Thursday, April 30, 2009

We Have a Plan!

The members at the Waldorf at Home message forum are so helpful, and Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool Resources/Waldorf at Home also takes the time to thoroughly answer questions.  I posted a few questions about choosing a grade and how to approach having missed a grade and now we have a plan for our homeschooling.

I am finally giving up unschooling.  I am sure it works well for many families and as a method of learning it has worked in mine, but we need more rhythm.  Some days I feel like a person whose heart beats erratically and who can't even breathe in rhythm.  I'm wasting time and my boys grow so quickly that I am seeing that very soon their time with me will be over.

I am making a commitment to focused lessons and a mindful rhythm.  I know that it is going to be hard at first, but that we will settle in and it will become second nature.  Well, it will actually be easy for the first week, and hard after that, because that is how it works around here.  I am not going to give up or tell myself that we are truly unschoolers in order to get around the discomfort that comes with having to discipline ourselves.  I *know* that we love being in rhythm and the hard part is getting there.

In many ways it is hard to give up our identity as unschoolers.  I have to stop worrying about what my friends do or what people will think of us and do what I think is best for my family.

Whenever we have done focused learning we've struggled with grade placement in terms of the Waldorf/Enki story curriculum.  Having J-Baby work ahead in the story curriculum generally fails even though his skills work is advanced.  Once again, I am going to stop worrying what other people think and I am going to use a 4th grade curriculum with the boys even though T-Guy would technically be in 5th grade this fall.

We are also simplifying things.  I am planning for us to take our break all summer, following the schedule that most of our charter-school homeschooling friends follow.  I'm giving up the January start and also the year-round 3 weeks on, 1 week off structure that we have used in the past.  My boys are older now and matching the schedule of their peers makes planning play dates and fun outings easier and helps the boys feel that their schooling isn't that far out there. Most of all, it returns us to the idea of having a solid break, of starting and finishing a grade.  I think that is something that shouldn't be underestimated.

So, the plan.  We'll spend May doing an Old Testament main lesson.  We're going to plant and tend a Three Sisters garden, and we'll do some weather observation.  Then we'll take a nice, long break, ending May 29th and returning to lessons 8/24.  That is when we will start 4th grade, using the Christopherus 4th Grade Curriculum.  We used Christopherus materials for 1st grade and also sprinkled in over the past several years, and I think it will be a good fit.  I already have the 4th Grade mathematics book and it looks really good.

I can absolutely feel my body relaxing into a huge sigh; it all makes sense and the planning isn't going to be overwhelming.  I'm looking forward to being a more active teacher/guide for my boys and to spending quality time learning together.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Fall off the Horse, Get Back Up

I had a lovely birthday weekend.  It started with breakfast at our favorite cafe followed by an hour of antique browsing.  We lunched at home (well, the boys did ~ Papa and I were still full from breakfast) and made our way to an out-of-the-way bakery to buy gluten-free cake for J-Baby.  Then Papa drove me to the outlets and I bought myself a smashingly gorgeous handbag. The picture doesn't do the color justice; it is a beautiful rose color.  Later we went for dinner with my dad and had a nice visit.

Sunday my mother-in-law met us at the train museum for a day of railroad fun.  We road the trolley, had a cab ride in the diesel locomotive, and rode the steam train into town to see the newly restored depot.

So Monday came, and I fell off the horse.  I woke up late, spent too much time on the computer, and didn't do the daily chores.  I made it out of the house for my massage, but came home and spent too much time on the computer again.  I even used the computer after our evening walk, which I don't usually do.

Today hasn't been much better.  I can't say that I've done much of anything other than keep the laundry going, bathe myself, and wait for the veterinarian to call.

That, I think, was the crux of my non-motivation: my Girl Dog is ill, and I had to wait until today to talk to the vet.  We don't know conclusively what is wrong, and finding out is both prohibitively expensive and not likely to change the outcome.  I was distracting myself with the computer because I was dreading the conversation with the vet, the one where I had to say that I don't have thousands of dollars to spend on diagnostic tests and exploratory surgeries for a dog who is nearly 12 years old.  My job is to love her and to spare her pain, not to pursue medical science in order to prolong her life so that I can still have her here.  For now she is happy.  The vet agreed to try a drug trial for a few weeks and see if we can improve her symptoms based on a suspicion, but not certainty, of bladder tumors.

Now it is time to get back on the horse, to tidy our environment, eat good food, bask in the sunshine, and spend time in community with others.  I need to find the deep pulse of rhythm and fall in with it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

You Can't Have One Without the Other ...

What does a mom who has decided to spend the week observing the natural rhythm in her home do with her time?  Rearrange the furniture Work toward a creating a more harmonious environment, of course.

Monday I changed the living room around.  It had been at least 11 months since I did that last. The previous arrangement was nice, with a good conversation grouping, but it wasn't as cozy as I thought it could be, and I decided that I didn't love sitting with my back to the door.  Also, we were using the ottoman as a seating piece, which meant I didn't have a place to rest my weary feet while knitting or reading.

So the couch is on the opposite wall (again), my chair and ottoman are tucked into the corner near the fireplace, I brought in the rocking chair, and a charming homemade piece (part bookcase, part credenza) was moved from the dining room to anchor the main wall.  I didn't move the piano; I'm smarter than that.

I'm still working out the details, and will post pictures once I am finished and I find the card reader.  I'm not happy with the artwork on one wall.  Also, the coffee table is beyond distressed and a little too big, so I'm looking for an alternative.

A huge plus?  After 6 years (of having bare windows) we have decided on window coverings. Well, not the actual linens yet, but the style and finish of pole and the method of hanging. Something airy and natural, at least for spring and summer.

Tuesday I spent too much time on the computer.  'Nuff said, but in my defense I did manage to plan and prepare all three meals at home.

Today I worked on the dining room, which I now have a clear (and lovely) view of with the new positioning of my chair (Do you have your own chair?  You really should.).  In honor of Earth Day I employed use-what-you-have decorating.  I took the leaf out of the dining room table; I think the table is better proportioned to the rug and the room in the smaller configuration, but last time I tried it Papa didn't love it.  It look so nice, though, that I think he will approve this time.  (And he did, at least provisionally.)

Temporarily I put on the only small tablecloth I have, which has poinsettias on it.  They aren't noticeable from a distance and it will have to do for now.  I rarely find decent tablecloths at the thrift, much less oval tablecloths, so perhaps I will get around to making a cloth.  The whole room could use some lightening up.

My goal is to create a "formal" dining room that we will actually feel comfortable using as a family of 4.  We have a lovely breakfast nook and almost always take our meals in there, which leaves the dining room as a museum, something I really don't want.  I already took it down a notch by packing up my china and using the china cabinet for fabric; I have a treadle sewing machine in there and a few other vintage machines as well.  I think a lot of dining rooms serve double duty as sewing rooms.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring, as I work my way back through the house.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Creating Rhythm ~ Step One

Over and over again I hear people say that they want rhythm in their lives and the lives of their children, but they just don't know how to find it or maintain it.  Rhythm can be hard; some of it is already there, and some of it you have to create.  The first step, however, is observation.

Every family has some rhythm in place.  Some family members might have to leave for work at a certain time each day, which impacts sleeping, waking, and eating times.  There may be night owls or morning larks, or perhaps babies and toddlers who don't yet sleep through the night unassisted.

For me, the first step to finding our rhythm is to take the time to observe and record what is going on in our lives?  How am I sleeping?  What time are the boys waking in the morning? When do they exhibit signs of hunger, boredom, or tiredness?  All of these things change over time, which is why rhythm is dynamic.

In our home, Papa strives to leave for work around 8:00 a.m.  T-Guy is usually awake before Papa leaves and they eat breakfast together.  If J-Baby is awake he eats with them, if not he pours himself a bowl of organic maple buckwheat flakes with milk when he is ready to eat. Lately I have been sleeping until 8:30 or so; I have accepted my natural body rhythms and have chosen to co-exist with insomnia rather than medicate it.  This wasn't something I could choose when my boys were younger.  I do try to wake earlier, and my waking time varies throughout the month depending on when I was able to sleep.  In general, however, I don't make early morning plans.

There is a lot of harmony in our home in the mornings.  The energy is creative and peaceful. The boys enjoy reading and also connecting with each other and playing after the separation of sleep.  I start my kitchen tasks, tidy the house, and spend too much time on the computer (just being honest, as it is something I will be working on).  Some mornings I grab my handwork basket and sit on the front porch.  When summer arrives we'll walk in the mornings.

We eat lunch around noon because that is when Papa comes home for his midday meal.  After lunch we have a quiet period of time, and then we move into academics and projects.  My observations have shown that the boys tend to get unsettled in the afternoons, with more squabbles and tears.  They need more structure and I need to be present for them.

The boys are always hungry for a mid-afternoon snack, and after our focused learning and projects they want to play outside.  Occasionally they will join a neighbor friend for front yard play.

Papa arrives home between 5:30 and 6:00 most evenings.  Some nights we need a simple, early meal and other nights we have something to do before dinner.  Lately Papa and the boys have been going for a bike ride two evenings per week, before dinner.  They will continue with this until it gets too warm, and then the rides will shift to early mornings and our morning rhythm will change.

Each night is a little different, but we do try to walk each evening after dinner.  It is restorative for all of us; a chance to connect, to be outside, and to exercise the dogs.  This time of year we may head out early enough to enjoy the sunset, or perhaps the encroaching twilight and the cool breezes that dominate our spring evenings.  Sometimes we walk in darkness and observe the constellations and moon.

When the boys were little they always had a bedtime snack.  When T-Guy started his new medication last fall we had to eliminate the snack, and it worked well.  They either eat more at dinner or have a little sweet or piece of fruit directly after the dinner meal.

Bedtime is fairly simple now that the boys are older.  The put on their pajamas and brush their teeth, then Papa reads to them.  If all of the evenings activities are over by 8:30 they go to bed and read for 30 minutes before lights out.  If not, we do our best to get them to bed by 9:00 p.m.  They no longer need a 7:00 p.m. bedtime, but that doesn't mean that they don't need a set time for going to sleep.

Once they are in bed I usually take a bath, and then Papa and I have an hour or two together before Papa goes to sleep and I settle in with a book or magazine.

Join Me As I Work On Returning to Rhythm

I wrote about finding rhythm because once again I feel that the boys and I are drifting and I need to work on getting back to it.  This week I intend to do several things to help us get back to a creative and nourishing rhythm.

I have learned that setting a strict rhythm and attempting to dive in rarely has long term success. So what I try to do is identify a few things that I feel need tweaking, and I make those changes before moving on.  This week I have 3 goals:

1) Limit my computer time.  Our lives run so much more smoothly when I disconnect from the internet and connect with my family instead.  I used to not use a computer while my children were awake, and that worked exceedingly well.  They are older now, however, and don't sleep as much!  I can't save all of my computer tasks for the hours that they are sleeping, but I can make an active choice not to fritter my time away.  Whenever I feel that I need a break I eliminate any elective computer usage that isn't nourishing and inspiring.  Do you recall how people say to keep items that are only beautiful or truly useful?  This can apply to message boards and blogs as well.  When I need to pull back I severely restrict my time at one parenting message board and I stop reading almost all of the blogs that I like to follow.

2) Take a bath at night.  This is such a simple thing to do that makes our mornings so much smoother, and yet I put it off and end up with either a) a rushed morning or b) a lazy morning. Now there are days that I can really use a slow, lazy morning, but the reality is that it tends to create a rushed afternoon.  The evening bath not only makes for an easier morning, it is also more relaxing for me.

3) Prepare all of our meals at home, excepting date night on Friday (but I'll cook for the boys) and a birthday dinner out on Saturday, and perhaps a Sunday breakfast out at our favorite cafe. Odds are that Papa is going to want one take-out lunch from our favorite local taco stand, so I won't stand in the way of that either.  Often he can do that on a day that we have our nature co-op or a play date.

What do I plan to do with my time if I'm not on the computer?  Well, I'd love to think of myself sewing, knitting, felting, etc. in the mornings but my main focus will be to observe our natural rhythms more closely in order to determine what steps we should take next.  That means that I need to be available and not too deep into my own work.  We won't be doing formal lessons again until May, but that doesn't mean we won't be trying a few things in the afternoons.

So, tonight I managed that nice bath.  I know what we are eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner tomorrow.  I don't have any errands to run, just a bit of tidying and laundry to do ( as I do every weekday).  And now I must go to bed, to sleep, so that the day starts with a refreshed and inspired mama.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Our Newest Family Member

I realized after I posted about J-Baby turning 9 that I had mentioned our newest addition without having introduced him.  This is Big Dog.  He came from a German Shepherd rescue and had spent 4 months in a boarding facility before being placed with a foster family for 6 weeks. Needless to say he is still settling in and adjusting to life with a lively family who are home with him most of the time.  Girl Dog is so happy to have a canine companion, and we all adore him.

This morning as the boys and I were folding laundry and singing nursery rhymes the atmosphere turned playful (as is wont to happen with 9 and 10 year old boys) and the boys starting making all of the songs be about Big Dog and Girl Dog.  So to the tune of Lavender's Blue Dilly Dilly:

Big Dog's a big little puppy,
Girl Dog is small.
But we like all sizes of puppies,
Yes we love them all.

Okay, so they were taking liberties, since Girl Dog is nearly as big as Big Dog, in size if not in weight, and neither of them is a puppy.  But I just love when they make up lyrics to songs.  They are so collaborative ~ I imagine I may have a George and Ira Gershwin on my hands.

My Little One is 9!

He's all boy: he loves playing basketball, riding bikes, building with Lego, playing tricks, making silly jokes, digging in the dirt, hugging Big Dog, antagonizing his brother, listening to rock music far too loudly while he plays air guitar, playing video games (limited, but oh-so-fun), and reading Magic Treehouse Books.  He dislikes cleaning his room, making his bed, folding his laundry, and any food that isn't pizza, tacos, steak, or hamburgers.

There are days when I wonder how we made it this far.  J-Baby is both sweet and stubborn. He's smart yet he plays dumb.  He gets upset and angry easily and often dissolves into tears or shouts out how much he dislikes us.  His first answer to anything, since he was a toddler, is "No."

I'd be lying if I said that I was looking forward to this year with great joy; I've only recently come through the 9 year change with T-Guy, and he is overall an easy-going child he tends toward equilibrium.  J-Baby worries me; already we have so much friction, what will this year bring?

I know, I truly know, that we will get through this year and come through stronger on the other side.  The struggle may be, well, a struggle, but it one that must occur developmentally.

My plan, so far, is a strong rhythm and plenty of opportunities for fun and success.  More than ever before this boy needs to be involved.  Making his lunch or part of the meal, caring for part of the garden, walking the dog.  He needs to be taken seriously and to believe that we are interested in what he needs to say.  He needs his intellect nourished in a beautiful, emotional way.  He needs connection with beauty, with love, with life.

Don't we all?