Category Archives: Homeschooling

(Un)Frozen

If you are on social media at all, you know that the upper midwest is pretty much frozen solid. So, too, is my blogging. Not my writing, thank goodness. A lot of writing has been happening. But I miss blogging.

What finally convicted me (a nice, fancy, moralistic way of saying I checked myself) was a great post by about returning to my roots as a homeschooler. I just spent about 45 minutes trying to find it, so I can’t give proper credit, though I am sure it was either Bravewriter or Project Based Homeschooling.

When I think back on my happiest times as a homeschooler, they are intertwined with blogging. That’s in part because back in the aughts blogging was new and fun and felt a lot looser and a lot less contrived than it does now. It was fun to meet a lot of new people online, many of whom I still connect with via Facebook. It was exciting to be part of new things — homeschooling, social media, even parenting was relatively new then, for me.

But I don’t think that’s all of it. I think blogging helped me bring a level of intention to homeschooling — and to all the good personal and family stuff that sometimes goes along with homeschooling — that made it more immediately meaningful and rewarding.

I hope the blog will be a bit of a daybook, a chance to share more about homeschooling a high schooler, and (she said modestly) a place to pass on some of what we have learned as we head into our 9th year of homeschooling.

And because life is a little different now than it was 8 years ago, I hope it will be a place to talk more about reading and the writing life, and a place where what’s little and hidden, what’s imaginary, what’s pointless or beneath notice in “the real world” will be valued nonetheless.

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Filed under Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, writing life

Not Too Busy

One of my favorite life mentors, someone I worked with at my first church, told me years ago that she had struck the word “busy” from her vocabulary. She told me, too many people – many of them moms – seemed to be in a misguided competition in which a state of near collapse was a sign of winning.

She was going to abstain, helping to make a space where other women could be OK without proving their worth by the lack of unclaimed territory on the calendar. You can see why I would think of her as a mentor.

What she said really struck me, because I was, at the time, always busy. Always telling people I was busy, tired, “crazy,” and often too busy for whatever fun activity they were proposing. I’d never met a volunteer position I couldn’t fill or a freelance client I couldn’t add to the roster.

I tried to take what she said to heart. I really did. But instead I pretty much rode the roller coaster of energy bursts, depression, burn out, guilt, hyperproductivity, resentment, and “yes, sure, I’ll do it.” The only difference was I tried not to talk about it. This did not help.

Sadly that mentor floated out of my life. She took a new job, I moved and went to a new parish, and life closed over that particular connection. But her words come back to me from time to time. Times when I’m saying “no” to everything that matters to me and “yes” to stuff that no longer fits.

It’s not even that the “yes” stuff is bad. Sometimes I’m slow to let go because for a while it was a source of joy or satisfaction. Sometimes it’s because I feel like I must, because it’s expected, whether by people who will be disappointed in me, or by myself, me with the impossibly high standards for what is enough. It turns out, for some of us, enough is never enough.

But it hasn’t been for nothing. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, and I’m getting better at pruning to make new and healthy growth possible. My best one, I think, is overschedule the good stuff.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and if you came and looked at my living room you’d know that I do too. Creating space in the calendar is wonderful, but let’s be realistic. If it were so easy for you—you, meaning you who are like me—to keep that space open you wouldn’t be pondering the tyranny of busyness again and again.

Find some new “yeses” to hold that space open. Make them easy, and involve other people, who will hold you to it even if they don’t know they are part of your secret plot to be less crazy. Dessert, wine, coffee, a walk, a tea party, a Wii party. Making apple pie with your kids.

Say you’ll go to a movie even if there’s no time to go. Go for a walk in the woods before you get your work done. You’re hyperresponsible: there’s no way you’re going to miss that deadline, but there’s a good chance you’ll miss a lot of other stuff.

I found my old mentor on Facebook today and refriended her. I don’t know if we’ll reconnect, and it’s OK if we don’t. But if we do, I won’t make lame excuses about being busy.

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Filed under grown up life, Homeschooling, writing life

More Mapping Books, Plus Cookies

And we’re back. To schoolishness. I like to bring things back into a little order in the fall, though every fall it seems like we are a little too far gone to really achieve anything like order.Besides, when September hit there was a barrage of need-tos: new glasses, yearly check-ups, chimney repair, gov’t homeschool paperwork, allergy doctors, etc. Regular schedule? Ha!

In any case, the geography activities from Mapping the World With Art seem to be a hit so far. Violet — now 14! — is really happy that we are doing something all together again, the readings are interesting, the map-drawing instructions are clear, and Victoria (10) is happy with activities that include baking faux clay tablet maps that are really chocolate cookies.

Untitled

Funny thing about the cookies: initially we all thought they tasted kinda blah, but by 9:30 pm they became pretty tasty. I do not think it was the cookies that changed.

Oh, and we usually watch a John Green Crash Course along with the lesson. Violet loves them because John Green is an Internet hero, and Victoria enjoys them, not least because they are probably age-inappropriate for her. Oh well. They race along at breakneck speed, so I’m not sure what they’ll remember other than John Green, but with any luck it reinforces things they already knew.

I’ve also been piling up books to strew around the house to add to our geography reading. Mapping the World really hits on a lot of fascinating topics but the readings are — happily — short. I got these to allow for following up on anything interesting:

Charting the World: Geography and Maps from Cave Paintings to GPS with 21 Activities. Richard Panchyk.

This is a book from Chicago Review Press, which I find to be a fairly reliable source for worthwhile materials. Not all of the activities are going to be worthwhile for every audience, but often the text is strong enough that kids in a variety of ages and interest levels can take something away.

The Kingfisher Atlas of Exploration and Empires. Simon Adams

What you would expect from Kingfisher visually. It’s really focused on the Renaissance era of New World exploration.

The Picture History of Great Explorers. Gillian Clements.

Honestly, not a great book, and a little young. What it’s lacking in text and great illustrations is somewhat counterbalanced by the very broad definition of explorers. If you are looking for women who were explorers, you can find them in here.

The World Made New: Why the Age of Exploration Happened and How it Changed the World. Marc Aronson.

Amazon lists this as ages 10 and up, but as with many good books written for children, as an introduction to the topic it works for older readers and adults too. Nicely done, though focused on the American history angle.

The Starry Messenger: A Book Depicting the Life of a Famous Scientist, Mathematician, Astronomer, Philosopher, Physicist, Galileo Galilei. Peter Sís.

OK, this is not really about mapping, per say, but you know, people navigate by the stars. I am not familiar with Peter Sís (though a quick scan on Amazon suggests that we should look for more), but I just could not resist a beautiful picture book suitable for older children. (They are out there, but it takes a discerning reader, librarian, or bookseller to help you find them.) It is not a biography of Galileo, in the tradition of the wonderful Diane Stanley books, but it is a gorgeous visual representation of the way the world looked to Europeans during the Renaissance. This is really an all-ages book.

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June heats up

Our schedule was really getting smooth and predictable there for a few days. Then summer started happening for real. Visitors from out of town — two sets at once! — summer camp, a trip to the Davidson Young Scholar summit (we’re an out Davidson family, so ask us anything), a 48+ hour power outage, crushing heat and humidity, a writing class at the Loft, and summer colds. All this in the last 2 weeks.

Where was that math book again?

I haven’t quite figured out how to adjust, knowing that July and August probably won’t be that much different. Once Violet bounces back a little more we’ll work it out. In the meantime we’ve been taking advantage of Victoria being away to watch some classic PG-13 movies, including Spinal Tap (which was rated R! who knew?) and Dumb and Dumber.

I still harbor a hope that my unsocialized girls will be the next Farrelly brothers.

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Teen Reading List for Spring

I had been worrying throughout the fall that my 13yo wasn’t reading enough. She was doing a lot of rereading old books, leafing through comics, and checking tumblr, but not poring over new novels like years past.

This semester will be different thanks to her co-op activities. A few teens have organized their own weekly book club, and these are their choices:

Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
Maze Runner, James Dashner
Chosen, Ted Dekker
The Card Turner, Louis Sachar
The Mortal Instruments, Cassandra Clare
Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
The Golden Compass, Phillip Pullman
The Last Dragonslayer, Jasper Fforde
The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak

What a great list, right? All the books were proposed by the kids – they have excellent taste. So far they have organized their discussions themselves: the first meeting they mapped Maze Runner and for the second one of the kids made a Jeopardy-style game about the book.

For the class I am teaching – and it is kind of interesting having your own kid sitting next to you in class, alternately being a teen among teens and being your kid – the reading list is crazy, but awesome:

Jonathan Swift, “The Ladies Dressing Room” and “A Modest Proposal”; Alexander Pope, “The Rape of the Lock”; P. G. Wodehouse, Code of the Woosters; Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest; Flannery O’ Connor, “A Good Man is Hard to Find”; Chaucer, “The Miller’s Tale”; Kurt Vonnegut, Sirens of Titan; and short works Joseph Addison, Dorothy Parker, Italo Calvino, Woody Allen, Mark Twain, David Sedaris, Edward Gorey, and Garrison Keillor.

I am feeling torn about “The Miller’s Tale.” I did promise flatulence in the class description, but I didn’t count on how hard it would be for a few of the kids to talk about body stuff in front of each other. Looking for substitutes, I Googled “great farts in literary history.” Do not do this unless you have a strong stomach.

On reflection this seems a little light in mood/substance compared to previous reading lists, but after a fall of dystopian literature, that’s probably a good balance.

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World Nutella Day, and some projects

Oh my gosh, has it really been more than 2 weeks since my last post? Too many things happening.

Want proof?

Since last posting about Project Based Homeschooling I took some time to make some space for creative activity around the house. I confess, I did not do as much as I’d hoped. I moved some furniture around in the breakfast nook to make the shelves more accessible, and I labeled all the cups holding the pens and pencils and sorted them by type.

These are two of my favorite projects that have appeared since then:

Project Based Learning 2

I came into the kitchen to find Victoria, my youngest, painstakingly painting old seashells with paints she found in the shelves somewhere. To be honest, I don’t know how she found either of them or what made her think of putting the two together, but there it is.

Project Based Learning 2

This is Violet, my older, preparing to sew. She loves the webcomic Homestuck, because she is 1) an aspiring comic artist and 2) a teen. She found the hat-making tutorial, made a list of what she needed, and then dove in. She even made the horns (see below) twice, because she didn’t like the first set. And she did it cheerfully. And all I did was drive to the fabric store because I still don’t really know how to run the sewing machine. I’d venture to say this is the first time she’s used the sewing machine in 2 years, and that was for a pillowcase.

Project Based Learning 2

Every time I say to myself “why is she unmotivated?” I need to look at this picture. (And every time the kids give me crap about taking their pictures, I’m going to say that Lori Pickert said I should — though they won’t believe it because I’ve always taken too many pictures.)

Project Based Learning 2

I’ve also cleared the decks to do Journey North with Victoria, which we’ve never done before. I’m being sensible and letting someone experienced show me the way, following along with Melissa Wiley. This is the kind of project-y stuff that always screams “homeschooling” to me — working together, combining disciplines, posting up cool graphs on the fridge. I have no real educational aim in doing it except increasing my joy in homeschooling by participating rather than directing.

Project Based Learning 2

With joy as our goal, how could we resist World Nutella Day, which is apparently a real thing. (There is Nutella inside those whipped-cream covered crepes.) Appropriately, a friend sent me a message today with this quotation attached:

Life is meant to be a celebration! It shouldn’t be necessary to set aside special times to remind us of this fact. Wise is the person who finds a reason to make every day a special one.

So we make crepes, or hats, or painted shells, and I try to get comfortable with nudging that towards the center of our day instead making it stay on the margins. I’m still adjusting, leaving more of my own work until late at night now, which means it doesn’t get done or it gets done very slowly. Still, I make myself sleep in and whenever possible try not to push us very quickly in there mornings. There are only so many days to take fuzzy good-morning pictures like this:

Project Based Learning 2

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Filed under art, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, raising girls, Unschoolish

I’m Reading a Book!

When I was pregnant with my first baby, I read tons and tons of books about childbirth, child rearing, child development. Like many young women, I knew I was ready when I was sick of all the expert advice and couldn’t stand to read any more.

Something similar happened with homeschooling. I read books and discussed curriculum and scoured the internet, and then — I didn’t. I just did it the way I wanted to do it, and the umpteenth time someone wanted to talk about math curriculum I would try very very hard not to slide under the table.

But there has been a buzz around a new book, so I did something I haven’t done in a long time: I got a new book about homeschooling.

It’s Project-Based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert, formerly of the Camp Creek Blog, and now blogging at Project-Based Homeschooling. I’ve read most of it but am looking forward to going through it a bit more slowly and also talking it over with friends.

My one disappointment with the book thus far is that it is mostly oriented towards younger children. She does speak about adapting ideas to older children and teens, however, and I will be spending some time thinking about how to do just that.

Regardless, I like the book for the same reason I assume people often like certain books: it says things I already think, but in much better ways, in more affirming ways — in this case in gentler ways — and it brings that vision of what I wish I were doing that much closer to reality.

Here are a few tidbits from the introduction that made me so happy I bought my first homeschooling book in years:

Surprisingly often, people will champion self-directed learning for children but not allow those children’s parents the same freedom and respect. . . . Your kids should learn at their own pace, follow their interests, and you should trust that they’ll eventually learn everything they need to know. You, on the other hand, should get with the program, right now, 100%, or else.

So true! How easy it is for any of us to slip from advocate to browbeating zealot. I loved this more solicitous approach, inviting you to give some of these ideas a try from a sense of generosity and helpfulness. So much easier to listen to than hearing that your children are in danger of failing academically or having their tender creative souls squashed like helpless bugs unless you shape up.

And then, this:

The freedom that we have to create a life that works for us, our children, and our families is priceless. We should never trade it in for a handful of magic beans — a purist approach that comes with a set of pregummed labels, a rule book an inch thick, and threat of eviction from the tribe if you deviate from the center of the path. As you explore new ideas — in this book and elsewhere — about how children learn and how we can help them learn, I hope you keep a firm grip on your own opinions and values. You can build a life customized to your beliefs and prioritizes. Don’t settle for off-the-rack.

So true again! It can be disillusioning that the most countercultural groups can demand the most conformity, and anything “alternative” is co-opted so quickly as a product sold back to you: everything you need for a brave new lifestyle, all in this convenient package.

I’ve written before that homeschooling our kids made us aware, as adults, of how wide-open our choices really are. That doesn’t mean radical change is always in order: one happy result of our sense of freedom was realizing that we love living right where we do. And if I’m being honest, sometimes I would choose the feeling of “doing it the right way” over waiting to see where an uncharted course takes us.

What I like about Project-Based Homeschooling is that it is more like a companion on the journey than a map. Lori Pickert writes in a way that accomplishes just what she’s advocating: she’s a resource, an encourager, a hands-off mentor, never forgetting that the project of being a homeschooling parent belongs to you.

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