The rumors of our death have been greatly exaggerated…

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.

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