Friday, July 23, 2010

Our days are filled with cleaning and decluttering, right now. We're doing that final push, the one we've been meaning to do since moving into our little house 4 years ago, organizing and purging and deep-down cleaning. It feels so good to finally be doing this, and doing it right, but it's also beyond exhausting.

This weekend we spent visiting with my sister who's home for a bit between her trip to Italy with our mom and aunt, and going back to Iowa to start prepping for her fall semester. It was good to see her, and Sarah had a great time hearing all about M's visit to various Italian cities. It inspired us to get out her Children Like Me book, to take a look at the pages on Italy.

It's been a busy week. Monday we wandered around New Paltz with my sister and mom, having lunch and doing a little shopping. I got a gorgeous scarlet full-length summer dress and a casual but lovely green skirt, and Sarah picked up an adorable tie-dye tshirt-dress with a hood. It was a really nice day, despite the unbearable humidity. I wish we could manage more days like that. I hate how far apart everybody is.

Tuesday we traveled down to Trenton for the marriage equality rally, and talked about the concepts of civil rights, of civil vs. religious marriage, and of the separation of church and state. Wednesday I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned somemore, and today we did our usual volunteer stint before heading over to the library to take out a truly gorgeous pile of books.

We're really enjoying the first book in the A History of US series, reading about Pangaea, and how the first Americans arrived and survived here. We're also working our way through a book on Builders throughout history. We have a few more books to read on early US history before we're ready to move onto our next themes -- books and libraries (we got started on that last month but we've been so immersed in our early US history stuff that we let the other theme fall to the side for a bit) and our newest one: festivals! I'm really looking forward to all the cooking and craftiness that's gonna come with that one.

Sarah's been having fun with badge-making on one of the game sites she likes to visit, so she's expanded her summer badge project. Now she's working on Reading, Bravery, Art, Gardening, Wizardry, and Adventures. I'm particularly looking forward to working on the Adventures badge together!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

We finally, *finally* finished our math theme (not that you can ever be *finished* with math, thank goodness, there's always more cool stuff to learn, or neat games to play or problems to solve). Sort of finished, anyway. We've finished the first books we picked out on the history and anthropology of math, and we're moving on to new topics for now. I think we'll probably be picking math back up next month or the month after, because there are so many other intriguing books on our to-be-read list, and we didn't get around to most of the projects we were hoping to try.

For now, though, we're continuing with early US history, reading about the declaration of independence, the causes of the Revolutionary War, and bios of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Then we're going backwards a bit to read the first _A History of US_ book, which starts with prehistorical North America and gets as far as 1600. I'm keeping an eye out for the next book in the series, and I think we'll be using these books to make our way through US history over the course of the next 2 years, if she continues to like them as much as she likes the first one.

Our new themes are Building, Books and Libraries, and our local ecosystem -- all inspired by books I picked up at the Rutherford College Women's Club book sale, a couple months ago, and by a book my parents gave Sarah when we saw them last month. We're mostly going to be doing trips to our local environmental/nature centers for the ecosystem theme, and I'm hoping to make it up to Beczak at some point, they've got some awesome-looking Hudson River courses.

We've borrowed the third grade Oak Meadow curriculum from A, to see if it's something we're interested in using next year. We used the first grade curriculum a couple years ago, and it was a nice source of material. My only concern with using a curriculum is that we might get in the habit of thinking we're supposed to keep following it, instead of just using it as a helpful tool (the way we're using the Living Math curriculum as a suggested reading list). Will it discourage us from continuing to choose our own themes? On the other hand, if it's still full of great, creative approaches to math and earth science and history the way first grade was, maybe we can pause at the beginning of each month to examine the next chapter and see if it's something we want to do?

Sarah's practice work right now involves copying a couple lines out of Robert Frost's Stopping By The Woods On A Snowy Evening, and writing out her times tables (my practice work involves reading one of my current books (Guerrilla Learning, Joy of Mathematics, American Gods, The Canon) and writing a few lines on what I've read. I dream of the two of us, a couple years down the road, spending our mornings side by side at the dining room table, doing our "homework" together.). She and Joe are planning to start doing math together at night, too, in addition to their usual card games. She's also been writing songs and poems, inspired by the poetry game from Joe's dad and C.

Life skills she's working on right now: making change, cooking, sewing, roller skating, riding her scooter, bike-riding, soccer, badminton, and conversational/social skills. We're continuing to try to do meditation practice daily, and working on visualization as a relaxation technique.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Sarah and I tweak our homeschooling approach fairly often. We reconsider and shift around our daily routines, our monthly themes, how we shape the "playschool" part of our day... We make changes based on how our old routines were working, whether we've been feeling overscheduled or underscheduled; based on ideas from our friends, ideas from books, ideas from our own imaginations. I get ideas from her, she gets ideas from me.

All these changes add up over time, and sometimes we find ourselves somewhere completely unexpected, having wandered so very far away from where we started. Our recent meanderings, as it happens, have brought us around to an approach that is a whole lot more school-y than I'd expected. I'm basically okay with that -- I'm more of a whatever-works sort of a person than I am committed to any particular philosophy, and I love our approach to School -- it's all the things I loved about school as a kid, all the sorts of things my sister and I made sure to include in our totally self-directed Daily Plans every day of our summer vacations, and Sarah seems to love all those aspects as much as we ever did. And combining a more structured morning with a much more spontaneous, free-form afternoon seems to work really most wonderfully well for us both.

I'm a little sheepish about it, though, when I talk with our more unschooly friends. I feel... shifty-eyed about it, as if I'm risking my membership in some beloved club, or as if I'm thinking I must somehow be subconsciously or secretly tricking Sarah into liking to play school together (despite the fact that, even if we were much more schooly than we are, we'd still have way more in common with our unschooly friends than we'd have differences, I've had several friends explicitly reassure me on this point, and Sarah's often the one reminding *me* when we forget to play school or have our practice time in the afternoon). I'm getting over that, though.

But I also have to be careful not to let myself pick up bad school-minded habits while we're integrating the fun schooly stuff into our days. When we're reading together or doing projects together, we're on the same side, we're having fun learning and exploring together. Sometimes, though, when we get into certain areas (I notice it most often in math, but not exclusively), I'll fall into the habits I picked up from years in school. I start out with the best of intentions but... Looking to make it more interactive, I fall into an unintentional pattern of quizzing her -- asking her to locate two dates on a timeline or to figure out place values in her head -- instead of just drawing out the timeline myself if it seems as if it'll make the chapter we're reading clearer, or inviting her to do it together, just as we go through most of the side projects in the book together. I don't even notice I'm doing it, usually, until she's gotten frustrated and I've gotten tense (because 'what do you mean you don't know, didn't they just tell us how to do it?!' -- I don't say that, but I'm sure as hell thinking it, some days).

I think maybe the secret lies in reminding myself, every single day if need be, that we're *playing* school. That the idea here is to be doing something we enjoy together, and to be taking only those parts of school that we both want -- fun worksheets, lots of stickers, marble notebooks, dioramas -- and to leave by the wayside the performance anxiety and judgement.

When I forget my intentions and fall into the trained-seal approach to learning, though, she gets performance anxiety and freezes up, I get aggravated and tense because oh my God we read about this stuff together months ago and what does it mean that she doesn't have it all memorized by now and maybe this whole unschooling thing doesn't actually work in the real world and what if she never finds a job!!! She can feel my tension even when I try not to express it, which makes her even more uncertain and tense, which makes me feel guilty and frustrated. Three short steps and we're no longer companions on the same path but, instead, we're feeling cranky and sullen and adversarial.