My Science Loving Wunderkind

So Em has been in public school for four weeks now and they have these assessment tests, the NWEA, also known as MAP tests. Apparently, they are assessed three times in a school year – at the beginning, the middle and the end of the year.

Now Em has never taken any kind of assessment test. She’s been homeschooled and I didn’t see any reason for her to take one while we were homeschooling and she was young. Assessments for college, sure, but elementary? Nah.

But public school is a whole new ball of wax. And I couldn’t help but be a little curious. How would she do?

The first one she took was the Reading test. Her score was equivalent to a 7th-grade reading level. And I couldn’t help but be proud. After all, this was a girl who didn’t really “get it” until age 8 1/2. She dug in her heels and avoided reading at all costs.

The second test was Math. Her score was just below grade level. Believe me, this was a relief, because I knew I hadn’t pushed math as much I probably should have. It isn’t my strength, and I had been easily discouraged when she would dig in her heels over math problems.

The third test was Writing and her score placed her in the 6th grade for writing ability – which made me happy and proud. She had also been rather reticent to write much, and I had tried a barrage of different techniques to change the tide on that particular stumbling block.

The final test was taken yesterday. And when she came home, she said, “I scored a 218 on the Science test. I think I did pretty good on it.”

Pretty good? Pretty good?

The expectations for 5th grade are as follows: 200, 203, and 205

I emailed her teacher for more info and was bowled over by the answer…218 equals a 11th grade understanding of Science!!!!

After recovering from this rather stunning news, I began to mentally review how it was possible she got to this level. Here is the list I came up with:

  • Native/innate talent/interest
  • LEARN Math & Science classes at Rockhurst Community Center
  • Science classes through our LEARN co-op
  • Car talks – discussions about what a hypothesis and how to conduct an experiment
  • Science City at Union Station
  • Nature studies – through co-ops, Nature School, City of Fountains, Camp Fire day camp, and walks together
  • Gardening/Chicken Keeping at home
  • Home science experiments and baking

It was actually rather shocking to see how much time we had spent on science. Most of it was a side effect of just having fun – walking, spending time in the garden, visiting Science City, enrolling her in Camp Fire day camp, et cetera.

Can I just say how proud I am of both of us? Me for getting her to these places and helping her explore her interests and her for obviously sucking down the learning when it came to science topics.

I took her to Glace for a celebratory ice cream and let her order whatever she wanted.

Seeing the results of these tests has absolutely changed the way I view our years spent homeschooling. Obviously, she has retained a great deal of knowledge and understanding of material – despite my multitude of fears of inadequacy. It is the atta-girl I have needed in the wake of such upheaval and change.

Retention Not Regurgitation

Lastly, this led to a further explanation/addressing of an issue I had with my dad a week or so ago. I wrote about it here. At dinner Wednesday evening, as we discussed Em’s science score on the NWEA. We asked her what kind of questions there were.

She remembered that there had been 42 questions, but could not recall a single question. She shrugged, “I just don’t remember any of them.”

And it cemented in my brain what I had already suspected. “This is what I was trying to explain. Em does not regurgitate well, but she obviously does a smashing job at retention. And when it comes to learning, retention is what is important, NOT regurgitation.”

I looked at Dad, “You were asking her to regurgitate something she had learned that day. But Em’s brain doesn’t work like that. Obviously, from the scores on the NWEA tests, we can see she has learned a great deal while being homeschooled, but it is all retention. So when we ask something more short-term, she can’t remember it. I would far rather see her retain that just mindlessly regurgitate.”

My little science-y wunderkind. I couldn’t be more proud!

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Raising a Strong Woman

I have been thinking about strength and resiliency lately. What it takes to be strong, to bend with life’s misfortunes, to not break. And, raising a daughter, this has been especially important to me. I don’t want her to be a victim or act like a victim, I want her to know when to stand up for herself, how to defend herself against bad words, deeds, and intentions, and how to survive life’s many challenges.

Recently I added a book to my daily reading list. 365 Tao. Each day I read a passage and try to understand it. Sometimes I do, sometimes, not so much. Today I read the following passage:

Arctic breath coils the mountain,
Rattling the forests’ bones.
Raindrops cling to branches:
Jewelled adornment flung to earth.

Trees in winter lose their leaves. Some trees may even fall during storms, but most stand patiently and bear their fortune.

They endure rain, snow, wind, and cold. They bear the adornment of glycerin raindrops, glimmering icicles, or crowns of snow without care. They are not concerned when such lustrous splendor is dashed to the ground. They stand, and they wait, the power of their growth apparently dormant. But inside a burgeoning is building imperceptibly.

theirs is the forebearance of being true to their inner natures. It is with this power that they withstand both the vissitudes and adornment of life, for neither bad fortune nor good fortune will alter what they are. We should be th same way. We may have great fortune or bad, but we should patiently bear both. No matter what, we must always be true to our inner selves.

That really spoke to me.

What if being true to ourselves is also the key to being a strong woman? Cultivating that strength from the inside out?

You Take the Gravel and the Shell and You Make a Pearl

I don’t listen to Pink. But the video excerpt from the VMA awards circulating around Facebook caught my attention. I have watched it nearly half a dozen times now and it still makes me tear up.

There is poetry in the words she utters, “You take the gravel and the shell and you make a pearl.” And I think it is so relevant to so much of life.

We don’t need any grandiose words or popular movements to get behind, but we do need to learn/know/be the person who takes the shit end of the stick and makes something beautiful with it. Partly for our own sanity, and partly because the alternative is simply unacceptable.

She’s Not Afraid to Speak Up

I forgot to mention that in the second week of school, Em had been bothered by this boy who, from what she related to us, sounded like he was flirting with her. Apparently though, I have a daughter who does not put up with such nonsense and complained to the teacher.

That afternoon I received an email from her homeroom teacher mentioning that she had spoken with the boy and Em and explained to him that his actions were inappropriate and that they could get him into a fair amount of trouble if he continued.

He has since shown better behavior and I found the entire exchange fascinating. Em is no shrinking lily, she can and will stand up for herself and what she believes is right.

Body Proud

Em is reaching the age when her body is beginning to develop. We had been in the process of reading What Is Happening to My Body for Girls in homeschool, but had not finished at the end of spring when we took a break. Now with public school, I imagine they will have sex ed, but I would far rather teach her myself by continuing to read the book.

From what I’ve heard, Sex Ed in school can be a mess if not handled right, and I’ve always felt that as her parent, it is fully my responsibility to pass along the education, rather than a stranger. Or worse, no education at all and she learns things the hard way.

I remember her sister saying some things that I found shocking and immature, mainly centered around her fears of her body being “ruined” by childbirth. The last thing I want is for Em to get the idea that having children will “ruin” her. And not only because I want grandchildren some day, to me, that is no different than hating your body for not being in perfect shape.

I remember taking Dee to see the Vagina Monologues when she was a teenager. It was an eye-opening experience for both of us, and rather transformative. I plan on taking Em when she is a few years older.

If there is any gift I can give her to take with her into adolescence and adulthood, it is the sense of being proud of, and happy with, the body she has.

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A Gentle Pattern

There is a gentle pattern to our days now. Em seems very happy, And I’m not stressing over fitting homeschool into a full day of house cleanings, caring for my dad and writing. I’ve even contacted the North Kansas City Library about teaching just three classes next year.

Here is a rundown of the latest…

School Is Going Great!

I have long held the belief that, overall, learning should be enjoyable. Not every second of our lives is going to be fun, and there are plenty of moments that will be frustrating or boring, but when it comes to spending approximately 1/2 of your waking life somewhere, it should be a relatively pleasurable experience.

Em wakes up at 7 a.m. and has just a handful of things to do in the morning before she leaves for school:

  • Feed and water her cat, Sugar
  • Brush her hair
  • Get dressed

Breakfast and lunch are provided by the school (one of the many benefits to living in the ‘hood – free meals) and Em told me the other day, “I get to eat sweet cereal every day Mama. And there’s nothing you can do about it!”

I imagine there is something I could do, but I was more amused by it than anything else.

I usually spend a few minutes stretching in the exercise room (my former office) and we talk and visit while she brushes her hair.

So far, Em has taken three of the four NWEA tests – Reading, Writing, and Math. She was running a fever last Tuesday so she missed taking the Science one. Her Reading scores were at a 7th-grade level, her Writing scores were at a 6th-grade level, and her Math was just at grade level.

It had never occurred to me to administer any kind of placement test – but now I wish I had. I would have felt better about my homeschooling abilities if I had!

Em seems to be happy with all of her teachers, even the prickly Mrs. W., and from what I can tell, is trying hard in all of her classes.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again, no longer having to be the one to push homeschooling, I am now able to enjoy her company even more. We happily read aloud from a book up to five nights a week. Just a couple more chapters and we will be all done with Mary Poppins!

The Addition of Soccer

This past summer, Em had asked if she could join a soccer team. With little warning and the summer already upon us, I found a free soccer group but Em did not enjoy it much. Too many boys, all with attitudes about girls playing sports, and we quickly decided to try an all-girls team.

Last week, she attended her first practice. The Swope Park soccer complex is a BIG place and we sure had a difficult time finding her group at first. She was quick to listen and learn for the time that they had, and then her first game was on Saturday.

She did well, managing to land a few kicks that kept the ball out of the opposing team’s control. Her team lost the game, but not for lack of trying.

Unfortunately, some of the game times conflict with her participation in Harmony Project on Saturdays, so we are trying to balance it by skipping some games. This Thursday she will go to practice, but she will skip the game. I figured she needs the practice a little more and then she will be a more effective (and valuable player) in later games.

Keeping In Touch With Our Homeschool Community

This past Saturday we also went to Double Digit Game Night, which is a LEARN event. Just $5 for three hours of hanging out with her homeschool peeps while I relax with some of the mamas.

It was bittersweet, talking with them. They are in the midst of curriculum planning and discussing a yearbook. And while we have a membership paid through the end of the year, I felt a little out of the loop. Public school or homeschool, I can’t be both. I’ll probably maintain my LEARN membership for a year or two more, though. It helps to stay connected, and I have no idea how the next few years in public school will turn out for Em.

Car Talks

“You really seem happy in school, Em.” I said as we drove to Double Digits Game Night, “I’m happy for you.”

Em smiled, “I am happy, Mama, I really like it.”

“You know, Daddy asked me if I was okay with that – with you being so happy in school – and I told him yes. I am a little sad because I miss homeschooling you, but I’m also really happy because your test scores show me that I was doing a LOT right, and that made me feel real good.”

“You did do a good job, Mama! The teacher’s think I’m really smart!”

“Well, you are smart. More importantly, though, you try hard.” (This is something I have tried to promote with Emily all of her life – smart is nice, but trying, and keep on trying, is what helps you succeed. Native intelligence only goes so far.)

“I just want you to know, Em, that as long as you are happy in public school, and doing well, I am completely supportive of you doing it. If you become unhappy or are having a lot of trouble, then we can always go back to homeschooling. I know now that I was on the right track, and that I was probably being too hard on myself. But no matter what, you are the focus here, not me.”

And then she smiled at me – a huge, bright grin – “You are the best mama, you know that, right?”

Oh, my heart.

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What Did You Learn Today?

Having my dad living with us has continued to provide me with powerful lessons – moments that reveal to me my own shortcomings, mannerisms and attitudes handed down to me by my parents.

One of them – the compulsion to put others down when frustrated or disappointed – came screaming to the forefront today.

It started innocently enough. As Em left for school, my dad said, “Have a good day at school and come home and tell me something that you learned.”

At that moment, I felt a wave of discomfort rise in me.

I can remember him asking the same of me.

This evening, at dinner, my dad turned to her and asked, “So, tell me what you learned in school today.”

She thought about it, “Well, we learned about something called DARE.”

I groaned, my mind flashing to Dee’s immersion in D.A.R.E. around that age. But Em was discussing something different. “It stood for Define, Arrange,…and I can’t remember the last two.”

After a couple of questions from me, we learned that it was some kind of language arts concept, probably in regards to writing.

But what my dad said next, set my fur on edge. “So tell me something you did learn, since you obviously didn’t learn DARE.” He said the last part of the sentence quietly, almost under his breath, but I heard it and knew immediately why I had felt uneasy that morning.

How many times had I been made to feel stupid, incompetent, or insufficient? Just because I couldn’t remember the entire details of a concept I had learned?

“Don’t you dare do that.” I barked at him, “Don’t you dare try to shame her because she doesn’t remember every detail of that concept. That is NOT okay.”

Dave, who had been only half-listening, was taken aback. “I don’t think he meant to shame her,” he said, “he was just asking what she learned.”

“Oh really?” I turned back to my dad, “Go on, tell him what you said.”

Dad was silent. I glared at him, and Dave quickly changed the subject, doing his best to calm the waters.

I took him outside afterward and explained what had happened, what he hadn’t heard my dad say, and why it garnered such a strong reaction. I went back inside and walked into the living room.

“I would like to talk to you.”

Dad muted the television.

“Do you know why I objected to what you said.”

“Yes, you didn’t want her to feel shamed for not knowing what each letter of DARE meant.”

“And why would I have a problem with that?” I asked him.

“Because Emily needs to be encouraged, not put down.”

I nodded. “I cannot count the number of times in my childhood when I felt stupid, or incompetent, because of something like that. And I grew up, and I did it to Dee, and I started to do it to Em too. And I’ll be damned if I’m going to do it anymore.”

And then I got up and walked away to go explain myself to Em. She hadn’t heard his snipe at the dinner table. So she had been quite confused by it all.

I want Em to have this amazing, magical connection with her own children when she has them. I want her to not battle these demons that I have battled, or repeat the mistakes that I have made. I want this particular family trait to cease and never raise its ugly head again.

Shaming a child, making them feel stupid or insufficient or lacking in some way – it doesn’t help, it only hurts. How I wish I had learned these lessons three decades ago.

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Good News, Great News

With over two weeks of public school under our belts – I wanted to update everyone on how things have been, and how both Em, Dave and I are adjusting to our new norm.

A Seventh Grade Reading Level?!

Recently Em took an online reading test. As her homeroom teacher, Ms. L. explained, the more the student knows, the more questions they are asked. Em scored high, a 212, which equaled out to mean she is reading at a 7th-grade level. Considering she is in 5th grade, and that it took until she was eight before she felt comfortable reading, I thought this was a fabulous score.

I’ve beaten myself up a lot about not reading enough with her – but I think just the exposure alone to books and an advanced vocabulary has helped enormously.

Embracing Science

Yesterday I was on the phone when Em came home and instead of coming upstairs, she went straight to the kitchen. I finished with my call and headed down to see her.

I expected that she hadn’t liked lunch and was grabbing a snack – which in a sense she was – but her mind was fully on reproducing a science experiment that her science teacher, Ms. G., had shown them. She had taken the basic recipe for salt dough, and substituted sugar for a majority of the salt (“But not all sugar, because that would have made it too sweet, Mama”) and was busy chowing down on a flour, water, sugar and small amount of salt mixture.

I took these photos and emailed them to her teacher. Props to Ms. G, you are an awesome science teacher!

Our New Rituals

Each morning during the week, Em wakes up at around 7 a.m. Since her school provides breakfast and lunch free of charge, there is only a handful of duties in the morning before she has to leave: make sure Sugar has food and water, brush hair, and get dressed. She often does this as I do stretching exercises on the floor of our workout room.

She likes it when I walk her to school so we walk together to the end of the block and then a kiss and hug and she is off with the crossing guard across and then down the street to the back doors of the school.

In the afternoon, she runs home and barrels into my arms, smiling and happy (except for one day when she didn’t have enough lunch and showed that she is as prone to hypoglycemic attacks as I am).

In the evening, at around 8 p.m. we begin bedtime rituals. A bath first. Then afterward we brush our teeth together and then snuggle up in my king-size bed for a half hour of reading.

Last night, the time got away from us both and it was 8:52 when she asked for us to read together. “I know I need to be in bed, but this is my favorite time of the day with you, Mama.”

And how could I say “no” to that? We read until 9:20 in Mary Poppins.

I’m Finally Okay With This

I will admit it. When I first decided to do it, to put her in school and let go of the reins, I was frustrated, overwhelmed, and very depressed. It felt like a failure like I was giving up.

And in a perfect world, I would be independently wealthy, possess the perfect blend of Mary Poppins and the mom from Leave it To Beaver, and be able to spend my days feeding her curiosity.

But for now, in this time and space and with these teachers (yes, even Ms. W has come round and seems to really like Em), Em has what she needs. And that is such an incredible relief for me. It means that I can focus on work and make things run smoother here in the house and in our renovation projects. It means that at the end of the day I haven’t struggled to get her to do what she needs to do. I’m not worn out from educating and parenting all day long and I really, REALLY love being able to lie down with her and read each night.

All of this has brought us closer – and we are all a lot happier with the results.

A month or two ago, I could never have imagined that it could be this good. I guess I did better than I initially thought and Em is responding better than I could have hoped – both combining into a huge WIN for this little family.

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Fits and Starts

Today Em will be back at Whittier. I slept poorly for the second night in a row, my thoughts occupied with running through our options…

  • try again with Kauffman
  • return to Whittier
  • augment Whittier with a touch of homeschool during our mom/daughter time

And every time I thought of returning for a second or third day with Kauffman, I flashed onto the memory of Em’s tear-filled eyes beseeching me to tell them the truth, that we had agreed to one day, and one day only.

She was scared, intimidated, and was also tired, hungry and suffering from her fall allergies. It wasn’t a perfect test, but I have to live with the results and agree that, for now, Whittier is our best choice.

A Catastrophic Day

We received an acceptance offer to Kauffman Charter School on Wednesday, and despite having “made up our minds to attend Whittier” I couldn’t help but wonder if we should at least give it a chance.

Em was not excited. She was also beginning to get the sniffles – a sure sign of fall allergies setting in – but she agreed to “try out Kauffman for one day.”

On Wednesday night she was quite nervous, and slept in our room, tossing and turning, talking in her sleep. Dave, who had ear plugs in, was the only who got a full night’s sleep.

Combine that with the early hour, not enough breakfast, and a full immersion into the school’s unique way of educating children and we had nothing less than catastrophe.

Worse, I was told by the staff member to pick her up at 4:30, but Kauffman has an early release all this week at 1:30! So Em waited for half an hour, dissolving into tears, The phone rang at 2pm, “Come get me, school let out at 1:30.” She couldn’t manage to say anything more and I ran for the door and drove there as quickly as I could.

I finally got there, went to the wrong gate, then parked when I should have pulled forward to some invisible place I knew nothing about and went to the front office which was the incorrect place to go. They were kind and walked her over to the office where she appeared, face and eyes swollen from crying, and buried her face in my chest.

“We will see you tomorrow, Emily!” the staff member chirped brightly and Em stared up at me, her eyes brimming with unshed tears, silently beseeching me to set them right.

This morning I called them and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think this is going to work out this year. Frankly, she was terrified and overwhelmed.”

Reading Adventures – Full Steam Ahead!

A few days ago I was watching Curiosity Stream “The Real Mary Poppins” and I felt a huge twinge of sadness. On our bookshelves in our library are four of the Mary Poppins books in hardcover, purchased when Em was a baby or I was pregnant with her. We began to read the first book years ago, but never finished.

My heart twanged with sadness. Was it too late? Had I missed our window?

Years ago, struggling as a single mom, I had wanted to buy all of the Oz books, in hardcover when I discovered them coming out at the local Barnes and Noble. I had wanted to read each one to Dee, but time, energy, finances and more had meant that we never did, something I regretted immensely over the years.

I have come to believe that parenting is made up of 25% interactions and 75% guilt.

I checked on Amazon for the age range, realized it was ages 10-12, and immediately proposed we read the first Mary Poppins book after we finished When A Monster Calls. By the way, this was an excellent, if grim book. Fair warning, it will make you cry!And now I’m trying to figure out how to shove the Oz books, of which I have all of the first 14 and possibly half of the next 14 (written by Ruth Plumly Thompson), as well as Little House on the Prairie collection, Anne of Green Gables collection, and Lemony Snicket’s books all into our reading repertoire.One chapter a night, at least 4-5 nights per week. That’s my goal.Now that the onus of homeschooling is off of my plate, reading isn’t “an activity to shove in before bedtime in addition to all of the other gotta do’s” – it’s time with Em to cuddle close and enjoy her presence. It also means a limit to her screen time each evening, but in a way that she will enjoy.

The Trio of Fairies Continues

It occurred to me that I have not updated on our continued fairy journal. And I will predicate this by saying that we do not write often. This is because I forget to…constantly…despite having several obscure notes on my desk reminding me to do so (they kind of get buried under other papers).

In any case, Em is enjoying her interactions with Whip,Snap and Per, limited as they are. It provides a nice note of levity to our days, and Em responds so well to the pretense that I cannot help but continue.

Here are the last few interactions…

In case this is hard to read it says:”Dear Whip, Snap and Per – We haven’t talked in a while so here’s an update today. I [hurt] a lot and it feels like I [might] have burned myself on a firework but the pain started this morning but I’m not [sure] please write me back I miss you three bye – Em-Lee”

The fairies call her “Em-Lee” which she finds amusing, so they have continued to do this. Here is how the responded…

Em wrote back rather quickly…

And my response back (finally) yesterday…

She had a good giggle this morning as she read the entry and immediately noticed it was from Whip. She enjoys it, and we both pretend that I am merely a bystander in all of this. I regularly comment that fairies “are rather unreliable, flighty things” to explain my inability to remember to write back regularly.

She takes it in stride. When she is tired of waiting she comes to me and says, “Mama, the fairies STILL haven’t written back.”

And then I try desperately to remember while she is still asleep in the morning.

It’s all about timing, after all. The little shits are nocturnal.

Internal Struggles

It isn’t PC to post about your emotional turmoil – to speak frankly, or worse to continue to repeat what your pain feels like. We live in a society that admonishes us to “buck up” and “put on a brave face” after all.

But six weeks after what felt like the final blow in Dee’s and my relationship and I’m still reeling, still floundering about and trying to define who I am in the face of a diatribe of labels. I am also trying to match her words with the person I had spent 18 months peaceably living with from May 2015 to December 2016 (not to mention her first 18 years of existence).  The years we had spent working out our issues, and the past 18 months of not only living together but often working together – having such a different, starkly negative outlook from her, it continues to shake me.

I look at Em and think of how much I love her. How much I loved her sister. I think about how I put off college when Dee was struggling in school. Because to work full-time AND go to college meant I wasn’t there and present for her. And she came first. I had no idea at the time the gravity of the situation affecting her, no inkling that my second husband was not the man I thought he was, but still. I was willing to wait, to put off college and focus on what was important, her.

And with Em, the decision on whether to homeschool or not was an exquisitely painful one. Was I neglecting her by working? Had I condemned her to a sub-par education because I was concerning myself with retirement and money issues?

Not a single one of my decisions as of late have been easy. The decision to not argue, not post a blistering response to the fallacies uttered by my eldest, to not defend myself in any way – that was really hard. It’s still hard. Of all the people in the world, the ones we love have the greatest capacity to hurt us. They know our secret fears, they know just how and where to twist that knife.

Accepting that I could not give Em the best educational experience, due to needing to work, write and more – that was really hard. I look at her and remember Dee at her age. I was desperate to slow down time, to extend each minute, each hour, and truly enjoy my time with them. I was, and still am, painfully aware of how quickly our children grow into adults.

These fears, these moments of sheer misery reach out and smack me regularly. They wake me up in the middle of the night and will not let go for hours.

I say this, not because I need sympathy, kind words, or advice. Honestly? They won’t help. I just need to experience it, and hopefully make it to the other side. I need to accept that my eldest will no longer be in my life and that there is nothing to do or say to change that. She does not want me.

I say it because I know there are others out there going through painful moments. They may not be the same, the circumstances tweaked in a far different way. But it is there. Hold strong. Allow yourself to grieve, to question yourself (and to create new answers) about the person that you truly are.

I doubt I will ever understand why this has happened now, after all of these years and effort, sacrifice and love. But I know that I have to accept it and move on. I have a child who loves me and needs me – and she is who I am going to focus on. Because in the end, that is really all that is left to do.

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Engaged Parents, Engaged Teachers

Word of the Day

Today’s word of the day comes to us thanks to Merriam-Webster’s automatic email…

perfunctory – routine or mechanical in nature

It is from the Latin word perfunctorius and the Latin root perfungi (to accomplish)

Em liked the word and wrote it down along with the definition and other info.

Engaged Parents, Engaged Teachers

I took some time yesterday to send emails to the principal, Em’s science teacher and math teacher. I knew their names, but could not remember the others.

I heard back from the math teacher Mr. G within a few hours. His answer was short and rather “perfunctory” to quote our Word of the Day.

Thank you for contacting me.  I will be working with her on those specific skills. You should see growth in her math by mid quarter.  Feel free to contact me anytime.

I had asked if there were any skills building we needed to address at home, but it sounds like he definitely wants to handle it himself. That was a little disappointing.

The science teacher, Ms. G, responded late last night and included a picture!

I can tell she loves science!  She seems to love school.  You have a lovely child that has a want t o learn.  Here is a picture of her making NON NEWTONIAN FLUID today.  She was super excited because she has made it before.  I hope she came home and told you about it 🙂

 

And this morning, after Em reminded me of her Social Studies teacher’s name Ms. J, I sent her an email and received this back:

Hello Ms. Shuck!

Thank you so much for reaching out and getting me your email, definitely easiest to reach me by as well! She is definitely already a great part of the classroom, and seems to be adjusting to travelling all over the school well.

So far not much else to tell, early days yet. Just as a sneak peek into what we are doing right now: map skills and map making. Started yesterday with North East South and West, moving to by the end of the week or start of the next maping out our own classroom!

Again thanks for reaching out, and hope you stay dry today!

~Ms. J

I’m feeling better about it all with each teacher I hear back from.

I want each teacher to know that, even if I have stepped down from a role educating her in core curriculum, I am still her teacher and mentor and I will be involved and interested.

Second Day Went Well

Em reported that her second day went quite well and that gave me hope. She had positive interactions with all of her teachers, and even got a high five from Mrs. W, along with making the teacher laugh over something Em had written.

She is making friends, and told me she had helped others make the ooblek or “Non-Newtonian Liquid” in Science class.

More importantly, her fears seem to have disappeared. She knows her way around the school and feels comfortable with most of her teachers. Fingers crossed, my girl is doing well!

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The Official First Day of School

Overall, Em’s first day of school went well, except for one concern, and it is a big one. At least for me.

Em has two Language Arts teachers, Ms. L, who is her homeroom teacher, and Mrs. W. As I understand it, one teacher handles reading (Mrs. W) and the other (Ms. L) writing, although I am unsure on this and will be getting clarification later.

Em had a good connection with each of her teachers, except for Mrs. W. It started off with a practice of getting up from their seats without making scraping noises. She had them practice and Em thought she had done well, but Mrs. W singled her out for special attention.

This unnerved Em, but the issue later in the day was the one I took exception to.

If Em is reporting it correctly, Mrs. W said, “Well over here,” she gestured to a group at the back of the room, “we have our excellent readers, mmhm.” Then she waved her hands at another area, “And over here we have our good readers, mmhmm. And over here we have our poor readers.” And with that last designation, she turned to Emily’s table and just looked at her and the other children seated there.

Mrs. W is the room we were in during “meet your teacher” night when the principal came in and asked Em to step out of the room and then said, “Could you give us an idea of where Emily stands academically?”

I think he was half-convinced that she could not read. I gave an honest assessment as I saw it, “I think you will find her at grade level or above for reading, a little behind with spelling although I do have rather high standards, and at grade level or slightly below for math.”

He asked if we could have her read a paragraph or two to assess her reading and turned to Mrs. W, “Would you mind grabbing something for her to read?”

Mrs. W returned with a first-grade reader. I raised my eyebrows at that, but let the short test continue. Em came in, read the paragraph with little hesitation and the principal looked rather relieved. “She will do fine,” he said.

But now I am wondering what exactly that meant. Also, Mrs. W has had no other examples of Em’s reading skills since she has not heard her read aloud beyond that one small example.

So…

I’ve got a message in to Ms. L to better understand exactly what each teacher handles. I have also discussed with Em the idea that there may be preconceived notions at play here. After all, there are plenty of myths associated with homeschoolers. That they are behind academically can be one of them. I suggested to her that we help change Mrs. W’s mind about that.

“I think we need to help her understand how broad your vocabulary is, and that you are continuing to learn each day at home as well as school,” I said. “So why don’t I share the Word of the Day email I get with you each morning? We can talk about the definition and use it in a sentence. Perhaps if she sees you understand bigger words that might help.”

After I understand better the two teachers’ roles, I plan on reaching out to the principal and asking for a basic assessment/placement test. That way we have a clear understanding of where she is grade level-wise and I will take steps at home to help augment her learning in school so that her understanding rises to a level that is in line with grade expectations or better.

And finally, if the problems with Mrs. W continue, I will not tolerate my child being made to feel insufficient or stupid in anyone’s class. I will take the step of insisting she attend Mrs. L’s classes only OR remove her from this school.

One thing is for sure, I’m not going to repeat the mistake I made with Danielle’s education – that of allowing any school, principal, counselor or teacher to run slip-shod over me or my child in order to fulfill their own script of how education should be.

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Changes – Here, There and Everywhere

 

You may have read the last entry and thought “end of an era.” And you may have figured there would be no more entries.

And perhaps it is. And perhaps there won’t be. But I doubt it.

For now, for this school year and perhaps permanently, I have stepped down from my role of teaching core subjects and being my daughter’s primary educator. However, I remain her teacher, her mentor, in so many things that I already find myself with things to say.

For one, it is the first day of school for Emily. Her first day of public school, that is.

This morning, as we cuddled close she whispered, “I’m scared.”

I hugged her close and kissed her hair. I didn’t whisper reassurances, I didn’t tell her it would be easy peasy and that she would be a-okay. Instead I said,

“It’s okay to be scared. Just like it is okay to be excited. During this school year, you will probably feel everything from ‘why did I ever want to go to public school” to “I wish I could have been here since kindergarten.’ And all of that is okay and expected.” She nestled closer. “There will be kids who are mean, and kids who are nice. You will meet some who you can’t wait to be friends with and others who will probably never be okay. You will have teachers that you love, and teachers who you might wish you don’t have. There will be times when you are bored and times when you are fascinated by what you are learning. Just remember, to be yourself, sweetheart. Because you are wonderful. And I love you.”

Later, after I had walked her around the school, said hello to her homeroom teacher and hugged her goodbye at the door to the cafeteria, I walked home to fix breakfast for my dad.

I thought about this blog and decided a slight change in name would be appropriate. In fact, it is far more accurate. I am, and always have been an advocate of learning, in whatever form that takes. I can’t do much about the domain name for now, and I don’t know how much I will be posting here even still, but for now, the title reflects where I am, where we are.

I’ve come to some measure of peace with our decision. I made it for several reasons:

  • have to work. For our future, for our now, we must have the additional income.
  • Balancing so much, I have felt scattered, unprepared, and insufficient as Em’s teacher
  • The schism between my eldest, specifically her memories, however inaccurate they were, has caused me to question everything (my parenting, my teaching skills, even who I am as a human being) all over again and has put me in a mental space that adds to my fears of being less of the teacher Em needs.

While I continue to recover from that last reason, I don’t feel it is fair for Em to be caught in the middle. She deserves me to be steadfast, reliable and loving – something I cannot be when I am constantly questioning myself. It doesn’t make for a good learning experience.

I look forward to seeing her smiling face as she exits school today. I hope she will have a skip in her step, I hope she will have made a friend, or even a handful, and I hope she will tell me about each and every one of her teachers. I’ll be waiting on the corner for her, knowing I have done something right if she is happy and less scared and at peace with this new dynamic.

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And This is Where I Cry “Uncle”

Before 1997, I hadn’t even heard of the word “homeschooling.”

I moved back home to Kansas City, Missouri when I was 27, with my almost nine-year-old in tow. Down the street from us was an odd-shaped house full of children. “They homeschool,” my mother said it quietly, under her breath, almost as if it were an affliction.

“Is that legal?” I asked.

It was, of course. And slowly, as I watched problem after problem surface during Danielle’s path from Kindergarten through eighth grade, I dreamed of homeschooling her. I was scared though. What did I know about teaching my child? And working full-time, how could I possibly do it?

Every bump in the road. Every mean kid, bad teacher, or poor grade – it would remind me of my own difficulties in school and I was desperate to change the paradigm.

And less than five years later, I would join the homeschooling ranks, pulling my child out of school and doing my best to homeschool her.

I would like to tell you that it was just hard at first, that I got my sea legs and grew confident in my homeschooling abilities. But, honestly? That never happened.

I had some extremely high points with Danielle – she studied politics, women’s history, and wrote papers. It was, by far, the most rewarding homeschool experience I have had. I still felt a little adrift, so I encouraged her to go to community college once she had her driver’s license. After all, she would get a start on her agemates, heck, maybe even have an Associates degree when they were still kicking it in high school.

It didn’t work out that way.

And when I was pregnant with Emily, my mind was made up. I was going to do it right, all the way through, from start to end. I was going to be a homeschool mom from the word “go!”

When Em was four, nearly five, I spent more than a month gathering materials, designing a curriculum, and planning our days.

That curriculum and those meticulous plans were thrown out of the window in less than two weeks. And that was because I was stubborn, it had really been over within the first two hours.

And over the next six years there have been various renditions of that – rinse and repeat – try something new, give up, try something else, have limited success, move on to the next thing.

And Em has learned many things along the way. She learned to read, print, write in cursive, spell, add/subtract, multiply/divide…mostly. She loved science classes with LEARN Math and Science, playing with friends, and art.

She squirmed through social studies and yawned a lot. And her personality, always kind and loving, has florished. She is popular, well-spoken, and kids and adults both are drawn to her.

And we have lumbered on with homeschooling, in fits and starts, for six years.

Me feeling more or less incompetent, her mostly bored, and homeschool hanging on by a thread.

And then last month happened. And in the midst of dealing with what is, hands down, the worst pain I have ever felt in my years as a mother, I realized today that there is nothing that escapes the feelings of self-doubt and questioning that have risen like a flood in response to Danielle’s post.

I’ve certainly had these questions before…

Am I continuing to homeschool out of some ego/pride thing?

Would she be better off in a school?

Does she need more structure than I am providing?

Are my own personal experiences with public school coloring my outlook?

Em is so outgoing, so at home with new people and new experiences. She’s different than me, or her sister. I would go as far as to say that she is most surely an extrovert, where we are very firmly introverts.

And of either of my two children, I would point to her and say that she has the most chance of success in a public setting.

These feelings of inadequacy that I have, coupled with the devastating pain I have felt in the past month, have collided. I am left feeling insufficient and full of shortcomings. And Em, my outgoing kiddo, who squirms in her seat and voluntarily takes a dreaded bath just to get out of homeschooling for a few extra minutes, is being her normal self.

In a public school setting, she will knock the socks off of the other kids in terms of good behavior. Part of me looks forward to meeting with her teachers. It will be a bright light of happiness, meeting them and hearing how well-behaved she is. But my decision to send her to public school tastes like failure. It is full of bitterness and disappointed dreams.

Nothing is set in stone, but it is looking more and more like we will be enrolling her in public school this year. Kauffman Charter School if we are really lucky, and nearby Whittier if we are not.

I’ve been standing on the edge of the cliff for a very long time. And my eldest’s words stirred up the hornet’s nest of self-hatred, insecurity, and uncertainty bred by decades of betrayal that I try so desperately to push away. I realized that I need a break – possibly a permanent one. I need time to grieve the loss of my eldest. Whether there is reconciliation or not in our future, she is someone I can never trust again. And that is a loss that has rocked my understanding of the world. I still struggle to accept it.

I need to bury myself in work and let teachers handle the job of teaching.

So this may be the last post on this website. Then again, who knows what tomorrow will bring?

But for now? I am crying “uncle.”

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