Wednesday, August 28, 2013

It's a Pioneer's Life

Alexander is a history buff, just like his mama. 

When at the library, he skips the picture books and chapter books and goes straight to the non fiction shelves in search of the perfect next book about a time far away from our reality.

It is the one things we totally bond over. 

He and bond over many of his interests.  He can talk to me endlessly about his Legos, or pirate drawings, or obstacle courses he's created in my livingroom, or plans for his club house. And I enjoy those moments.

But over history, we BOND. We bond on the level that he bonds with Peter when they get creating something with wood and nails or starting a fire or tinkering with the car.  It is a pure interest that we both share that provides endless hours of discussion with out any of it being forced or false. 

A few days back my mom helped me with the kids for the day so I could dig my house out of the homeschool planning mess of the century, without the kids "helping".  She took them outside and they played happily in the front yard while I cleaned inside.

After about three hours, my mom called up the stairs asking me to come down to see something.  This is what she wanted me to see...

My little man had spent the entire morning "fishing" (represented by the bark on the plank), then seasoning and smoking the fish on the plank across the green bins.

Beside the "hearth" hang the spices he is drying.  On the ledge, the spices he has collected from the "field" and is preparing for use as a seasoning on the fish. 

He even found a long curved stick with a Y at the end that he used to stoke the fire between the green bins and "breathe air in to it" by pretending the stick was a bellows. 

What gets me is up until now he has been really interested in the farming practices and building methods of pioneers, and that has been the focus of all our long talks about pioneers.  Even when we go to check out Pioneer Village, he checks out the fields and flowers and the structure of the houses. 

He picked all this up incidentally during our visits to villages and picture books from the library. Mom was totally floored by the preciseness and detail he put in to every move, making sure it was as authentic as he could make it.  He even, at one point, requested suspenders for Christmas, because "pioneer pants don't have 'lastic and can't stay up on their own.".  What the...

He's my little man.  A history buff in the making :)

Oh, and the fish he was smoking?  They are now salted (with chalk of course) and hanging by their tails ready for the long cold winter ahead. 

Just in time for us to start reading the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

I wonder what he will come up with next.



Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Six Things I Learned This Summer

We start our third year of homeschooling in a few days.  While we did some educational activities during the summer months to keep our minds fresh (reading words in the latest LEGO catalog counts, right?), we mostly took this summer off.  

At the end of the "school year", I felt that something wasn't working.  Something felt wrong with how I was teaching and how my kids were learning.  To look at it, everything looked great.  Alexander was thriving and Anna was enthusiastically learning anything she could from Alexander's lessons.

The kids were doing great.

But still, I had this unsettled feeling that something needed to change.

It wasn't until after a few weeks of relaxation and leisurely afternoons in the garden ,and a step away from doing any school-like work, I realized that the pacing of our lives, our daily rhythm, was off. 

In all honesty, we didn't really have one.

We were very busy this year, with group trips, group classes, gymnastics, play dates, park dates, you name it, we did it.  At the beginning of each season, I would swear up and down we weren't going to do as much, but then so many opportunities came up that our calendar got just as full as the last. 

On the education front, I had the same feeling.  I had so many resources and book marked web pages bogging down my brain, a million projects on the go, a zillion things I wanted to do, and even though Alexander was doing really well, I really felt like walking in to another year of it was going to wear me down.  

So I thought. And sat.  And drew charts and check lists and wrote and sat and thought, and by the beginning of August I had a plan. 

I needed to scale down the school year, make things more simple, and really focus on what I wanted to accomplish.

In the process I learned these six things:

1. I'm picky, and I'm okay with that

There will never be any educational resource,  curriculum, or theory that will ever be perfect for me and my family.  To this point, I've been putting together a hodge podge of resource books and self created curriculum, and while it has worked really well for Alexander, I know I can't keep doing it like this forever.   Well, I can. I just don't want to.
 So after belly-aching for weeks about the fact that I wish I had the time to create the perfect curriculum, I did it. Yep, crazy old me sat down and created my own curriculum.  I don't care how long it takes us to do it. I didn't create a schedule, just a general plan and method. But the relief I feel going in to the next year shows me that it needed to be done.   A picky person like myself will never be happy with anything other than what works for my family. Period. 

2. I don't fit in to a box, and I'm okay with that. 

 Along the lines of lesson number one, I have perused and flipped through countless complete curriculum kits.  Everything from classical to Montessori, Waldorf to Earth School.  Because REALLY, why reinvent the wheel when someone out there has already done it for me???  

Well, apparently not. 

My problem with curriculum sets is this: they are either too heavily based in a particular faith or spirituality, or are way too ridged and school like (or with the case of classical, way more work than typical school and who the heck wants to sign up for that). I really only ever fall in love with 1/16th of it and the rest I can do without, thank you very much. 

And, as I've said before on this blog, I love the idea of unschooling/child led learning/learning from life experiences learning.  But I'm way too anal for that amount of freedom.  And quite frankly, so is Alexander, ha ha. 

3. I don't like to be told what to do, and I'm okay with that.  

This was possibly the most life changing (well, homeschool changing) realization ever.  

Shocking, I know.  

Anyone who knows me is currently laughing at the obvious. After all, you don't become a homeschooling family by doing what other people tell you to do.  I've never really been one to go with the grain just because that is how it's done, so I don't know why this came as such a surprise to me. 

But, apparently, when you tell me the who, what, when, where, why and how of teaching my kids, I'm all, "YOU CAN'T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!".  

In summary, I love the concepts behind all different theories of education, just not the actual content and method of delivery.

4. I CAN do it, it doesn't have to be perfect, and two steps backwards isn't going to hurt anyone.  

What I eventually ended up doing is taking all the bits of everything I love about different educational theories and pedagogies, and creating something that works for our family.  It is a work in progress, but isn't everything?  

What I created is full of nature, singing, stories, books, drawing, painting and a whole host of other things the kids love to do. It will grow with us, it will change, it will become what it has to become to be effective for us as a family. 

But most importantly, no more trees will die because of my photocopying. 

5. I need to say NO to activities more often than yes, and that includes planning activities for groups.

I'm already having difficulties with this one, seeing as I'm in the midst of planning a few things already.  This one is going to be harder for me than anything else.  

6. I need to create a rhythm and stick to it.  

I knew this already, but ignored the fact. 

My main goal for this year is to become more in tune with each other as a family. We seem to have drifted apart this summer, our unit is not as tight at it was before. My kids thrive on routine and while we have had a great summer, I can see that all the freedom and constant change in schedule has really worn on them. We haven't been spending enough time just BEING with each other. 

I know it sounds crazy, but my kids are actually asking to do school work and settle in to a routine again, and I know it is because they miss the closeness of my attention during those times in the day.  That tells me that I haven't been giving enough of myself to my kids, and their unrest and attitude towards me shows it. 

I'm actually looking forward to starting the school year now.  That feeling of dread and oppression has lifted and been replaced with excitement and anticipation. 

The kids are getting excited too because they see things changing already.  They see I'm much more engaged, much more here, than I was before. 

And really, that was the biggest lesson I learned of all ( I guess I need to change the title of the blog to seven...). 

7. The more I give my kids, the more they give back. 

When I'm engaged with my children for periods of time during the day, they spend the other times of the day engaged in their own tasks, and I don't always feel like I'm drowning in their constant need for attention.  It isn't about quantity, it is all about quality.

They got my attention, their needs are fulfilled, and now they are allowing me to attend to my needs. 

Sounds like a plan to me.