Friday, August 22, 2014

Today was full of blessings and opportunities for acts of service and love.  I had the opportunity to make scones for my grandparents, and my grandma asked me to cut her hair which gave me the privilege of making her feel better and more put together, and gave me the opportunity to offer gentle, loving touch, and Sarah went food shopping with my mom, which was the opportunity to offer a bit of brightness and cheer in the midst of a pretty sad, hard time.  And I had the opportunity to write to Grandpa a little about our trip to Roadside America and Knoebel's Amusement Park and the picnic we had, last month, and to show him all the postcards I got while we were there.

23 years ago, last month, Grandpa taught me to drive, in return for mowing their lawn.  Every Saturday I would walk around the corner to spend a couple hours mowing the lawn, using the edger, using the weed whacker on the spaces between the rose bushes...  After each section of the yard was done, Grandma and Grandpa would encourage me to take a break to sit in the shade and have a glass of iced tea.  To sit and enjoy the breeze and the birds and maybe eat a few mulberries.  And then a few afternoons a week, Grandpa and I would drive over to the factory section of Maspeth and I would drive in circles for an hour -- left turn, right turn, parallel park; stop light, stop sign, parallel park; K-turn, merge, parallel park...  And any time anyone behind me got cranky and beeped at me, he encouraged me to shrug and say "ah, blow it out  your ear!"   So many important lessons, that summer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Planning our season

This essay by a new homeschooler about her Learning Plan Meeting with her four year old daughter is one of the sweetest things I've read this week.  It brought back our early days of homeschooling so vividly.  When we first started homeschooling Sarah was 3 (we'd had her in preschool for a miserable 9 month experiment, and I needed some sort of gentle rhythm to our days to replace the rhythm school had forced on us, and needed a homeschool philosophy to prepare me to answer the constant questions and challenges from strangers, friends, and family, otherwise we probably wouldn't have officially started homeschooling until a few years later).

In those early years we "played school" every morning -- we'd sing a few songs together, then we'd each pick out one or two books for me to read aloud, and then we did an activity together -- an art project or a science experiment or a game.  Slowly, slowly over the course of the next 3 years, we started planning things out a little more -- first by each picking one subject we wanted our Playing School time to focus on for a week at a time, then for a month at a time, and finally for the whole season.  The last few years she's worried about covering the basics and so I put together a curriculum each season, and would bring it to her for consideration and approval.  Usually something in history, something in science, some sort of math and spelling, and something extra -- maybe history of classical music, maybe mythology, maybe a tour of some literature or some world culture.

Starting last year, though, as we immersed ourselves in the school, she wanted to let go of having a plan for the first time in our homeschool relationship, and to just learn through living.  I've been impressed by both the research behind that approach and the results I've seen in the unschooled teens I've known.  But it is still one of the scariest things we've ever done.  Still, trust the captain, trust the crew.  Wait, no.  That's something else entirely.  :)  But honestly, I trust my kid, and I trust human nature to be what it is -- curious, creative, inventive, exploratory...  So I took a deep breath, and another, and put my money where my mouth was.  And we had a really great, laidback year, in which she did only a handful of traditionally academic stuff but learned a whole lot and matured in leaps and bounds.

This summer when we talked about whether we wanted to play school, she said that because she hadn't done much academic stuff this year, she really wanted to go back to playing school in the mornings, but in a nice, laidback way.  So most weekday mornings we've sat together, listened to a little classical music, then she's read some history, spent a few minutes telling me about what she'd read, and then she's done some math -- either reading Life of Fred to herself or doing some Khan Academy videos.

This afternoon, inspired by the article above and by the looming start of the school year, we had our Season-planning meeting over tea and croissants at our favorite cafe.

Sarah's overarching plan:
- keep doing the laidback Playing School approach we've taken this summer
- do more independent research and learning -- studying her own interests at her own pace, accountable only to herself, outside Playing School time

More specifically:
- continue focusing on history and math
- try out Aurora's science videos and either order one of her classes or start reading The Story of Science again
- have a gentle intention of one field trip a week (LSC, Montclair Art Museum, AMNH)
- make a point of spending some time connecting as soon as we get home from school on M and W
- make a point of working on her room, making it somewhere she enjoys being
- more time gaming
- more time with friends (E&S, cooking with O, Hetalia sleepover with B&S, lunch and movie with P)
- more baking (pavlova, triple chocolate chip cookies)
- activities: DIY club, Country Day, Girls' Discussion Group, Art class, Team Challenge, Documentary Discussion Group, the RPG

Monday, August 18, 2014

The year has been an exciting one, with the first year of the school going really phenomenally well (nowhere near perfectly, there are so many ways I'd like to see us improve, but for the first year of a democratic free school, with all the messiness that self-directed learning and fully participatory democracy tend to entail, our year was easypeasy compared to many), and I've been making great strides on the home front -- decluttering, organizing, getting routines in place that support our family priorities.

I've been missing the sort of slower, more reflective pace that blogs encourage.  The way they feel a little bit as if I've settled in for a visit over tea and scones.  FB feels more as if I'm running a gauntlet, with folks shouting at me from every side.

So I'm back here, inspired by a few articles on quitting FB, and a few friends who've been posting about their plans for the year ahead.  September has always been the start of a new year, for me, and now that I've finally given in and accepted my place in the teaching tradition, I expect it always will be.  I like the idea of coming back here now, feeling like the first page of a brand new notebook.

This year we'll be continuing to spend 2 days a week at the school, and I'll be working an additional 6 hours a week on school administration.  I've shifted to an admin position, but I'll be continuing to offer one class per session (I was pretty tickled that the kids felt so strongly about me continuing to offer classes.  Nice to feel appreciated).

Sarah and I were doing what we call unschooling during the school year (although our approach is always child-led, it's often more structured ("hey, Sarah, what do you want this season to look like?  What do you want to do/learn/focus on?" and then we make a plan and try to stick to it)) -- to me, since it's always led by her interests/priorities and it never involves grades or formal curricula, it's always unschooling, but we only *call* it unschooling when we mean "we're going to fly by the seat of our pants this month, and just follow whatever our whims of the moment are".  Which tends to involve more classes, oddly enough, but not a lot of "playing school".  

This summer she asked to shift back to "playing school", which is what we call it when we sit together for a couple hours every morning to read together or to watch Khan academy videos or watch documentaries.  This week we'll have our Back to School talk, to figure out which approach she wants to take this upcoming year.  I have to admit I hope we stick with playing school -- it's such a cozy routine -- but I'm pretty comfortable with whichever approach she chooses.  Seeing her grow in sophistication and independence and in her critical thinking and communication skills, this year, even as she's done very little mainstream academic stuff, helps me remember that I trust her -- trust her curiosity, her desire to engage with the world, her ability to plan for her own future.  Makes it a lot easier to go with whatever's working for us right now.  (I was so proud of her work on the hiring committee, this summer -- watching her learn to hold her own in serious conversations with adults is so much of what free schools are about, to me, but it's even more meaningful getting to see it happening.  And I absolutely love the friends she's making at the school -- such a perfect counterpoint to her homeschooling friends (the homeschool friends tend to fit well with her more dreamy, reflective side, and the school friends tend to fit well with her smartass side).)