Friday, September 21, 2007

Good-Bye Old Paint

The time was bound to come.

I love blogging about learning. Those of you who have been with this blog from the beginning have witnessed the transformation of our family from dedicated holistic homeschoolers to free living life learners. It has been amazing; we've struggled with rhythm, routines, schedules, and more. We've tried new things...some worked, some were mistakes, all were learning experiences.

Thank you all for your comments over the past couple of years. It was so nice to have a dialogue with the new and growing holistic home education movement across the country and around the world.

I may not have know it while we were walking the path, but eventually we were able to integrate learning and living to a point where a keeping a separate blog for learning is redundant. So now, I plan to stop writing on this blog, unless something of great importance related only to home education comes up. Otherwise, you'll find us loving, learning, and living over at Red Dirt Life.

Peace, wisdom, vitality, and compassion...sought and offered, given and received....

Kimberly

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My Kind of Evening

(I suppose this post could have been posted on the main blog, but I haven't posted here in awhile. Actually, I'm not sure of the need for a separate home learning blog any longer. But while I ponder that, I'll keep writing.)

Today was a busy day. Busy in the sit on my butt and move my fingers all afternoon way. I spent a couple of hours drafting a memo and guidelines (volunteer work). I researched homeschool support groups for one friend, and wrote a lengthy explanation of attachment parenting and natural family living for a woman who is starting a new homeschool support group in our area and was curious about these topics and how they relate to some of the area home learners. I answered personal email. I finalized a co-op order. Before I knew it Papa had arrived home and it was time to go to market.

I love the walk to market (when it isn't blazingly hot). As soon as the front door closes behind us I can feel myself start to relax. The rhythm of walking is soothing, and the 15 minutes that it takes us to walk downtown give Papa and I a chance to reconnect while the boys run and cavort ahead of us.

And then we are there. The farmer's market. We hurry to our favorite stands, Papa purchasing tomatoes while I head to the tables next door for eggs. We frown when we learn that the green apples are done for the season, but enjoy talking to the farmer. We're regulars, and he tells me that he has one tree he can check and maybe next week he'll have a basket for us. I'm thrilled that he would do this for us, but I have to let him know we won't be there next week. His wife is a school teacher; I ask her how her new class is settling in, and she remarks on the boys' new hair cuts while she makes our change.

(For those who are keeping track, we've covered physical education and socialization, and we've had a lesson in seasonal produce.)

Our major purchases made, we walk through the market more slowly, seeking out the various small growers that we know grow their produce without pesticides, even though they aren't certified organic. One grower has heirloom melons; T-guy chooses one and pays the seller. The couple that grows peaches in their back yard tells us that the peaches are finished for the year, but they do have plums and quince. Papa asks about quince and he and the boys learn that it is similar to an apple, but must be cooked.

(Consumer math and botany lessons.)

We find another vendor who does have apples and peaches. She doesn't grow as locally as our favorite farmers (who grow right here in Our Town), but her produce is unsprayed. I choose apples, and just a few peaches for T-Guy, who immediately bites into one, juices dripping down his face and hands. The vendor entices us with a sample of plums, and we bring home a paper bag of those as well.

J-Baby asks for an apple. With both boys happily munching away, we sit at the tiny park that is part of our downtown, and listen to a jazz trio for several (long) songs. J-Baby tells me he prefers songs with words, but that if he was going to be one of the musicians up on stage he'd choose to be a bass player. He asks why the pianist and bass player play through every song, but the horn player doesn't play during the piano and bass solos. Papa points out the difference between a trumpet and a flugelhorn. The boys shyly drop a few bills into the tip jar.

(Music appreciation)

Finally we stand up and start the walk home. Boys are boys, and they want to know why the carriage driver has a special device to keep her horse from defecating on the street. We talk about what people today expect in terms of sanitation. Once we reach the block before ours we set the boys free to cut through the alley and meet us at home.

(Health, and for me, an important lesson in giving the boys the freedom they seek. )

The entire experience is a lesson in community, although the reality is that it is a nice way to spend the evening and we aren't thinking about the experience as a learning opportunity. We get to purchase local food and talk to the people who grow it. We get to listen to live music. We spend the time together as a family. We get a bit of exercise. We live and we love and we learn.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What Does It Mean to Guide a Child?

Aha moments are funny; they come when you least expect them. I had one of those breaking point days earlier this summer, the kind of day when you are disappointed in yourself and everyone around you, the kind of day where the pressure is so high that you have to huff and puff and let off steam, or else you'll explode and either end up rearranging furniture or crying into your pillow. Let's just say that our furniture wasn't in the same place by the end of the evening.

I'll admit it; I was frustrated. So frustrated that for 10 minutes I perused the website of the local Montessori school, wondering if it was time to throw in the towel and send the boys to school. I sat, and I read, and then I turned off the computer and told myself that it would never work anyway. I reminded myself that we are committed to home education. I have promised my boys that I will be their guide; we even shook on it. Besides, all of the day's frustration had nothing to do with home learning, or did it?

We are life long learners. We combine a holistic philosophy with a large dose of unschooling. I try to keep the big picture in mind while muddling through the little things: phonics and place value, art and argument. I plan reading practice and make sure there is enough time for making mud pies. I make schedules that we never stick to, and delight in the unexpected experience that teaches far more than I ever could. Still, I feel a little guilty whenever we swing too far into the realm of unstructured days. We miss the integration, the rhythm, the comfort of knowing what will come next. We all start to build pressure, and we have blow ups like the one earlier this summer.

While we were at the market that day, I realized that something important had been missing from our home learning. I hadn't been guiding my boys, not in the true sense of the word. I would pay lip service to being their guide, but in reality I had been an engineer. At some point the responsibility for learning should have been passed to my boys, and I should have stepped aside and started providing maps and directions instead of pulling the train by myself.

Since then, I have tried more and more to observe and guide, rather than direct. I pay close attention to the boys throughout the day, listening to the energy in the house and deciding when once activity has run its course and the boys might need guidance as to where to go next. The more I observe, the more I stand back, the better they get at moving themselves through the transition and finding the next thing to do.

I'm still me; there are things that I want them to learn. I'm all for following a child's interests; at the same time I want them to understand math on paper and not just in their heads. There are many books and stories I want to share with them that are far above their reading levels. There are also things that I want them to learn that they may never show an interest in, but that I consider important life skills. I've found that by the time the child is old enough to clean the toilet properly, s/he has lost interest in doing it.

Teaching life skills is part of guiding a child. I'm glad that I learned the basics of ironing. I'm glad I learned how to use a hammer and screwdriver. I wish I had known more about personal finance and interpersonal relationships when I left my parents' home and started my life with Papa.

Guides teach along the way, as they walk with you. They help you identify the paths, and also teach you how to bushwhack when necessary. They point out hidden dangers. Guides take you places you might not be able to go on your own. They don't, however, carry your backpack for you. They expect you to work for the experiences you are gathering. They stand ready to to point out a gorgeous view or a beautiful flower, but they pause first, waiting for you to discover them on your own. The best guides don't teach you everything you need to know; they help you connect with the fact that you are learning all the time.

Homeschooling Conventions Are For Everyone!

We attended our first state-wide homeschooling convention August 10-12, and we had a blast! Actually, ours is called an EXPO, which is fantastic because nothing about the weekend was conventional in the least.

Now, we've been trying to get to the state convention (actually one of two major conventions in our state) for years now. Something always worked against us; we'd plan our vacations and have the dates conflict (those who read the blog regularly know that we plan our vacations about a year in advance), and we were always working against special needs.

But this time I was ready. I reserved our hotel room in October. Papa arranged to have Friday off. I put it on the calendar and planned around the weekend for almost a year. As usual, life messed with my plans and we were unable to stay at the hotel, but we did make it to all three days of the EXPO.

The experience was incredible. For one, the entire EXPO is planned with the needs of children in mind. There was so much for them to do, and there were also welcome in sessions as long as they didn't cause too much disruption. There was also plenty for the parents to do, and most of the kid things were adult-friendly as well, so we could do things together.

I'll probably take some time later to elaborate on all we did and learned, however, it occurred to me that I have met and talked to many people who think that homeschooling conventions have nothing to offer them. Without experience, I couldn't really agree or disagree. But now that I have been to one, I can disagree, because truly, homeschooling conventions are for everyone!

So let's start with some of the things I've heard, and I'll offer my observations.

1) We unschool. We don't need a convention.

Okay, so you unschool. You are doing what works for your family and that's fantastic. Do you think that everyone at a homeschooling conference does school-in-a-box? Are you so set in your ways that you think you have nothing left to learn in life? I met plenty of unschoolers at the convention, and I myself fall somewhere on the unschooling continuum. There were sessions for unschoolers, and there were plenty of things for children and adults to do, regardless of their learning philosophy. Last time I checked, building with blocks, playing dress-up, taking apart electronics, making crafts, listening to stories and music, playing with large appliance boxes, and hanging out with friends are things that most children enjoy, regardless of where or how they are schooled. On the flip side, the adult sessions always had something that I could apply to my personal life, not just my life with children.

2) We're happy with our homeschooling the way it is.

See above post. Plus, no one was out to convert anyone to a particular style of home learning. There is no down side to exposing your children to the wide world of homeschooling. You can even close your mind and try not to learn anything while you are at the convention. I too, am very pleased with our way of living and learning, and still I came away with many ideas that have the potential to make it even better. For instance, I learned:

a) Papa is excited about our home learning and really wants to participate in decision-making. He had always left it up to me, in part because he didn't know what was out there. He too was happy with our home learning, but armed with more information he wants to take a more active role.

b) There are other people out there like me that really believe life is learning, and not in a radical, TCS/NCP, go-ahead-and-watch-TV-Land-all-day cliched sort of way. I've always felt that I was lost somewhere in the homeschooling community, because I'm not a radical unschooler, not a unit-studies person, not a school-at-home person, not a classical education person, and still not really an eclectic homeschooler. When I decided on holistic learning as our educational philosophy I was combining Enki, Waldorf, John Holt, and others, with all my years of seeking a holistic life for myself.

c) My children are ready for more freedom than I have been giving them. They took care of themselves admirably, and they enjoyed the responsibility.

There was more, of course.

3) We are religious homeschoolers. The state convention is a secular gathering.

I talked to a lot of people, I listened to a lot of presenters, and I saw a lot of curricula for sale in the vendor hall. Just because a convention isn't put on by a religious organization, it doesn't mean that it is aimed solely at atheists, pagans, non-evangelical Christians, or people of the Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu faiths. There were presenters of different faiths, and there was a variety of religious curricula for sale. The difference was that the presentations weren't specifically about religious topics. This is also true of the grocery store, the zoo, the museum, and many other places that religious homeschoolers go to. Secular doesn't mean satanist; it simply means that a group doesn't espouse any particular belief or non-belief. The people within that group are free to believe whatever they want.

I think those are three most common things I hear when people are explaining why homeschooling conventions aren't for them. In case there are others, let me share a few observations with you:

There were babies everywhere! Babies in slings, babies in mei tai carriers, babies in arms, babies in strollers, babies breastfeeding, babies laughing, babies crying. There was a session about babies!

There were lots of dads present, but also many moms that came without partners (male or female). Not everyone brought their children. There was no one right way to do it.

I saw people of all abilities at the EXPO. People using canes, walkers, and wheelchairs. Deaf people. Claustrophobic people. Overwhelmed moms who needed a hand from a stranger nearby.

Community. The EXPO was all about community. If you didn't feel like you were part of the homeschooling community before the EXPO, you did by the time you left. I think everyone related to at least one other person in a way that resonated deeply, even if they just heard each other speak and never met.

Finally, my guys are kind of shy, and they were uncertain about being around so many children (and adults). In particular they don't usually like to sit next to "strangers." When they were finding their seats for the first story telling session Papa told him, "Everyone here is a homeschooler...they aren't strangers." That set the stage for a fantastic weekend.

Find out when your state homeschooling convention is being held, and GO!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

How to Homeschool Over the Summer, Without Losing the Summer Feeling

Many holistic learners will take an official break over the summer, suspending academic learning and focusing on the joys of water and warm weather. Perhaps in a perfect world we'd be able to join them, but we've strayed far from our goals and so we need to stick with a small amount of academic content. Plus, the way we planned our year, we're only midway through grade 2.

Most of all, however, is the fact that my boys are currently interested in the academic work they are doing. They instigated it, and having not spent 13 years in public schools they don't view summer as the time to lay around, listen to music, sip iced tea, and read novels they ordinarily wouldn't give the time of day to. No, that is all me.

Still, there has to be a balance. Summer feels different. We stay up later and sleep in. We're outdoors more in the mornings and evenings. It's warm in the house and we have less physical energy.

So here are some ideas for those who choose to pursue focused learning throughout the summer.

Movement: If you usually start the day with circle time, why not take up an early morning walk instead? It's still cool out (or at least cooler than it's going to be). You can chant rhymes while you walk, or just stop and watch snails trail across the sidewalk. Walking is rhythmic and relaxing.

Arts and crafts: We always step up our arts and crafts in the summer time. Painting is easier when we can do it outdoors and clean up at the hose. Hot summer afternoons are meant for exploring with colored pencils under the cool of a fan. Beeswax is softer and easier to use.

Nature: Summer is a great season for unschooling science. Let the power of observation supply the questions. Journal what you see. Use a great reference book or two to look up your findings; we love the big DK/Smithsonian visual guides with titles such as Animal, Human, Earth, and Universe.

Music: Find out if you have a summer concert series in your area. We find music both at our summer music festival and at the weekly farmer's market. We listen to more recorded music as well; what is summer without a soundtrack? Make music too; summer is all about singing around campfires and strumming guitars in the park.

As for immersing yourself in a culture? How about American culture! Celebrate summer with picnics, lemonade stands, swimming, BBQs, and porch swings. Listen to John Philip Sousa, march around, bang drums and crash cymbals. Go camping, go to the beach...heck, hang out in the cool of a movie theater. Make summer different!

Academics: If you choose to do academics over the summer, why not veer from the traditional Enki/Waldorf model? Choose a great children' novel, read from it daily, and go from there. Draw pictures, make up verses, study grammar. How about focusing on poetry all summer? We're brushing up on phonics in really short lessons, playing a lot of word games, and reading out loud daily. We're finishing up Little House on the Prairie and have chosen King Beetle Tamer for our next book, while Papa has been reading to us from Eldest.

We've pretty much unschooled math all year, but now the boys are asking for more concrete work. Horror of all horrors, we're going to buy a few workbooks. Holistic parents may hate workbooks, but a lot of kids really like them, and my guys love the Kumon workbooks best of all. We'll work with manipulatives and games too, and perhaps fit in a story cycle.

Don't spend a lot of time on academics. If you can, get it all done mid-morning and leave your afternoons fancy free. Leave a couple of days a week open from friends and adventures. Be willing to deviate from the schedule.

Think like an unschooler. If you can, put aside all of your goals and ideas and explore whatever your children come up with. You might think that they won't want to practice reading or brush up on place value, but in reality even these topics come up. Take their spark of interest and run with it.

Finally, if you can, try to let it all go for at least a month. Stick to a basic rhythm, especially if your children are young, but just go with the flow.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Knitting!

I finally taught myself to knit last week; I don't know why I had such a block, especially since a friend taught me 10 years ago.

I bought wooden needles for myself, oh, two years ago. I knew I needed to learn so I could teach the boys in grade 1. Well, they didn't even get the hang of spool knitting, so I was let off the hook (or needle, as it were). This year I was bound and determined to learn, and after reading The Knitting Circle: A Novel by Ann Hood I decided to learn that very night (last Wednesday).

So I did learn. I can cast on, and I can do the knit stitch. My tension is pretty good. I tried English and Continental and I think I'm a "thrower", although Continental is supposed to be easier for crocheters. Yesterday I went to a new yarn shop in town, and tonight I went to a knitting circle.

The boys are so excited! T-Guy is just positive that knitting with needles will be easier than spool knitting. We sanded dowels yesterday, and hopefully we'll make the ends tomorrow or Friday. Then I'm going to take them to the shop to pick out yarn, and perhaps to have the shop owners help get them started. Of course, we need to read the knitting story first.

This is me, living Enki my way.

Monday, May 14, 2007

We Interrupt This Block to Bring You...Summer!

Please ignore my last blog post. I'd erase it, however, someone out there might be getting something out of my planning, so for now I'll leave it up.

Earlier in April, I started a blog post that I never finished nor posted. Here is an excerpt:

One thing I've learned is to stop putting dates on my plans. I tend toward perfectionism and I hate when I see dates on the block plan and know we didn't make them. I still want to use the plan, but then have to revise it. So my new rule is no dates.

Obviously, I didn't follow my own rules when I came up with that last plan. I came up with it in good faith; in fact, that draft had these very words written:

I feel as though my own life has been on hold for some time now. We've worked on and off through my health issues, J-Baby's health issues, and now my grandfather's death. It has been a time of observation, and of growth. I've been able to assess and refine priorities. I'm ready to take up Enki again; which isn't exactly how I would like to say it, because I don't think we ever gave up Enki. Once something is part of you it continues with you.

Still, I'm ready to do the work necessary to mesh Enki education with my newest ideas about living and learning. Luckily, I have the grade 2 map in my mind, and all it really takes is moving back into an active mode.

We did try. We had one day that the lessons really clicked, and then the boys realized that Grandma was watching The Price is Right while we were doing lessons. All motivation was lost. We decided to hold off on focused work until Grandma went home. That was nearly two weeks ago, and we're still adrift.

It came to me last night: we are all highly disintegrated, both as individuals and as a family. It has been eight weeks since we've had a weekend spent fully at home. Part of that is because we spent a lot of time traveling back and forth between northern and southern California, part of that is because we had Grandma here, part of it was having things we were interested in doing, and part of it has been birthdays and holidays.

I'm not a quality time person. I believe in quantity time, and quiet days at home. Honestly, I've been running away; making play dates, scheduling fun weekend outings, running errands (oh, the freedom to just go somewhere, something we couldn't do when Grandma was here.) My grief and the accompanying stress has made me cranky, and when I can't find integration within myself I certainly can't integrate with my family. We stopped dancing, and everyone is tiptoeing around me. They want me, they need me, and I haven't been able to give fully. I'm not open. I'm sad and worried, and instead of working through that I seek diversion.

What the heck does this have to do with summer and our current grade 2 block? Well, I opened my eyes last night, and realized that the long days are upon us. The garden chores grow weekly. We cook outside, we eat outside, we play and talk and sing outside. The calendar may say spring, but my heart has been searching for summer, and here she is, knocking at my door.

I'm very tired of the shoulds, and I've decided that I want to focus on three things: working through my grief and worry (by slowing down and allowing myself to feel what I am feeling), rebuilding my relationship with my family (by giving them plenty of my time), and teaching my boys to read well (by giving them plenty of my time, and letting all the other stuff go for now). So that's it. I give myself permission not to read nature stories, not to do word journals, not to teach Spanish, not to plan crafts, and most of all, not to worry that I'm not doing circle, or seasonal crafts, or number verses, or whatever it is that I think I should be doing.

I just want summer. Mornings and evenings on the front porch. Dinner on the back deck. Impromptu ukulele lessons. Singing together. I don't want a busy, crazy summer; I want the slow, lazy summer of my youth. Hours melting into days melting into weeks. Time for us all to grow in the sunshine. Time to live.

For me, summer was cantaloupe filled with chocolate ice cream ~ for breakfast! Sleeping in, and then eating breakfast in a comfy chair out front, bowl in my lap, book in my hand. Endless sleepovers. Evening games of kickball with the entire neighborhood. Waiting until dark to do any chores because it was too hot during the day. The year my dad worked the swing shift we'd stay up late, playing cards and other games. We'd eat sandwiches and fruit for dinner so we wouldn't have to heat the kitchen, and to keep the dishes to a minimum. Most of all I read; outside if it was cool, on the couch, in my parents' water bed, snuggled up in the top bunk that was my haven. We rarely went anywhere, even on the weekends. Special times were truly special, not an every weekend occurrence.

There are so many summer sensations that I can recall. Sticky sweet watermelon juice dripping down my face, the scent of a ripe cantaloupe and the feel of it half-frozen against my tongue because of the ice cream. The icy cool air in the city library, so cold that I'd want a sweater in July. The swirl of my tongue around an ice cream cone from Thrifty's, and the crunch of the cone itself. The thud of a ball kicked out of the yard. The shrill call of my best friend's whistle across the fence. The rainbow that the sprinkler made at high noon, the cool of the water against my skin, and the glistening of each drop of water on a blade of grass. Sand between my toes and in my mouth, the taste of salt water, the force of a big wave.

All of these sensations, and so many books. I could get lost in the books all summer long; live in other houses, other countries, other families. Reading was my joy. I don't see that in my boys; they love stories, yes, but they can't access them the way I could. It's time to put aside everything else I want to believe and see if reading is something that can be taught. It may be that I can teach my boys the skills they need, and combined with giving them time to snuggle and practice we can get past Frog and Toad and Great Day For Up. Maybe it won't work at all, but I am reminded that many things must be taught, and many children do learn to read. I think they are ready; we've waited, and now we will immerse ourselves in this new task.

I realize now that everything else will still be there: Stalking Wolf and Benito Juarez and John Muir. It isn't the end of the world if they aren't learning Spanish at ages 7 and 8. I have to stop thinking that mud pies and spontaneous paper collages are somehow less important than carefully selected and planned seasonal crafts. Everything doesn't have to happen right now. There is no Enki fairy, no Waldorf fairy who is going to frown at me and tell me that I missed the boat when I skipped saints, sages, and heroes in grade 2. There are only my children, bright and open, smiling at me, wanting Mama more than anything else in the world. That is who I have to give them, and the rest will happen organically. We'll live, we'll love, and doing that we will learn.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Post For the Enki Users

We're a little behind on our second block. I did some planning for the next four weeks, and thought I'd share it here. As I posted before, my boys are in desperate need of more rhythm and focused learning while we are in the midst of trying to find some sort of normal after the death of my grandfather and now having my grandmother as a house guest.

We've already completed the trickster tale portion of this block cycle, although I may sneak few in here and there. I'll also try to pull one or two Western European fairy tales in. We're working grade 1 and grade 2 (the boys are 7 and 8).

Other things we're planning to weave into the block: making shortbread and bannock, working with fleece/wool, and seasonal crafts. We're spending a lot of time outdoors, and we are exploring the idea of joining our local Sierra Club chapter.

Humanities: The Sage Story Process – John Muir

Language Arts Skills: Revisiting, Summarization, Writing Sentences

4/23 Tell John Muir Ch. 1
4/25 Revisit Ch. 1, Draw from story, Write sentence, Tell Ch. 2
4/27 Revisit Ch. 2, Draw from story, Write sentence, Tell Ch. 3
4/30 Revisit Ch. 3, Draw from story, Write sentence, Tell Ch. 4
5/4 Revisit Ch. 4, Draw from story, Write sentence

Practice: Word Journals, Number Verses, Math Games, Reading

Mathematics: Fact Families

5/7 Tell Grandfather’s Family
5/9 Revisit Grandfather’s Family; Draw from story; manipulative play
5/11 Write Fact Families verse; manipulative play
5/14 Continue Fact Families manipulative play
5/16 Introduce Fact Families in written form
5/18 Fact Families worksheets

Practice: Word Journals, Word Families, Reading, Word Games

Seasonal Crafts/Projects:

Nest building project, bird feeder project, bird bath project, planting a butterfly garden.

Modeling:

4/24 Hand Gestures, Creating in the Shared Space of Two Hands
5/1 Hand Gestures, Elongating
5/8 The Human Form
5/15 Animals in Small Format

Watercolor:

4/25 Tell Brush Tail
5/9 Paint Brush Tail
5/16 Free Painting

Handwork: Child’s Choice

Spanish:

4/26 Sonrisas Lesson 2 ~ Los Colores
5/3 Sonrisas Lesson 3 ~ Los Numeros
5/10 Sonrisas Lesson 4 ~ Mi Cuerpo
5/17 Sonrisas Lesson 5 ~ Grande y Chiquito

Nature Stories:

4/27 Pretty Poison
5/4 A Call in the Night
5/11 Sun Bathers
5/18 Camping Out

Friday, April 06, 2007

Rhythm

Rhythm is the big word when it comes to Enki and Waldorf living. Finding rhythm, keeping rhythm, creating rhythm. Why rhythm is important...all things that we talk about over and over again.

When your life moves into what appears to be total chaos (and it will...it always does), rhythm is what brings you back to center. The rhythm of your breathing. The rhythms of night and day, of sleep and wake. The rhythm of meals, even when you don't necessarily feel like eating.

Rhythm is what got me through the days between my grandfather's death and the viewing and funeral. Rhythm is what will help me through the next few days and weeks. Rhythm, I believe, is what will help my grandmother through her grief.

When it all feels chaotic, I stop moving and let myself be still. I figure out where we are in the day (and believe me, right now I am often confused as to what day or what time it is, the result of hours in the car, in hotel rooms, from waiting in airports, away from home and away from rhythm) and I go from there. Right now we've just finished lunch, and the boys are having quiet time. I have things I probably should be doing (there's much to catch up on), however quiet time is when I rest, or read, or write. I step into the rhythm, I let it wrap around me like a warm shawl, I let it comfort me.

The boys need the rhythm as much as I do. They were with us when my grandfather died, however we brought them home and asked my father-in-law stay with them while we went back for the funeral. We knew that they needed the stability of home and the rhythm of regular meal and sleep times. We'll take them back in a week, and visit the grave site.

When this all happened we had moved away from formal lessons. Our days were more organic and less planned, and it was working beautifully for us. Now, however, I sense the need to pull the rhythm tighter, to give us all security (and really, to keep me from letting hours slide into days without doing the necessary tasks of living).

The beauty of stepping away from the school system is the freedom we have to live and learn in whatever ways work best for us, and to get to know ourselves and our children so well that we can sense when more or less is needed. If my children had been enrolled in school they would have missed that last day with my grandfather (their great-grandfather), as it would have been a school day. We wouldn't have had the freedom, on a Sunday evening, to say "Hey, I think we should get up there so Grandma isn't alone." There was no call telling us the end was near; Grandpa unexpectedly let go once he knew we were there to take care of Grandma, and we were there because living is learning is loving.

Since we've been back we've had a birthday party (part of our yearly rhythm). We met with friends in the park, as we do most Thursdays. We walked to the farmer's market. Tonight we'll have our family movie night, tomorrow we'll color eggs, Sunday we'll gather with family. Rhythm will carry us along.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Please Don't Tell Everyone We're On Break!

Inevitably it happens: we're out somewhere, and someone will ask the boys where they go to school. Three's no denying that they are of school-age, and it is a common question an adult will use to make conversation with a child.

Because we are such relaxed learners my boys don't see our organic, non-focused learning times as being "school." It is a word I have fought, and yet the word that most everyone they know uses to describe how children "learn". So they tend to tell people that we are taking a break if we haven't actually sat down for a focused lesson in a week or two.

It's my fault, really. When I thought that we should be doing lessons I would say we were on break when we didn't do them. I did this when the boys were younger and needed a lot of rhythm, and I didn't want them to feel anxious when lessons dropped off the calendar for a few weeks (or months). I was sick, and telling them that we were taking a break was my way of letting them know that things would get back to "normal".

Except normal never came. We learned more with this newer, integrated method of living. I would read to them, and hear them working the stories in their play. We would sing in the car. I started really bringing them into my work of homekeeping, instead of making half-hearted attempts and then shooing them out the door so I could do it "right". I invited them to explore the handwork I was doing and to participate when they were able, instead of fretting about not painting once a week.

We nearly branched into unschooling, not the radical kind, but definitely child-led learning. However, I had learned so much from Waldorf and Enki that I knew that there were things I wanted to bring to my children. I knew there would be times when a lesson made absolute sense. I knew that the stories should be heard, even if they were worked playing in the mud instead of by putting crayon to paper.

The changes are so small that from the outside we probably look like unschoolers most of the time (but not the play-video-games-all-day-eat-candy-watch-TV-no-bedtime kind of radical unschoolers). What I want to bring to the boys is usually woven in, blending with our lives. We always bake: making Scottish shortbread while we read about John Muir may be deliberate in my mind, but really my children just know that we read and we bake and we sing and we craft. We live. They're at an age where they know they live differently than many children, yet so far they still think they live better.

Still, they get asked the dreaded question, and they tend to answer that we are taking a break. Even if we drew a picture the day before, or went on a field trip, or practiced reading. As I work to break down the walls between living and learning they only see the living.

Why do I care how they answer? I guess it is because we are certainly not taking a break. We are learning all the time. At that very moment, yesterday in the thrift store, we were learning that great deals can be found (a brand new $55 nightgown for my mother, only $3!), and also that used things can have a second (or third or fourth) life. The boys were socializing in an excellent manner, talking to the older women who volunteer to run the thrift store.

You can't take a break from life, no matter if it is wonderful or hard. We live, we learn.

Monday, March 19, 2007

It's Spring!

(Well, tomorrow it will be.)

We're spending time outside. The time change means that we have light in the evenings for bike rides before or after dinner.

The garden is growing. We really haven't planted much, and already we harvested the bok choy and lost the broccoli to the heat. The kale isn't growing much ; it got too warm too fast. Still, we eat lettuce and radishes, and marvel that our seeds sprouted and are now becoming food.

We started reading Scottish trickster tales, and now we're going to read about John Muir. We sing Loch Lomond quite often. We're going to make gluten free scones and gluten free shortbread.

We're revising the vacation slightly. San Francisco is probably out; it's difficult to mesh a city vacation with a camping vacation. We'll probably spend more time in Big Sur. We're researching hikes in both Big Sur and Yosemite.

Mostly we are working on meshing living and learning; or more specifically, letting go of the idea that learning happens outside the context of real life. I've thrown out pretty much any idea of having to do certain things, and instead we are doing what we want to do, along with everything that we need to do. We still bring things to the boys: stories, trips, experiences, music, etc....all of the things that we want them to experience. We practice reading and math when they are interested. We sing Spanish songs when we hear them.

Mornings? Best for learning, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera? I give up. I can make mornings "work", I can create lovely Enki/Waldorf school routines, I can see how lovely it all is AND I can now admit that it is artificial and that I had it right 3 years ago when I was using afternoons as focused "learning" time. Because honestly, in the mornings the boys want to play and I want to get my chores done. I'm done fighting it. I never relax fully into sharing with the boys when my homekeeping tasks have been put aside. In the afternoon we are all ready, ready to come together, to hear stories, to create, to laugh and to sing, to cook. We're relaxed.

Happy Spring everyone!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Things I've Been Thinking....

These are some of the ideas that have been kicking around in my brain. Ddon't try to make too much sense of them or to place them in any specific order. They are not refined; they are just percolating around right now.

My children are only children for a short while. How can I not be patient? How could I dare to waste even a day with them? Truly, today is all we ever have. I might not live to see them grown. They might not live into adulthood. If we are all here in 50 years then we will know that we were blessed with time. No matter what, we were blessed with each other.

Living is Learning. There is no separation. Being at home with one or more parents (and grandparents and other extended family), with siblings or not (or cousins and other children), truly living, provides a rich environment for the child to grow in. In my opinion, institutionalized schools (public or private) are poor environments to grow in. Only the hardiest of souls will come though unscathed; the rest will have been scarred, they will have wilted, some will have died (soul-wise). How many of us have spent 10-15-20 years trying to undo what was done to us during our public school years?

I don't want to play nice. I don't want to say that public school is a perfectly fine option. I can still think it is a lousy choice even if someone I know sends their children to public/private school. I acknowledge that not everyone has a choice, and I am sympathetic to those for whole public school is the only answer. I also boldly suggest that some people have the choice and do not choose it. People don't want to know.

Within a thriving family there can be balance. I can be patient with my children while also taking care of my own needs as a human being. The thing I must remember is that most of the time we are loving, living, and learning together. It is a dance...the boys and I, the boys and their father, all for us, the boys alone, my husband and I. We weave in and out, twirling, grasping and letting go of hands, and grasping again. Occasionally we dance alone, yet we always return to the circle.

You cannot teach a child to learn. Children learn, just as children breathe. They learn in their own time and in their own way. We ALL learn...we never stop.

We have our mind models, and children have theirs. The more we expose them to, the more they see as being possible for them. Children don't learn to read because we want them to, they learn to read when they have the desire as well as the belief that is possible and that it will bring good things to them (or when they know that not making the effort will disappoint a parent or teacher). I'm not saying we can't help the process, if the child is interested. I certainly think we can hinder it if we push a child to do something he isn't open to.

A child's life NOW is just as important as his life in the FUTURE. Children should not have to suffer now in order to procure some kind of education of vocation in the future.

We are living an entwined life, enjoined with the earth and all of it's species, it rocks and mountains, its oceans, rivers, and lakes. I cannot live without accepting that my very existence causes others to die. They may be plants, or animals, or people. I may cause the death with purpose (plants I eat), knowing that the life cycle completes and repeats. I may cause an entire plant or animal species to go extinct because I am a human being alive at this point in time, responsible for global warming and climate change, responsible for polluting air, soil, and water, responsible for habitat destruction and the loss of wildlife corridors. I acknowledge that animals are part of the food chain, whether I eat them or not. They provide fertility to the soil, they live in symbiosis with plants and fungi, they die when fields are harvested (the strictest vegan is still not without blood on his/her hands). My life as a privileged American may mean that somewhere else in the world people are dying to provide my lifestyle. Their waters may be polluted because of shrimp farming, their forests cut down to provide fields to grow something American want. Their children labor to sew clothing and to make things, or to mine and to harvest crops sprayed heavily with pesticides, pesticides that we ban here in the US and lock far away from our own children.

I must not drown in the fear and pain that accompanies such an acknowledgment. I must do what I can to prevent things that are inhumane. I must reduce my consumption. I must opt out of the mainstream American lifestyle. I must recognize that I am heavily marketed to as an alternative consumer and choose not to consume. I must do the best that I can, all the while keeping myself sane and whole. I must not forget that I still live, today.

One thing I have said for a long time, is that our children are people with wants and needs that are as important as our own. It is one of the most difficult concepts that I have ever seen adults try to incorporate into their parenting. I want my child to get dressed, he wants to stay in his pajamas. Even if we are going somewhere, my want is not more important than my child's. Because of this, we need to find a way to work together. I must remember that my child does not have fewer human rights because he is a child. If my husband wanted me to get dressed and I didn't want to, we would have to explore why; do I not want to go where he is going? Am I busy with something else at the moment? My husband can not drag me by my arm to my room, strip off my pajamas and put my clothes on me, and then drag me out to the car, not without damaging our relationship. He cannot threaten to drag me out of the house naked or in my pajamas. No, he must share his reasons with me and let me decide.

Honestly, these kinds of power struggles don't often exist in egalitarian relationships, because the other person is so willing to see your point of view and act in accord, knowing that in time you will be the one who accommodates him or her. The more I listen to my children and remember that we have a relationship based on attachment, not fear or punishment, the more I am willing to do for them, and in turn the more they are willing to do for me.

When I apply the idea that my children have equal wants and needs to the concept of directed learning, I see that anything that I want for the future is something I want, and not necessarily something my child wants. I may have reasons for wanting him to attend college, or to avoid debt, or to know something of the classics, and in the end he may want those same things, but he may not.

When my child is not ready to read, he is not ready. The desire will come in its own time. To push, to fret, to cajole...it is all fruitless and at times it is damaging.

His wants and needs are as important as my own.

Doing. Doing. Doing. I believe that learning takes place mostly through experience. We can read about a place, but never know it until we have been there. I don't consider watching TV or playing computer/video games to be doing. Almost everyone I know disagrees with me. That's okay. I want to do things, to go places, to explore museums and gardens and towns and mountains and beaches and deserts and...to just get out there and live. I want to create with our hands together, to cook together, to make music together, to read together...I recognize that it is TOGETHER that we are living and learning.

I am trying to stop thinking in terms of "parts". Think of the whole. My child is whole, I am whole; treat the whole person, don't just try to treat parts. Decide if "treating" whatever "disease" may be present does more harm than simply accepting and living with it. Don't break up the day into little things to accomplish this or that. Live the whole day and see what happens. Do real things...walk, run, talk, laugh, love. Needs will be met. Don't eat foods in an attempt to eat certain nutrients. Eat real food (thanks, Michael Pollan).

What most of this means is that we are in the midst of completely changing how we "homeschool" (if you recall, a term I gave up awhile back since we are in no way a school). I still have my map to guide us, but the boys have far more day to day input, and I am going to stop trying to do lessons on things they already know. A lot of practice time can occur in real life. Heck, I'm rethinking the term "lessons" as well. There has to be a balance; I believe the children look to me as a guide in this world and that they don't want to face it without me as their protector, so I don't follow the ideas of radical unschooling. Still, I want more life, and fewer lessons.

We'll do more. Experience is the medium of learning. My kids surprise the heck out of me. The handwriting practice that was "assigned" Monday and hated by J-Baby becomes a choice when I back off, and is completed happily on his own terms. T-Guy likes and wants workbooks, sometimes. Tools can be tools and not assignments. Addition problems can be fun, if they are chosen, just as perhaps an adult might choose a crossword or sudoku puzzle. I must believe in my children, believe that they are creative, inquisitive, wonderful people who want to learn and explore and live.

Make the soup rich. Add experiences. Add ideas. Add beautiful things, and outside places, and lots of books. Sing and make music. Dance. Eat real food. Live your values and share them with your children. Visit friends. Meet new people...talk to people! Have parties. Think, and make sure that your children know it and encourage them to think too. Trust your intuition. Be prepared. Do things together - don't shut your children out, even if it makes a mess or takes longer.

Live. Learn. Laugh. Love. It will make you whole.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Day in the Life...

I think a good place to start is to describe our day, a typical, wonderful day of living.

We woke up; T-Guy (age 8) was snuggled in bed with me (he was wiggling and not sleeping, which is why I woke up). J-Baby (almost 7) was still asleep in his bed. Papa had gotten up early to go for a bike ride.

Thomas and I made our way into the office; I did a quick email check. We checked the weather as it was very cloudy, but it turned out that it was still supposed to get relatively warm. We heard Papa at the gate so I turned off the computer.

We said hello to Papa. Papa went to wake J-Baby, who refused to wake up. T-Guy told me that Papa was singing the song (When the Red Red Robin Comes Bob Bob Bobbin' Along) wrong, and that J-Baby needed us to sing it to him so he could wake up. So we did; I snuggled him while we sang because we all think snuggling is a great way to wake up. Papa showered, I got dressed. T-Guy and I took a peak at the garden.

We met in the kitchen for breakfast. T-Guy wanted toast, J-Baby had the last of the granola I had made (note to self: make more granola), and Papa and I had oatmeal.

We decided to hang out in the office. I wanted to calculate our average March electricity usage for the past 5 years and set a goal to use 15% less this March. We've been very successful at lowering our consumption by 15-25% each month since last May. We now use about 1/3 of the electricity that an average North American family of four uses. I then updated the finances.

While I was doing this T-Guy started writing some words, and he decided to make a book. J-Baby was expressing some frustration that he can't make his own train layout (we are building a large layout as a family), so I suggested he draw a picture of what he would like his own layout to look like. He wrote a couple of words as well, then moved on to draw another picture and to create a game using colored bits of paper stapled together. T-guy was stringing wooden beads.

Once I finished the finances and a post to the Waldorf at Home message boards I decided we needed a snack, so we made our way to the kitchen. On the way there I saw the dirty laundry, so T-Guy and I finished sorting clothes and got the first load started. Then I did the breakfast dishes; sometimes Papa has time to do them before he leaves for work, and sometimes not. Everything had been rinsed and put into the sink, so it was just a case of loading the dishwasher.

T-Guy ate a banana and an apple, J-Baby ate an apple and a piece of string cheese. I skimmed the cream off of the raw milk we had purchased, and we proceeded to make butter (just a little...it was only 2 quarts of milk and I am inexperienced at skimming). The boys were enthralled - obviously they don't remember doing this a few years back. It took about 20 minutes total, to shake and then wash the butter (we put the small amount of buttermilk into the refrigerator to use in cornbread for dinner). After that we made ice cream. I thought about making an easy cottage cheese, then realized I had put the stove grates in the dishwasher.

While the ice cream was freezing T-Guy stepped outside to shoot a few hoops. J-Baby played with Legos in his room. They came back to taste the frozen product. I loosely adapted from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions vanilla ice cream recipe (I finally decided that I had to read the book instead of fairly well dismissing it each time someone recommended it). We used:

1.5 C. cream (organic, pasteurized but not UHT)
1.5 C. raw milk (organic, some cream skimmed but certainly not all)
.5 C maple syrup (organic)
1 T. vanilla extract (organic and fair trade)
3 egg yolks (from pastured and organically fed local hens, a small flock of 50)

I combined it all in a VitaMix, then froze it in a Cuisinart ice cream maker.

If you've been a long time reader of my blogs, you know that most of the time we've tried to follow a vegan diet. It wasn't working out for Jake after he went gluten free, and we had introduced pastured eggs, but then he was diagnosed with an egg white allergy. Anyway, to make a long story short he is eating raw cheese, organic vanilla ice cream, and raw and/or cultured butter, and he is doing really well. I tried dairy, but promptly broke out in eczema and had some other allergic reactions. Thomas and I can manage the butter, however.

Papa came home for lunch, and we started a quick flurry of various food preparation. I heated refried beans (made yesterday) and organic corn tortillas for the boys, while Papa made T-Guy a salad. T-Guy ate the salad and requested another one. I grated cheese for J-Baby while Papa made guacamole for T-Guy. T-Guy ate 3 big bean tacos, J-Baby ate 2. Papa had a big salad. I had a medium-sized salad dressed with ventresca tuna in olive oil, which is a delicious way to dress a salad when you are not allowed to consume any vinegar, citrus, or juices, or dressings made from those ingredients.

Our lunch conversation started with subtraction, but quickly made its way to division. The boys love dividing numbers. T-Guy told me he'd really love a subtraction workbook; he has a Kumon Addition workbook that he pulls out once a month or so and seems to enjoy. I recalled having some DK math books and promised to look through them to see if they'd be suitable.

Papa did the dishes, I cleared the table and wiped the counters, then switched the laundry with help from J-Baby, and folded the dry load. T-Guy was out shooting hoops again, J-Baby asked to do a handwriting practice sheet.

T-Guy started a story CD for their quiet time. I researched Native American stick-dice games. I looked at the DK books and decided that I prefer Kumon workbooks. The DK books have easy concepts and good visuals to reinforce them, but they assume the child is reading. With my beginning readers it's best not to require too much reading when they are working on other concepts, because they will tire easily. I finally remembered that we can buy the Kumon workbooks at the independent toy store, so we won't have to go to Barnes and Noble, killer of independent bookstores everywhere.

The boys joined me in the office (I'll admit it, I spent quiet time working on the blog post). I remembered that I needed to start a pot of beans, so I did that, chatting with T-Guy. The boys looked at their workbooks a bit, but decided not to do any work in them. T-Guy went out to get his Rhyming Words book from the car. I switched the laundry again, started to fold it, and then decided to pull the binding off the wool blanket I bought at the thrift store a few weeks ago. I wanted to full it in the washer to make a mattress pad, and the washer wash free and I had time to rip the binding stitches. So I sat on the floor in my room and did that (it occurred to me halfway through that I should have sat outside to do it!), and got it going in the washer, and then T-Guy and I had an impromptu box step dance lesson in the kitchen. J-Baby was playing outside. I finished folding/hanging the clothes and put them away.

T-Guy was ready for a snack, so he had some rye crackers with butter. At barely 8 years old he already eats more than I do each day. Still, he's lucky to be 60 pounds with his clothes on, even though he is tall. Sometimes it worries me, and then I think of the pictures I've seen of Papa at that age, tall and very thin, and I remember that I didn't hit 60 pounds until I was 11 or so.

We went out to work in the garden. We were busy yesterday and didn't water, but it had looked alright this morning. A day of neglect and finally the onions sprouted (well, it might have something to do with our warm spell of weather). Today was warm again, so we had to water thoroughly. We pulled the spent plants in some of the squares, and I thinned most of the sprouts. I should have worn my gloves; the vermiculite in the mix dries out my hands, and my thumb is stained from pulling beet sprouts. Our broccoli had all flowered (don't believe nursery staff when they say we can put broccoli starts in the garden in February), so we cut the stalks and put them in a jar of water. They are really lovely little yellow flowers, and brightened up the breakfast nook!

I made gluten free cornbread, then read the boys a trickster tale while it was baking, said hello to Papa, set the table, and served the beans. We had our tiny bit of fresh butter on the cornbread. After dinner I cleaned up and did the dishes while the boys got ready for BMX, and they left right around 6.

I read while they were gone. I picked up Helen of Troy at the library Tuesday, and decided to give it a try.

Once they got home we put the bedtime routine into motion. We made the boys' bed, using the now fulled wool blanket as a mattress pad. They were given quick baths, then I rubbed organic jojoba oil into J-Baby's skin because he gets so dry. They put pajamas on, and had their snack while Papa read Eragon. Then it was time to brush teeth, have hugs and kisses, and sing as we tucked them in. Lately we've been singing Sidewalks of New York. A friend turned us on to Dan Zanes and we have 3 albums and a DVD now (mostly gifts...people are thrilled to get input on what to get the boys).

After that Papa and I had a chance to talk (while we folded the third load of laundry), mostly about our upcoming vacation. Then it was time for bed, except my body temperature was low so I took a hot bath at 10 p.m. Papa zonked out and I stayed up reading my book.

Updates, Coming Soon

I've had a couple of months to really think about my thoughts/feelings/beliefs about learning, and pretty soon I promise to update the blog and share what someone on Mothering referred to as "Kimberly's Curriculum."

Until then....

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A Big, Detailed Planning Session

Having a broad idea of what I wanted to do during the current block, I sat down Friday (when I should have been packing for our weekend trip) and did the Big Planning Session For Block One, Enki Grade 2: African American Focus. It deserve a big title because it was a lot of work.

Of course, I didn't plan it all Friday. I fine-tuned it, and I wrote it down. I had already done our calendar for the 2007 and have spent years working on our daily rhythm. I had read through the stories for the African American block. My main goal was to put it all into a format that has a chance of keeping me organized.

I started by making a list of everything we want to accomplish each week (weekends not included):

Main lessons in language arts and mathematics, held in a container of humanities content and cultural immeserion
A weekly Spanish lesson (using Sonrisas)
Crafts, cultural, seasonal, and skills-building (not all in the same week)
Modeling (as in with our hands, not John Roberts Powers as Papa thought I was suggesting)
Health lessons (16 lessons spread out over the year)
Watercolor painting
Handwork
Recorder lessons and practice
Nature stories and nature journals
Daily movement and SI exercises
A small circle 3 times a week (plus the full Spanish circle once weekly)
Quiet time
Skills practice time
Our weekly support group park day
A weekly playdate or adventure
Time spent playing everyday, both indoors and outdoors
BMX racing
Visiting the weekly farmer's market
Walking most evenings

Plus of course the basics like homekeeping, personal hygiene, meal prep, reading, snuggling, and well, sleeping.

It looks like a long list. An incredibly long we'll never have a moment for unstructured learning type of list. A when does Mommy even breathe list.

So I plugged it in. The morning routine would happen even if we didn't attempt any guided learning. Wake, snuggle, eat, clear dishes, dress, brush teeth, make beds, check email (boys first play period of the day).

The morning walk is good for us, good for learning, good for the dog.

Short circle 3 days a week; T-Guy and I like this, so we'll do it, and add in 5 minutes of SI activity.

Main lesson 3 days a week. I decided not to budge on this and add a 4th day, because the boys are showing an interest in Spanish so we'll use our 4th morning lesson for that. Focused time takes 45-90 minutes depending on what we're doing. Generally it is our story curriculum work, a weekly nature story, a weekly nature journal entry, and a weekly recorder lesson.

Boys play, I make lunch, we eat, we clean up. It's all part of a normal day.

Quiet time - set in stone around here. We use story CDs, which helps fulfill their need to hear more stories than we have time to read. Once they are both reading fluently this will change to silent reading.

Tidy the room and have a snack...has to happen.

Practice time 3 days a week; I do see the importance of this. It should take 20-30 minutes with both boys practicing their reading. I listed each days' practice activities on the calendar so I'm not scrambling to pull it together. My thinking on practice is that we'd be spending far more time on this if the boys were in public school. I'm super flexible with it; if the writing practice has been met through natural activities we skip it.

Some sort of project: a craft, modeling, painting, handwork...we have something planned most afternoons. The goal is to get at least half of it to be self-guided.

Boys play outside (always need in the late afternoon); I have some time to pursue reading, blogging, etc. before starting dinner.

Dinner and the rest of the evening routine...just normal life. Papa reads to them every night (I of course read the story curriculum stories as well as nature and craft stories).

Tuesday mornings are open for our park day, Thursday afternoons are free for play dates or adventures. We can't toss the entire rhythm and still do as much focused work as I'd like, but I have learned to be pretty flexible.

Previoulsy I had taken a calendar and made an X through any day that couldn't have a morning lesson. I marked vacations, breaks, weekend trips, days before and after vacations, birthdays, park days, etc. This made planning the block easier, and showed me when I should drop the usual activity (for example, modeling on Tuesdays) for something else (making valentines on the 13th). I had already let go of the idea that things have to happen everyday or every week, based on what's happening in our real lives, so instead of modeling every Tuesday for the 8 weeks of the block, we model 5 times as fits in with the rhythm (easing into the block, coming off a weekend trip, and making valentines are all good reasons not to model). We don't paint quite every Wednesday, and at least half the time I've decided that they can free paint to take some of the control out of the curriculum.

So what work did I do? I chose specific stories. I wrote out which story (or chapter) we're reading, what we're working with, what we're practicing, which project, which nature story we're reading or journalling, etc. I haven't fully planned the seasonal circle yet. Cultural foods will fit in more organically.

Even though I didn't plan the entire year, and I still don't plan to because I want to stay flexible to the needs of my individual children (vs. planning for a class), I have a firm understanding of how it could be done, and how it would work really well for the classroom situation. I think planning the next block will go even more smoothly (especially since I can pull what I did this time to make templates so that I won't have to type as much into the computer).

I know this is probably more structured than my last few posts would indicate that I would like. Papa and I had a long talk and J-Baby really needs a strong daily rhythm, much more than he gets when we slide into nearly complete unschooling. Otherwise, when I try to bring in focused/guided work he balks because it isn't part of his "software". It's the same way with baths, errands, breakfast, etc. He needs to know what to expect, and when. All of the guided times are based on my long observation of the boys without structure. When do they fall apart (squabbling and/or crying)? What type of activity have they been doing when this happens? What type of activity integrates them at this point? When have they had enough of the guided work?

Many families would go straight from breakfast and chores into the walk, however my boys tend to get started on something during those 15 minutes I need to brush my hair, make my bed, and start the laundry, and I've learned that giving them another 30 minutes or so makes the transition to the walk much easier than trying to stop them mid-play. So I grab some computer time then, even though it isn't usually part of a strong morning.

Now, however, it is 4:30, they are outside playing basketball, and I need to start dinner. We're making some dietary changes ( as always), but that is a post for the other blog....

Friday, January 05, 2007

The New and Improved Grade 2 Plan

Here's the revised plan for the year. It's obviously not set in stone; if you've been reading my blog from the beginning you know that I use the blog to figure things out and that I am always changing, tweaking, refining, etc.

Session 1: African/American

1/8 – 1/19 African/American Trickster Tales
1/22 – 2/9 Martin Luther King Jr.
2/12 – 3/2 Reawaken Four Processes, Introduce Fact Families
3/5 – 3/9 Break

Session 2: Scottish

3/12 – 3/16 Scottish Trickster Tales
3/19 – 4/5 John Muir
4/7 – 4/22 Big Sur, San Francisco, Sacramento, Oroville, Gold Country, Yosemite
4/25 – 5/11 Reawaken Fact Families
5/14 – 5/18 Break

Session 3: TBD (I'm hoping I'll have the Sages and Tricksters books to pull from)

5/21 – 6/1 Trickster Tales
6/4 – 6/22 Sage Story
6/25 – 7/12 Introduce Place Value

7/14 – 7/21 Camping at Doheny State Beach

Session 4: Mexican/Aztec

7/23 – 7/27 Aztec Trickster Tales
7/30 – 8/17 Benito Juarez
8/20 – 9/14 Reawaken Place Value
9/16 – 9/23 Newport Beach Vacation at Marriott Resort

Session 5: Native American

9/26 – 10/5 Native American Trickster Tales
10/8 – 10/26 Stalking Wolf
10/29 – 11/15 Expand Place Value
11/19 – 11/23 Thanksgiving Break

Session 6: Winter Holidays

11/26 – 12/21 Holiday Stories, Crafts, Songs, Projects, etc.

(Sorry about the wonky formatting; I couldn't quite get it right after copying from Word.)

From the Ashes...

We have lived the last 3 months in near chaos. By the end of December I opened the door and flat out invited Chaos in; I said, " Let chaos reign, let the transformation begin, let's embrace the chaos and find out who we are!" Of course, we had been finding out for months; I was just giving myself permission to make a big mess.

I'd love to report that my health problems are behind me, but there not and integrating my health will be a big part of this year. I don't know what it all means...herbs, meditation, surgery...all I know is that there has to be some way to eliminate the chronic pain. If not, I must learn to live with it, manage it, and not let it rule. I am reluctant to go under the knife again, even though I know it might be the answer. Except that we thought it was the answer in 2006, and it was only half an answer at best.

The changes for this year are little, and they are big. I am moving away from the idea that there is any one perfect curriculum for us. Someone on Mothering said that we all create our own curricula, and she's right. I can't be a perfect Waldorf homeschooler following Donna's methods and interpretation of Steiner philosophy, nor can I be a perfect Enki homeschooler, following Beth's methods and philosophy. I can borrow heavily from Waldorf and Enki, and also from John Holt, and from the natural family living and attachment parenting communities, but it all filters through me and become Kimberly's philosophy.

Those of you who read because this is an "Enki" blog, have no fear. Enki is still our main influence educationally, and we'll be following the grade 2 format rather closely. I can never put into words the way that Enki has changed me as a human being (no religious overtones implied). Enki arrived at a time when I was making many positive changes and rediscovering my passions and creativity.

Still, you're going to find that we're leaving out a lot of scheduled practice time. My boys like it (okay, T-Guy likes it), so we'll fit it in 2-3 times a week. Over the course of the entire year we're only studying 5 cultures. I'm not planning the 3 month break this year, and I don't have all of grade 2 planned out and ready to go. So yeah, I'm still sort of planning on the fly. The master plan has been set, but I won't be choosing each culture's stories, songs, games, crafts, foods, etc. until we are closer to each block. This gives me more opportunity to fine tune the activities to my children.

I am so confused by Enki at times. The materials say spend 2 weeks on a sage. In another place it says 2.5-3 weeks. I look at the sample schedule and its based on a 5 day week, just like a school, and there are 14 separate lessons listed for MLK Jr. Dammit, I don't want to be a school. I want to do main lessons 3 days a week, maybe 4. So where is the balance? You aren't supposed to spend too much time on each sage, so that it doesn't get too heavy. I am so frustrated!

Anyway, I'm allotting 3 weeks for each sage, with 4 mornings of main lessons. Hopefully we'll fit in many 3 day weeks during math blocks.

I'm not afraid now...not afraid to change things, to do things a little differently, to discard anything in Enki that doesn't resonate with me. For instance, we aren't starting this year with any plan for formal circle. T-Guy loves it, J-Baby doesn't, and it is easy enough to fit in songs and games at other times without naming and claiming it. I don't want our learning to look like school grafted on to home living - I want it to be seamless, living and learning woven together.

You'll find this year influenced by other materials. I have purchased Christopherus' Living Language curriculum, along with the Saints and Heroes unit. I ordered the Spanish Curriculum from Sonrisas. The Enki Grade 2 materials are incomplete so I am pulling resources from all over. I recently purchased Step It Down: Games, Plays, Songs & Stories from the Afro-American Heritage as well as Art From Many Hands: Multicultural Art Projects (Revised Expanded Edition). The art book looks really good and will be a resource for years to come. It was important to me that we find crafts that don't involve turning paper plates into masks (I'm sure the Enki home learners understand). We're planning to borrow a book of African American children's songs from the library. The library has been a great resource, but we are going to branch out and see what the county system has for us, and also get borrowing privileges at my alma mater, California State University San Bernardino.

I've decided that I won't work behind the curve any longer. Expecting and waiting for Enki materials is frustrating, and I realized that I depend on the resource materials as a crutch. The reality is that life intervenes and here we are starting Grade 2 with less than half of the necessary materials. I won't purchase half of anything anymore: I have the Enki guides and they will be my map, but I will do more to write my own stories, etc. for Grade 3. I know I shouldn't be worrying about Grade 3 when we are just starting Grade 2; my point is that I am going to have to do a lot of Grade 2 on my own as well, and it is okay. It's fine, it's liberating. Beth taught me to paint and provided the palette of colors to get started, however I now have to find the colors myself. I'm not alone in this...many are making the Enki journey into higher grades without Enki-provided resources. The ultimate resource is still there, and it's nice to know that we can schedule consults with Beth if needed.

These are the things that we are going through...making something designed for a school work at home. I am now convinced that no matter how fantastic the curriculum, the method, the philosophy it will have problems. Even if it is written by a homeschooler, it will have problems. Home learning is so personal.

In other areas, I tore apart the office (it's an office...any attempts to call it anything else work out about as well as deciding to call the dog a cat) and am at the tail end of decluttering and organizing everything so that the boys and I have better access to it all. There is still stuff in the bathroom (a closet turned into a bathroom that I use as a closet) but it is organized and waiting for a better home. I told Papa that I need a dedicated work space for my projects and we are going to set up the old folding table (6 ft.) in the bedroom so I can leave up my sewing, scrapbooking, rubber stamping, etc. I realized that I lost my crafting space when the boys and I moved our learning into the office, and I really miss it.

I took all of the boys' stuff out of the little closet (the coat closet that was annexed to the bedroom when the original closet was made into a bathroom. It has built-in shelves on one side and we have a dresser on the other side, without about 2.5 feet between them. Right now there is nothing in there that the boys need access to. I have all of my herbs in there, along with bottles, jars, tins, other ingredients, finished products, etc. I also have some scrapbooking supplies in there and the picture and memorbilia boxes; my yarns, looms, and needles; wool felt, roving, and other handwork supplies; and my rubber stamps.

I haven't exactly shown chaos the door yet. There are boxes in various places throughout the back of the house that need new homes. I need to give the office another 1-2 hours to make it functional for lessons on Monday. Of course, January is the perfect time to declutter the entire house, and I have started here and there, which means the donation and give away piles are growing.

I have 2.5 more days and then we are going to jump in, ready or not.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Have Fun With Your Kids

I sense an underlying current among home learners. It seems there is this idea that every moment must be educational. Baking turns into math lessons and gardening is science. Once you pick up the mode you realize it happens everywhere. For instance, last night at the grocery store I had T-Guy weigh a tomato and estimate its cost. He had fun, but I had that jolt of awareness that I was doing something that I could write on the unschool log.

Yes, we are our children's first and best teachers. But I think something happens and it is too easy to move away from natural learning and to take on the awareness that the child should be learning something. My mom taught me to weigh produce too, but I was a public-schooled kid and the teaching wasn't fraught with fear that I wouldn't learn or that she might forget something. The knowledge was passed on much the same way we learn to chop vegetables, dust, or eat an apple. Mostly we watch, there may be some verbal instruction, and then we take off with it. No one quizzes us later: "How wide did you open your mouth when you bit into that apple?"

I did have fun with my boys yesterday. For Christmas we bought a couple of Ed Emberley drawing books and I ordered colored pencils from Paper Scissors Stone. We sat down and drew animals the Ed Emberley way. They weren't Waldorf, they weren't Enki...but they looked cute! I drew for about 45 minutes and the boys kept going for another half hour. It was fun! We broke out of the box and did something completely different, and there was no attempt to turn it into any kind of lesson.

Best part? I can draw a really cute porcupine now.