Monday, August 22, 2011

First day of (UN)school...

Tomorrow would be Max's first day of Kindergarten, if he were going to be attending our local public schools. At certain points in my life I have moments where I become acutely aware of different paths my life could be on, as a result of different choices I might have made (good or bad) in sort of a quantum mechanics/multiple universes type of way. So I was imagining the other me, on another path, getting ready for that big milestone with Max. Buying new clothes, a backpack, a lunchbox, school supplies from an official list... preparing for that big day where I would hand him off to the world and let go and hope for the best. I'm also trying to imagine the different potential paths of his life, depending on my choices for him now as a child, and also his own choices when he is old enough to make them for himself. I sort of feel like tomorrow is a kind of major fork in the road of possibilities... and I feel positively giddy about the path we are taking. And a bit rebellious. And sure, a little nervous. But I'm confident that this path is the best one, with the best possible unknown forks and branches coming off of it. I am so excited for all that lies ahead of us, and I feel like the world is ours.

I don't feel the need to follow the public school system's calendar and make tomorrow our First Day of Homeschool. It seems crazy to me to lock all the kids away when the best weather of the year - fall - is about to begin. I plan to do a more relaxed, year round, 24/7 schedule - basically just keep doing what we're doing, living and exploring, at least in these early years. We'll try to do more academic stuff in the cold winter months and the hot summer months when we're shut inside, and spend as much time doing outdoor activities in the fall and spring months.

Today Max helped me disassemble Emmett's crib, removing all of the bolts with a wrench. Then he helped me make breakfast, cracking the eggs into the bowl. It's a beautiful, sunny yet cool day, so we went for a walk at a local park. We discussed the cumulus clouds in the sky and the weather, the different birds and creatures we saw in and around the lake (a Swan, geese, ducks, seagulls, pigeons, chickadees, squirrels, fish, algae), and the different cars, trucks, and people we passed as we walked. Next we stopped for lunch and then came home for some quiet, independent afternoon playtime. It was a lovely, relaxed-yet-educational day. Well, until Emmett decided to have arts-and-crafts time with the contents of his diaper. Oy. But I'll save that for another post...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Happy Bloggiversary To Me!

Recently I was trying to remember when I started this blog, so I checked - and as of today, Aug 21st, I have been writing here for exactly one year! A friend of mine recently posted about why she blogs, which prompted me to consider why I do it also. The first four reasons are my original, and continuing, reasons:

1. To document our homeschooling journey, for both me and the kids to look back on.
2. To help me keep myself accountable - it helps motivate me to make sure I'm doing enough interesting/educational stuff to have something to blog about.
3. To give my family members or other critics a place to see what we are doing and to help them understand why we have decided to homeschool. (Although to my knowledge none of them have read it yet. But when the right conversation comes up, I can say: "It's in my blog, go read it, and I'll be happy to discuss it with you afterwards.")
4. To help me organize my thoughts so I can better articulate them in face-to-face conversations. Writing has always helped me clarify things for myself.

The unexpected reason I've added to that list, is the amazing connections I have begun to make in the blogging community. I love reading other blogs - for ideas, inspiration, and commiseration - and I love when people whose blogs I read, read mine. Does that make sense? You can see that my blogroll over there on the left has grown quite long - all of these are wonderful blogs, from people all over the country world with different, interesting perspectives. There are some who have similar perspectives to mine, and it is so nice to escape the physical limitations of the small town we live in, and know that there are other people like me out there somewhere, even if there aren't too many right here. Several of these people have added my blog to their blogrolls, and that is such a great feeling for me. I am blown away that people I've never met have read stuff I wrote, and then essentially told others, "Hey, I read this!" It's a lovely compliment. So to anyone reading this, I just want to say - thank you for visiting!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Graffiti, homeschool style

This is the underside of a footbridge at the park where we went to a secular homeschoolers gathering today. It's chalk. Also, correct me if I'm wrong but I don't see a single swear word or penis caricature - just sayin'. Made me smile.

Also, on a completely unrelated note, does anyone have any idea why Emmett runs up to this thing at the library every time we go there, and yells gleefully, "ELMO!!!" Because I've tried but I really can't see any resemblance.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My first homeschool support group meeting

I went to my first homeschool support group meeting the other night. This is the same group that held the curriculum sale that I attended and wrote about a while back. They are the nearest group to us geographically, and therefore the most convenient, but I was apprehensive because this is a religious group (and I am decidedly un-religious), and I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it does have something to offer for us. The meeting wasn't too overwhelmingly religious, although it did open and close with a prayer, and there were occasional mentions of "raising children up right in their faith" and stuff like that, but it was more peripheral than oppressive. (Well, there was one lady - who was not a member of the group, but was a visiting representative of a program that we will definitely NOT be participating in - mentioned in hushed tones that she didn't like that her grown children are exposed to *gasp* homosexuals out in the world. WOW. Oh, and I also overheard a conversation where one woman warned the other about a local museum's planetarium program mentioning evolution. Cringe.) There were 26 women there, not counting me, and they all seemed very nice and welcoming. It did feel good to be in a group where we are all on the same page, at least in the educational department. The atmosphere was lighthearted and supportive, and there was a lot of laughter throughout the meeting. First, we went around the room, saying our names, the ages of our kids, how long we've been homeschooling, and what we're looking forward to this year. I said I'm looking forward to just seeing what all is out there, and meeting other homeschoolers and getting started. It was very informative, with a general overview of the group, followed by information about various programs and who was in charge of what. It was nice to put faces to some of the names I had seen already in the Yahoo and Facebook groups online. This is a pretty active group, with lots of events, co-op classes, and field trips - and what is most attractive to me are the field trips. I am going to take it slow and not overwhelm myself by signing up for too many, but there are a few that I think Max will really enjoy.

On their registration form, it declares that they are a Christian group, but that you don't have to be a Christian to be a member. I like that they are at least open minded enough to make that statement, so I decided to go ahead and join. I still feel somehow deceptive though (wolf in sheep's clothing?) but I'm trying to be optimistic and hope it won't be an issue. We'll see how it goes...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Please excuse my previous post

Sorry to unload on you, blog people. I normally write more postive things here, I just needed to blow off some steam and vent. I know that most, if not all, moms have days like this, and the good days far outnumber the bad ones. I find that when I'm reading other blogs, the most compelling stuff is when people are honest and real, so that was me being real and showing you what my bad day looked like. I know there are many other people in this world who have waaaaaaaaay worse bad days than my bad days, and I'm grateful that my complaints really are quite minor. But most homeschooling blogs I've read paint a fairly sunshine-and-rainbows picture, but it's not always that rosy, every single day! Sometimes it can be pretty hard work too.

PS. Yesterday Emmett jammed a game into the Wii when there was already a game in there and ruined one of the games and broke the Wii. Today he immersed Max's brand new shoes in the dog's water dish. He is an adorable, moody, whirling tornado of destruction, alternating screaming tantrums with doing the most hilariously cute and funny things like dancing, saying new words, making funny faces, etc. When I was changing his diaper this morning, he cheerfully exclaimed "Bye Poopie!" which he's never said before, which made me laugh so hard. So, even on a bad day there are good moments too. And now I'm done venting, I swear!

*Insert primal scream here*

Today I am having a pull-my-hair-out, bang-my-head-against-the-wall, frustrating day. Emmett seems to be at the peak of the "terrible twos" even though he hasn't even turned two yet. He has perfected his crib exiting skills, and has therefore been refusing to sleep. Last night it took almost an hour to get the boy, who normally falls asleep in 3 minutes, to bed. And today I am sleep deprived because every time he stirred last night, I laid awake listening for him to climb out. He woke up and climbed out at 6am (he normally sleeps until 9-ish) and when he saw my haggard face, I swear he did a little victory dance. At naptime today, I could tell he was exhausted - he could barely keep his eyes open and he was literally staggering around. But every time I put him in his crib, nearly asleep, he would instantly pop up to his feet and climb out, giggling and squealing. I spent a solid hour waiting in the hallway and then repeatedly, calmly, putting him back in the crib every time he climbed out, over and over and over. I tried rubbing his back. I tried laying on the floor beside the crib. Nothing worked. Finally I reached the end of my patience and gave up. Which of course just teaches him that if he's persistent, he will win. Great job, me. I've decided I MUST go get a baby gate for his doorway, so that he will at least be confined to his room and not be able to fall down the stairs and/or wander the house getting into mischief in the middle of the night. I won't be able to sleep until I can secure him. (Unfortunately there is no door on the bedroom, so I can't just shut him in.) I got the kids ready and we headed out... and he fell asleep partway to the store. I turned around and came home, and left him out there in the van (parked in the shade with all windows down of course), and he took about a 30 minute nap strapped in his seat. Whatever works, right? I keep reminding myself of the parenting mantra - This Too Shall Pass - but today feels like it's been about a month long already. Looking forward to this phase being done.

Edit: I forgot to mention that, on top of all that, my 5 year old is in this wonderful defiant/argumentative/mouthy phase and he's been in rare form today too. So I'm experiencing synchronized parental-limit-testing. Seriously, how on Earth do people have "quiverfuls" of kids? Cuz today I can barely handle 2!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Our new art area

For at least a couple years I had been meaning to turn part of my cluttered mudroom-slash-laundry room into a more useful space - specifically an art area for the kids and myself. Finally getting down to doing it was inspired by 3 things: 1) this post on a blog that I love, 2) my recent acquisition of a used Cricut machine -YAY!- and my desire to make a home for it, and 3) the fact that I felt that some dedicated art space was critical for homeschooling. First, I completely cleaned everything out of the room, which has been functioning as a catch-all area for everything we want to keep out of Emmett's hands, since he is denied access to this room by a baby gate. Then, I got some cheap organizers (hooray for back to school sales) and gathered all art- and scrapbooking- related materials from around the house and, well... organized them. Here is what my mudroom looked like Before. (Yeah it's a mess. Don't judge me):

Before I was even done working, Max kept coming in to draw and to play with his Legos, for which he has recently discovered a passion. We are also keeping all Legos in this area so Emmett can't get ahold of them. Max loves this space and has already been spending lots of time there.

Finally, here it is, (mostly) all done. We still need to get a tall, comfy stool. For now, we just put one of the dining room chairs in there, even though it's too short for the countertop. I taped down some brown kraft paper to protect the countertop, and I can change it whenever it starts getting torn or yucky.

So, I turned some poorly-used space in my house into a spot that's inviting and inspiring, and everything is visible and right within easy hands' reach. Success!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review: "Here Comes Science" by They Might Be Giants

There are not enough positive adjectives to describe "Here Comes Science" by They Might Be Giants. Just go buy it. Right now. Seriously. It's a CD + DVD set full of science songs, with topics ranging from chemistry to biology to astronomy and more. The music is great - I bought it for Max but can't stop listening to it myself, even when I'm in the car alone! The DVD has music videos for all of the songs and the animation is wonderful. We watched it for the first time this morning, and at the beginning of *every* song, Max exclaimed, "I like this!" He made me replay "The Bloodmobile" three times in a row. My personal favorite is "I'm a Paleontologist" - it's been stuck in my head and I've been singing it loudly all day. Oh yeah, and the thing is only 10 bucks. Seriously, off to Amazon with you now... go get it!

Disclaimer#1: No one has given me free stuff or money or anything for reviewing anything. I'll let you know if that ever happens. I just like sharing good stuff when I find it.
Disclaimer #2: If you are anti-evolution, this product is not for you.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hey! We socialized!

On Friday, we went to a gathering of secular (non-religious) homeschoolers at a local park. I was super psyched about this because I have been wanting to find some other secular homeschoolers and wasn't sure if there were any around here. I was really looking forward to it but was also feeling pretty anxious, because this is the group of people I really want to meet & get to know & hang out with. We got there early (that's right, people who know me IRL - I arrived early to something!), on some advice I read somewhere that said it's easier for kids to make friends when they aren't trying to join an established group already in the midst of playing. Makes sense. This was definitely helpful, because it gave Max a few minutes to get over his initial shyness and get acclimated to the place. When we first arrived, there was also a busload of kids there from a local daycare, wearing matching blue shirts with the daycare's logo on them. Max started playing a game of chase with a few of the daycare kids. I was really tempted to say, "Hey! We're not here to play with the blue-shirt kids, we're here to meet the other ones!" but I bit my tongue. I thought, oh well, at least he's playing with other kids and having fun.

While Max was busy chasing, I was chasing too, following Emmett around the playground and up-down-up-down-up-down the play structures, keeping a close eye on him lest he slip and fall off one of the high spots. I was trying to figure out how to try to meet people while chasing this crazy toddler around, but fortunately he finally got tired of that and went into "hold-me" mode and pretty much stayed that way for the rest of the afternoon. He rode in the backpack carrier quite happily for well over an hour. Then I actually did get to meet a few people - even some actual unschoolers! The first ones I've met in real life! I felt very shy and awkward, but everyone seemed nice and made me feel welcome, and I tried hard to mentally imprint all their names because I totally suck with names. The one person I really struck up a conversation with and talked to for a while was actually a homeschooling dad. Leave it to me to find the one dude in a crowd of women to talk to - I have always been more at ease around guys than around girls. Two women I had met before came up to us and confused him for my husband for a second. I quickly and awkwardly corrected them. Hopefully all the women don't think I'm some kind of homeschool harlot or something.

Meanwhile, the daycare kids had left and the whole atmosphere of the playground was perceptibly different. The homeschooled kids seemed to be calmer and more pleasant overall, making eye contact with me and saying "hi", and the older kids were looking out for and helping the younger kids, even ones they weren't related to. Everyone was just so friendly and polite. One group of kids sat in the shade and played a card game. Another group of kids was sitting up on one of the structures just playing quietly together - and there was Max absorbed in the group, also sitting quietly and playing, and having a good time! That sight made my heart so happy.

A little later, he weasled himself into another group - this one consisting of older kids - and got someone to let him borrow their Nintendo DS. (The kid is a junkie for electronic games, what can I say?) I'm not sure if they really wanted to share with him, or if they were just being polite, so after a few minutes, I told Max it was time to go. Emmett needed his nap, plus I was about to pass out from the heat. Max was not happy about this, and I feared he was going to go full meltdown but he only produced moderate protests because he was ready to pass out from the heat too.

I considered the outing a total success. I met some people, Max played with some kids, and there was no embarrassingly defiant behavior or tantrums. (He seems to be going through a wicked defiant phase.) Someone said they are going to do this again in a couple weeks, and if so... we'll be there!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Movie Review: "Waiting for 'Superman'"

Last night, Shane and I watched "Waiting for 'Superman'". It's a documentary on the public school system in America - basically an exposé on how/why it is failing - and it offers suggestions on what can be done to bring about change. I watched it because I've heard it mentioned a lot lately, and I was curious what solutions it offered to solve the problem - especially to see if it made mention of homeschooling and if so, what light it was presented in. Unfortunately, homeschooling was not mentioned even once so I was disappointed there. However, the movie does do an excellent job of very clearly illuminating one major facet of the problem, which is: the teachers. Specifically, that it is nearly impossible to punish or remove "bad" teachers, and that there is no way to reward or provide any kind of incentive for "good" teachers, because of the restrictions in place as a result of the teachers' unions. I think this is a very good point. Desks, walls, books, technology - none of that stuff matters if you don't have a decent teacher in charge. Some teachers are very good, some are mediocre, and some are quite bad. The system treats them all as equals, though - "a teacher, is a teacher, is a teacher." In what other professional field in the world is your job performance completely irrelevant to your continuing to be employed?! And few other jobs have a higher level of responsibility attached to them - job performance absolutely SHOULD be relevant! I watched this thinking, "How can any parent trust these people - this system - with their kids? How can they even let them walk in the door?" The way the whole system currently works is an outrage.

That being said, I don't think that is the only problem with the system. The documentary follows several young students and their families in different cities across the country, showing their struggles with the school systems (from inner-city to high-income districts), with dedicated parents fighting for their kids to get the best chance at a good education. But it does not show or make any mention of the kids whose parents are not fighting for them. What about the kids whose parents wash their hands of any responsibility for their kids' educations, and just say, "That's the school's job, not mine." To me, that's even more of an outrage, and it makes me feel very hopeless. I don't know what can be done to fix that, although my heart hurts for those kids who are being short-changed by both their schools and their parents. There is no mention at all in this movie of the function of parents or the breakdown of the family unit in our society today as being part of the problem.

Then there is the actual methodology that is used, the whole institutional framework, the inflexibility of the curriculum... the list of problems with the system goes on and on. The movie doesn't really touch on any of these either, other than one quick mention of a teacher who was getting amazing results after teaching math facts to her students by making them into a rap song that the kids enjoyed and memorized. So she used a different method of teaching than the standard method and it worked better? Shocking! That's the kind of stuff homeschoolers do all the time.

Overall, I think this movie was very well done. It definitely reaffirmed for me that I have made the right choice in rejecting this deeply flawed, broken system. Even though I think the scope was a bit too narrow, and I don't agree with all of the solutions offered (one of which is longer school days - NO!!) it is totally worth taking the time to watch and I highly recommend it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Finally caught a grasshopper!

The other day I wrote about trying to catch a grasshopper for Max. I have tried unsuccessfully a few times since, but today we finally caught one! I swear this grasshopper was actually friendly - it let Max carry it around for quite a long time. I found it fascinating to watch my normally boundlessly energetic, constantly-in-motion kid be calm and still and gentle with this delicate bug.

We observed its head and body, counted its legs, and watched its antennae feeling everything around it. At one point it jumped off of Max's hand and flew to a nearby plant and he was amazed to see that it could fly. He gently picked it back up and continued examining it.

Showing the grasshopper to his little brother.

I even took a turn holding it!

Grasshopper close-up

This picture makes me smile because you can see Max holding one of the ginormous zucchinis from Shane's garden in the background. Does anyone know any good zucchini recipes?

Emmett also thought the grasshopper was pretty neat and his new word for the day was "Bug! Bug! Bug!" (He also learned "Toad" and "Keenie" aka Zucchini.)

Max lost interest in the grasshopper when he found this guy...

and thoroughly enjoyed hypnotizing him.