Christmas Vacation

I thought this was an interesting comment from a mom on one of my local homeschooling message boards:

"With the holidays upon us, it really saddens me when my "schooly" friends
make comments about how they are stuck with their children for 2 weeks for
break and comment on how they don't know how I can homeschool and be with my children all the time. In my reality, I can't imagine NOT being with them! I
have thoroughly enjoyed the past few days of baking holiday goodies,
listening to holiday music, wrapping gifts, decorating and just the whole
excitement of it all. Sure, there are days when my kids DO drive me crazy
and I need a break, but when they are gone to Grandma's for a weekend or
whatever, I miss them terribly."

Christmas garland

J took a nice 2 1/2 hour nap this morning, so M and I made garland out of construction paper to decorate the Christmas tree!

December Ornaments

We've been busy since Thanksgiving with lots of fun activities and adventures as usual. We put up our Christmas tree and I found a great recipe for ornaments that were really fun to make.

Thanksgiving Crafts

Spent a fun morning doing Thanksgiving crafts with M while J napped!

Homeschool: An American History

I am reading an excellent book entitled, Homeschool: An American History by Milton Gaither, which traces homeschooling trends from colonial times (exclusively homeschooled) to the shift toward government schools and now back again toward homeschooling. I love this quote from the book discussing the advent of widespread public schooling in the early nineteenth century:

"But perhaps the biggest reason Americans had long been patrons of schools was the age-old problem faced by mothers needing some time to do things other than take care of the kids. Schools for many were a place to dump the kids off for a while and hopefully get their minds improved in the process. Lucia Downing, a teacher in Vermont in the 1820s at a local district school, noted 'parents were glad to be relieved of the care of their offspring, and no one ever suggested a shortening of the hours.'"

Homeschool Halloween

We had a great morning at our homeschool group's Halloween Party. It was great to see the kids interacting and having fun and such a treat to talk to other homeschooling moms. I always feel so invigorated after these gatherings!!

Always Learning

Now that I look at the world through homeschooling glasses, I see that we're always learning, including me! I read a great homeschool mom's blog and got some great insights about childhood learning and what to expect with homeschooling.

One of the things that resonated with me was her idea that we should never tell a child how to use a toy, and, on a related note, try not to color or paint on their picture. It makes sense. This can impede their imagination and make them hesitant to try new things without seeking parental approval. She also got me thinking about some great preschool homeschooling ideas, and so yesterday M was fully immersed in making and playing with homemade dough....why didn't I think of this before?!

Halloween Crafts

Yesterday's Discovery Table contents included paper bags for "puppets," colored pencils, assorted stickers and crayons. Today's table, which was more highly regarded, included these printouts of Halloween pumpkins. I cut-out the eyes, noses and mouths and then M sorted through them and glued them onto the pumpkins. I'm very impressed by her ability to spot the correct size shape and to know if one is too big or too small for the pumpkin. Tomorrow's table is Play-Doh.

Discovery Table

I decided that I really want to limit television in our house, particularly where M is using the computer so much more. But I needed something to entertain her first thing in the morning when she's ready to hit the ground running and I'm not. So, I came up with the "Discovery Table." Each night I set-up the kitchen table with a tablecloth and various craft items. For example, yesterday's selection included three paper plates with pink triangle cut-outs in one, purple square cut-outs in another, and yellow squiggly cut-outs in the third. I also had markers and glue and tape available and some construction paper. M was ecstatic this morning when she saw the table and it happily-- and beneficially-- occupied her for over an hour this morning while I prepared for the day. Tonight's table is prepared with 4 paper bags, a pack of colored pencils, several types of stickers, some Post-It Notes, tape and crayons. I think we'll make puppets tomorrow morning.

I also wanted to add that just today, M started to express interest in the actual words in her books, pointing to them and saying "what's this word?" It's fun to see how reading-readiness begins.

Finally, I LOVE this quote from a homeschooling mom that is included in Holt's book, Teach Your Own. I read it to my husband and he agreed that it captures the very essence of why we want to homeschool:

"My rewards were beyond measure. No yellow monster took my favorite friends away every morning; when they were exposed to a new vocabulary word I could use it pertinently in everyday happenings; if we wanted to know molecular theory we could work from 9 am to 4 pm till it clicked; everything they were exposed to in Calvert Curriculum was learned by all; they spent early evenings putting on operas they made up, shows for Dad's pleasure were presented, sometimes taking three days just to prepare the staging. We read books, books, and books till 1 am, and no one had to be up at 6:30 for the monster." (p. 111)

"I Took His Hand and Followed"

I Took His Hand and Followed
Mrs. Roy L. Peifer

My dishes went unwashed today,

I didn't make the bed,

I took his hand and followed

Where his eager footsteps led.

Oh yes, we went adventuring,

My little son and I...

Exploring all the great outdoors

Beneath the summer sky

We waded in a crystal stream,

We wandered through a wood...

My kitchen wasn't swept today

But life was gay and good.

We found a cool, sun-dappled glade

And now my small son knows

How Mother Bunny hides her nest,

Where jack-in-the-pulpit grows.

We watched a robin feed her young,

We climbed a sunlit hill...

Saw cloud-sheep scamper through the sky,

We plucked a daffodil.

That my house was neglected,

That I didn't brush the stairs,

In twenty years, no one on earth

Will know, or even care.

But that I've helped my little boy

To noble manhood grow,

In twenty years, the whole wide world

May look and see and know.

More Rewarding Parenting

My new focus on homeschooling and "purposeful parenting" is so much more rewarding and enjoyable -- and tiring! -- than preparatory parenting. I look at each day, each activity as a learning opportunity for the kids, even if it's unstructured. Tuesday was a busy day for us with music in the morning followed by our playdate. After some downtime, we played a new game I made up called "story basket" where M fills her little basket with objects and together we make up a story about them. After that, we walked to the Farmer's Market. The Farmer's Market is so much fun for her-- and me! M took her pocketbook, selected a zucchini and some other fruits and veggies and gave the clerk the quarters I had given her in her pocketbook. It was really cute. Then we sat in the chairs by the market and ate a snack and enjoyed some leisure time until our friends called to meet us at the library park.

Holt's Instead of Education

I am currently reading one of John Holt's classics, Instead of Education, which he wrote in the 1970s and which advocates, as he puts it, not for alternative schools but for alternatives to school, like unschooling. I really like this quote, which I think is interesting when applied to our city's "controlled choice" public school model:

"After all, if the government told convicted criminals they could choose which prison they would go to, the prisons might in time become slightly better. But they would still be prisons."

I often think about what we'll do if/when the kids ask to go to school. Part of me thinks that our learning philosophy is child-centered so we should follow their desires, but the other, stronger part of me feels that we are the parents and we decide what's best for our kids. After all, kids also ask to eat extra cupcakes, stay up late, go outside without a jacket in freezing weather, etc. and we don't give in to those desires so why should schooling be any different. At least that's how I feel now.

Here's a great quote about the subject from a homeschooling mom's blog:

"Parents check out schools and decide which school and maybe even which teacher is best suited for their child. But, when it comes to homeschooling, society seems to think we should ask our little ones what they want to do. That's entirely too much pressure for the kid, and it also sets the parent up for a lifetime of the child calling the shots. Children are quite comfortable with parents making the grown up decisions, and there's a security in thinking your parent is taking care of things when you're young."

What I Look Forward To!

Like the epiphany I had when we canceled our plans for a traditional wedding in favor of an elopement, I feel so liberated and relieved by our decision to homeschool.

Here are just some of the things that I am excited about, in no particular order:

- Witnessing "real" learning taking place and instilling a lifelong love of learning and discovery in our kids.
- Observing our kids' interests evolve and cultivating opportunities to pursue those interests.
- Being part of a homeschool community with parents who genuinely like being with their kids.
- Letting our kids get some real sleep and not be woken by alarms at ungodly hours to trek out into all kinds of weather in order to meet a morning bell.
- Watching our kids find little nooks in which to curl up with their books or crafts.
- Reading books with our kids that I never read, like Jane Austen and others.
- Giving our kids hugs and kisses whenever I want.
- Gathering around the kitchen table (or elsewhere) for learning time.
- Taking a week off at random times throughout the year when it's convenient for Daddy's busy work schedule or when we just need a break.
- Working our learning schedules around Daddy's hectic schedule -- and the varied schedules of our kids.
- Diving in to a "curriculum" that uses field trips as a fundamental and frequent learning tool and not as a once-a-year treat.
- Exploring the museums, zoos, parks, libraries, and other cultural and educational venues in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week instead of fighting weekend crowds.
- Delving into periodic learning themes, like Ancient Greece, or Russian Literature, or early-19th century architecture.
- Making connections with community "teachers," like our librarians, museum staff members, and various instructors.
- Spending lots of time with my kids doing what they love and learning from it.
- Enjoying a gorgeous September Tuesday at our lakehouse.

GREAT Homeschool Article

I just found this recent article about a homeschooling family in Brooklyn and their reasons for and satisfaction with homeschooling seem very much in line with ours.

There is also this often-quoted, humorous article about homeschooling.

Conservatives & Liberals

It's funny how homeschooling crosses the political gambit, with ultra liberals and ultra conservatives practicing it. Very rarely would southern evangelicals and urban liberals agree on anything....

Focus on Family

I love this quote from Dumbing Us Down and couldn't agree more:

"A surprising number of otherwise sensible people find it hard to see why the scope and reach of our formal schooling networks should not be increased (by extending the school day or year, for instance) in order to provide an economical solution to the problems posed by the decay of the American family....I thought I'd tell you why, from a schoolteacher's perspective, we shouldn't be thinking of more school, but of less."

Mouse Mastery

M has been asking for a mouse to use with the computer so that she can navigate by herself, so today after music class, we went to the store and got a mouse. For the first few minutes of M using the mouse, I didn't know if she'd catch on... and then there was no stopping her!! She's unbelievable with the mouse, navigating her way through the websites I set for her, returning, by herself, to the main menu to start over.
It's great, now, to go to where she made pumpkins and snowmen and did the ABCs -- all by herself! I just can't get over how skilled she is and how quickly she caught on! When you think about the amount of coordination it takes to use a mouse, it really is astounding.

This opens up an entirely new set of learning possibilities for us.... It also makes me have a greater appreciation for I have heard so many great things about this website, but always found that it was either too easy (because she already knows her letters and letter sounds), or too hard, (because she doesn't know how to read). There didn't seem to be much in between. But now that she can navigate the site herself, it is awesome for her!

Growing Numbers

As I learn more about the homeschooling movement, I am delighted to see that it is catching on quite steadily in recent years. When I did my undergraduate research paper on the topic in 1998, there were about 850,000 homeschoolers nation-wide and, according to a Department of Education report, there were more than 1.5 million homeschoolers, (or 3% of the school population), in 2007. And this seems to be a conservative estimate, with some data suggesting homeschooling numbers well over 2 million.

While religious conservatives continue to be a large fraction of the homeschool population, the most growth is occurring in more mainstream populations, like urban, middle-class parents who want to stay in the city and not have their kids attend public or private school; suburban parents who are dismayed by the intense focus on standardized tests, academic rigidity, and negative social behaviors like bullying; and others who are disillusioned by the intense academic competition exhbited by students in private-- and some public-- schools.

According to an October 2008 New York Times article, "home-schooling is becoming more popular in New York City, with more than 2,600 students registered this year, up from nearly 1,600 in 2001, according to the New York City Department of Education." That's impressive growth, and I think we're seeing similar trends in urban areas across the country.

Interesting Thought on Socialization

In seeing how gregarious M is and how interested she is to meet new people and make new friends, I had a thought about the homeschooling-socialization notion: I wonder if she/they will not learn how to be as standoffish and reserved as many kids are. That is, at some point along the way we learn that not everyone wants to be our friend and we learn to put up barriers and form social cliques. They may not learn this, or at least not as overtly as they would in school. To me, this is exactly the kind of socialization that I think is detrimental to a person's development and am glad that they won't be "learning" this behavior... but it is a provocative question: Is it bad to not learn to be aloof and cliquey?....

On another note, we had our movement class at the Y today. Seriously, not a day now goes by when someone doesn't ask me, "How old is M?" Answer: "Almost 3." Question: "Oh, so where does she go to school?"

Purposeful Parenting

As soon as we made our decision to stay in the city and homeschool, I felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted. It felt like the perfect choice for us. And I almost immediately began to see my parenting role in a new and far more productive, fulfilling way.

While I had been actively involved in teaching my kids, I had increasingly felt that what I was teaching them or providing them would be a means to an end: a way of preparing them for success in pre-school and beyond. I was also getting stressed about which pre-school to select and none of them appealed to me for a variety of reasons, including days that seemed too long, curricula that seemed too rigid, costs that seemed too extreme, and parental expectations that seemed too unreasonable (like contributing a hefty "donation" in addition to a $25,000 preschool tuition or participating in lots of parent-only socials and fundraisers--that is, if you can even get your child accepted into a private urban preschool).

As our focus shifted toward homeschooling, I saw things with much greater clarity and ease. I recognized and sought out learning moments in a much more meaningful and rewarding way. Learning is now learning for learning's sake.

"Purposeful Parenting" is far more enriching than more "Preparatory Parenting" I was practicing previously.

Homeschooling By Default

In my city, if you don't send your kids to pre-school when they're two, by default you are homeschooling.

I grew up in the suburbs where most kids didn't go to pre-school until the year before they started kindergarten, and even then it was only three mornings a week in the basement of some church. So I was quite shocked at the odd glances I encountered this fall when I indicated that, no, M would be home with me and not attending "school." Mind you, she's not even 3.... "Oh, so you're homeschooling," was the response I'd receive from numerous playground acquaintances or strangers. "No, I just prefer to teach my kids at home until the year before kindergarten," I'd reply. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if homeschooling would be an appropriate path for us.

I had written a research paper on homeschooling when I was in college and have always been intrigued by it. And my husband has been advocating for me to homeschool for quite awhile. The primary motivator for homeschooling, at least initially, was so that we could remain city dwellers. We don't like the trends we're seeing in public schools and the private school culture in the area doesn't appeal to us at all, so the only option is homeschool.

As I began to see what M and J and I were doing for activities each week, I saw that our "curriculum" was robust and engaging. Structured music classes, story hours, dancing and movement classes, an arts and crafts class, swim class, and informal playdates throughout the week kept us constantly learning and experiencing new things.

So I began to do more serious research on the homeschooling option for K-12, and the more I learned, the more excited and committed I became. Beyond homeschooling for simply geographic reasons, I began to realize that I wanted to homeschool for the sake of homeschooling: for the opportunities and advantages that homeschooling provides that regular schools cannot; namely, freedom, flexibility and individualized learning. In the first homeschool book I read, Homeschooling: A Family's Journey by Gregory and Martine Millman (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2008), I was struck by the quote: "Today's homeschoolers succeed not because they do 'school' things better than schools do-- but because they do better things than school." I was already witnessing that we were doing better things than school with our age-appropriate activities, and that M was thriving as a result: learning to take risks, be more independent, more communicative, make friends, learn skills-- and the great part was that I was in the shadows witnessing it all.