Sunday, August 29, 2010

Homeschool Jungle Freaks

For a time now, I have wanted to put into words the reason why our family has chosen to homeschool.  It is a troublesome task though, developing a creed such as this one, because my reasons change daily.

On the first day of the local school year, my first grader slept in until 8:30 and finally straggled out to the living room in his underwear to watch a morning cartoon and then eat a leisurely breakfast.  On that particular day, when I said my oft-repeated phrase, "This is why I homeschool," it was because I felt gratified that I could let The Boy Wonder have a relaxing morning instead of the stressful one we would have suffered through if he had needed to be at school, already fed and alert, at 7:30.  I want to cuddle and play with him in the mornings, not yell at him to hurry up.

Last week, when we finished reading Charlotte's Web, I checked the movie out of the library, made buttered popcorn on the stove, and snuggled up with the kids amidst a pile of pillows on the living room floor to watch the movie and discuss the differences between the two mediums.  On that day, THAT was why we were homeschoolers.

Friday evening, as we curled up at bedtime to read and then compare and contrast two very similar folk tales from Japan and Germany (Issun Boshi and Tom Thumb), and The Boy Wonder wanted to get out of bed to find the countries on the globe, THAT was why I was grateful to be homeschooling.

I homeschool because I do not see the benefit in a 6.5-hour school day when the state requires only 4.5 hours of instruction time.  I teach my children at home, for now at least, because many of the curriculum standards that are adhered to in the early grammar school years are things mama is more than qualified to teach.  We have chosen to do our learning at home, at the zoo, at the park, at the nature center, at the botanical gardens, in our kitchen, on the front porch, at church, and at art classes because I want to curate the curriculum according to my own peculiar child's individual interests, needs, strengths, and weaknesses.

I desire to teach my children a love of learning, an appreciation for the natural world, the hunger for knowledge and the ability to seek out the answers to their many questions.  I hope to give them the time and the space to discover who they wish to become, and to give them the opportunities to acquire the skills they will need to get to where they wish to go.

Childhood is a time for play, for exploration, and for learning.  Learning so much about so many things.  If my six-year-old wants to immerse himself in everything to do with outer space, we can create unit studies to weave in math and handwriting and reading and crafts and creative thinking that revolve solely around outer space.  When we are driving down the highway and we pass a horse trailer with a camel on board, we can come home and spend the afternoon on the computer finding out as many ridiculous camel facts as we wish to know.  We can learn anything we want, and we can spend as much time as we want on any given subject without having to adhere to a constrictive, arbitrary schedule.

And childhood is short.  So very short.  If the weather is beautiful and there are frogs sitting on the lily pads in our pond, handwriting practice can wait.  If math worksheets have grown tedious and sitting at a table is becoming torturous for all of us, taking a walk or a bike ride is an option we have.  If no one has had enough sleep and grouchiness is making the beginning reader feel frustrated enough to cry, an impromptu trip to the library to pick out storybooks for mama to read aloud can be the best solution.

We can take a Tuesday off from school to make ice cream and play with Legos.  We can do lessons in our pajamas.  We can spend six days in a row on nothing but science experiments.

We are fortunate to have this opportunity, and we intend to make the best of it.

When it comes down to it though, my reasons for homeschooling are stated nowhere near as articulately and as eloquently as in the now-viral graduation speech from the valedictorian of Coxsackle-Athens High School.  And during those times, those all-too frequent times, in which I think this whole homeschooling thing just might kill me, I read that speech again and remind myself that I felt much the same way as I completed a senior year that could have been better spent pretty much anywhere other than within the four walls that held me hostage while I finished one remaining real high school credit amongst a padded schedule of mostly pointless electives that filled up the extra required time needed of a student who had already fulfilled all the other college-prep requirements.  And I recall clearly how absurd it seemed when I achieved honor graduate status after a year of goofing off and showing up only when I was sure I would get busted if I were not there.

Simply put, my goals for my children are not the same as the goals of the American public education system.  I have no need to normalize my children, to create middle-management worker bees, or to uphold the societal status quo.  And that, I think, is the most compelling reason I can think of to homeschool my children for as long as we are able.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Pesky Trees

Lately, I haven't been able to see the forest for the trees.  All the little things begin to pile up, and then the feeling of being overwhelmed entrenches itself firmly, and then, finally, I go to pour another cup of coffee, but find the carafe is empty, and the thought of having one more thing to do, of having to do nothing more than make another pot of coffee, is enough to make me want to curl up in a ball and watch bad television.

And the fact that making more coffee will probably take only a minute or two is So Not The Point.  Because truly, since I became a parent, nothing gets done in the amount of time specified in the sense of normal reality.  I will have to stop what I am doing because the 2-year-old needs to use the potty and we all must run pell-mell towards the bathroom together so that the proper pomp and circumstance are paid to the occasion.  Most likely, even after that has been dealt with, there is a better than average chance that a fight could break out between the 2-year-old and her brother on the way back to the kitchen.  And if I open the coffee canister, almost certainly I will find that I need to grind more beans, which will involve opening up the dishwasher (which I have not yet emptied) to get out the grinder (which will still be wet and will need to be dried).  But of course the kitchen towel won't be where I left it, or it will be crumpled in a heap on the floor, sticky with an indeterminate substance, so I will take the dirty towel to the laundry room where I will promptly notice that I need to hang out to dry the load that is festering in the washing machine.  Before I can hang out that load though, I must bring in and fold the load that is already hanging outside, which is still wet because I forgot to bring it in before it rained...

And if I don't get another cup of coffee REALLY STINKING SOON, I might just lose it for good.

Then, as these sorts of things go,  it all starts to come together finally.  We finish The Boy Wonder's lessons for the day, the most urgent household tasks somehow get accomplished in a good enough fashion, dinner gets prepped, and the kids play quietly in another room while I sit, alone, with that blessed cup of coffee and a little blog reading.

It is there that I gain sight of the forest again.  On Beauty Everday, I see this quietly glorious photograph, and I smile, and consider it for a few moments.  Then I turn to look at that bouquet of zinnias from Farmer Boo that has begun to look rather dismal and which I had just been thinking of composting, and I stand on a chair and reach up high on top of the cabinets and pull down some of our vintage glass bottles, and I take apart the bouquet, and trim the stems of the flowers, and recreate the lovely image from my computer screen.

And all is again, indeed, quite well.