Saturday, November 29, 2008

Coming Home

I've been away so long; I didn't even realize how long it had been.  The boys and I were moving between focused work and long breaks, and I had decided to take a long summer break from writing.  Then I got sick again.  Really sick this time, debilitated to the point of being mostly bed-bound for a couple of months.  I didn't do much more than the absolute minimum.  It was hard; I had to pull out of commitments made, I had to give up things that I wanted to do, and I had to learn how to balance being a person with medical needs as well as a mom who chooses to live each day with her children.  Okay, I'm still working on that one.

We're a little lost when it comes to homeschooling, almost completely without a good daily rhythm.  I sense it in my boys; J-Baby cries more frequently and T-Boy exhibits more discontent.  They are less resilient.  They can count on things throughout the week, but their days have only the structure of meals and bedtime.

This period of complete unschooling has been a grand adventure and experiment for us.  It works well when I am healthy, when I am ready for anything and don't have to guard my energy.  The thing is, I can never predict how long a remission will last or when I will go into a flare again.

When we first fully embraced unschooling we came at it from a place of connection.  We were connected to each other, to our community, to nature.  Living and learning were happening naturally.  Over time, however, we've reached a place of where we experience disconnection more often than I would like.  I'm certain that part of this stems from the boys getting older, and in particular from T-Guy going through the nine year change.  But I also think that the loss of rhythm is a large contributor as well.

Unschooling as an educational model has actually been working well.  We've explored ancient history and are currently learning all about Rome.  We formed a nature co-op and have been getting together with other home learners to hike, go on nature field trips, and do nature activities together.  There has been plenty of reading going on; T-Guy reads for hours everyday. We play lots of games, both as a family and just the boys.

What's missing is a sense of connection, of daily rhythm than we join in together.  For instance, I'll knit, but the boys will be doing something else.  Later they will want to do some sort of hand work just as I am starting something that I can't delay.  It's as if we are all doing many of the same things we did before ~ reading, drawing, hand work, outdoor play, etc. ~ but never at the same time.

So, for many reasons, I am looking to swing our pendulum back toward the structured learning that worked so well for us throughout our extended grade one year.  Grade one is the year that both boys named as their favorite time homeschooling, and I have to agree with the them that grade one was magical for us.

At first I wasn't sure where to start.  Should we just start with workbooks to review basic concepts and get a feel for where the boys are, skills-wise?  Do I attempt to pull together a loose, eclectic lesson plan? Do I order curriculum from Oak Meadow, Live Ed, or Christopherus (nix on that last one ~ they don't have a grade 4 curriculum available yet)?  Do we bring in small amounts of focused work and mostly stick with unschooling?  Should we start with the basics such as handwriting, spelling, and math and leave arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, modeling, etc. for later?

I realized that what I really need to do is go back to the beginning.  I'm rereading the Enki Foundation Guides.  We need to tend our environment, to find our rhythm, and to come together for connection.  I already know what to do in terms of philosophy and methodology. Sure, there is that sticky little part where Enki hasn't yet released any grade 4 materials, but I actually find that somewhat freeing.  We love the library and the last time we were working with Enki I found a lot of great resources to use with grade 3.

Home.  Returning to Enki is a homecoming of sorts.  Making the decision I felt my body let out a huge sigh ~ yes, this feels right, we can do this

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bye-Bye For Summer

I'm going offline for the summer (well as much as possible anyway ~ I still have to download bank transactions and such).

I want to take a step backward and just hang out with my family, to give us all the gift of time, especially my time.  If I turn on the computer for anything more than a basic task I want it to be either to communicate with people I actually know, or to write.

Last night there were songs swirling around in my head.  Real songs, my songs, not just rearrangements of others' songs.  That hasn't happened in a long time.  The night before that snippets of poetry were popping up ~ my poetry.

I think I know why it is happening, and I'm excited.  But I have to capture the creativity, and not let it drift away while I read another message board post or make another blog entry.

I need this gift of time, but I think my children do to.  We need to be creative together.  Just the other morning J-Baby and I ate our breakfast on the front porch, and I realized it was something that he had never done before.  Out back, yes, but never out front.  Some of my best summer memories involve breakfast, sitting out front, cantaloupe, and chocolate ice cream.

I love summer.  It's hot yes, but the days are long.  We go to bed later and sleep in.  Playing games until midnight is delicious.  So is reading a book under a shady tree, making fruit ices and lemonade, painting on the carport, sitting under the stars listening to a concert, walking our evening farmer's market in bright daylight, singing songs while crickets chirp, and so much more.

And so I embark to give us all the present moment, and my presence in it.  Togetherness, laughter, love.

Because I like neat tidy goals, I've decided to pursue this (mostly) unplugged lifestyle from the summer solstice to the autumnal equinox.  This is the longest break I've ever taken, and it is both exciting and daunting.  But really, if you are going to dream, dream big.  Make grand gestures and set high goals.  I know I am.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Go Buy This Book!

Deschooling Gently

Okay, don't buy it just because I said so.  Take a look around Tammy's blog, Just Enough, and Nothing More.  Read her posts on Fearless Homeschooling and The Real Cons of Homeschooling.

Tammy and I met last year at the California Homeschool Network Family EXPO. It was a serendipitous meeting: Papa and I had gone to school with Tammy's husband, and he and Papa had been in the same program and had considered themselves friends.  The spotted each other, introductions were made, coincidences marveled at.  We played and chatted in the Keva plank room all weekend, and had the opportunity to have lunch together.

I found out that Tammy was a presenter at the EXPO.  I'll be honest ~ I might not have gone to one of Tammy's presentations (actually, I went to two) if we hadn't met in the Keva plank room. I had a narrow definition of what deschooling was, and didn't think it applied to my family as my children had never been to school.  I went to that first session partly (Deschooling Gently) out of curiosity and partly to be polite.

I sat there and realized that the it was Papa and I who needed deschooling, not my boys. Tammy also shared other insights; in particular I loved that she talked about how much she loved to plan things out, and how life didn't really seem to work that way, so she would make her plan and put it in her back pocket.  She felt safe winging it knowing that the plan was there, just in case.  I totally related to that.  Another gem Tammy shared was that spending a lot of money on a curriculum has the potential to create an emotional/financial attachment to the curriculum, whether or not it is working for your family.  That was the seed that eventually saw me move away from the Enki Education Homeschool Curriculum (a beautiful curriculum that worked for us for awhile, and whose philosophy informs our living to this day).

I went to Tammy's second presentation, Fearless Homeschooling, because Deschooling Gently had been so amazing.  Not because Tammy and I think or homeschool exactly alike ~ we don't. No, what I love about Tammy (whether she is writing or speaking) is that she shares her truth but she doesn't expect it to be your truth.  She is unfailingly open and respectful, and she is fearless (or at least she tries to be ~ she'd probably be the first to tell you that it is a practice).

So here I am, telling you to buy Tammy's book ~ and I haven't even read it yet!  I only learned today that it had been released.  I am itching to get my hands on a copy.  I am, however, confident that it is fantastic.  Check out her blog and decide for yourself.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Monday Is Our Reset Day

One of the things that has carried with me from our days using Enki Education is the idea that keen observation of natural rhythms can be helpful when creating plans.  Not just lesson plans, but life plans as well.

Weekends can be busy, so I like to slow down on Mondays and breathe deeply.  I realized a long time ago that Monday isn't the best day for us to have out-of-the-house plans. I like a day free of obligation; I sleep in and have a really gentle morning.  I usually do the laundry and tidy the house.  I write, answer email, and read.  I generally make a more involved dinner (slow food, not fancy food).

The boys, too, seek something different on Mondays.  Weekends are exciting for them, even if we haven't done much.  Just having Papa home is wonderful, and they naturally try to cram in as much as they can in terms of basketball, bike rides, and belly laughs.  Sundays are our family nature day, and we usually get out and walk, bike, or hike, preferably in a more natural setting that our little house in the suburbs provides.

Mondays the boys tend to seek out projects, such as building huge Lego train layouts or constructing forts in the backyard.  Having had Papa as a playmate all weekend, they reconnect with each other as best friends.  Their imaginations run wild and they often have a narrative running through the day, a story that builds sometimes phrase by phrase with them taking turns picking up the plot and moving it forward.  Later in the week they will seek more from me, but Monday is their freedom day.

Late Monday afternoon feels wonderful.  I'm rested and rejuvenated.  The scent of delicious food is usually wafting down the hall, and Papa gets a whiff out front before he ever sets foot inside (tonight it is chicken-vegetable soup, with a gluten free Irish soda bread).  Papa has been gone long enough (4 - 5 hours after lunch) that we are starting to miss him.  I patiently await the feel of his embrace and that first kiss of the evening.  For 30 seconds he will be mine, and then he'll be pulled away to see the layout, the fort, or to shoot hoops.

Some times I am heading out on Monday right after dinner, for a moms' night out, a book club, or a natural parenting group.  So we sit together and form our family circle once more as we eat dinner and share our days with one another.  Monday evening is as joyful as Friday; a week in front of us, full of potential and promise.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Now Where Did I Put That Internal Compass . . .

. . . because I feel deliciously lost.

Wednesday night, when I still thought I was going to be able to fall asleep at a reasonable (for me) hour, I sat with my notebook and pencil and scratched out my plan for June.

  • No rules
  • No shoulds
  • No guilt
  • No fear
  • No stress
I am easily inspired.  Inspired, not influenced.  Nothing is going to convince me that the 80s look of leggings and baggy tops deserves another go around, or that Fritos have suddenly become health food simply because they consist of only corn, corn oil, and salt (I like them though, and eat them about twice a year).  No, good ideas have to resonate with my own life philosophies before I take them on.

Or should I say, pile them on.  I attach myself to good causes like a velcro kid to his mommy's leg.  Independence Days? Check!  Riot 4 Austerity? Check!  Compacting?  Check!  Veganism? Check!  Traditional Foods?  Check!  Read an environmental book in May?  Check!  Buy Nothing in April?  Check!  Grow Your Own?  Check!  You get the idea.

There is nothing wrong with all of the challenges that float around in cyberspace, or come to us via books, newspapers, magazines, and public radio.  They are meant to be inspiring, and to bring about change.  They are, however, dangerous in the hands of a neurotic, guilt-ridden, anxious, empathetic, perfectionist (that would be me . . . I should note that I am especially kind to myself as well).

I have struggled with the desire to be perfect since I was a little, little girl.  I was the kind of child who was told not to touch, and never did again.  I was the straight-A honors student who played in the band, mentored Brownie Scouts, and babysat premature babies.  I never crossed out mistakes on my paper ~ I always started over.  By high school I was mildly anorexic.  (How can you be mildly anorexic?  You can shun food and at the same time know that it is stupid, thus never eating in front of other people but eating enough to avoid hospitalization ~ barely.) I boycotted McDonald's because the fish in their Filet-O-Fish sandwich had a by-catch that included seals.  In college I was a mess, unable to reconcile the effect of my existence on the planet and its inhabitants.  I became a feminist, a vegetarian, an environmentalist, an animal rights activist, a pacifist.

(Perfectionism isn't in itself a bad trait, or a good trait.  It simply is what it is, and is what you make of it.)

Tell me that animals have to live horrible lives and die terrible deaths to feed me, and I stop eating them.  Tell me that we're using more than our fair share of the planet,and I try to change my ways.  Tell me that conventional farming destroys the soil, and I go organic.  I have been one giant self-improvement project my entire life.

Caring is good.  Making changes is good.  Becoming despondent is not.  I can think about the recent deaths in Myanmar and China, and fall into the pits of despair.  I feel the pain of children starving in Haiti.  A friend's pain, physical or emotional, is mine (and J-Baby is the same way).

The issue, I think, is not that I feel things deeply (because I really think that is a positive thing), but that I have a deeply ingrained sense of guilt.  I want to make it all better, and when I can't, I feel terrible.  I count every misdeed, and hate myself for each one.  The problem is, there is no way to be perfect.  Perfection truly does not exist.

Guilt and challenges are external motivators.  Seen in simpler guise, such as fast food chains offering children rewards for behavior, grades, or reading, I reject them soundly.  But I keep jumping on the challenge bandwagon.  Oh, it seems fun at first.  Inspiring even, because I am going to make a difference and I have a built in support group to cheer me on and brag/confess to.  Except the first misstep sends me reeling: perhaps I am not worthy. Other people are getting by without refrigerators, why can't I?  Other people have huge gardens/homesteads and grow a significant part of their annual diet, why don't I?  Other people never buy jeans at Kmart, or buy new books, or succumb to the guilty pleasure of an In 'N Out Burger (protein-style ~ I still have to eat gluten free).  What the heck is wrong with me?

Several times in my life I have come to a place where nearly every decision is fraught with complications, and I freeze, the proverbial deer in the headlights.  I get stuck.  I stop enjoying life because it is too stressful and too hard.  We can need a quart of milk, and if I have to get into the car to drive the 4 miles to the store to buy what is acceptable to me in terms of ethics and health I will feel as guilty as hell because we didn't ride our bikes, and thus contributed to global warming.

I know this isn't a good way to live, and indeed that it is barely living at all.  So I shove it all out of my mind and that works for a little while.  I have cultivated the ability to be in the moment partially as a defense mechanism against the larger reality.  Lately I've been focusing on recognizing when I'm starting to fall into the quagmire, and I trying to stop the guilty thinking before it starts.

I have to accept that I am enough.   I can't do it all, I can't save the world, I can't stop the suffering that surrounds me, big and small.  But I do try to make a difference, and every little thing that I do is enough.

My internal compass is there, guiding me.  I ignore it often, and do get lost, going around in mental circles.  I need to pause, to find that space where I can let go of everything external and figure out what works for me in my very individual situation.  When I do that I come back to center, get my bearings, and set my feet to the spiral path once more.

I Might Just Give Up!

Trying to not label ourselves as unschoolers leaves us hemming and hawing and somehow people think we aren't owning up to what we do.  No matter how you phrase it ~ child-led, delight-driven, relaxed ~ people who homeschool are going to identify you as a unschooler. People who don't homeschool aren't going to get it at all, so why bother with the fancy words?

I really, really hate labels.  I hate being pigeon-holed or stereotyped.  I reserve the right to change my mind.  If we do unschool, we still limit TV and video games (note that this has moved to limiting, not elimination).  We still loosely uphold bed times, and there isn't a Dorito or Twinkie in sight.  (Before you hit me over the head, I know that unschooling doesn't mean that people are uninvolved with their children, or that their children watch TV 24/7 and eat nothing but junk food ~ It's the stereotype I rebel against!)  Still, I'm starting to see that while the unschooling label may conjure up negative connotations for some, it also creates solidarity with others.  Its like a secret ~ life with our kids is great ~ club.

And damn, I'm pretty radical.  I've always been radical, but now I am really listening to myself and how often I say no to the boys, and I'm asking myself why.  In fact, I'm now having this internal dialogue before I say no, and I'm saying yes.  I'm saying yes so often and so quickly that my boys are often surprised.  That means I must have been saying no too often before.  I think the no stifles learning.

They really are growing up and showing maturity, and I want them to make decisions.  In fact, I think I've been a bit of a control freak, and well, I want that to stop.  I want them to have the freedom I had as a child.  I see it as part of their growth, and part of mine.  And honestly, now that they are 8 and 9, I don't care what they have for a snack.  If it is in the house and isn't raw meat set aside for dinner, have at it.

Saying yes has positive effects right away.  A couple of months ago I started saying yes every time they asked to play in the front yard (we live on a somewhat busy street, so I needed to know that they were mature enough to look for cars before chasing a ball into the street). Within a week they stopped asking for permission, and just regarded it as part of their territory.  Since then we've had the opportunity to talk about strangers walking on our street, and the difference between being polite and being too friendly, and how they can develop and trust their intuition.

Is it possible that I am a radical unschooler?  Could it be that I have reconciled what it means to be radical about living and learning and to reject the idea that floats around out there that radical unschoolers are actually unparenting (I've always maintained that they are separate things, and that neither homeschooled nor away - from - home schooled children are immune to having parents who end up not doing much parenting, for whatever reasons.  But I think I've been afraid of the word, radical.

Maybe it is time to take back the words and wear them proudly.  It is certainly something to think about.

The Middle of the Night

My AmityMama friend, Meeshi, often uses a simple format to frame her blog posts, and I thought I'd give it a try.
  • I am feeling ~ calmer now that I got out of bed.  Underneath that I'm slightly stressed that tonight is an I can't sleep night.  Even worse, it is an I'm not tired, I can't sleep night.  My stomach is upset.  It's a bad night for it, as FIL is here and I need to be present in the morning (and I stayed in bed far too long tossing and turning because the family room isn't available to me).  But there's nothing I can do about it.  I'm so tempted to just stay awake and see if I can do a total sleep system reset, but I do have to drive FIL to the station tomorrow.  I guess I'll try to sleep again in a little while.
  • I am hearing ~ the constant hum of the highway, despite the late hour.  My computer fan. The tap of my fingers on the keyboard. Little else.
  • I am seeing ~ my computer screen, the glow of the little lamp, wood floors, wood chairs, wood table.  The neighbor's porch light, and the glow of light from inside their house. Perhaps someone is awake over there as well.
  • I am smelling ~ nothing.  The food smells have dissipated from the house or I have gotten used to them
  • I am thankful for ~ my newfound ability to find peace and calm in a situation that used to provoke severe anxiety.
  • I am planning ~ to be really gentle with myself tomorrow (uh, today).  I'm thinking about how I can be present for the boys when the exhaustion inevitably sets in.  I have to accept that my nerves will be a little raw, so there will need to be time for connection and time for rejuvenation.
  • I am hoping . . . that I will find an answer to the insomnia.  I am not worried that I need to figure it out today, after all, I have battled insomnia fairly regularly for more than a decade now, and even as a child I had an awareness of being unable to sleep at times.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Grandpa Comes to Visit

How exciting!

FIL arrived via train this morning.  Now, he doesn't live that far away, at least by the standards of our time period and culture.  The train is just more convenient, less stressful, and less expensive.  We, however, are train geeks, so an arrival by train is exceedingly fun.  We drove to the station, hit a road block, and had to drive all the way around to get to the platform.  This meant going over a bridge; T-Guy spotted the transfer equipment for the containers (trains to trucks/intermodal), and he was practically out of his seat with excitement.

Grandparents can be treasures in children's lives.  It sounds like a cliche, but the reality is that there is potential for a fantastic mentoring relationship with grandparents.  They love their grandchildren far more unconditionally than they loved us as children, or than we love our own children (oh, we try for unconditional, but it doesn't happen).  It helps if the parents have good relationships with the grandparents (be they their own parents or their ILs).

It also helps to step out of the way and let the kids direct the action.  Off and on today I have drifted in and out, sometimes participating and sometimes leaving FIL and the boys to their own activities.  They played the Game of Life; I sat with them but stayed out of the game until my help was requested at the end.  The listened to an audio book; J-Baby had insisted on going to the library last night to borrow Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing because "Grandpa likes it".  Then they had a snack (I cut up fruit) and asked to use the vintage Spirograph I bought at the thrift store.  I got them started, then FIL and I sat and chatted while the boys experimented.

Papa arrived home from work and now they are all off on a bike ride.  We'll have supper when they come home (beans and cornbread), and then it is family movie night.  I would have liked for us to walk after super, but movie night is inviolable around here.

I'm looking forward to the time after the boys go to bed, when the talk turns more adult, and when Papa and FIL are bound to bring out their guitars and sing together.  I kind of wish that tonight wasn't movie night so we could all make music, but I doubt the boys will go for it, and despite my growing relaxed parenting as the boy get older, Papa still likes bed times.  But we all sing together often, so I'll sink into it and take the evening as it comes.

Opening Up

I'm starting to feel more comfortable when people ask what the boys have been learning in that what have you been teaching them way.  I'm slowly letting family members know what I think about education, and why, and how it has changed and could change again.  I'm no longer rattling off a list of what the boys are reading of what curriculum we're using.

It's a little scary.  A year ago I would have felt more comfortable than I do now, but the situation is such in California that I worry about people sticking their noses in where they don't belong.  Not family, but other well-meaning people who are appalled that my children don't print well and can't recite their multiplication tables.

I did find a great course of study document for unschoolers in California, so I adapted that and put it in our private school file.  I know I'm not doing anything wrong; I just wish other people understood so that we wouldn't face the possibility of fighting for what we believe to be our fundamental right as parents.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Books and Movies

We went to see Prince Caspian last night.  I had Papa on one side of me, J-Baby on the other, and I was glad for moveable armrests that let us snuggle together as we took in the world of Narnia on the big screen.

Oh, we saw The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe when it came out.  We go to very few movies, and we choose them carefully.  Then we follow a very simple rule.  If the movie is adapted from a book, we read the book first.

All the way home the boys talked about the differences between the book and the movie, and decided that the book was better.

I understand.  I waited so eagerly for The Mists of Avalon to be made, and then I was beyond disappointed when it finally arrived.  I suppose there was no way for a 2 part miniseries to live up to the world I had created in my mind reading the book 10 - 15 times over 20 years.

I'm not anti-movie.  I even understand why changes need to be made, sometimes for length and very often to create a film that the movie-going public will want to see (rather than the book reading public).  I just find that I am more likely to enjoy a movie if I haven't read the book and don't plan to (common with recent fiction), or if the movie isn't based on a book.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Lesson Learned

(Or more precisely, being learned.  I still need practice.)

I am an overcommitter.  Okay, maybe that isn't a real word, but it fits.  I often, spontaneously, find myself taking on a task without thinking through what it means in terms of my time.  Usually I'm signing up to do something fun, like host a dinner or participate in a card swap.  I'm actually pretty good at saying no to things that I know I don't want to do.

So, I signed up for a card swap.  When I saw that the group was doing one I actually posted that I might like to do the next one, as the current one was already in full swing.  I got a message from the coordinator letting me know that there was still time to join the swap.  Uh oh.  I said yes because it felt good to be wanted, despite the fact that I don't actually know any of the crafters in real life, they don't know me, and my presence in the swap was pretty meaningless in the big scheme of things.

I didn't think about what I would have to do to participate in the swap, like come up with several original ideas for cards, make the cards, and go to the post office.  I didn't figure in for crafter's block, or agonizing over whether anyone would like what I made.  I procrastinated.  The deadline was extended (I didn't ask for that to happen), and I procrastinated longer.  I was waiting for last minute inspiration: it didn't come.

I realized that I didn't want to make the cards and that I wasn't that vested in receiving cards in trade.  I had stuck with the swap because I didn't want to look bad.  I didn't want to be a quitter.  Finally today, it struck me: I was trying to uphold a false image of myself to people that I don't know.  If I didn't want to make the cards, I didn't have to.

Now, some swaps are more particular than this, and someone dropping out might have consequences on everyone else.  I'm really glad I hadn't committed to something like that.  But I did learn another lesson, that who I am and what I want to do with my time is more important than pleasing people, and that I should think carefully before making commitments.  This time I could bow out, but sometimes I can't, and I end up doing something that I don't want to do.

Time is precious.  More important to me than not spending the time making cards is letting go of the agonizing and worrying, and clearing the mental clutter of having an unwanted, uncompleted task.

Over the years my lessons have changed.  12 years ago my lesson was to learn flexibility, to learn to bend and not break.  I spent more than a full year encountering the lesson over and over again, and certainly have had to practice it ever since.  Lately it seems that the lesson coming at me is to slow down, and to recognize that I have the power to remove stress from my life and to not create some of it myself.

Tag, You're It!

We all remember playing tag as children, right?  Some of us still play it, although I must admit that the children are a lot faster than I am.  It's fun though ~ it's hard to play tag and not laugh.

So I stopped by my friend Tammy Takahashi's blog, Just Enough, and Nothing More, this afternoon, and oops, I got tagged!  The task is to send a message to the world in 15o characters or less.  Characters, not words.  I'm guessing that includes spaces and punctuation.

What would I have to say?

Be real, be honest.  Never stop learning.  Love others fully and love yourself.  Find or create community.  Live in harmony with nature.  Never stop learning.  Enjoy life.

If you are reading this, tag, you're it!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Washing Dishes

Last night Papa and T-Guy bicycled off to the farmers market without J-Baby and me.  J-Baby was still working on finishing his meal (he was eating slowly, but not complaining about his dinner or attempting to get out of eating it), and the kitchen work needed to be done.  In other words, we were running late.

There were a lot of dishes that needed to be done by hand.  This is usually true in our house, where almost all food preparation involves bowls, pots, pans, and assorted items that don't fit (or shouldn't go) in the dishwasher.

I asked J-Baby if he wanted to help me in the kitchen, thinking I'd have him wipe the table.  Well yes, he did want to help ~ with the dishes.  Now, dishes aren't usually my domain (I cook, Papa usually cleans up), and I hadn't intended to have an impromptu lesson.  But my boy wanted to do this.  Think quick, how will this work?  The big stainless steel bowl came down from the cupboard and was put to use as as rinse basin.  We found a small step stool.  The boy rinsed every dish I washed and then put it in the dish rack.  He was pleased with himself.  We chatted while we worked.  It felt good.  When we finished we took his rinse water out and watered the small rose bush.

We may have just changed how we do dishes around here. 

Friday, May 09, 2008

Why We Aren't Unschoolers

We aren't "un" anything.  What does it mean, anyway?  Back in the '70s my family played a game called The Ungame.  It wasn't supposed to be like a game, except, well, it was a game.  It looked like a game, we kept it with the other games, and we sat around the table to play it.  The content was unique, but it was still a game.

Is unschooling supposed to mean that it is unlike schooling?  Is it not schooling?  I've met parents who say they are unschoolers who teach math from a math book, and unschooling parents who would say that using a math curriculum isn't unschooling.  No one can really agree.

Many homeschoolers who don't unschool think of unschooling as a lazy parent's way to homeschool (for the record, I don't think there's anything lazy about it ~ letting go of scripts and lesson plans requires engaged parents).  They envision children staying up until 3 am playing video games nonstop from waking to sleep, with nary a stop to eat (unless pizza is wafted under the gamer's nose).  I, however, have encountered many self-labelled unschooling families who don't own televisions or game consoles.

No, the label is too fraught with connotation.  It conjures up stereotypes, some derogatory and some fantastic.  Lazy parents, plugged-in kids, kids who can't get into college.  Or freedom, life experience, trust.

But we aren't willing to take on the unschooling label?  Why?  Because I jettisoned the schooling part of our education philosophy a long time ago.  We aren't schooling, we are learning.  Not just the boys ~ all of us, all of the time. I've tried a lot of methods and philosophies, and they all have pluses and minuses, but in the end, any attempt at homeschooling as an educational philosophy flopped.  To me, unschooling, in its attempt to be unlike schooling, still suggests that schooling is the major focus, even if the attempt is to turn it upside down and inside out.  Many unschoolers still feel the need to justify themselves by showing how unschooling measures up to schooling ~ at home or away from home.  I call it the why-my-method-is-better-than-yours-is mentality.

We live.  We're human, and learning is the human condition.  Our word is full of wonders, and we have more information than we've ever had before.  Fact gathering is easy, if one wants to gather facts.  Living and learning brings facts into experience and understanding.  No, we aren't unschooling, which in the end sounds more like a political statement to me than an educational philosophy.  We are pro-learning, really learning, through living and being human.

(I suppose I'll still have to keep the term homeschooling in my purse, ready to pull out whenever someone asks the boys why they aren't in school.)

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Who Are We?

Let's just get the labels out of the way, shall we?

We are (I hear the Jetson's theme running through my brain):

I/Me, the voice of the blog.  Partner, lover, friend, mama, daughter, writer, poet, artist, musician, crafter, environmentalist, feminist, cook, housekeeper, nature lover, seamstress, train geek, bookworm . . . human being.  (By the way, I don't claim to be especially proficient at all of the things I do.

Papa, my partner, lover, and friend.  Papa, son, programmer, friend, musician, nature lover, bookworm, cyclist, historian, Lakers fan, train geek (okay, we all are), foosball player, and probably 50 more things that I don't even know.

T-Guy, my oldest son.  Bookworm, musician, nature lover, basketball fiend, cyclist, crafter, brother, friend, grandchild, music lover, morning lark, Lego lunatic, Star Wars worshipper . . . my huggly, snuggly boy.

J-Baby, my youngest son.  Math whiz, artist, drummer, nature lover, cyclist, basketball fiend, skeptic, Lego lover, brother, friend, grandchild, night owl, keen observer, my sweet kisses and I love you boy.

Girl Dog, my baby before I had babies.  Beautiful, neurotic, and slightly geriatric canine with a medium-sized build and really big bark.

You've met us before, maybe at Sunshine Alternative Mama, Red Dirt Life, Holistic Learning, Sustainability in the Suburbs, or one of those blogs I mentioned that just didn't make it.

A New Journey

Every blog has to start somewhere.

After more than 500 blog posts on 10 different blogs, some that thrived, some that sputtered, and a couple that barely made it out of the gate, I'm starting over.

We're starting over.

Everything felt fragmented, and bits of the old would haunt me as I embraced the new.  I couldn't always remember where my posts were or decide where a post belonged.  I struggled for my voice and for focus.  I debated whether or not writing about our lives for a viewing public made any sense.  I was delighted when I received comments.  I was worried when I didn't.

For a person who espouses the simple life, blogging wasn't simple anymore.

I felt stifled by various causes I had joined, or by philosophies I held.  I had so many labels pasted on me that I felt more like the back of a '74 Pinto than a human being.

So here we are.  I'll probably do the writing, but I'll be writing about us.  What we're doing and learning.  How that happens, and why we choose to do it the way we do.  The lessons we learn as we live, love, laugh, and learn.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Blooming Child

J-Baby turned 8 this month.  Leading up to it, I saw that the inward focus of 7 was giving way (and he was one of those 7 year-olds who really lived life in a minor key), and J-Baby was swinging toward equilibrium once again.  I sighed in relief, and was once again thankful for the little Geselle institute books that talk about child development in broad strokes and are just old enough to have avoided the current fear-based, helicopter-style of parenting.

J-Baby is also thriving on our new, sort-of schedule.  I say sort-of, because we are still who we are, and even deciding to take on more focused lessons has to be done our way.  We started with a basic outline, chose books, and we've tweaked it since then.  So far, this is what is going on:

We're reading The Story of the World Volume II.  I'm not truly impressed, but the boys really like it and Papa pointed out that it does introduce the names of people and places, along with some basic plot and myth.  We're going to get volume I in audio format.

We started with Howard Pyle's version of Robin Hood, which came highly recommended by both Waldorf and CM educators.  Uh, no.  The language is flowery and awkward (not flowery and beautiful, like Shakespeare), and I see no reason for using Robin quoth instead of Robin said in the year 2008.  There is a place for updated language!  Anyway, the boys pointed out that they already know the Robin Hood stories well (thank you Jim Weiss and Barefoot Books), so we went back to Laura Ingalls Wilder's On The Banks of Plum Creek, with a plan to start Farmer Boy as soon as we're done.  The boys are loving it!

J-Baby adores the Holling C. Holling natural history books, and we're currently reading Paddle to the Sea.

We've done a bit of poetry, some art history (biography of Da Vinci, another story they know well so we may drop it), and a little Shakespeare.  The poetry and Shakespeare aren't grabbing the boys; for now I think we'll hold off on Shakespeare, and move to more interesting poetry.  I had chosen Christina Rossetti (based on an Ambleside Online recommendation), but her stuff has really flopped with the boys.  I actually came across a great series called Poetry For Young People and purchased several poets, including Poe, Dickinson, Frost, Sandburg, and Robert Louis Stevenson, so we're going to see what strikes our fancy.

We've yet to get going with math or writing (in a formal way), and that's okay.  What we are doing now is feeding the need that J-Baby expressed.  He is also practicing his reading often, and may soon transition from beginner to advanced beginner, which will open up many more written things to him and help him feed his own curiosity.

Of course, the bulk of our living and learning isn't happening during this focused time.  We're gardening, and reading other books.  We started embroidering burlap, and the boys draw everyday.  We walk, we ride bikes, we go to the farm markets, we hike, we chase trains, we get together with friends, we cook and bake, we make music and sing . . . we live.

It has been wonderful to watch J-Baby open up to the world and live in it full of joy.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

New Rhythms *and* Homeschooling in California

We are still trying to find our groove in the area of focused learning.  What can an Enki (non-radical) unschooling mama do when her boys say they want real lessons?  I can't make them understand the philosophy, nor can I make them see that unschooling is working in their lives, and always has.  No, my responsibility is to meet their needs, and it is very clear that they want more.

You my recall that we had tried to return to Enki-style lessons not that long ago.  While the boys loved the structure, we were once again falling flat with the content, which means we all lost interest pretty quickly.  It's easy to burn out when we aren't loving it.

Perhaps part of the issue is that we have always been tidal schoolers more than unschoolers.  We move into focused learning, and then we expand and let what we've worked on sleep while we pursue other interests and learn that way.  This pushing and pulling exists mostly because I am more of an unschooler, and my boys like schedules and workbooks and whatever else it is that says learning to them.  It also has come into play as we've dealt with illness and loss.

Finally, after J-Baby told the cashier at a local store that I don't have time to teach him (obviously he can't wrap his head around the concept of unschooling), I racked my brain and tried to come up with something that I thought might work: combining Enki philosophy with Charlotte Mason methodology.  The way I figure it, the boys' needs are met by the short, focused lessons, I choose what to bring to them using my Enki background, and we have lots of time left over for unschooling.

Right now I am pulling it all together on the fly.  It's more CM than Enki; I'm using a booklist derived from the Ambleside Online curriculum, edited by a group of secular CM homeschoolers.  Some of our resources are from the classical homeschooling movement, some are from Enki, some are rather mainstream.

One of my goals is to maintain the rich multiculturalism of Enki, as well as the focus of us as human beings rather than people of times and places being other.  Most of the AO booklist has a decidedly British/European focus, with American history thrown in for good measure.  I find this especially true when it comes to studying composers, artists, and poets.  So really, I am looking more at the structure and methodology of CM rather than the content.

We are doing some remediation.  The boys can't print very well, and it bothers Papa, and it is starting to bother T-Guy.  So we're going to use Handwriting Without Tears along with copywork.  This seems to be a skill area that we've gone backward in; the boys were printing rather well for their age when we were doing grade 1 with Christopherus and later Enki.  Given the penmanship of many adults I know who do all of their writing via typing rather than print, it seems to be a use-it-or-lose-it skill.

We're also going to focus on bringing written math to the boys.  They are both great with math, and J-Baby in particular seems to be gifted with intuitive math ability.  Now that he is 8 we're going to place more focus on what we consider to be the language of mathematics.  We'll be using Miquon Math and lots of manipulatives.  I chose the math lab materials because I want the bulk of our math learning to be experiential, and to focus on developmental-mastery.

I'd love to take a break over the summer, but we've had a lot of "break" time with the events of the past year, and I think that we should establish a good, healthy rhythm to carry us into the fall.  So for now, our mornings (at least the "academic" portion) looks something like this:

History or Literature reading (alternates for now)
Math work
Daily focus: Art history (M), poetry (T), music history (W), and Shakespeare (TH)
Penmanship/Copywork
Natural History/Science reading
Phonics lesson

Unlike CM, we aren't doing narration right after the readings.  We are allowing a night of sleep before we reawaken what we've read.  It feels more intuitively correct, or more organic, in that as adults we often tell someone else about what we've read, but not the moment we finish reading it.  Typically, if we are reading it right then we stop and read it to them.  I suppose within CM this is a discipline issue, but my boys just don't get telling me exactly what I've just read to them (uh duh, I should know the story because I just read it!).  It make far more sense for them to tell Papa about it at a later time, or for us to revisit what we read before we start the next chapter.

For this spring/summer term we're mostly focusing on the rhythm, and on getting in as much medieval history as we can.  My plan is to approach history with a more classical approach than we have been via Enki and unschooling.  The boys have hit an age where history is fascinating to them, and I want to run with that.

My thought is to divide the "school year" into 3 -4 terms and still do cultural immersion as we have done with Enki, within the history spine.  We'll tie in art, music, crafts, poetry, etc.  The literature readings for the year can also fit in with cultural block.

It looks like so much when I write it all out. In reality, we're talking about approximately 2 hours of academic focus, 4 days a week.  Afternoons are free for community and nature adventures (which fall under academic content in a more experiential manner), as well as handwork, gardening, crafts, art, and music.  Papa will still be reading to the boys each night (more literature), as well as continue with their science exploration.

Because I am in California there are a seven subjects that we are required to teach at the primary level: English, Math, Social Science, Science, Fine Arts, Physical Education, and health.  The first five subjects are taken care of within the morning hours.  Physical education happens regularly around here with walks, bike riding, basketball, etc.  The boys participate in physical activity and learn the rules of various sports.  Health is also a continually visited subject; we cover hygiene, physical health, nutrition, emotional health, alternative/complementary healing, and more.

Actually, given the current homeschooling uncertainty here in California, I am feeling a bit more confident bringing focus to our academic learning.  I'm not sure what it is going to mean to homeschool in CA once the courts and legislators get done with it.  I'm almost 100% certain that the idea that homeschooling requires a parent with a teaching credential will get tossed out.  I have a feeling that ISPs, both private and public (including charter ISPs) will have to provide more oversight (which may prove problematic for private umbrella schools that have previously limited their involvement to record-keeping).  Those of us who choose the private school option, if it remains an option, may have to tweak how we've done things.   The affidavit is for "persons, firms, associations, partnerships, or corporations offering or conducting full-time day school at the elementary or high school level for students between the ages of 6 and 18 years".

Although the current court case involved parents using a private school ISP, all manners of homeschooling are now being examined.  For those who choose the private school option, the question seems to be, what constitutes a full-time day school?  Those who follow the philosophy of John Holt believe that our children are learning all of the time.  Will the state disagree?

My hope (and thus what I will be working toward) is that we can continue homeschooling CA as we always have, with the same choices and opportunities.  I believe that I have a parental right to educate my children as I see fit, and that within the current code I have the right to establish a private school in order to do just that.  If I have to change how I do things, I will.  If I have to log hours, or show progress, I'll find a way to do that.

One thing I do know is that this freedom I have, to change things, to refine our rhythm, to switch books and curricula mid-stream ~ it can only be seen as a plus.  I am creating education for my children based on their needs, and our needs as a family.  I don't teach them based on the needs of the government, businesses, or even what the state has determined to be the needs of the average student.  It's like making breastmilk; the education Papa and I provide our children is just for them.  There have to be alternatives, but nothing beats an education tailored to the specific needs of the individual child.  Even those parents who choose public school (or perhaps have no choice) would have a hard time arguing with that.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Rhythm is a River

We've been away from the water too long. Keeping the banks in sight and following its course from afar, but barely dipping our toes in. Over the past year there have been days, no, weeks and months when the river seemed just over the next hill. We wanted to be there, but obstacles sprung up like ornery badgers on a prairie path. We kept to the parallel path, scanning for dense trees, getting closer.

Monday we jumped in. Movement? Check! Trickster tales? Check! Form drawing and practice time? Check and Check!

I am always slightly amazed at how easy we fall back into rhythm when we finally decide the time is right and make it a priority. Oh, big rhythms are always there; I'm talking about focused learning and the simplicity of family living without the stress of emergencies and aftermath. Proactive living, rather than reactive living. Living through crisis after crisis is exhausting.

We're taking it really easy. A three day "academic" week, at a pretty slow pace, with a day for music experimentation and a day for nature and community exploration. After our spring vacation we'll slip Spanish back in if I can find a good way to do so. If not, I'll keep reviewing mine, knowing that the time will be there at some point, and until then we can keep singing.

In some ways, moving back into our rhythm is having the best of both worlds. Some focused time to work in a philosophy that speaks to me, and to feed the need for doing that my oldest has; some flowing time to be and nourish the parts of ourselves that grow best in the wild.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Where Do We Go From Here, Part 2 . . . or Enki For Unschoolers

Over the years I've read several posts from people who have purchased Enki Education materials although the consider themselves to be "unschoolers at heart". I understand. I knew I was an unschooler at heart when my boys were 1 and 2. Soon though, I found that I was also a holistic education person at heart. You name a holistic education method, and I have probably spent some time working with it (the exception being Live Education).

Some long time readers of the blog may recall that I tossed all of that aside and spent a couple of months as a classical educator.  I've also dabbled in the Charlotte Mason method.

I think I have a pretty good grasp on what I think these days. I'm inspired by Enki Education and I use the Enki philosophy, along with some of the Enki materials and methods. I'm inspired by John Holt and the concept of unschooling. I absolutely believe that my boys will learn what they want and need to learn because learning is the natural human condition. And I pull in classical methods and materials when they make sense for us.

We're not eclectic. The label doesn't work for me. I am always working within the philosophies of holistic education and what John Holt termed unschooling. Addressing the needs of the whole child and the whole family (and indeed, the entire human community, and the earth itself), all the while trusting the child and trusting myself. I'm not mixing Ethan Allen, Pottery Barn, and IKEA. The actual definition of eclectic may fit us, but the connotation doesn't.

So, here is my in-a-nutshell take on working with Enki and unschooling.

One, figure out where you are. Do the Family Web exercises outlined in the Enki Homeschool Workbook. Then do the Family Rhythms section of the workbook.

What is important to you as a family? For us, our web has vitality, wisdom, and compassion at its core, with community, family, and nature as our our outer ring. Our family warp threads are music, health, rhythm, environment, travel, lifelong learning, relationships, and simplicity.

What does your day look like? What's working? What isn't? The Enki materials have some sound advice on setting up the rhythm of your day, but it isn't something you can overlay on your family. If one parent works the swing shift, morning may be family time and not a good time for focused lessons.  I myself don't transition easily to the day, nor does J-Baby, and T-Guy likes to get a solid hour of reading in each morning before he does anything else.  We aren't ready to come together in focused learning any earlier than mid-morning.

Is the environment nourishing?  Is there an opportunity for daily time spend outdoors?  Are there quiet places in the home where one can seek solitude?  For me, minimizing clutter is important, but I don't need stark minimalism either.  Does the environment exude a sense of comfort, warmth, and nourishment?  Are there spaces in which to be creative?

It really helps me to get a focus on our rhythms. Not only the daily rhythm but the weekly, monthly, and annual rhythms. For me, rhythm is the human heartbeat. Without the rhythm of the weeks, months, and year my life would have less meaning. Our weekly traditions bring us together as a family and create a sense of unity. Throughout the months there are occasions that we celebrate with friends and extended family. The year turns and we connect to all living things. Rhythm, purposeful rhythm, is part of being human.

Specific to Enki, I find it important to have a sense of where my child is developmentally, and also to know their strengths and opportunities when it comes to learning styles.  I need to know which stories are likely to resonate with them, and which may stretch them beyond comfort or fall flat.

We move in and out of focused learning as the boys seek more and then desire far less structure.  I know they are learning while the concepts sleep, and that the concepts will be reawakened when the time is right for the boys.

Um, So Where Do We Go From Here?

We've thoroughly enjoyed our adventures in near-unschooling, and it has been going really well. We live, we love, and we learn. It's like breathing. But the boys have expressed a desire to have more guidance, more focused learning, and Papa and I have talked about some of the skills we think the boys need and how to approach that.

So, I guess we are . . . ? I hate labels. Are we Enki-inspired unschoolers? Holistic-minded tidal schoolers? Holistic eclectic learners? Do we boldly call ourselves Enki Homeschoolers and simply refuse to flinch when others point out that we don't do A, B, and C?

Maybe it helps to start with what we don't do. We aren't radical unschoolers. We acknowledge that all parents make decisions for their children, even if that decision is to keep them out of government and private schools. We believe that children need guidance; no one goes from newborn to adult without having learned a lot of skills from their human community.

We don't do school-at-home. Never in a million years. We don't replicate public school in our home, nor do we attempt to recreate the Enki private school experience in our home. In our experience, whenever we attempt to add too much structure and the day feels too much like school, we all lose interest.

We want as much freedom as we can possibly have. This means not joining public or private independent study programs, even if they will keep records for us or give us money. TANSTAAFL, and all that. We want the freedom to study what we want, when we want to. We want to visit friends when we want to, and to go places, and to never feel limited by externally-imposed structure.

To be completely honest, Papa asked why we hadn't completely jettisoned Enki. After all, we seem to be unschoolers. We strew the path. We listen to what the boys are interested in, and fly with it. When he asks about handwriting, I tell him that the boys as of yet don't seem to feel the need to write that often. I never interrupt Lego building for math practice.

How many pieces can you currently be ignoring and still stay within the blueprint? What is the Enki blueprint? Is there room for unschooling? Are we really unschoolers? Maybe we're tidal learners.

I've had my own doubts. What right have I to claim to be Enki-inspired? Then again, what right does anyone else have to take that away from me.

We are Enki-inspired learners because we are inspired by the philosophy and methods of Enki Education. Short of persons who have actually completed the Enki Teacher training, all of us who use the Enki Education materials are Enki-inspired. We love the inclusiveness of Enki, the beautiful materials, and the fact that the Enki Homeschool program is family-centered. We love the wholeness of it. We are not merely unschoolers; we have inspiration, guidance, and support. Perhaps, after all, we are Enki-inspired holistic learners (that sounds so familiar, have I written it before?).

So, in this rambling post (I won't be winning any blogging awards, I'm certain), I was trying to figure out what our next move it. I could sit down and plan out a nice Enki school year, print it out and put it in my binder, and be pretty certain that we wouldn't stick to it at all.

You know, this post is so long that I'm going to stop now, and start part two. Otherwise the most important revelation of the day may get lost down here.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

I've Been Busy

So busy, in fact, that I don't actually have time to be writing this post. I should be folding laundry or cleaning the house, or maybe I should be packing lunch for today's park day support group. I should wash my face, brush my teeth, and put on real clothes and not just the clothes that I threw on early this morning to run out the door to meet the co-op truck. I should put away the extra pancakes from this morning's Pancake Day feast.

But I'm also excited. I have been working for a couple of weeks on a new Enki project, one that brings small group grade specific discussion to our online Enki community. It's an idea that I was initially against last summer, but as the main community has grown I have seen the need for the smaller groups. I am working as part of a team that has brought all of the pieces together to form a unified whole that will nourish the entire online community, rather than fracture it, as I first feared.

I've been writing and editing tirelessly, and coordinating with other volunteers to get the grade groups up and running. We've put the word out, and will be sending invitations soon.

Smaller groups means that people will have a chance to really get into the materials and to figure out how Enki works for them. Enki started as a small private school movement, and it still works well in that environment, but in the hands of homeschoolers it is brilliant. Enki is a new educational model, being birthed right now; an educational model that stands on its own. It isn't Waldorf-lite or even a Waldorf derivative, any more than it is a Montessori derivative.

Enki Education is the most community-minded, environmentally aware, family-centered educational model I have ever encountered. It addresses the whole child in a way that I haven't seen before. Most importantly, Enki is about families.

Because of this, Enki fits all styles of home learning. Those who want to do school-at-home can put together that type of schedule. Those who prefer unschooling can read the Foundation Guides, get the underpinnings of the philosophy and child development, and go from there, strewing the path with the Enki philosophy guiding them. Tidal schoolers can go in and out, keeping an overall rhythm and moving back and forth between relaxed exploration and more focused academics. Eclectic learners can bring in pieces from other curricula and still make it all work within the Enki blueprint.

Some may a have noticed that all of my blogs were down for a few weeks. I needed time to work on the project, and to decide where I want to focus my blog writings. Look for many updates on Holistic Learning, as I write about what we do day-to-day. Also keep an eye out for posts on my newest blog, Local Learning. Local learning is an idea I've been kicking around since last June; I want to explore and write about people learning where they live.

Time's up; I can only ignore everything else that needs to be done for so long.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Tide Turns Again, or Great Importance

I stopped writing when our lives had fallen into a rhythm of living, loving, and learning, with no clear demarcations for schooling. I figured I would write about our lives on Red Dirt Life, and anything related to learning would be there. Slowly, however, the little comments have been winding their way to me in email and on message boards, the overarching message being "We miss your blog."

Here we are, at the start of a new year, with my boys clamoring for focused "school" work. Since I like to oblige them, we will once again be moving back to lessons. And since I like to oblige my readers, I'll be writing about it.

For those who don't remember, when we do lessons we mostly use the Enki Education philosophy and methodology. To this I add specific programs that work best for my boys as individuals. Enki is a fantastic holistic homeschooling curriculum. It works for all types of families; those who closely follow a school-at-home model (although it is pretty adventurous and not like Calvert of K-12), and those who tidal school or mostly unschool with an underlying holistic philosophy.

I spent a lot of time last year exploring some great concepts in home education, and I hope to share them with you here.

(The title change? I don't know. I'm going to keep messing with it.)