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
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.