You Will Conform!

This past January, Em started in a great program offered here in Historic Northeast Kansas City, Harmony Project. It is a program designed for inner-city at-risk youth and is free. Free as in…

Free music instruction

Free training in vocals and choir

Free instruments, including the use of a child-size cello this fall

And free is very, very nice. Each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, from 4-5:30 and on Saturdays from 10am – noon, Em learns how to read music, how to sing in a choir, and more.

Despite Em not being an at-risk youth or within their income requirements, she was welcomed by the organizers of this program and they seem to truly like her.

There is one drawback…

The other day she finally came to us and told us she is having trouble with some of the other children. They found out she is homeschooled and have told her that she…

  • Has to go to school
  • Isn’t learning if she is not in school

They have also begun to tease her…”You don’t know anything, you don’t go to school.” And on and on.

She came to her dad first, and he told me, so I talked with her today.

I tried to make her understand why these kids would say these things. All she wants is for them to be her friends and she is sad that they are acting like this. I explained that, when a child is surrounded by age-mates, when they are told each day to do a certain number of things without deviation, when they are treated the same, expected to do, learn and regurgitate the same things…this is conformity. They learn conformity.

And they learn to praise conformity in others.

“If your nose was purple, that’s all they would see or want to talk about. That purple nose of yours.” I explained to her. “If you had six fingers on one hand, that would be all they would talk about. Because that would make you different from them. And in their world, different is not good, different is BAD.”

I didn’t know how to advise her. How could I help her resolve this? Was there any resolution to be had?

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I gave her some suggestions. And I have no idea if they would work. Afterwards we read about Emperor Justinian and his wife the Empress Theodora. “Before they start in, tell them about the Emperor Justinian and his wife, the Empress Theodora,” I said, “Make sure they know it is history – a history they will probably never learn in public school because too much time is spent on reviewing, without end, the same basic histories instead of some of the more interesting pieces of it. And if they don’t believe you, I will be there to pick you up and you can ask me to tell them the story and I will.”

She smiled then. She knows she is learning, that she is growing each day and practicing/retaining more and more.

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This was never more evident than in our trip to the Overland Park Arboretum yesterday for a KC-CIRCLE class.

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As we walked through the grounds with the docent, Em talked confidently, pointing out different plants that she knew and impressing our guide. Herbs, knowing obscure facts like that lamb’s ear (the larger varieties) were used for toilet paper by native Americans, or that dandelions have medicinal qualities, and much more.

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There is conformity…

And then there is letting the world be your teacher…

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I’m happy we have chosen the latter.

Homeschool Budget

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For the past couple of years I have had a homeschool budget set for $600 per year. And while it very well may increase in the years to come, that has been the average expenditures for us over the past few years.

Mainly this budget consists of classes at LEARN, KC-CIRCLE, LEARN Math & Science Club, summer camps, and a small number of books.

And since I was reviewing my budget a lot in the past few weeks, I couldn’t help but wonder if that amount of money was being spent in the right places. More specifically, I wanted to know what Emily wanted to spend that money on.

So today we spent about half an hour taking a look at that money and generating possible options.

OPTION 1:

  • LEARN classes 3 classes per semester, approx. $100 per semester, or $200/year
  • KC-CIRCLE classes, $66 per semester, 3 sessions per year, $200/year
  • One week of summer camp $180. $20 remaining for books.

OPTION 2:

  • LEARN classes, cap of 2 classes per semester, approx. $75/semester or $150/yr
  • KC-CIRCLE classes, cap of $30 per session, or $90 per year
  • two weeks of summer camp, $360

OPTION 3:

  • LEARN Science & Math club, limited to 1 semester per year, $160
  • LEARN on Wednesdays with a cap of one class per semester, $40 per semester, or $80/yr
  • KC CIRCLE classes, cap of $30 per session, reduced to two sessions per year, $60/yr
  • One week of summer camp $180

OPTION 4:

  • LEARN Math & Science club, limited to 1 semester per year, $160
  • two weeks of summer camp $360
  • our own field trips to caves and other learning activities $80

I wrote it all out on the blackboard to give her a visual of the possibilities. I presented Option 1, our current use of the funds, and Option 2, another viable way to spend the money. But I could see she wanted something more. So we talked about Option 3, and then finally she came up with Option 4.

I can sit here all day and guess at what she wants to do, but in the end, I find it far easier to ask her!

I have to say, I’m rather impressed with her idea. I hadn’t thought of it, but she certainly did. Perhaps I can come up with a list of places, run it past her, and even invite others along.

I told her we would re-assess twice a year, and work with the options before us at that point.

It looks like we will do the summer session with KC-CIRCLE and then stop, although I imagine that will not stick (she loves going to the Coterie and Paul Mesner Puppets, so she will miss it), and that this is only the first in many negotiations to come. I’ve told her I definitely want to teach a class at LEARN this fall, although she has no interest in attending it, and will probably just play in the gym for an hour before we leave and go to Park Side.

I was surprised by her choices, honestly. But it made me happy that I had asked, because what she wants is important to me. This is HER education, not mine.

Next on the agenda is our quarterly “So, what do you want to learn about?” idea-generating time for specific homeschool studies.

I’m betting that she will definitely want to continue to do…

  • Math – using the Life of Fred series
  • History – using the Story of the World
  • Literature – anytime I read to her is a happy day in her world

And as for the rest? Well, I suppose that is up to her!

Know Your Limits

Today’s morning adventure ended with a mad struggle through rough terrain after the trail we were following just vanished, bone-chilling cold, and lot of swearing.

I swear, a lot, on a regular basis, but until the moment I found myself well and truly lost without a trail, it was profuse and unending. The swearing that is, not the vanished trail or even the short struggle through the woods.

There are times when I simply don’t think things through. Signing up to see a play about a lost stuffed rabbit was one of the more memorable ones as of late. And again in the case of today’s adventure – Wonder of Wilderness (Hike and Nature Exploration Activity).

I love nature…when the temperatures are above 50 and below 85…Fahrenheit. We have been discussing Celsius a lot recently, but I digress. In any case, I love nature when I’m not freezing my butt off or sweating like a pig. I’m rather narrow-minded when it comes to temperature extremes, which the lovely state of Missouri has in spades. And as I stood outside this morning, noticing that my fingers were stiff and cold even through the lined gloves, and that I was clutching my Vera Bradley purse to me like it was going to save my fool butt as I walked out in the bone-chilling cold – I still had no idea what I was in for.

Surely this was a leisurely walk along paved pathways. Another mother, seeing that Em had left the house without gloves, lent her a pair, and we began to walk across some grass towards…

Mud…

A barely recognizable trail…

Then there was the question of whether it was a one or two mile long trail…

Did I mention it was cold? The high for today is supposed to be 29 degrees. All I can tell you is that it wasn’t that.

By the time we got to the spot where the kids were supposed to stop and sketch, Em was in full “we must return to the car before my feet freeze off” mode. Which honestly made me happy because I was tired of being cold and uncomfortable and I need to blow my nose, running freely due to the frigid temperatures, so bad.

“Just follow the trail, it will let you off at the bluffs near the nature center.”

And it did, and then started up again, or so I thought. We followed it until it stopped dramatically in the middle of nowhere. That’s when the swearing began.

It wasn’t too long before we found the roadway, and a fairly level grassy area to walk in. “Never again,” was a phrase that was repeated a lot.

At least, not until it is temperate. Enjoying nature while slipping and sliding through mud, ice, rough terrain – all while freezing your butt off is not enjoyable in the least.

Know your limits.

The Art of Writing

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Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about writing.

This is not surprising, I am a writer after all!

But two completely separate conversations occurred yesterday that got me to thinking about the nature of writing…how to encourage our kids to write, how to help them hone their abilities and learn to do it well.

Conversation #1

“I’m planning to teach a writing class this fall,” I told a couple of homeschool friends while visiting and delivering cookies.

“My daughter hates to write,” said one.

I smiled, “I hear that a lot. But this won’t be so much focusing on getting kids to write, but having them go through what they have already written, reviewing some editing skills, like when to make paragraph breaks instead of just straight text.”

“My daughter does that! No paragraph breaks at all,” mentioned the second. She went on to describe how she will point it out, and her child responds by saying she just needs to get it out on paper. Later she does go through and edit it.

“And that’s perfectly normal,” I responded, “It’s called the editing process. As she gets more and more experienced with writing, she will begin to automatically put in those paragraph breaks as she is writing, but for now, that totally works.”

I have decided that I will cover some basic grammar and spelling, introduce how to use an outline effectively, and offer help with all of it, while pointing out that spelling and grammar matter only because you don’t want bad examples of them distracting the reader from enjoying what you have written.

Conversation #2

I couldn’t help but comment on a Facebook post from a fellow homeschool mom that read, “Mad Libs are a great way to teach the parts of speech.”

I commented that my eight year old absolutely loved Mad Libs. In fact, since I introduced them to her two years ago, she has been rather obsessed!

She responded by suggesting I write a book on the parts of speech.

The problem I would have with this is that, short of the basics (noun, verb, adjective) I know very little about the parts of speech. Despite this, I write, for print, for this blog and others, and more. I posted back…

“And now is when I admit that I am baffled by the parts of speech and have to look up what an adverb is on a regular basis. I came away from my horrible school experiences with grammar and diagramming sentences with one clear thought – knowing these things are not necessary for good writing. Reading (a ton) and writing (plenty) are key to becoming an effective writer. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Conclusion and Suggestions

If you want to grow a writer, then encourage writing and reading. Not by nagging, but by…

  • guiding through example – model the behavior. Do you fill your home with books? Do your children see you reading and writing?
  • making it fun – play around with rhyming, with verse, discuss different aspects of writing
  • providing a wealth of experiences – read poetry, all kinds. Discuss the different kinds of writing – essays, blogs, poetry, non-fiction, fiction, and more. Introduce all kinds of writing examples into daily life, make a game of it, as you help your child dabble and experiment with weaving words.
  • creating a safe environment – one that encourages creativity and yet leaves room for encouraging your child to learn the second part of writing, the editing process, where they can set the words out and then come back through and help them make the most sense for the reader.

I often tell the story of how I learned to write – by writing – instead of worrying over the parts of speech, diagramming sentences, or completing meaningless grammar exercises. As a homeschool mom, I have the opportunity to do just this same thing for my child. As a result, I have made sure that there are no required writing exercises…only writing opportunities.

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Choices – Her Day Her Way

Don’t get me wrong, this is NOT a normal day. Today we are remarkably UNscheduled, as opposed to many other days this week, especially Wednesdays.

Today however, as I am still suffering from these weird GI issues, I chose to leave it completely unstructured. With the exception of her music class that starts at 4pm, I had no requirements or expectations for the day.

It is interesting to see where or what Em will spend her time and energies on when given space and time. Today she is quite self-directed. And honestly, it is a rare moment that I ever hear her utter the dreaded words I’m bored.

She has spent a great deal of time on the computer today, playing different learning games. I seriously question the level of education she might be getting from the games when she told me that one had to do with popping pimples on Elsa’s (yes, from Frozen) face.

Um…ewww.

In any case, she eventually lost interest, and picked up…drum roll, please…her first book that she actually read out loud without any prompting, cajoling, arm-twisting, “pretty please with sugar on top” et cetera from me or her dad. Actually sat down and read a book out loud, pausing twice for help on a word. The word ‘audition’ was one that tripped her up. That and ‘colony’ – otherwise, she read it flawlessly.

It was surprising and gratifying to see. I can only hope that the trend continues. To that end, her dad and I have discussed having a family book night. This will probably occur on Wednesday nights – one of the few nights when I’m not possibly teaching a class or one of us is needing to be anywhere after 6:30 at night. We will be starting on a classic, possibly Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. I imagine we will get together in the living room, and Dave and I will trade off reading a story out loud, one chapter at a time. It should be fun.

After Em finished reading her book she went into her room and dug up a present she had received for her birthday last October, a LEGO Rapunzel Tower. Perhaps our recent trip to see Paul Mesner’s Puppets perform “Rapunzel” but suddenly she wanted to put it together. Small problem, she had 1) opened the box and one of the bags, and some pieces were missing and 2) could not find the instruction book.

You have to love the internet. I found it immediately when I Googled “LEGO Rapunzel Tower 41054″ – this meant she would have to bring her LEGO pieces into the office since she was viewing the instructions via a pdf on her computer.

She started off a little bumpily, missing some very important pieces and having to sort through a mountain of spare LEGO parts in various corners of her room.

I watched her for a while and then said, “Okay, so with your music class you can show up as early as 3:15 or as late as 4:00, what time do you want to be at class?”

Normally she will tell me she wants to go early, so she can play with the other children. This time, however, she was quite clearly thinking of other things. “I want to get this project done, so probably close to four.”

I love that on a laidback day like this, she can have the luxury of choosing her day, what she gets to do, and when she gets to be somewhere. It isn’t always this way, but days like this are gentle and easy on us. And you would be surprised at how much learning happens in between!

Sharing the Love

Sometimes ideas just kind of sneak up on me and smack me in the head.

Actually, MOST of the time that is exactly how it happens. That “oh, duh” moment when I realize, “Gee, that might really be a good fit for me.”

And as I was driving home from dropping off Emily at music class, I realized that I really, REALLY would enjoy teaching a Young Writers Program at LEARN next fall.

I thought of how accessible self-publication is these days. The students could put together several contributions each, possibly even accompanied with artwork, and we could create an ebook and self-publish it through Amazon at the end of the semester.

I would introduce some general grammar/spelling (basically suggest that bad grammar or spelling take away from the reading experience), discuss when to break and start a new paragraph, how to create dialogue, why outlines help keep you focused, and more.

We could read/share/edit our work together and then work together to edit, format, and submit the ebook.

I’m thinking of (don’t laugh) possibly suggesting a theme – Identity, Feelings, the Future, et cetera for us to follow. It’s okay, you can laugh, I find it highly ironic that I, the rule breaker and theme avoider extraordinaire, would actually suggest the very thing I usually avoid like the bubonic plague.

In the end, I guess my thought is that if I work with some of the tweens/teens, I can share my love of writing and inspire others to create their own literary works of art.

Valentine’s Day, New Homeschool Mommies and More

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Next Time We Are Making Our Own!

Gah! I have to say it again (having already said it to her), my friend Bethany was totally right.

I teased her relentlessly on Facebook yesterday over her posts of making her own valentine’s cards for 84, yes that’s right, EIGHTY FOUR students. Actually, times two, because her middle child came to the LEARN party as well, so 168 Valentine’s Day cards.

I was sitting at home, feeling quite sorry for myself as I suffered from weird intestinal issues. “I’ll buy mine,” I announced cheerfully, and after dropping Em off at her music class I made the trek to Wal-Mart and stood there, befuddled and sick, trying to calculate how many cards I needed to buy.

Somehow I managed to buy 192 cards when I only needed 84 + 12 (for the second Valentine’s Day party we went to later today at Park Side).

And at 8 a.m. this morning it suddenly occurred to me that we needed to (duh) sign Emily’s name to them. We opened them up and Em got to signing as I stared in dismay at the cards. Not only did we need to sign them, but we also needed to add a little sticker/tattoo doohickey to the card AND fold them and seal them with a heart sticker.

“Oh hell no,” were the words out of my mouth. Yes, I swear around my impressionable young daughter, deal with it.

It took us an HOUR to complete the sign your name, insert sticker/tattoo here and put into the bag routine. I handed Em all of the sheets of stickers and instructed her to become the Mad Sticker Person. The rest of our visit to LEARN I would see the little red heart stickers showing up on arms, faces, clothing, bags, and backs of various attendees. The kid took her mad stickering job very seriously.

I figure it took me an hour to drive to the Wal-Mart and back, just so I could spend $15 on crap that required assembly, the very thing I was attempting to avoid. Next year we are making our own!

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Homeschooling Can Be Intimidating, Even for Teachers

In the midst of my intestinal issues yesterday, the grown daughter of my neighbor, and new homeschool mom, came by for a visit with her son.

He is nine years old, and she removed him from public school this year to try on homeschooling for size. She was a teacher at some point, and we sat and talked learning and homeschooling for an hour or more.

For some reason it always takes me by surprise when a former teacher turned homeschool mom (or dad) expresses nervousness or worry over whether or not they are homeschooling the “right” way.

For the life of me, I cannot seem to understand it. After all, they were trained on educational methods. Teaching their children would seem to me like a walk in the park.

That said, we have a lovely conversation and I realized she struggled with the same things I did at first – self-doubt (am I teaching the basics, am I keeping up?), socialization (does my son/daughter have enough social interaction with other children?), and more.

I told her that it gets better. And it does. It is scary at first, but homeschooling is NOT reproducing the public school environment at home, it just isn’t.

  • You don’t have to spend hours homeschooling…unless you and your child absolutely want to. Learning occurs far quicker when it is a 1:1 ratio.
  • You don’t have to touch all of the subjects every day…life is not a perfect balance of social studies, science, English, math and more. It is crafts heavy one day, science heavy the next.
  • Public schools do not encourage socialization, they discourage it…don’t talk in the halls, no more recess, don’t talk at lunch. Unless socialization is forming cliques and teaching your children to only associate with others that are born within the same year as him (like you ever see that in the real world). Socialization, if you must call it that, can be easily solved by involving your child(ren) in a play group or co-op and encouraging them to play with kids in the neighborhood after the schools let out.

She has joined LEARN and I look forward to seeing how her thoughts and attitudes evolve in the coming months and years.

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She is Fearless and Determined

A couple of weeks ago, Em ran into a bit of a friendship snag. She really liked this girl who was in all of her LEARN classes, Peacequest, Girl Scouts, AND her acting class on Wednesday nights. Basically we see her EVERYWHERE.

The girl was a couple of years older and fast friends with another girl her own age. I think that Em struck her as a little young, but she also was really close friends with this other girl and wanted to basically spend her time exclusively with her.

Em reacted with confusion and sadness. Why didn’t this girl like her? Why was she not wanting to sit with her or be friends?

Tears were shed and I struggled to explain the situation, grasping at possible explanations, hoping things would resolve themselves – either she would move on and make other friends or the girl would warm up to her.

Either way, I hoped for the best. My little girl wears her heart on her sleeve, and even as I explained that she wasn’t going to win over everyone, no matter how nice she was, that some people were simply not a good fit, she would hear none of it.

And over the past two weeks she has been on a campaign of friendship, an all out “bang my drug, YOU are going to be my friend” kind of focus. She has been beyond nice, extra nice, in the girl’s face and world in every possible way, determined to win this girl’s heart over. Today, for the Valentine’s party she made three “special” Valentine’s cards – one for her friend Ellie, one for another older girl she likes, and one for this girl who, while friendly, had remained a bit standoffish.

The determination my little one has exhibited has impressed and inspired me. She knows what she wants and refuses to give up. The girl in question has warmed considerably. I see her with a bemused expression on her face, somewhat taken aback by the tenacity of this younger child, and definitely willing to consider expanding her friend base.

I remember what it was like as a child. I fell in love in a way, wanting one friend and one friend only, unwilling to share my heart and every possible free moment with anyone but that ONE friend. Now, as an adult, I recognize and truly appreciate the depth and variety of so many wonderful, funny, comfortable female friends. I know now that having one friend, just one, limits our worldview and is just a wedge of what is possible to have.

Emily has always held her heart open to so many and I love that about her. I want that for her and I am glad she is so outgoing and that her days are filled with friendly faces and play.

Homeschooling Article

I found an interesting article on the Huffington Post about homeschool. Enjoy!

History, Art, Silliness, and Discussions on Canon

We are getting back into the swing of things after our winter holiday break. We finally completed Story of the World – Ancient Times and moved on to…

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Story of the World – The Middle Ages

This book picks up at the fall of the Roman Empire and has taken us north, into Britain, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. We have the Teacher/Activity Guide to this book, which makes things a little more interesting. I read the Review Questions for that particular segment, then read the selection, then ask the questions.

This is new for both of us. I had simply been reading the selection and not really talking about it with her, and she seems to enjoy listening to the questions, remembering the answers, and getting them right at the end.

There are also maps, crafts, and suggested reading and I’ve explained to her that as she progresses through the books (the first time through I will be doing most of the reading), she will get more and more out of them. “By the 3rd time through, you will be using the passages as a stepping stone to reading the additional literature listed and learning more that way.”

We are both enjoying these books immensely. They give info in nice clean bites which invite more reading and/or discussion. Lately she has been working on some maps or drawing what we are talking about as I read to her.

Here is an example…King Ethelbert of Britain meeting Augustine (sent by the pope to convert the Angles, Saxons and Celts over to Christianity)…

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Email Silliness

And just so you can have a good laugh, here is a picture of Em while composing and sending an email…

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When I posted an update on Facebook I got the following responses…

“Safety first.”

“Keyboards can be really germy. I respect her decision.”

And my favorite…

“She’s obviously heard about viruses in emails!”

Is It Canon?

I love that Em is finally at the age where I can use sophisticated words and ideas and she can truly follow along. We had a conversation the other day that crossed over from “why isn’t there a Spider Girl?” to a discussion on writing in a known universe and following canon, the rules of the universe created by an author.

I explained that canon refers to a set of known, accepted facts – for example, Spiderman’s Peter Parker is an orphan, who is raised by his aunt and uncle. He has no siblings. Em really wanted to write a story in which she is his sibling, preferably his twin, and I had to explain how if she were to write within an already established fictional universe, she would need to follow canon, so Peter Parker couldn’t suddenly have a sibling, or a twin, unless she had a way of explaining certain questions that arose such as…

If Peter Parker had a sibling, why didn’t we ever hear of his sister before?

Why would his aunt and uncle take him in and not her?

This spurred a very spirited discussion that included some inventive troubleshooting by my lively 8-year-old. She really, REALLY wanted the storyline to work. At one point, I reassured her, “I’m not telling you it can’t be done, I’m merely pointing out the flaws, so that your story can be improved and be functional within canon.”

This is what my child gets for having a mother who is a writer!

Despite my arguments, and throwing out other possibilities and plot twists, she didn’t lose her enthusiasm. A good sign indeed. Who knows, I may end up raising TWO writers!