Thursday, August 28, 2008

Deciding to Homeschool & starting to become an unschooling family

Ideas have been swirling in my head for a week now, I've even tried writing them down and it has been very fragmented. Piecing together our journey to where we are now educationally is hard because it was gradual and slow and often I wasn't conscious of the belief shifts that were happening. For photo entertainment in this long, wordy post I have Dinoguy & Trainboy shortly after Trainboy was born. Aren't they precious?

I think homeschooling my kids was always an option in the back of my mind, even before they were born. I remember hearing about the sexuality lessons being taught in California kindergartens in my education classes in college before I was married and thinking boundaries were being overstepped, that it was the right of parents to determine what they heard on those topics at that young age. But I also recognized the difficulty of setting arbitrary age limits and guidelines on such topics and also that morality lessons were going to happen in school simply from social interactions. At the time, the best answer to me was active parental involvement in the classroom.

Later, I remember driving home from a visit to my husband's family and discussing schooling with Fixitman. Dinoguy was just a babe, sleeping peacefully in the back seat of the car while I had an anxiety attack in the front seat about how to best educate him. I'm sure it was triggered by something, but I don't remember the trigger, I remember the discussion. I was overwhelmed by where to start and what to do. I didn't know how to go about homeschooling. I was trained as a math teacher to older kids and teenagers. I was not an elementary teacher and knew nothing of their world and that concerned me. I was viewing the idea through my lens of teacher training that defined my interactions with kids at that point. Interactions with my sweet baby did not alter my beliefs about older children, I did not know much about interacting as an adult with young kids and preferred middle school aged kids over young kids.

When Dinoguy was a few months old, I was asked to teach the five year old class at my church. I agreed to do so timidly, not sure at all what to do with five year old children. They had told me Fixitman could stay with me and help me as much as I needed so I was counting on him to know what to do. When he left after the first five minutes of class, I thought he was returning. When he didn't return, I managed to not lose it in front of the sweet group of kids and make it through the next half hour. Fixitman will tell you he was in a lot of trouble for abandoning me though and I remember crying about it on the way home.

I really had no confidence in my ability to interact with kids at this point. I did not have a strong identity as an adult, having barely left my own teenage years, and I wasn't really sure what appropriate interactions were. I may also have had from some post-partum stuff at the time, as I remember feeling horrible that I didn't know what to do with my own baby as well as my husband did.

I tell you this to try and explain my mindset as a young mother considering homeschooling and feeling no confidence in my ability to handle my own child as he grew, much less be responsible for his education. Nevertheless, here I was fretting at my husband about how I couldn't do it, though I didn't think I wanted to send him to public school.

Fixitman can be very level headed and calming and good for me in situations like this. Ultimately we decided that it wasn't a problem that needed solving right that minute, or even that week, as Dinoguy was still working on basic motor skills like sitting, and that as it got closer to the time when he would be school-age, we would figure it out.

In my student teaching I taught at a small private school and my work included one class of fourth graders as well as my normal middle school and high school classes. This was unique and different from most student teachers but worked out very well for me. I had a lot of fun playing and working with the fourth graders, though I had to do a lot of work to know what they were supposed to be learning. (And no, that wasn't given to me by my supervising teacher like it probably should have been, but lets try and stick to the slightly pertinent info instead of revisiting my student teaching in its entirety.) I gained from this experience the confidence that I could interact with younger kids without being like my vision of elementary teachers. (Who are wonderful people, but I don't have the same temperament.)

Like any first child, Dinoguy's life was full of learning experiences for me that have shaped me into a better mother and hopefully not caused too much damage. I was terrified of letting him do much at the playground and hovered constantly. I tried to maintain a spotlessly clean house and would clean up toys before he was thru with them. I wouldn't try painting with him for fear of the mess. I tried various schedules and discipline methods to shape him. I know that I need to let go of things that I now look back on and feel bad about, but it is hard. However, all of them shaped me. Interactions with other parents and their kids have taught me and shaped me. They still do. But these early learning experiences brought me more confidence in my ability to interact with my child, even some of the things that I feel badly about now.

When Dinoguy was three, I did a co-op preschool with some friends who also had three year olds. It was an awesome experience for me. We did whatever topic we wanted for the two hours the kids were over. It was a planned out play date in some ways. I would choose a topic and get library books, look up songs, games, activities, crafts and foods that related to that topic and we would play. It was so much fun and the kids loved it. As moms we thought we were getting the great deal of having some time off without our kids while they got fun time with friends, but the real gain I got from it was the confidence that I could play and interact with little kids on their level and they were learning and having fun. I loved hosting the kids at my house and planning for my turn. It was so much fun!

In my own personal education, I had finished my undergraduate and graduate school courses and just had a thesis to finish up. I had gained a lot of teaching experience with older teens and even adults and had some confidence in my abilities. I also had a large amount of skepticism about accepting things without questioning in the realm of mathematics education. I started to despise textbooks and canned curriculum, not as a torture device for students, but as a inefficient and watered down means of automating the job of teaching when it should be personalized for every student and class. I know that these experiences laid a foundation, though I didn't realize it at the time. I hadn't questioned or really considered that other aspects of education might also have serious issues like I had with math.

I also worked part time that year at two different places: a charter 6-12 school and a night school division of the local college. The difference between my classes at the two schools was striking. At some point I remember saying to myself "Education is wasted on the young." I spent the day classes feeling like a performer, trying to interest them and prove that math was useful and fun and trying to cajole them into doing their work regularly. Then I would go teach my night class and have a classroom full of people who were working full time during the day and going to school full time at night. They hung on my every word. They took copious notes, asked thoughtful questions, and tried as hard as they could to succeed in a subject that had burned them in the past. And they were paying to be there while the kids during the day got me for free. It was ironic and funny to me that society was forcing these kids to listen to me when they didn't want to and telling me to make them learn a topic that I knew was relevant and helpful to them but they were convinced was boring & hard. Then that same society made it hard for adults to obtain that same education years later when they desired and craved it. Something was wrong with this picture.

The summer we went to Wisconsin while Fixitman did an internship was the summer we "officially" jumped on the homeschool wagon. Dinoguy was 3.5 and while he still had 2 years until he would be eligible for kindergarten, he was being asked if he was going in that fall, probably due to his height. My standard response changed at some point that summer from "No, he has 2 more years before he is eligible." to "No, we are going to homeschool."

I can't pinpoint the exact thing that caused the change, but I have discussed it with Fixitman and we agree we were undecided before that summer and definitely homeschoolers after that summer. What I can tell you are about events that shaped me that summer.

First was my baby brother. He was coming out of another not great year at the elementary school (large age gap between us!) and my mom was really struggling with him and what to do. She was thinking about homeschooling him using the K-12 virtual school curriculum that next year, things were that bad. My parents are huge public school advocates, so realize that this decision was a big last resort for them. There were social issues, teacher issues, school issues... I listened and helped her as much as I could but also sat and watched and wondered if similar things could happen to my sweet baby and how it could be prevented.

Second was the new friend I made at the pool. She had young kids close in age to mine and was wearing a t-shirt from my alma mater. I was drawn to talk to her, though approaching strangers is not normal for me. We ended up having a couple play dates and talking a bunch about schooling. She was a big fan of the Thomas Jefferson education method and insisted on giving me an old copy of Oliver DeMille's book. I am already a book lover and devoured the book. It was fascinating reading and gave me tons of food for thought. She also invited me to attend a presentation she and her husband were doing on Thomas Jefferson education at the local library. The book and presentation made me hungry for more and I started talking about it all the time to Fixitman. I hadn't realized that homeschooling could be more than replicating the school environment at home. I started doing more research on homeschooling methods as a result, telling myself I would make an informed decision and pick the absolute best method for our family.

Thomas Jefferson education recommends some books for parents to read to start understanding the basic methods of discussion that are central to it and Anne of Green Gables was on the list, so I re-read the Anne series. I already loved this series and hadn't read it in a long time so it was enjoyable. This is actually the third shaping event, because when Marilla refuses to send the twins to school until they are 7, feeling they are too young and should play longer, it made me question why kids are sent off at 5 now. I had taken history of education and knew that kindergarten or "children's garden" had not started out as just another school grade, but hadn't questioned the idea that the younger we start kids on formal learning the better. Suddenly that became something to question, along with a thousand other things.

In my research into methods I found a small blurb about "delight directed learning". It was intriguing and went on my short list along with Thomas Jefferson education and the Charlotte Mason method. I couldn't find many books on delight directed learning or "unschooling" as it sometimes called, so I turned to google and found many more fascinating things to read. I read John Holt's "How Children Learn" and "How Children Fail" and was fascinated by his observations and interpretations and thoughts on things I would not have noticed. I read more books and I read more on the internet and I talked to Fixitman about it all the time. He was supportive and seemed to trust me and I kept going deeper.

I decided that while I liked Charlotte Masons' nature observation ideas, the rest of it was too structured and stressful in my opinion, not to mention changing topics all the time was one of the things I considered a weakness of school - constantly following an arbitrary schedule and forcing kids to stop learning about something they are fascinated with in the name of the Schedule - just to go on to the next class and start the cycle all over again. (No it isn't a problem solved by block scheduling either.)

So I was between Thomas Jefferson education and unschooling. Thomas Jefferson education breaks up the learning periods of a childs life in to three big parts. The first is the "Love of Learning" phase and is from birth to approximately 8 and has the goal of instilling a love of learning in children and helping them gain the basic skills, like literacy. The second is the "Learning to Learn" phase and is approximately ages 8 to 12. This is when the child is helped to learn HOW to learn like a scholar and things are modeled and done with parents. The third phase is the "Deep learning/Scholar" phase and goes until the kid goes to college or goes on for life, depending on how you look at it. The ages are approximate as each kid is independent. Fixitman and I looked at the first phase - the "Love of Learning" phase and felt that it was pretty similar in suggested style to unschooling and decided that was what we'd do for now. In other words - pick both but use one label and see how it goes.

I joined some yahoo groups to talk to other unschoolers. I subscribed to a magazine about unschooling by unschoolers. (It is defunct now.) I read. I tried to be more active and involved with my kids and activities. I started viewing things differently and trying to see things the way they did. Our approach to discipline started changing naturally as a result and we started learning more about "gentle parenting" and "respectful parenting" and that led to more books and I had more fascinating things to read.

And before I knew it, I had changed. I was miles away from that lady who had an anxiety fit over homeschooling when her child was a baby. I wasn't necessarily totally confident yet, but I was feeling good about the choices and we figured we had two years to experiment before it was "official". If I did start to fret about what would happen if they weren't thriving and if they weren't learning anything and Fixitman would say "If it isn't working out, we can always do something else" and I'd calm down.

We have been thriving as unschoolers and I don't know if we will see a need to change later. We take it one day at a time. I think this post is long enough now and I can ruminate about change and thriving and more in another post another day. First I have to go have Fixitman tell me again that we are taking things one day at a time and I don't need to stress about when Dinoguy is a teenager and how our relationship will change right now because it is over 7 years away. Bye!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Happy Not First Day of School!

Today would be the first day of kindergarten for Dinoguy if we had chosen that path. (Wasn't he a handsome baby?) I've been thinking about this "official path divergence" lately, (though we've been on our homeschooling/unschooling journey for 2 years now) and I know we've chosen the right path for our family by picking this road less traveled.

Instead of being an emotional mess about sending my kid off to spend 8 hours of his day with strangers and worrying about his physical & emotional well-being, we are excited for the museums and parks to be empty again as the school kids return to school. Instead of our daily family life being forever altered by the absence of my oldest during the daytime hours, nothing changes and life continues. Instead of introducing the idea of age segregation into his concept of appropriate friends, we continue to make and enjoy friendships with kids and adults of all ages. Instead of entrusting the bulk of his education to the state now, I retain that responsibility without fear.

I have not explained or described our journey to homeschooling and unschooling on the blog yet and think this week is an excellent time to visit that topic. So stay tuned for posts on these topics throughout the week. Today though, we will be at the Aquarium. Or maybe the Arboretum. Or we could go to the park. The possibilities are endless!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Recovery Week Fun

So how was our week spent after returning from vacation? Full of fun of course!

First we went the next morning to pick up Sarge from our friends who pet sat for us while we were gone. This was a playdate as well and we had a great time. It was clear that Sarge was well cared for while we were gone, though he seemed happy to see us as well.

The next two days are a blur of train track building, TV show catch-up, new computer games, laundry, grocery shopping, unpacking, etc. Just when I was despairing the excesses of the kids, they ended and we had an enjoyable day playing games, creating things, building things, making popsicles, (click the link!) etc.

Overall it was a relaxing week full of typical fun things. Dinoguy practiced his backwards counting and skip counting a lot when I found and hung up his number chart we made a few years ago. I was surprised at how happy he was to see it, though I probably shouldn't have been considering how fascinated he has been by numbers lately.

Yesterday was hair trimming day for the boys - Trainboy let me trim around his ears, while Dinoguy opted for short hair like his dad.

Today the boys built a beaver dam on our couch and played beavers. That was fun to watch. While I don't find our current couch super comfortable, it seems to be an excellent building couch for the kids.

Fixitman & Dinoguy with their new haircuts, all spiffied up for church. Dinoguy was very happy I finally cleaned his jacket.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The trip back home

The next day was a beautiful beach day, but we were leaving that day. I had thought we would spend the morning at the beach first but the boys were having lots of fun playing indoors and we were busy packing the truck, so it didn't happen.

At lunch we headed up to my Grandma's for a yummy lunch and visit. Fixitman found a wooden Buddha statue he liked that Grandma gave him, and she also gave us an awesome wooden chopping block she'd found at an estate sale for $1. She is an awesome bargain shopper.

We said goodbyes (I forgot to take pictures again!) and headed toward my other Grandma's where we were spending the following day. We had a wonderful visit; I got to hear some fun car stories from Grandma that I hadn't heard yet. Trainboy bonded with my Aunt's old trainset and Dinoguy played with the GI Joe dolls action figures. While there we watched Michael Phelps win his 8th gold medal too. I neglected to pull out the camera as well, so this post is pictureless. :)

We started the long drive home early the next morning to avoid traffic and had a pleasant drive home. The boys listened to a bunch of the books on tape and the day went by quickly. We got home at a decent hour and unloaded the truck before the rain started up again.

We had a lovely time, but are happy to be back home.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Crispy beach day four

Not surprisingly, Fixitman got the chills on the night of day three from his bad burn. He probably had sun sickness of some kind to go with his lobster red upper half. Unfortunately, I found that I had some burns too - the parts of my back Dinoguy had missed with sunscreen, spots on the top of my feet that must have gotten rubbed off by the sand, my scalp and such. We were a bunch of crispy people. Fishing Grandma also had burns on her back as did Aunt ET. There were lots of burnt people and yet it was such a nice beach day.

Grandpa Actuary, Banana & Fixitman went golfing with a friend for most of the day. Fixitman says it was very hot. No photos of their golfing fun. Dinoguy was okay with them going without him because we'd talked about it when they were supposed to go on day 2 but got rained out.

The boys were not burnt. And they were ready to go back to the beach for more fun! Fishing Grandma put on a t-shirt over her suit & burn and took Dinoguy to play and I followed with Trainboy, though not in a suit myself. I sat in a chair and watched Dinoguy play with grandma in the ocean, learning more about wakeboarding while Trainboy played happily in the sand.

Then he decided he wanted to go in the water and asked me "Where's your suit?" I explained that I was too burnt to go swimming but grandma could help him and with the recruitment of Aunt ET as well, the boys got to play in the water while I sat on the beach and hid from the sun, with my big floppy hat I should have been wearing before, and lots of sunscreen on all of my burning parts. You know its bad when the warmth of the sun thru your clothes still feels like fire. Ow.

Fixitman came to watch with me after golfing and was too tired and burnt to get in the water as well. Its good to have family at the beach! They play with your kids when you can't!

That evening we went to dinner at the sea food restaurant on the island and Dinoguy & Banana tried Lobster. I had delicious fresh tuna. We took a big group family photo as well, and then a few more when it wasn't perfect. It's hard to get large group photos! See how red some of us are?

For dessert we had ice cream cake for Uncle Scoutboy's birthday. Ice cream cake is just shaped ice cream, but it seems to make kids so happy. It's awesome. I forgot also to mention that the day before we'd had key lime pie for Grandpa Actuary's upcoming birthday since we were all gathered together as well. Good times.

Sunny day three at the beach

It was a beautiful, hot, sunny day at the beach when we woke up on day 3. Time to spend the whole day at the beach! First we got ready, packed up drinks and snacks, applied sunscreen, etc. Then we started migrating to the beach in sets. Dinoguy & Aunt ET & I were the first, and the others soon followed.

My mom and dad went for an early morning beach walk and she took some lovely pictures; she has always loved nature photography. When she came back she snapped these awesome pics of Trainboy that I absolutely love. His adorable, expressive face could not be any cuter.

My back had been bothering me from all the traveling and then overdoing it at the beach on day one so I was determined to take it easy today but still have fun. It was successful.

I absolutely love this photo of Dinoguy playing with his bucket in the ocean. He seemed to be exploring filling and emptying the bucket with the water, I'm not really sure. But I just love the photo.

Dinoguy had a blast with the waves, which were more normal today, not even flinching when he got tumbled over by them occasionally. He'd shake off the salt water, laugh and go for it again. I worried about him getting cold again, but it was sunnier and warmer and he seemed to notice better when he was getting cold and come out of the water for a while to warm up regularly.

Trainboy had developed a fear of the ocean taking things. He vigilantly made sure all the beach toys stayed far away from the ocean's grasp today. He played in the sand for a while at first but went down to the water with me to wash sand from our hands and I sat with him.

Then he worked up some courage a bit later and asked to be taken into the ocean to Dad. So I carried him over the waves ( he did not like salt water in his face) to his Dad, and handed him off. He immediately asked Dad to take him back to shore, and we headed back for shore, where he immediately asked to go back out to Dad. And so began his new game of in and out of the water. He built his courage up this way and eventually started staying with Fixitman out in the water for a few minutes as long as he didn't get hit in the face by a wave.

We also did some burying of feet and legs in the sand and Fixitman made a giant volcano of sand that I didn't get a photo of before Trainboy destroyed it. Trainboy built many little volcanoes after that, as well as houses for Buzz Lightyear.

Both boys would lie down at on the sand and play quietly occasionally and that is one of my favorite memories, seeing them in their own world of play at the beach.

When Fixitman joined us I asked him if he had on any sunscreen. He replied that he needed a good tan and I told him he was stupid for the first time of many times to follow as he got a pretty bad burn, even after letting me put on some sunscreen after a few hours. What I didn't realize was that having Dinoguy put the sunscreen on my back meant I was getting a nice perimeter burn around a lovely oval shape on my back. Note to self: Let him help but have someone go over it again. Ouch!

Thankfully both boys escaped anything bad. They each had a very light pink color in spots that was gone the next day so I kept them protected, did I mention how much I love their swim shirts lately? They are the best invention for swimming ever. I'm pretty sure my next swimsuit purchase, whenever that may be, will be my own swim shirt and board short type ensemble, as I really have NO desire to have a tan anyway (damaged skin is so out of style IMO) and sunscreen has so many possible faults - rubbing off like it did on my feet in spots, incorrect application, wearing out before being reapplied, smelling horrible, being icky... and yes I've tried all the types from spray on to colored lotion to sticks.

Uncle LaxCoach went and rented a ocean kayak about noon and most everyone took turns on it. I chose not to, as the idea of a hard arm workout seemed incompatible with my plan to take it easy and relax and recover. I also really had no desire to go out in it. But Dinoguy did of course! He got a short ride around in it that satisfied his desire without freaking me out too much about him being out in the deep ocean on a kayak. He's growing so fast.

Aunt Banana & Uncle LaxCoach ended up in an area with bunches of jellyfish and one baby got in the kayak and they brought it back to the beach to show us, using a bucket to keep it alive. It was neat to see up close - even closer than an aquarium. Then they took it back out to release it away from the beach, so it could have the chance to grow up into a big jellyfish. Here is Fixitman and my mom coming into shore.

When we headed back 5 hours later and put the boys in the tub to wash all the sand off them, we were tired. But we'd had a great time. We had pizza and leftovers for dinner that night I think, I love beach houses for the convenience of cooking your own food, we ate awesome all week.

Rainy day two

It started raining the evening of day one, kind of explaining the freaky calm ocean. But it didn't stop, it rained all day the next day. So we had an indoors kind of day.

I settled down with a good book on the screen porch and enjoyed myself. The view was fantastic, the sounds of the storm beautiful...the temperature perfect...I love screen porches.)

The boys played bunches of board games with their aunts and uncles, did puzzle work, etc. and we ate lots of yummy food and then that afternoon headed out to go bowling and stop by on my Grandma.

We had a lot of fun bowling, they had one of the ball slides for little people to use that the boys liked as well as bumpers that we all benefited from. There was some irony in that the rain had let up shortly after we arrived. (It was still cool out and not swimming weather though.)

Then we went to visit my Grandma and show off how much the boys had grown since last year. It was a quick visit and I didn't snap any pictures because I'm lazy. But Fixitman apparently did of the kids and I found a few on my sister's memory card from the dock.

Fixitman cooked up the meat for delicious tacos/burritos that night and we had a fun time playing games, reading books, watching the olympics and all that some more.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beach fun day one

So there are a few pictures of us playing on the beach. Or maybe a ton. With 3 cameras going, there was a lot beach fun being recorded.

Since we'd stayed up late watching the olympics the night before, we had a nice lazy start to the morning. The day started with breakfast and saying goodbye to my uncle and aunt who came up for the weekend and visited the beach house for a day. He chose to make silly faces in the photos.

Of course there was a puzzle out to work on and we all took turns. Then it was time to get ready to go to the beach! Lots of sunscreen and stuff gathering ensued.

The ocean was unusually calm that day and it was a bit cloudy. It made for a nice temperature for sitting on the shore, but a bit too cold for extended swims in the ocean. Trainboy had a lot of fun playing in the sand and took Buzz lightyear down to see the ocean. Unfortunately, the ocean claimed Buzz's wings and Trainboy was not happy we couldn't find them afterward. Fixitman built a sand mountain which Dinoguy supplied with a watery moat. Dinoguy loved playing in the ocean with aunts, uncles and grandparents, but ended up having his lips turn blue and so he & I built a sandcastle to pass time while he warmed up. When we were done and he was no longer blue as his swimshirt, he went back in the ocean and immediately turned blue again. I determined a hot bath was necessary and we headed back to the beach house. Trainboy and Fixitman and most everyone else had already gone back.

That evening the boys went with Fixitman and Grandpa Actuary to the golf driving range and Fixitman forgot to take pictures, since they were having so much fun. Aunt ET did take a few before they left - Dinoguy feels you need a polo shirt and a hat to golf, thanks to the country club. Afterward we had a delicious dinner of slow cooked bbq ribs cooked by Uncle Laxcoach, watched more olympics, worked on the puzzle, read books and played cards & other games.

I've tried to put some pictures relatively in order below that highlight our day. Enjoy!


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