Showing posts with label homeschooling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label homeschooling. Show all posts

Friday, June 5, 2015

Fight for 15 in Buffalo: Wage Board Show My Kids Democracy Works!

As you recall, we attended the Fight for 15 rally a view weeks ago.  Today we attended the a public hearing of the Wage Board and then sat through almost the entire hearing.



The goal is to get fast food workers up to $15 and hour.  We came to show support for the workers for many reasons.  Selfishly, it is unlikely security guards can continue to make very low wages if fast food workers get a sizable raise.  We are fortunate to have other sources of income including rising rent in our upstairs apartment (thank you Mayor Brown for helping Buffalo's major comeback) so we also feel that rising wages means even more rent and better tenants since more people will be able to be good tenants.  These are the selfish reasons.  We also feel it is a justice issue and want to demonstrate to our children through these real struggles what capitalism and democracy is (or often isn't about).

First off, I am proud of our own local leaders for showing support.  Our state Senator Tim Kennedy attended the kick off.  Sorry he is in between the head and sign in the middle of the photo because I couldn't get a good picture from where I was.
 Our Assembly person Sean Ryan was also there (in the suit speaking):
Of course, Mayor Brown is on the Board:
I was very impressed with his questions, and those of the other members, of the speakers.  It gave us great hope that the actions of the workers will be successful.

I am also very proud to be an Episcopalian.  At the last event our Rev. Mebane from St. Paul's Cathedral attended.  This time Mother Brauza from St. Andrews attended as well as a priest from Rochester.



When the kids and I spoke afterwards, I started into some detail about the supporting information presented by some of the community groups and academics, but it occurred to me that the lesson is even more basic.  Most of the people who spoke were workers or supporters!  Two people spoke from the business community, one person from Washington and one from the Buffalo Niagara Partnership (a regional chamber of commerce sort of group).  The only other person representing business was a small business owner from Rochester who was not opposed to higher wages, but wanted a slower phase in and some acknowledgement that higher prices would result.  Based on his tone when describing how competitive the industry is, I got the feeling that he understood that part of the reason running a restaurant is hard is because of big corporations and didn't seem to be entirely blaming workers.  I felt for him because big corporations cause him issues too, but in a different way.  Outside of these three people, EVERYONE else who spoke were the workers themselves or supportive groups from labor, the community, the clergy, or academia.  This is 3 people versus a vast number.  If business is going to suffer dramatically, why didn't they turn out?

The lesson regarding capitalism and democracy for my kids, therefore, is very simple: the interests of the many versus the few.  Will the majority rule?  It should in terms of the basics of democracy.  It should morally, as paying workers fairly and letting the chips fall is justice.  It is also justice that the public should not be subsidizing corporations by providing Medicaid and Foodstamps to workers who work hard, but still are in poverty.  Economically, it only makes sense as the most compelling evidence is that workers will drive the economy by spending their increase.  This isn't to mention the indirect affects of less stress on the health of the workers and education of their children.  It was mentioned that in Denmark fast food workers earn almost $20 and hour and the prices average only 10 to 15 cents more on items.  It is unlikely that it will affect fast food demand and to the minor extent that it does, health in the community should increase (I think demand will actually go up as the workers will be able to afford eating out more).

Mayor Brown and the Wage Board, I am impressed with your work so far, but I am now challenging you to show my kids, Thomas and Carmella, that democracy in our country is a reality.  Show them that the majority rules not the big money.  Show them that those in power care about justice as much as they do.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fight for 15 in Buffalo: A Real Lesson in Economics and Social Justice

This morning we went to a Fight for 15 labor rally. Despite the dirty looks from onlookers (not those participating) and whispering that it was no place for kids, we brought the kids because it we want them to understand the real economic power structure. Before the financial crisis, many were lulled into the belief that there is economic justice simply because there appeared to be a path to a better life through education. Recently, it appears to be debunked. With failing schools, the high cost of college, student loans that can't be discharged in even the most dire circumstances and the fact that many people with degrees are working in low wage jobs, it is harder and harder to believe in fairness and the American Dream. (I am sorry for the picture, but with my fibro bad, I had trouble being steady enough to take one of the kids walking.  The only good one was Tom holding the sign.)

The rally was very educational. First off, several religious leaders, including St. Paul's Cathedral's Rev. Mebane, spoke about what the Bible says regarding workers. None of it was a surprise to me, but it doesn't jive with our media's constant portrayal that religious people are and should be aligned with those who make a big deal of supporting the “free market”.  No one in the media mentions that corporations are the beneficiaries of regulation. Even the ones that don't benefit from many regulations benefit from the limited liability corporate law affords them. What about property rights? Don't they confer certain advantages? Yes, many people own property, but anyone who plays monopoly knows that it is easier to acquire more cash and property if you already have more. Hunter-gathers were the original state of things and any property ownership means the exclusion of some from the land and all the related benefits. The Bible takes these fairness issues into account and makes a point of dictating how and when workers should be paid.

Other speakers juxtaposed the volume of profits against the amounts the state has had to spend on the workers who, via their low income, are often eligible for Medicaid, Food Stamps, and HEAP despite working full-time. Who is really being subsidized, the workers or the companies who have a substantial amount of the compensation of their workers covered by the government. Is this fair to companies that pay a living wage without needing their workers to access the social safety net? Often these are smaller corporations, medium size businesses whose workers are more skilled. Why should the largest corporations benefit and not small and medium sized companies?

There were indirect lessons too. Many of the workers talked about not being able to afford a car. To me cars are luxury items, but they are necessities if workers are released from work so late that there is no bus, a more affordable alternative. Walking in the daytime is not a big deal, but in the middle of the night, many workers say they are afraid. Ironically, for the rally today, there were many police officers watching us. About half were chatting and acting like they were only there just in case, but the rest appeared to be watching us with displeasure in almost an intimidating way. Where are all these police officers in the middle of the night when people need to walk home from work?! It was a good opportunity to talk to Thomas and Carmella about the power structures. Do the wealthy corporations directly send the police the day of the rally? Of course not, but aren't the laws and police procedures slanted in their favor and against the gatherings of peaceful people. Why are their procedures and practices to assume there will be violence or damage? Is it inherently understood that there is real unfairness and the expectation is that workers will level the playing field through any means? There are no absolute answers here, but certainly the rally was a great real world occasion for us to explore these issues.

What is the alternative to taking the kids to such a rally? Economics class that covers micro issues and history textbooks blessed by the state of Texas that glorify everything about our country as if it were ordained by the divine. I went to excellent catholic schools that did a great job of covering some social justice issues such as drugs and prisons, but never comprehensively covered the economic system from all angles (I mean ALL angles rather than capitalism versus capitalism on steroids). In my adult life, I have spent some time seeking out alternative voices in economics and education. I highly recommend listening to online lectures by Richard Wolff, Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Morris Berman, John TaylorGatto, Alfie Kohn, and John Holt. Although one difficulty is that often those most likely to fight for living wages, think highly of compulsory education. Few people see the tie in to the origins of schooling and the desire of such by the large corporate interests to create good employees and get people used to doing what they are told.  This likely includes susceptibility to advertising. They also had to quash the independent spirit of small farmers and business who, may not have had much, but had livelihoods free from the the constraints of employment. Now, living independent of large corporations via self-employment or consumption is extremely difficult due to the pricing out of smaller businesses. One example: my great-aunt felt like she had to buy her microwave at Walmart because it was the only place she could get a good price. I suspect it was the only place she could afford.

Anyway, the benefits of homeschooling are these opportunities to explore alternative views and take on a different worldview from limited one promulgated by the corporate media and the school system.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Give Me Half of What Buffalo Public Schools Spends Per Student

I came across a news story about a controversial tax credit proposed in NYS so that some students could choose to go to private schools.  The concern is that private school tuition cited in the article is getting to be approximately $8,500.  With Buffalo schools spending over $22,000 per student.  This sounds like a bargain and perhaps a fair way for lower income students to attend elite schools.  Teachers unions don't like it, of course.  I don't either because it discriminates against homeschoolers.

If I can provide an education as good as a private school, shouldn't I get a credit?  I say if the governor is concerned about children learning, then fund any means by which children learn.  It will never happen because it isn't about learning as much as it is about a system that benefits large corporations.  They need obedient employees who are used to doing what they are told similar to what children are expected to do all day in school.  They also want the benefit of two parents in the workforce to bid down the wages.  Several of the online lectures by Richard Wolff explain that part of the reason wages are so low now is that women entered the workforce in such large numbers.  More supply of workers means businesses can pay less for their labor.  It is the straight up supply/demand dynamic in economics.  I am not against women's equality of course, but he explains that while some women sought careers, many went to work because the family needed more money. Only about thirty years ago some in our society looked down on women working outside the home.  Now, our society looks down on stay at home parents, particularly mothers, as being lazy.  It is time to provide incentives to reverse this.  Any incentive to have either parent home giving children high quality, one on one care would benefit society more than any of these programs.

One on one education is one area.  If low class size is desirable, homeschool is it.  What about the healthcare system?  Isn't everyone concerned about obesity?  Allow for one of the parents to have time to make home cooked meals and this one is improved.  What about peer pressure to do drugs?  Take children out of school and impressing their peers will be unimportant.  Rather, the values of the parents will be more influential.  This would hurt big corporations, of course, because if their student doesn't need to impress his/her friends with their brand name clothes, they will not spend as much on clothing.  Advertising depends on peer pressure.  What about poverty?  Allowing poor parents to earn money teaching their children one on one is a great idea.  Please don't tell me that poor parents are not capable.  Most parents can teach their children to read and use the library.  No, they are not bad people, most parents want to do right by their children as long as they are not stressed about making ends meet.  What about the environment?  Take away the need for kids and both parents to leave the house every day and fossil fuel use goes down.  The exact amount would be difficult to determine, because there will be errands and fieldtrips, but surely it won't be every day reducing emissions somewhat.  Oops, the oil companies will suffer.

Governor, I hope you are listening to me and really concerned about education.  If you are, I think you know that discriminating against homeschoolers in your tax credit proposal is unfair.  My guess is that you will ignore this, but I challenge you to at least respond.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Expanding our Horizons in Guatemala Meets Escaping Buffalo in January

Several months ago, at the age of 34, I got my very first passport.  I was always nervous to travel abroad.  I am sure part of it was the propaganda about traveling to certain places.  However, most of the time I think I was intimidated by new languages, international paperwork, and flying. I had a terrible time with Spanish in college and only received some sort of a B (don't remember the exact grade) due to a student teacher who was afraid to look bad.  I hate flying, not because I am afraid as much as I feel sick, both air sick (either I come down with a sinus infection from the pressure or actually vomit on the plane) and it aggravates my fibromyalgia.  Until now, I never felt like I missed out and I certainly traveled otherwise, hitting more than half the states (by car) before I turned 20.  Still, I was nervous.  I have a cousin who has lived in London for quite a while and have never gone despite the fact that I am sort of in love with Britain from its wonderfully made television mystery shows.  In the case of Britain, it isn't a language issue, but a long flight and time change issue.  Anyway, with our kids in the training choirs at church and the regular church choirs traveling to England this August, it hit me that I needed to get comfortable with foreign travel in the near future.

Then a friend of mine who lived in Guatemala for over a year, raved about it to me and wanted to go back, so we decided to go together for the month of January.  It would be a great homeschool trip for her son and my kids as well as a break for my fibromyalgia in the cold.  Of course, if she had only been on vacation there, I never would have been brave enough to go, but since she actually lived there, on her own with her son, I was much more comfortable.  I wanted the kids to be immersed in Spanish as well as see a different culture and experience life very different than the U.S.  The nice thing about Panajachel Guatemala is that there is still a very strong Mayan culture including traditional food and dress.  It is one of the few places left in the world where so much native culture remains.  The climate is also ideal with lows of about 48F and highs of about 72F all year, so it is never cold or hot.

For homeschool, it was a super experience.  First off, the architecture was interesting with buildings open to the outside, sometimes in the middle of the building, since they don't require heating or cooling.


There are churches much older than our church too.


Don't forget the day trip to Antigua where we saw many sites with old ruins including the Church and Convent at Capuchins.

There was the natural wonder of Lake Atitlan with its surrounding volcanoes.

The science of hot springs due to the nearby volcanoes.
The nature preserve was quite exotic complete with banana trees.
We learned about coffee on a tour of the farm and processing.

Forget conventional art class.  The kids took a Mayan weaving class.
They visited a handmade pottery factory.
They visited the Galeria owned by Nan Cuz where they viewed lots of Guatemalan art.

They tried on authentic Mayan clothing from the village of San Antonio.
While we didn't plan on doing a whole lot of math, they kids studied Guatemalan currency and used it buy things including watching Mom attempt to bargain.  Social studies was the strongest area covered mainly because the kids visited the homes of two local families and ate a traditional meal at one of them.  We also experienced the ancient by visiting Mayan ruins.
Modern differences were the most interesting.  On the one hand, there was litter and less than perfect plumbing, but on the other hand there was the tremendous wisdom in simplicity such as the efficiency of tuk tuks on roads without too many cars (no traffic lights), hopping in the back of a pickup truck for longer distances, shopping in a pharmacy with no prescription needed, using ATMs where you can lock yourself in without the fear of someone else with a bank card being able to get in, and eating in restaurants where the owner's chickens roam about the premises.
Physical Education wasn't left out either as we did a horseback ride throughout the village of San Pedro (which I don't recommend for someone with fibromyalgia as due to lack of balance and sensory issues it was very uncomfortable and afterwards I had to rest quite a bit on the couch for several days - but it was fine for the kids).

The kids also went kayaking, but I didn't get pictures.

Obviously, many people in Guatemala don't have as much as we (or most Americans) do, so we had the kids volunteer two mornings doing an art project with preschoolers at Mayan Families.  They really felt great about helping the little ones. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A Crash Course in Citizenship and Business

What better lesson in citizenship than using the court system?

As urban dwellers, we live in a traditional Buffalo double with lower and upper apartments.  For us it has turned out to be an economical way to live in one of the best urban neighborhoods in the country.  While being owner occupied mitigates many problems of being a landlord, it isn't without its moments.  We had to evict our last tenant as well as have her arrested for harassment and criminal mischief due to a string of actions she took against us including an abusive letter, yelling and swearing at our kids, and dumping garbage in a hallway after the tantrum in which she yelled at the kids.  It appears to me that she isn't mentally stable, but of course, I don't really know.  (Yes, we did check out her background and from what we learned about her as she lived here, she would have passed even a stricter check.)

Anyway, we spent quite a bit of time during the past several weeks making trips downtown to Buffalo City Court.  Many of the trips involved getting forms and filing papers for eviction over non-payment of rent.  However, the kids also had to accompany us when we went to court for the actual hearing.  Not only did they get the courtroom experience, but they got to see Mom and Dad win the eviction by, not only being in the right, but by being knowledgeable in the laws pertaining to the situation.

Their experience was not limited to housing court, but less than a week later, they accompanied me to one of the criminal hearings where I went as a victim/witness.  Actually, since they were discussing plea bargains, I was more of a spectator, but I think they are learning.

I was impressed with their respect for the court too.  While they sort of acted up and drove us crazy waiting to go into court and immediately afterwards, they were on perfect behavior in the court room each time.  I take it to mean that either they really were watching what was going on or that they at least grasped the seriousness.

The final phase was helping us get ready for and look for a new tenant.  While they didn't fully understand all steps, they were present for showing the apartment, taking down e-mail addresses, and finally explaining our lease and collecting the security deposit.  They are getting a head start on learning how to rent out property.  We learned by our own experience which was difficult. 

Hopefully, we are also showing the possibilities of a diversity of income by having some business of our own and not solely relying on employment for our income.  There is some freedom in running a business even though it clearly has headaches.  We have our little soap business too, but that is still in its very early stages.

What do you think of all this?  How have you taught citizenship or business?

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Where Raising Independent Kids Meets Modern Mothering Guilt

A better title to this might be the "The Benefits of Parenting with a Chronic Illness" or "The Huge Risks of Parenting with a Chronic Illness" depending on your point of view.  My fibromyalgia causes me to have much less energy than most people.  Fortunately, pain is not my worst symptom - fatigue is - which means that I can do the things that most people do, but far less of it.  I have fewer good, up hours than most people.  I end up hitting the couch earlier than most people need to crash so the main consequence is that I have less time.

We often get home from activities or errands and I need to crash so the kids have to handle their own baths.  It isn't uncommon that they move the last load of laundry to the dryer for me and even know which settings are for which types of loads.  A few times, Carmella has peeled carrots for me when I am so tired that standing in the kitchen is difficult.  They make their own peanut butter sandwiches when they get hungry.  This is great unless I am about to cook dinner, of course.  They know how to shut off the stove and oven as well as the timer to buy me a couple of minutes getting back to the kitchen.  Later in the day they put their own dishes in the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen floor.  They fold towels.  Yes, they do need to be asked multiple times and this doesn't translate into cleaning up their toys sprawled out in the dining room, but they are taking charge of many tasks at a much younger age than most kids.

This does lead to some guilt.  I know most kids their ages still get the coziness of Mom assisting with a bath.  It feels like the house is in some disorganized chaos all the time.  I am sure when I am not feeling well, I also get frustrated and snappy more easily.  Ultimately, though, it seems that they are more independent.

Today, Easter Sunday, I am in loads of pain and my lower back is out, so the kids have to handle themselves whatever they choose to do (Dad is at work).  When it was time to color Easter eggs, I told them to fill the pan with the eggs and water and that I would turn on the stove to boil them.  They dropped and broke 4 eggs.  I got upset, of course, but told them I was going back to rest and to call me after they had cleaned up, and furthermore, instead of boiling 20 they were now down to 16.  Yes, I do feel a little guilty about making them do their own clean up of the egg mess and I know most parents would have let them take 4 more eggs from the fridge rather than having them accept their own losses.  I am sure on Easter that if I wasn't suffering so much that the guilt would have overcome me and I would have provided more assistance, but it seems, since they succeeded, that it would be at the cost of character building.

When I came back to the kitchen I poured the hot water and vinegar, but left and let them put in their own food coloring and decorate their own eggs.  The results were great:

I still don't know how the different color splotches came about so they must know some advanced technique I couldn't have taught them.

There were risks though.  The water was hot, although I know they have a thorough understanding of hot in the kitchen so I am sure it is why they didn't get burned.  They could have gotten dye in places that weren't helpful or broken a mug, but then I would have had them clean up.  Last night they learned how to safely clean up broken glass, so they would have been ready.

I know to some people this all may seem risky, but so far, it seems that they are more independent and confident than most kids so I keep coming back to the fact that this may be the right approach even though I have sort of defaulted to it because of my fibro.

What about you?  Do you let your kids handle their own messes and projects, on purpose or by accident?  Do you find it builds character?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Teaching Time Managment

As part of our homeschooling, I have a list of classic children's books sorted in precise grade level order (2.1, 2.2, etc.) that I am having the kids read in addition to their Time4Learning, outside activities, and impromptu play and experiments.  Sometimes, it is hard to get T to sit down and read because there are so many things he wants to do.  I began to push bringing his books with us to activities.  Since we ride the NFTA buses to go places there is usually extra time waiting for a bus and extra time when we get somewhere early because the bus times aren't always precise for the desired arrival time.  There is also the time waiting for a bus to come home.




He fought me at first, but when he realized that he was getting almost all his reading done during time that would otherwise be wasted, he got much better about it.  He now sees that he has more time at home to play and do other things.  Hopefully, he will begin to appreciate how important time management is.  I think this is a pretty good way to teach it especially because without going to school there is still a tremendous amount of free time and this just increases it.  When I was in school learning time management wasn't the difference between free time and more free time, but no free time and a little free time.  It was hard to see the point when I was so overloaded.  Only time will tell if the time management sticks, but we'll wait and see.  I certainly think learning it in the context of more choices is better than the way I learned it where there was more of a punishment element in not having all my assignments ready.  Again, we'll have to see how it works long term.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Kid (and Winter) Prompted Science Experiments

Walking down the sidewalks in Buffalo, I can't help but complain about the way people don't shovel.  I know my neighbors hate how I am last minute with my lawn in the summer, but when it comes to shoveling, I am out there quick and regularly scraping down to the concrete.  I don't believe in salt because of the environment.  If you scrape it right away and wait for the sun to come out (even the limited Buffalo winter sun), it is all you need.  When my kids encountered sidewalks that were poorly shoveled but covered with salt, I want off about this.  Surprise, Surprise!  Anyway, after I shut up, they asked me why salt is put on ice.

It then turned into a great basic science experiment.  We put two plastic yogurt cups of water in the freezer to freeze.  Then we took them out and put lots of salt, a big layer, on one of them.  I tried to explain that the one without salt was the control one and the other was the experimental one, but I am not sure they will remember.


We then placed them back in the freezer.  Over the next several days, we observed the one with the salt melt despite being in the freezer. 






Of course, they had to taste the salt water to see that it wasn't plain water.  That part was their idea, not mine, but since it was plain old salt, it didn't hurt them. 

The best part of the whole thing is that some of our regular activities prompted this which made it relevant.  Over the holidays, I know I was starting to worry about not being creative enough with coming up with experiments.  After this, I started to worry less.

I highly recommend this experiment, mainly because it is very easy and not too much work, but also because it is so relevant this time of year.

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Educational Headlines Get Scarier

Earlier this week, I was in bed flipping through the few channels we get with our antenna.  When I got to Channel 2, one of the major stories was NY To Add 300 Hours To Public School Year .  The story was about how five states, including New York, are planning to increase the amount of hours that students spend in school.  It is extremely disturbing to me since one of the reasons that I homeschool T & C is that I think that school is already too much of a full-time job for kids. Not only does it rob them of their childhood to benefit adults' work schedules (whose real benefit is the corporations that sell them the vast number of unnecessary items they buy on two incomes or low wages when families can't help but need two incomes for the basics), but nobody is asking the hard questions about the use of time in the schools or what is really necessary for children to learn.

The first question that should be asked is whether or not the time used in school is efficient or effective.  When T used to go to a local school for speech, there were several times, when the speech teacher called to tell me not to bring him since they were engrossed in a testing week.  If 10-20% of the time (from what I can tell) is spent on testing, then valuable class time for learning is being wasted, never mind the time for assemblies, discipline, lining up, etc.  Some things are unavoidable in a school environment because of its model.  Inherently, some time will be spent on making sure everyone is there and waiting for people to calm down.  It is just the drawback of 20-30 kids per one teacher.

What I want to know is how is my son, who hasn't turned six yet, reading at a nearly second grade level while only spending about 2 hours a day, 4 days a week on traditional academics?  How is this possible when he is not a genius and my health means that he learns independently in most cases?  How is it possible when he spends so much more time out in the world and doing random hands-on activities and free play?  I am not sure I can directly answer how its happening except that it is a clear testament to the fact that kids don't need to be couped up six plus hours a day away from their homes.

What about what they learn?  What skills are really necessary for adulthood?  Are kids really going to remember everything?  Is there some way to arm them with the skills for life-long learning instead so they can confidently pick up whatever skills they need when they need them?  It is time to look at the vast amount of knowledge available, the limited capacity of the human brain to master it, and come up with a better way to decide what should be learned.  Does hard core academics for so many hours make sense when there are many more things that adults need to know including things like homemaking which everyone needs to do in some way or minor repair for the large number of people who will own a home?  This is just to name a few.  After all, real learning happens when one chooses to learn and it is relevant.

I am worried for the other kids, honestly, really worried.  They are experiencing child labor masquerading as school and extracurricular activities.  My general observation of conventional school students close to my kids' ages is that they work almost all-day five days a week and sometimes several hours on Saturday.  They are at school about six and a half hours a day with little recess and a twenty-minute lunch break (short even by adult labor standards).  The transportation and waiting for buses adds half an hour to an hour to this.  Then there is afterschool program or extracurricular activities (almost always multiple ones a week) with kids often getting home after five or even six.  Then there is the socially acceptable (and necessary with this schedule) strict 8 pm bed time allowing a short dinner, bath, and homework.  The only difference between the problematic child labor of past years is that children now receive little economic benefit and eventually go into debt for college where the overworked kids of past may have received some compensation even if far too low.  They were also physically active while the kids today are acquiring numerous health conditions due to inactivity.  Yes, in the case of the extracurricular activities, there is some fitness in many of them, and certainly those are less "work" in the sense that presumably the kids chose them (even though parental pressure is pretty high these days so maybe not) rather than being forced into them like school.   I am not trying to romanticize the harsh lives of children in the past, but I think it is helpful to see the parallels including that it is still all for adult benefit.  In the past the adults whom benefited were the owners of family farms in the most benevolent cases and greedy factory owners in the worst cases.  Today, the educational establishment, even though perhaps better intentioned, benefits tremendously.  Parents today, no longer owning farms, benefit by having free child care to chase the rewards society glorifies most, money and status.

It will be interesting to see what the public has to say about the increased hours.  My guess is that most adults will be happy.  Parents will be relieved to have their kids time occupied while they work or run errands.  It is already pretty clear that parents today are comfortable turning their kids over to professionals to raise them rather than doing it themselves.  The educational establishment will respond by chasing more compensation for more hours, and designing new specializations for professionals who work in the schools.  The kids won't know if they are young and the older ones won't find a good mechanism for the outrage they may feel.  I know that I am outraged, but other than writing these sorts of articles, there isn't much of a way to change minds.  I am sure that if I tried to convince kids that they were working too hard, their parents, who already feel threatened by my unconventional choices, would not be pleased with me.  It is bad enough that the decision to homeschool is inherently an indictment of the decision by others to conventionally school even if I don't mean to specifically question the choices of others.  I know that many others, including other bloggers, like to dress their decision up in a sort of diplomatic everyone choosing what is best for their own family type of view, but when you choose something so out of the mainstream (homeschooling is known and growing, but still relatively low numbers) it really does say something about the status quo given that it is socially much easier to do what everyone else does.

What do you think about this news?  It won't be news for long because people will be happy or will more people choose to homeschool because of it?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Happiness as an Educational Goal

A couple of months ago, I took out Happiness and Education by Nel Noddings from the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.  I have been meaning to write about it for a while now, but with the difficulty concentrating that I have due to fibro fog, reading takes me a very long time.  Anyway, I really enjoyed the book and its arguments.  I liked the discussion of happiness as a reasonable goal for education.  There really is quite a bit of support for it when looked at through the eyes of philosophy.

One of the best parts, however, was that it really illuminated how lopsided the conventional education system is towards hard academics and career preparation.  While intuitively, it seems unnecessarily to coop kids up on a nearly full-time basis for academics, I am not sure I thought about how many things that conventional school doesn't cover or cover enough that take up a significant part of life such as home making and interpersonal relationships.  I suppose that most people expect students to learn those things at home, but, of course, with all the time spent in school and on homework, they are not covered well at home either.

The book also touches on the inherent materialism that is the goal in education since everyone expects that if they work hard at school they'll get a good job and be able to buy everything they need.  Education is often cited as a way to promote equality and diminish poverty.  However, someone will always have to do the work that society values with low wages so it illuminates that poverty is a social problem and not an educational one.

These are just some of the things that I gleaned from reading this book.  I recommend it to everyone with kids, but especially homeschool parents.  While I haven't made dramatic changes to our routine because of it, it has helped me put our activities into good perspective.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Worm Farming Adventures

We have had a worm farm in our kitchen since before June 1st.  It has been a great learning experience for T and C.  My main reason for getting it is that I couldn't stand the idea that we put food scraps in the garbage.  Having the scraps be preserved, sort of, in plastic bags in a landfill bothered me.  Since we are in the city and close to large apartment buildings and businesses with dumpsters, a regular outdoor compost pile seemed out of the question since it could attract rats.  Most people compost to have a garden.  Hopefully, we will transform our front yard slowly starting next spring, but we are far from being gardening people.  It wasn't our main reason for getting one anyway, it was the landfill thing.

I waited until now to do a big post on it even though I have mentioned it on my other blog with our homeschool days itemized.  Now seems like an appropriate time since we recently rotated the last tray and found our mostly finished compost.



I say mostly finished because some of the paper wasn't eaten either because we didn't make the pieces small enough or because we had so much in the first tray as bedding.  However, the food was completely gone and we found no worms or cocoons as they had all hatched and migrated to the upper trays for new food.  We decided to put the paper back through one more time.  It was a great experience for the kids to see that the food was gone.  Here is a picture from June from that tray:


The journey was especially fun too.  We got to see the worms mate and we found cocoons.  Now that the population is much bigger, likely doubled, we catch them mating about half of all times we open the bin now. 



In this picture, there is both interlocked clittela between the worms and if you look closely, a nice cocoon near them.  Worms, in this case red wigglers, spend their days eating, crawling, and mating.  They mate weekly, when mature, and don't need to sleep.  They are hermaphrodites, but can't fertilize themselves.  Knowing their activities and optimum conditions is important for trouble shooting problems.  One example of a problem was escaping worms, not loads but too many.  In that case, we had stirred in food too soon that was still too hot and they had no cool place to find refuge.  We discussed chemistry a bit observing heat from the composting food.  It is important to note that microorganisms take care of the food and the worms eat them. 

Observation of worms in a habitat isn't the only positive.  It is also a good experience for the kids to take care of the farm draining the farm and adding food and paper.







It was a great all around project for biology, chemistry, environmentalism, responsibility, and sustainability, never mind the complete circle when we use the compost in our front yard.  The only part we bi-passed was making the farm.  I hit a sale on a tray set up and bought it when I had the chance to do it, but a more complete way to do this is to build your own using some of the videos on you tube as instructions.  In my case, I was concerned about my energy level and didn't want that to hold us back from the rest of the project.

If you have a worm farm, are you enjoying it?




Friday, October 19, 2012

City Living and Physical Education

This morning was a great morning.  First of all, I felt pretty good, not as good as yesterday but a far cry from the several bad fibro days I had earlier in the week.  Second of all, we did several errands this morning to buy supplies for a project we were working on.  One of them involved taking the bus to a big regular grocery store, something we don't do all that frequently. 

During our journey there, I couldn't help but think about the superior physical education that my kids are receiving.  Getting to the store involved quite a bit of walking.  First, we grabbed the bus down two blocks so we could hit the better mail box.  (For some reason, the one at our block has one pick up while the one two blocks down has several pick ups at good times.)  Then when we got off the bus we had to walk about five times as far as someone who would drive to the store and park in the lot.  We also brought our grocery cart which had to be pushed, not just to and from a car, but to and from the bus.  On the way home, knowing that getting the bus there has been unlucky for me without waiting a long time, we decided to walk and turn around each stop to see if it was coming (since the stops are pretty close together).  By the time we saw it, we were less than a mile from home so we just kept walking for a total of about 2 miles.  It was beautiful outside and and invigorating for the soul to be out in the sunshine with all the activity around.

A habit of regular exercise woven into life is what I prescribe as physical education.  This will benefit them far into adulthood.  It doesn't seem strange to them to walk distances to go places or to think about how to get things from one place to another without a car.  Unfortunately, physical education traditionally focuses on sports, specifically team sports.  I am all for sports that can be used regularly into adult life like running or swimming, but how many adults are on teams of the sports they used to play in school?  Relatively few.  Further, I have a serious problem with the message of team sports with the emphasis on competition.  Even when competition is downplayed, there is always a winner and a loser.  Many think competition is fundamental to our society particularly with the vast materialism in the name of the free market.  However, I don't believe it has to be.  It isn't inherent in our human nature.  Real and widespread collaboration would be a better way.  Of course, team sports reinforce competition in an enticing manner along side the conventional education and employment system.  It isn't enough to talk about collaboration while continuing to subscribe to the institutions whose fundamental nature is competition.  Our society would need to function quite a bit differently including rejecting conventional education with its testing, ranking, and sorting.  It would have to be a revolution of sorts since competition is so woven into society.  Almost every news broadcast where politics is discussed has it and walk into any business with a tv on and the vast majority have sports on for their customers (including the cafe at the grocery store this morning).

If T or C asked to join a sport would I let them?  Of course.  After all, we are trying to do our best at child centered learning.  Will they ask?  Probably not.  We have limited the exposure to sports on tv and discussion of team or professional sports as much as we can.  We wouldn't stop them from watching, but we never set an example of watching them ourselves at home.  More importantly, however, our simple urban living, sets the best example of all by using our bodies to carry out daily activities in a physical and more sustainable way.  We are probably in a very small minority.  Many homeschoolers, while rejecting conventional school, have their kids participate in sports as their physical education, never mind the vast majority of the population whose kids are in school with many participating in sports as well.  That is is fine though.  We aren't raising our kids to be like everyone else, but to make thoughtful choices about their activities and, therefore, views and priorities.

But keep checking in with us to see if the kids surprise us and ask to go on a team!

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Freedom to Take on Something Bigger

My son's joining the training choir at St. Paul's Cathedral caused me to reflect on the great gift of flexibility that homeschooling provides.  As kids progress in the choir program (an excellent free music education), the commitment can grow from one day a week to several.  Several days a week on one activity is a significant commitment that I am not sure I could have done it when I was a child.

The transition from kindergarten to first grade was horrific for me.  It wasn't the change in the work even though the academics got quite a bit more difficult between the two years, but the big change in schedule.  Kindergarten was was only half-day.  We had a focused three hours of school, reading groups and all.  Then we went home to have lunch and free time.  First grade was the first year of full day school.  Despite being six and a half and having plenty of recess time, I remember crying every afternoon for two weeks at the beginning of the year.  This also happened for one week at the beginning of second grade too.  I don't remember the details as much as would be helpful, but I know that my mother explained that I had to go to school no matter what.  After that, I am pretty sure I did my best to hide the crying as much as I could since I was the compliant type.

I know now from everything I have read on homeschooling why this happened.  It isn't natural to expect kids under 7 or 8 to be away from their parents for such long periods of time, 7 or 8 hours if you include the bus ride.  Now it is worse, of course, since kids go to full-day pre-k even younger and there is less recess time.  Many kids are more resilient than I was and can handle it better than I did, but that shouldn't justify the thinking that such things are normal or healthy.  I am not sure that it is right to blame my mother personally.  Homeschooling was very remote during the 1980s.  I am not sure that the option was even known to her.  If she had known about it, the pressure of doing exactly what she and my grandfather had done may have overridden her decision anyway, nevermind the possible griping by extended family members.  Certainly before the internet, resources weren't as readily available either.  Of course I didn't hate school, just the full day part.  Going half day, even year round probably would have been fine for me.

This difficult adjustment, however, limited the activities I got involved in.  I remember trying to go to brownies in first grade and hating it.  I think it was mainly that it extended the day too much after the long school day.  My mother tried to come with me, but it just didn't work out.  I also didn't like the arts and crafts focus.  One of my issues with first grade was also that you couldn't just circle answers on worksheets, but had to spend the time coloring.  The work was just drawn out.  In my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn't necessary to be cooped up for such a long day and I knew it was the source of my misery.

For now, T's involvement in the training choir is only one day, but if it grows, he will have the free time and low stress to be able to tackle it.  It won't be piled on an overscheduled week.  This is good, because he has such an interest in singing.  He walks down the streets of Buffalo singing all the time.  He will really get a chance to do what he loves. I think that the overall social influence will be good too.  The boys in the program, all of which are older than T, went out of their way to welcome him and I overheard them saying that they want to set a good example for the younger kids.  I was impressed by this conscious effort from 8 and 9 year old boys.  The best part was when he came out with a big smile on his face saying that he couldn't wait for next week.

His activities don't need to be limited to choir.  Since academics take up only about an hour and half a day for T, he has plenty of time left for something else if he likes, maybe a sport or dance.  This experience this week reinforces that homeschooling is such a good choice for opening up opportunities.  Have you had a similar experience?  Are your kids able to take on more because they aren't in school?

Friday, August 31, 2012

The First Day of School and Other Missed Milestones

Until my reunion, I checked facebook weekly at most.  It just feels overwhelming.  I am not entirely sure why, but I usually blame it on my fibro since my mother also finds it overwhelming.  However, since I have been spending more time on it, I can't help but notice all the "First Day of School" pictures that people put up.  Should I put up a picture of my kids with a caption "First Day of Not Going to School" or some other like post?  It is very tempting, I can tell you.

Of course what kind of picture would capture the homeschooling spirit the most?  A picture of C sleeping in with Dad after he did a late shift?  The kids playing a board game with Dad in the middle of the day before he heads off to work?  A picture from a day trip (more like half a day, I didn't feel up to a whole day) we took to nature trails earlier in the week?  T reading?  The kids working on their lessons on the computer?  A picture from our play date yesterday?  A picture of us getting on the NFTA bus?  A picture of them with one of their dolls with a homemade paper dress?  What about weighing bulk items to buy at the Lexington Co-op?  Cooking?  Caring for the worm farm?  I suppose I will need to analyze this carefully since there are so many choices.  How about this one - sending Dad off to work while we head out to the playground?



Am I a bad person to say that I find the whole "first day of school" and "back to school" somewhat cheesy, for lack of a better way to put it?  It seems like such a manufactured milestone.  Ending a school year presumably means accomplishing something, but at the beginning of the school year kids haven't done anything yet.  If parents were really interested in learning wouldn't they be more excited about their kid learning to read (or swim or paint or sing) than turning a certain age by a certain deadline to be included in a school class?  Is some of the frenzy that everyone does it and that you have to shop for it?  After all, Americans love comparing themselves to other people and shopping is part of it.  I guess this is it, I am just disturbed by the materialism and pressure to be like everyone else, rather than the pride of other parents.

Am I depriving my kids of the attention that comes with these sorts of milestones?  T didn't have a kindergarten graduation, just a trip out for dessert just the four of us (it was last December, not even when graduations normally are).  Certainly, the grandparents would have gotten excited about a graduation.  I suppose that I could have bragged about it online or at the playground or at church.  How would it have been received if I showed up at church in December and told my friends that T finished kindergarten?  I am not sure it would have been the same.  Regardless, I see it more as he completed the skills that are considered kindergarten in conventional school since my research has yielded the fact that the sequence is somewhat arbitrary.  Also, the completion was just the core curriculum we use, but not the things that the kids come up with that are of interest.  Can I really put a grade level on those things?  The paper Barbie dress, the handmade paper skirt?  The perfect freehand drawing of a princess?  Baking?  Making patterns with coins?  Totaling up scores for board games using different methods?  Learning to ride the NFTA bus?  I think you get the point.

Am I doing my kids a favor by focusing more on the learning than the milestones?  It feels like I am.  Since I was so compliant about school and the whole work-hard-and-get-ahead, I always felt like I was living for the next school break, year completion, or graduation.  There was too much pressure to savor the learning.  I don't recall nurturing my outside interests all that well either.  Research supports that focusing on the learning is better.  If you read anything by Alfie Kohn, you will find this out too.  Focusing on reward or punishment always takes away from the intrinsic value of the learning.

This homeschool year (if you want to call it that, since we don't take summers off) I want to do more unschooling.  I am afraid to give up a structured curriculum completely, but we are going to do less of it.  Time4Learning is already pretty efficient, but we are going to, where appropriate, test first and only do the areas that we don't know to free up time for whatever the kids want to do or read.  We are going to read as many of the classic books as we can without overwhelming the kids.  My health permitting, we are going to do more outings and field trips and play dates.

What about you?  What are you going to do this "homeschool year"?  What do you think about "back to school"?  Am I the only one?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Reunions and My Decision to Homeschool: A Reflection

We are coming upon the 20th reunion of my 8th grade class from St. Joan of Arc School in Chicopee, MA.  Since we were a tight small group of under 30 students, it is a reunion I am going to make every effort to make.  Until facebook, I fell out of touch with everyone, partly because I moved to Buffalo in 1997, but mainly because I was the only one from the group who went to my high school.  Recently, I have been excitedly checking my facebook for info on the reunion.  I go on almost daily, up from about weekly.

One of the funny things is that there was talk of who the class couple was.  Despite seeming to be nominated, I don't have much of an opinion on it.  However, I keep getting the funny feeling that if there is a "most changed" or something of that nature, I may be sure to win.

I wouldn't win at first glance, since other than being quite grey on top, I actually look quite a bit like I did twenty years ago.  I don't have too many wrinkles and I am within 15 pounds of my graduation weight.  Of course, in between I was 40 pounds heavier than now, but I had to lose weight to help my sleep to help my fibromyalgia.  Of course, depending on the kind of fibro day I am having at the reunion, I may be hobbling or waddling around especially after the long car trip out there.  We'll have to see about that.  The best part for everyone though will be when I open my mouth and they hear the slight but distinctive western New York accent I acquired.

But what about the more substantive changes?  Is anyone expecting a home schooling, bus riding, urban, Episcopalian, stay at home Mom with no car (I'll rent one to go there), no yard, no makeup and a home hair cut to boot.  Heck, I have a worm farm composter in my kitchen and rarely go to grocery stores.  I get my food from a CSA and a neighborhood food co-op.



I feel like there may be some surprised people whether they say it or not.  When I was at St. Joan of Arc and high school - undergrad too - I was a really hard worker and good at school.  I did every bit of homework, worked ahead, thought about school all the time, felt stressed about it, only read for pleasure during the summer, and had little other interests.  I wouldn't say I was smart for two reasons.  I had to work hard for my grades and I am pretty sure now that I only had (or only developed) the intelligences recognized in school.  School wasn't the only institution I was all about.  I was a Roman Catholic who never thought I would ever be anything else.  My Catholic school teacher mother would never have let me miss church.  I had visions of working super hard in Catholic high school and going to college with the best scholarship I could get.  While I may not have expressed it at the time, I bought into the importance and order of the institutions in my life.  I was going to get a good job, be thoroughly devoted to it, and live the same life as my parents.  I'd live in a similar neighborhood and drive a similar car and have a similar house and go to a similar church even if in a different region of the country.

In some ways, I didn't disappoint.  I graduated high in my high school class, got a full scholarship to college, got a good job, became a CPA, and went to graduate school part-time while I worked.  I kept getting better and better jobs.  My last job involved overseeing 3 departments at a large school district.  These were pretty good accomplishments, if I may say so myself.

As I went along, I became tired, physically and mentally.  Some if it was the fibromyalgia starting slowly and some of it was lack of satisfaction.  Regardless, I gradually started to question the conventional life and institutions to which I had been devoted.  I first realized that I wasn't living my faith, but punching the metaphorical church time clock.  I became Episcopalian because it felt more like who I am.  I got my traditional church service with women priests and openness to views on issues that I had.  Next, I got tired of the mindless (despite NPR), waste of time, environmentally horrifying commute to my cozy condo in one of the two cars we had.  As soon as I got it worked out we moved into the city in walking distance to my new job at the time.  We immediately shed a car and actually started participating in things since we were closer to them again.  Then Tom and I switched places.  I stayed home with the kids to care for my health and he went back to work.  I eventually found out I had fibromyalgia (shed the last car at the same time), something my mother didn't get until she was 50, 20 years later than I got it.  Obviously, the genetics weren't in my favor, but without an traumatic triggering event, I can only surmise that it is the result of the pressure I put on myself to comply and be good at school and career.

This combination of realizing that whole schooling to career to consumption lifestyle was unfulfilling and realizing that all that hard working couldn't safeguard against (and maybe even caused) the onset of a lifelong chronic illness led me to researching homeschooling for my own kids.  I also saw that despite being sold on school and college, that my husband with a masters degree was in and out of low wage collections jobs all the time.  Fortunately, now he is a security guard which is more stable (and he loves it), but is still not in line with what we were told growing up about getting a good education.  With all this, I wanted my kids to have a childhood rather than be cooped up 7 hours a day plus several hours of homework.  I want them to explore all their intelligence types.  I wanted them to have interests other than traditional academics.  At home, academics can be handled in a fraction of the time and at one's own pace leaving time for bigger multifaceted project experiences.  Certainly I put pressure on myself when I was young, but conventional school encourages and rewards this kind of compliance.  It is also a mission with enough flexibility for me now that it looks like I won't be returning to the career I had.

So what am I saying about St. Joan of Arc if I am homeschooling my own kids?  Nothing against it.  If someone is going to sent their child to conventional school, I know of no better place.  I enjoyed great classmates and the best teachers you can find.  Without the great people, I wouldn't be the person I am today.  I received an education from caring people with great values.  I just reject the full time job school is for kids, especially now 20 years later (no more half day kindergarten and pre-k a year earlier). Homeschooling just feels like the right thing to do.  The funny thing is that my kids are healthier than I was as a kid, happier, and further ahead than I was academically to boot.  The other funny thing is that I don't spend any more time on hard core academics than my friends do just getting their kids ready for school and helping with homework.

If you are a homeschool parent, are people from your past surprised?  Are you even a little surprised at yourself?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

There Are No Breaks in Homeschool!

Thanks to the grandparents I got to take the kids on vacation to Maine.  Dad had to stay home, luckily to start a new job, not continue to look for one.  So, did we get a break from homeschool? Not at all!  Yes, I let the kids skip their Time4Learning for the week, but they didn't stop learning.  Besides, what better place to learn than at the beach!  It was unstructured learning though.  I brought along several books from the library on the ocean, Maine, rocks, and seashells.  We looked things up as needed, but made no effort to read anything cover to cover.  The first day, it was raining, but the tide was out at a good time, so we went for a walk and collected rocks and seashells.  Over the next several days we tried to look them up to see what we found.  For the rocks we tried to make an educated guess at igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary based on what we read.


I showed the kids that if you dig, you can reach water.  We even made a little canal and a sort of tide pool.  It wasn't exactly the Erie canal, but I think they got the idea.


They also had a great time playing in the ocean.  C rode some waves with Grandpa and T goofed off in the water.  They wore their long suits and hats to stay out of the UV rays.



Grandpa took T and C candlepin bowling for the first time.  He got them bumpers of course, but, hopefully, it will get them interested in the sport.  Too bad there is only regular bowling in Buffalo.


Don't forget about crafts too.  Mem helped them teach them how to do a type of knitting.  It was fun to watch them since I did that as a kid.





It was a great time.  There was a lot of learning too.  While many homeschool families say that they take the summer off, I doubt they stop learning.  I think when homeschool families say they take a break, they are really taking a break from formal curriculum.  Reading and exploration continues anyway.  This was certainly the case for us.

What about you?  Do you take a "break" from homeschool?  What does taking a break mean to you?


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Old Fashioned Travel for an Old Fashioned Education

If you have been reading my companion blog, you know that on July 6, 2012 we took an unusual trip with the help of the grandparents.  Driving from Buffalo to Chicopee, MA is nothing new for our family, especially me.  I have been making the trip regularly since 1997 when I moved to Buffalo.  We've always taken the NYS Thruway with the most choice being where to stop, like the supply of fast food was a big variety, and whether to stay on the thruway or stay on Interstate 90 when with goes around Albany.  With the kids the trip takes around 7 hours, pretty efficient like most modern travel.  Modern travel with its well placed conveniences and efficiency is centered very much around getting where you are going, and not about the trip.  Interstate highways have taken motorists off of the traditional US highways where people actually work and live.  Worse is the way people fly around place to place without even having to think about the people they pass by or the real distance they are going.

For a long time, I thought about how interesting it would be to travel on the old US highways across the country, like US 20, or up a coast, like US 1.   It reminds me of old movies from the 1930s and 1940s before the interstate system.  It was a time where, if you drove somewhere, you couldn't help but go slower and experience the places you passed through.   I can't see a situation where we will be able to do the whole thing at once, but I thought we may get to do it in increments.  We started on July 6, 2012 by attempting to pick up US 20 as soon as we could outside of Buffalo and take it to Springfield, MA.  Because we ran out of time we picked up the NYS Thruway just outside of Albany.  While we decided to go at the last minute and I didn't have time to review Carschooling, the kids brought maps and followed some of the town names.

The trip was a great time even though it wasn't exactly the way I expected.  First of all, I thought the kids would be into seeing all the farms as we passed, but after the first few, the fascination wore off a bit.  Despite being city kids, I suppose seeing cows from the car is only so interesting.  We did, however, get to stop at lakes, farms, and dairy stands that we hadn't seen before despite frequently driving within a few miles of them.  Here are the highlights:





This kind of travel is like homeschool, where being able to take your time and ignore the conventional ways gives your a more full experience.  I don't remember how many times I have driven from Buffalo to Chicopee, but we won't forget this trip with all the sights and fun stops on the way.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Homeschooling: The Occasional Problem with Self-Paced Learning

This week I couldn't help but think about how nice it is to stop and smell the flowers.  C loves to stop and look at flowers and butterflies and rocks and ants and, well, everything.  It's great to have the freedom to explore what is around us, an amazing amount of nature for our city environment.  I don't remember doing this as much when I was a child.  I probably did when I was four and half, and just don't remember.  However, by the time I was in school full days at six and a half, there just wasn't the time.  We had homework, places to be, and strict bedtimes.  We played in the neighborhood after school with the other kids, but by that time of day, our brains were fried and the energy for natural learning was lower.  It seems we destroyed ant hills more than we watched them.



I am getting better at letting their interests dictate our activities, but I am far from perfect.  When it comes to letting them learn at their own pace with the curriculum we use, however, I always felt like we were on the right track.  First of all, we only spend about an hour a day on it or less.  Second, they can repeat any sections or activities that they have trouble with.  Third, they can work ahead whenever they want.  Finally, my kids happen to be ahead of their peers at this point.  This could always change of course, but it does give me some added comfort right now.

Unfortunately, C is too far ahead in math.  She finished kindergarten, but isn't ready for first grade math at all.  There is a big jump between two levels, at least in math.  You would think that this wouldn't be too much of a problem because we could either take a break or she could repeat some of the kindergarten activities.  However, since I have always let them go ahead when they finish something, she wants to proceed.  We have done the first lesson multiple times, and I added some customized activities with Mom in between.  Over time, the pace will moderate with adding these hands-on activities and slowing down by repeating, but will she get frustrated in the meantime?  Will I get frustrated at designing extra activities that we might not have needed if she tried it older?  Only time will tell. 

Has this happened to you?  How did you handle it?  How did it turn out?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Urban Homeschooling: More Traditional Socialization and Weathering Tough Times

WARNING: this may be considered radical thinking by some! I wrote a couple of months ago thinking I would rework it and post it at some point.  Since Dad is out of work again, it seems like a good time to post. 

This past Easter, since it was just the four of us, I decided to make spaghetti.  At first I guilted myself for not putting the effort into a ham or other traditional meal.  For my parents and grandparents, spaghetti is not what you eat on Easter.  I remembered many years of Easters with ham or some other meat-potato-vegetable type food.  Then I thought about my great-grandparents.  Half of mine and half of my husband’s likely ate spaghetti on at least some Easters.  At that point, I stopped feeling guilty.  By being less traditional we were being more traditional.

For several weeks after that, I contemplated that same concept with our home schooling and urban lifestyle.  Our grandparents pioneered suburban living as they became adults and our parents perfected it.  As generation X kids we had nice childhoods of school and church activities, playing in the yard and, of course, riding everywhere in the comfort of a car.  Certainly we had friends and it was a nice childhood, but I don’t remember being particularly connected to neighbors, or the familiar faces at the library, the bank, or the grocery store.  We didn’t even have that much time to enjoy the yard (except for summer) because of the focus on being outside the home at school and work.  School friends eventually became acquaintances or ended up living far away.

What was tradition for us, was a dramatic departure from the life most of my great-grandparents lived.  They lived in small cities either in two family homes with relatives or with their place of business.  While they didn’t home school, they were in walking distance from the school and my grandparents had the time to come home for lunch if they wanted.  Church and local businesses with people they knew were close by.  My great-aunt talks about going down to the local small grocery to get items and my great-grandfather would settle the account weekly on pay day.  If they weren’t friends with everyone in the neighborhood, they certainly knew everyone by face at the very least.  It wasn’t an easy life, of course.  It was a tremendous amount of work and there were hardships in the forms of illness and increased mortality, but the avoidable stresses created by modern life didn’t exist.  My great-grandmothers did the large amount of work it took to run a house with fewer conveniences, but never worried about day care, if the amount of homework was too great, if they followed the right parenting advice or if their commutes were too long.  If they wanted to pop out to the store, they yelled up the stairs to ask auntie to keep an eye on the kids.  My great-grandfathers worked close by, not wasting time on long commutes and sometimes even making it home for lunch.  They didn’t have much, but they also didn’t take on a lot of debt or manufactured stress either.  There was a simplicity and a connectedness.

Expectations for their kids were different too.  Certainly they were expected to be good citizens and work hard as they grew up, but they weren’t necessary expected to achieve the resource intensive independence of moving away from the family that later became the norm.  It was OK to stay in the home if there was room or move to the other apartment in the same house.  This is very different from the way we grew up.  My parents had specific ideas in mind about my leaving home.  My husband made a hasty decision on a part-time graduate school program (while working) to avoid being required to leave home before he could afford it.  Thank goodness he didn’t go into debt for the degree that turned out to not be much help in the job market.

It is about 80 years after my great-grandparents were our age now and we are moving back toward their lifestyles and away from the ones of our childhood.  For reasons that are a combination of conscious choice, health issues, and economic issues, we live in a thriving urban neighborhood so we can ride the bus, and walk to stores, the bank, playgrounds, and the library.  We live in a two family home with no back yard, no cable, home hair cuts, and mostly home cooked meals.  While we don’t necessarily have the whole neighborhood over for a visit, we know a significant number of people in the neighborhood by name or face.  My kids regularly see and talk to the same kids at the playground, tellers at the bank, librarians at our local branch, and cashiers at the local food co-op.  When I popped into the bank early one morning without the kids, the tellers all asked where the kids were (Dad was home that morning) and were relieved to hear that I was getting a new tenant rather than being paid the rent in installments often times.  Some of the cashiers at our co-op ask about our home school activities that day and how I am feeling and if switching to organic has helped with my fibro.  The librarians are always talking to the kids about their homeschool days and telling them about upcoming library activities.  We even say a polite hello to the street guy who sells hand-made jewelry.  It isn’t exactly the lifestyle of my great-grandparents, but it is as close as is feasible given modern life.

While not as bold as moving across an ocean for a new life, we are demanding a new life for our kids as urban homeschoolers.  We have decided on a lifestyle of learning, conservation, and socialization in our urban environment rather than the stresses of conventional schooling.  Like our Easter, we are living a more traditional life by being less traditional.  Our kids learn from reading, games, and hands-on activities as well as being out in the world in our city neighborhood (with a small amount of structured curriculum).  We also take the bus to the museums and attractions Buffalo has to offer, a pretty large number given the size of our city.

Our expectations for their futures are different too.  College and resource intensive independence at any cost are not what we have in mind.  Certainly, debt will be out of the question since one never knows what will happen with one’s health or place in the job market.  We wouldn’t be surviving with our current problems if we had student loans.  Obviously, we expect some sort of productivity and societal contribution from our kids which will hopefully be natural with the community values we are instilling.  However, there are more options than high stress careers.   There are many types of work, businesses to start, staying at home with kids, and volunteering.  We fully accept the possibility of their remaining home or moving to the upstairs apartment and sharing the lower expenses of a house that will be paid off by then.  With lower expenses, they probably have a better chance of going to college if they choose because they will more likely be able to pay for it as they go even if part-time.  They will have a better chance to stay home or have their spouse stay home with kids since there won’t be the pressure of high expenses.  Rather than the traditional milestones in life, there will be life-long learning and thoughtful family centered choices.  Of course, if they want to pursue what is now the traditional resource intensive life, they are free to, but at least not expected to. 

Of course, if it is the latter they choose, we won’t be much help.  It just won’t be possible for us.  While our parents generously made sure we had at least an undergraduate education (we paid our own graduate school as we worked and went part-time), all we will be able to provide our kids are more choices in the way of less stress, less pressure, and perhaps more of a chance to find their true selves.  I think many generation Xers and Yers are feeling a pull this direction for many similar reasons.  The best thing to do is to embrace these more sustainable and family-centered ways to benefit their family’s health and life.

Speaking of health - what is more of a physical education: team sport skills or establishing a true active lifestyle of moving by walking and working?  Given the less modern healthcare 80 years ago, my great-grandparents lived relatively long lives because of the healthier food and more active life including less reliance on the door to door transportation of a car.  My kids seem much healthier for this type of lifestyle than many supposedly sports involved kids I see.  Just another aspect of urban home schooling to think about!

We believe that life can be more family-centered and less stressful which is becoming more important in light of economic and educational trends today.  I hope you continue to check in with us!