Category Archives: Why Homeschool?

Gotta Trust

Being a trusting parent can be hard. In general I go along with the old-school style of parenting: be tough, you can do it, chin up, no whining! In general, I’m in favor of getting a thicker skin and enduring a little discomfort for the sake of growth or even just for the sake of the family unit. (“There are 4 people in this family, and all of our needs are equally important . . . “)

But sometimes I forget that my kids are sometimes right about their limits (sometimes). Especially Victoria, who seems to have the self-awareness of an ancient Tibetan guru.

We were at the American Girl store yesterday, and she kept sitting down, not wanting to walk around with her friend. I was frustrated — we had invited this friend to a tea and then each girl had an amount of money to spend on a small item or service. Victoria chose a hairstyle that cost her entire holdings, and the friend chose to get her doll’s ears pierced (!), which left her a little money left to buy something else. Victoria would not shop with her, though, and instead sat quietly as I prodded her to get up and go with her friend (which was, to some extent, necessary for safety reasons — I couldn’t set either one of them loose in the mall store).

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Finally she confessed to me that she didn’t want to walk around because she knew she would see something else she wanted and then she would feel bad. Me, I found that absurd and thought for sure that she could manage those feelings because she’d be enjoying looking around.

Well sure enough, after I forced her to keep going she soon became completely unreasonable about a dress she wanted. Soon she was crying on a bench, so jealous of her friend for having a little money left over to buy a goofy little bag, so sure that buying the dress would make her the happiest girl in the world and that no one else could want the dress as much as she. Had the friend not been there, I might have lost it and dragged her out of there fuming, but as it was I had to stay calm. The friend seemed to take it in stride — young children get that other young children cry for no apparent reason.

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Well, she did recover eventually and made a point of telling me that she felt a lot better. I was still not happy with her behavior, but was glad that she had managed to pull herself out of her drama tailspin largely on her own.

Later I recalled what she had said when she didn’t want to shop — she knew she would feel bad. And she was right. And she had a plan for how to deal with it. And I told her, “pish tosh, what do you know?” A nice lesson for the fall, when we bring our more formal learning activities back.

In any case, she was so dang cute it was easy to forgive her, and myself. 🙂

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Why We Homeschool, Revisited

A lot of times when people ask why we homeschool, I just say “Because we enjoy it.” When it was a question about why we pulled our child out of school, the question was harder to answer without a lot of care taken not to offend, but now that answer seems to cover it. It’s not a “schools suck” or a “my kid is too special” kind of thing; just “we like it.” It’s the truth, most days.

Still, sometimes the other reasons come around to beat me over the head.

As the school year ramps up, I’ve heard a lot of talk from parents with gifted kids in public schools. Across the state, a common theme has been that schools—teachers, principals, administrators—are refusing to follow state law in allowing parents to play a role in teaching their kids.

According to Minnesota state law, parents are free to object to a curriculum and substitute one of their own, provided that the family pays for it and does the teaching. The law originated with sex ed, naturally, but was written broadly to allow all kinds of flexibility. Parents of gifted kids have used the law to provide appropriate content for their kids in specific subject areas.

Yet in school after school, parents are being denied that right. Principals are stating flatly, “we don’t do that,” even upon being shown the relevant statute.

The reasoning behind that puzzles me. What does the school gain by refusing?

It’s hard on my liberal, teachers-union-loving self to look at that and not question the assumptions behind the blatant disrespect for parents (not to mention the law). While I have no fear that the government is trying to brainwash my children, I do see a clear assumption on the part of those representatives of the school system that a parent has no right to participate in the formal education of her child – even something as simple as providing a laptop and an alternative math program for 45 minutes a day – except at the discretion of the school.

Were it just one teacher, I’d be ready to accept the “bad apple” excuse. But as parent after parent chimes in with similar stories, it’s hard not to see a pattern. And it’s a pattern that reminds me of the battles I’d rather not fight. Tough as it is to get along with my volatile little snowflakes some days, that’s my job as a parent. I have a lot more invested in weathering those storms than in fighting battles with someone who doesn’t even know me, who sees his school as his own private fiefdom, where state law doesn’t apply.

And that’s just the people who work there. What about other parents?

Many of my friends were saddened by a blog post by a journalist who decided to lash out at parents who think their kids are gifted. The sad part isn’t that a minor blogger doesn’t like the word “gifted.” Rather, what came out of the discussion was how many people had someone in their lives say the same things to them directly, in person, about their own kids or parenting, and how hurtful it could be.

The blogger also reiterated one of the weirdest, but very common, anti-gifted-ed arguments: parents of gifted students seek more challenging classes for their children because they are trying to eliminate life’s challenges for their children. Chew on that logic for a while. Yet it is so common: some parents seem determined to believe that there is something elitist or nefarious about trying to put your child in a setting where she has the opportunity to learn something new. Frankly, I have even less interest in coping with those parents than I do with the school. At least I can cite statues at the school; being an ignorant jerk is still fully legal.

I can’t lie – homeschooling intense children is hard. Being a driven, impatient, introverted person makes homeschooling hard. Is it harder than dealing with that other crap? I’m not sure, and besides, dealing with that other crap isn’t an essential part of my job description as a parent. Dealing with my kids’ ups and downs is, and sending them to school wouldn’t change that. But it might just add a bunch more BS to the pile, and I’m already shoveling as fast as I can.

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Filed under Gifted Ed, In the News, Why Homeschool?

A Different Kind of Learner

Today at dinner Victoria and I discussed the delicious fresh, organic lemonade I got at a great price today, 2 for $5.

After I mentioned that we had a second jug waiting for us in the fridge, Victoria said, “So we have a gallon all together.”

I was impressed — I don’t recall discussing volume measures with her, and half-gallon wasn’t printed on the container, so I asked her, “How did you figure that out?”

Victoria: “I used math.” (Duh!)

Me: “Oh, so how big is one container?”

Victoria: “I don’t know. A skinny jug is a pint, but this isn’t a pint. So maybe . . .” (trails off)

Me: “Well how did you know that two make a gallon?”

Victoria: “I read something in a book.”

And that’s all I know. Did she visually combine the two jugs to approximate a milk gallon jug? Did she read the 2 quarts (or 64 oz.) and add that up to a gallon but assume that I could not be asking her such an elementary question?

She’ll never tell.

What does she know? How does she know it? She holds these things close to her, secret agent-like.

We’re going to do some educational assessments this year with Victoria, which may or may not tell us something useful about our child. What I know already is that she is our little engineer, and the tiny guru, and the 7 year old going on 27 — not just to us, but to Sunday School teachers, cashiers, hairdressers, and friends. I know that if she tells me where to find something, 99.8% of the time she is dead on. And when she tells me what she likes about her different friends, she has a depth of understanding that blows my mind.

I don’t think any of that will be on the Woodcock Johnson or the WIAT-II, and I don’t think they take answers that start, “Well, maybe . . . ” Is she smart, or gifted? Probably. But what stands out more strongly is that she really is a different kind of learner, and she’s not giving up the keys to her mind to me or anyone else.

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What’s Your Real?

This morning I reviewed and wrote short annotations on essays about the Scottish poet Robert Burns.

It occurred to me that in my mind, Robert Burns is a major cultural figure and phenomenon whose importance and interest far eclipses that of, say, Katy Perry or even World Cup soccer. I suspect that I’m increasingly in the minority there.

What’s interesting to me about this is not that I am culturally more or less knowledgeable than anyone else. Everyone makes their choices, though many people have to make them within a limited sphere, and I’m relativist enough to say that (for the most part) my choices are no “smarter” or “boring” than most others. What’s interesting to me is how we come to decide what is real.

To me, Robert Burns is real. And he has been since I first heard of him in my early teens. Bear Stearns, as my mind organizes information, is little more than a very bad fairy tale. What those people do to make money (mainly moving chits of paper around, so far as I can tell) is not real. The consequences for people outside of that world, sadly, are real, but that world is less real to me than a poem or novel.

So far as I know, I didn’t choose what would be real to me, or I did so at such a young age that I have no recollection of it, and I’m stuck with it regardless. As I watch my life go by, so many things pass through like ghosts, like translucent phantoms in the background whose whispers I hear faintly but not distinctly. Others are full, glorious color, calling to me directly, specifically seeking my attention.

How did this happen? I have the same background as a lot of people who find very different things to be “real,” and who find the things that are most alive to me to be frivolous, even—worse—dead.

And how does this happen for our kids?

Can homeschooling be a place where our kids, especially as they get older, can hear and respond those things that are alive to them and waving frantically for their attention? Or will it be a place where what is real is what I see, and everything else must be thin illusion? And if I want it to be the former, how will I give good guidance?

And I would like to know, what is real and unreal for you?

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Things Recently Explained to Me

Victoria is full of interesting statements lately:

— she has 9.5 boyfriends (?!)
— her brain is divided into sections: devilish, “angel-ish,” mechanical, tinkerer, “mud” (that’s the gardening part), and (primarily) sensible, meaning “wise and using good judgment”
— we were discussing her great-grandfather who worked in an auto factory making cars. “That must be why I’m so creative!!” she exclaimed, very excited by the idea.
— she wants her new nickname to be “Aroma Girl.” You can figure that one out yourself.

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I was holding her hand today walking into the grocery store — I had just picked her up from a Spanish-language day camp, and it was just the two of us. Gosh, seven is a great age. Whatever mistakes I’ve made and will keep making, I am so glad for the extra time together we get from homeschooling.

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Slowly Rounding the Corner

. . . or not.

I don’t know. I know that I feel like I’m trying to wake up after sleeping in too long, and too late. Except that there is never a too late.

Right?

There is a Kris Delmhorst version of this Rumi poem that I love. It is so like me — too silly, too serious, too many instruments playing at once, a little rough around the edges. I love it when a song seems to mirror you, not just in words but more importantly in sounds.

These words aren’t all in the poem, but I’m trying to remember them in the mornings, especially the third line:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

So I ignore the call of my office and go do something else. Anything else. As yet, I don’t know what I want to do, but I’ve made space for it all the same.

We are also all working on presence. For whatever reason, the girls seem to have a huge need to have me right there, as often as possible, or they lose their way. It’s as if we’re all a little unmoored and adrift, and somehow — well, obviously — it falls to me to bring us back. And you may say, well of course you are, you’re the mother. To which I can only say, having a responsibility hardly qualifies me to fulfill it.

But I do. It’s my new project.

We do yoga together, Victoria and I knit together, and I sit next to Violet at times when my presence seems totally unnecessary but is apparently essential.

I’ve also picked up a new book, Acedia and Me, by Kathleen Norris, whom — rightly or wrongly — I often identify with strongly. No need to read a lot into my choice of books — I’ve had this one on the list for years and finally noticed it at the bookstore. It’s the kind of book I used to read all the time and then, suddenly, stopped.

Now I’m starting again.

Lots of starting planned around here.

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Filed under Gifted Heart and Soul, Our Domestic Church, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?

Happy Camper

Arggghhh! I can’t even start this post!

This is me: 100 different thoughts going in 100 different directions, which all adds up to

paralysis.

You would think this would make me a compassionate mother to a child who acts exactly the same way. I am flattered by the way you overestimate me. 🙂

Neither mother nor oldest child is comfortable right now — both of us seem at an uncomfortable ebb in our passions, restless without something to wrestle with. I am always looking for signs of light and life to carry me through to the next day.

Today it was this:

Violet went on an overnight field trip at a local outpost of Concordia Language Villages. She had a great time, though when I asked her if she learned anything she bluntly said no — the other campers were almost all total beginners. When I asked her if she enjoyed speaking Chinese, she said she mostly spoke Chinese with the counselors. She said she was really looking forward to her regular 2-week camp, when she can be with more Chinese speakers.

She thoroughly enjoyed the other kids anyway. Another girl rode home with us — as a side note, she told us about how her attention span had shortened in school, because after the first few sentences from the teacher she would tune out, as everything afterwards was repetition. She wasn’t very happy about it. Anyway . . .

During the hour-long ride, the girls discovered that they both loved Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and spent most of the trip quoting the book together and laughing hysterically. For so many reasons it was an absolute joy to listen to. Violet also shared her new love of the Beatles — “I only really like the Revolver album; all the best songs are on that one” — and played some of her dad’s music for her friend as well.

Awake, alive, alert, present, open, joyful — it’s so hard to be all of those things all at once, at any age, at any time, with anyone. In this house of intensity, red zones, anxiety — not to mention hormones! — I don’t get to see them together as often as I’d like.

But when I do it’s like a little peek behind the veil, or a flash of the lighthouse beacon in the fog: “Ah, there it is. That’s where we’re headed. Stay the course.”

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Recommitting

It’s been four years since we started homeschooling. Four years and a few months ago we started down an exciting path of learning about homeschooling, learning about educational theories, learning about types of giftedness. We had the usual issues of dealing with skeptics, figuring out what the change would mean for our family life, but that was more an adventure than a chore.

Eventually, the excitement wore off. That was a good thing, really. Homeschooling wasn’t a battle we had to fight or even a wheel we needed to reinvent. It was just what we did, like eating three meals a day — some great meals, some bad ones, a lot of unmemorable ones.

The honeymoon ended, but we were happy with the mundane reality of doing whatever the day called for. It was a nice break from feeling like salmon swimming upstream.

Then, somehow, happy everyday-ness started to feel like a rut. In addition, after four years of homeschooling it became clear that wonderful as homeschooling is, it’s hardly a panacea. Children still hit puberty. Intense children are still intense. Intense parents are still intense. I developed a lot of sympathy for the teachers who didn’t know what to do with my kids — neither do I. Nor do the kids — it’s lovely for people who can manage their intensity and whatever else life hands them with minimal support or guidance, but that’s never been me or my husband, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s not my kids either.

So I’ve been considering school. School, where someone could deal with the intensity for a while. School, where someone else could create structure. School, where my kids couldn’t be fighting with each other over nothing!

It didn’t take long to realize that for lots of reasons traditional school wouldn’t be happening for Violet. It’s Just. Not. A Fit. It’s not a giftedness thing so much as, well, a lot of other things that are really her business.

But for Victoria I thought it might be a great idea. If nothing else she would have the opportunity to make friends without a domineering older sister around. Yeah, yeah, it’s great that homeschooled kids can be in mixed-age groups and be great friends with siblings, but now that we’ve done that for a while it’s clear that not all children benefit in the same way from that situation. And someone else could try giving her instructions and see if she listens to them!

But once we started discussing school as a real possibility, I could see the potential problems — vacations were just the beginning! We struggle to deal with the asynchrony of her interests and abilities in a homeschool setting — her handwriting and math skills are not anywhere near the level of her science interests. Would she be getting the foreign language education she wants and we want for her? She gets frustrated with the noise and roughhousing of the kids at our homeschool co-ops — wouldn’t school be more of the same, for more hours of more days? And she just plain doesn’t like most kids her age. Where her sister has always been eager to act like a younger, crazier child, Victoria really doesn’t enjoy it. She wants to go sit and talk somewhere quiet, or “enjoy nature.”

I’m not saying school would be a *bad* place for her, but I can’t see how upending our current family style to accommodate school would offer enough benefits to be worth the effort. It wouldn’t seem to address any of the issues that are making life tough for her, and us.

The thing about being a salmon swimming upstream rather than a lazy sunbather floating contentedly down the river is that it requires intention. When the struggle ends, the mindful intention can slip away eventually as well, and when you find yourself with a punctured innertube in rocky rapids, it’s much easier to freak out than it is to find that mindful intention again.

So I’m recommitting, bringing myself back to that beginning place of learning, shaking things up, paying close attention because new things are happening. It’s a lot of work, a lot more work than it was four years ago, to haul my mind back to what’s happening right now. As far as I can tell, however, it’s probably more pleasant work than the terrible grind of the alternatives.

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Filed under Gifted Ed, Oh Mother, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Why Homeschool?

Creating Space

Several years ago, when we moved from an apartment to a house, we had an extra dishwasher. It was a good dishwasher — better than the one that came installed in the house — but it was a freestanding dishwasher and we had no use for it.

I tried and tried to sell it, but I could get no takers. Finally, I listed it on freecycle — which was new to me then — and a very grateful person came and carried it away to a cousin who had lots of baby bottles to wash or something. Finally, no portable dishwasher in the dining room.

Later that day we were driving through the neighborhood when I saw a yard sale. Someone was selling two very cool chairs that would fit perfectly in our living room, where we had a definite furniture shortage. I was pleased — move something out, and suddenly there’s space for something better to come in.

We had a similar experience this week. We agonized and argued, but finally determined that Violet won’t take science at our co-op anymore. It’s in part a financial decision, but partly an acknowledgment that the class served more of a social purpose than an academic one. We have much cheaper ways of meeting our social needs.

Still, I want her to be studying science regularly, so I knew I would have to come up with some alternative by next fall. Lo and behold, one possibility has presented itself to me already — one that will be much better academically, and one that she is extremely excited about. I don’t know if it will work out, but I’m so pleased. We made a space, and something better came along.

To cap it off, we found some Teaching Company biology DVDs that I had purchased used and then forgotten about during the busy fall and winter — just what she needs to shore up her biology foundation before doing a new science activity. Yay! We settled in to watch the first one, and in the first few minutes she was saying, “I’m not sure I’m gonna like this . . . ” Soon afterwards, however, the professor was explaining various theories of how organic matter could have arisen in a totally inorganic environment, and she was talking back to the screen and saying “Yeah, that’s good question,” and “That’s so cool!”

And what really warmed my heart was that my little preteen girl was wearing a cape and sitting a giant box she called her boat throughout the video, sharing a bag of Cheerios with Victoria, who had packed the provisions for their sailing journey in her own laundry basket/vessel. Sweet!

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Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?

Awww Alert

We had a friend over today who has recently started homeschooling. I’m sure I barraged her with Too Much Stuff (also, is “barrage” transitive? that looks funny), but it was great for the girls to have a plain old playdate, no educational content required.

My friend asked the girls what the best and worst things about homeschooling were. I didn’t get to hear what Violet says, and she can’t remember, and she doesn’t know anyway. (Um, someone is turning 11 soon.)

Victoria focused on our co-op and said that the worst thing was cutting out stuff in science (they were doing a lot of cutting and pasting until we talked with the teacher about it). I didn’t get to hear her best, but she told me later in the car, again speaking of co-op:

“I said, ‘I like it that my mom is always there.'”

Awwwwww.

Who knew? Me just sitting there knitting and working while she is off in class is her best thing (today).

Six is a great age.

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