Running Roughshod across the days

It dawned on me the night before the Wednesday in question. It was not going to be possible to get my daughter to her violin lesson at 5:30 a half an hour away to the east if my son was driving the car to his singing lesson at 5:pm a half an hour south. After google mapping the distance between the two destinations, I went to bed dreaming up options like insisting that my older  son drive home from where he was staying with his girlfriend so we could borrow his car. Or as I relaxed and became more lucid, increasingly complex ideas occurred to me: All of us setting off together and then dropping my son off a little bit early for his lesson, then the 40 min over a different bridge than usual to drop my daughter off at her lesson and then I could drive back to pick up my son and my daughter would only have to wait an extra 40 min. I figured that the last plan only involved an extra hour and twenty minutes of driving between the two locations. 

The next morning, I explained the dilemma to my kids. Before I could explain the third option I had thought of which invovled my son having to wait longer at his singing lesson after it was over, he interrupted and suggested, “Why don’t we just see if we can move the singing lesson to the Sat time slot?” It took only about a minute for me to realize that he had made a very good suggestion. So I texted with the lesson coordinator and within 5 minutes it was arranged that he could switch lessons. Problem solved.

So, my daughter and I set out on the half hour journey across the Hudson and down the other side of the river. We arrived at the music studio to find the door open as usual. We took off our shoes and I settled into the comfy sofa with my book. My daughter began tuning her violin. The teacher did not appear. After about 10 minutes, I felt the dismay and fear spreading through my body. I pulled out my ipad and went back to the teacher’s last email. Oh dear. She had written that, in general, Wednesdays were great, but not this Wednesday. Thursday at 5:30 would be perfect. And I had read her message. But my lifelong habit of skimming the time and date details had once again put a spanner in the works. Oh dear oh dear. 

My daughter pointed out after I vented frustration with myself for 10 minutes solid, that the car trip had been really nice anyway. We had talked about the transitional period she finds herself in right now. I have every confidence that she will find her way out of this difficult patch. The question is whether I will continue to obfuscate my days. (I have assigned her all future communicaitons with her teacher about lesson times)

Organic School

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Teens working on Shakespeare scenes

I have stepped in to help….coordinate?……teach?…a weekly homeschool learning center sort of thing for teens. Near the end of it’s first year of operation, it has consistently attracted about 10 teens to each quarterly session. This is a pretty good number considering our relatively rural setting. The difficult moments of realizing that we are asking the teens to do things outside their comfort zone are balanced by the “Ah ha” moments when they do not want to break for lunch because we are still discussing ( arguing?) about something that came up in “class”. Now, we are abandoning the social studies premise for “class” in favor of sheer discussion. This should help set them up to work with a writer friend next Fall when she teaches them basic essay writing. After all, the real trick is to have ideas that one is compelled to convey. It is not so difficult to learn to convey them!

And just to be perfectly honest, at least 3 of the ten teens dropped out of the Shakespeare scenes class pictured above….again, outside of their comfort zone, especially the comfort zone of those with reading difficulties. Imagine trying to get through a Shakespeare couplet full of unusual words if vowel sounds are still a bit confusing.

The academic efficiency of Playing

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Having grabbed the time right after my kids’ homeschool geology class ( or ” block” as the more Waldorfian of the parents referred to it), 3 of us parents met with the teacher. She wanted to talk with us about future possible classes and how things had gone with our kids so far. It was a fruitful meeting, as it turned out that each of the parents had a different idea about how the class fit in to their child’s or children’s “studies”.While I had come to the meeting hoping to reduce the number of classes per week from two to one, one of the other parents was hoping we could get back to the initial concept of meeting three times a week. This parent explained that she was aiming for a real “block” study program that would keep her daughter engaged in study every day….that she did not relish having to scramble for additional study materials that might not relate well to the block being administered by the teacher. I, on the other hand, explained that I was trying to do Pre Algebra lessons with the help of a methodical Saxon Math text book about 3 times a week, and that my two kids were also currently enrolled in a Biology class with homework in addition to their own pursuits. We had been having such busy weeks that the math was falling by the wayside.

The teacher shared her perceptions of the kids. She had divided them up a bit by age, but made exceptions when their educational style didn’t match their age grouping, so there was an older kid in the younger kid group, etc. She off handedly referred to how my two kids obviously came from a more structured educational background. I was so surprised to near this that I remained silent. The teacher was actually very perceptive about the kids, but she was entirely wrong about my kids’ educational background. They had been lavishly and whole-heartedly “unschooled”. As a matter of fact, the teacher knew for example that my 15 year old son was just nearing the end of remedial reading lessons, as we had not detected a double vision problem until he was almost 13 and still could not read. My older two boys had also followed this wonderful trajectory. It consisted basically of the theory that the absolute freedom to play until one outgrows playing is the key to educational success. Once they were 14 and 15, the older two had been quite quick to want to make up for lost time with math for example, and had worked on their own with Saxon math texts and then worked one on one with a tutor. They had taken advantage of college level classes and a US. History reading study group under the tutelage of a lawyer. They both approached learning with enthusiasm and creativity. So the assumption that my younger two came from a scholastic orientation was quite funny. The teacher was mistaking their enthusiasm and unfettered engagement for “previous preparation”. I thought to myself that in a certain sense, she was right. They had been allowed to find and collect rocks throughout their childhood. My son had even gone with my husband and I one day to learn what we could about an amazing local geological site from our neighbor who was a Geology professor at Columbia University. My son ended up suggesting the site to the teacher by showing her some of his photos of it, and she wound up taking the whole class there on a field trip.

Nothing like playing until it isn’t fun anymore. It is a more efficient system…kids who are not allowed to play will insist on bringing it into the classroom for twelve years, which makes lessons take a much longer time….

Erratic Consistancy

our kitchen table is our chalkboard

Succumbing to the occasional loss of confidence in “un-schooling” is par for the course. I have been somewhat consistently, in an erratic sort of way, trying to get my two younger children to do a bit of math every day. In part, it is the fact that they must take standardized tests every Spring in New York State. (Either that or present a portfolio of work and a report signed by an official teacher or something like that) I hate to think that they might miss getting a math problem right simply because they have never heard the word “dividend” for example. So we sit down at our slate kitchen table and pull out the Saxon math book. I crack it open to our marked place (which doesn’t necessarily change very often) and we each choose a color of chalk. Next, I present them with a concept or remind them of whatever we were struggling with last time. Recently, we were trying to grasp the concept of rates, as in ratios. Math is not my strongest suite, so part of our routine is to close the door to the office where my husband is working. If he overhears us, he often feels compelled to come sweeping in with “clearer” methods of explaining. The problem with that is that as soon as the two children are presented with the spectacle of two adults trying to get them to understand something, they sort of shut down and get tense and apprehensive about why this subject is suddenly so important.

So, the door shut, I do my best to explain rates. My daughter tries to follow along. My son is less trusting. His face looks almost resentful. Perhaps he is afraid of not understanding this? He has seemed deeply mathematical to me over the years, including figures and speeds and sizes in stories since he was tiny, He can quickly grasp math concepts and also will labor for a long time on calculations in his head and come up with the right answer. Yet, he insists that he hates math. Is it that he hates math if it has to be written down and read? Does it relate to his vision issue? We struggle on with rates, working out how to write the two rates implied by the statement: Marco Polo bought 40 skins for 8 liras. (Skins? liras?) I wonder about why the rates can be written with either number on top or bottom, but I try to keep this worry to myself. The one problem wears out all of our stamina, and we agree to desist. We all wander off to other things.

Later that afternoon, my son is engrossed at the computer working with a music editing program called Garage Band. I am working on planting seedlings in the next room. He calls out, “Mom, if ¬†there are ¬†60 seconds in a minute, how many seconds would there be in 5 minutes?” And before I can answer, he replies to himself out loud, “Oh, there would be …120…240, 300, right?” I assure him he is right. And I go back to planting thinking that maybe the un-schooling thing is more reliable after all.