't sell just chips, so we bought a whole poker kit. Since our Sundays are "screen free" (no computer, gaming systems or TV), I suggested Rob teach the kids how to play. He hesitated at first, but given the choice between yard work and "card work," he chose the game.

My husband and kids sat at the table for a solid hour, dealing and laying down cards (five card draw, I think). The kids loved it: triumphing over each other--and their Dad-- with a mere handful of laminated paper. They didn't bet at all; it was just about which hand beats which, and the strategy of when to hold cards and when to go to the deck for a chance at a better hand.

They got to practice again yesterday. The kids love to go to my Thursday job because the client plays with them like no other adult. She gives them her full attention, listening to them like the most patient friend or teacher. Usually they play Monopoly or Bananagrams, but this time Nate suggested they play poker. The three of them sat around the table with chips, and she taught them how to "ante up" and "call."

Rob was working with me, so he witnessed this tutelage. He smiled and shook his head as he overheard our little card sharks celebrating their wins with whoops and yelps.

"At least they're building a skill," I said.

They have found something new to do that doesn't require electricity, it's an illustration of probability (math lesson!), and they can play with anyone able to hold a hand of cards. It's a sure thing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Some days are rough, especially with all four of us together for most hours of the day. Having Rob at home means trying to blend both our expectations for the kids. I think taking until 3 p.m. to finish math is fine; he does not. So we are trying a token system, rewarding the kids for timely work, neatly done. It sounds like school, which I don't like. However, when I am hastily handed a scribbled representation of the human eye with misspelled words (and the diagram and words were PROVIDED), that's a sure sign of getting used for my permissive personality.

Nate is thriving on this system. He loves knowing exactly what's expected.

Madelyn, with her aptitude for interpreting what it means to "finish" a job, is stumbling some. She is apt to dramatize and try to slink by with inferior work so she can do what she wants. She likes to wander away from our lesson and start talking to the dog, for instance.  How interesting that the easier child has become the harder one, in this instance.

Our history segment is wrapping up. We have come to the end of the history CD ROM (Intellego Unit Studies), and I will continue with this company come fall. We insert the disk, do some reading, watch short videos or do a  worksheet or game, and the lesson's done. The kids can find the Tigres and Euphrates on a map; they know the Game of Ur; they know the Code of Hammurabi was considerably more strict than laws are now, and they have tried Mesopotamian cookies but declined more than a bite. (They were dried and pureed figs, dates, and raisins + flour + butter, fried lightly. I found them delicious and reminiscent of Fig Newtons.)

I found picture books about the Epic of Gilgamesh, which is obviously the origin of Noah's Ark, the serpent in the garden of Eden, and every super hero since. Gilgamesh was 2/3 "god" and 1/3 "man," was unstoppable, and he STILL wanted to live forever: the first overachiever.

We will continue to work on math through the summer since we started back one grade (to cover any holes left over from public school). We'll read, of course, and take a round of swimming lessons (Pool School), but that's about it.

We have an offer from a friend to volunteer at a local store, learning about how to make change, keep the shop, wait on the public. We have to see where Rob's next job lands, but if we take her offer, it's a chance to work that most people don't get until they are sixteen.

I know the kids don't meet all Rob's expectations.  I don't know anyone--including myself--who meets all of mine. Overall, I am enjoying our homeschool experiment, sloppy work aside.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Free to just *be*

Although there's nothing revolutionary in the kids' homeschool life, I'm reading some things that are peeling back assumptions and teaching me a few lessons.

One book is The Freedom Manifesto (click for an excerpt). The author pines for pre-Puritanical, pre-capitalist days when living in community and being average would qualify one for eternal life in the hereafter. Nowadays, he says many of us subconsciously buy the line of  continuous improvement, not slacking for a moment for fear of falling behind--and so we are never satisfied, never safe. It's great for advertisers but disastrous for our mental and physical health.

He advocates giving up a lot, namely--your fear. We pander to our fears and discomfort and fail to build community and self sufficiency. The author says: simplify, and don't be modest about it. He aligns the nobility of the monastery with that of the hobo, life outside the norm, a life of freedom. I can't do his tone justice, and I detest abridged books, so I'll stop here and move to...

Free Range Kids. This woman became famous for letting her nine year old ride the New York subway, alone. She compiles a lot of statistics about how safe life really is and wraps them in a tasty layer of humor and anecdotes. I had to stop reading repeatedly just to laugh.

Parents are so over-informed (24 hour news, the web) and prepared for the worst (CSI and other horrible crime dramas) that we put our kids into paralysis.
No walking or biking anywhere because "What if...?"
No trick or treating after dark (or trick/treating PERIOD).
No letting the kids run amok through the neighborhood, monitoring themselves.
No discomfort or failure for your delicate offspring. 

I didn't realize, until the author points it out, how deeply the Adam Walsh story of 1983 and the subsequent milk carton kids had made assume the worst about...most everyone. Perpetual mental discomfort has become normal parenting. However, she points out how we take our kids into cars (accidents), let them play inside all day (house fires), and visit relatives (molestation), all of which are much more likely to result in "something bad" than if we let them play with their friends outside, unsupervised, or go to the movies with friends. Planning for the worst doesn't make the bad stop happening; it brings another kind of abduction--the abduction and squashing of a kid's chance for independence and confidence.

Reading these books concurrently has been a double loaded barrel, blasting apart fears and attachments--stuff I didn't realize I had; it's been the equivalent of a deep tissue massage for the mind, bringing flexibility where I didn't know I was tight.

Some examples of how I have faced fear, giving up (in a good way):

made bread, ate my fill, and enjoyed it ( fear of being fat),

drank wine and enjoyed it (fear of...more fat, I guess. I like wine so much I figure I'm guilty of something),

turned off all screens (DSI, computer, TV) for a whole Sunday (fear of solitude, discomfort not having pre-packaged entertainment or being in-the-know),

told the kids to go outside and not list all the things to watch out for (fear of losing control),

let my kitchen be dirty and letting the jerk of discomfort subside (fear of not being a decent housewife/human and breaking the Cleanliness Is Akin to Godliness "rule");

allowed my normal workload of life--teaching yoga, walking the dog, yard work-- account for my workout (fear of...yep, being fat, again);

let my kids occupy themselves without insisting they do something edifying (fear of raising wards-of-the-state);

forgave myself for letting the kids quit music lessons last year (fear of not enriching their lives)

took a break from judo while the kids are doing soccer and ballet (again--fear of not enriching their lives enough)

Practicing yoga is supposed to be about awareness. Reading these books has been like my first handstand: freeing and terrifying.What are you afraid of? How is it binding you?

Friday, March 25, 2011

When trying leads to liking

The movie had been by our television for three weeks.

"Let's just put it on for an hour, and if we don't like it, we'll send it back," Rob said.

In a bout of connective zeal, I had put "The Seven Samurai" in our Neflix queue. It was supposed to have something for every one of us. It was a movie that influenced George Lucas (Star Wars, for Rob and Nate), was the blueprint for many Westerns (me), and it was Japanese (Madelyn).

It was also over three hours long, made in 1954, and in subtitles. So it sat.

Then Rob made his suggestion. We put it on at 8 PM. The kids had the choice to either watch it or read in bed. Reluctantly, Nate took up a blanket, crossed his arms, and "harumphed" onto his seat. An hour, later, Madelyn had drifted off (which she does regardless of the movie, once it's past 8:30), and Nate was groggy, but we were still watching.  I didn't want to stop. It was obviously the influence for all those "get the gang together" movies, like Sneakers and Ocean's Eleven and, oh, that Bruce Willis/Ben Affleck one about saving the world from a meteor. The A-Team, my favorite show as an eight year old, was modeled after it.

Rather than a quick, rock music-themed montage or opening voice over, the samurai meet one another in scene after scene, and we get to know each character. The story unfolds rather than rushing. It gives time for the personalities to be established well before any action. It's got some swearing (not too bad, but words like "bastard" and "hell" and "ass"--enough to get Nate tittering). At least he had to keep reading to keep up. It's got a gentle love story. It has sequence after sequence of non-computer generated action. The blueprints for Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi are in this movie.

We put it in the next day and finished it, damp and drizzly day that it was. What a find!

Destiny calling

In big and small ways, we seem to be in the right places lately.

Take the Ides of March (15th)--while walking with the family, a woman pulls up and asks if we have "seen anyone walking this dog." There's a black lab wagging in her backseat. She had found him on a chain, wrapped figure-eight style around a stop sign and a street sign. He has no tags.She is taking him to the vet to be scanned for an ID chip.

A second ticks by and a dozen things flash through my mind--mostly that I had just the night prior told Rob that, after many weeks of thinking about it, reading articles and a book about it, and looking breeds up online, I feel like having a dog again, six years after Newton passed away.

I tell her that if she doesn't find his owner, to call us. The next day, she calls. We can have him for the rest of the ten day waiting period that Animal Control mandates for lost/abandoned animals. But, someone may claim him. We say, "Yes" and bring home an underfed but docile black lab.

The kids cannot believe their luck. One day we are four, the next day we are bringing home a DOG?! REALLY?!

When we visit Helen, our friend and my cleaning client, Madelyn spends the whole time with Willow, her rescued Golden Retriever. Madelyn is proving just as attentive with our new charge, throwing the tennis ball or frisbee for him in the backyard, using scoop bags to pick up his droppings, patiently walking him back and forth in front of the house to teach him to "heel." She's dutiful, that girl. Nate loves him, but Nate's more into whatever doesn't take that much work, like reclining next to the dog on the floor. Nate chose the name, however, which means baker: Baxter.

And speaking of baking, we made bread last week for history in conjunction with learning about the agricultural revolution of prehistoric humankind. It was flour and water bread, kneaded, flattened and baked. Nate declared it "the best bread" he's ever had and ate his share by dipping it in plain water and biting off the damp end. This boy would fare well in prison if this counts as good eatin'. A few days later, we made a standard loaf, as a comparison. Yeast requires a lot more waiting. Amazing what a little bacteria will make you do; it took hours between start time and the eating. Rob explained how the gas by-product of the yeast makes the air bubbles, which was hilarious to us-- yeast fart bread. Yummmmm.

In smaller ways, we were in the right places just being out and about. At the laundromat, doing all our bed comforters, I asked to watch the attendant crochet a blanket. This lead to her compliment about my kids' behavior at the laundromat and how pleased she was to "see them reading." I explained that they had to read before being allowed to play on the arcade games on site--a treat for them in this era of hand-held DS games. This lead to the homeschool revelation, which lead to her sharing about her grandchild's disability and the mother's consideration of homeschooling.

Onward to lunch at our favorite spot, where the owner asked, kindly, about whether the kids had no school today. When I confessed to homeschooling, his eyes widened and warmed. "That's just wonderful," he said. He went on to share that his daughter wants to homeschool his grandchildren someday, and he wants to help. I gestured around us, to his establishment, and said, "Bring them here. This is an education!"

Both encounters yielded compliments about the kids' behavior "compared to most." I know it doesn't matter what others think, but the public school-raised me sits a bit taller when another adult compliments my "work."
Perhaps we are adding to their confidence, too, being living examples of what is just an idea at this point in their lives.

Some days we are just in the right place.

Friday, March 18, 2011

To the city

Steering from the back of a trolley
We took an early Spring Break. It was time.

We had been working for eight weeks. For most of our week off, the kids played at home. There was a lot of Pokemon stuff and Cartoon Network. Rob was on vacation, too, so we took an overnight trip to Grand Rapids. I wanted to see the Bodies Revealed Exhibit. I had chosen our science lessons (the body) to coincide with this event.  The kids had already reviewed muscle types and the names of major muscles and bones.

Madelyn and I were riveted. Nathan and Rob were, shall we say, borderline-repulsed. They spend a lot of time looking at the floor. We girls spend a lot of time leaning into exhibit glass and hovering over the figures, pointing and comparing.

There was a planetarium, which was Nate's favorite part. Anything with a screen that big is aces for Nate. Rob found the animal exhibits the most interesting. (What--preserved animals good, but preserved humans bad?) For Madelyn, the bodies were cool, but the carousel was best.

The kids had never stayed in a hotel/motel. We lived it up and stayed at the Amway Grand Plaza, just a block away. Between down comforters, restaurants on site, a huge pool and TWO hot tubs, this was the hit of the trip. Museum lessons cannot compete with luxury. Maybe that's why so much money is poured into corporate coffers (TARP government bailouts) while school budgets are cut. Can't deny the wealthy their standard of living, can we?

Despite the decadence, it felt rather silly to be pampered. It takes an huge staff to keep up the appearance of perfection. There were parties in  the ballrooms, corporate ones by the looks of it.Watching people in their suits mingling, drinking, guffawing, and striding past with a level gazes, I wondered what real work they do.  How many people worked, figuratively, under one business person so that he/she can make decisions and connections amid glittering crystal and vast expanses? It's a small town bias, but being in a city--despite distractions galore--felt like a reality show  There was a big set with lots to see, but behind the scenes, there's a lot of emptiness. No one can be genuine or the charade falls.

I think our next overnight should be in a tent. One values tiny conveniences more when life's a little rough.

It can be any color, as long as it's pink

Monday, February 28, 2011

On the fly

I let them set the pace today.

I set the kids' books on the table  and printed a new "Chore Chart" for the fridge. They know what to do.

Madelyn needs to be nudged into action now and then ("Whatcha doin' Babe?"), but when she announced she would rather "work on her room" (a cleaning process that takes weeks and basically tidies one area while she plays in another), I shrugged, said, "OK."

Then I rolled out my yoga mat and minded my own business.

When Nathan spent more time pacing the kitchen than tackling math, I said nothing. I put out foam yoga blocks for him to use as stepping stones while he paced.

When he took his writing to the gym; when she asked to type up her story on Word, when he hauled out two weeks worth of laundry wrapped in blankets, I just nodded: Yes yes yes. Today was about trust. Trusting it will get done. Trusting in their timing.

Using a stool to hold down the paper in late winter sunshine.
I didn't let up on the load, just how it happened. They are drawing and labeling bones on a life size tracing of their own bodies. Nathan grumbled. I ignored it.

Madelyn asked for some room on the hard floor, too. I suggested she go outside. Her eyes widened: "Yeah!"

Just as long as it gets done, do it in your 'jamas, do it on the patio, put it off until 3:19 PM. If you want to do two hours worth of work in six hours, so be it. It's about disciplining oneself, which for me--today--meant disciplining myself enough to let them go.
Flexing and extending his phalanges on the kitchen floor.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Happy Japan Song

Madelyn's fascination with Japan spilled over onto her birthday.

We went to a Japanese Grill -- the four of us plus Aunt Becca and Uncle Andy. Good thing for reservations as the place was packed, turning away people at the door. We sat at the edge of a round grill while a chef clanged and slapped his way through appetizers, vegetables, fried rice, and meats. He wasn't Japanese, but Korean-born ("South Korea, so you know I'm not crazy" he added).

He doused the food in oil and lit it on fire, earning Nathan's unbroken gaze and admiration.

Madelyn was  prim, eyes wide and glistening with her internal smile.

There was no cake, but she was presented with a candle-holding ceramic Buddha and two pineapple chunks sliced to look like gondolas, shaded on the end by  paper and toothpick umbrellas. Beside each was a blood red cherry hugged by an orange slice, skewered onto a plastic sword. The staff sang "Happy Birthday" and then the "Happy Japan Song." We only know how to count to ten and the words for "left" and "right" in Japanese, so it could have been about anything. (You stupid Americans paid five dollars for this song...).

Madelyn later told Gramma the dinner "was magical." Maybe it was all that fire or maybe it was the delectable yolk sauce on the shrimp, but I think she's onto something. Now--how to work in a round grill on a future kitchen remodel...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

All that school socialization? Not so great.

The kids got two compliments within the last two days. Yesterday, while waiting outside my yoga class for five minutes, they sat and read/doodled on their DSi games. When I came out, a woman who had been sitting across from them told me how "wonderful" my children are: they sat quietly and spoke to her politely when she inquired whether school was out for the day. She told us homeschooling "is the best," and she beamed at them.

Then at Meijer, the kids returned bottles and got to keep the money. We stood at the end of the checkout, cart full and paid for. They eyed the toy and candy machines, weighing their choice of saving versus spending. When I gave a last call to "either spend some money or save it so we can go home," they both said "Save!" A woman sitting on a bench about six feet away exclaimed: "Good for you!"

Maybe it's all this being-in-the-adult world that got them going with this next topic. I'm not sure. On the drive home and in the car wash, they talked at length about how "mean" and "bratty" this-and-that kid had been in school. Nate said there were even kids who seemed glad he would be going; Madelyn talked about how she wouldn't miss this one ordering her around, that one putting her down. When I was at the dentist yesterday, the hygenist asked about our "socializing." It is assumed that being in school is the optimal place to learn how to interact with other people. Except, according it my kids, it's not. It's a place to be called names; it's a place to be isolated in a crowd; it's a place where the kid to adult ratio is such that small disagreements get ignored for the sake of moving a class along--and small disagreements turn into silent wars when left unattended.

My kids have to work on their manners and self-control--but so does every person alive. At a time when those habits are forming, they were left on their own more than not at school, a situation that doesn't exist now that's we are one on one every day. Those minor irritations are managed and smoothed over, laying groundwork for the big irritations bound to come.

How are their social skills? Getting better, now that they're not bombarded with group-think or mob-rule. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

In public

The most noteworthy event of last week was going to see Papa in the hospital, where he is rehabilitating from a stroke. We drove up with Gramma (my mom). Nate volunteered to push her in the wheelchair since long hallways and breathing difficulty (COPD) do not mesh. He leaned into it, all fifty-five pounds of him. Then those two kids of mine did something that near-astonished me. They sat in a small hospital room and occupied themselves for over an hour with one small McDonald's toy (Madelyn) and tinkering with the wheelchair (Nate).

When the boredom finally overcame them, Papa turned on the TV and treated them to half an hour of cartoons we don't get at home. Then we loaded up the wheelchair with Gramma and Papa's laundry, and Nate insisted on making the return trip, pushing all the way back to the entrance.

When we parked the chair, the security guard greeted us, then asked, "Shouldn't they be in school?" This was the first time anyone had made this remark to me. It took a beat for me to respond with "No. We homeschool."

"Really?" he replied. "You do it?"

"Yep. We do the basics of reading and math and all, but when the kids get interested in something, we can check it out. Rather than doing a unit and hoping it's interesting, we use what they like already."

He nodded, seeming to approve. I felt compelled to elaborate.

I gestured: "This one (Madelyn) knows about Vikings and Japan because those are what interest her."

Madelyn complied by echoing, "I like Viking and Japan."

Then we waved off and boarded the elevator for the parking garage. The kids had never been in a hospital until this day and it was my first experience "defending" our apparent truancy. How fitting that it was a security guard--a man of enforcement--who had to be put right about where my kids "should" be.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Temporary Neverland

In the previous post, we seemed to cram two weeks into one. Between the blizzard and the flu, now it's like we skipped a week  My work obligations dried up with the increasing snow starting Tuesday. Rob came home ill Tuesday night and set up residence on the couch. We took a snow day on Wednesday, resumed our routine on Thursday, but cancelled Thursday evening obligations as Rob was still sick. On Friday, our school and errands came to a clammy halt when I woke up with the flu. Rob went back to work; I took his spot on the couch.

I have rarely been so miserable. My kids have rarely been so happy and free. Too weak to do much, I lay around and watched that my kids have become better friends. We sat around Friday and Saturday doing little-to-nothing. Rather, they sat; I propped and slid, shivered, and draped over. Left to entertain and occupy themselves, the kids became allies, poring over their DSIs like generals over a war zone; they consulted YouTube Pokemon experts and haggled over superior nicknames for their characters. They took turns watching each others favorite cartoons. Nate helped create and play Madelyn's stuffed animal warfare game. Madelyn let Nate "beat Pokemon" on the DS for her. They offered snacks to each other.  They still bickered with the vitriol of political opponents, but then they turned and made like best chums. Ah, how common interests make fast friends: yielding to all this Pokemon nonsense gave me more hours of peace than any amount of pleading, nagging, or threatening.

They took turns nursing us, too: filling hot water bottles, making tepid tea, resisting minimally when I called out chores that had to be done. They worked together folding laundry, putting away dishes, and wiping bathroom surfaces while chattering away continually in Pokemon vernacular.

Madelyn told me last night that she wishes it were Saturday again. I narrowed my eyes, automatically flashing through that day of passing out (literally) from low blood pressure, that day of no appetite, those times of blooming aches in my joints.

That's not what she's thinking. She wants to have the run of the house again. She and Nate held dominion over that day, with Rob at work and me laid out. It was a day fit for a kid.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Late January--getting into our stride

Last week was so full, it felt like two weeks in one. Despite the extras of more-- doing a yoga demo for Constantine Middle School girls' group, bowling with friends, going out to lunch with another friend on another day, working around my doing Thai bodywork one afternoon, picking up our vacuum in Kalamazoo-- the kids got their work done.

Madelyn learned how to do reporting and composed a family newsletter. Nate had to contend with doing neat, correctly-spelled writing because I wouldn't give him a pass on the erratically-paged, semi-decipherable essay he wrote at first. He resisted; I put my head down and kept vacuuming (that's how I stay strong--by cleaning something). When a fifth grade neighbor saw Madelyn's writing project, he pronounced it, "Cool." She beamed.

For history, we watched a video about the human origins (National Geographic: The Human Family Tree). Madelyn said, "We have a HUGE family!" Some of it is a little dry and beyond their comprehension, but it's laying ground for big ideas. This is the stuff I had to wait until high school to see--if there was time and a reason to view it.

The kids are learning Judo; it  is teaching them self control and physical confidence, as well as some Japanese.  Madelyn can tick off 1 - 10 in Japanese, but still gets our address confused with our phone number (!?!?!?!?!?!)

The best --and sometimes worst-- part is being with them through every phase of every day. There are gems in the monotony, though, like when Nathan cautioned against my being anything "like a 20-ish mom who's concerned about fashion" because that's not "the kind of mom [he] wants to have." He would prefer I let him worry about what's cool.

What a relief.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Between strict and free

It seems to bite me back when I give the kids too much freedom. It goes from "freedom" to "anarchy" in one short walk in the snow.

They have a list on the fridge of what they are to do every day. I have stepped back to see how motivated they are to get through the "must-do" things. There's a lot of walking around the house, a lot of free-form conversation about whatever's interesting to them at the moment (all things Japanese and Pokemon are the phases of now).   When I rustle them up for a walk at ten a.m., only math has been done. 

Nate free associates about his friends and the ranking of these various friends in his esteem. When he arrives at the pinnacle friend, he suggests we "walk to his house"--as in TODAY. My weeks are so varied that I need to check a calendar to see what's up for each day, work-and appointment-wise. Visiting this most esteemed friend can't happen for, oh...several days. Maybe not until Saturday. This refusal puts him in a snit. 

When we get home, the snit has become a semi-rage and he's turning irrational. Then a thought dawns: he hasn't eaten yet, has he? 

I ask, and he snarls "NO!". Then he stomps to his room, shouting that he refuses to eat (!). 

This is where freedom turns sour. I mix a soy shake--lots of protein included, demand he remove the barricades, and proclaim that "I'm in charge" and that he will eat .
He is quiet. He drinks the shake, big eyes looking up at me over the blue glass rim. Within ten minutes, he's a rational person again. I explain about our calendar, reminding him that I offered over the last weekend to have over ANY friend he wanted--but he declined. 

"You can't do anything at anytime you want, Nate. That's not how the world works." You have to take your opportunities when you get them, and do your work whether you feel like it or not. 

So: one strike against unschooling and one point for domineering parenting. I heard a bit on NPR about  successful parents in limiting alcohol abuse:

"The parenting style that led to the lowest levels of problem drinking borrowed something from each of the extremes. From the strict parents: accountability and consequences for bad behavior. From the indulgent parents: warmth and support

Bahr says these parents tend to be more balanced.

In other words: tyranny leads to rebellion and laissez faire parenting leads to bad choices. You set the rules, and when they don't comply, you stick it to them. So perhaps this was a better day than it seemed.

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