I think I could get used to this…

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.

Alli, Hannah, Lauren and Noelle after seeing Jupiter through the telescope

Alli, Hannah, Lauren and Noelle after seeing Jupiter through the telescope

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