Friday Nights in the City

There was a time, back in our 20s and well before parenthood, when my husband and I would spend our Friday nights in the city sipping martinis at the newest trendy bar chatting about our latest professional and personal pursuits.

My, how our perspectives and priorities have changed since then. While we still enjoy a martini, now our Friday nights in the city are typically spent together with the kids savoring a family dinner in the North End, running through the Greenway, discovering hidden playgrounds, visiting the outdoor food market, listening to subway and street musicians.

They may not be the long, quiet, reflective Friday nights of yesteryear, but these shorter, louder, busier Friday nights with my husband and our three favorite people are just as anticipated and treasured.

Happy Friday to you!

My Little Baker

Yesterday at the playground, a man asked my five-year-old where she goes to school.  "I home-school," she replied.  "Oh, and what do you do in home-school?" he asked.  "Well," she responded, "I do as much math as I want to during the day because I want to be a baker."  "That's good," the man said, "baking does require a lot of math."

This entire exchange made me smile.  I always love to hear the kids' responses about homeschooling in their own words.

Whether or not my five-year-old will follow in the footsteps of locally-acclaimed Flour Bakery chef and owner, Joanne Chang, who has a degree in Applied Mathematics from Harvard, she is consumed by all-things-baking lately.  She devised a "Special Secret Cake Recipe," selecting all of her ingredients and measurements herself, and today she put her creation to the test.  It may not be the fluffiest cake, but it is definitely the best I've ever tasted...

Special Secret Cake Recipe

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
3 cups of flour
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 stick of butter
Big mixing spoon

Mix all ingredients together.  Put in oven.  Bake at 350 until done.

March Madness: Considering the Homeschooling Option

In my city and others around the country, March is the month when urban families learn of public elementary school lottery placements and private school admissions.  In many American cities, school desegregation plans eliminated neighborhood schools to create equity within urban public school districts, and today cities use variations of a complex lottery placement system to ensure school diversity.

For many families who receive a preferred lottery placement or a top-choice private school placement for September, the decision-making process is over.  But for other families who were not assigned or admitted to a top-choice school, the decision-making process has just begun.  Some families will grow satisfied with their lower-choice schools, others will bide their time on the wait-list and hope for a top placement in the fall.  Some families will leave their urban lifestyle for the suburbs and neighborhood schools.  And an increasing number of urban families will look more seriously at the homeschooling option.

Here is my quick list of homeschooling highlights for families considering this education option:

1.  Homeschooling is absolutely doable.  At first glance, homeschooling may seem overwhelming, but as you learn more about the many resources available to you as a homeschooling family, you will find an approach that works best for your learners and lifestyle.  Maybe you will purchase one of the excellent, grade-level curriculum packages available to guide your learning and provide structure and materials.  Maybe you will gravitate more toward "eclectic" homeschooling, relying on packaged or online curriculum for certain subject-areas, and community classes and natural learning for other areas.  Maybe child-led "unschooling" will resonate with you and you will decide to follow your child's lead in determining what and how to learn.  Maybe you will collaborate with other families to form a homeschooling co-op to share homeschooling responsibilities and ideas.  There are many homeschooling structures and approaches to choose from to make homeschooling entirely doable.

2. Homeschooling is immensely rewarding.  Living and learning alongside your children is profoundly gratifying, as you watch their interests develop, their skills flourish, and their talents emerge.

3.  Homeschooling creates community.  One of the first things a prospective homeschooling family should do is become involved with its local homeschooling community, participating in its online message board and attending local park days and other homeschooling community activities.  This process will help families to clarify their homeschooling ambitions and build relationships with other homeschooling families.

4.  Homeschooling strengthens families.  Homeschooling positions family at the center of a child's education, charting a new paradigm for living and learning together as a family unit in an exciting and meaningful way.

5.  Homeschooling maximizes city resources.  Homeschooling enables families to take full advantage of the vast resources of the city on a regular basis, and use these resources daily to create enriching, inspiring, informative learning experiences for children.

6.  Homeschooling individualizes and celebrates learning.  Homeschooling allows families to tailor learning and teaching approaches to each child's specific learning needs and interests, allowing skills to naturally unfold, strengths to naturally emerge, and curiosity to naturally lead the way.

7.  Homeschooling grants time and space.  Homeschooling bestows the gifts of time and space: time and space for children to discover their inborn gifts and true passions; time and space for families to live and learn together in a simpler, more unhurried way; time and space for young learners to grow and develop in their own time, in their own way, with their parents guiding, encouraging, and marveling at it all.

At the beach

When a week-long gift of record-breaking warmth is sent to New England, in March, we embrace it with full gratitude and vigor. Today, as temperatures climbed into the 80s here in Boston, the kids and I hopped onto the subway to a nearby urban beach to soak in this perfect day.

Days like this one, bright, warm, full days when my children can dig, and splash, and build, and wander--especially when the calendar has us shaking our heads--make me truly grateful for the freedom and flexibility of a homeschooling lifestyle.

They also remind me how, in just a few short months, my children have grown. Instead of eating sand, my youngest is now digging in it. Instead of racing off fearlessly into the ocean, my three-year-old first dips in a toe. Instead of building sand castles according to her own rules, my five-year-old considers ways to involve her little brother. Lots of changes since October.

And yet, they are still little, so little. Too little to fully appreciate the gift of a March beach day in New England. Luckily I can.

Choosing a Slower Childhood

I was struck recently by this quote in an article written by Simplicity Parenting author, Kim John Payne: "Ultimately, it comes down to a choice. Parents need to decide whether they believe childhood is a fast-paced enrichment opportunity or a slowly unfolding experience."

We choose the slow and simple. And yet, a slow and simple childhood in today's increasingly fast and complex world is a choice that needs constant vigilance. So many fascinating activities and exciting children's programming here in the city could easily sweep us off our feet and consume the precious time my children have to just be--to imagine and create and grow--slowly and steadily.

On summer-like days here in March, unexpected and entirely welcomed, I am reminded more prominently of the gift of allowing childhood to be a "slowly unfolding experience." Spending nearly all of our daylight hours outside, drinking in the sunshine and warmth, I can almost see childhood unfolding naturally, peacefully. I can see siblings collaborating on important backyard projects. I can hear whispers of fairies and magic and all that's possible. I can watch trees get climbed, feet get muddy, sticks get transformed, dreams get planted.

I observe this quiet unfolding of childhood, just as the crocuses and daffodils quietly unfold around us, and marvel at its simple, uninterrupted beauty. In truth, it's really only been in the last few years that I have truly seen spring unfold: deeply and intentionally noticed the first buds, the first burst of color. It was in these last few years that my children introduced to me a slower, more deliberate pace--a pace necessary to spot each new bud and petal. My children are completely enchanted by spring's new discoveries and force a stiller, steadier, more observant rhythm to appreciate all that emerges around us.

I learn from them. I learn to go slower, to notice more, to appreciate more, and to protect the extraordinary unfolding of childhood.

An Irish Toast

I'm Irish. I love leprechauns, Celtic music, boiled dinners, and Guinness. I also love an excuse to throw a backyard party with our neighbors and a whole gaggle of kids to celebrate friendship, togetherness, community. So that's just what we did tonight, in honor of this most-Irish of holidays.

Like any good St. Patrick's Day party, there was laughing and tale-telling, food and spirits, and a warm acknowledgement that spring is coming and there will be many more moments of backyard merriment with good neighbors and friends as the days grow brighter.

Here is my Irish toast for the evening. Cheers, friends!

An Irish Toast
by Kerry McDonald

May your home be filled with laughter,
Far more than sorrow;
May you live for today,
And not for tomorrow.

May your children know joy,
And little of strife;
May they welcome good friends,
To share a good life.

May your wisdom grow deeper,
Your ignorance shed;
May you find you are leading,
Much more than you're led.

May your days be full,
And your hearts even fuller;
May you find moments of still,
And make space for the stiller.

May you enjoy this journey,
Till the end of your days;
May your spirit be lifted,
While your memory stays.


Acceptance or Rejection?

At the end of my previous post, I asked the question:

Are you accepting something for what it promises, or rejecting something for what it fails at?

I have been fascinated by the responses, both here and on the blog's Facebook page. Some of you indicated that, with respect to homeschooling, you are completely accepting, others passionately rejecting, and others neither accepting nor rejecting.

This leads me to another similarly provocative question related specifically to homeschooling:

How do you think your homeschooling perspectives and approaches might vary if your children were once enrolled in a traditional school compared to if your children were always home-schooled?

If your children were enrolled in traditional school, for example, do you feel more comfortable following an established curriculum to retain the rhythms of a traditional school-day, or do you reject the traditional school rhythms and seek something completely different? I am curious to hear your responses, here and on Facebook.

My children have never attended traditional school and we committed to homeschooling when my oldest was only two-years-old, so my perspectives on life learning and unschooling have blossomed naturally from watching how my children learn. Beginning in toddlerhood, we became active in our local homeschooling community, particularly young homeschooler playgroups, and my kids have developed friendships with other similar-aged homeschoolers that have endured over the past several years. We feel completely free to follow our own learning path, uncovering the children's passions and gifts as we go, and see homeschooling as a natural extension of our family rhythms and child-rearing philosophy.

I wonder how different my perspectives on homeschooling would be if my children had attended traditional school at some point, and, again, how the discourse would change if I were removing my children from traditional school to home-school, whether out of rejection of a broken system or acceptance of a new way of living and learning.


I Am An Unapologetic Homebirther

Over the past week, I have been writing posts signaling that while I think more parents should seriously consider homeschooling, I am sympathetic to the parents who are passionate about traditional schooling and find private or public school to be a good fit for their family. If you ask me, I think the 80/20 rule would work well for education, with 80% of families choosing traditional schooling, and 20% choosing homeschooling, compared to 3% currently. (For comparison, currently about 11% of students in the U.S. attend private or parochial schools.)

Homebirth, on the other hand....

I wonder if it's because I have seen both sides of birth that I am unapologetically pro-homebirth, to the point where I think the 80/20 rule should mean 80% of births are at home and 20% are at hospitals, compared to 99% currently. I experienced first-hand the serious, even life-threatening, complications resulting from big hospital births and unnecessary inductions with my first two babies. I finally realized with my third baby that I HAD to have a natural, non-interventive birth if I wanted to have a safe delivery, and the only way I felt certain of having a completely natural birth was to have one at home.

In my third trimester of my third pregnancy, I went for a tour of the smaller hospital's labor and delivery (L&D) ward, the hospital where I was considering giving birth with a midwife instead of the big hospital with the OB that I had experienced previously. This smaller, regional hospital had a good reputation for valuing natural childbirth, but almost as soon as the L&D tour began, I knew I couldn't have a baby there. The clincher for me was the big, red, digital timer clock on the wall of the delivery room. When I asked the tour guide the purpose of the big timer, she downplayed its importance, saying that it may be used once a laboring woman's water broke or once she started pushing. To me, it was like the overtime stop-clock for a Celtics-Lakers game, measuring my every move against a hospital's policies and expectations. At that moment, I knew I couldn't have a hospital birth. On the ride home from the hospital tour, I called my homebirth midwife to sign on for what would become a defining, life-changing experience.

So this homebirth experience leads me to wonder: would I be more relentlessly, unabashedly pro-homeschooling if I had a poor traditional schooling experience? I am relentlessly, unabashedly pro-homebirthing because I honestly and with full conviction believe that most babies should be born naturally, at home, with trusted midwives. But I have seen the other side. I have seen first-hand--TWICE--the clear and present dangers of hospital births, and I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that for most women birth belongs at home.

But homeschooling? I had a decent K-12 public school experience, though I feel that much of it was a waste of time. I liked school, participated in many rewarding extra-curricular activities, got accepted to top colleges. But still, I want more, better for my children. My reasons for advocating homeschooling and homebirthing are different. Both are ideologic and personal, but with homebirthing, I have witnessed first-hand the other side, the dangers of an OB-orchestrated, institutionalized birth.

The passion I feel for homebirth, then, may be similar to the passion friends of mine feel about homeschooling, friends who have "seen the other side," whose children have been betrayed by a large, traditional government-school system that operates under its own rules of efficiency and self-protection just like hospitals.

So the bottom line is that while I am passionate about both homeschooling and homebirthing, for me, the latter is much more of a rejection of currently accepted practices while the former is an acceptance of a particular family lifestyle and child-rearing approach.

What about you? Are you accepting something for what it promises, or rejecting something for what it fails at?

Choosing the Homeschooling Option

I blogged earlier this week about my interview with a Huffington Post reporter who is researching material about an upcoming series of articles on urban homeschooling. I told the reporter that, for my family, homeschooling is more about accepting this special type of lifestyle and individualized learning approach, rather than militantly rejecting public or private schools.

One understandable criticism that I received from a reader is that this is the "politically correct" response. I suppose it is. Like other homeschoolers, I am passionate about our decision to homeschool. I think that homeschooling is extraordinary and its rewards, for both parents and children, are immeasurable. I am a true believer in the power of homeschooling to transform learning and strengthen families. I think many, many more families should seriously consider the homeschooling option.

But the reality is that there are many parents whose children attend public or private schools who are equally zealous about the benefits of traditional schooling. Who am I to criticize those families' decisions? I try to show how homeschooling works for our family, and hopefully lead others to see that it could work exceptionally well for theirs. I try to accomplish this, not by criticizing and condemning, but by illustrating and encouraging.

When I write, I keep Buckminster Fuller's words top-of-mind: "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." The reality is that most children (97%) in this country attend traditional schools. I don't want to fight that reality. But I do want to show that there is a model of living and learning together as a family that is worth seriously exploring and considering. I don't think the homeschooling model will make traditional schooling obsolete for most families, but I do think as more families see the benefits and joys of learning together, as they see that it is not unreachable or overwhelming, then more families will choose homeschooling.

Like any zealot, I am happy about that. I am happy that more families will decide for themselves to reclaim control of their children's learning and reposition home as the center of a family's life and well-being. I am happy to help (re)build that not-so-new model.

{this moment} Scooting

{this moment} - A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Visit SouleMama for more "moments" and to share your own...

Almost Spring

One of our family's favorite springtime children's books, is the now out-of-print story, "It's Spring," She Said, by Joan W. Blos.  A gem if you can find it in your local library, it reminds us of early spring's teases: beautiful, warm, sundress days that lure us in to thinking winter is finally over only to be tricked with more frosty days ahead. Today was one of those March teases, granting us all of that glimmering sunshine and warmth; just enough for us to know that spring is coming but is not here quite yet.

Still, it's on these special spring-like days, days spent mostly outside surrounded by the natural world, that I am most grateful for the freedom and joy of homeschooling. Enjoying a picnic lunch in the sunshine while the kids explore the softening soil and run in the breeze. Making plans for springtime gardens while planting a few seedlings to get us started. Watching a five-year-old climb a tree to read her books. Spotting a three-year-old overjoyed at once again being allowed to play with brimming watering cans to construct his backyard pond. Admiring a one-year-old eager to master her stair-climbing skills. Chatting with neighbors, enjoying outside meals with loved ones, watching the evening light stretch longer--these are the cherished gifts of hours spent together outside in the sunshine on a beautiful March day.

So although it's early, and there will be more inside days ahead, it won't be long before we are all exclaiming the final line from our beloved springtime book: "Spring had come to the city. Spring had come to stay."

For more lovely springtime books to enjoy as a family, check out the seasonal book recommendations in this spring's issue of Rhythm of the Home magazine.

Putting Homeschooling on the Menu

I was interviewed today by a reporter for the Huffington Post who is writing a series of articles on urban homeschooling and wanted my perspective.  One of the questions she asked me was if my graduate work in education policy influenced my decision to homeschool my kids.  I answered that, although I became interested in alternative education, including homeschooling, while in graduate school, it wasn't until I had my own children that I considered the option more seriously.  Ok, the reporter went on, but did my policy perspectives on current education trends lead me to choose the homeschooling option?

For us, homeschooling is not a rejection of our urban, public schools or of the private schools nearby.  Rather, it is an acceptance of homeschooling as the perfect fit for our family, for our learning, for our lifestyle.  It's kind of like going to a restaurant with three reasonable menu items.  We're not passionately rejecting the other two options; we just decide that one of the three options is most appealing to us for a variety of reasons.

I feel strongly that homeschooling should be on the menu.  It should be one of the three options, along with private and public school, that parents consider when they make education choices for their children.  I hope that this blog, in some very small way, helps families to better understand the homeschooling option (at least from one family's perspective), to help them make an informed, thoughtful decision about which education option fits best for their family, for their learners.

And then savor that choice.

10 Reasons to Homeschool Your Kids

There are many reasons to consider the homeschooling option for your family, but here is my top 10 list:

1. Customize teaching and learning - One of the great advantages of homeschooling is the ability to recognize a child's distinct learning styles and needs and tailor a family's teaching and learning approach accordingly.  The increasing popularity of homeschooling has led to curriculum resources for every type of learner, from a wide variety of purchased, packaged curricula to choose from, to countless online learning sites, to community programming specifically targeting homeschoolers.  For "eclectic" homeschoolers and unschoolers who may choose a more unstructured approach to homeschooling, there are museums, libraries, academic and cultural events, classes, lessons, and a host of other resources to facilitate child-led learning.  Homeschooling allows the flexibility to adapt to a child's specific learning needs and use the full resources of the community and its people to augment learning.

2. Gain time - Homeschooling provides families with the gift of time.  Time together to teach and learn.  Time for children to uncover and pursue their own talents.  Time to explore nature and the world around us.  Time to read.  Time to play.  Time to dream.

3. Cultivate curiosity - With the freedom to learn and explore, a child's natural curiosity flourishes, guiding him to discover, create, imagine.  As facilitators, we parents provide an enriching learning environment for our children and identify resources that may help to spark and satisfy their innate curiosity.

4. Reclaim childhood - Childhood today runs at a dizzying pace, with pressures to grow-up faster and earlier than ever before.  Homeschooling helps to reclaim and retain the innocence and spirit of childhood for a wee bit longer.

5. Focus on family - Homeschooling positions family at the center of a child's life, fostering family togetherness and core values, and creating a safe, nurturing environment in which to learn and grow.

6. Strengthen sibling bonds - Homeschooling brothers and sisters build strong sibling bonds, learning from and with each other, collaborating and trouble-shooting, and creating together each day.

7. Encourage positive social behaviors - Homeschooling allows children to see daily examples of positive social behaviors through close interactions with grown-ups and peers. When conflict arises, adults are able to model effective resolution techniques that help children to develop important interpersonal skills.

8. Learn from the community - Homeschoolers are uniquely positioned to use their community as their classroom, taking full advantage of the varied and plentiful offerings of the community and the many interesting and knowledgeable people who become their daily "teachers."  Homeschooling also allows children to interact and learn with a wildly diverse population of fellow homeschoolers who meet regularly.

9. Simplify schedules - Homeschooling helps families to prioritize how a child's time is spent each week to maximize curiosity and self-directed learning, and minimize stresses and waste.  Homeschooling helps families to slow down, simplify and focus on creating more peaceful, unhurried family rhythms.

10. Enjoy outdoor learning - The efficiency of homeschooling, of individualized learning, creates many opportunities for free play and exploration, much of which occurs outside of one's home, throughout one's community, and through meaningful interactions with the natural world around us.

What are your thoughts on this list?  How does it compare with your own top reasons to homeschool your kids?

That's More Important, I Think

That's More Important, I Think
by Kerry McDonald

The toys are strewn, the carpet is messy,
The dishes mount in the sink;
But my children are playing, and laughing, and jumping,
And that's more important, I think.

My clothes are not ironed, there is chalk on the wall,
The laundry is starting to stink;
But my children are drawing, and skipping, and smiling,
And that's more important, I think.

The beds are not made, the counter needs wiping,
The toddler has just spilled his drink;
But my children are building, and painting, and digging,
And that's more important, I think.

The carrots need chopping, the floor needs a sweep,
The baby has slept not a wink;
But my children are reading, and climbing, and dreaming,
And that's more important, I think.

The vacuum needs running, the bathroom a mop,
But this time will be gone in a blink;
So I sit and I linger alongside my children,
And that's more important, I think.

{this moment} At the playground

{this moment} - A single photo capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Visit SouleMama for more "moments" and to share your own...

Join me today at Rhythm of the Home....

I am honored to again have an article included in my favorite online magazine, Rhythm of the Home.

Please join me today in reading the many warm and inspiring articles in the just-released Spring issue.

In light of my article on "Springtime Puddle-Stomping," I am also participating in Rhythm of the Home's Blog Giveaway and am giving away a $50 L.L. Bean Gift Card (for all that puddle-stomping gear, you know). I am also giving away an ADDITIONAL $50 L.L. Bean Gift Card here on my blog!

So... you have two separate chances to win! Visit the Rhythm of the Home Blog and enter the giveaway AND enter below by "liking" the City Kids Homeschooling Facebook page or Facebook post, leave a comment, share this giveaway and more!

Winners for both giveaways will be announced on March 7th.

Good luck and thanks so much for visiting!

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Join the City Kids Homeschooling Facebook community!