Tag Archives: homeschooling

Brussels Sprouts Surprise; or, Not the End of Homeschooling

My 15yo (16 in two weeks!) passes through the kitchen while I am trimming Brussels sprouts—chopping off browning ends, halving them to roast.

“What are we having for dinner?” she asks, grabbing a glass for water, the better to wash down all that Easter chocolate.

“Kung Pao Brussels sprouts,” I say. “Oooh,” she responds. We’ve had them before, and everyone liked them, even though I couldn’t find the peanuts I had Just Bought for the recipe. (I saw them several days later at the bottom of a crisper drawer. Huh?) Everyone also agreed: add tofu next time. So I am.

As I keep slicing, I recall that when I was 15 I would have said “Ooooh” very differently – more of an “Ew!” – when offered Brussels sprouts. Though my kids annoy me sometimes when they get “full” of vegetables and then pile on the bagels and candy, I can’t deny that they are much more flexible, adventurous eaters than I was as a kid. I would not have been suggesting that we eat Brussels sprouts again soon, but next time with tofu. When I was 15 I would never have foreseen cooking Kung Pao Brussels sprouts with tofu for my own pleasure, let alone for the pleasure of children related to me.

In the last 15 (16!) years a lot of unexpected things have happened, after this weekend I’m ruminating on two of the big ones. I attended the Easter vigil last Saturday, the first one since my own baptism in 2002 (the vigil is not a child-friendly event IMHO). For all kinds of reasons, I’m still surprised to wake up and find myself Catholic, which was not a destination I had ever considered until I wound up there.

As for the other thing: On Good Friday, we went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for a family outing, to see the incredible Habsburg exhibit currently visiting. I was in Vienna just over two years ago, touring the museum from which most of the exhibition’s pieces were taken, and to connect with that again was to wonder anew at the opportunities have fallen totally unmerited into my lap.

But that’s not the other thing. We came home from the museum, my 11yo begging me to take her to Vienna ASAP, and gathered the mail. There we found my 15yo’s acceptance letter to our state arts high school: a two-year program designed to let artistically driven, academically strong students develop their skills in an arts area they are truly passionate about. I was thinking of it as a good test drive for a full-on 4-year arts school.

This was not unexpected. Admission is little competitive: about 60% get in, which seemed safe. Still, it was confirmation that she’d be enrolling full-time in a brick and mortar school in the fall, marking the end of an era that—possibly more than being a Catholic Christian—remains one of my most unlikely detours.

Obviously, that’s homeschooling. The 11yo is already attending a very loosey goosey brick and mortar charter school, and the 15yo is taking half her classes at a community college, so I’ve had a year to ease into the not-a-homeschooling-parent lifestyle. I won’t lie to you: the quiet is nice. And so very very sorely missed.

Homeschooling: the first month

Homeschooling: the first month

Still, homeschooling has so far been the most wild and wonderful adventure I could have taken while staying on the sofa in my pajamas. As I reach the end of this phase, there are so many things I could (and probably will!) say about the transformations and lessons of the past decade, but right now I am just drinking in the last days of this time of life. Sitting with my daughter today watching a video about famous Renaissance thinkers and artists—while the Brussels sprouts roasted in the oven—I could not have been happier. When the lecturer mentioned Petrarch – “pause it!” – Leonardo DaVinci – “pause it!” – or Savonarola – “pause it!” – I was so excited to take the conversation further with her. And she indulges me, because I get pretty passionate myself sometimes, and we all deserve a chance to indulge our passions.

So my time as a homeschooling parent is coming to an end—at least, that’s the plan. But my time as a homeschooler is not. I have a few helps-for-homeschoolers I hope I’ll finally have time to type up and make available: homemade curricula, dos and don’ts, admonitions and encouragements.

Homeschooling -- the end times?

Homeschooling — the end times?

Truly, that Brussels-sprouts-shunning 15-year-old me would be astonished by all of this: the vegetables, the church, the kids, the travel, the homeschooling. The Internet, for Pete’s sake.

And speaking of the Internet: I’m also going to start teaching at Online G3, which was about the biggest homeschooling help we ever found. Jaime Smith introduced me to the idea that homeschoolers are disruptive consumers, and over my years learning about education I believe that is true. Families taking part in innovative or experimental types of education are a small, grassroots market now, but the ideas and tools they generate will have the potential to improve education for everyone. I’m excited to be a part of that, and to find out what surprising turns we all might take in the next 15 years.

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Filed under gifted education, grown up life, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, Twin Cities, 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.

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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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Filed under Books, education, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school

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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Filed under Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, Movies

Not-Back-to-School, Year 7; or, 7 Things We’re Getting Right

After five years of homeschooling, on my old homeschooling blog Red Sea School, I had to admit that I had made mistakes. You know those mistakes that veteran homeschoolers tell you about but you brush them off because, whatever, you’ll figure it out? Yeah, we made them. We made them good.

I made a list, one for newbies to ignore and wizened old experts to laugh at. (Of course laughing openly means you have to own being wizened and old, so laugh at your own peril.) It’s actually a pretty good list — check it out.

I meant to get around to listing 5 good things too, but life happened. As we kick off a seventh year of not going back to school in the fall, though, it seems like a good time to list 7 things I think we’ve done OK with, in no particular order.

1. Staying Close
When we started homeschooling, people who asked why we did it were in for an earful. Luckily someone in our first year modeled for us the brilliantly simple answer, “Because we like it.” And we do. We like being together, especially if being together means bumping into each other between reading books, listening to music, taking an online class, or playing at the park.

I realize now that in another five years Violet will likely be off to college — maybe even sooner. Before that she could be spending a year abroad. Yes, time with your babies is precious. Time with teens may make you question your decision to ever become a parent, but it is equally amazing and irreplaceable. Yes, you can spend time with teens without homeschooling, but doing it this way is still pretty damn cool.

2. Staying Loose
You just don’t know how the day is going to go until you get there. You don’t know if the math curriculum you bought is going to be terrible, or the schedule unworkable, or the book irresistible. I do like making a plan, but I like it because I feel it frees me up. When I see all the little blocks of activity that need to be accomplished, all mapped out, its so much easier for me to move them around in my head or even delete them when needed.

Just this morning I got up early to shepherd the girls through a more structured day of “doing school stuff.” When I came down the stairs ready to start, an eerie sound greeted me, and we spent the next half hour doing this instead:

3. Staying Young
Not me, sadly. But my kids. When my homeschooled niece, now a PhD student, was about the age of Victoria, I remember thinking that she was oddly mature and immature at the same time. Except by immature what I really meant was unsophisticated, in a good way.

As Violet begins the teen years, it makes me happy to see that she’s as good at making up pretend games and playing them as she ever was. Of course sometimes she is too cool for school, and of course she rolls her eyes at my pathetic ignorance about popular culture now and then. But by and large she finds most of pop culture “gross,” she is genuinely puzzled by the clothes sold to her age group, and she has little interest in a “boyfriend,” something kids start in 4th-5th grade around here.

No doubt this puts us in danger of wearing the socially stunted homeschooler label, but as I look at young adults like my niece and nephew, now grown up, witty, and surrounded with friends, I don’t worry.

4.Sticking Our Necks Out
Just making the choice to homeschool sometimes feels like you’ve started waving a big red flag at the Running of the Bulls. Suddenly, everyone has an opinion, and it’s hard to know just how much to share about your own views without alienating people you care about, let alone nosy strangers. Too often people think your enthusiasm for what you’re learning or doing is somehow an implicit critique. We started homeschooling after realizing that our older daughter would need to skip several grades to make traditional school palatable, or even tolerable, for her and that was something she didn’t want to do.

We needed the support of others in the same situation, but there was no way of finding those people if we stayed in our comfort zone. We don’t have to answer nearly as many questions these days, and I’ve learned when to stick to my knitting, but I’ve also tried not to be too shy about our interest homeschooling specifically as an option for profoundly gifted kids. It’s helped me meet a lot of great people and find very cool opportunities, and it’s given me the satisfaction of helping other parents and kids many times over.

5. Sticking With It
“Yes, we’re still homeschooling” is the e-mail user name of someone on a local homeschool list. There are days when I hear that question — “Still homeschooling?” — like someone else might hear, “still married?” Why wouldn’t we be? And there are days when I want to set my children on the curb for the next passing yellow bus. Sticking with it is hard. But it’s the only way to get it done. And though I have blown it and threatened the end of homeschooling a time or two, by and large I think our six-year-and-still-going commitment has made the girls feel more confident about being homeschoolers, too.

6. Playing Hooky
We are really, really good at this. I am a master of “just 15 more minutes” when there’s a juicy conversation happening at the park, assuming “master” means able to stretch 15 minutes into another 60. I love a good play at the Children’s Theatre, or a week’s vacation in the early fall, or a midday concert, or a stay-in-your-pajamas-and-make-cookies day. Homeschooling can be intense, in the way that everything in our house can be intense. Some days you need to show that schedule, and yourself, who’s really in charge.

7. Taking It One Day at a Time
Much as we love homeschooling, we never say never. There’s an arts high school in our area for just 11th and 12th grade — could that be an option for Violet? My girls are so different from each other, and from who they were last year, and last week. Beyond that, education is so different from what it was last year: who knew everyone would be talking Coursera and Udacity just 12 months ago? Where was Khan Academy when we started? We deal with what works now and trust that we can handle tomorrow when it comes.

One day at a time also means that when one day goes bad, homeschooling isn’t a failure. I admit, I could do better. But so far bad days — really, usually a bad couple of hours at most — haven’t scared us totally off. Days will try to run together, but starting fresh when the sun comes up is pretty much a requirement. Today is when we officially celebrated our “first day” of homeschool for the year, which means trying to get up a little earlier and getting some stuff done before meeting friends for an ice cream social/not-back-to-school party. But really, it’s just another day of learning and hanging out with friends — just stickier.

I also found that blogging was thing we did right in the early days, and as I said the other day, I’m hoping it will be a help again. So what surprising serendipity to see the first homeschool high school blog carnival today. It was especially fun to see some familiar names on the roster, from the years when I was so much more active in the homeschool blogging world. I’m hoping for some more good conversations to launch on the next six (or more or fewer) years.

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Filed under education, Homeschooling, raising girls