Thursday, August 23, 2012

Looking ahead

A few weeks ago I had a dream that Kitty Bill was in school, and he had brought home pages and pages of math homework.  It was so much work that it took him hours to complete it all.  There was even a page of long division!  No one in this house is focusing on long division at the moment, least of all Kitty Bill, so I don't know where that came from.  But then, he proudly took it to school the next day and his teacher couldn't even be bothered to check that he had done the problems correctly.  I marched in there, unmarked papers in hand, and demanded to know what the point was.  And his teacher responded that she simply hadn't the time nor the interest.  I was outraged, to say the least.

Luckily, my husband Einstein showed up in my dream just then to remind me that we're a homeschooling family.  Our ideals were still intact.  We will just educate Kitty Bill at home.  It will all be fine.  I woke up feeling a bit off-center, but grateful for the strange dream.  It didn't take much work to sleuth out the meaning of this dream: it's time.

Kitty Bill is a driven child.  He has been watching this homeschooling thing happen since he was a wee babe in my arms.  He knows the drill by now.  If I tell him a story, he thinks he should go draw a picture of it afterwards.  If he hears Moonshine practicing math facts, he makes up some for himself.  He actually walks around the house doubling numbers.  When he's sure that he's right, he'll come ask me, "Does seven and seven make fourteen?"

Computations aside, a few months ago he decided that he needed a dart board.  I don't even know where he got the idea of dart boards, but he was adamant that he needed one.  So he drew one on paper, and somehow, he managed to write numbers all around it - in order - all the way up to 39.  Some of the digits are backwards, but he appears to understand the concept well enough on his own.

He also started reading several months ago.  He asked to learn, and we showed him how to sound out the letters.  Everyone else in the house spends a lot of time reading, so I think he just wanted to know that he could do it, that the powers were within his grasp.  Once he mastered about thirty words he lost interest.  He still gets excited when he recognizes words in the world, but most of the time he would much rather draw pictures involving gears and mechanisms than anything else.  The more complexity involved in the drawing, the happier he seems to be.

For the most part, Kitty Bill has spent the last few years playing independently while I did lessons with the girls.  Homeschooling doesn't really have set hours at our house, so sometimes there is a bit of cross-over.  For example, a few months ago my discussion with Moonshine about equivalent fractions carried over into lunchtime.  When Einstein came home from work, Kitty Bill took it upon himself to explain equivalent fractions.  He's only six.  What does he know about equivalent fractions?  Apparently a lot.

And then, two weeks later, his teeth fell out.  Both bottom ones suddenly gave way.  New ones are already pushing up to fill the space.

He's ready.  He's so completely ready for Grade 1 work now that it's palpable.  I would argue, that despite his only recent change of teeth, he has probably been ready for a few months.  But I haven't been ready.  I've been holding on to my last baby-- basking in the final, lingering strands of his early childhood days.  They really are so fleeting.

While I don't always agree with the argument that children should be seven before starting school, in this case, that seems to be how it's working out.  Kitty Bill will be turning seven in September, and he's so ready for learning you can see the excitement dripping off of him.

It's exciting for me as well.  I'll be teaching three grades next year.  I know a few of my readers have already been teaching three or more children at home, and I am in awe of you.  This last year of homeschooling was so busy and full for us, I felt like I hardly had time to breathe between lessons, let alone scrub the toilet or blog as much as I would have liked.  I'm not sure how I'll manage to pull it all off this year, but I'm sure we'll find a new rhythm that allows it.  It always boils down to rhythm, doesn't it?

I would really like to get back into the rhythm of blogging more of our homeschooling, as well.  What I've shown on the blog only scrapes the surface of my work with these lively children.  I'm sure from the outside it looks like we're off gallivanting around the world every day-- and while I'll admit to trying to make the most of our time here in Europe, we actually spend the bulk of our time sitting around the kitchen table working together.

So it's time for me to begin again, at the beginning-- Grade One.  I'm looking ahead to the new school year, looking at the strange lists I've compiled of resources, and realizing that these lists really need to be updated-- badly! I made that first list almost eight years ago!  It has been that long since I first walked Sunburst along the path of the lovely alphabet story, and back then I was just starting out.  I didn't even know what a main lesson book looked like, let alone how to create one.  And there were only a handful of resources to choose from if you didn't have money for Live Ed (we didn't).  So those lists are really just bits I cobbled together while trying to figure it out.

Today there are scads of resources available to Waldorf-inspired homeschoolers.  You could read a new book each day of the year and still not get through them all-- not that anyone can adequately get through an entire Steiner lecture in one day, but you know what I mean.  The resources that have been coming out these last few years are astounding.  Homeschooling is getting easier every year, in that respect.  We still have to do the hard work of bringing it to our children in a meaningful way, but the bevy of instruction, insight, and inspiration is so much more available than it was a few years ago, especially for the lower grades.  Most of the things on my old lists pale in comparison to what's out there now.

My knowledge of Waldorf and Steiner has also grown and changed so much over the years.  I'm always learning something new, some nuance of the education that I didn't know before.  And I've noticed that when I get around to teaching a grade the second time, I realize what resources were really invaluable, and which ones I truly wasted my money on, or how I could have taught something differently or better. Now that I'm starting out homeschooling my third child, I hope to get to those resource lists and revise and update them very soon.

We're not planning to start lessons again until the week after next, so I'm using the next week to plan and dream while I let the last rays of summer wash over me.  Not many rays mind you-- I'm still in England-- but enough, I hope, to fill me with the fortitude I'll need to weather the changes in the coming months.  Change is always hard, whether it's a change of location or rhythm or simply just mindset.

I'm excited about another year of being able to watch and guide my children as they learn and grow. Though the work can be truly hard at times, it really is a gift.  I'm looking forward to sharing more of our journey with you, both the ups and the downs.  I even have a bit of an announcement coming up in the next couple of weeks, so I hope you'll stick around for that.

Have you started back to lessons with your children yet?  Or are you savoring the last days of summer (or winter, for my southern hemisphere friends)?  What changes await you this year?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I can see for miles and miles

We recently took a drive and went exploring in Somerset where we enjoyed some absolutely gorgeous views.

We stopped off in Glastonbury to see the sights and ended up spending the entire day there.  What a neat town it turned out to be!  Aside from being the rumored burial site of King Arthur, my knowledge of Glastonbury was nil.  As it turns out, it's a hippie town.  It was like some strange English version of Moab, Utah and Eugene, Oregon rolled into one.

Oddly, we felt right at home-- except when we walked into the nudist healing well: darkness, candles, water, flesh... but that's another story altogether.  Otherwise, the alternative shops and music and veggie restaurants held such a familiar quality.  I will readily admit that we nearly cried at the offerings in their large healthfood store-- by far the best I've seen yet in Great Britain.

The kids were more interested in climbing up the hill to see Glastonbury Tor than seeing the abbey ruins.  So after browsing around the town, we set out to find our way to the hill.  And then we climbed up, up, up to the very top.

It's considerably flat where we live in England.  Flat and green.  We see a lot of trees, and only once in awhile when we're out taking a drive in the country do we get a glimpse of a view.  Like when we lived in Texas and Indiana, the lack of a view is something we've had to resign ourselves to, but of course we still have that longing to see off into the distance.  There's something magical that happens when you can look out over the land and take it all in.  You really get a sense of where you are in the world.  Time and space all come together and it just lifts you and transforms you in that moment.

So imagine my delight climbing this hill.  Halfway up, the view was splendid.  All the way up?  At the very tip top of the hill, high enough for the wind to catch us in its grasp, it was ridiculously amazing.  We could see everything.  Far, far off in every direction.

I just stood there and turned in circles and took it all in, swallowing every bit of the landscape.  I had the sudden urge to sing at the top of my lungs:

I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles... oh yeah!

Now that I've managed to reference a song from The Who, courtesy of the soundtrack of my childhood, I'll let you in on a little secret.  I'm turning 40 this week.  If I were to stand on the hill of my life, presumably, I would be somewhere in the middle.  Far off in the distance behind me, I can see glimpses of my former self eating mud pies and skipping rope and kissing boys.  And if I look ahead, of course I can't see a thing.  What's to come is still in the shadows.  It's a mere haze of ideas of what life might hold, but I can't get a real sense of it.  We never can.

I think that's why we're so pulled in by these places that give us such a vantage point over the landscape.  It's the only time we can really see what's off in the distance... where we've been, where we are now, and where we're going.  My life has been filled with so much change and upheaval, I can't say where I'll be three years from now, much less forty.  I'm pretty sure it won't be naked in Glastonbury in a crypt full of candles and water, but honestly... how would I know?

So I appreciate the view where I can get it.  I may not be able to see off into the distance of my life and get a sense of what's to come, but if I'm still skipping rope and kissing boys... perhaps I haven't yet crested the summit.  Perhaps I'm still on my way up.

 I'm so thankful to have these lovelies along for the ride.


So where do you go for a view?  Where do time and space collide for you?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Why imaginative play is bad

You know all those toys the Waldorf folks encourage you to give your child?  The kind that allow open-ended play and require kids to use their imaginations?  You know what I mean-- everything from the sticks and bits you salvage from the garden to the pricey, colorful playsilks and hand-carved whatnots in the catalogs...

Sure, they're all-natural and aesthetically pleasing.  They biodegrate and even smell nice.  Heck, they're probably even tasty, if you're into that sort of thing.  But seriously, have you ever seen what kids do with that stuff?

If you're a Waldorf-influenced parent, I know what you're going to say.  You're going to adamantly insist that they play with it.  You'll tell me how they turn their play stands into shops and houses and bus terminals.  They use their conkers and tree blocks as meatballs and pancakes, dog food and money.  And with fabric and string they transform themselves into silken-winged fairies and knights, saronged princesses and shopkeepers.

Unlike barbies and action figures, these toys are open-ended.  Undoubtedly, you'll say these toys give them the possibility to stretch their imaginations to their creative limits.  And you're right, of course.  They do all that.  With these simple toys children build an endless variety of castles and forts, worlds within worlds, and these toys become as much a part of the landscape of their childhood as the earth itself.

I can't argue with you when you say that open-ended toys grow with the child, sustaining the interests and fancies of an entire household of children, boys and girls alike, for years on end.  When you say these toys outlast childhood itself, much longer than the action figure of the week or this year's must-have, googly-eyed mess of faux-fur and plastic would have, I'll concede the point.

Though biodegradable, these natural toys are the ones you'll be saving in the attic for your grandchildren, you'll say.  You'll spend hours carefully wrapping your small, coveted collection of Ostheimers to pack away with the freshly-polished wooden kitchens, castles, and dollhouses.  That is, if you can bear to be separated from them yourselves.  Yes, I know how you people think.  You wish these were the toys of your own childhood, and you get all misty-eyed and wistful at the sight of them.  Somehow you think they heal your soul.

And I'm not here to argue that point.  I get where you're coming from.  Really, I'm one of you.  I covet the tiny wooden hedgehogs and chickens, sigh at the smooth contours of silk and polished wood, and collect my own menagerie of conkers and shells, acorn caps, stones and interesting sticks.  But I still have to ask.  Have you seen what your kids do with these toys?

I mean, when you're not looking?

All that open-ended play encourages them.  They start to think that they can pretend anything with a bit of stick and silk and string.  You might think that's a good thing, and before this morning, I would have agreed with you.  But I'm here to tell you, imaginative play is bad.  When your kids' imaginations run wild, anything can happen.  Eventually, this open-ended play will take them places that neither of you would expect.  Like the doctor's office.

I'm not kidding.

While I was doing some homeschool planning yesterday, some segment of my over-imaginative children got a bit carried away with their open-ended toys and came up with a game I'm going to call "Amputee Pirate Peg-leg."  That's right--  a stick, a string, and some silk, and voila!  I can see how they might think it was a fun idea.  I mean, who hasn't been fascinated by the idea of a peg-leg?!  How do they work?  Is it hard to walk?  Et cetera.

My clever children now know the answer.  After Kitty Bill's leg was tied up behind his back and a stick was firmly attached as a stump, he discovered that yes, it is hard to walk.  And when you fall over, it actually hurts.  A lot.  More than a lot.  In fact, even after removing your stump and untying your leg, it still hurts.  By the next morning the pain in your "previously-amputated" leg is so intolerable that your parents have very grim expressions when they drag you off to the doctor's office, naturally suspecting the worst.

Luckily, Kitty Bill gets to keep his leg, but what about next time?  It surely won't be the now-forbidden game of Amputee Pirate Peg-leg, but with these kinds of unhindered imaginations, who knows which of their dangerous games will do him in next.  Blind Horse Trio.  Food Chain.  Cliff Diver Hospital.  Runaway Horse.  The Librarian and the Plague Victim.  Rabid Wolf Family.  Siamese Triplets. The Princess, the Evil Governess, and the Crazy Guy with Daggers.*

Seriously, what is wrong with my children? It doesn't take much to set them off.  These open-ended toys stretch the imagination and almost beg for it.  With sticks and a bit of string, anything is possible.

Perhaps we should have just given them mainstream toys all along.**  I have trouble imagining how a child could come up with such willful games using Barbie and Spiderman, but children shouldn't be underestimated.  Ever.

*All actual games.  Yes, my kids are a bit strange.
** I'm joking... sort of.  ;) No, really, I'm joking.

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