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Entries in homeschooling (48)


Sick days

The warmest room in our house is the southeast facing master bedroom. In the morning the rising sun streams through its windows and wakes us gently with a rosy orange light. Many a morning I lay in bed, basking in that benevolent glow and gathering my thoughts for the day, charging up my reserves of patience and well being. Even later, after the sun follows its daily path to the other side of the house and the light in the room becomes softer and more diffuse, the warmth there remains.

In the summer, when the air in the house is hot and stagnant and the dogs are positioning themselves wherever they can find a cool breeze, we draw our shades and wish for cloudy days and big drops of rain. In the summer we use adjectives like airy and billowing. In the summer we spend as much time as possible outside in the yard or out back on the deck. The winter, of course, is different. In the winter, especially this winter of the bitterly cold polar vortex, we throw our shades open to welcome in all the warmth the sun can muster and go in search of adjectives like cozy and enveloping. In the winter, our favorite place to be is the warmest room in the house and we spend as much time as possible wrapped in the cocoon of the bedroom.

I have been asked many times this year what we, as homeschoolers, do on snow days. It’s a valid question, usually sparked by nothing more sinister than the curiosity of parents who have struggled to entertain kids kept home from school day after day thanks to this winter’s wild weather. My answer is usually a slightly self deprecating “I think we’ve actually ‘gone to school’ more than the contemporary schoolers this year!” We don’t take days off due to snow fall or polar temperatures. On the coldest days, though, we have been known to pack our whole operation off to the warmth of the bedroom where we set up camp on the cozy bed, warming our bodies with sunlight and our minds with contemplation.

This is also where we spend sick days. Even though contagion is not an issue for our little school of two, when runny noses and nagging headaches come calling we remove ourselves again to the bedroom, that satellite classroom of our homsechool campus. There we spend our under-the-weather days reading, coloring, and playing games that keep us from suffering mental stagnation without taxing our diminished ability to focus.

These are our homeschool sick days, and, excepting the headaches and congestion, I'm rather fond of them with their slowed pace and air of indulgence.


Now we're cookin'

When Calvin was not yet two, he acquired a set of play cooking utensils, some wooden velcro food, and a kitchen hutch. These were prized possesions. He cut, he mixed, he cooked and stirred, he served. Tidily tucked into his make-believe world we found ourselves dining on such delicacies as strawberry eggplant shrimp stirfry, or kebobs of beef, onion, tomato, and kiwi. They were the meals of gods.

Somwhere along the way we hit on the idea of positioning his kitchen in view of our own. This set up provided me with the time I needed to produce meals. Even if they were simple and quick fare that nurtured more than they enticed, at least they didn't mix eggplant, strawberries, and shrimp. And it gave me afternoons in which to bake bread. Lovely, sunlit, lazy afternoons when the smell of warm bread filled the house and made it feel wholesome, country, and delicious.

In the past couple of years, though, I've found myself with less time for the kitchen. I'd always heard that as soon as Calvin was older I'd have more time for things like cooking, laundry, vacuuming and dusting, but this advice must have come from non-homeschooling families. Instead, as the kid has gotten older I acutally find that my time just keeps getting more precious, and the dust just keeps on settling.

And then I realized why.

Not long after the Calvin started walking we gave him his first chore—setting the table. He loved it, and the first time we sat down to eat and found our places set with his wooden play silverware, we loved it, too. With time we added more chores. At his current age of 7 (and 3/4 he won't hesitate to add), Calvin is responsible for setting and clearing the table, loading and unloading the dishwasher, collecting the dirty laundry, loading the washer, folding the dry clothes, dusting, feeding the pets, and keeping his room clean.

For some this will seem like a long list, for others I'm sure it falls short, but the truth is...all that help is costly. For me to do any one of those jobs takes just a few minutes. For me to watch the kid do any one of those jobs takes not only three or four times as long, but also shaves minutes off my life as I battle my inner voice of impatience. It's not that he can't do the jobs, it's not that he doesn't do them well, but, and here is the key to teaching any skill, dexterity comes with practice, and practice takes time. 

Thus the amount of free time I have is inversely proportional to the amount of assistance I receive.

This year we have added "help make dinner 3x per week" to Calvin's chore list, and while this is already my favorite job of his, it is also the most trying. I love watching him measure, cut, stir, season, and serve. It recalls for me visions of his toddler self producing stomach turning fare in his wooden kitchen. These are the adorable images I cling to in order to keep myself from interfering to move things along or providing unnecessary and injurious advice.

And even as I watch my free time disappearing in cloud of smoke or a puff of flour, this feels idyllic to me. It is the image I'd always had of homeschooling, this working side by side, creating, learning, enjoying each other.

This week, while making pizza together, he leaned over and repeatedly inhaled the smell of the proving yeast until I warned him against hyperventilation. "But it smells so good," he said. "It smells like the good old days when you used to make all our bread and bagels and english muffins. Let's do that again!" Immediately, images of warm bread with melty pats of butter on lazy, sunlit days flooded my mind. Yes, those were the good old days! Yes, why don't we get back to doing that?

Until I remembered that the reason I gave up baking our family's bread products was all that lost time. It's worth it. It really, really is.


To Bill Nye, who has discounted homeschoolers (and others)

Most homeschoolers with half an eye toward science will have already seen the controversy over Bill Nye’s recent comment on homeschooling. The comment was made by Nye on his Facebook page during a public question and answer session. Asked if he had any plans to, or would consider, “creating a science curriculum for the ever-growing number of secular homeschoolers”, Nye replied:

“Use your judgement. The rest of us out here, want your kids to appreciate society and the importance of working together in school and in life. A person working alone will probably not build the future 797 airplane, for example. It takes people who can work with and around people. Carry on.”

The secular homeschooling community, of course, is offended by Nye’s misinformed, narrow judgement of a homeschooler’s social capabilities, but I think that’s only one ingredient in this falling soufflé of snark. In effect, with his Facebook wall polemic against homeschoolers, Bill Nye not only exposed himself as disrespectful and intolerant (ignoble traits for a scientist), he also insulted average, introverted school aged kids world wide, and I'd like to respond to that.


Dear Mr. Nye,

“Use your judgement” you say.
Before I judge, I’d like to see the data gathered showing that previously homeschooled adults underperform in the work place, particularly in research and development. To my knowledge that data has not been compiled, but data that has been shows homeschool students outperforming public and private school students in colleges and universities across the United States. Sure, that’s still an academic environment, but that’s where our researchers and developers get their start (see usnews, the hslda, and huffpost for more information).

When you reference “The rest of us out here”…
the rest of who, out where? Scientists (and everyone else) should beware the blanket statement; it makes them seem unsure of themselves, like they are seeking safety in numbers—imaginary, unnamed numbers. Two wrongs do not make a right, and a mob of misinformed people does not make a biased and unsupported statement any more or less true.

You say you want kids “working together in school and in life”,

but homeschooling isn’t synonymous with schooling in isolation. For some I’m sure it is, but many homeschoolers find meaningful ways to work and learn together through group classes, sports, theater, and music programs outside of the school system.

You're right, “A person working alone will probably not build the future 797 airplane”,
but that’s true in part because a future 797 airplane will be a collection of inventions made by people with very different skill sets. And yes, many people will be working together on such a large project (some of whom may have been homeschooled), but science isn’t only about building large scale new products. Science is also about researching, writing, observing, and deep contemplation. Plenty of discoveries are made by one lone person working late at night in a research lab. Of course this doesn’t mean they don’t consult peers, or collaborate across time and distance through journals, letters, studies, and abstracts. Working alone is not synonymous with working in isolation.

Yes, “It takes people who can work with and around people",
but again, there is no evidence that homeschoolers on average don’t work well with others. Additionally, there is no guarantee that school kids do. In fact, the recent rise in bullying incidents is pretty good evidence that there are plenty of children in schools everywhere who do not work or play well with others.

But the biggest problem here, Mr. Nye,
is the part where you imply that it’s not worth designing a curriculum for kids who won’t be designing the next biggest airplane. What you're essentially saying is that it’s not worth teaching kids who won’t become the next giants in the world of research and development. But "future great inventors" is a very small category of kids, and the kids who don't fit into it will be our future teachers, farmers, or congressmen instead, and more still will be future parents. All of these futures can benefit from a strong basic science education.

All of these futures are worth a good science curriculum.


Spring, obscure tv shows, and how to make a universe

Obviously I have had little to say for the past few weeks. Either that or we've been doing little to talk about, or maybe I've been taking fewer pictures. Part of the impromptu hiatus was due to a sudden influx in book review assignments. Having to spend my evenings reading? You got it. But at least some of those evenings were spent giving in to an obsession with a few obscure TV shows (both Psych and Mad Men returned a couple of weeks ago, plus we've discovered the prowess of BBC shows, mainly Sherlock and Dr. Who). Watching TV until the wee hours of the morning? Not our finest moments, but it's been fun nonetheless.

In the time that I've been basically gone, though, it's amazing how very little has happened. In fact, that's been the real story of the past month: more of the same all over again. Since the last three years have gifted us with warm, early springs, the lethargy of this year's season has been somewhat of a shock and disappointment. Looking back at pictures from this time last year we were in shorts and tees, while this year I was still running in long pants and a fleece until just this week.

Additionally, not much has happened on the home front, and right now I think that's really a good thing. Winter is busy, summer is busy, but spring and fall almost demand a dragging of feet from me. Forget the whole spring cleaning thing, there's plenty of time for that during the long winter months when we're cooped up inside. Spring is for daydreaming, for watching the birds return, for lazy afternoons with a good book. And apparently for late nights with obscure television shows, but that's an anomaly, I think.

For Calvin, on the other hand, spring is about being outside in as few clothes as is bearable, and for as long as possible, no matter the temperature. Or at least that's what it's been about since the first day that even suggested warmth, especially if chalk was involved. Thanks to the frequent night rains, the driveway has been much like an etch-a-sketch. It has accommodated a map of Africa, a slideshowesque how-to on creating a universe (don't forget the black holes), and a map of a unique solar system and planet from said other universe. Which obviates the current household interest: astrophysics. It's like an obsession for the kid right now. If it has anything to do with black holes, antimatter, subatomic particles, or the elements, he's all over it. In fact, he's planned out a rather elaborate project for the 4H fair in July. Which means that things are promising to be a little more engaging around here soon enough, since a few weeks of lethargy are about all we can stand.


Confessions of a less-than-perfect homeschooling mother 2/11

Today was a great day. Today we all got up a little earlier than usual, and by 9am Calvin had already practiced the piano and the breakfast dishes were all cleaned up. Today we finished work in spelling, math, grammar, and history all before 11am, then made Valentines and read books. Today was a gymnastics day, and after that we sorted books at the library, and after that we went to a Valentines exchange party that turned into a play-as-many-varietals-of-tag-as-possible party. Today we finished all of our chores before Jon got home, and all the learning items on our checklist. Today was an awesome day.

But...I forgot to make dinner.