“Mommy, do you know how hard it is to not know who you really are yet?”
April 5th, 2010 § 1
March 11th, 2010 § 0
Alli received an optional assignment from the philosophy class she’s taking at co-op to write an essay about 5 values that she believes in. I wish I had recorded her skipping around the place, singing to herself “I get to write an essay!”. Dork.
I’ve been super-impressed with her diligence at sticking through the writing process on this one, working both on editing and revisions, taking in suggestions that Andrew and I offered, and experimenting with some new formatting in Word.
Here’s the result:
February 16th, 2010 § 0
Some of the animals we help care for at the Evanston Ecology Center:
January 31st, 2010 § 0
Holy cow, is it almost February already? I know, me beating the “where did time go?” stick is getting more than a little old. And really, I think I’ve been mainly conscious for most of January, but December – that month just eluded me this past year.
By November, it felt like Alli and I had sorted out a rhythm and a balance that was working for us both in our eclectic homeschool of interest-based studies, semi-structured home learning, and outside classes. At the end of November, we took a 2-week road trip, which was wonderful, but brought us back home and plopped us smack into the beginning of the holiday season. After living life ‘on the road’, slugging suitcases and arriving at a new destination nearly daily, just getting back into any home routine, much less schooling, was a mountainous task. At the time, I kind of threw my hands up in the air and gave December to the holiday gods, and I felt a lot of guilt over that. Looking back, though, I can see that it was nice to have that period of decompression for us both, and we did more than I gave us credit for. Lots of field trips to various performances, lots of reading, and lots of crafting, including several projects that resulted in holiday gifts for others. Alli crocheted several items on her own from start to finish, which is a major development for her (sticking with a task), including the great scarf pictured above. I even completed 3 scarves, one that had been started 3 years ago!
In early January, I started working on an electronic portfolio for this homeschool year, and doing so after the first 4 months allowed me to step back and look at at what we’ve done. I found a new sense of having made significant progress along our journey. I may share that portfolio here at some point when I’ve gotten it fully laid out and roughly up to date; we’ll see. It can be very difficult in the throws of starting homeschooling, and from the trenches of being actively involved every day to see things at the 10,000-foot level, especially on challenging days.
And here’s the point at which I confess that in a moment of doubt when January set in, I violated my own intellectual rejection of NCLB standards-based learning and succumbed to the pangs of “keeping up with the Jones'”. I started rooting around area school websites and blogs to ‘check in’ on where we were versus them. Easily comparable in math, as we (in part) share the U of C Everyday Math curriculum. And I’ll be even more embarrassingly honest – I did a little internal mental jig when I noticed that even with our December ‘break’, we were well ahead.
And then I kicked myself hard in the shin for caring, and stopped surfing. Because while I’m sure it’s perfectly normal to feel some of these things when one takes the leap to exit “the system”, when I really thought about what was important to Andrew and I about Alli’s education and this venture into home schooling, winning a race against the Jones’ was nowhere on that list.
What has been important? First and foremost, the spark of joyful learning is again visible in our child. This was absolutely the most significant goal in choosing home schooling, and I am grateful and humbled to be a part of that. I also see her really experimenting with who she is as a learner and a person, without a lot of the social and institutional pressures of school, many of which I hadn’t even noticed until they weren’t there. She seems to be on a real path to discovering and embracing who she is, and is trying a number of different hats on freely as she explores her many developing passions. I also see her making a lot of connections across her learning, synthesizing and getting real and relevant meaning from what she takes in.
I’ve been able to supplement her strong math interest and aptitude with problem-solving (in addition to the U of C Everyday Math curriculum, which suits her quite well), and have gotten her started with a hands-on algebra program that she begs to do more of daily. We started a history curriculum inspired by The Story of the World series, beginning with ancient history, and she’s currently deeply engaged in a pit-stop in early Egypt. I don’t think I had ever seen the young scientist in her prior to this experience (and am noticing first-hand how little science is emphasized in elementary schools these days), and I find myself presently focused on nurturing that both with classes and by providing her extra outlets for experimenting and observing phenomena (a new telescope received for Xmas and the recent acquisition of a used high school microscope are welcome contributors to that end). She’s also begun to be more willing to revisit her passion and talent for writing that was so dominant in her early years. She’s reading again too, the voracious sneak-reading under the covers at night by flashlight kind, and starting and finishing more books than she abandons (not something that was the case last year).
Socially, I think our efforts to jump with both feet into as much of the homeschool community as possible are paying off. I am starting to feel a sense of a ‘village’ of friendship and support around us. I no longer reach for the ‘newcomer’ tag at meetings, and Alli has become an active part of a peer group as well. She seems relaxed and open and well-received, and has been establishing friendships with a much wider range of kids than I’ve seen in the past. She seems to really thrive on having some of her learning in group settings and some of it on her own, where she is able to “focus better”, in her words.
In addition to the more tangible fruits, we’ve spent a lot of energy working on Alli’s commitment to following through on things and her willingness to take on tasks that can’t be learned or finished in 3 seconds, as well as her receptiveness to challenge (the latter is very much still a work in progress). She is exhibiting a greater sense of confidence in most things, and sensitivity-related meltdowns, while not gone, are diminishing in number and duration.
So what’s on the plate for the rest of the year? Well, I’ve leaned a little more heavily to Alli’s desire for getting involved in more activities than a human being really should, and we’re continuing most of the classes and activities she was in during the fall, with a few additions.
Here’s our current weekly away-from-home class/activity list:
- Religious Education class
(I co-teach; this year’s curriculum is Earth-centered, with a mixture of science and Native American spirituality/mythology)
- Trivia Mania class
(researching non-fiction texts and designing a trivia-based board game)
- Art History class
(studying various artists and producing pieces inspired by their style for a ‘gallery showing’)
- Piano lesson
- Critter Crew
(alternate Tuesdays: volunteer – caring for/feeding animals at our local ecology center)
- Homeschool Science Class
- Modern Dance class
- Drama class
- Homeschool Open Gym
- Gifted homeschool group Co-op
- Alli takes: Animal Ethology, Hip Hop Dance, Spanish, and Philosophy
- I co-teach Hands on Algebra and assist in US Constitution, Arabic, and Photography
- Evanston Children’s Choir
- Swim lessons
Also on the radar:
We’re trying to see if we can fit in a guitar class that we can take together, and soccer will be starting in another month or so, overlapping with softball by late spring. I would love to find an additional volunteer situation for us to do together, and am in the middle of setting up an African drumming/culture workshop. Am also looking into some kids’ science lab courses offered by Northwestern University. There’s a major Illinois homeschooling conference coming up in the spring too, where we’ll spend a few days.
The rest of the time (insert chuckle here) I juggle to fit in our learning at home, ad-hoc workshops of interest, playdates and field trips – while continuing to squeeze in the work required for my part-time job which I’m still holding onto (the income allows us to afford all of these wonderful classes). I’d personally prefer more time for unstructured, interdisciplinary learning and projects, but I have come to understand that that’s not where Alli’s head is at just yet. So I’m hoping that after trying a bit of the many things that are available to us, we’ll be well-positioned to be even more selective in where we commit our time.
And where am I in all of this? Well, exhausted on many days, if I’m honest. I’m still working on claiming more time for some of my own needs, like getting back into an exercise routine and finding some time for photography. Andrew’s proposed bringing in some help for the often last-priority house cleaning, which I’m slowly readying to climb onboard with. And, yes, there are some days when I wish a magical fairy would come and whisk my child off into an educational wonderland where she can get this kind of education without me lifting a finger. And other days when I can’t bear to spend one more minute being a parent to a whiny, strong-willed almost 9-yr-old, much less her teacher.
But, still being honest, most of the time I can’t believe I am so fortunate to be able to spend this time with my daughter, and to learn alongside her. And how lucky I am to have finally embraced this passion for teaching and learning at a time when my own child was in need of something different, and in a community with so much support and so many resources. Personally and professionally, it is incredibly fulfilling to be able to teach and learn freely without being confined by having to meet 30 childrens’ varying needs and interests in a classroom where I and the students are further constrained by NCLB-influenced standards and testing.
Yeah, I don’t get a paycheck, but it might just be the best job I’ll ever have.
And I’m hoping that the payoff is equally rewarding for my child. A happy and engaged child is not a bad start.
November 1st, 2009 § 0
Alli’s been sending people “forms” to fill out via e-mail ever since… well, ever since we gave her e-mail access when she was maybe 5. Yes, I know that was early but we’re a technological household, and ever since the often relayed extortion shebazzle we’ve become quite a bit more conservative in our position on parental oversight. But I digress. Anyhow, she sends out forms somewhat regularly to family and friends. We think this is mainly as a means of reminding people she has an e-mail address and filling up her otherwise rather spartan inbox, maybe also as a way to learn more about her friends and family, and in part because just it makes her feel all cool and business-like. Most people receive them in the fun and innocent spirit in which they are intended, although she does occasionally get some conspiracist theory responders demanding to know why she needs the information. These humor me almost as much as the forms themselves. The forms used to include requests for basic information, like name, where you live, favorite color, etc., and over the years they’ve expanded to solicit details ranging from job information to favorite stories; I think the latest one even had a field for “Can usually be found:______________”. I have enjoyed watching her thought process on this develop over the years through this medium.
At some point she also started giving people grades on how they did on the form. This humored me in particular because she’s yet to ever receive a grade for anything, having been at a school that didn’t do traditional testing or grade reporting, and now in homeschool. It was also humorous to get a glimpse into the mental rubric she was using to assign grades, and to watch family and friends react to their grades – especially those who got C’s and even F’s on the work. I’ve failed a few myself.
This round she’s taken it a step further and sent a followup e-mail that sheds some more light on said rubric and gave me a little chuckle to boot – never mind my gloating about my first A+…
Hey all! I just replied to someone who is begging for an A or A+, and that made me think you all probably want the highest grade, so I think that you might want to think about retaking the test. You all have three tries to get an A+! I am pretty sure that the only people with an A+ are Aunt Jennie and Mommy (Julie). Down below I have written some rules of why maybe you have not gotten an A+ or A. If you want some tips then read the writing below and redo the test:
1. You may have been silly! Don’t act silly! just type in real answers.
2. You may have skipped an answer on purpose! Don’t do that! It will interfere with your grade.
3. You may have put in answers that are totally not true, and I know that they aren’t. Do NOT do that!
Thank you for reading those clues. I hope this helps you! Now the people who have succeeded and the prizes they won are below:
1. Mommy (Julie) has won: 1 coupon for a free hug! Congrats!
2. Aunt Jennie has won: A cool card! It will show up in her email. Congrats!
I hope you two are both very happy of your prizes! If you want to get one please try once again! I will be happy to award you with a prize! Thanks to all of you who are participating! Thank you, and have a nice rest of the day!
October 27th, 2009 § 0
Brace yourselves — no entries for several weeks means a brain dump is coming! My lack of posting is not indicative of having fallen off the homeschool wagon – I think perhaps, it is more a product of the time, energy and focus being directed at being present and trying to find our ‘groove’. After the first few ‘honeymoon weeks’, classes set in — and while they’ve all been very positive for Alli, the impact on our time and mojo was quite a bit more than I’d anticipated. It’s taken me some time to adjust myself to a new rhythm, and in the meanwhile I think that Alli spent some serious energy exploring her new-found freedom and testing boundaries. That girl knows how to push boundaries; I will fully fess up to a day or two in there where I thought about trotting her down the street to our local public school and dropping her off at the curb, and one day where I let that thought escape from my brain out through my mouth. Not my best mommy day.
Fortunately those days seem to have settled a bit, and the number of times I have to check my Google calendar to find out where we’re supposed to be when has decreased a bit too as I get more accustomed to our new schedule. Being out with other kids in some form daily has been a very good thing for Alli, and I’ve been very pleased with the learning opportunities that Alli’s been able to take on outside of the home – it’s like we’ve now become a part of a vibrant subculture that we never knew existed below the surface of our previous ‘world’. Alli seems to be in a really happy place with it all. She’s taking an art history class, a science class, a fiction writing class, and a drama class, in addition to the math games sessions I’ve been running. We go every other week to our local ecology center, where Alli volunteers a few hours taking care of a variety of animals, we participate in a mother/daughter book group with monthly meetings where we’ve had some rich discussion and fun activities, and we participate in an International Pen Pal group run by a former Peace Corps volunteer and fellow homeschool mom (and a family that we’ve started to get to know and enjoy more). Alli’s also still taking piano lessons, modern dance lessons, and participates in a children’s choir as well as soccer. I was more than a little bummed that the homeschool swim and gym class we’d registered for didn’t run, so I’m working to get swimming back in our schedule and remain on constant lookout for other physical activity to pursue – especially as the number of viable park days begin to decline.
We’re generally able to accomplish all of this while still preserving a lot of ‘after school’ time for play and evening time for family – which remains a large priority. Our schedule is still a little heavy on the trekking around for my taste, and I find that we have to be pretty diligent with our downtime to ensure our other learning goals have their space, but it’s not a bad balance overall, and there’s a lot of meaningful stuff going on. Most importantly, we still have plenty of opportunities to stop what we’re doing and switch gears to take advantage of teachable moments, to play, and to go investigate things more deeply that pique Alli’s interest. It’s also provided me with a lot of opportunity to really observe and notice new things about Alli as a learner that I can help her to develop tools to work through or capitalize on. I have really enjoyed uncovering the revelation that I have a young scientist on my hands, and have also taken great notice of (and begun to make accommodations for) her strong need for physical movement during learning to keep her ever-moving body and mind calm enough to learn.
I have noticed recently that I don’t cringe anymore whenever someone inquires about our homeschooling. I don’t feel the need to defend our position as I did in the past, and I think the drop in my defenses is wholly attributable to my growing sense of confidence that this is working. Sure, there are moments when I feel doubt and the exhaustion creeps in – but isn’t that the life of any parent? I’m not the perfect teacher any more than Alli is the perfect student, and there are times when there’s challenge and resistance. But there are a lot more times when we are both fully engaged, when I see the spark shining brightly in my child’s eyes – and I know in my head and in my heart that this is some of the most important and fulfilling work I have ever done. And I don’t even want to blink, lest I miss one moment of it.
Socially we’re starting to make more connections with other homeschoolers – both for her and I. We’re incredibly grateful for the connection we made early on with a family whose daughter also transitioned from school to homeschool for this year (her 5th grade year), and both Alli and I gain much from our respective friendships there (the girls see each other pretty much daily, and her mom and I provide support and carpooling to each other). Over the last month or so, I feel like both Alli and I have made deeper inroads in developing more friendships in the homeschool community, and I’m beginning to feel like there is a little ‘village’ being built for us both. I continue to be amazed at how well the kids in the homeschool community work and play with each other, and how so many of the artificial lines of age and gender seem to be an artifact of the institution of school. Alli has asked me on more than one occasion, “how come girls and boys get along in homeschooling and not in school?.” It has been such a blessing to see kids still being very much kids, and playing cooperatively with so much ease and so little need for adult intervention. It’s also been a particular pleasure to watch Alli not feeling confined to playing just with kids in her age group – she has developed so much in caring for and learning from others.
On another side of the social front, we’ve definitely experienced some challenge in holding onto friendships from the school community. Just because we’ve freed up some of our after-school time doesn’t mean others have (plus Alli does still have 2 days a week with some after-school activities herself) – so finding mutual playdate time with friends in school has proven to be a bigger challenge than I’d expected. Several of her ex-schoolmates have landed in her class at the Unitarian church – although I think that’s still a little awkward for them all. At one point, Alli didn’t know how to handle herself when one of the girls continued to ask her about homeschooling beyond her comfort level and insisted that she should be at her former school, “the best place in the Universe” – and Alli melted down into tears. I don’t think it was necessarily mean-spirited, but Alli’s skin is still a little thin in that arena. She expresses regularly that she loves homeschooling and prefers it to school in many ways, but I think she’s also trying to reconcile that with missing some old friends and just the sense that things are going on there without her. I try to reassure her that it’s ok to have both feelings, that I also share some of them, and that it’s ok too for both her and her friends to be happy where they are.
I’ve recently connected with another area homeschool network, this one with an emphasis on educating gifted kids. I’ve always resisted that label, although I think that in many ways Alli does fit that mold, and I’m still sort of feeling the whole thing out. Last Friday we visited a co-op run by the group (and welcoming of all children). Using space in a local church, parents and teachers (that are brought in by parents) run a wide variety of classes for kids on Fridays for most of the school day (including having lunch together) – it has the look and feel of a little cooperative school not all that far off from what I had originally hoped for, and my first gut feeling was that it was exactly the kind of place Alli would thrive. During the lunch session we visited, folks announced possible classes for the Winter/Spring session, Alli heard “Hip-Hop”, “Animal Ethology”, and “Harry Potter 101”, and she was literally in my lap with a full-on puppy dog face, begging to be a part of it. I don’t know how much of it we’ll leap into at one time, what will end up running and fitting into our schedule just yet, but I think we need to at least dip our feet into this water. Being the jumping in full force type, of course, I’ve already committed to co-teaching a Hands-on Algebra class if there’s enough interest, so I probably had best keep our Fridays open starting in January…
So what are we doing as far as curriculum? I reflected recently on my initial plan, and while I can’t say that everything is going as planned or we’re even remotely adhering to the schedule vision, in general we’re on course and making good progress. We’ve been out in the world exploring museums, plays, the occasional movie, and other local sites on a reasonably regular basis, and are single-handedly providing a new revenue stream for the City of Evanston feeding the parking meters at the library. We’ve studied some thematic areas of interest (some more deeply than others), including outer space, art, music and money. Alli writes in various forms nearly every day, we hit on grammar and spelling points when appropriate as part of that process, and I’m working with her to build a more formal writing workshop process. We read together regularly for book group, and fill in some nights with other reading (currently into the 2nd Harry Potter book) – and have made great strides in rekindling Alli’s interest in fiction and her willingness to not just start but finish more books outside the non-fiction genre. Right now we have a wonderful mother/daughter question and answer dialogue going alongside our reading of Ida B, a wonderful book I picked up after a fellow homeschool mom recommended it. Math is going well; Alli is breezing through the U of C program and we extend that with problem-solving, games and the occasional impromptu diversion (we took up some extra work with operations on fractions, because it came up in a discussion and Alli seemed interested to learn more). We’ve done a little bit of keeping up with what’s going on in the world, although I’d like to do more of that (we have a home subscription to Time for Kids, and I pull the occasional article from other sources for discussion), but I’m also experimenting with a history and geography curriculum loosely based on the secular pieces of the Story of the World series, with supplemental books from the library, internet links compliments of Usborne, maps and timelines, and activities from books and our imaginations.
The homeschool science classes at an area nature center have been great – Alli has learned the art of lashing, been on an overnight campout sans parents, gone hiking and canoeing, and dug for natural artifacts, and we’ve already started to learn more about the animals we’re caring for at the local ecology center. We supplement this with all of the voracious non-fiction reading Alli does regularly, some fun science videos and projects at home, as well as museum visits, and expect we’ll continue to see where the road takes us as this is an area of extreme interest for Alli. In addition to the art history class Alli’s taking where they are also making their own gallery complete with miniature artwork inspired by the artists they’ve studied, we’ve taken a trip to the Art Institute and continue to engage in arts and crafts activities at home. I’m hoping we can make some more progress on actually producing something to sell at the homeschool craft fair we committed to participating in – that’s only about a month away now, and we’ve got a 2-week road trip in the plans for November! I see some avid car crocheting in our future.
In addition to piano, I’ve started to teach Alli to play the recorder. I’ve also started to expose Alli to some classical musicians; we’ve learned a lot so far about Beethoven and will probably move on to other composers soon. Rosetta Stone Spanish is going okay; Alli enjoys the program and is learning, although has been frustrated by the language recognition feature, which seems to still be having some problems recognizing her particular voice well despite my having made a few tweaks within the software. I need to work on this more, and would also like to supplement that with some speaking/reading/writing outside of the software. There’s just not enough time in a day…
On the “time in a day” front, I will say that while I feel we’ve finally started to achieve a little bit of rhythm and balance in Alli’s curriculum and day, I haven’t yet really found the time and space for some of the things I had hoped to build into my day – what little I get from the time Alli spends in classes (plus some later nights than I’d like) are quickly eaten up by the part-time work I haven’t yet given up and keeping up with planning for learning opportunties. Truthfully, right now I’m ok with the lack of downtime, because I find that I am gaining so much from the time we have together – and feeling very fulfilled as both a teacher and a lifelong learner gaining probably as much learning as Alli is (who knew there was a library rat inside of me?!?). But a part of my commitment for this year was to build in some “take care of me” time, time to go work out, time to reflect and recharge, time to do the kind of more healthful meal planning and cooking I’d like to be doing — and I’m hoping that I can be more attentive to this as things continue to settle into more of a rhythm with the homeschooling.
October 20th, 2009 § 0
An update is coming, when I extract it from my head. In the meanwhile, a guest post from Alli’s blog:
Hello viewers! Sorry that I have been away for a while! As you can see in the title and picture, I, my mom and one of my homeschool friends rescued a bird! I think that you want to know the story, so here it goes. This is how it happened. Friday, October 16, 2009, I and my friend Noelle (the homeschool friend) came running out of the Skokie library, and then I noticed a little bird in the middle of the road. I had noticed that it was shivering and seemed as if it was sick. It couldn’t move. When my mom came out, Noelle and I were talking all about the bird. So my mom went into the library once again to go find the janitor. Then right when my mom got inside I noticed a car coming right in front of the bird, so then I jumped into the street and right beside the bird. The car moved around me so he didn’t hurt me. Then my mom came back out with the janitor and asked him for a towel. Noelle told my mom about what I had done for the poor bird. I don’t think my mom liked that I jumped in the road.
Soon the janitor came back with a towel and mommy then asked for a box, and the janitor went to get a box. My mom picked the bird up and out of the street and put it onto the bench. My mom was calling people like crazy to see if any took in birds! Finally the janitor came out with a box that had holes in it. We put the bird in the box and my mom had canceled a thing at 12:00 so that we could care for the bird. Then about 1 hour later, the bird choked up a berry. It took a while, but then it started to fly! Thanks, that is my blog entry for today! Thanks for reading the story! Bye.
September 28th, 2009 § 0
September 24th, 2009 § 0
So yesterday we weren’t able to do an all-day field trip, as basketball class had been rescheduled to Wednesday for this week. We made do with an afternoon “project” of attempting to attack the nightmare that has become Alli’s room (something I have the unique privilege of interjecting in the ‘curriculum’ as mother and teacher). Several hours yielded only mild progress, which should tell you how bad things were in that jungle. We cleared out a large box of books that we’ll be donating or trading, and found some long-lost treasures that we will both enjoy digging into as part of our studies this year. I find it interesting, btw, that a byproduct of home schooling thus far has been my willingness to adopt a whole new “library rat” mentality – as if books (and “free” books especially – barring the inevitable fines we rack up) are a new-found treasure. It’s a nice place to be, and a nice piece of myself to have rediscovered.
Anyhow, after an afternoon of book and junk-wrangling, and trying to keep my burgeoning frustration with the mess and my daughter’s lack of organization skills at bay (only mildly successfully), we embarked on an “evening field trip” to work at a soup kitchen. Our first experience doing this as a family had been amazing, and last night watching my daughter’s joy at getting the sole responsibility of opening hot dog buns and placing them on guests’ plates with a sincere smile proved to be no less amazing. The numbers are up in soup kitchens these days, not surprisingly, and I feel keenly aware of the almost insignificant turns of fate that separate my own family from other people and families who are struggling so much more.
Andrew made a comment when we picked him up at the train to dash to our serving duties that he was glad the soup kitchen was tonight, because he had run across his homeless friend downtown (a guy he’s sort-of ‘adopted’ over the last year or two, and even taken to lunch a few times) after not seeing him for a few weeks, but on a day when he had no cash in his wallet to offer. Without hesitation, Alli simply asked him, “Why didn’t you just tell him he could come to Evanston for dinner?”
I thought about explaining to her that it was a long way for him from downtown, that he was sick and probably not up for much travel, and that he probably didn’t have train fare to make the trip. I realized instead that here I was looking for justification for why we couldn’t help this man, and overlooking the simple truth that had developed for her – someone is hungry, let’s feed him.
And I let myself feel uplifted by the hope that her generation will hold fast to those kinds of truths, and that the world will be just a little bit better in their hands.
September 21st, 2009 § 0
So we’ve kicked off week 4, and while our feet haven’t achieved optimal wetness yet, our new routine and learning/life mix is feeling more comfortable. Our house has yet to catch up to it – trust me, “the lived in look” is a lofty goal compared to that which our play and learning wear and tear is generating. But it’s Monday, and thanks to a family office cleaning venture on Saturday and lots of kitchen wrangling by my loving husband over the weekend, I can see my desk and easily found a clean pot for this morning’s oatmeal, so all is good with the world.
There are so many wonderful things that are coming out of this for us. Before I elaborate, I should also be careful not to paint too idyllic a picture. There have been moments of disagreement, doubt, and spades of minor meltdowns along this new path. Alli’s self-confidence and willingness to try new things took a pretty huge beating last school year, and while much recovery has been made, ushering her through anxieties and self-doubt can be a draining process, and when her and my supplies of patience are tapped out simultaneously, that’s sometimes not a pretty scenario. In my dual role as parent and teacher, I find Alli often holds me to a far higher standard for both roles, and as I think about it, I imagine that I too probably hold her to a bit higher standard than a student who isn’t also my own child.
But I feel that we are navigating that path well – better than I expected, for certain. In the process of me taking on a bigger role in her life and learning, I do think our relationship is deepening and we are learning to work together as a team in new ways. The unexpected bonus for me is that I feel a new focus and find that I am able to be more present to her than I think I have ever been as a parent – and I like that feeling, and the spark I see in her as a a result. My child is engaged, happy, eager, and getting meaningful learning experiences. The style that is evolving for me as a teacher – a relaxed, child- and interest-directed learning partnership – is feeling even more fulfilling for me personally and professionally than I hoped it would be.
The schedule we drafted before starting is, as expected, a very loose guideline for us. As most of her ‘external’ activities and classes are in gear, I’m now trying to get a sense of what “our” time actually looks like with all of the transitions. Alli’s desire for a firm schedule seems to be waning a bit as she realizes that she enjoys having some choice in what she feels interested to pursue on any given day, and I’m enjoying that freedom as well. I do still feel pulled by a desire to provide the balance, breadth and depth, and to ‘cover’ some of the basic skills I think Alli needs in order to pursue some of the higher-level learning and problem-solving that she craves to do and that I think will serve her well in life. Additionally, there’s still a significant part of me that feels a little tied to ensure we hit on the ‘standards’ she would be expected to meet if she were to go back into the ‘system’ without heavy transitional pains – regardless of my distaste for much of that whole realm.
Fortunately, I am blessed to have a child with what seems like a never-ending set of interests and craving for new knowledge, so I don’t generally find myself working all that hard to engage her – most of the challenge right now lies in sorting through places to stop and focus along the way. We do spend time filling in some of the basic mechanics – for instance, we’ve started working towards building automaticity in multiplication facts so that she isn’t so slowed down on higher-level stuff. Alli is loving and breezing through U of C Math almost independently, we write almost daily in some form, I’m experimenting with new models for helping her to structure her writing (and me to relax my expectations of her writing, something I’m sure I’ll write more about later), and we have begun tweaking elements of the ‘cursive’ handwriting she invented (when she was about 4) into a more standard form.
But we’re also doing a lot of fun, integrated interest-based things, like dissecting owl pellets we retrieved from the Museum of Science and Industry to learn more about what owls eat (she’s fascinated with owls since embarking into the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series). In addition to our “economics class” last week at Ethical Planet, Alli’s been busy planning and creating wares to sell at a homeschool craft fair, sorting out the economics of that venture and beginning to think about starting a cat-sitting business. Watching Alli’s excitement during our visit to the Dearborn Observatory when she got a real-live look at Jupiter was a truly joyous sight to behold. I’m beginning to think the timing is good for us to venture out soon to the Art Institute and the Museum of Contemporary Art too, as she’s just started a class in Art History and Museum Design.
Classes are providing a wonderful component of her learning, and watching her expand her social network to a wider range of ages has been a really nice side benefit. She sees other kids regularly, home schooled and schooled, and has regular opportunities to interact with others in both learning and play situations. As a whole, I’d have to say that so far I think the social interaction she has had with other home schooled children has had all of the positives of other relationships she formed in school, but has been lacking some of the more negative elements that I was witnessing so heavily in her peer group (cattiness, bullying, peer pressure and the like – and that was only in 2nd grade!). I love watching the kids during park days, where Alli blends in and is accepted seamlessly with groups of kids ranging in age from preschool through junior high. I don’t see that Alli’s social needs or skills are suffering as a result of home schooling.
I, too, am beginning to develop relationships in the home schooling community, and am looking into an additional local network with a ‘gifted student’ focus to see if we might find some additional camaraderie there. I know that the relationships I build with other home schooling parents will also help to sustain me during less sunny days.
In the meanwhile, I am thoroughly enjoying a lifestyle with days like this wonderful fall morning – when my abnormally tired child crawls into bed with my own still tired self at 7am, and instead of fighting about clothes and shoes and packed lunches and getting out the door, we can indulge our mutual desire to snuggle under the covers together for a little bit longer, knowing that all of the learning in the world will be patiently waiting for us.