About Me

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

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.