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.

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Homeschooling on the ski slopes

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Sometimes I think of how easy it would be send my two teenagers off to school in the morning… I could have uninterrupted time to write cover letters for teaching jobs, work in my studio, revise my resume, see friends, take one friend up on a ski lesson offer, etc. Then I drive my daughter to her 10AM violin lesson where she plays Vivaldi under the tutelage of a gifted and passionate teacher. (Our school district has no strings program anyway) Next, I drop my daughter and her friend off with the friend’s mother to go to a group horse riding lesson where the two girls are going to work on jumping and then a free Latin class. (Our school district does not offer Latin) I go home, and realize that now that I do not have to pick my daughter up later thanks to the help of the other mom, I can go home, pick up my son, and head off to ski with him for a couple of warm afternoon hours. He is practicing a few things: how to do a 180 in the air off the jumps in the terrain park, and also how to teach skiing. It is a win win situation for me, as he happens to be a very good teacher and has me 100% more confident and focused on using varied pressure of my feet to steer, among lots of other things. He watches me and makes suggestions, and by the end of the afternoon, he has persuaded me to go down “Hell’s Gate”, an extremely steep icy slope named so as to dissuade middle aged novice skiers to even think of attempting it. This is what a good homeschooling day looks like. We are taking advantage of the weather, our moods, our discounted season pass, our geography, and our flexibility. We will do some math tonight in front of the fire, and go to our once a week homeschool cooperative tomorrow.

Raising Bad boys

My two older sons spent their highschool “unschooling” years home, alone. One exception was that both of them played soccer on organized teams and went off to casual “pick up” games when they were happening, both near and far away. The other exception was our tight friendship with one or two other families who we saw a few times a year. The older boy focused on computer animation, and his next youngest brother, computer programming. This year, the oldest one will graduate, while his younger brother just entered college (for computer programming)a8333-img_1134.

Now, near the end of his 4 years, the eldest has become extremely critical of the expensive art/animation school that he so desperately wanted to attend 4 years ago. Scornful of their cheap protocol that changes when their employees shift, irate about departmental battles that end up putting barriers between students and classes they want to take, and upset about the constant upgrading of equipment irregardless of whether it is actually error-free and ready for students to use, he tells me that the other students dislike him because he is complaining too much about the school. From a distance, I worry that he is not coping well with the “real” world because of his carefree years of studying at home. There was no office here at home through which one had to get papers signed and activities approved. He was in charge as much as anyone else. Perhaps this did not prepare him for cow towing to authority and dealing with less than perfect policies designed to manage complex situations.

But guess what happened next? He got very upset upon being informed that he will not be able to take a special 3-d class in which students would be mentored by a very famous American car company. He has been complaining since he compared notes with other interns last summer at his fabulous gaming internship in LA, that other schools offer students like him the chance to specialize and gain expertise in the aspect of computer animation that they plan to specialize in. Now, at his school, he is being told that there are only 10 seats for this special class in which students will be mentored by an expert from the company. As he is possibly the top modeling student in his program and a senior, he really cannot understand how he could be closed out of this opportunity. Why didn’t they require portfolios if seats were so limited? He gets me to proofread several emails to the department head, the teacher who will be in charge of the class, and his academic advisor. He reproves me for starting to pull out the “big guns” in the messages we are drafting…”No”, he says over the phone, “Everybody is trying to help me get into this class, so we need to keep it pleasant.” But the deadline looms. On the night before the deadline, he decides to use his heavy artillery. He has realized that he showed his portfolio to the head executive at the car company last year, and he has his email address. He fires off a polite inquiry with his reel of work samples attached. The next day, he is called into the President’s office, but the President is not there. He is on vacation in Aruba (I made that location up) and my son is put on a conference call with the President of the school and the car company executive and they inform him that an 11th place has been created in the class for my son.

A week later, I am doubling over with laughter as he tells me over the phone that he scored an interview for a 3-d modeling position with a company he has wanted to work for since he was 10 years old…..in spite of the fact that they had filled their interview slots randomly upon not getting enough applicants and in spite of his having missed their deadline ( which wasn’t posted clearly at the school according to my son) He sent his reel to the recruiter, and meanwhile one of the randomly selected students who had no particular investment in her interview, told the recruiter about my son during her interview, and that they would be crazy not to interview him. The recruiter then remembered his name from previous years of being impressed with his work and said he’d been wondering where his application was. He was then offered an interview, which in turn, yielded the much coveted second interview. (stay tuned)

This is the son who has tended to lack confidence; he often thought that the other kids on his soccer team were all better than him even though the coach did not think so. It is extremely gratifying to see him not taking “no” for an answer.

It is thrilling to see him drawing the lines between the dots…he will owe a huge sum of money when he graduates and there have been many moments in the last four years where I wanted to hang myself by my fingernails for letting him go into a debt like that. What could we be thinking? But now, seeing not only his desirability to employers, but also his self taught confidence and conviction, I feel better about our decision to let him go out on a limb monetarily. Afterall, unlike many of the other students whose parents are easily footing the bill, he is holding the school to its promise of providing him with a top education in the field of computer animation. He is forcing them to let him into the car company class that can yield a top level internship this summer. Again, my goal is to encourage other parents to trust in their children’s ability to forge their own path, and as odd as that path may seem now and then, it is the strength of one’s own conviction that really must be nurtured in our children.

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….

Your dandelion is my flower

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I have been carefully selecting books for my daughter to read for several years now. She has not been entranced by too many books, no matter how hard I delve back into the treasure trove of books I loved at her age…Harriet the Spy, Little Women, and then later, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, Gone With the Wind, etc. Is there a thread there? My daughter has found all of these suggestions uninspiring.

Imagine my surprise when she found The Red Badge of Courage on our book shelves. She paged through it a bit, read the back cover, and then could not put it down. She absolutely loves all the army vocabulary; “what is the difference between the infantry and the calvary mom?” (heck if i know) This parenting experience is one more reminder to let kids find out for themselves what floats their boat.