February 27, 2010

Education at Home: Conclusion

"When was the last time you saw a tombstone with SAT scores inscribed on it?" 
-Edward B. Fiske

Read Parts One, Two, and Three.

A Look At Year Three

I don't want to bore you with the hour by hour details of our days, but this is basically what our week looks like now.  We do not typically do any schoolwork or chores on Tuesdays (playdate), or Fridays (grocery day), though I would definitely argue that there is still a lot of learning happening.  We are "those homeschoolers" that sleep late and don't get dressed unless we are leaving the house.   Our mornings are laid back.  The kids can handle their own breakfasts and then they go play while I have coffee and go through email, Reader, Facebook and Twitter.  Yes, I am addicted to the Internet.  Sometimes I go ahead with my own chores, but usually Robotson and I jump right into reading. We read for up to two hours, but most days it's one and a half.  Then we spend about an hour looking things up on the Internet or talking about things going on in our lives.  Sometimes we go over conflict resolutions.  When we are done, we handle any chores that need to be done that day.  The girls are still constantly interrupting us, but at least now I can send them off to play instead of watch t.v.  Between reading, the Internet, and chores, we easily hit those 3.5 school hours per day.  I've read enough research about the importance for unstructured play, and I consider those hours above and beyond what is required by the state.   We do far more than 180 days as well.

I am still reading aloud to Robotson, not because I have to, but because I want to.  The last six months have really made a difference in his desire and ability to read on his own.  I want to stress that this is without any instruction from me.  I am always available to help him when he asks, but I never push or question him.  I do offer suggestions, but leave the final decisions up to him.  If he asks for a spelling, I give it to him.  If he asks what a word is, I tell him without asking him to try to figure it out on his own.  By doing this, I eliminated all of the difficulties, and he still retains the information.  When he reads on his own, he goes for books that interest him and not for just the "easy" readers.  He reads to his sisters.  He also reads well.  While slower than I am, he doesn't just read each word individually.  He picks up on the tones and tempos of entire sentences.  He reads punctuation correctly even though we've talked very little about it and he rarely uses it in his own writing.  Speaking of writing, I have the same approach.  Often he will show me something he's typed on the computer or written out.  After he reads it to me, I will mention that he has some misspellings or grammatical errors, and would he like me to help him correct them?  Sometimes he does, but not always.  I don't push it.

We cover all subjects in our reading.  I try to find math stories.  We have shelves full of biographies about scientists, humanitarians, artists, musicians, explorers, writers, former slaves, and presidents.  More shelves are full of stories about other countries and their folktales.  We have historical fiction and non-fiction, science and science fiction, classics, poetry, and art books.  I could go on, but the point is we have a lot of books.  Between them and the Internet, there is never a subject that we can't cover.

The big question here is always, "Does he know everything a third grader should know?"  After checking out that link, I'd say he knows about half of that, and we still have half the year to go.  I thinks that's pretty cool since this is the first time I've ever looked it up.  There are also many things that he has learned on his own that aren't on that list.

I should also mention the socialization thing.  Aside from park days, playdates, and book club; there are the grocery days, G.U.S.T meetings, AIR meetings, and family get togethers.  My kids are not in the least bit shy and will talk to anyone, about anything, at all times.  They stop strangers at the park to ask permission to pet their dogs.  They coo over babies.  They know all of the people who work at Costco and Ingles, usually helping check out our groceries and then bag them.  I have to laugh when people ask me if I am worried about their social skills.  If anything, I worry that they are too social.  No one that has ever met them could possibly ask me that with a straight face.  In fact, all of the homeschooled kids that we know are like this.

So there you have it.  What do you think?  Are we unschoolers or more like eclectic homeschoolers?   Perhaps because I do insist upon doing something each day, and I tie it to computer time, then we do not fit the classic definition of unschoolers.  However, the majority of what we do is chosen by the child.

So In Conclusion (finally right!?)

All of this typing and I finally get to the part that I've been wanting to say all along.  When I read other blogs and talk to other homeschoolers, I often let myself feel bad.  Their days appear to be filled with art projects, books, science experiments, math worksheets, field trips, co-ops, tests, reading levels, achievements, history units, IQs, and percentiles.  Sometimes there is even real judgement of anyone doing less.

Let me let you in on a little secret... I never wanted to be an unschooler.  I wanted to be a "school-at-home schooler."  I wanted my kids to sit in desks while I stood in front of them with the teacher's edition.  I wanted them to work quietly, and independently, while I graded papers.  I wanted to enroll them in extra-curricular activities that kept us busy, but well-rounded.  I wanted to brag to my friends and family about how advanced they were and how early they'd be entering college.  I always expected us to do far more academically than your average public school students.   It's not a comfortable feeling for me to be without a plan.  I like to be in control.  I prefer to call the shots.  This is not my personality by any stretch of the imagination.  That's where the guilt comes from.

I want to be clear though, this is not because of Robotson, Funny Girl, or Dimples.  There are no disorders, diseases, or diagnoses behind our unschooliness (totally made that word up there).  I went into this thing absolutely convinced we would do it one way, and have come out 2.5 years later with a different view of things based on our day-to-day experiences.  The books I read, the people I met, the blogs I came across, the ups and downs that happened in our life - they all brought us to this point, unexpected as it is.  So while I sometimes feel guilty, the truth is that I can't imagine homeschooling any other way.  We DO do more than most public schooled children.  It's just that most of it is unstructured and child driven.  It doesn't look like school, so it's hard to explain to the value of that type of learning in a 60 second snippet, to a random stranger.

My Current Thinking On Education

-I do not think the bulk of learning needs to be done by the time they are 18 and off to college.  I would much prefer that is NOT the case.  Arthur C. Clarke said, "We have to abandon the idea that schooling is something restricted to youth. How can it be, in a world where half the things a man knows at 20 are no longer true at 40 -- and half the things he knows at 40 hadn't been discovered when he was 20?"  I understand the need for a foundation with which to build upon, but I think it's better if they lay those first layers themselves. I know I always feel more invested in things that I have started, rather than those given to me by people who supposedly know better.

-You can lead a horse to water, but you can not make him drink.  My experiences with Robotson have made that crystal clear.  "No use to shout at them to pay attention. If the situations, the materials, the problems before the child do not interest him, his attention will slip off to what does interest him, and no amount of exhortation of threats will bring it back." - John Holt  In my own life too, I can see how the more a thing is expected of me, the less I want to do it.  

-Is there really any topic in the whole world that, if studied fully and completely over years, would not lead to learning in all of the main areas of education?  If you love robots and spend your time drawing them, building them with LEGOs, reading books about them, researching them on the Internet, going to shows and presentations about them, and talking about them with anyone who will listen - how can you not study the history of robotics, the science and technology behind their evolution, the math that puts them together, the literature that brings them to life, the art that they are in and can produce, the music they make, the sports that they play?  And who has only one interest?  Imagine what you could do if you were given the opportunity to learn anything and everything about your passions without the worry of money, time, and commitments.  Those are real world concerns too, but they will also come up on their own.  You need funding to build or obtain the technology for new robots.  You need and have limited amounts of time to fulfill commitments that you may make as you create.  You can also hire people to handle your time and money for you if it's not your strong suit.

-High IQs, perfect test scores, and college degrees aren't the only ways to measure success.  

-Will I really love my children any less if they don't become whatever my definition of a success is?  If Funny Girl grows up to be a SAHM and Dimples gets a PhD, but both are blissfully happy with their choices, who am I to judge them?  Does it make a difference if I know that FG's IQ is well above average, while Dimples always had to work twice as hard to learn the same things?  Will I think FG blew her potential and Dimples should have just given up?  Of course not!  It's their definition of success that matters, not mine.

I keep those five things in the back of my head at all times.  I want to be confident in my decisions, but I'll always worry a little bit.  And that's not a bad thing either.  Reading about people who do things differently keeps me on my toes, so to speak.  I never get complacent, because I'm hyper-aware that there are other ways of homeschooling.  Who knows, we may still end up doing a more traditional model in the future, but for now this is what works for our family.

And a Thank You

Even though I wrote this as much (or more) for myself as anyone else, it's been really nice to see all the comments along the way.  So thank you so much, I really do appreciate it!  

February 25, 2010

Homeschool Days 2/25/10

"Who dares to teach must never cease to learn."
-John Cotton Dana

I had no idea it was Secular Thursday most of today.  What on earth did we do all week?  I really feel like I should have another day here...

We are still spending a lot of time out of the house, but doing fun stuff so it's hard to feel too badly about it.  The AIR meeting on Sunday was fun!  I have to be honest, discussion of AIR itself was minimal, but we spent something like six hours talking about everything else.  The kids had a blast.  Only one minor meltdown on our side, yay!  The food was absolutely amazing (seriously YUMMY vegan stuffs).  The only two things decided by the end of the meeting/hangout was that we need to have a real meeting in two weeks where we stay on topic, and that I needed to buy my kids scooters.  We got the scooters on Monday, and took them to the playdates Tuesday and today.  Best money we've spent in a long time.


We are nearly done with The Secret Garden.  I know I read it as a kid, but I don't remember anything about the story. I'm really enjoying it, though Robotson says my Yorkshire needs a lot of work!  Speaking sort of about books, he watched the movies for The Black Stallion and The Black Stallion Returns.  I didn't watch with him, but I was very pleased when he would pause to come and tell me about a difference from the book, or a big scene.  There was a time when he didn't seem to pick up on those sorts of things.

I did read a little with the girls this week.  Dimples and I read Stargazers.  It's a cute introduction to astronomy.  We haven't pulled out the telescope in a while, but we should.  I also want to do some stargazing when the weather gets warmer.  It would be so nice to lay out on a blanket and show the kids the constellations.

Make Way For Ducklings was something I picked up at a consignment sale last year.  It's about two ducks that are looking for the perfect place to raise their family.  The girls really liked the drawings.  I thought the story was simple, but fun.

We also read The Book of Beasts about a boy who suddenly finds out he is heir to the throne and is called upon to be the King.  There isn't much to do until he finds a book in the library called The Book of Beasts. Each page has a creature on it, and as he turns the page, they come out into the world.  Some are harmless, but there is a troublesome dragon.  I thought the whole becoming King thing was weird and kept waiting for the revelation that he was just pretending, but it never came.  I guess that's what happens when you read with your adult glasses on.  The girls seemed to enjoy it anyway.


Look at my new iPhone app,  NASA's Lunar Rover Game!  I totally laughed out loud when I was having trouble getting the rover to move and the game asked me if I was a licensed driver.  I stink a video games, but it is a lot of fun.  

Another Symphony of Science song and video for your enjoyment!


As I type, Robotson is making movies with the Zimmer Twins.

Our friend Kit went to a concert last Friday, and got Robotson a signed CD by the artist, That 1 Guy.  He was thrilled (thank you again!).  Robotson says he'll be writing to Apple to have the magic pipe added as an instrument in GarageBand.

Not a whole lot of other things going on this week.  I've been absorbed in my homeschooling posts and reading Dreamers, Discoverers, and Dynamos:  How to Help the Child Who is Bright, Bored, and Having Problems in School.  I'm not reading it because we are having problems, but because Mo really sold it here.  It fits in really nicely with all of my other EI parenting books and gives basically the same advice.  It's still good to read a book from a different author that adds a little more strength to my conviction that we have chosen the right parenting style for our kids.

Remember those kids down the street that were giving Robotson a hard time over the summer?  Periodically he'd go out for walks, with me always discouraging it, but never preventing him.  If he saw them, I never really knew what, if anything, happened.  But now that he has this scooter, it's been hard to keep him in the house and at some point while riding up and down the street he stopped to talk to one of the kids.  They ended up playing basketball together.  There were still three other kids who were standing off by themselves.  Robotson said they were saying mean things, but he and the kid were ignoring them.  I'm not entirely sure what the current situation is, but I have to hand it to Robotson.  He never let it get him down.  He kept going out there, trying to talk to them, and it seems to have paid off for now.  He certainly has more gumption that I ever did growing up (or maybe even now!)

February 24, 2010

Education at Home: Part Three

“To parents I say, above all else, don’t let your home become some terrible miniature copy of the school. No lesson plans! No quizzes! No tests! No report cards! Even leaving your kids alone would be better; at least they could figure out some things on their own. Live together, as well as you can; enjoy life together, as much as you can.”
-John Holt

In Part One, I wrote about how we came to the decision to homeschool.  Part Two described how I realized we were unschoolers.  I want to take a step back in this post and talk about how our days have evolved over the last 2.5 years.  It's one thing to say we are unschoolers, but the devil is in the details.  

Most homeschoolers have a designated area for school.  Ours was the living room (we have no "room" now).  The couch was my friend since I was nursing quite a lot.  I'd have Robotson sit at a table with one of workbooks I'd picked up over the years.  After breakfast, I would set up Funny Girl with a movie in the bedroom, and then try to convince Robotson that it was school we should be doing, not watching t.v.  Workbooks were novel for a few days, but that didn't even last a week.  I would set the tracing book in front of him and talk about working on letters.  He would say he already knew how to write.  I'd ask him to show me in the blank spaces.  He'd start letters from the bottom and go up.  He also wrote many of them backwards.  I'd show him the arrows and ask him to trace them correctly.  Most of the time he ignored the arrows, or me, or both.  We'd move on to math.  Here are four apples in this bucket and there are three apples in this bucket.  How many apples are there all together.  He could count them - seven, *yawn* "This is boring Mommy."  Yes, yes but we need to complete the workbook so we can do the test at the end.  Soon he was fidgeting.

I'm hungry.  I need to go potty.  I need a drink.  I'm too tired.  Why can't I watch t.v.?  How long do we have to do this?  Why do I have to learn?  Can't we do a science experiment from the book instead?  I want to play on the computer.  I hate this.  When will Daddy be home?  Can't we take a break?  Can we do this after I watch t.v.?  And on and on...

Funny Girl would come in bored or needing another show. She was almost two, and I felt awful for sending her off to another room.  Dimples would have fallen asleep while nursing, and I couldn't put her down without waking her up.  I'd go help Funny Girl, Dimples would wake up, and Robotson would run off.  Then I would have to find him and drag him back.  He would start to cry or throw a temper tantrum.  Dimples would be crying too.

I kept telling myself that he just wasn't used to this school thing.  It was going to be a hard transition for him to learn to sit still and pay attention.  It wasn't my intention to keep him sitting for three hours a day.  I wanted to start small and work up to it.  On the very good days I could get ten minutes out of him.  Most days he was protesting before we even began.  There were timeouts, lost privileges, punishments, rewards, and threats.  Nothing made a difference.

I decided to jump into TJEd.  We'd read classics, do kidschool, have chores, and spend the rest of the day playing!  It was a routine we needed- structure.  I was sure we could do this.  I was also reading Alfie Kohn's The Schools Our Children Deserve.  Workbooks, separate subjects, and tests were all bad anyway.  Anne of Green Gables was our first classic.  I envisioned Robotson sitting or playing quietly while I read out loud some predetermined number of chapters.  Kidschool would follow, and then we would do chores together.  This was all before lunch, because I wanted to have the afternoon free to play.  I also flirted with the idea of a monthly field trip.  Here's a blog post I wrote describing a typical day.  You can probably see the first flaw in my plan.  I was having trouble waking up early enough to accomplish all of that before lunch, and Robotson was watching t.v. before I even got out of bed.  Once he had the t.v. on, it was going to be a fight to get him off.  I wrote this at the end of November 2007.

Educating has got me at a loss right now. No matter how I try to manage a routine, I simply can not get my son to work with me. No one should know this kid better than me but I'm really just not sure what I'm supposed to be doing right now. Out of complete and utter frustration I finally just removed the power cord to the computer and informed him that we need to come up with some sort of compromise so that we are both happy and until then it's just not going to be played with. He thinks it's a punishment but I see it as a distraction.

Four months into our first year, Dimples was able to sit up and play. I thought maybe it would help if we moved our "classroom" into the toy room.  The girls could play while we tried to get back on track. In addition to reading, we did things like dance around to the They Might Be Giants kid's albums, draw millions of robots, and I'd written out a couple of stories dictated to me. The girls were still a distraction:  snacks, nursing, diaper changes, naps, meltdowns, t.v., and boredom reigned supreme.  I never could find the time (or money) for field trips.  We never seemed to get everything accomplished.  It was all I could do to get us to playdates once a week.

Reading out loud to Robotson wasn't what I had imagined.  He didn't want to just sit and listen, and he could get loud if he had toys to play with.  If he was drawing, he would interrupt me to show me his robots.  It was the same with LEGOs.  I'd frequently stop to ask him what I'd just read, and then get upset if he wasn't listening.  Anne was a great first book to read, but many of my next choices were not well received.  A Christmas Carol, Anne of Avonlea, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Black Beauty were all flops.  You may remember that we have since read all of those except Anne of Avonlea.  Clearly, at the beginning of our journey he wasn't ready to listen to anything he didn't already know to be good.

In January of 2008, I began reading about emotionally intelligent parenting.  I was still struggling to find a routine that worked.  I'd given back his computer time and was now trying to do schoolwork in the afternoons instead.  We bungled along.  By May, things were looking up.  Robotson was used to me reading to him, we were part of the book club, the girls would adorably grab books from the shelves and pretend to read them.  I stopped quizzing him on what I had read and let him be in control of his listening.  My only request was that he stay quiet.  We continued to have constant interruptions from the girls and each one meant I had to bring Robotson back to what we were doing.  How I wished he could just stay put or the girls would just stay mindlessly glued to the t.v.  Additional education resources included podcasts, and computer games.

Something I forgot to mention, but it was a big part of our lives at the time, was that B had been laid off in December.  He was unemployed through most of that first homeschool year.  I know as I write it, it sounds like it was just me and the kids, but he was here.  B spent most of the year in his office searching for jobs and becoming more and more depressed.  It was a really stressful time financially and emotionally on top of everything else.  He finally found a job in September, and to celebrate, we dropped everything to go to DisneyWorld.  We would start our second year of homeschooling when we got back.

Since this is getting long again, I won't be as detailed about year two (Beginning in September 2008).  Everything was improving slowly.  The girls could entertain each other a little bit more and watch entire shows before coming out to us.  Dimples would often nap while FG watched.  Robotson's attention span was increasing and we could read longer books.  We could also read up to two hours a day.  He began listening to a podcast called The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd and would come and tell me all sorts of things he'd learned.  It also gave him ideas for books he wanted to read.  I felt like I was cheating in some way because he was learning more from a podcast than his own mother.  I had so many worries.  First we weren't doing any math, and very little history.  He wasn't reading on his own, in fact he was flatly refusing to even try.  Science was always coming up in our house, but we rarely did anything hands-on.  And while we were reading a lot, there was no talk about grammar or spelling, no practicing of writing.  The only area I'd say we really excelled in was music and art.  He was getting into GarageBand and learning about instruments, loops, and composing all on his own.  His drawings were becoming more detailed and interesting.

I tried something new regarding computer time at the beginning of the second year.  I went totally unschool and allowed him unlimited computer time.  I was trying to subscribe to the idea that he would eventually regulate himself.   I'm glad we did it.  I learned some really important things during those months.  Maybe Robotson would eventually have learned to balance his computer time with chores, play, and schoolwork, but it wasn't happening quick enough for me.  I guess that is one area that I can't let go completely.  We cut it back slowly over several months to the level that it is at now: 25 hours a week.  That is still a lot, but it's a ton less than unlimited!

I focused a lot during that year on housework.  We were reading about the Ingalls and Wilder families.  I wanted him to know that being part of a family meant helping out around the house.  He really did learn how to do quite a lot of housework, most of which he can do without help, though he rarely wants to.  He did chores daily and I'm really proud of what he accomplished.

I was still reading all of this time.  Each book helping me understand more about how humans are motivated, how they learn, and how they grow emotionally.  I still didn't realize we were unschoolers.  I still felt terrible guilt that we were just coasting along.  I kept thinking it would get easier when the girls were older, when Robotson showed interest in reading and could work on his own, when we weren't battling the two stomach flus, and the still very worrisome financial trouble we were in.  There were also behavioral issues that had come to head with Robotson.  It was affecting the few social activities that we had.

In the second half of that second year I started up kidschool again.  Kidschool is basically where the parent shows the child things that are of interest to them.  It could be educational, inspirational, interesting, thought-provoking, etc.  It might be a game, a website, a book, a poem, a piece of music, a science project.  The list goes on.  It's just your way of throwing something new their way (strewing).  It also shows them that you are always learning too.

By the summer of 2009, I'd moved away from Thomas Jefferson Education.  As I said before, I still use many of the ideas that I learned from that philosophy, but I prefer to distance myself from the conservative views of, and by, other TJEd'ers.  Besides, you can get to the same ideas by reading Alfie Kohn, John Holt, John Gatto, Haim Ginott, Sir Ken Robinson, Thomas Gordon, Faber and Mazlish, and so many more that I don't even know about yet.

By the fall, I knew we were unschoolers and that's the attitude I took into this year.

Yeesh!  I'm sorry for the never-ending post.  I'm nearly done though!  Up next where we are this year and what I think education means for us.

February 23, 2010

Education at Home: Part Two

“The most important thing any teacher has to learn, not to be learned in any school of education I ever heard of, can be expressed in seven words: Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”
-John Holt

Interesting Homeschool Tidbit

In Georgia, you don't have to register your child with the state until they are six years old.  Since Robotson's birthday is in December, I waited until September of 2007 - three months before he turned seven.  Our school year runs from September 1 to August 31, a full 365 days.  We are required to keep monthly attendance records.  Students must complete 4.5 hours of schoolwork for 180 days.  I dutifully fill out our attendance sheets until that magical 180th day is checked off, at which point the state doesn't hear from us again until September.  We are currently in our third year of homeschooling and I checked off the box for Third Grade for this year.  The only other requirements in Georgia are that you administer a standardized test at the end of the third grade, and every three years after.  You must also do an annual report on your child's progress and keep it with your files.

Part Two

I left off in Part One basically having a panic attack.  I had no homeschooling friends, no curriculum, a one year old, I was pregnant again, and my son wasn't in the least bit interested in school in a traditional sense.  Best to just dive right in, right?!

The Reader's Digest version is that I sent an email out on one of the homeschooling lists looking for playmates and met Mo.  We hit it off immediately.  Kitmama started a playgroup, which we joined.  The playgroup grew and next thing you know we had the greatest friends in the world. Homeschool friend and support - check!

So of course the first thing I wanted to know every time I met another homeschooler was: "What curriculum are you using?"  There are as many answers to that question as people using them.  I'm going out on a limb and say that it's the worst question for anyone who is considering homeschooling to ask.  Why?  Because no one uses the same thing, and even if they do, they mix it up with other things.  I've never talked to anyone that doesn't personalize their educational model in some way.  I'm not saying that it's not an important question to ask, especially when you don't know what your options are.  And I think every person who is or will homeschool should ask as many people as they can, but it will confuse you beyond your wildest imagination.  I lost sleep over it all.  Maybe that's just me.

Mo had introduced me to Thomas Jefferson Education.  I've blogged about it before.  I read all of the books and tried to implement many of the ideas.  I guess I still use a lot of what I learned from that approach, but I don't call myself a TJEd'er anymore.  I was also reading books on the topics I blog about here most:  EI Parenting, manners, mindsets.  Then there were books on happiness, education, children's learning and personality, and mindfulness.  All of these books seemed to connect for me.  As I've written about them, I try to describe how they fit together in my mind.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone else sees the links the way that I do.  (I am considering a separate, ever-evolving, post of all of these books that I think fit together for future reference.)  These books, and a number of blogs, articles, and conversations with other homeschoolers eventually brought me to my aha! moment.  I can't really say exactly when it was.  It just became increasingly clear to me that we were unschoolers through and through.

I don't think this is exactly a revelation to anyone who's been reading this blog.  My Homeschool Day's posts are a pretty obvious giveaway that we aren't curriculum based.  It's a "fly by the seat of our pants" sort of schooling.  After looking up that idiom, perhaps that's not the best description.  True, I have no training in childhood education, but I would quibble with the word "required."  Not to downplay the importance of educated teachers, but there are plenty of homeschooling parents with no formal training that are doing at least as good at college educated teachers.  O.k. moving on.

Unschooling is a scary word.  Actually, homeschooling is a scary word.  Unschooling is bone-chilling, blood curdling, petrifying - you are totally going to die - kind of scary.  Most homeschoolers I know wouldn't ever dream of unschooling their kids.  Unschoolers are either completely irresponsible or incredibly brave, depending on who you ask.  Either way, they would never do it.  Let's get a definition.

Unschooling refers to a range of educational philosophies and practices centered on allowing children to learn through their natural life experiences, including child directed play, game play, household responsibilities, and social interaction, rather than through the confines of a conventional school. Exploration of activities is often led by the children themselves, facilitated by the adults. Unschooling differs from conventional schooling principally in the thesis that standard curricula and conventional grading methods, as well as other features of traditional schooling, are counterproductive to the goal of maximizing the education of each child. (via Wikipedia)

Read this one and see if it doesn't totally sound like me, or at least what I keep trying to be.

Unschooling will look different in different families, and "radical unschooling" simply means extending the philosophy of unschooling (that children will learn what they need to know when they are ready and want to learn it) into every other aspect of life (i.e. children will go to sleep when they are tired, eat when they are hungry, and will learn to be a functioning, helpful member of a family/household without being forced/required to do things like chores, given punishments, limited on tv/videogames, etc.) Radical unschooling could also be called Mindful Parenting, or respectful parenting (although one could be parenting mindfully, and their children attend school). (via Sandra Dodd)

As with anything else, there are plenty of unschoolers out there that would say we aren't truly doing it since I do put limits on things like computer and t.v. time.  I also go back and forth over if I should tie schoolwork to computer time; currently I do.  Strewing is another unschooling thing, and while that does happen, both B and I will sometimes require that attention be paid to something we find important that the kids don't seem interested in on their own. 

February 22, 2010

Monday Manners 2/22/10

What is politeness?
1 a : of, relating to, or having the characteristics of advanced culture b : marked by refined cultural interests and pursuits especially in arts and belles lettres
2 a : showing or characterized by correct social usage b : marked by an appearance of consideration, tact, deference, or courtesy c : marked by a lack of roughness or crudities (via Merriam-Webster)

Politeness is best expressed as the practical application of good manners or etiquette. It is a culturally defined phenomenon, and therefore what is considered polite in one culture can sometimes be quite rude or simply strange in another cultural context.
While the goal of politeness is to make all of the parties relaxed and comfortable with one another, these culturally defined standards at times may be manipulated to inflict shame on a designated party. (via Wikipedia)

February 20, 2010

Education at Home: Part One

"School days, I believe, are the unhappiest in the whole span of human existence. They are full of dull, unintelligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, brutal violations of common sense and common decency. It doesn't take a reasonably bright boy long to discover that most of what is rammed into him is nonsense, and that no one really cares very much whether he learns it or not."
~ H. L. Mencken

It's a rare decision that gets made around here with 100% confidence.  Some no-brainers for me were things like nursing and going vegetarian.  As I sit here trying to come up with some others, I am beginning to think that those are the only two decisions I've ever made with absolute certainty.  Homeschooling, being a SAHM, trying to be an emotionally intelligent parent - those choices just weren't as cut and dry.  Don't get me wrong...I'm not saying that I would do anything differently, but there is truth in the statement, "I sometimes worry if the choices we've made are not the best ones."  I've been thinking about writing this out for a really long time.  I was going to preface it with something like:

I'm not defending my choices.  I'm telling the story of how we got here.

But the truth is that I'm probably doing both.  Right now, I'm specifically talking about homeschooling, but you could probably substitute that word, and a few details, and get the same basic reasoning behind most of the decisions I make.  I've been thinking a lot about homeschooling because I seem to be reading and listening to a lot of people talk about it lately.  I don't generally talk about it much, but I listen and what I usually hear is just how much more everyone else does than we do.  And I always find myself asking the same question in my head, "How on earth do they do all that?"  I can not wrap my brain around any sort of schedule that looks even remotely like an actual school day.  It simply does not compute.   The really weird part though is that I very much like control, organization, and schedules.  Before I began living this life, I always imagined it would look very differently.

A Brief(?) History of How We Came To Be Homeschoolers

I'm not sure how it started.  I knew what it was because my aunt homeschooled my cousin.  What I don't really know is why I decided that we should do it.  My best guess is that while working for EarthLink, I spent a lot of time browsing the Internet.  Frequently I would come across news stories about kids getting suspended for bringing butter knives to school, or having colored hair.  Boys couldn't wear kilts to dances and girls couldn't be voted prom king.  There was also B's and my own experiences in school.  Neither of us felt that public schools could give our kids the sort of education that we thought they should have.  School seemed more like an evil social experiment than a place of learning.  Private schools were all religious, and discounted immediately.  That left homeschooling.  

Robotson wasn't even out of diapers when I started joining local homeschool support groups.  I never attended events or participated in the email loops.  I barely even read them as they came through, but I wanted to know what was going on.  When I was laid off from EarthLink, and decided to go ahead with the SAHM thing two years earlier than originally planned, I had a lot of really grand ideas.  We would spend our days in academic pursuit, the house would be spotless, meals prepared on time, and on and on.  Absolutely none of that happened.  I think I was a  bit lonely for a while.  B was working.  We lived far from all of my previous coworkers, and most of them were childless.  We didn't have any non-work friends because we hadn't had time for them.  Robotson never had any playmates for the same reason.  It was just him and I; so we got a dog.  Then I got pregnant.  All of a sudden I had three creatures that needed my constant attention.  Robotson would be starting school soon, and I had no idea what to do, with no real support system.

Plus during all of this time, I realized something very important about Robotson:  he is not the sort of kid to sit at a desk and do workbooks.  This is not a major revelation really.  Most boys (kids) are not all that interested in sitting still and listening to someone else do all the talking.  But I fought him.  Boy did I fight him for the entire year before he was to be officially registered with the state.  I kept putting off finding a curriculum because what would be the point in spending money on something that there was no way he was going to learn while bouncing off the walls?  I had a million doubts about whether I could do this, and I still lived in the fantasy land of weekly field trips, science experiments, and a son that was reading before Kindergarten.  It was a stressful year to say the least.

At this point, I'd only heard of unschooling once.  I saw a bumper stick on the back of a mini-van and had no idea what it meant.  I looked it up online, thought it sounded a bit scary, and never really thought about it again.

We moved into our first official year of homeschooling with no curriculum.  I had a book, Home Learning Year By Year that I used as a guide.  I spent hours piecing together my own First Grade course and then set about the task of teaching Robotson.  It worked alright for a little while, but eventually it became obvious that this just wasn't for us. At this point I wasn't sure if homeschooling was the problem, or me, or my son?*

To be continued...

*Wow!  I had no idea how long this was going to be!  It seems like a good place to stop and let me collect my thoughts before I move into where we are now and how we got here.  

February 18, 2010

Homeschool Days 2/18/10

“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself."
~Galileo Galilei

Yay!  Yay!  It's Secular (Homeschool) Thursday!  Robotson spent the weekend with his grandparents and I wanted to spend more time reading with the girls.  Ever since it got cold outside the girls have been sleeping upstairs and we've just gotten out of the habit.  I find a little time here and there, but it's really fallen by the wayside and I feel terrible about it.  When they sleep with us, B puts them to bed instead of me and reading was part of our routine together.  I've mentioned that I'd like for him to read to them, but it's not really his thing.  I need to stop finding excuses and make the time to snuggle down with them and a couple of books.


We finished The Black Stallion Returns and started on The Secret Garden, our next book club selection.  We also read The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe.   For more Poe, check out PoeStories.com.


Robotson and I played around on Number Nut this week.  We are still working on single digit multiplication.  I think he's on the verge of really understanding the concept.  He has memorized some of the simple times rules, but I don't want him to just memorize the tables.  I want him to know what he is doing with those numbers.  We played a little with division, but he had a hard time even though we were only working with 5's.  I think when multiplication clicks with him, division will be a piece of cake.  That's how it was for me anyway.


I love this Barbie and I'm totally buying one for each of the girls.  And this one too.

Personally, I'm holding out for Blogger Barbie, who comes wearing pajama pants and a Trogdor hoodie, with a tiny MacBook and espresso machine.  (via The Consumerist)

I'd SO love to see Blogger Barbie!

via Brother Richard. Thanks, Robotson loved this!


Science of the Winter Olympics! (via Instructify)  As if you needed another reason to love the Olympics.

Dogs and sleds.  These just crack us up every year.  Man, it looks like so much fun!

We've had several busy weeks in a row now, and I'm looking forward to being our usual homebody selves again.

Last Friday's Creation viewing was fun.  Got a really kick-ass recipe for pasta and veggies with sundried tomato pesto too.  It was YUM.  Made it last night in fact. Attempted the second half of my photo shoot for The Five Bears, but the light wasn't good.  Ho hum.  But the best part of our week is coming up because our next AIR meeting is on Sunday.  Yay!

February 17, 2010

On Siblings Past and Present

"Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk." 
~Susan Scarf Merrell

I ran across a couple of blog posts on sibling rivalry the other day.

Emily Geizer lists 7 Tips to Minimize Sibling Rivalry:

Never compare
Strive for unique, not equal
Never pigeon hole kids or lock them into roles
Spend time with each child separately
Hurtful actions need to be stopped
Acknowledge feelings
Model healthy anger management

It got me thinking not only about the relationships between my kids, but also my sister, and B and his sister.

I am three years older than my sister and we've always been very different. As kids, we didn't play much together.  I lacked the imagination to play pretend. I remember times playing with dolls where I would just dress and undress them.  That was all I could come up with.  As we got older we just didn't get along, and then the jealousy started.  I was a social outcast in high school.  My sister was outgoing and popular which made me so jealous.   After school, I met B and made a lot of my friends with him, and through hockey.  I ended up married and having kids.  Then my sister was envious.  It would still be many years before we could be around each other without conflict.

I don't know much about B's relationship with his sister growing up.  He is six years her senior.   I get the impression that they were really close for a while.  Somewhere along the way though, she became the pesky little sister that got into his stuff.  Things are very important to B and kids aren't always very careful.  To this day he can still list off things of his that she messed up.  On her side, I think she got irritated with him always picking on her, which he still does.  It's like she'll always be this little kid, even though she's an adult now.  Actually, I think he's much better now about giving her a hard time, but it came at the cost of not talking to her much.  Despite any problems they might have, they are eerily similar in so many ways.  It's not surprising that they are the two people in the world I feel most comfortable with and could tell anything.

I don't know how my kids' relationships will evolve as they grow up, but there are interesting dynamics.  Robotson is five years older than Funny Girl.  Only 20 months separate the two girls.  Robotson was thrilled to have a little sister when Funny Girl was born.  He was asked all the time if he wanted a little brother, but he always said he wanted a sister.  He adored her and they are still pretty close.  She loves all of the things that he loves, while still having her own interests.  When Dimples came along, Robotson still maintained he wanted more sisters, though if you ask him now he'll say he wishes he had brothers.  There are seven years between them, and I can see they don't have the same closeness as Funny Girl and Robotson.  However, Funny Girl and Dimples are the best of friends.  They spend all day together, fighting just as much as they get along.    Both girls love their brother and want to do all of the things he does.  They get into his things, especially when he's not around.  Occasionally, they mess up his stuff as little siblings do.  He picks on them as older siblings do.  Right now, they all seem equally imaginative, socially accepted, confident in their relationships with friends and family, and each other.  They are all outgoing and friendly, smart and strong-willed.  I see many similarities between them, but it's the differences that bring them together.

And just like any other parent, and I get fed up with all the daily bickering, but overall I am happy with how they treat each other.  It was interesting to read those posts and see what we were already good at doing (stopping hurtful actions and giving them each time), what we've learned in the last couple of years (acknowledging feelings, striving for uniqueness), and what we can still improve on (modeling anger management, not comparing, and not pigeon holing).

But Emily says there are benefits to sibling rivalry too.  That's where conflict resolution skills are important.  Those fights we have with our brothers and sisters help us learn how to deal with disagreements with friends, coworkers, and spouses when we are adults.  It puts a whole new perspective on my role in their arguments doesn't it?  I don't want them to rely on a third party to come in and tell everyone what they need to do.  Those posts were a timely and important reminder.

February 14, 2010

Funny Girl's first rite of passage

"I want to get my ears pierced right now." said Funny Girl as we were pulling out of the Costco parking lot.  I asked her what she meant by "right now".  Right now as in that's the next place I should take her, or right now instead of when she was "big like me" which was her previous position.  

"Right now." she tells me.  

So we went over to Claire's at the Mall of Georgia.  Apparently malls are really super busy on the weekends.  Who knew?  There was a little girl in front of us, also four, that was just about to get hers done when we walked up.  She was amazingly stoic.  They did both of hers at the same time and for a good couple of minutes afterwards the only thing she moved was her wide open eyes, back and forth.  Did she want to look in the mirror?  No reply.  After a little while though her eyes teared up a bit and then she was o.k.  Funny Girl was amazed and totally ready to go.  I filled out the forms while she picked the pair of earrings she wanted.  She settled on a pair of flowers with different colored petals, like a rainbow.  They were really cute, but I wanted her to pick something in white gold instead of stainless steel.  Her second choice was a flower with pink petals, so we went with those.  The lady doing the piercing explained how she had to clean her ears and then mark a little dot where the earring would go.  Funny Girl was more worried about the pen than the little piercing gun.  So she got it all lined up and and popped in the first one.  Funny Girl first looked shocked, then she got mad.  She wouldn't let her near the other ear, didn't want to see it, and was most definitely getting off of that chair!  Attempts to be reasonable weren't going to work and there was a line, so we took a bit of break to look around the store.  After some intense negotiations, where I ended up being talked into getting my own ears double pierced, she was willing to have her other ear done.  By now we were several people back in the line but both girls were happily picking out glasses and makeup to complete their purchases. 

Our turn again, I hopped up and got double pierced.  Funny Girl was next and for a minute tried to be ornery, but she did it.  

She's really excited about her new earrings and already looking forward to when she can buy a few more pairs.  It was an amazing experience for me too, one of those special mother-daughter moments.  

February 11, 2010

Homeschool Days 2/11/10

"Halfway between the past we can't change and the future we can only imagine, we find ourselves in the present. Not just the present year, but the present day; not just the present day, but the present moment."
—Sandra Dodd

I joined a Thursday roundup of posts on homeschooling from a secular perspective aptly named Secular Thursday.  Click the link to see a list of who is participating and join in!

As for our week, well at least none of us is sick anymore.  That doesn't mean we accomplished much though.  We had a great weekend, but Monday we had to drop everything to help out B- who left his wallet at home.  It was a good way to model the willingness to put aside plans at the last minute, without complaining, to help someone in need.  We went to the G.U.S.T. meeting in the evening, which was probably the most secular part of our school week.  Robotson asked if he could join the meeting.  I told him that he would have to be able to sit quietly and that most of the topics wouldn't make sense to him.  Not to mention, we talk about adult subjects.  He asked what this meeting was for anyway.  I told him it was for people who didn't believe in a god to get together and discuss things related to that.  He said, "Oh well then I wouldn't want to be part of the meeting anyway since I believe in God."  Yeah, this is a relatively new development that is simultaneously irritating and bemusing to me.  I'm not irritated that he wants to believe in something, but that his ideas about it are so similar to adults that just believe without knowing why.  He tells me that he thinks God helps him win his video games.  When I asked him why God would take the time to do that when there are people that need food, clean water, medicine, etc. he tells me that God can't know everything.  He's not familiar enough with any belief system to know that God should be all-knowing, all-good, and all-powerful.  I think at this point he just really wants to do the opposite of what I do.  So I usually ignore comments or ask him if he'd like to learn more about the different religions.  He always declines.

Tuesday is one of our days off, but we did go to the playdate.  Today I had a photo gig, tomorrow is B's birthday, and Friday the kids and I are going to see Creation at a friend's house.

So we have not finished The Black Stallion Returns yet, nor started on anything new, but I feel like we are learning a lot about life right now.  I figure it all evens out in the end.

February 8, 2010

Monday Manners 2/8/10

"As I was put into the boat, he cried and said to me, It's all right, little girl. You go. I will stay. As our boat shoved off he threw me a kiss, and that was the last I saw of him."
-Mrs. Daniel Warner Marvin (American)

Can being polite cost you your life and should you let it? Imagine you are a man on the Titanic and it's going down, of course.  They are filling up the lifeboats with the usual women and children first.  Do you patiently wait in the long line, realistically knowing that your turn will never come?  Or do you push your way to the front and hop in?  There was a study recently on this very question.

"The goal of our research is to find out how people behave under extreme duress, especially in situations of life or death," Frey said. "Do they become more selfish, or do they still follow moral norms. In the case of the Titanic it was the latter."

It appears that the more mannerly British were likely to perish, while the less civilized Americans saved their skins.

New research has suggested that a lot of the poor souls who drowned in the infamous 1912 Titanic sinking died because of good manners, while many Americans survived because they were pushy. 

I'm not sure what to think of this.  On the one hand, I'd like to think you should always do what is right.  On the other hand, you won't make the fish any more polite by going down with the ship.  Seems wrong that the rude genes live on, doesn't it?

B had another take on it.  He said being rude gets people killed.  A certain number of people were going to die anyway though, as they couldn't save everyone.  Had every person on that ship followed the rules of etiquette, would it have made much difference?  What happens when two people are so busy offering their place that they both lose?  It's hard for me to say as a woman.  I know B would wait his turn and I would be a widow.  What would you do?

Here is one more thing to consider.  This is a quote from Robert W. Daniel, a Philadelphia banker.

"I was far up on one of the top decks when I jumped. About me were others in the water. My bathrobe floated away, and it was icily cold. I struck out at once. I turned my head, and my first glance took in the people swarming on the TitanicĂ­s deck. Hundreds were standing there helpless to ward off approaching death. I saw Captain Smith on the bridge. My eyes seemingly clung to him. The deck from which I had leapt was immersed. The water had risen slowly, and was now to the floor of the bridge. Then it was to Captain Smith's waist. I saw him no more. He died a hero."

Now here is what Captain Smith reportedly said while the ship was sinking.

"Be British, boys, be British!"

Was it rude for Daniel to jump and mannerly for the Captain to stay on the ship?  Maybe the two don't compare because a captain shouldn't leave his ship while others are still stuck.  But I don't see Daniel's actions as rude either.

You can read more survivor stories here.  I have a hard time looking at these people and labeling them "rude".

February 7, 2010


"I don't know any other way to lead but by example."
-Don Shula

When I was a kid, my mom used to make this recipe called Kickoff.  We weren't a football family so I never associated it with the big game, but I loved it.  Over the years, B has gotten me interested in football and for the last few, I've made Kickoff on Super Bowl Sunday.  I've never been able to find this recipe anywhere so I have no idea where it came from.  I thought I'd put it out there for the world to partake of it's yumminess.  It's in no way healthy, so I'll be taking a free day on the calorie counting.

Kickoff Bars
2 cups Golden Grahams cereal
2 cups stick pretzels
1 cup M&Ms
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup peanut butter
2.5 cups marshmallows

Butter a glass baking dish and mix the Golden Grahams, pretzels, and M&Ms together.  Set aside.
In a saucepan, melt the butter and peanut butter together over low heat.  Add the marshmallows and stir until melted.  Don't let them burn.
When the marshmallows are melted, pour the glaze over the cereal mixture and mix until thoroughly combined.  Let it cool down and enjoy!

You could add anything to the cereal mixture really.  My mom added nuts and raisins, but my kids don't like those.  You might add Chex Mix or popcorn.  Be creative!

February 6, 2010

Homeschool Days 2/6/10

"All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education."
 -Sir Walter Scott

Been getting caught up on stuff around the house, hence the late posting.  The good news is I'm halfway done.  The bad news is I still have half of the house to clean.


We finished The Black Stallion (barely) in time for the book club.  My daily headaches plagued us, but we did it.  Our selections for February include The Black Stallion Returns (currently half finished), The Lightning Thief, and The Secret Garden (next book club pick).

We also read Names, Sets, and Numbers.  Though we'd never really talked about the those math concepts, they are pretty basic ideas.  I'm thinking this is more of a preschool type book.  I remember doing worksheets on this stuff as a kid and I was glad to see that the ideas don't really have to be drilled in that way.  Just everyday life taught Robotson, and the girls will probably pick it up without the need for rote memorization too.

Robotson wanted to read to the girls this week, and they chose several from our Dr. Seuss collection.  They also sat in a couple of times as I read to Robotson.


Tough Guy Challenge 2010 - Fortunately Robotson thought it was a bit too muddy.  Hard to believe from a kid who used to do this.

What is a Phoenix?

That was pretty much all we did last week.  Have a great weekend!  Anyone watching the Super Bowl?  Go Colts!

February 3, 2010

Fell Off the EI Parent Wagon

"What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself."
-Abraham Maslow

I haven't been spending much time thinking about emotionally intelligent parenting in the past few weeks.  Being exhausted pretty much pushed all non-essentials to the side.  Today I remembered that we'd gotten off track as I was telling Robotson that "if he did such and such, then such and such would happen."  It dawned on me that I've been making a lot of statements like this lately.  I'd also stopped trying to listen, initiate conflict resolutions, and was resorting back to you statements instead of I-Messages.

In the spirit of getting back in gear, I've got a couple of links.

About.com has a definition and a little history of emotional intelligence.  I was excited to see the mention of Abraham Maslow since I had recently used his hierarchy of needs to more clearly define my needs in conflict resolutions.  I was even more thrilled to see the mention on the P.E.T. blog.

Science Daily had an interesting article on kids and social rejection.  Basically, kids that have a hard time navigating social interactions are more likely to be depressed, do poorly in school, and turn to drugs.  Robotson has a bit of trouble in social situations (though I'm not worried about his schoolwork or drugs).  The article describes three situations:

The studies indicate that some children have difficulty picking up on non-verbal or social cues.
According to McKown, "They simply don't notice the way someone's shoulders slump with disappointment, or hear the change in someone's voice when they are excited, or take in whether a person's face shows anger or sadness."
A second major factor is that some children may pick up on non-verbal or social cues, but lack the ability to attach meaning to them. 
The third factor is the ability to reason about social problems.
"Some children may notice social cues and understand what is happening, but are unable to do the social problem solving to behave appropriately," said McKown.
A child who can take in social cues, recognize their meaning and respond appropriately, and who is capable of "self- regulating," or controlling behavior, is more likely to have successful relationships.
"The number of children who cannot negotiate all these steps, and who are at risk of social rejection, is startling," said McKown.
Nearly 13 percent of the school age population, or roughly four million children nationwide, have social-emotional learning difficulties.

I think Robotson most likely fits into the third group.  I have found that he is able to recognize how people are feeling and understand them, but doesn't seem able to do anything about it.  It's like his brain jams.  I wonder if role-playing would help and if he'd be willing to try it.

Last, I happened upon this article from NPR on emotional training helping to fight depression.  They never use the word mindset, but basically they are describing kids with fixed mindsets.  They get into negative thinking and it spirals from there.  But when they can teach kids to think differently, relying on facts instead of emotions, they give kids the skills to deal with disappointments.

Anthony says that just the other day, he missed what he says was an easy problem on a math test. "You just think you're stupid automatically," he says. "That's the first thought, but you have to fight that away."
He's learned to stop and think about the real facts. Overall, his grade is pretty good. And if he tried harder next time, he would probably do better.

Sometimes it seems so daunting, the changes I want to make in the way we think.  Keep moving forward.

February 1, 2010

Monday Manners 2/1/10

"Manners require time, and nothing is more vulgar than haste."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm not a morning person, as I've already mentioned*. If I had my way, I wouldn't even speak for an hour after waking up and certainly not before a cup of coffee. My aversion to mornings is getting worse because every single day I wake up to the same phrase, spoken by both Funny Girl and Dimples.

"I want some milk."

I loathe that sentence. It ruins my morning. So I've been working on changing it to "Please may I nurse?" If they are going to wake me up, the least they can do is be polite. The good news is that they do ask me nicely. The bad news is that it usually takes them a few minutes to figure out why I'm really grumpy after being woken up to "I want some milk!" coming from both sides of me.

The "Please may I..." phrase is coming out more during the day also, so it's been worth the effort. Fingers crossed that my mornings will be a little more pleasant in the coming weeks.

*For anyone who remembers my trying to get to bed early and rise early, it never worked out. I'm sure I didn't try hard enough, but I never felt good getting up early. It's hard to push through when you feel nauseous. I did stop eating at night though when I began counting calories. That was one major reason why I wanted to stop staying up late. I feel less guilty about it when I'm not mindlessly eating.