Saturday, May 31, 2014

End of the school year packaging

I can't believe that it is mid the end of may already, and our academic year is technically drawing to a close.

I say technically because the style of homeschooling that we have adopted doesn't use conventional curriculums, and doesn't simply pause when the weather turns warm.  I don't see this as depriving my kids of their summer vacation, rather I aspire to make the whole year enjoyable enough that there is no need or desire for a drastic, months long break every year. Life is learning; learning is life.

While I personally don't care for the name itself, I totally adore the concept. Called "unschooling", the idea is basically that kids learn best through experience, rather than sitting at a table, listening to lectures and regurgitating wrot facts from a book. Any good teacher can tell you that a key component of learning is passion; and this style of schooling takes full advantage of a child's curiosity and thirst for knowledge about the things that inspire them. Therefore, instead of purchasing curriculums and covering pre-determined topics, we follow what the kids are interested in, and try to act as guides and facilitators to those doing so, we can use things that they are genuinely excited about as a gateway to all of the topics that you need to cover, but in a way that is immediately relevant to that kid's life.

The example I like to give is horses.  Say your child is into horses. So, you take on mission to learn everything you can about horses.  You get them riding lessons, you take them to a farm and learn how to care for them. This can open the door to veterinary medicine, which itself can bring in a range of sciences and mathematics...You learn about the history of horses, and where they came from, how they were utilized throughout history. You can talk about how they were used by the postal service, and in the wars - and that opens a gateway into history and politics and industrial/technological can do all of this by visiting museums and libraries, and you can learn how to use current technologies to do independent research, to boot. Documentaries, can write your own stories about horses, and draw them and...basically anything you can think of is fair game, as long as you and your child are engaged and working together to pursue whatever it is that lights a fire behind their eyes and in their hearts.

It's pretty basic, really.  We all have that one thing (well, at least one thing...) that we get so interested in that we go looking for more information about it, sometimes casually, sometimes voraciously, often staying up too late to read just one more article about it, or putting the finishing touches on some project we've gotten absorbed the idea behind unschooling is to let that natural learning process gain momentum and guide the way while working to enable it, rather than standing in the way with a predetermined set of facts that someone in a business suit somewhere has decided you should be able to repeat.

But, even us unschoolers have to adhere to the law, and legally, the year is drawing to a close.  This means evaluation time, which means preparing to, to use a term from my own school days, "show your work." What has been done this year to further the child's knowledge of and ability to navigate the world? How has their skill set expanded since this time last year? Basically, we have to prove that our Kiddos are learning and that we as homeschooling parents are not, in fact, neglectful ignoramuses.

When we undertook all this, I planned to document every little thing we did along the way, doing, at the very least, a weekly recap of our adventures and discussions.  Unfortunately, my mother's death a few months ago hit me very hard, and I have found it incredibly difficult to keep up with all the paperwork ...grief took the reins of my communication for a while, and on top of the over 5,500 unread emails in my inbox right now, I have dozens of partially done portfolio entries that languish on my 'to do' list that have never been fleshed out.  It's not just a few here or there,'s all of them. Every single one. I never completed any of them. None.

I don't regret this for a second, though, because when it comes down to it, I spent the precious energy and time that I did have to actually doing things with the kids, and ultimately that is what matters. The fact that I have to scramble a bit now in order to prepare for the meeting with our evaluator is a fine price to pay for the fact that I was able to give my kids the attention and resources they needed to thrive during a particularly difficult time in all of our lives.  

And the fun bit is that I get to go back now and recap some of the awesome adventures we had together, and while it certainly won't be an exhaustive record, I hope to share at least some of that with you all here, as well.  So many of the people who read these posts have been there for my family in so many ways during a particularly craptastic year, and I would love to be able to share with you some of the more positive elements of our lives. I would like to share with you the results of your efforts, and give you a glimpse of what your support has enabled us to accomplish.

So I thank you, my dear friends and family, and offer this as hopefully the first of many entries about wonder, and learning, and hard work, and joy.

Oh, and that horse scenario? Not an arbitrary choice...horses were one of the first topics we took on at the start of our adventure.  Many thanks to Tina Legno for giving us the opportunity to visit and play at Alivio Farm.  We are glad to include your family in our circle of wonderful friends!

Hazel, Tina, and Star

Cadence and Star

Calliope gearing up!  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A humble Mother's Day

It's the little things that make life great.

It's my kids insisting that I need to sleep in on mother's day, but being so excited that they wake me up at dawn, covering the bed in cards and love and, oddly, sandals.

It's going out to breakfast and beating the crowd, thanks to their early morning exuberance.

It's coming home and having a quiet moment to sit and miss and love my missing mom.

It's blowing bubbles on a sunny Sunday, and seeing my babies' eyes light up at the big green ball I toss them, an unexpected gift.

It's in the way I feel lighter when my gift to them becomes a gift to me, as they invent a game that fools me into moving my body through space, running after balls and kids and splashing through streams; the very actions that heal the soul but feel too heavy to fathom out of context.

It's in the way I should take a nap, but the littlest commandeered her father's energy and now they snooze together on the couch, topped with a lazy loving cat.

This Mother's Day wouldn't be a celebration of motherhood without the little moments, like scooping a dead spider from the bath water and finding the missing hippo towel. These moments seem mundane; the compromises sometimes cruel, but there is depth to these moments that I can feel so fully now that my own mom is gone. They won't remember each caterpillar we rescue, or every sacrifice I make; but these moments sculpt their futures and help them to identify with hard work and joy, and I can ask for no more than to prepare my children for fulfilling lives of their own.

And perhaps, when I am gone, they will feel that, while they don't quite know why, the tiny moments of joy in the day to day remind them of home, and they will be encouraged to recognize those moments, and live there even when times are rough. And maybe, if I'm lucky, a moment or two of nothing in particular will remind them of their long gone mother, who loved them so very much.

Happy Mother's Day, Grandma Carol!

My Grandma Carol is an incredibly strong woman.

After losing her first husband unfairly young, she raised their two children (my dad and aunt Molly) on her own. That alone is an incredible feat and definitely worthy of all the Mother's Day Awards, but she didn't stop there.  She eventually found a new companion in my Grandpa Ed, and then had a brief respite before my cousin Meghan and I arrived within two months of each other.  Grandma was always very involved in our lives and played a huge role in them - mine (and Kelly's), despite living 1500 miles away for the bulk of my childhood…But for Meghan and her younger brother Aaron, Grandma has been a steady, guiding hand, stepping in wherever needed and even acting as a main guardian at various points along the way.

And she didn't even stop there.

Her strength is further evident in the grace with which she has handled being unfairly widowed for a second time.  She made the hard decision to leave her home in the country for an apartment in the city, where she is now helping to take care of Molly in her ailing health, and playing a hand in raising 5 of her great-grandchildren (and three step-great-grandchildren).

So yes, Mother's day is an extremely appropriate day to honor, thank, and admire my Grandma Carol.  Obviously my three kids don't get to see her nearly as often as Meghan's three or Aaron's brood, but we wanted to make sure she knows how much we love and appreciate her nonetheless.

Grandma, I love you Soooo much.  I am extremely grateful for all the love and support-emotional, physical, financial, mental - that you have provided to me - and to my whole family - over the years.  You are an amazing woman, and you inspire me in so many ways.

Happy Mother's day.

Love always,
Kate (&Co!)