Monday, October 8, 2012

A month into our homeschooling year, we're settling nicely into our routines.  I'm daydreaming about this Spring, when the back porch will be fully repaired and I can just walk right through to our backyard every morning, to sit out there with a cup of tea, dawdling in among our plants.

We still haven't managed to put the finishing touches on our family zine, from this summer.  It's mostly technical difficulties -- getting the photos of our illustrations off the camera and onto the computer, fussing with them, then getting them where we want them on the PDF.  We also stalled about halfway through Sarah's museum goals.  I hope to complete that with her by the end of the fall.

This afternoon I met with three friends, all of whom are interested in starting a democratic free school in NJ.  This is the first time since TMcAFS closed that I feel more of a sense of excitement and hope than dread at the thought of being involved with a free school again.  There's always been some excitement, which is why I've kept coming back to the idea again and again, but the stress has always been so much greater.

This time, though...  There are 4 of us, all invested in noncoercive education in a respectful, compassionate community.  And all with some experience with free schools or intentional communities or consensus process or running businesses.  And even better, all of us interested in how to build the strongest *community* we can, within and surrounding the school.  Nurturing an atmosphere of personal responsibility and mutual respect.

It's challenging in a different way, though.  I like our current homeschool routines.  Sarah likes our current homeschool approach.  But she's also very interested in a free school.  When I talk to her about what she would want out  of a freeschool, she talks about spending time with her friends, and taking classes like acting and fighting and fencing.  And I find myself thinking "okay, that all sounds great, and I fully support all those ways of spending your time.  But when are you planning to get in your academics?"   Which was not at *all* what I was expecting to find myself thinking.

It's so easy to be in favor of child-led education when we're at home together and she consistently chooses a very bookish, Charlotte Mason-y approach.   Do I want to shift our lives to ones in which we're out most days of the week socializing (which is what it sounds as if she mostly wants from the freeschool) instead of being home most days with our books?  (or, really, at the library most days, most recently)

I asked her about how she saw our current homeschool approach and the possibility of being part of a freeschool working together.  How many days a week would she want to be at the school, how would she want to spend her time there, how would she want to spend our homeschool days...  We talked about her goals for the future, her goals for her education, what she wants more of and less of in her days.  And I breathe and breathe and try to trust that the process of learning to make your own decisions and to shape your own life is, in fact, more important than whether you learn to write a three paragraph compare-and-contrast essay at the age of 10 or 20 or ever at all.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I'm expanding the ways I use this space, so that it's not just our homeschooling adventures, but also the rest of our domestic concerns.  Possibly further than that.  I'll see what happens as we go.

A few weeks ago, I had what may have been the worst anxiety episode I've ever had (it was mixed in with awful GERD, and hyperventilation, and so it's hard to pin it down with a single, simple description).

The doctor (after telling me my heart's in perfect shape, and that I have a long life ahead of me) told me to give up caffeine and take a daily walk (in addition to any other exercise I'm doing).  I'm not giving up caffeine all the way, at this time.  I'm cutting out all the cold caffeine (cola and iced tea), which is about 75% of my usual intake.  Hot tea and dark chocolate have so many health benefits (and are so delightful) that it more than outweighs the drawbacks of the caffeine.  I'm also taking the opportunity to make a bunch of other changes.

I'm taking a three-pronged approach -- increasing relaxation, increasing joy, and combining the GTD approach and cognitive behavioral techniques to decrease stress by tackling as many as I can of the things that've been stressing me out. 

This week I'm focusing on my morning routine (because there are many little changes I can make there which will set the tone for my day), our 4 pm check-in phone call (when Joe and I check in with each other about how our days have gone and which household tasks we've gotten done), eating dinner at the dining room table (because I think that'll make the whole rest of the evening go much more smoothly), and our bedtime routine.

For the morning routine, I'm increasing relaxation by adding a little tai chi to my other morning contemplative practices, I'm decreasing stress by moving my morning email and facebook checking to later in the day (and replacing it with some pleasant reading), and I'm increasing joy by shifting my cup of sweet black tea to the morning, changing to a savory breakfast (black beans, avocado, tomatoes, and rice or a homemade tortilla, or leftovers from last night's dinner), and working towards finding time to sit out in the yard while I sip my tea (I won't drink the whole thing out there, because I don't want to start my day with a big cup of sugar water without any food to balance it).  So now the morning will look like:  breathwork, tai chi, chanting and making tea and a little time in the sunlight, read something pleasant, cuddle Sarah awake, breakfast, sweeps (tidying up), process email to zero, exercise.  Then we play school.

As for the bedtime routine, we're working toward turning most lights out at 10, doing sweeps (putting things back where they go), putting the oatmeal in the crockpot for the next day, brushing teeth, and listening to a book on tape.  Eventually we're hoping to dim the lights an hour before bedtime, and to fit in a relaxation technique of some kind into the bedtime routine. 

There are a lot of changes still ahead of me, but right now I'm happy focusing on these first steps.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Happy New Year!

I love how the air is full of possibility, this time of year.  No matter how the summer went, no matter how last school year ended, September is the perfect excuse to start fresh -- brand new notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, a whole different set of plans and schemes...  I'm hoping to get here more often than I did last year -- especially if I give myself permission to be as boring and humdrum as I like -- no philosophy, no poetry, just straightforward journaling of how the week's gone.

Last week was our Not Back To School week -- we didn't start up our schoolyear rhythms to the day, but we did enjoy celebrating some of the freedom of homeschooling, by going out during the school day.  :)  We attended the first home game of the Stevens Women's Soccer team, made it to the first Montclair homeschool board game meetup of the year, had lunch with friends at our favorite fair trade cafe, went to the first Zoo Crew of the year (got to meet a screech owl and a whole bunch of new homeschooling colleagues).

This week we shifted back to our usual routines and rhythms.  We've tweaked a few things -- having breakfast right away and saving our dancing for later in the morning, making a little room in the day for a project-based approach instead of being entirely booky...  We've also decided to get away from the packed weekly schedules we had last year, and instead focus on more monthly gatherings and activities.

Monday we had our first meeting of the school year, discussing what sorts of things she'd like to pursue, this year, and what sorts of skills she'd like to improve at.  She's very clear that she doesn't want the responsibility of making all the decisions about what to study or pursue, and I'm very clear that I need us to have some sort of daily routine.  So we continue to put aside 2 hours every morning to play school, and at the start of each season I suggest a list of resources, she lets me know which ones she's interested in working with, and we go from there.

This year we're going to be working with Mosaic World History, The Thinking Toolbox, Living Math, String Straight Edge and Shadow, The Good Time Math Events Book, Houghton Mifflin Spelling and Vocabulary, The Story of Science, Life of Fred, and a whole bunch of myth and folklore books, some nature journaling, and a country of the week.  We're also going to work on Spanish, but I don't know what resources we'll be using.  Nothing has leapt out, yet, as both effective and affordable.  Oh, and Sarah will be taking a weekly art class. 

Mostly, though, I'm hoping to help her grow in independence and confidence.  We don't really do grade levels, although we sometimes use the concept of them as a guideline when we're coming up with things to do.  But I'm very conscious of the fact that she would be in middle school, now, if she were in a formal program -- doing more focused, challenging work, more independent work, and also having more opportunities for independent adventures -- taking the bus, leaving school at lunch, ...  Heck, I was going into the city every day starting in the 7th grade, and taking the subway in 8th.  We're also going to work on more physical skills (skateboarding, skating, swimming, soccer, softball, badminton, backpacking, cooking, carpentry, a wide variety of art, yoga).  I like knowing we can make time for those priorities, without being overwhelmed by outside responsibilities.

Today we took a nice hike along the Palisades, hoping to see some hawks.  There were none at all for the first several hours (although we did see half a dozen butterflies, some chipmunks, and many dogs on leashes), then we got 10 of them circling around for 5 or 10 minutes, tops, and when we looked away for a minute and looked back, they were gone. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

(started this post on Saturday, but got caught up in offline things and never got back to it.  This first bit is from Saturday's perspective)

Yesterday Sarah and I did a Big Onion walking tour -- Immigrant NY. I really enjoyed it -- informative, engaging, and Sarah did a fabulous job of keeping up with the adults, in both mileage and focus. She had a great time, too, although she was just about done an hour and a half into the 2 hour walk. I think we'll be doing a few more of them, this summer, but I'll look to see if there are any that are slightly shorter, to start with... Next month I think she's going to do the food tour with Joe (it's not worth it for me, as I suspect I won't be able to eat about half the things on the tour).

Today I did some more yardwork -- planting seeds, working on my bag-garden. I love the clover so much, finding myself sitting out on the front stoop on quiet afternoons, watching the bumblebees drift from flower to flower. On Tuesday my mom brought some rose a sharon from Grandma and Grandpa's backyard -- I need to get them into the ground this weekend. Maybe tomorrow.

I don't know what my garden's going to do, this year. I got a lot of things in the ground later than I'd planned to, but decided to muddle along anyway, instead of doing what I usually do -- deciding it's too late, skipping it entirely, and hoping to do better next year.

We had some conflict this week about homeschooling, and came to the conclusion that, once we're done with our current book, we're going to do a project-based approach for the rest of the summer. I'm really looking forward to it, although I'm a little bummed we won't be continuing with our Ancient Civ work right now. Probably in the fall, although who knows? But I'm so happy to see us inching closer to my homeschool dream -- the two of us working side by side every morning, each focused on our own projects.

Now we're all puttering, waiting for the beans to be done for dinner, and the thunderstorms to start. It feels like summer -- makes me wish I had "meatball" subs or bean burgers ready to go, with potato salad and stringbeans on the side. Wow that sounds good. Although tonight's dinner's not half bad -- black beans, fresh tomatoes, guacamole on my flatbread/tortilla hybrids, with our vanilla "soda". Probably with a splash of rum for mom and dad. ;)

Now we're at Monday night/very early Tuesday.  The homeschooling conflict I refer to above had to do with the fact that Sarah says she wants to keep playing school every morning, but when it comes down to it she often doesn't want to play school on that particular day.  I'm okay with finding a different approach to our days (I need a structure to our days, but I don't need it to be any particular structure), and I'm okay with sticking with our old approach, but I'm really not okay with doing the prep work for  our old approach and then having it wind up being a waste of my time and energy.  We discussed several different possible solutions, including the possibility that we would agree to play school every weekday morning whether we felt like it or not, as part of building the habit of doing it.  She's watched me building a lot of habits, recently, and she seriously considered taking that approach.  I do hope we eventually find our way back to our old structure, or something like it, because we'd lined up a bunch of neat looking resources that both Sarah and I were excited about, but for right now a more spontaneous project-based approach seems to be the best fit for what Sarah's looking for. 

I suspect several of those projects are going to involve more pop-up restaurants, and probably some sort of floating bake shop as well. I'm pretty excited about all the projects on both our lists.

Today we did a lot of cooking for the week -- oat bran muffins, scones, glazed carrots, hummus, hard boiled eggs, black beans, flatbread dough...  We got halfway through the zucchini bread prep when I just couldn't face another hour of having the oven on, and we put off making the iced tea and lentil soup until tomorrow.  I spent some time in the garden, and some time companionably with my little family.

I'm feeling simultaneously phenomenally productive and frustratingly thwarted (not so much because of the cooking we put off as because of all the other areas of life where things are proceeding more slowly than I'd hoped).  I contemplate the idea of letting go of goals, or experimenting with another period of no goals; I also consider that maybe I just need to keep my head down and keep trudging along, or perhaps marry goals with mindfulness -- pointing myself in a particular direction but then focusing on being present in the journey.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Wow, I'm sucking at the montly recap, aren't I? (and to think I once aspired to a *weekly* check-in!)

(how long has blogger had this new layout?)

 Homeschooling's going phenomenally well. We're still doing Mosaic for history and world culture, and now we're using a combination of Life of Fred, The Good Time Math Event Book and the Living Math reading list for math, we're continuing to read as many myths and folk stories as we can get our hands on, we're using The Fallacy Detective for logic/critical thinking, using Coffee Break Espanol for Spanish, and using a combination of The Story of Science, How Nature Works, and our nature walks for science.

Story of Science can be subtly snarky about pre-Christian* religious beliefs, IMO -- not offensively so, but enough that I find myself changing a few of the words as I read aloud, because the author's snarkiness distressed Sarah. We have many non-Christian friends and non-Christian beliefs ourselves, and while I notice the author's slightly condescending attitude toward some of the beliefs that pre-date modern scientific explanations of natural phenomena, it doesn't really bother me, but it deeply distresses Sarah. It's easy enough to change or skip over a few words here and there, since the rest of the book works well for her.

 (*ETA: writing "pre-Christian" doesn't get it exactly right. Basically, the author is, IMO, dismissive of various ancient religious beliefs (which aren't exclusively Ancient, as many folks today hold the same basic beliefs, but she's talking specifically about Ancient History), but she's dismissive of them in a way that I think few authors, even freethinking/nontheists, would be dismissive of more mainstream religious beliefs. Yeah, I disagree with those explanations of natural phenomena, too, but you can disagree without being a jerk about it.)

Sarah likes an extremely imaginitive, story-based approach to pretty much everything. We stumbled across a book that seems to be a good fit for her for science: The Story Book of Science (Yesterday's Classics), and picked it up for Kindle (she has one on loan for about another month).

We had another talk about our homeschool approach, today. I realized how quickly summer was approaching, and wanted to hear her thoughts on whether to take a break for summer and try a different homeschooling approach (still using a rhythm to the day, but replacing our current "playing school" slot with projects or unit studies or what we call "unschooling time" (basically each of us doing whatever quiet independent work we feel like doing, that day)) or to take "vacation" for a week or a month or the whole summer. She's still thinking about it, but narrowed it down to continuing our current approach (playing school most mornings after breakfast, but regularly choosing to skip it in favor of getting out for a field trip or playdate or just reading companionably side-by-side) or else taking an unschool/project approach to our current rhythm to the day. I can't decide if I'm relieved (I'm really looking forward to finishing up the Ancient World together, our current reading's a lot of fun, and I'm also really curious to see what a project-based approach would feel like) or disappointed (I'm curious to see what a summer vacation would feel like, and what we would wind up doing with our time).

Highlights of our last month include: learning about New Zealand for Country Day -- her presentation was on how humans settled New Zealand (humans started out in Africa around 160,000 years ago, and didn't settle New Zealand until around 800 years ago!) and we made a Pavlova (delicious meringue dessert) -- attending Canal Immersion Day at the Canal museum in Easton PA (took a ride down the canal, used blacksmith tools to make her own S-hook, learned the geology of mining, learned about simple machines, learned about buoyancy and got to pull the boat by hand, learned about daily canal life), learning about Egypt for the last Country Day (Queen Hatsepshut), Bear Mountain Zoo with my parents, finished up bowling league for the season, duct tape class at the library, board game meetup at another library, Sarah's having a great time with the art class she's taking at The Messy Artist -- it's a little art theory, a little intro to different art techniques, and a lot of hands-on exploration. She's also reading non-stop (mostly long series about adventurous girls, and then a couple Rick Riordan series), watching lots of cooking shows, Mythbusters, and My Little Pony, going to Pokemon League, and continuing to slowly explore the baking book she got for Christmas. We made a yellow layer cake, last night, and it came out really delicious -- a basic, not-too-sweet but very tasty cake.

She's made huge leaps forward in terms of her comfort with dogs and with chatting with new people.

This summer Sarah wants to spend a lot of time on physical stuff -- bike riding, roller skating, learning to skateboard, wiffle ball, soccer, frisbee, building stuff for the backyard, and she also wants to practice more practical skills so that she can do more stuff for herself (I think because we're raising a single child, she's had to do less for herself than many of her peers have had to learn to do, and we're all just starting to notice that).

We're continuing to use the Zenhabits habit-building approach, Getting Things Done, Flylady, and a Waldorf approach to the day to shape the life we want. It's going pretty well. We aren't making as much music or having as many friends over as we'd like, but I'm pretty happy with where we are in the process.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Weekly (?) Check-in

I've seen this pop up on a variety of homeschool blogs, and I always enjoy reading the answers. So:
In my life this week:
I have no idea what I did on Monday... Oh! In the mail I got the awesome seeds I won in Mid-Atlantic Gardening's giveaway, we went to a young friend's birthday party, and I fell in a pool! It was a hard day. It gave me the opportunity to reach out to friends I don't usually think to reach out to, though, and it provided some painful lessons and opportunities to practice breathing and staying present with love.
On Tuesday I went to a political meeting, talking about the proposed homeschool legislation, and then left to spend the rest of the week in the North Country with my parents. Got to know their area a little better, explored some of the cold weather activities, did a little shopping. Picked up an odd little wooden box in an antique store, meant for playing cards. We gave it to Joe for his Pokemon deck. :)

In our homeschool this week:
We played school at my parents' a couple mornings, this week -- mostly doing spelling, Spanish, and math, all the stuff where each activity or chapter really builds on the one before. We're still enjoying Coffee Break Espanol, but I think we're going to be moving to something more sophisticated, soon. We also read the first chapter of _When The Beginning Began_, a gorgeous, dreamy, funny collection of stories based on the book of Genesis.

Sarah went to art class, which she's been loving, and made a very geometric sculpture using foam board and some colored paper. The teacher said it made her feel tense, because it was balanced on its very edge. It made me feel that deep satisfaction that comes when you're working on a puzzle and you've just realized you know exactly how to solve it. Makes me think of the sort of sculpture you might find on the campus of an engineering college.

I love watching her blossom in this class, watching her enthusiasm and pride.

Questions/thoughts I have:
What are we going to do this Spring? What are we going to do next year? What are we going to do when Sarah's in High School?

Sarah and I decided to sync up science with the other stuff we're reading, so this week we're starting the history of the ancient world, the history of math, the history of science, and reading a whole bunch of creation stories. That, plus planning for her next pop-up restaurant.

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing:
This past week we mostly saw my parents, plus a little time with our FA friends. Tomorrow we're going to a party for a very young friend.

A photo, video, link, or quote to share:

What does it have to do with homeschooling? I haven't figured that out yet...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year, Friends!

(wrote this last night, but forgot to actually *post*!)

Oh my God I'm so sleepy. We had a fabulous day, getting back into the groove of our usual rhythm to the week, with a few tweaks to reflect our renewed commitments to various priorities. Last night we started our bedtime routine at midnight, so I expect tonight we'll start at 11pm, and tomorrow we'll be doing our best to shift it back to where it's "supposed" to be, 10pm. (I laugh at the idea of "supposed to" when we're the ones setting the schedule ourselves). After we do our bedtime routine, we turn off the lights and put on an audiobook -- except we don't have any audiobooks right now, so instead we're listening to Through The Looking Glass online (I think we found it at Story Nory). Only one night, so far, but it seems as if this habit going to be a successful addition to our evening.

My alarm went off at 8 this morning and I got up and jumped right into my morning routine. I've been looking for a new mantra for during my morning meditation, and this weekend I stumbled across one that feels perfect -- I like the tune, the focus, the rhythm of it, and I like how it feels when I say it. My morning zenhabits reading happened to be an article on building sustainable habits, and included a recommendation for fitocracy, which is a cute, free community to help you stick to your exercise intentions. So far I like it a lot. I haven't unlocked any quests yet, but I'm hopeful about tomorrow...

Playing school was *awesome* this morning -- Sarah loves the new spelling book we're trying out, Joe read aloud to us from one of the Spanish/English picture books we got out of the library (my accent is sometimes pretty muddy, as I still sometimes find myself defaulting to french pronunciation if I don't know how a word is supposed to sound, so it's nice to have Joe around to read things to us), we read about the first Americans to come across Beringia, and about various prehistoric inventions. Tomorrow we have to return a bunch of our library books, so we're going to read the last Spanish picture book tonight and then drop them off at the library on our way down to A's tomorrow.

We also got a lot of decluttering done upstairs, this afternoon. The bedroom's almost livable. And this afternoon I made my lunch for the week (lentil soup), a batch of honey whole wheat bread (I've been looking for a recipe for a whole wheat sandwich bread -- this is my first time trying this recipe), and a new iced tea recipe using mint green tea and maybe 75% as much sweetener as I usually use for sweet tea. The plan is to work my way to 50% and perhaps eventually 25% of the original sweetness. I was planning to make oat bran muffins, too, but ran out of eggs. That might happen tomorrow night, or it might not.

Right now I'm going to go plug in my phone, finish cleaning the kitchen, bake the next loaf of bread, heat up some scones for our evening snack (I was delighted to read in an article on body clocks and sleeping that you should have a small, high carb snack a couple hours before bed, in order to help your body sleep through the night!), take vitamins, double check the train times for tomorrow, pack games and craft supplies for the homeschool gathering tomorrow afternoon... Yeah, that sounds about right.