Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Truth About Schedules

I suffer from chronic depression. One of the things that makes that worse is lack of structure in my life. But the flip side is that when I'm overscheduled, I'm seriously stressed. I constantly walk a tightrope when it comes to structure without rigidity. My kids obviously feel the effects of my little circus act and, sadly, suffer the ill-effects when my foot slips from the wire.

Last summer we "played with" homeschooling. Being type A, I had lessons planned down to the minute. In the end, the rigidity of my self-imposed schedule put us all off of homeschooling. But it's still been very much on my mind and in my heart. Which is why it seemed like kismet when I made friends with an unschooler online this year. Unschooling suits mine and my children's natural inclinations much more than "classroom at home" homeschooling.

But one of my reservations about unschooling initially was the lack of structure. Over the past couple of weeks I've been thinking, praying, and experimenting. Finally tonight I stumbled upon an epiphany. Quite simply, we can have a flexible schedule. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Duh, Mari! Aren't you supposed to be smart???" And yes, thank you, I believe I am pretty smart. But one of my major flaws (should I save this for the Plank Pullin' meme?) is that I tend to think of real-world things in very black or white terms. My thinking has always been, "I need schedule. Therefore I will schedule every minute of every day and follow it strictly," or "I hate schedules even though I need them. Therefore I will do what I want except when outside forces impose a schedule upon me."

What I decided today and will experiment with for a while until we make it work is that I can create a loose (hour by hour, broad) schedule and follow it unless something more absorbing comes up. So I started by relaxing the summer schedule I had started with. It looks something like this:
9 AM - up and at 'em. Eat breakfast, clean up, get ready to face the day!
10 AM - Outside time before it really heats up out there. Do whatever we want outdoors in the fresh air
11 AM - Back inside for a little housework. Do whatever needs to be done to make the house a friendly place to be
12 PM - lunch
1 PM - kitchen time. I try to do a little cooking or baking daily even if it's to give away or put in the freezer for the future. The girls love to help and can do whatever they want in the kitchen with me
2 PM - creative time. Already mentioned this in an earlier blog post. Anything that's creative is a-ok, individually or together
3 PM - get our bodies moving. If anyone wants to brave the beginning of the hot part of the day, they're welcome to do so. Otherwise, we have workout DVDs, exercise equipment, and music all over the place. As long as your body is moving, you're doing fine
4 PM - free time to pursue whatever interests you
6 PM - Mom's putting dinner on. Do you want to help or keep pursuing your own interests?
12 PM - bedtime so we can face another day well-rested

And here's where the epiphany comes in: if we're doing creative time (or whatever) and everybody's having fun and doesn't want to do something else, who's making us?? We can be the boss of the schedule instead of the other way around! This kind of schedule can give us some structure to make me feel like I'm doing something and keep the kids from getting into boredom fights (you know the ones I'm talking about - the kind where they pick at each other just because they have nothing better to do) but if we get engrossed in a project, we can see it through until we're done with it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I CU - a little belated ;-)

OK, I'm a little late, but better late than never. I think maybe participating in this meme will help ME deschool.

This week we want to...finish up Daddy's t-shirt, do some tie-dying of our own.

The kids are...Mindie is very focused on working on her website. Shannen just wants to read (no surprise).

I am learning...that a couple of art projects is enough on the list of goals. I struggle with wanting to go back up to that first sentence and add ten more objectives because it feels "sparse." I'm learning to let go and not overload us with my good intentions and guilt issues.

I am struggling to show the hubs that we can do this and we don't want to go back to school next fall.

This week is the first time...LOL there are lots of firsts for this week. One of the big ones is that this week is the first time Shannen has been willing to do something without me outside of school. She begged and begged me to audition for "Narnia" with her, but I just really wasn't feeling it, so she's been begging and begging me to stay for rehearsals. Finally Tuesday, for the first time, she let go and didn't ask me to stay. I'm glad to see she's finding something she enjoys independently and is starting to branch out make make friends.

I am grateful...that I've met such a fabulous group of Christian unschoolers! Not only are they bringing me peace about unschooling, they've welcomed me as a friend and accept the weirdness that is ME. They've shared their children with my Mindie, who is discovering that she's not as weird as she thought she was; she's just been a very big, bright fish in a very small, dark pond.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

That u-word again

I haven't mentioned to the kids that we're trying this whole unschool thing out. Last summer we tried "homeschool" and it was an unmitigated disaster. I didn't want to saddle them with my wacky experimentation this time and since this entire educational philosophy is very holistic, I thought we'd try it without them knowing we were trying anything at all.

Unfortunately I underestimated the keen eyes and mind of Mindie. She's on Facebook and asked me yesterday about all the sudden new friends popping up on my Facebook page. I tried to shove it off as "this group I joined" but she wasn't about to be blown off that easily. After many questions that I answered as vaguely as possible, I finally told her the group was for Christian unschooling. "Un-what-the-huh?"

I explained some of the educational philosophies. "There's an educational theory that if you leave a student alone to pursue what interests her, encourage her, equip her to follow those interests, and then let her fail or succeed on her own without forcing her to study things she isn't interested in or ready to absorb she will eventually learn the things she needs to know without hating the learning process or clubbing her brain into mush along the way."

"Hey, I like that theory!" But I wasn't ready to let it pass so easily now that we were talking. I decided to play devil's advocate.

"Well of course you do. It's an excuse to do nothing, right?"

"No way! You could learn better this way. And you wouldn't be doing nothing, you'd be learning, right?"

"What if you decided that all you were interested in was playing Guitar Hero?"

"Yeah, that's fun," she started, "but I couldn't do it for like a whole year."

"Just a whole summer?"

"Yeah, but it's summer. I have to let my brain breath from all that stupid stuff they keep cramming into it at school. Besides, you know it won't last all summer. In a few weeks, I'll be ready to do something new and different."

"You think so?"

"Well yeah! Once I really 'get it' I'm ready to learn something new. That's why I hate school so much. They never let you stay on something long enough to really get it but then when you finally do they keep making you do it and do it and do it even though you already know how!"

"Ok, but how would you know what to learn if nobody told you what you were supposed to be learning?" I posed.

"Hmmmm...good question. I guess I could learn the things I need as I need them."

"But if you need to know how to solve an algebraic equation, are you going to have time to go learn how to solve it?"

"I dunno. How often am I going to need to know how to do that anyway?"

"I do pretty often. Like when we're going to San Antonio and I want to figure out where we'll need to stop for gas so I can plan when/where we're going to eat. I have to figure that we leave Lamesa with a full tank of gas that'll comfortably get us about 300 miles. But it's about 350 miles to San Antonio. So how shy of San Antonio will we be when we need to fill up? And what time do we need to leave Lamesa for us to hit that point around a meal time?"

"Yeah, but Mom you don't need ALGEBRA for that. Just - y'know- logic and math stuff."

"Sweetheart, algebra is just APPLIED 'logic and math stuff'"

"Oh. It never seems that way to me."

"That's because school presents it as these equations with no context. And besides, you haven't had 'the click' yet for algebra. You know, that moment where it finally makes sense?"

"And that's why we should be doing the unschool thing!"

That's my girl.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A fun day

We did errands today, which is always -erm, interesting - with my girls. We played our word game as we did them. At one point Mindie got the letter "e" and shouted "emasculate!" in the post office parking lot, which earned us all "a look" from the gentleman parked next to us. Mindie had heard the word but didn't know what it meant. She learned what it meant after we got back in the car and we all had a nice talk about not using unknown words in public. Another "fun" moment with the word game had Shannen musing "Hmmm...what's a body part that starts with c?" To which, Mindie smirked and burst into giggles. I warned her off of explaining the source of her mirth.

Yes, the word game continues. They've added a new layer of challenge. With no formal agreement, they've started trying to use words that fit into some category or have some sort of similarity until somebody can't find another word that fits classification and then they move on to another one. Body parts have been done and I was surprised with their grasp of anatomy. They did cars for a while but got bored with it. They tried adverbs and then adjectives. They introduced the game to a friend this evening and she got them doing words with Latin roots. The game continues to mutate, educate, and entertain.

We started through a box of books that Shannen rescued. The book situation is reaching critical as more and more teachers retire at the girls' school and offer up their classroom libraries to their students. Few of the students are interested and the school library refuses to take them, so Shannen brings home boxes and boxes of the things. When we go through the boxes we weed out multiple copies to parcel to others, pass on books of no interest to the girls and books too far below their reading level, and then try to shelve what's left in with our own library. Unfortunately that's getting to be difficult because we're running out of walls for bookcases. It's helped that I'm converting my cookbook collection to digital which has freed up a bookcase for now, but I expect that to refill by the time we're done with the latest batch of rescue books.

This evening Shannen had rehearsals for "Narnia" and the director finally assigned parts. Shan is a host of bit parts which suits her fine. She's even more excited that her host of bit parts are all on the - stern? mean? evil? - side. And she's not required to do any singing, which elates her. She was very pleased that the director told her that her voice was a little weak but her acting was exceptional. That's my girl! And Mindie and I join rehearsals next week as we all begin working on costuming, sets, and props. My favorite part is that I'm not wardrobe mistress or property master but I get to have a hand in both and I'll get to help dress backstage on performance nights. Mindie is excited to get out of the booth and work in the wings this time.

After rehearsal the girls invited their friend along to the concert. I'm flattered to be "a trustworthy adult" (something I've never considered myself ;-) to the friend's father. It was a beautiful performance put on by a trio of Julliard juniors who call themselves, unsurprisingly T.R.I.O. It's an acronym for "Teaching and Rehearsal Internet Outreach." Apparently one of the girls, after having a pre-audition "rehearsal" via Skype with a touring professor had an epiphany that this was a method to share quality music training and mentoring with students in rural areas who had limited access to well-trained musical instructors. The performance is a fundraiser for this project. The young ladies played French horn, piano, and violin. It's an unusual chamber composition for which there are limited arrangements (well, actually there's ONE arrangement) but the girls overcome this by arranging their own compositions.

We got a few stares because the three girls were in tanks, shorts, and flip flops but nobody said anything to our faces. Personally, I'm of the opinion that music doesn't have a dress code. The girls were enchanted, even Shannen who usually makes faces when Mindie and I flip to the classical radio station. The reception afterward was nice and the girls were beautifully behaved. I was most impressed and have resolved to take this trio more places.

Now we're home and getting ready for a decent bedtime because the girls are going to Lubbock tomorrow with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for manicures, pedicures, and shopping. Thank heavens somebody else is willing to take them for the girl stuff because that last trip to the salon just about killed me. It's amazing how much energy "girl stuff" sucks out of me. Normally, three hours of sitting with a book is awesome but somehow, three hours of sitting with a book while people around me get their hair done and talk about girl junk is draining.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Word games are fun for everyone

Verbal skills in this house are king, queen, monarch, emperor, figurehead, supreme authority, and everything else. We love, love, love word games, word puzzles and just generally words.

Yesterday the girls started playing a word game that's lasted for 2 days and counting. Every time we're together but not involved in conversation we're playing. Over baskets and baskets of laundry (Mt. Washmore is dwindling rapidly) one girl will say a word. The next person says a word that begins with the last letter of the previous word. There's no strict order to "turns" except that I'm limiting myself to one for each of the girls' offerings. If someone has an inspiration, they shout it out. The girls have surprised me with their vocabulary (and I didn't think that was possible since I'm sick to death of hearing how amazing their vocabulary is). Words have ranged from lagomorph (the fancy taxonomy for rabbits and hares) to xenophobic (fear of strangers or foreigners) to equinox. And those weren't MY words. I haven't wanted to interrupt the fun for "spelling lessons" so if there's a question about what letter a word ends in, I just supply the spelling and we move on. Stupid silent e's sometimes still trip them up.

What word games do you play with your kids?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Unschooling in public schools?

An interesting topic sprang up yesterday on the Unschool group on Facebook. We were talking about "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." It got me thinking about my own public school experiences. Honestly, I went to a pretty "average" school district. They weren't exceptional in any way. But along the way, I did have some pretty exceptional teachers. They were the teachers who really made an impact on me because they saw how I learned and worked with me to make the most of my education instead of trying to cram me into the mold of the other students.

I was a very motivated learner. Even a stifling public school couldn't crush that out of me. I did best with open-ended self-directed assignments. Math was rubbish for me and it wasn't just the usual math problems that most kids have (although I had my share of them, too). Verbal-oriented subjects were my best. Part of that is because I'm just a very verbal person. The other factor there, though, was that verbal subjects (language arts, reading, English, social studies, etc) were more suited to the ambiguous assignments that I craved. I fell off in English with teachers who gave assignments like "Read the section on adverbs and answer the multiple choice and true/false questions at the end of the section" and really shone when the teacher assigned "write a story using 20 adverbs." In fact, when I had those kinds of assignments, I often found myself working in 50 or 60 adverbs just because I could. I would experiment with adverbs which didn't end in -ly. I would deliberately not mark some of my adverbs and see if the teacher noticed them. It became a game of wits and some teachers joined in with enthusiasm.

Even teachers who didn't want to test wits with me are among some of my favorite teachers, though. By my senior year in high school I was burned out and didn't care much anymore. I only needed my English credit to graduate and was kicking myself for not having taken it at some point in summer school. You weren't allowed to take only one class but certain vocational programs allowed you to do half-days so that you could work the other half-day. I took advantage of that, dropped out of AP English in favor of "regular" (or in my social circle "stupid kids'") English, threw in a handful of technical/vocational classes (two of which were repeats of courses I had already taken for college credit) and pared myself down to a four-period school day. I went home at noon, killed time, and went to work at 3:45 in an after-school program for elementary kids. Because I greatly reduced the challenge of my English class, I discovered that I had already read all the books to be covered for the year. I started skipping English more and more often.

My teacher noticed after about 7 weeks that I attended only on test days and to turn in assignments, but I was acing those tests and assignments. So we had a little confab. If I didn't start showing up to class, she was going to be forced to fail me even though my average was a 99. What was the problem? I admitted I'd already read all the books and that the class discussion was boring and basic. She hatched a brilliant plan. I had to show up to class every day during attendance to be counted present. While she took attendance I was free to take orders and collect money and then go on a "doughnut run" for the class while they discussed the novels. I was technically present because I was there at attendance, I was doing everybody a favor, and I wasn't bored. The condition was that I had to keep my average above 95 and I was to double any numeric criteria on assignments ( ie if an essay had to be 500 words for the rest of the class, I had to write 1000 words). For the rest of the year, I did daily doughnut runs for my classmates. I finished senior English with a 98. I actually re-read several of the novels to keep my papers flowing. And Mrs. Wilkinson goes down in history as one of my favorite teachers ever.

I know that Mrs. Wilkinson would have been severely reprimanded and maybe even lost her job if our arrangement got out but she was willing to go out on a limb to nurture the fire for learning in me. I bet she never dreamed that she was also fostering the seeds of rebellion that would end in "unschooling" because there just aren't enough of her to go around in public schools.

I need to give this a title but I stink at titles

I haven't posted in a couple of days because there really just hasn't been much to share. It's been a lazy few days around here. There's been lots of playing "Rock Band" and lots of reading webcomics.

Mindie archive-binged on DM of the Rings and sucked down the entire story in one day. She laughed so hard I'm surprised she's not dead of suffocation. The pressure is mounting again for me to DM a family D&D game, so I'm working on it. I really don't feel equal to the task of DMing, but I'm the only one willing to do it and it seems a small price to pay for a gaming fix. I'm looking at my collection of pre-packaged adventure modules to see what can be adapted into something interesting because I'm just not feeling creative enough to invent my own from scratch.

Shannen will be joining the game for the first time. She's been after me for ages to let her play but I really wasn't sure she was ready until recently. I guess we won't be playing in Ravenloft, though. Not a huge deal since Ben doesn't care much for Ravenloft campaigns anyway.

Ben also made a deal with the girls that if they'll get their rooms really, really, really clean by tomorrow night he'll take them to GameStop and buy them anything except a new console. We'll see if that happens because with a day and a half left, they've not really put much effort into the cleaning. That's not such a big deal for Mindie because she's a fast worker when she decides to do something, but Shannen has one speed for everything and that speed is "so slow I'm moving backward in time." It's not at all uncommon for her to take days just getting her room habitable again. I have a feeling her plan may be to beg Mindie for help. Guess we'll see how it all plays out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I was up with the roosters (OK, not really, I slept until 8) and out doing yard work. Mindie joined me and I showed her how to run the lawn mower while I ran the string trimmer. I reminded her a couple of times not to run over the cord but I don't think it sank in until the mower suddenly "stopped working." The cord was neatly severed. Luckily, it was just a ratty old extension cord that's easily replaced and nobody was injured or even mildly shocked. Almost as lucky is the fact that she had just about finished mowing the back yard anyway.

We came in and she went back to work on her web page, which is turning out to be an absorbing and multi-skill project for her. She's learning some new photography skills and may soon be ready for the good camera instead of a crummy phone camera. She's also been sketching like crazy with plans to upload them to the page as well. So soon I guess I'll be sharing my multi-function printer with the flatbed scanner built in. After piddling with that for a bit, she was off to whomp some Rock Band booty. She's surprisingly good at the game.

Shannen slept in, as usual, until I woke her up. Poor little night owl. She had apparently been up late reading some books on Egyptian mythology. Thanks, Rick Riordan :-) She's really following in my footsteps with her love of the classical world. Luckily, I think she has a much more solid Christian foundation that will keep her from faltering as she studies. Anyway, after a little breakfast, she dragged out "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" and spent a good three hours reading aloud from it, reader's theater style.

By the time Shan was done with C.S. Lewis for a while, Mindie was bored with Rock Band, so Shannen took over. Mindie came in to watch thriller movies with me. I take that back, first she finished up a documentary about the economy, national debt, and the history 20th century American fiscal policy through the modern day with me. It was preaching to the choir for me, but Mindie got some good stuff out of it and we had an interesting (and I hope enlightening) discussion of different worldviews. Mindie was under the misapprehension that "everybody" wants the government out of their lives so we talked some about the broad spectrum of what citizens want from their government. Apparently our strongly Libertarian views have influenced her more than we realized. After that we went on to a haunted hospital movie (I love 'em). This led to a neat discussion on the "less is usually more" philosophy of horror media and how there could be exceptions (this movie provided the hands-down scariest-looking antagonist I have ever seen - she will be haunting my nightmares for a while and honestly, I don't normally get affected by makeup or CGFX). Now we're watching a nice haunted house flick, but the tension was getting a little too intense and it was time for a break. You know it's time for a break when a character goes into the bathroom and you announce to your daughter, "She's going to open the medicine cabinet then close it again and something scary will be behind her in the mirror" then you watch exactly that scenario unfold and you still try to remove one another's body parts. :-P So we took a break, discussed horror tropes (thinking Mindie might be borrowing my new copy of Stephen King's "Dance Macabre" soon, she has some good thoughts on the subject and seems interested) then decided to do some cool-down before going back.

Oh, and it rained today. Only for about 3 minutes, and not very hard so probably not a measurable amount of precipitation but the smell was heavenly. I've been in a lot of wet places in the world but there is no smell I've ever encountered that's quite like a west Texas rain. Rain in west Texas smells of growth and green and fresh ozone all mingled with rich soil and something else that I can't even place. I wish I knew how to bottle that smell and give it away to the world. I think it might end all war if everybody would just sniff a bottle of "West Texas Rain" when their tempers start rising.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rough day

It's been a rough day around here. This is an unschooling journal first, but since I'm doing the writing here, it's also by nature a repository for my thoughts. And my main thought today was, "Is it over yet?" Fifteen years ago today I held my 3-day-old daughter for the last time. I rocked her in the hospital nursery and sang to her, under the watchful eye of the nursing staff, and then I said goodbye to her. I sincerely hope that it wasn't a final goodbye, but it was goodbye for at least 18 years. That evening, at the stroke of the 3rd day mark, I signed the release papers for a wonderful family to adopt her. I had hand-picked these people to raise my child because I didn't think I could. Hindsight may be 20/20 but I'm still not sure we could have survived together. I was an emotional and spiritual wreck. Two years later when I had my next daughter I was still only barely fit for motherhood, but at least that time there was a good father involved that could take up some of the slack while God worked with me a little more.

Today I find myself thinking, "If Becca were still mine, I'd be letting her drive right now..." I have no doubts that her parents and older sister are proud of the young woman she's becoming before their eyes. Her sister, Lisa, should have graduated from high school this year and I'm sure Stephanie (as she was renamed) is helping Lisa get all geared up for college. I also find myself thinking about the future. In three more years, Stephanie will be eligible to enroll on the national database for adoptees and birthparents. She'll also be able to get my contact information straight from the adoption agency's records. I find myself wondering if she'll want to do that. A part of me hopes that she does, to satisfy my own longing to connect with this beautiful girl. Another part of me hopes that she's so happy and secure in her adoptive family that she never gives me a second thought.

I haven't really quite been myself for the last several days, though, because thoughts of Stephanie are crowding everything else out. I've been pushing back against the emotional well-spring by throwing myself into unschooling, the "unschooling crowd" that Heather Young introduced me to, and generally trying to keep myself too occupied to dwell on the bitter-sweet thoughts of Stephanie.

In fact, bad mom that I am, I let the kids sleep in today until they wanted to get up. For Mindie that was about 12:30 and for Shannen it was 2:30. Mindie went with me and helped me pick out a new router and set it up. Shan spent the day with Harry Potter, working on her British accent until it was time to go to her second audition for "Narnia." About the only obvious learning either of them did today was looking up a handful of words. Mindie is working on a "sketch by numbers" set to practice shading techniques and mentioned that she "graduated" this section, which Shannen promptly looked up. Meanwhile, Mindie wanted to know why Sherlock Holmes always said "Elementary, Watson..." and looked that one up.

And in news that isn't, the hubs is crabby. Not that I blame him. It's a crummy time to be a farmer around here and Murphy is taking unholy glee in demonstrating the supremacy of his law by breaking every farm implement in sight several times a day.

So that's our world right now. Probably not really worth blogging about, but there it is.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


It was Mindie who started it. "I wish I had a website." She's said it before but I've always tried very hard to ignore the sentiment because I really haven't wanted to deal with teaching them HTML and all of the attendant things that go with building and maintaining a website. But we're unschooling now, baby. And if this is where her interest led, I decided it was my sacred duty to follow. OK, I admit a secret part of me was kind of hoping she would look at that blank, white page and give up. So I said, "OK." I quickly set her up on a free host. That's when Shannen said, "I want one too!" So now they're both signed up with a free hosting service. And they both have their own web pages. The house is quiet because they're digging around the net, trying to figure out what to do with that blank, white page. Guess we'll see where this goes...

Edit: This is where it went:! There's Mindie's first website. OK, it's just a template page, but it's not bad.


As much as I love schedule, routine, and predictability some days just don't allow for it. This is apparently going to be one of those days. Mindie is in - to phrase it nicely - a "mood." She's been building up to it for a couple of days so I can't say I'm totally surprised. I had hoped, though, that a couple of chats and some time together would mitigate it some. No luck. I knew early this morning when she was being extra ugly. In fact, Shannen and I looked at each other and said simultaneously (aside: it's eerie how often people speak simultaneously in this house) "Oh. It's going to be one of *those* days."

A little while ago Mindie came in from outside, where she was happily playing with her sister moments before, raging "Fine! If you want to BREAK YOUR PROMISE I'm not even LISTENING TO YOU, Shannen!" I discovered that this was due to Shannen wanting some compromise in the gameplay to minimize a part of the imaginative game that she dislikes. Oh yeah, one of those days. Clearly Mindie needed time alone to sort things out.

And that's where I made my big mistake. My mom-vision was screaming "Score!" because I saw a chance to kill two birds with one stone. Mindie needed alone time. Mindie also needed to search the depths of her room for her lost eyeglasses. Why not combine the two? Many of you now see the disaster looming like oncoming train lights. I neglected to account for the "angry hormone" factor. Instead of my normally rational girl hearing, "Why don't you do something productive while you cool down?" she heard "Slave! Get thee to thy room and toil in the darkness for hours!" Bad Mom. Baaaad Mom!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What did we learn today?

Hmmm...good question. *I* learned that we've been unschooling all along in many ways.

The kids? Well, they spent the majority of the day with my in-laws being "socialized" with old folks. They learned that sometimes dogs don't like each other and that sometimes that leads to bloodshed. (Nothing serious, I hasten to add)

Mindie learned how fast she can roll the window down in my car when I say, "I wish I was standing up." I didn't know her mental or physical reflexes were that fast. She also learned that she who controls the child locks on the window controls your fate, at least in the short-term. She learned that people in the early 60's had a radically different idea of what was "odd" or "outlandish" as evidenced by the Beetles' "long hair."

Shannen has yet to master the intricacies of telephone usage and I'm starting to serious wonder about getting her hearing tested even though those silly "wear the headphones and raise your hand when you hear a beep" screenings don't pose any challenge for her. It's not hearing sound she seems to have trouble with, it's making out any but the loudest and most clearly enunciated speech, especially through microphones and/or speakers. She did some crocheting today with Bebe (my mother-in-law) while they all chatted. And she got to wax eloquent on her favorite subject (X-men) to her Aunt Stacie, who just developed an interest. She's spent the evening holed up in her room with a stack of comic books and manga. Who knows what she's doing in there, but the adult manga is stored separately so I'm not worried.

Soap, soap, who's got the soap?

I'm going to just tell you all right now that I SUCK at photography. So these pictures and any others I post won't be the best. For the record, I've taken at least four classes in photography led by professional photographers. The bottom line is that I just suck so you can save your tips.

Now, to the point of this post. The girls and I need structure with our "free time" or we wind up pretty cranky. Not too structured or scheduled, just kind of a rough guideline. As I was working on the summer schedule I included "creative time." I believe in the importance of creating things. Honestly, I think that's one of our main purposes in life. But we're not all talented in the same ways so I didn't want to be any more specific than that. I figured we could pursue our creative time individually or together in whatever way struck anybody's fancy. Given the very different nature of my girls, I expected that creative time would end up naturally being more individual, but yesterday they surprised me. As soon as I brought up that creative time was approaching they said, nearly in unison, "Let's make soap!" So we did. Here's the result along with some observations and comments.

Above and to the left is Mindie's effort. She started out grabbing a tray mold of purses, flip flops, and other "girl stuff" but after a few seconds, traded it in for the standard rounded bar mold. It's hard to tell in the picture, but it's a marble design of peach and yellow. She said she wanted to make tie dye soap but couldn't remember how the instructions said to do it (this mom throws away directions for creative things - how is it creative if you're following someone else's directions??). Obviously, she figured it out - sort of. I have a feeling next time the soap comes out, she's going to be refining that technique.

These floral soaps (scented with Shannen's favorite Japanese Lotus Blossom) were Shan's contribution to the effort. She started out making single color soaps but after watching Mindie and I a big, did a pair of two-color soaps. I really love the yellow and lavender one. The picture is bad but the inner part of the rose is lavender while the outer petals are yellow. As the girls would say, "Sooooo kawaiiiiiiiii!" (roughly "so cute" in Japanese, but there's a nuance there that I'm not sure I could explain).

And finally my work, because moms need to be creative too. You can barely see in the background the clear green frog. It's eerily realistic looking and very slippery when you wash your hands with it, just like the real thing. Up front is the turtle. I wanted him to have an opaque shell but a translucent body. It's kind of sloppy but not bad. The big downside is that I feel like I'm "dirtying" my hands instead of cleaning them.

Starting a new journey

This blog is for tracking a new journey my family is on. Education matters to me. As a lifelong learner, education has been a forefront issue to me forever and even more so since my children were born. Even when they were infants, my hubby and I frequently discussed how best to educate our kids. Homeschooling came up from the very beginning even though neither of us had been homeschooled and didn't actually know more than one or two people who were homeschooled. In fact, the two siblings the hubs knew turned out to be poster children for the anti-homeschool movement. But it didn't deter our thoughts on the idea.

There was a lot of fear in those discussions for me, though. I don't honestly think I'm a very good teacher. How on earth could someone with no gift for teaching possibly teach children to read, write, construct a sentence, add, subtract, or find the volume of a cylinder? I like to think that God intervened in the decision. By the time the kids were school-aged we lived in the hubby's home town and the very small school from which he graduated was an educational option for the kids. It was going to be wonderful! He had memories of an educational nirvana that challenged him, educated him, and taught him all he needed to know for living. Boy that took a lot of pressure off of my fears and worries.

I don't know if he just wears rose-colored nostalgia specs or if the school has really descended so far into decadence. Maybe it's a little of both. But I know that my kids don't go to a wonderland of a school. To put a little perspective on things, this is a good school. A very good school. No, we're not graduating a Mensa class or sending half our grads off to Harvard but then, I've never considered that a hallmark of a high-quality school. Our school's teacher-to-student ratio is around 1:15 on average, with a handful of elementary and middle school classes rising up to the low 20s and a handful dipping down around 10. This is a school where the campus houses kids from ages 4 (they're talking about tackling the 3 year olds, but they haven't yet) to 18 all in one building. Despite (or perhaps because of?) visits semi-regularly from the local "drug dogs" there's no drug problem on our campus. In fact, the biggest safety issue facing students at our school is a toss-up between "dangerous" playground equipment like a merry-go-round and the constant specter of that bane of middle-school girls everywhere, social bullying. According to the state standardized test scores, our school produces "exemplary" students although I question any metric where a perfect score is not only possible but not really uncommon.

The downsides, though, start showing when you really dig in. Lack of options is a big problem to me. For foreign language credits you can take Spanish or - Spanish. For fine art credits you're limited to art. For computer/technology credits you get to take the computer class. Looking for a more vocational track? There's ag. But surely at least core courses have some options, right? Sure they do! You can take English or, if there are enough really smart kids of the same age, you might be able to sign up for advanced English. That academically challenging environment? It's certainly challenging to keep up with the busy-work necessitated by the kids who aren't as smart as the majority of the class that require extra teaching time. Then there's the constant staff turnover. This isn't much of an issue in elementary school but middle school is when athletics begins. Athletic teams need coaches but coaches need something to do the other six class periods a day. Roughly half the teaching staff at our school is made up of coaches. Which is fine. Except coaches are the teachers most likely to only stay around a year before either moving to a bigger/better school (in the event of a winning football season) or be let go in favor of another coach (in the event of a losing football season). Add to that the fact that all of the administrators at our school are former coaches themselves who probably have a great deal to say about how the athletic program is being run at any given time. Basically half the staff rotates out on a yearly basis. Which isn't always a bad thing. The health teacher/coach who was more interested in his personal life than teaching health or being present in the classroom moved on. Unfortunately, the only PE teacher my kids ever enjoyed working up a sweat for was married to the head football coach during a bad season and we had to say goodbye to "fitness is fun and non-competitive."

More than my issues with this particular school, though, I've grown to have doubts about the entire nature of public schooling. And that's why we're on this unschooling journey. Yep, I said the u-word. If I have doubt about the nature of public schooling, why should I bring the same principles home and implement them on a smaller scale? Oh, it's fine for some. But I'm starting to suspect that maybe it's not fine for US.

But I still have my fears and doubts. How can I possibly teach my kids all they need to know? Sure, they can read now. They can write and they can construct a proper sentence better than some of their teachers. They can add and subtract and, I assume though I haven't really looked into it, find the volume of a cylinder. But as a life-long learner I know that there's so much more to it all than that. So this summer, we're going to try unschooling. They're going to guide their own learning, and I'm going to learn by seeing what THEY learn. How will I know if we're successful? There's no standardized test for this because unschooling isn't standardized! Then again, learning never really is. If learning were truly standardized, kids would never get held back, never have to be in the slow class or the gifted class, never need those educational options of whose lack I lamented earlier. So I guess I'll know we succeeded when we know and how we know. It's like a learning roadtrip. I'll know I'm there when I get to a place I want to stop.