Sunday, January 25, 2015

Taking a Gypsy Term

One of the most beautiful things about homeschooling in Idaho is the utter freedom we have to do whatever we want. This semester, we are taking a free-wheeling, figuring things out as we go along approach.

I call this semester a “gypsy term” because we’re kind of just going where the road takes us, picking things up and learning along the way.  It’s a much looser approach than we’ve previously taken. It’s a little scary--but thrilling, too.

gypsy reading

I told my older kids, who were extremely sad to leave the wonderful co-op we’ve been privileged to attend for the last three years, that they could think of think of this semester as a “study abroad” experience.  My one and only goal is to be out in the world---in the community—and experience all it has to offer.


Here’s what we did this past week:

Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day and my husband and I had seen the movie Selma over the weekend.  We were blown away by the story and the testament of the struggle of black Americans during the Civil Rights movement. The movie is intense. It is gritty and heartbreaking and hopeful and TRUE. We took our older two kids to see it on Monday in the hope that it would spark some talk about that era in American history and its parallels to the attitudes today about civil rights and race issues.  We are typically very guarded in the movies and TV we let the kids watch—and the tension and violence in the film was a strain on our kids—they are still processing what they saw—but it is a beautiful thing to hear them ask questions, to want to delve deeper into Doctor King’s life and times, and to reflect on issues of race, equality, and social change.


We had learned over the weekend that President Obama would be in Boise to speak at BSU in the middle of the week. His speech would be open to the public, but tickets would be required to gain entry to the speaking venue. So, after the movie, we gathered the entire family and went to BSU to stand in line for tickets to the President’s speech.  We had seen news reports that morning that BSU faculty and students had first rights to the free tickets and that the line to get tickets had been spotty—not surprising in a solid red state, I suppose, so we figured the same would hold true for the general ticket line.  We were wrong.  We stood in line for about an hour, and the line wrapped halfway around the BSU campus.



I was surprised that there were so many people in line for tickets, given the vitriolic responses online to the announcement that President Obama would be in town.  Though standing in line was not the most exciting way to spend an afternoon, it was enlightening to see the different people who came. People of all political persuasions were in line—and despite whatever people’s personal opinions and beliefs were, everyone was amiable.

Tuesday, we were feeling kind of under the weather—the flu had been going around our family and while we were mostly recovered by Sunday, the afternoon out in the cold, waiting in line for tickets to the President’s speech put us under.  We needed a recovery day and stayed home. We declared it “Documentary Day” and spent the day cruising Netflix for educational shows. (I am part of a Homeschooling with Netflix group on Facebook—which is totally awesome—what a great resource to supplement learning!) We watched everything from Leap Frog Math Adventures to the Moon to Inside the Lego Corporation to Pets with Jobs. There were some others we watched, but I think I dozed off.

Wednesday, Julio and the big kids got up early and headed out to stand in line for the President’s speech.  We learned that the venue could seat 2500 but that over 5000 tickets had been distributed---it would be standing room only for at least half the ticket holders!  The little kids and I went to our new informal homeschool co-op---a once weekly, laid-back affair.  We learned about St. Francis of Assisi.

I had intended to meet up with Julio and the big kids and attend the President’s speech, but it didn’t work out—and it’s probably a good thing.  Julio and the big kids stood in line from 10 AM until noon, and then once inside the venue, found standing room only, right next to where the local press cameras were set up.  The speech wasn’t scheduled to start until 3:00.  No matter how patriotic we are, I knew the little kids wouldn’t have been able to manage doing NOTHING for that long.  Bags and purses weren’t allowed through security, so bringing entertainment and snacks for the little kids would have been impossible.

So, with that last minute change in plan, I took the kids shopping.  Blythe just started Cub Scouts and I was recruited to be a Cub Scout leader and we both needed uniforms. (I have been hounded by the local Cub Master to get myself a uniform and after a long and valiant battle, finally succumbed and bought the ugly thing---but I refuse to wear it. Tra la la la!) and Gloria needed fabric for a pillow case she was going to make that afternoon with her Activity Days group.

While I was busy buying pink heart-strewn fabric and hideous scouting uniforms, Calvin was being interviewed by the local news about being present for President Obama’s speech.

Calvin on TV

The rest of the week shaped up pretty well—we plundered the library, as we do every week. We have long since given up on tote bags to pack the books home and now bring in the heavy artillery. Yes, that is rolling luggage you see there.


We also stumbled into a weekly science class held at the library, of which I had been previously unaware. The kids made dry ice cannons. Score!  Calvin now wants to make a larger one out of a garbage can.



We finished out our week with LOTS of reading.


I also thought it would be fun to have each kid start an art journal—as a way to explore different art media. We spent a good chunk of an afternoon painting.


Finally, the kids started learning how to program computers this week. We saw a deal on a learning website for a single board computer kit and snatched one up.  It arrived this week and Calvin and Gloria have spent some time with it—learning how to make computer animations and create games.  Calvin is currently creating a math game to help the little kids with their math facts.  I don’t know who is more excited about it—Calvin or Julio!

Raspberry Pi

This is my first real foray into unstructured “unschooling” and I have to admit, I am terribly nervous about it.  I decided to write this post to document what all we did this week not to toot my horn, but more than anything to see if we really were accomplishing anything.  I’ve always had this idea that “unschooling” meant “not educating” but after going through the projects and pictures and experiences we’ve had this past week (and over the last month) I’d say we’re learning a LOT! Hmmm…I could get used to this Gypsy Term thing…

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Dear Newbie Homeschooling Me

Dear Newbie Homeschooling Me,

Don’t freak out. I’m you, seven seasons into this homeschooling gig.  I have come from your future to tell you a few things.


First, homeschooling is NOTHING like you think it’s going to be.  Oh, sure, it’s 2009, and you’re forcing your tiny kids that you JUST pulled out of third and first grade to watch the historical inauguration of the first black president of the United States---and you have all these high ideals and expectations about what they should be getting out of it, and how you’re going to start each day with a prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, a spiritually enriching devotional, hearty breakfast, and then whip through five or six academic courses before lunch (which will be carefully planned, entirely nutritious, and maybe even served in a bento box, for variety!) You have a VISION. You have a PLAN!

Well, babe, four months in, you’re going to abandon that vision, because out of all the days, your vision was seriously impaired. Your plan happened ZERO TIMES, no matter how hard you tried, and you are going to be so frustrated and full of self-doubt that you want to just give up.


Except, you won’t. 

You’ll realize that trying to muscle your two school aged kids and your two itty-bitties into a public school-style routine at home is not only stupid, but impossible.  Schools are institutions.  They run like institutions, as they should. But your HOME is not an institution.  It should be run like a home.  The kids have already learned tons of things from you, naturally, organically.  It can be that way with academics, too.

I know you don’t believe me now—but give it a couple of years.  You’ll try variations of the public school routine—each one less like public school—as you find what works for you.  Right now, you’re all concerned about finding the right math curriculum and language arts curriculum.  You’re reading A Well Trained Mind and A Thomas Jefferson Education and you’re all on fire about HOW TO MAKE IT WORK so the kids are learning and outpacing their public school counterparts.  You are determined to show people, yourself included, that homeschooling is WAYYYYY superior to public school. Your standards are so impossibly high you can’t even sleep. You are worried about EVERYTHING. You HAVE to get it RIGHT!

Well, listen close, babe---the RIGHT way to homeschool changes as you go along.  Kids have this uncanny insistence on doing things like growing and maturing, and having preferences and strengths and weaknesses.  And so do you. You’re going to make mistakes. The kids are going to make mistakes.  But, we’re a resilient bunch, and we keep trying and we find what works. And when it quits working, we find something else that works.  The resources available to you are limitless and infinite in variety.

There is no one golden road to homeschooling success.  What works for one kid may not work so well for another.  What works one year, or for two years in a row, may be worn out and dead the next year.  The people in your family like variety, they like to shake things up every now and then. They are kind of funny that way.  There is no such thing as autopilot in learning.


You’ll start thinking more about educational philosophies instead of curriculum. You’ll start talking to veteran homeschoolers and really LISTENING to their experiences. You’ll cry on people’s shoulders, and borrow their ideas. You’ll clunk and rattle along and you’ll get involved with a great, supportive community. You’ll worry less about socialization as you find community and get out in the world and interact with anyone and everyone. You’ll gain confidence and so will the kids. You’ll make friends, and your kids will make friends. Your universe will expand so much and so fast you won’t believe it.

You’ll learn to love being around your kids. You’ll learn to really like being around them for hours and hours and hours every day. You’re giving me the side eye on that one.  I get it—the older two are bickering at your feet and the toddler is whining for Cheetos, and the baby just took his diaper off and smeared poop across his crib.  You will have sucky, sucky days sometimes, but I promise, the good ones will outnumber the bad, and you WILL find that these little people that you are raising and teaching are a lot of fun, MOST of the time. That said, you’ll also learn that you’ll need regularly scheduled breaks from them. And they’ll need breaks from you, too. You can be a real pain in the arse sometimes. Go put yourself in time out. At a restaurant. With friends. And something chocolate.  Take the breaks. INSIST on the breaks.  Your husband and children will thank you for it. And stop being cagey with Krav Maga and go fall in love with it RIGHT NOW.  (Seriously. Don’t wait on this one.)


Over time, you’ll discover that the kids are doing fine—they are learning in their own ways and at their own pace.  They will astound you with what they learn, their self-motivation, and their intense drive to create their own educational path. They will delve into courses of study you can’t even fathom for them, and you will be awed by their abilities and their talents and interests.  You’ll wonder how the heck such amazing, interesting, talented people came from little ol’ you. Of course, you’ll always have twinges of doubt, especially when your kids won’t practice the piano or forget that 7 x 6 = 42 or would rather read Calvin and Hobbes and draw Manga than listen to you read Moby Dick. You’ll squirm when your kids commit some social faux pas and some moron blames it on homeschooling, because no public schooled kid EVER did or said anything awkward or inappropriate or didn’t respond appropriately in every social situation.

You are soooo tense and fearful and humorless, 2009-Newbie-Homeschooling Me.  I want to hug you and give you a big happy, triumphant smooch, but I know right now you’re really only open to a pat on the shoulder and a nudge forward. There, there, babe. It’s going to be awesome.

Most of all, I want to tell you that you will learn SO MUCH STUFF about SO MUCH STUFF.  YOUR education is just beginning and there’s no end in sight to what you’ll learn and you will thank God for it every single day. Homeschooling will provide you with an unequaled opportunity to set the tone for learning and discovery for yourself and your family in EVERY ASPECT of life. You’ll blow your own mind with the challenges you take on, the direction you steer your life.  You’ll learn that life isn’t just something to endure and to react to. You’ll learn to hurtle yourself right into it---to laugh and explore and share---to charge into the hard things--to take on impossible challenges--because don’t you tell me what I can’t do!

Babe, it’s going to be epic. 

Love, Me…You…Us