Monday, January 23, 2012

Surprise confidence

Anderson, age 5

I've been reflecting on how different I feel compared to last fall, when we were just pushing the ball down the hill of uncertainty. Back then, I'd stay up half the night wondering if we were doing the right thing, worried we were starting down an irreversible path that would lead to failure and heartache. Deciding to keep the kids at home for school was a scary choice, and even though we never quite made it to seriously considering choosing a traditional or private school instead, it's been headache-inducing, nonetheless.

But here we are, a few months in and hitting our stride, I think. It's more than the academic progress, although that helps. I've been doing some assessment lately, mostly out of curiosity. I know where Anderson is, for the most part, with various skills, but I was curious where he measured up lately. While I'm not overly concerned about "grade level," it is a goal for me to make sure he's in the ballpark, just in case. If something unforeseen happened and they wound up in a traditional school setting, the last thing I want them to have to worry about is being way behind. Anyway, he's doing great across the board, working at 1st and 2nd grade level in Math and Science, and reading at approximately 3rd grade level. I'm sure those are not precise measurements, but based on things like the San Diego Quick Assessment for reading. His writing is improving weekly, and most importantly, he's really starting to apply critical thinking more and more.

The best part is that the "organic" part that I was so attracted to when making this decision, is working. I love, love, love that he takes a seed of interest and then nurtures it to an entire garden of knowledge. I can barely keep up with trying to help him find the tools he needs to explore all kinds of topics, and the coolest part is that without a lot of input from me, the seeming chaos always, always culminates in something ordered and valuable. His brain is working the way it's meant to work, and it might not seem clear to me what is going on there at first, but ultimately, it's always clear. After witnessing his process, as it were, for several months now, I can say confidently that he'd have a hard time switching gears all day long in a regular classroom. He is the kind of learner who wants needs to have the freedom to go in a direction for as long as he is able. He sometimes will study the same science concept for 3 days in a row, and not just in the time we set aside for work. He gets completely engrossed, and I don't dare try to switch it up and explain that now it's time to practice spelling or do a set of multiplication tables. Why would I? We'll get to that.

I don't fully embrace the "unschooling" mindset, at least not from the Radical standpoint, but I absolutely support the idea of organic learning. It is hard to deny that a child is fully capable of piloting his own plane when it comes to the method, especially, and harder to insist that we are all served well by the same teaching environment. It's like me and math. I floundered through so much of it in high school, feeling like a complete failure and behind everybody else, an unfamiliar experience for me and one that made me extremely stressed out. I came to loathe math. Years later, I was studying for the Michigan Basic Skills test while working on a master's in teaching, and lo and behold, math really wasn't that bad at all. Given the freedom to approach it in a way that made sense to ME, I actually found it enjoyable. Ironically, I figured that out while working on becoming a traditional teacher. It wasn't long after this experience that I dropped out of the program.

As always, I'm not bashing schools or teachers, especially. I earnestly believe there is more good than bad happening in the public school system, and the connections teachers make with students is often inspirational and life-changing. I'm looking at the whole concept with a wary eye. Maybe I've just read too much Holt, but I'm less and less convinced that what we've always done in terms of education is the right thing for right now.

These days I'm not as timid when I get questioned about what it is we're doing with these kids. I have more confidence and the whole thing isn't quite as mysterious or scary. My stomach doesn't drop to the floor every time we hit a stumbling block. I can breathe through it, respect the power of a little break, and most importantly, I have confidence in Anderson (and David, too), to be the final judge of what he needs and how he needs it.

We simply keep moving forward, and isn't that what life is all about?

"The child is curious. He wants to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over himself and his environment, and do what he can see other people doing. He is open, perceptive, and experimental. He does not merely observe the world around him, He does not shut himself off from the strange, complicated world around him, but tastes it, touches it, hefts it, bends it, breaks it. To find out how reality works, he works on it. He is bold. He is not afraid of making mistakes. And he is patient. He can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense ... School is not a place that gives much time, or opportunity, or reward, for this kind of thinking and learning."

~John Holt~ 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Photo documentation that we did something on a Monday

We aren't good at Monday. Usually, we kind of skip it, at least when it comes to school stuff. It's one of those intangibles I so cherish. Every single Monday, when I'm trying to shake off the urge to remain in a weekend state of mind, I thank the universe that I don't have to get up early, get everybody fed and dressed and then drive them somewhere, and both kids take a good day to settle back into the idea of not having Daddy around all the time and so on. We take our weekends seriously, and pay for it come Monday. Because of homeschooling, it works.

But lately, I've been feeling a little weary of pretty much wasting every single Monday that rolls around. Our pursuits are leisurely, and that's OK. I think it's fine to spend a day reading and puttering around, doing housework in a lazy kind of way, with lazy kind of music on and so forth. I'm a champion for idleness (this is where I mention how much I love this book). Really. It's not just a funny, self-deprecating thing I'm saying with the hope that you'll overlook my slovenly lifestyle. Lately, though, we've slid from idleness to near-nothingness. Too much computer. Too much TV. Not enough brain exercising, as Anderson says.

Today This past Monday (this is where you take note of my extreme procrastination tendency), I decided to take advantage of the MLK holiday, which I'd planned to touch on tomorrow (the next day), because well, why not? Kurt was working at home since his office was closed, so it wasn't a "real" Monday already, and we actually all managed to get out of bed early. Basically I pretended it wasn't Monday and we had a great day. Who knew it was this easy. :P

We wound up doing just a little history about MLK's life, put in simple Kindergarten terms. It's a little painful in a way, how few words it takes to explain why he lived his life the way he did, and the price he paid for it. Then, we did a great activity - Multicultural Paper Dolls. Score one for the internet, because I was at a loss about how to incorporate this concept into a Kindergarten lesson. More specifically, score one for No Time for Flashcards, an awesome blog devoted to truly accessible and fun crafts and learning activities for kids.

So after just a little prep work, we set out to work. The multicultural paper dolls are just what it sounds like, and it was the perfect platform for discussing the uniqueness and similarities of all people. The full set of instructions are on the blog, but in a nutshell:

1. I prepared a set of 4 paper dolls for each kid, 8 slips of paper for each of these categories: skin color, hair color, eye color, with characteristics like "dark skin, medium skin, light skin," and so on.

2. They attached hearts and smile stickers to each paper doll. These were meant to signify that all people strive for the same basic thing: love, and happiness. Anderson put it in his own way: "We all have love in our heart, and we want to be happy and smile a lot in our heart." Yep!

3. Next, Anderson drew 4 slips from each category to guide him through coloring the dolls. In the end he had dolls with various skin, hair, and eye colors, and "inside" (on the back) of each doll, they all had love & happiness. David sort of colored and didn't entirely get it at age 3, but he did note that they were all loving and happy, and that's the important part, so I'll call it a win.

Here they are hard at work, and with the finished projects. Thanks again, No Time for Flashcards!

This is an excellent book for exploring diversity  - even I find interesting things in here!

This was the extent of prep work involved - easy peasy.

We also read a little biography about King, some quotes, and we watched a little of the "I Have a Dream" speech.

David applying his stickers.

Anderson's stickers - all people desire love and happiness.
David's "happy guys."

Anderson's finished dolls - he especially loved that we included blue hair!

Anderson wanted me to show you how he put the happiness stickers in the heart spot, as they are "importantly linked."

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

I guess this means I have to update my blog

Well, I did this podcast thingie over at Women Writing, and I mentioned this blog, so on the off chance that someone both listens to me there and also wants to read my blog here, I thought it would be nice to update this. I don't know why I am so sporadic with this. I'm constantly composing updates in my head that never make it to the page, as it were. If you could see in my brain, you'd get the whole picture (and then some) (and you might not make it back out with your mental faculties intact) (but you'd have a whole picture and I wouldn't have to update this blog).

I especially had big plans for a holiday post. We did so many fun things, like baking and cute crafts and lots of Book Club, which is essentially where the whole family, including the furry members (PETS, ya weirdo), get on the king bed and read together. This is one of my favorite parts about winter time weather - the snuggling potential.

But, it was a hard December, too. My aunt died on December 7, after battling cancer for about a year. She was 62. This has been especially difficult for my grandparents and her husband, of course. The kids weren't really close to her, but the experience has prompted lots of questions about death and mortality from Anderson.  At the funeral, Aunt Sue requested they play this song, and it's really pretty wonderful (though heartbreaking).

Once again, can I reiterate how much cancer just plain sucks? I guess that's an obvious statement that doesn't even begin to cover it, but damn. It's frustrating watch it take people far too soon and not feeling like we're making enough progress fast enough. For all the advances of the modern world, and I do know there are more than I can count, we just don't have a handle on this.

And yet, life with small boys under 6 goes on.

Anderson lost his first tooth, while eating a chocolate covered donut (I swear it was a healthy tooth, it was just past time!):

David got slightly taller and somehow even cuter:

And Maggie continued to put her snoot in at every opportunity:

So basically, life is normal at home. And for that, I'm exceedingly grateful. We're excited to start a new year, and several new lesson plans are on the horizon. Anderson wants to start doing his own videos where he explains a new thing he's learned, and I think that's an awesome idea. 

For now, I need to get back to figuring out how to organize all these stupid plastic containers that seem to breed in their kitchen drawer. They are like tribbles with a death wish. I'm thisclose to chucking them all out in the snow so Maggie can just have her way with them.