Tuesday, September 5, 2017

New Frontiers

This morning, we walked out into the sunshine, Kiddo and I. Happy together, heading toward Portland Nursery for chrysanthemums (me) and a fancy Italian soda (him), I was celebrating in my heart our last day of just hanging out we'll have in a while. In my post a few months ago, I was reflecting on how much I enjoyed our year-round homeschool learning. However, a few things have happened since then which is why I've been making the most of the last few days.

Toward the beginning of August, while scrolling through some nonsense on Facebook, I found an ad for a new online charter school. They were advertising this school as being project-based and inquiry-driven, two things I believe help to form a strong education. In fact, I've believed this since I first encountered Neil Postman's book with Charles Weingartener, "Teaching as a Subversive Activity". If I have a guru, it's likely Postman, who died in 2003 but will always live on through his extensive writing on education, communication and technology. Postman didn't just write this book, which suggests that learning how to learn, learning how to ask questions, and learning how to discern substance from noise ('crap detecting', he rather aptly put it), he also put his theories into practice with his "Program for Inquiry, Involvement, and Independent Study", which was a school within a school in New York and ran for 15 years. 

For me, this book is my touchstone. This dovetails with the emergent curriculum style of early childhood ed that I practiced for years as a preschool teacher. The children drove the activities, the information presented and the play. Of course, older students need more formal guidance and the school focuses on some things Kiddo is adept at and others which he will find challenging: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creative thinking. While his goal today, if asked, is to become a famous YouTuber, I can see that the skills being developed (and, I should add, the technology which he will be learning, as the school is online with the Google suite being used) can assist him in pursuing both his hobbies and have practical application in the future. No harm in working toward an end goal like his when one is gaining a lot of knowledge in how to deal with this new world and new economy. 

After my due diligence, we decided to enroll J a few weeks ago, therefore we have been taking the past few weeks to do fun things: spending days with friends, playing Monopoly, and truth be told, being a bit lazy. It's been nice to get to do housework at a slower pace because I wasn't trying to get school time in. 
Next week, though, that changes for us. I take a backseat as teacher and am now a parent coach/helper in this new arrangement. This will mean a lot from me, but in a different way than we'd previously experienced.

Many emotions come with this change. First, the letting go of doing something I've so loved, creating that educational space for both of us to learn and grow. Our relationship as teacher and student is something which has added a new layer of closeness and connection. I'll be more able to do some other projects since I will not be doing the work of planning and preparing curriculum,  because this is something I have always greatly enjoyed. Even when it was work, the work was meaningful to me and greatly rewarding. This has also given me a fuller sense of freedom, in that what I do really only matters so long as it matters to me. This isn't said in a selfish way, but is grounded in a history of wanting outside approval. I'm seeing that this need for validation has lessened considerably; to put it in a different way, if it matters to me, it matters. 

The other feelings, though, that I least expected to discover, was the realization of a feeling of failure surrounding Kiddo's previous school experience. This came to me, powerfully, as I spoke to one of the administrators of his new school. In fact, it hit rather like a punch to the gut. Somehow, I'd never realized one part of my frustration when we had pulled him out: I felt that I had failed my son. That I should never have left him in that situation as long as I did. That I should have pushed harder (to what end?) about the bullying issues, been less tolerant and reasonable, that I should have intervened sooner. That's a pretty monumental load to discover I was carrying. Entering a situation where I have to give up control of his educational engagement means putting trust in strangers again. Well-qualified strangers, to be sure, but  there does carry a feeling of risk. Over the last year and a half, Kiddo has made great strides in his perception as a learner; his anxiety is all but gone. He's becoming more confident in his abilities in areas which were previously a tearful struggle. I am handing over the put-back-together new and improved student I've nurtured to new hands. This isn't an unreasonable fear; imagine if you had a car, it was cracked up in a wreck and you've finally got it good as new...you'd probably be wary of a stranger driving it. It's normal. Please be gentle, dear teachers. For both our sakes. 

Yes, the last situation was lousy, but I also have to ask myself what a great child psycholist said to a complaint: "So what?" This is probably the best crap-detecting question there is, and previously I'd brushed it off as being a bit brusque, but the fact of the matter is, "so what?" makes one distill things. What do I need to hold onto from that experience any further? Get the lessons and then, make the choice to emotionally walk away from that moment. Let it go. So what? It's over and while it's a bad hangover, I don't want to carry it around any longer. I'm not sure it will matter in five years or when he's an adult. I realize that my anxiety is my own this time, not his. Change and growth are hard sometimes, even when they are good. We now have a kid who really doesn't need hugs (or at least, prefers them only occasionally now), who can walk down the block to a friends house on his own, who now remembers to look both ways when crossing the street. He's grown up a lot. As for me, I've been stepping back from being as engaged with the world at large. Writing here had given way to writing curriculum, questions, and other school-related work. Part of me thinks I have less to say than I previously thought, so I don't know what form my writing will take or what I'll share in the future. I know I want to focus on getting a few things done around here to make our home more enjoyable. A outdoor 'room' for the backyard is a priority, and we need to finish the kitchen and nook. For now, the deep garnet and the pink mums will go in near a single gorgeous sunflower, red centered and yellow-tipped, along with some gorgeous annual with darling white flowers. And I'll go back now and finish doing the dishes. Life is good, these days. Life is really good. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Not the Last Day of School

There are a lot of photos on my Facebook feed today, reminding me that outside our little Lively Learning House, many local kids are celebrating their last day of school. They hold up signs to tell us which grade it is they are finishing, toothy grins abound. Some children are wearing jackets as it's a rainy, blustery day out there. Not so great for lingering on the playground to say goodbye to friends, but I'm hoping that parents still keep their promises for a celebratory ice cream cone or other treat to commemorate the end of the academic year.

Year-round homeschooling, though, does not offer an official 'end' of anything. Kiddo will likely tell people he's going into fifth grade if they ask, but we have really moved out of that way of thinking. Learning is something that is constantly happening. We might take off a week or two of formal work, but those are spaced out between weeks of focused assignments. Our breaks are connected to what's happening in our family. A few months ago, we took most of Spring Break off because his friends in public school were off, too. It was a good time to get together with buddies. A few weeks ago, he had several days off of school-- he had traveled to Florida with his father to visit family, and between the day-before excitement, packing, and subsequent jet lag, a one week visit needed a few extra days off as a cushion. The first day back into studies is always a bumpy ride, but not nearly as big of an adjustment as the September return-to-school usually was. We can ease back into things and build up our stamina for school, rediscover what we were studying before the break and move forward in just a few days. 

This adjustment to year round learning is one which works for our family. Summer learning loss was very real previously, and we spent money for tutoring to keep his skills sharp. Now, though, with year round school, different challenges arise. How to keep school feeling good,fresh, and, albeit not my first intention, dare I say it- fun. It is that balance of having enough routine to help school feel predictable without falling into the trap of being boring. Schools do it by having those little distractions like Spirit Week: Crazy Hair Day; wearing one's school colors; Pajama Day... all those fun and silly times when some kids feel more excited about going than usual. Those little public school celebrations which we have become accustomed to culturally here in the US do serve a purpose.

Without a larger student body, though, things don't quite have the same charm. Pajama day? There is nothing novel about seeing Mom in yesterday's shirt and fleece pajama pants. Crazy hair day? Who's going to see it, besides the people at the grocery store or maybe a friend in the afternoon? School colors? Well, um.... the house is orange and white, so are those the school colors? Who knows. 

What I have learned, so far, is that keeping school fun means taking the time to think about what Kiddo is excited about, and then to run with it. A few days ago, Kiddo was completely stoked; he had just used his own money to purchase a rank on a video game. (For those of you who haven't lost part of your brain to a deluge of Minecraft information, players can pay a certain fee to have special privileges within the game and to unlock special abilities on a specific server.) When I told Kiddo that we were having his favorite, pasta and meatballs that evening, he shouted "We could have a party to celebrate me getting Lifetime MVP!" 

And so we did. The party consisted of my making dinner, him making a paper replica of his game character, and then watching the Lego Batman movie together, which had arrived earlier that day. To me, it was a fun evening with lots of dishes, but to him, it was so much more. It was something to look forward to, something relatively spontaneous and simple which meant something to him. That was the beauty of it: like the Spirit Days at public school, it was something small which had meaning because of the energy and excitement he brought to it. I couldn't have planned it to make it any better. Sometimes, simple is the way to go.

A few days ago, we had been told that yesterday was the last day of school. Bright and sunny, even though it wasn't our last day, the awareness of it put me in the mind to go for a walk and get some ice cream for Kiddo. Besides, we needed a few groceries. It was a gorgeous day and we traveled through the streets down to 28th and Burnside, soaking up the Vitamin D and looking at houses, talking of all manner of things. We grabbed some bread at the store and then headed over to 50 Licks for a treat. Kiddo wanted a blood orange creamsicle ice cream in a waffle cone; I chose a more conservative sugar cone with a small scoop of some wonderful coconut milk based treat with chocolate and caramel. (The lactose-intolerant of us are in luck; 50 Licks offered at least 4 vegan options, and not just your usual fruit sorbet suspects but CHOCOLATE and other delights!) Taking our cones, we walked around the Kenton neighborhood for a while, chatting and looking at the dogs wandering with their humans, the cats in various windows,wondering at bugs and my endless delight in other people's gardens. 

Tomorrow is a school day; next week, we will play some, school some. I think this is the rhythm which feels respectful of Kiddo's whole person as well as my own. On Monday, we go with friends to the Oregon Trail interpretive center. We've been studying a lot about First Americans, Lewis and Clark, and Westward Expansion, so this trip will be business and pleasure of course. Over the summer, we have nearly a month of half-day camps and he's got a week of Scouting camp with his buddies. We have a busy time ahead of us. I know, in the coming months, I'll continue listening for those moments he wants to celebrate and remember. We will find ways to bring a little extra zip and joy into our lives, even when we have a day's worth of learning to do. Finding bright spots along the way means keeping one's eyes open and appreciating all that life has to offer, even when it seems like something silly or unimportant. Because it's not-- not to him, anyway. Those are hopefully the moments which will remind him, sometime in the future, that sometimes homeschooling was tough, but it was also fun. Educating and nourishing not only our brains, but our hearts and souls as well. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Multiplication Dice Game for Skill Building

(note: as with all good ideas out there, I'm probably not the first to come up with something like this. That said, I hadn't seen this anywhere else as of yet, so I'm sharing this idea knowing that some of you also have little learners struggling with learning their factors and products.)

Dice Multiplication/Addition Game

I came up with this game to help Kiddo review basic multiplication of factors 1-6. This is for kids who need some reinforcement of those skills with low stakes-- in short, keep it easy, keep it fun, keep it within their grasp.

You’ll need:
1 large piece of paper
2 dice (1-6; I am hoping to purchase some Dungeons and Dragons multi-sided dice to 10 and 12 as we progress)
Small objects to serve as ‘tokens’, one for each player

Take the piece of paper and make a ‘path’ which will consist of a start, an end, and 100 spaces in between.. Number each space in numerical order. Make sure the spaces are large enough to hold a token, one inch square is fine. I let Kiddo do some of this with me.

Game:
First player rolls both dice and then multiplies the numbers. So, if one die reads “4” and the other reads “6”, your product(result) is 24. Move to that space/that number of spaces.

Go round the table, each person gets a turn.
Next time around you can:
Add the product to the number the token is already on
Or’
Let your child count out the spaces.

Be sure to provide scratch paper, or allow your child time to do the computation in their heads.
This is a great time to teach little shortcuts: “Oh, your token is on 47 and you get to go forward 25; we know 50 plus 25 is 75, so…?” Let them figure it out or not. Don’t get stuck on this if they have their own way of working it out. The point of the game is to keep it moving and keep it fun.

The first one to 100 is the winner. Play again!

I’m going to add in some fun things over the next few days, like having Kiddo write in silly activities for the spaces which are products of factors squared. (like 4, 9, 16, etc.) You can also have them count the spaces in between those products; they actually have a pretty interesting pattern. Or have multiples of 5 colored in, signalling ‘get up and dance’, that many jumping jacks, or a simple “woot! Woot!” for kids who are less inclined to do the physical things. :) Again, the point is to keep it fun, keep it moving.


If you have a child for whom losing just destroys them-- play it as a cooperative game. Maybe make a prediction at the beginning of the game to see how many turns it will take for your ‘team’ to reach 100. Like all open-ended games, make it work for your kid!

Friday, June 24, 2016

Can't Sleep.... Clowns Will Eat Me

It's 11:37pm. The kitchen is dim and quiet, a bowl of oatmeal sitting placidly on the counter. It's one of those instant packets Kiddo likes, and I'm about to find out how it tastes. I've never had one of these before and I'm hoping that wallpaper paste is not the first thing I compare it to.

For the past few days I've been dealing with a doozy of a cold. I don't usually get colds this bad; usually garden variety sniffles. This one has featured fever and chills and moved into my lungs. The cough syrup is a new one and I wasn't expecting this wakefulness. Nor was I expecting to be so hungry. Here's to hoping a bowl of oatmeal will take the edge of, make me feel warm and cuddly, and help me get some rest.

After a few bites, I decide that,while I prefer my steel-cut oats that take 20 minutes to cook, this stuff Kiddo likes is passable. That's a plus.

A lot of things go through our heads when we are laying there with nothing to distract us. I'm not the only person in our family to deal with this problem; Kiddo, too, gets the 'lie awake and think about stupid worrisome stuff' gene from me. Joe, on the other hand, can sleep through pretty much anything. I cannot recall any time in my life with him that he was staying awake, worried. Well, maybe once, when I was at the ER and sent the guys home because A. I knew it was kidney stones and B. who wants an audience when they feel like crap? Otherwise, the guy has an ability to sleep which rivals Sam-I-Am's ability to eat green eggs and ham. In short, in a box, on a train, in the rain (okay, in a tent in the rain), at a play (it really happened!)... the man has amazing sleep abilities. I am in awe of them.

Apparently, the oatmeal has a limited window when it comes to keeping a desirable consistency.

Sometimes I lay awake and try to console myself with what I think is the funniest idea in that moment. Usually it is a phrase of odd reassurance. My new favorite: "Don't worry, it's not like you'll never fall asleep ever."

It is a small consolation, but the effect it has is a good one. This is not an insurmountable obstacle. It's one night in a chain of many nights, many opportunities. It's just.... I want to sleep.

If you tell me that I shouldn't have my computer on, well, you are right. That said, I finished my book a few hours ago and wanted to write. Oh, and I guess I wanted to get freaked out a little bit because a centipede just scampered across the kitchen floor and in the time it took to get a killing device (paper towel!) it had disappeared. And now I've got the creepy crawlies. Sheesh. If you came to the conclusion that I now am No Longer Relaxed but am now on Alert Mode, you win the prize.

Can't sleep. Centipede on the loose.

I'd actually prefer the clown. The clown is a joke, a line from The Simpsons. (Homer gives Bart a bed with a clown headboard. A really creepy, psycho-looking clown.) We have it on a bumper sticker on our car. Just one of those funny things both Joe and I, and now Kiddo, really dig. If I could fall asleep to The Simpsons, or better yet, Perry Mason, without waking anyone up, I'd do so in a heartbeat. Perry Mason is great for that. I've seen all of the episodes so many times and since they are on disc, there are no blaring commercials to deal with. I've nodded off to Perry many a time.

Perhaps I'll start earlier tomorrow night. Put some Perry on at 9 and hopefully doze off. Fictitious, 1960s pretend murder is better than both hypothetical clowns or real-- very real--centipedes. In any case, Kiddo's got a workshop tomorrow morning that I have to get him to. I'll take him to lunch right after, and then home. For a nap. Because centipedes and creepy clowns don't keep daylight hours, right? At least, I hope not.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Planning Time

This weekend was a wonderful treat. Joe and Kiddo took off for a Cub Scout camping trip and of course, I had to stay home and take care of Milton and Sally Lou. Well, maybe I didn't really have to, but after a few months of homeschooling, it's been great to take a break alone. It was a weekend to visit with friends and relive some of my old life, BC. (You know, Before Child.) My ventures out were delicious and provided me with great conversations with dear friends and food for both sustenance and thought. One friend has her PhD and we always end up having discussions about life and the choices we make in how we live. She mentioned an instruction in the practice of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, namely the idea that one should plan, each day, one activity which brings the self joy. Ideally, once a day for the person and 2-3 times a week for the family.

Finding joy for a family isn't an easy task, but I do consider this as I sit down to plan the coming week's lessons. One of the very real challenges of homeschooling is building in time to just be and enjoy each other, enjoy the moment. It's all too easy to do school and, at the end of the day, not have a lot left. My goal for each day is about four activities and to keep balance. So, we do things like walking over to the park (fulfilling PE requirement as we go) to do a survey of colors of dogs: "out of all of the dogs we encounter on our walk, how many are white, or tan, or black and white, etc" and then using that information to solve math questions and make a graph. I try to incorporate as much real life in his arithmetic as possible, and if we are being truly honest, I sort of geek out on creating these activities.

But I digress... as I was saying, planning joy into one's day is easier said than done. So, I look for times when he solicits me for my company in what he's doing. Sometimes, we can plan some daytime 'joy' together. No longer constrained by the school calendar, I can do what I damn well please. A couple of weeks ago there was a painting at the Portland Art Museum I really wanted to see before it left. It was a huge painting of cats. Because I used to be a preschool teacher, I suppose I am in the habit of curious observation. It was just as much fun for me to see what interested him (the glass art was the big deal this time) as it was to see the art itself. We had packed a picnic lunch already, yet the Farmer's Market called us and we took time to get a few treats and that night's dinner. He practiced finding the totals for items he wanted (all in his head), what sort of change would he get back on a three dollar item with a five dollar bill, and he practiced doing those transactions on his own. After that, we hit the library and he read for the rest of the afternoon.

This is not a kid who needs to be forced to read.

In fact, I often build our days with little scheduled reading time for him. I start our morning reading aloud to him, and we do also read as we research bats (our bee unit is complete for now; we'll move back to that when we harvest the bees this fall) or look up affixes. Hazel Philosophy here: I love words and the best gift I can give my son is that regard is the tools to decoding language. Prefixes and suffixes are a big part of our summer schooling time... we handle the root words in the moment as the initial word comes up, however, a knowledge of affixes can get you partway there. (This, by the way, is an extension of our Greek mythology study-- many affixes were given to us by the ancient Greeks). With math we work on one new skill a day and review some other, previously-learned ones as well.

Yet, what he also is learning isn't straighforwardly academic. One of the concerns I had regarding conventional school is that he wasn't being given much room to think for himself. Now, I'm not saying this is true for every kid, but a bright little boy with slow processing abilities needs more time to get to the same answer than most of his peers. It also takes longer to learn and understand new skills and techniques, especially for computation and composition. Along with finding a well-scaffolded writing program for him, what has worked for us is going at a slower pace in introducing new information and being able to present information in multiple forms. I would wager my favorite pair of shoes that one big reason kids 'goof off' at school or aren't attentive is that they don't  understand the assignment or what they are supposed to do. The hurried teacher in a larger class may often tell the student to ask a friend or three before asking for help, which is nice in theory, but in practice, some students will think you are bugging them, some students may not undersatnd how to explain the process/instructions and by time we get to number three, I'm sure the student feels daunted and, if we are being honest, probably not great about him or her self as a learner. So, instead of risking more frustration, the child sits at their seat and plays around, does other things, lets themselves be distracted or becomes a distraction.

The end result of this is that the student falls into a habit of not completing work without adult prodding.Thus, one absolute I have for our school is that we complete what we start. At public school, without help to organize himself and get going at school, a lot of work didn't get done, was misplaced or not handed in. I needed a way to help my son help himself; school really did not help him with was time management and admittedly, that would have been hard. He is easily distracted as it is and loves to be with his buddies. Keeping him on task is a lot to ask of any teacher; it's something he has to learn himself.

This means, contrary to popular thinking, that I have to give him control over this. Each morning he has a checklist to complete. Everything is on there, not just learning. He's more involved in helping with daily chores now that I have more time to teach him. Some things--like the oddly folded-but-still-neat clothes-- I let him do his way. Some things, well, you have to do them my way because my way is the right way. (Don't tell me you don't think this too. Of course you do. The Queen of the Castle likes the towels folded a certain way after she's washed them.) Life means doing basic tasks for one's survival. In some families, this means milking cow at oh-dark-thirty in the morning. In our family, it means soaking your dishes after you eat from them, or you know Mom is going to make you wash that crusty oatmeal bowl yourself. Managing his time is his new skill to learn. I allow media time at 3:30, not a minute earlier. That said, I tell him each day "Look at your list. I'm available for instruction until 3, and then you have to work independently." Frankly, I got tired of trying to coax him away from what he was doing--you know, the fun thing-- and being the heavy. So now, he has to be the heavy on himself. No media time until the list is complete. This is where the emphasis on completing work comes in. If it's not done, it's not done.

He is finding different ways to manage this. One afternoon he asked to work for ten minutes and take a break for ten minutes. He found the material demanding and needed to take the breaks, but when he came back, he worked the entire time before the next break. Finding ways for learning or work to be doable for each of us is a life skill. As an adult I have worked at some jobs which were not particularly engaging or demanding, but you have to work to eat, so I did it with my headphones on. Finding ways to endure either tedium or demands is a good coping skill to have in one's back pocket. I hand this responsibility to him knowing he's going to have bumps and failures. We've done well so far, and I know there will also be a day he goes on strike and will be sad when the end of the day rolls around and he can't play his beloved Minecraft. We've created a situation which can motivate while being emotionally safe enough that he's not devastated. Will there likely be tears? Yep. And tears are okay. Often, they are instructive and teach us not to repeat mistakes.

Will we one day return to public school? I cannot say for certain. What I do want, though, is time and situations for him where failure is not penalized, but a learning tool. It's a fact of life that one must complete one's work before leisure and that time commitments have to be met. Better to learn that now than in high school or adulthood, right?

We keep on together, in this dance where he is learning about real life and I am learning as a teacher and we are learning about each other. I've been touched recently at a new level of consideration he has shown for me. Kiddo's perception of himself as a learner is improving, and that is worth every minute of work on my part. Knowing that he can learn, he wants to learn more. His questions become deeper. I am enjoying this time with him, knowing that it is a moment in life which we will grow beyond and leave in the past. Today, rather philosophically, my friend stated "well, if managing his time is all he learns, then that's what he needed to learn." Truer words could not have been spoken, but he-- and I-- are learning more. So much more.


Monday, April 4, 2016

Bee Progress Report

Today we went outside and observed the Mason bees. The Mason bees were flying in and out of their reed tubes where they lived. We noticed the mud in two reed tubes. The female puts pollen and nectar  in a ball together inside the tube and then lays an egg on top of it. (Of course, she has to resist eating it for herself.)  She uses mud or plants or both to block of the entrance to the nest cell. The mud keeps the eggs inside the tubes until they are adults and hatch next spring. The female seals off the tube with mud to protect her eggs.

We also checked how many Mason bees had hatched. Out of our ten bee cocoons, now there is only one unhatched. We planted African daisies for the Mason bees to pollinate. Some other plants in our yard which have pollen for the bees: blueberries bushes, dandelions, the pieris shrubs in the front yard, tulips, and the cherry tree.

(This progress report was a result of a conversation between Kiddo and Mom, consulting "Pollination with Mason Bees by Dr Margriet Dogterom, and lots of dictation and refining)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Kiddo's Mason Bees Progress Report

Kiddo asked to use my blog to post this. You might see little things like this from time to time because A. Mom can control the medium and B. he likes to feel he's sharing his work. 



Hi I am Kiddo and I am going to tell you how to get mason bees ! First make a budget. For example if you go to Portland nursery than your budget will probably look like this. (this was mine.)


Daisies(you plant these for the bees) 4 inch starter size 3.99 
Mason Bees(the actual bees)  price 4.99, box of ten cocoons
Reeds(you put these in the bee house) box of 25, price 8.99
Bee House(where the bees go) price 29.99



  Then you get the mason bees and the other objects you need.Then set them up facing south then wait for the mason bees to hatch!
                                          THE END