Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Connection ~ The 4th Warp Thread

We talk about environment, rhythm, and health over and over again.  This afternoon, however, I was struck with the fact that connection is perhaps the most important warp thread of all. Without it, environment, rhythm, and health have very little meaning.

We can create an environment of learning, but without connection it will have no warmth.  We can observe our rhythms and strengthen them, but without connection we have no reason to. We can seek health, but without connection we cannot find it.

For many home learners, especially those who choose holistic learning and living, connection is one of our primary goals.  My boys are not at home with me because I want them to know Latin by grade 8 and to get into Stanford or MIT.  They are not home so that I can protect them from the public school curriculum.  They are not home because there are drugs and bullies and standardized tests in schools.  No, they are home because we want to stay connected as a family.  We want to be connected to each other, to nature, to art and music, to the earth, to our food ... to the world.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

January Update

How it has been going:

T-Guy said to me This is the most fun we've had homeschooling in a long time.  J-Baby was fussing  over writing letters on the second day.  I started stressing out when we didn't have time for focused work on Friday.

It makes sense to me.  T-Guy thrives on structure, on knowing what comes next each hour of each day.  J-Baby wants to do things his way, in his own time.  I waver between the two, but when I make plans I want them followed.

What if, I ask Papa, what if we just think about where we want to go and help the boys get there?  What if I stop worrying that blocks need to be 3 - 4 weeks in duration?  What if I just use holistic education models when the boys want to learn something, on their timetable?

I recognized a strong need for rhythm.  Why does that have to be realized as a homeschooling schedule?  What if we bring in other ways to mark our days, weeks, and months?

In the wee hours of the morning I decided that I need to make myself more fully present in my home.  I'm taking a message board break, unsubscribing from some email lists, and cutting the number of blogs I read to those that truly inspire me.  I made a little label for my laptop that asks Is this really what I want to be doing?

When my boys were little I didn't use the computer unless they were sleeping.  Now, I think this would be an unrealistic goal at this point, as the computer is a tool for many household tasks and offers a wealth of information that the boys and I can share.  But I can cut back on using the computer as a way to connect to other people, the people I don't really know.  I probably know more about one mamas recent family crisis than I do about the book T-Guy just read, and that isn't what I want at all.

I'm not making rules.  I'm not abandoning the plan I just made.  It's a nice roadmap, and we may find it handy now and then.  I'm just going to inhabit the space between the perfectly detailed plan and what feels like a lack of rhythm, and see what I can find.  How would I spend this day if it was the last day I had with my children?  What is my vision of our lives, and am I living in a way that is consistent with that vision?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Ten years old!  A decade of life!

Ten years ago I had been married for ten years, and was completing my third decade of life.  We welcomed you, sweet child, into our world, not knowing how our lives would change.  Your innocence, combined with fierce love, overcame any lingering fears we had.  You were ours.

You have always been a child full of love and sunshine.  You love with your whole self, without reservation or embarrassment.  You tend toward equilibrium, even during the most challenging developmental stages.  You are conscientious, you are responsible, you are incredibly good. Your grandma said that you were just like me in this regard; one of my first sentences was I want to be a good girl.

I have to stretch myself to remember our most trying year together.  Three.  I remember telling your grandma that the terrible twos had been misnamed and that someone should have told me how difficult three would be.  She laughed and said that she knew, but knowing that I had to go through it there was no point trying to warn me.  Really, I think the most challenging thing was how desperately you wanted to communicate with all of us, and how hard that was for you, how frustrating it was to repeat yourself over and over again and still not be understood.

Five was so glorious that I couldn't imagine it getting any better.  I was so glad not to send you away from me for hours everyday.

Six was another magical year, as we brought holistic homeschooling more fully into our lives. You loved every minute of grade 1: circle time, drawing in the Waldorf style, fairy tales, wet-on-wet watercolor painting, fingerplays.  You grew taller, and your body grew stronger; hiking into the Grand Canyon, riding 8 miles on your bicycle, learning to balance on a scooter.

Your seven wasn't really all that melancholy.  Your eight wasn't so expansive that I had to duck for cover.  Your nine hasn't even been all that inward.  Your move through the years with ease. I think it stems in part from your love of life and everything it has to offer.  You excel at being in the moment.

I never imagined that with a son I would have a friend who wants to be with me, to talk with me, to do the things that I do.  It isn't the same relationship I had with my own parents, but then I was the third of four children, raised in the stereotypically middle-class white suburban manner of the 70s.  We haven't raised you the same way; we've sought attachment rather than attempting to foist independence on you before you are ready.  Slowly now you are seeking small bits of independence, and we marvel at how well you move with it.

Today is your day to shine, and to bask in your family's love for you.  You have completed your first decade.  Happy Birthday my beloved boy!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

It's Coming Together

I was able to sit down over the weekend and come up with a pretty decent Grade 4 year.  I'm never quite sure where to place us grade-wise (not in terms of skills, but in terms of the story curriculum), but grade 4 seems to work.  T-Guy would have started grade 4 last fall if he was in school.  J-Baby would be in grade 4 next fall. Inevitably we end up starting our new grade somewhere between January and April, despite the many times I've tried to have us start in the fall.

We are returning to a more rhythmic approach to focused learning after more than a year of what ended up being pretty much radical unschooling.  Looking at the blog I can see several places where I wrote of trying to get back into rhythm, only it never really clicked for us.  I'd like to interpret that as accepting our true nature as unschoolers, but as I mentioned, I can sense the discord and disconnection in the boys and I know they need more rhythm, plus they really want to do focused work.

My goal is to find a balance for us between focused work and unschooling exploration.  I love the Waldorf/Enki block cycle for the wonderful rhythmic container it gives to the weeks and months.

I've settled on a 3 - 4 weeks on, 1 week off format.  Basically we'll take the last week of every month off, which gives us a nice break and allows time for more in-depth projects and planning (or heck, even just relaxation).

The blocks aren't set in stone, as I'm still waiting to see how Enki fits into all of this.  But for now they look like this:

Block 1: Mathematics.  ML: Review the Four Processes.  SL: Planting the Spring Garden.  P: Handwriting.
Block 2: Zoology.  ML: The Human Being and the Animal World.  SL: Modeling (2 weeks), Drawing (2 weeks).  P: Mathematics, Handwriting.
Block 3: Language Arts.  ML: Grammar (Parts of Speech).  SL: Planting the Summer Garden.  P: Mathematics, Handwriting.
Block 4: Mathematics.  ML: Math Magic.  SL: Weaving (chosen because we'll be working with patterns in our ML). P: Grammar, Handwriting.
Block 5: Humanities.  ML: Norse Mythology.  SL: Painting (2 weeks), Sewing (2 weeks).  P: Mathematics, Handwriting.
Block 6: Local History and Geography.  ML: Native Americans of Southern California.  SL: Crafting a Native American Garment.  P: Mathematics, Handwriting.
Block 7: Mathematics.  ML: Fractions.  SL: Quilting.  P: Grammar, Handwriting.
Block 8: Humanities.  ML: Norse Mythology.  SL: Painting.  P: Mathematics, Handwriting.
Block 9: Language Arts.  ML: Grammar (Tenses).  SL: Planting the Fall Garden (with an opportunity to view our entire garden in terms of past, present, future).  P: Mathematics, Handwriting.
Block 10: Mathematics.  ML: Measurement.  SL: Cursive Writing.  P: Grammar.

In addition we will have a spelling lesson and history lesson weekly.  The boys have expressed a desire to learn to spell and I'm finding it easiest to work with a stand alone program that is slightly behind where they are so that they are in fact discovering what they already know rather than struggling.  We all enjoy history and I've decided against putting it into the block format as it is something we often study together as a family.  This year we'll be working our way through the first two books in the A History of Us series.  At some point we'll bring in the third volume of The Story of the World. We aren't approaching history the way classical education does, with an emphasis on names and dates.  Instead, we look for common themes and experiences, and see history as a great story.

We have our nature co-op, which addresses many of our science needs for the year, and the boys participate in sports. Fine Arts instruction happens throughout the year in both the main and secondary lessons, and T-Guy is starting guitar lessons.  That only leaves health as a required subject in California, and we believe that is an excellent subject to be approached by life learning.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Our January Focus

Academically, January looks to be a light month, as we work on establishing educational rhythms.  We're going to read stories, let them sleep, then recall and draw them.  We're going to write more; after trying many different approaches to handwriting we are loving the simplicity of the penmanship books from Paper Scissors Stone (I have lots of Handwriting Without Tears to get rid of, LOL).  We'll be working on summarization, sequencing, and parts of speech.

I've yet to find a math program that I am really happy with.  Waldorf and Enki methods were fantastic for introducing mathematical concepts; since then we've worked with the Miquon Math Lab materials just a bit.  I just ordered the grade 4 math curriculum from Christopherus Homeschool Resources, so we'll give that a try.  In the meantime the boys are working in some workbooks they picked out, and they are looking forward to practicing their multiplication tables using Timez Attack, a computer game (yes, a computer game!).

For history we've been listening to The Story of the World: Volume 2 on CD, as well as reading and discussing the book When the World was Rome.  We just read about Pompeii, so we've ordered a BBC documentary, Pompeii: The Last Day from Netflix.  The boys also received a volcano kit for the holidays, so we have a bit of a unit study going on.

We've actually just started watching educational programs together on the television; last night we watched a NOVA program, Is There Life on Mars?  We are still very selective with what we choose to allow the boys (and ourselves) to watch, and we definitely limit the amount of time spent watching programs, but the boys are old enough now that I no longer worry about watching a limited number of quality shows.  We watch programs designed for adults that haven't been turned into edu-tainment.

We have basketball, our nature co-op, and home projects to round out our learning for the month.

Since I have to pull my own resources for the year and am just getting started I suspect that this doesn't look anything like Enki grade 4.  I'm okay with that; more important to me is to reconnect with the philosophy and methods.  We'll be moving into Norse mythology for our next language arts block; the boys have actually devoured a lot of mythology, but we haven't spent much time on the Norse myths.

For now, we're all really excited to be working with focused academics again.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Environment, Rhythm, Health

They pop up over and over again, don't they?

Today we're easing back into focused home learning.  I haven't had a chance to talk to anyone at Enki about grade 4 resources, so we're winging it for now.  Actually, one child is at the grade 4 level and one is at grade 3, so we mix blocks anyway.

I wanted to grab my boys with something that was guaranteed not to fall flat, so we're starting January with The Tales of Beedle the Bard.  Yep, it's a Harry Potter book.  Fairy tales, actually. It's going to be a lot of fun.

For me, January is a month to return to the basics, to rediscover priorities and reset our course. I'm happy to say that this year I'm pretty pleased with our environment.  Last year we moved the furniture around several times, and now our front (living) room has a wonderful vibe to it.  We're managing to keep things fairly tidy, in part because we spent so much time decluttering last year.  The boys room is still a sore spot, however I am trying to let that go and just have it be their space.  Papa will instruct them to tidy their room, but my only expectations are that they will get me their laundry when I ask for it, put it away correctly, and have it tidy enough to be cleaned on Fridays.

In 2008 we also worked on some of our outdoor spaces.  I had always enjoyed our front porch, but it wasn't a place that the whole family wanted to linger.  A couple of bistro table/chair sets made a big difference, along with a few thrifted decorative items.  Oh, and more succulents. I love them; they are low maintenance and they are more in keeping with our Southern California desert environment.

In 2009 I plan to work on more of our outdoor environments.  Our back deck is underutilized, which is a shame as I actually like the table and chairs that we have out there.  The garden is in disarray, which is probably one reason I don't spend much time out back, as I see everything that I couldn't do last year.  Oh well, it is time to move past that and tell myself that 2009 will be better!  We'll be prepping the garden beds this month for a February planting; Papa is also planning to put in at least one more bed.

The health challenges I faced in 2008 made it difficult to maintain strong rhythms; day-to-day I never knew what I would be able to do, and there were several summer months that I simply stayed in bed.  I see 2009, especially these first few months, as a time to accept my limitations and learn to work within them.  I have a good doctor now, and am making progress toward symptom reduction and pain management.

For me, one of the hardest things about having a chronic illness is managing my energy.  I need to find the balance between taking advantage of an unexpected good day and overdoing it (because that can affect many days afterward).  At the same time, part of staying alive and vibrant is meeting each day with all that I have.

I saw that Molly over at A Foothill Home Companion declared 2009 the Year of the Backyard for her family.  For my own family I think we will celebrate the Year of the Home; spending most of our time at home is one way I know of to create a strong rhythm.  Ironically, this year is the first that we've had the boys in an organized sport that requires practices and Saturday games, but I find that even more of a reason to stay home as much as possible. Being home makes it far easier to hold to our daily and weekly rhythms.

T-Guy sounded so congested when he woke up this morning; he has a winter cold and this morning his symptoms were worse again.  All of us have been fighting illness off and on since October.  So our physical health needs to be a priority in 2009.  I'm stepping up our nutrition with a deeper focus on real, traditional foods.  I've made a commitment to walking, even though at present I face significant pain just 5 minutes into each walk; not being able to exercise for some time makes exercising that much harder, but it needs to happen.  I'm also seeking to establish a gentle yoga home practice.

Equally important is our emotional health.  This is where I love the interconnectedness of environment, rhythm, and health.  I find environment and rhythm to be very supportive of emotional health; I feel better when my environment is warm, beautiful, and tidy.  I feel better when the daily and weekly chores are happening within rhythm; they don't move into auto-pilot, instead they do become more infused with meaning.

Community is another big part of emotional health, and also provides a place to enhance our intellectual health.  We are so fortunate to have established ourselves within several communities now, and I love how they overlap with one another.  The connection between environment and intellectual health is also apparent; we now have many great places to curl up with a book, and the time to do so.

I'm really looking forward to 2009.  I don't expect perfection; I know we will have challenges, heartache, frustration, and pain.  But it will also be full of beauty, joy, love, laughter, and learning, and we will be together.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Discontent That is the Toy Store

Day two of the year 2009, and my boys are unhappy, blubbering messes.

What happened?  The received gift cards to a mega chain toy store as holiday gifts, and we finally took them over to see what their choices were.  (Might I add that I don't think an 8YO child should be given $50 to spend at a store?  I suppose that most children his age would purchase a video game and be done with it, but still, it is a lot of money.)

We went with the best of intentions.  They had thought about what they wanted ahead of time, and had planned to pool their resources.  But the store didn't have exactly what they had intended to purchase.  Soon they were wandering through the entire store, looking for something that might please them.  There were too many choices, most of them of poor quality.

Papa and I hate junk.  The boys hate junk too, at least they hate when it breaks.  This store was more of a junk store than a toy store; other than Lego items, most everything was junk.

We had mess and clutter too, and knew that the boys didn't have room to put some of the items that were catching their eyes.

But really, nothing grabbed them with fire.  The discontent grew and grew.  Would there be anything to get?  They were torn between wanting something right then and waiting to see if there were better options online.  One wanted to pool the money, one wasn't sure.  One moved into wanting everything he saw.  Then the general discontent set in; he was unhappy that he didn't have all of the things he was seeing.

I was immediately reminded of The Story of Stuff, and saddened to think that a young child could hear the message your life is not complete without this stuff so clearly.  It is one reason that we have chosen to keep our boys away from malls and advertising.

We left the store, came home, and looked online.  They were sold out of what the boys wanted. We had several hours of unhappiness, tears over little things, squabbling, and the like.  Finally it passed, the store and the gift cards were forgotten, and we moved back into equilibrium.

Mama did some sleuthing, and it turns out we can buy some Kapla Planks with the gift cards (online only).  They are compatible with the Keva that we already have.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Day of Dreams and Optimism

New Year's Day dawned bright and beautiful on sunny Southern California.  We watched the pomp that is the Rose Parade (on television), listening to the broadcasters describe the balmy weather, and realizing that wow, they were talking about us!  We live in this golden land, under brilliant blue skies, surrounded by mountains.  It truly was a gorgeous day.

It would have been hard not to spend the day in contemplation of the coming year.  The new year holds such promise, with the days yet unwritten.  We feel nearly invincible, as if a date on the calendar imbues us with superpowers of resolve and discipline.

If we view our character traits as flaws we believe ourselves able to change them.  We see past mistakes and feel capable of making amends.

We find closure with painful events from the preceding year.  We imagine a year with more joy and fewer heartaches.

I close my eyes and imagine how I want my life to be.  There is time for myself, for Papa, for my boys, for us as a family.  There is integration of loving, living, and learning.  We have togetherness ~ working together, playing together, being together.

I see light, natural materials, warm colors.  The house I see is tidy, but not perfect, with our projects spread here and there, and always books.

I feel warmth; sunlight streaming through softly curtained windows, a fire burning in the hearth, the comforting weight of a hand-pieced quilt.  I feel smooth, timeworn wood beneath my feet.  I feel arms around me and warm hands in mine, large and small.  I feel the soft fur of my sweet canine.  I feel yarn in my hands, twirling around sticks.

I hear music and laughter, hushed voices, imaginative stories, a child reading to his favorite bear, the whistle of the kettle.  Late at night I hear the hush of a sleeping house.  I hear the words "I love you."

I smell freshly cut grass, chrysanthemums and roses, and redwood trees;  soups, stews, roasts, cookies, cornbread, and rice; beeswax, lavender, and citrus.  I bury my nose in a pile of fresh laundry and the damp hair of a just-showered boy.  I smell earth, damp and rich.

I taste sweet honey on my lips, fresh scrambled eggs with goat cheese, and homemade chicken soup; plus delightful combinations ~ vanilla and white chocolate, pears and blueberries, potatoes and cabbage.

I see, touch, hear, smell, and taste the life I already have.  I don't have to imagine anything; it is all there, waiting for me to stop and realize it.