Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Big Pieces

When you strip away the academics and try to build your foundation for life (not just homeschooling, but living), you'll find that certain things are important for your family. Taking a break from the academics I've learned a few things about what makes things work for us.

Number one is environment. It comes before rhythm, before nourishing meals, before snuggling, singing, and stories. In Enki, environment is a warp thread on the web. For me, right now, I prefer the analogy of the womb.

Before we were ready to create life, the environment had to be prepared. For most of us, that is our homes. They need to be welcoming, nurturing, warm...not necessarily perfectly clean and organized, but liveable. For me personally, things need to be fairly well decluttered and in their places. I function better when I am not looking at visual chaos (okay, I also function better in the absence of aural chaos...I don't do chaos very well). I don't need bare surfaces, but I like things simple and not cluttered. My kitchen needs to be clean.

There are homes you walk into and you just feel the warmth. The style may not be yours, but you feel welcome. I love a home where you can curl up on the couch. I love eating spaces that are small and intimate, and obviously used. I love a big bed that the whole family can pile into. I love warm colors, golden wood floors, and candles that actually get burned. I love front porches and open doors, and garages in the back.

When my environment is sustaining me, I can move on to other things, such as rhythm and health. I'm not sure if one has higher priority than the other; health is necessary to sustain rhythm, rhythm is necessary to sustain health. I suppose though, that health follows close on the heels on environment (and really, it is all interwoven...how can I create the environment if I don't have health?).

At its very core, health is simple. Physical health requires good nourishment, moderate exercise, clean air and water, sunshine, and rest. We approach nutrition with whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, grains, beans, and fish. The more simple I make it, the easier it gets. Some people are going to eat beef, chicken, and/or pork. Some will be vegan or vegetarian. I believe that the focus on whole plants foods is what contributes to health, not whether or not one eats meat. Someone who eats steak, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit is probably going to be healthier than a vegan who lives on French fries and soy ice cream. Not that people can't eat those things...just that for us nutrition is a big part of physical health. I don't want to accept diabetes, stroke, or heart attacks as part of aging. I want to do what I can to prevent the preventable cancers.

Our family needs to be active, and for the most part that needs to be uncontrived exercise. Walking and riding bikes are the cornerstones of our fitness. I've spent my time working out at the gym and it isn't for me. I like exercise that takes me somewhere, especially exercise in sunshine, fresh air, and nature. I like activity that has purpose, such as riding to the grocery store or walking to the post office.

Emotional health is something that has been harder for me to find and sustain. At the core, I need close relationships as well as more casual friendships. I need community, which I finally found in my homeschooling group. I need time to pursue things that make me happy and fulfilled, such as reading (head), crafts (hands), and singing or other artistic pursuits (heart). These are the same things that keep my husband and children emotionally healthy as well.

Spiritual health is individual to each person. I think the important thing is to be content with whatever beliefs you have, and to question them if need be so that you can know they are yours and not something you believe because that's what you were taught.

Rhythm ties together health and environment. It is the container that holds our lives. When I was a child our year moved through familiar patterns of ordinary days intermixed with birthdays and holidays. Children naturally look ahead to the next festival without losing the here and now.

Not only do we have an annual rhythm of festivals (be they holidays, birthdays, observances, etc.), we also have seasonal rhythms. As a child I was attuned to the seasons, however, as an adult I got on the treadmill and lost that seasonality. With a full time job I didn't have time to savor the seasons. Central heat and air conditioning, as well as an air-conditioned car, meant it didn't matter if it was 40 degrees or 110 degrees outside. The ability to purchase melons and tomatoes year round also dulled my perception of the seasons. It was only after I had children and slowed down that the seasons gained importance once again. The long nights of December, which used to bother me because I had to drive home in the dark, instead become a time for candles and fires, homemade soups, and fresh-baked bread. The long days of summer give us more time for outdoor activities as well as our beloved summer music series. Spring sends us searching for nestlings and tadpoles. Autumn brings falling leaves and pumpkins, the harvest moon, and basketball.

There is a monthly rhythm as we observe the moon, and then the weekly rhythm of the days. Park on one day, the farmer's market on another, weekdays and weekends. Nights that we have certain meals, a Friday family night, the weekly BMX race. These little things anchor us in time. Even household tasks weave into the weekly rhythm: laundry days, baking days, cleaning days.

Each day is a container itself, filled with waking and sleeping, eating, playing and resting, laughing, loving, and learning. Our lives are not merely chaos; they are an empty musical staff, waiting for us to make the music. Each day is different, yet they all contain similar motifs, half notes and whole notes, staccato and legato, measures of rest. We read, we have focused learning times, we sing, we move, we cook, we clean, we play, we rest. There are hurts to soothe, a dog to quiet, a floor to mop. There are friends to talk with, errands to run, hats to be knitted. We pour all of these things into the container of our days.

Sometimes it really helps to sit back, observe, and discover the foundations of your life. I did the Enki family web exercise months back, and pulling out my web just a moment ago (after writing this entry) I see that what I identified in theory is what works for us when we stop trying to do and just live. Family and Community are our outer ring, our threads are health, rhythm, nature, travel, learning, music, environment, and relationship.

I have said it before:

Wisdom, Vitality, and Compassion are my birthright.
They are the core of all humanity, in all times and in all places.
They may be clouded over, or tarnished, but the brilliance is there,
Unchanged, to be discovered again and again.
May I constantly seek these things in myself,
that I might find them in everyone.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Making Enki Your Own

There are many ways to start homeschooling. Some people will research and plan for months. Some will jump right in and barely stay a step ahead each day. Some will combine the methods. And some, some will change their minds...

Not about Enki, no. The philosophy is amazing and multiculturally it moves into a place that isn't a "multicultural method"...it is a way of life. Developmentally it meets the children right where they need it. To me, it is the premiere holistic education curriculum.

I did jump into Enki with both feet, with almost zero planning time. I was up each night planning the next day; choosing stories, reading guides, etc. It was right, it was what we needed to do. Educationally my children were served well. As a family, however, something wasn't quite right.

It was as though we had laid an Enki mask over ourselves, thinking that doing it would make it real. I mean this as no criticism of Enki Education, but even adapted for homeschoolers it can be too rigid; it is not a criticism of Enki because I don't think Enki means it to be rigid. But still, you have to hit certain points throughout the day. You are encouraged not to go out much. Sometimes the suggestions are pretty strong "shoulds".

Over time we did make Enki a part of our lives, more than just a mask. But it wasn't by lighting candles and singing developmentally appropriate seasonal songs. The biggest change has been how I see people, and how that affects everything I do with my children. The concept that wisdom, vitality, and compassion belong to all of us has changed me profoundly. Not only because I acknowledge those things in other people (both now and in all times and places), but because I acknowledge them in myself!

Now that I have spent some time working with the Enki philosophy, and also have a couple of years of homeschooling under my belt, I am seeing things more clearly. Certainly my experience with the Holistic Family and Enki Experience groups has also influenced me. I see that there is this desperate desire to do things right. I see people who are afraid to tweak even the littlest things. How many people try to set up their days exactly like the Pretend family? How many people are afraid that they won't do the watercolor painting right?

We can't parent out of fear, and we can't educate our children out of fear. Heck, we can't live if we are afraid of everything. We need to find our wisdom. It's there, perhaps hidden, but always present.

Certainly, there is a point where you veer off so far from Enki philosophy that you are no longer following the blueprint. However, I do see that there is room within it to make Enki a living, breathing part of your family.

Now that we are on break I am able to sit back and observe who we really are. I can clearly identify that we don't want to limit ourselves to one social outing once a week. I can tell you right now that I don't want to be held so firmly to a rhythm that we can't be flexible and join friends for tea and a romp in the park.

Away from Enki academics, we are far more relaxed, easy-going family. We can pick up and do a spur-of-the-moment "field trip" whenever we want. We can get together with friends. We have far more time to read aloud.

Okay, so that sounds a bit like unschooling. I'm not bashing Enki - I love Enki! The break has just given me a different perspective. I don't want to recreate school at home, not even an Enki school. It is highly unlikely that we'll start our main lesson at 9 a.m. everyday. I'm not going to devote the hours of 8-2 to educational pursuits.

This is still unformed; I still have plenty of time to think. My goal is to take this wonderful philosophy, the materials, the methods, and make them uniquely ours.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Other Blog...

In case you didn't know, I am writing two blogs right now. I'm trying to keep this one focused on homeschooling. The other blog is more about life in general...sustainability, cooking, happiness, etc.

Red Dirt Life

Not Much Going On...

I'm waiting for resources from Enki. One CD didn't come, and of course the materials from the printer take weeks to arrive.

On the homeschool front, I'm working on an article for the state homeschooling newsletter. Okay, I'm not working on it...but I'm jotting down ideas and thinking about it. It's going to be about holistic homeschooling...I figure we need all the exposure we can get.

I'm also going to volunteer as a local contact for the state group. I already answer questions informally and try to help people with the homeschooling choices. All this means is that my name will be listed as a contact. I am planning to attend and volunteer at the CHN conference next summer.

I try to keep things going with the local support group. So far mom's night out has been a moderate success. The group isn't growing; I think we've become a bit too specialized, as all of the families that attend regularly practice attachment parenting. I think new families can be put off by hearing that the children aren't all vaccinated, or by seeing a 2YO nurse in public. Of course, I am fine with it, and I would rather be small and true than large but unauthentic. What I mean by that is that I don't want people to not talk about AP and NFL topics just to appeal to a wider audience.

The Roots & Shoots group just isn't happening. I need to get more organized. At this point it might have to wait until January. I did schedule a hike, but no one was able to attend except my family.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Allergies

After 1 week of challenging gluten, it appears the J-Baby is definitely gluten intolerant. We don't know if it is celiac or not. We're still in the middle of IgE scratch testing, which J-Baby finds very invasive (sensory issues)...I think working with a gastroenterologist and nutritionist would be a good idea, but I don't want J-Baby's life to become a round of doctor and lab visits.

I'm glad we homeschool! I can't imagine sending him to public/private school with his food allergies . So far we know he reacts to:

gluten
soy
citrus
stone fruit
green beans
eggs
black pepper

He may or may not react to dairy; he has never had enough for us to know. Since T-Guy is allergic to dairy it is best to just keep it out of the house. Soy and gluten often cross react with casein anyway.

T-Guy and I are also food allergic. Unfortunately for T-Guy and Papa, I think we need to take the kitchen/house gluten free. It is too hard to have separate containers of Earth Balance, separate toasters, etc.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Grade 2 Planning

What should I post about while we are on break? I could post about planning, except that I haven't really been planning. I read the Grade 2 Guide while we were on vacation. I planned out dates and blocks. I ordered some materials from Enki, and now I am waiting.

Actually, I was writing to a friend and I mentioned that I wasn't even sure that planning everything 100% makes sense in the home learning environment. Afterall, one benefit of learning at home is the ability to tailor everything to your child(ren)'s individual needs. How can I know now which religious sage will resonate best with the boys in July? So I am planning in broad strokes. It is easier to plan the math, and to choose which culture we will immerse ourselves in each session. I will have to gather resources, but I don't see much point in rushing now to plan songs and crafts when it is possible that the Enki grade 2 materials will be ready by the time I need them. So really, I am relaxing about it all. I know where I want to go and I have a basic map.

Here are my basics so far:

I'm planning 5 sessions of 7 weeks each; 3 weeks for L.A./Humanities and 3 weeks for Math with a 1 week break between sessions. The break is flexible; if we're nearing burnout we'll use it as a break, if we need more time for math we'll use it for math.

Session 1:

Week 1: African/American Trickster Tale
Weeks 2 and 3: African/American Sage (MLK Jr.?)
Weeks 4 through 6: Reawaken Four Processes, Introduce Fact Families

Session 2:

Week 1: Trickster Tale
Weeks 2 and 3: John Muir
Weeks 4 through 6: Reawaken Fact Families

2 Week Vacation to Yosemite and California Coast

Session 3:

Week 1: Native American Trickster Tale
Weeks 2 and 3: Stalking Wolf
Weeks 4-6: Introduce Place Value

Session 4:

Week 1: Israeli Trickster Tale
Weeks 2 and 3: Hebrew Sage
Weeks 4-6: Reawaken Place Value

Session 5:

Week 1: Mexican/Aztec Trickster Tale
Weeks 2 and 3: Benito Juarez
Weeks 4 through 6: Expand Place Value

Mexican Independence Day Celebration at Olvera Street

We'll actually ease into our "school year" starting in December, with holiday stories, songs, and crafts. This will be our time for word family review and expansion. I haven't decided if it will be a full L.A./Humanities block with a European trickster tale and a Christian sage, however I am leaning that way.

Another friend is planning by the seasons. This makes a lot of sense as well. In grade 2 the focus is more on cultures, but the process is the same. I may work on planning each 2 month session as it comes around.

This week has been much like the "vacation at home" study Beth mention, except that we have gone several places. Many things, such as BMX and park day, are part of our rhythm and it would not be integrative to eliminate them. All in all, I've been making a lot of observations, especially about the times when the boys seems to need more contraction.

I'm working on our environment; we've been decluttering and deep cleaning. My goal is to get the house to a place where it doesn't take so much time to maintain it. My observation on that is that old houses are never clean, no matter how hard you try. Sometimes I really just want to rent a dumpster and toss out half of what we own. I don't want to worry about whether is has value or if a friend might want it. I just want to let it go.

My focus is also returning to the Foundation Guides. I realize that even though I have read most of the guides three times now I am still such a neophyte when it comes to the Enki philosophy.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Our Best Outdoor Season

When I was making our plans for grade 1, I read that we should plan our break for the time of year that we naturally want to be outside enjoying nature. Combined with a few other things, taking our break in the fall seemed to make the most sense. We slogged on through summer; okay I slogged, because although I have been conditioned to think of summer as "summer vacation" my boys have no such preconceived notions. It was tough to completely give up the lazy days of summer and stick with word families and the four processes.

Fall arrived, as best she does in Southern California. The days are topping out around 80 degrees, and the evenings and mornings are cool. We put the comforter on the bed, and actually had to close some windows the other night. It's confusing weather; we need long pants and sweatjackets in the morning, but by midafternoon we're ready for sandals and short sleeves.

Saturday we finally got to experience the bounty of fall. Oh, we had a teaser Friday when we went to Oak Glen for apples, but Saturday we drove up the mountain and hiked to the Aspen Grove and then along Fish Creek. It was gorgeous, and I was fully reminded of why I thought autumn would be our best outdoor season. In winter it is cold and there might be snow on the trail, in spring it is humid and buggy, and in summer it is just too hot. But fall, well fall is perfect. The aspens were golden and quaking. Although the forest is mostly pine and fir, we did get glimpses of other fall colors.

Fall is pretty nice down here in the valley as well. The days are warm, but not too hot. It's cold enough to need a jacket when we walk at night, or to light a fire. J-Baby delights in the Halloween decorations we see everywhere, and his delight is contagious. The first winter squash arrive at the farmer's market, along with pomegranates and persimmons. There is fresh cider at the local market, and apples just up the hill.

It's my favorite time of year. I love buying lots of pumpkins and scattering them around the house. Our fall nature table was up a week early! As much as I look forward to the return of evening light each spring, in the fall I love the way the days grow shorter, coming to the time where we eat dinner in candlelit darkness. In the last weeks of fall we light the candles as soon as it gets dark and sing while we wait for Papa to come home from work (at least, we do on the nights that supper is prepared and doesn't require a lot of last minute preparation).

Perhaps, for most of you, summer truly is your best outdoor season. For anyone else, I encourage to break out of the box and truly consider which season would be best for your break.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Realistically....

...waking up at 6:15 isn't going to happen easily until after the time change. The mornings are dim/dark at that time and our bodies haven't gotten enough daylight to feel alert.

We can force it, but I don't know if that is best. Still, we really want to ride in the mornings with Papa.

Another thing - both boys are showing the stress of our rhythm breaking down (the basics are there, but there are long stretches of unplanned time) as well as the chaos in the house. So I will work on rhythm, environment, and health.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Tinkering with the Rhythm (Again)

I suppose that the only absolute about rhythm is that there is no absolute. Just as a conductor can rearrange musical scores, so do parents arrange and rearrange the day.

One of the toughest things for me is where to place my daily bath. If taken at night I am nice and clean in my pajamas and sheets. The warm bath is relaxing, and the gradual cool down of my body is conducive to sleep. The morning goes more smoothly because all I need to do is dress and take care of a few short personal hygiene tasks.

It seems like a no brainer, right? Wrong. The nightly bath takes away from partner time, which is essential to the well being of the family. Also, if morning movement is vigorous (a long brisk walk or a bike ride) then a bath is needed afterward. Finally, morning bathing eliminates the need to blow dry my hair on all but the coldest and dampest days. This should be a small concern overall; however, I am finding it difficult to keep the length healthy with frequent blow-drying.

I've tried scheduling the bath for early evening, but it rarely happens.

For now, we've decided that morning movement/exercise is imperative, so once again the bath is moving to morning.

An ideal day:

6:15 Wake and snuggle
6:30 Breakfast and clothing
7:00 Bike ride
8:00 Daily chores (while Papa showers)
8:45 My bath (boys have free play from about 8:15-9:45)
9:45 Snack
10:00 Morning Lesson (incorporating a short movement circle with SI activity, the main lesson, and perhaps recorder or foreign language)
11:30 Lunch preparation
12:00 Lunch and clean up, play time with Papa
12:45 Quiet time
1:45 Room clean up
2:00 Snack
2:15 Practice time
3-ish Projects or family activities
3:45 Free play/computer time
4:45 Dinner preparation
5:15 Settling-in time
5:30 Dinner
6:00 Clean up (boys clean room)
6:15 Family time (including reading to boys, games, snack, etc.)
7:45 Boys in bed/quick tidy
8:00 Partner time
10:45 Lights out for parents

All times are approximate...it is more about the flow than the time.