Saturday, July 25, 2009

I don't generally buy or subscribe to women's magazines because they seem to recycle the same stories and frankly I've read it all before. I can't cut $200 from my grocery bill with your tips because I already do those things- probably because I read about it in your magazine a few years ago. However, when Kya was still going to public school they had a fundraiser and the cheapest thing I could find was a two year subscription to Woman's Day. It's an okay magazine and once in a while I find a good recipe and it gives me something to flip through while Spongebob is on for the thirtieth time. You're probably wondering what in the world this has to with unschooling at this point but trust me, I'm getting there.

I got my new copy in the mail yesterday, which happened to be my birthday and Robbie had taken the kids for the day leaving me with a quiet house to just relax and be a bum all day. I snuggled down with my magazine and started to flip through when I came across an article entitled "Are you a Summer Mom or a Back-to-school Mom?" Wow. That was my first reaction to this article, just WOW. The author says early on that she spends the summer waiting for life to resume it's natural order (emphasis mine). "Everybody up, everybody out, every day." Carting your kids away is now the natural order.

At first I was appalled, I continued to be appalled as she on went on to tell how she starts the countdown for back to school at the beginning of July and that she can't wait to get these slugs off of the couch and back in the classroom. She complained about the whines of "I'm bored," the comatose state they would fall into in front of the TV, and that none of them ever wanted to do any of the outings she suggested. Contradicting this she also talked about how over scheduled they were at other times because of camps, practices, etc. Confusing and appalling. However on further reflection I don't think I'm appalled by this mother as much as I am by the circumstances.

I remember summers being a little like this when the kids were in school (as was I, I taught public school so summer was my break as well). Usually around July I would start looking forward to going back to school but also be acutely aware that we hadn't done nearly as much over the summer as I'd originally hoped. We were all comatose on the couch for half of the break, none of us could muster the energy to go do fun things, yet we were all bored. This woman's story started to sound uncomfortably familiar.

So what's changed? Why am I appalled now when just a couple of years ago I was this woman? I realize now that this is the summer we have when we spend the other three seasons of a year locked away in a classroom without opportunity to relax, entertain ourselves, or use our imaginations- the brain and body shut down for a while in an attempt to recover. This is why many people think they could never homeschool, much less unschool- they think about these dreaded summer breaks and assume it would be like this all the time. But they don't understand that when you are home all the time it isn't like this.

Don't get me wrong, we still have our moments of comatose TV watching and the occasional whine of boredom but they are less frequent and more easily tolerated because they are a drop in the ocean of time we spend together. And when we have an ocean of time we can fill it doing things we actually enjoy. For us THAT is the natural order of things.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We got a new Timberdoodle catolog in the mail. It has something in it called "Homeschool Your Fish" that I thought looked really funny. Basically you use food to teach a goldfish to jump through hoops and push a plastic soccer ball around a plastic soccer field. Since Jace enjoys YouTube so much I thought it would make a funny web video if he wanted to try it. When I showed it to him his response was priceless.

"Mom, I don't think the fish would WANT to learn that."

Ahh, my little unschooler. ;-)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Everything is cyclical and we have been taking a natural rest lately. Of course lots of things have been going on- swimming, spending time with school friends who are more free in the summer, the local fair, riding bikes, eating berries from the vine, finding shapes in the clouds and all of the many other things that can be summed up as summer. I see small lessons happening with these things all the time but its not really anything to write about- it is so easy and natural that I often have a fleeting thought of, "Oh look, she just figured out how to..." but then its gone and I sit down to write without any clear picture of what we've done lately. Until today. Today I definately have a pretty cool story to share...

Lately Jace has been loving his skateboard and all things skateboard related. He's been playing skating video games, designing his own skating video games and watching fingerboard skaters on youtube (finger boards are those mini skateboards that only use fingers to "ride"- you may have seen people doing elaborate tricks with them on tv). But, as it usually happens, after several days of this he started to get bored with just watching these things on a screen. He couldn't find any of his finger boards and had no money to buy more so he improvised and made himself one out of cardboard. He was using game boxes, dvd cases, bowls, etc. to set up mini skate parks in the living room.

Eventually that wasn't enough so he built a skatepark with construction paper, cardboard and paperclips. Then the cardboard skateboard started wearing out from overuse.

He asked his dad for help and they came up with a plastic fingerboard that Jace calls a "futureboard" because it doesn't have wheels. Of course this plastic futureboard is heavier than its cardboard counterpart and didn't really work well with the paper skatepark. No problem... Jace drew up plans for a wooden park, complete with dimensions for size.

He and his dad worked together building and perfecting this mini skatepark most of the day. Now he has a really cool toy made from scrap lumber and he stretched his creative muscles (which is a HIGH educational priority in our family).

Best of all he got a great memory of an afternoon spent with his dad doing something important to him.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A new box of books is a wonderful thing. My mom the packrat has sent us a box full of "Voyagers" books with topics on everything from bicycles to space. Jace is working his way through these and loving it. There was also a book with a collection of "Far Side" comics that he is enjoying. Because every kid needs a biting and twisted sense of humor. ;)

He has also become obsessed with a new online game- Line Rider. He has to draw lines on a blank page and then see if the little guy on the screen can actually make the jumps and drops he's drawn without crashing. It is a great introduction to physics as he has to learn how to space the lines, what slopes are too steep, etc. I love it when he finds things like this that have a really cool lesson mixed in with the fun stuff.

Kya has been hanging out over at Grandpa's a lot this week. When she's home she isn't doing a whole lot- I think she's in a natural lull but I also think it may be time to give her a little nudge- I just have to figure out which way she's already leaning.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July 1 is a new "school" year in my state so my first year of homeschooling is officially over. This seems like a good time to reflect on how life has changed during that time.

I begin with Jace because he was the catalyst for the miracle of the past year. It is almost inconceivable for me that the angry, sad, insecure, short-tempered boy that left me weeping on my knees begging for answers ever existed. I spent so much time worrying about him, worrying about how his issues affected his sister, worrying that he would never be happy. I also spent a great deal of time angry with him and wishing we could just have one day without rage. Now I have a boy who is happy most of the time and I don't see rage anymore, ever. He is self-confident, he is self-motivated, most of the time he has self-control when it comes to his temper (and when he doesn't it is so much better and more typical of most little boys). Don't misunderstand, he isn't perfect, but he is his most perfect self. I have tears as I write this because I am so very grateful to have my boy back.

And what a surprise it has been to find the real Kya this year; I didn't even know she was hiding. At this time last year we thought she would stay in school because she seemed to be doing fine and Jace and I were only going to take a year off anyway. That didn't last long. We quickly realized that it was difficult for Jace and I to go anywhere around the school bus's schedule. Kya quickly realized that Jace and I were having grand adventures during the day while she was stuck in school and then had still more homework when she got home. At the end of the first quarter she came home too. And, oh how she shines at home. It is sad and frightening to me that she appeared to be doing so well on the surface when in fact she was paralyzed by being "good". She was a good student, a good girl, and good at being whoever she needed to be to keep everyone happy. Now she will tell you that she is good at being herself (in fact she considers it her best talent). She is no longer shy or timid, she is so confident, she laughs so much more, she recognizes what she really loves and follows it. Again, I am so very grateful.

Finally, I can't talk about the transformations of this past year without talking about my own. I have more time to be the kind of mom my instincts have always told me to be. I also have more time to be the me I've always wanted, separate from anyone else's expectations of me; I take the time to pursue my own goals, to dig deep and learn my true self. Even my husband, who at first wasn't sure about homeschooling or giving up half of our income, has noted the change and sees that we are ALL so much better off now. A lot of this past year has been possible because I simply have time but it is also because I am no longer embedded in a system that is broken and therefore I am less broken. When I was teaching, much like the early days of my parenting journey, I thought everyone else was doing it right and the reason things weren't working was because I needed more structure, more consistent rules, more, more, more. Now I realize that the reason I couldn't be consistent, with both my children and my students, was because deep down I didn't believe in the rules everyone was thrusting upon me. Like my children, I too am more calm, more confident, less stressed. On top of all this I have been lucky enough to find the most amazing group of women- a group I never would have thought existed in my little part of the world. They have restored my faith in the world and perhaps more importantly in my own instincts. God, The Universe, A Higher Power, whatever you choose to call that which is greater than ourselves, has ordered my steps in the journey to find all of these missing pieces to my puzzle this year and again, gratitude is the word of the day.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

I overheard this conversation...

Jace: I'm glad we're unschoolers.
Kya: Me too; wait what are unschoolers?
J: That we know we don't have to do school stuff to learn everything.
K: Oh, yeah, I like that. Homeschool is great.
J: Well, all unschoolers are homeschoolers but not all homeschoolers are unschoolers.
K: Yeah, my friend has to do school from 9 to 3 every day.
J: (incredulous) She'll never learn anything like that!

I'm sure she'll learn something, but I'm glad they know its not the only way to learn. :-)