24 February 2009

I've been writing about homeschooling ...

... just not here.

If you have access to the Virginia Homeschoolers January/February newsletter, you'll find a little essay about how math pops up through the day, similarly to the way word play does.

In the upcoming March/April issue, I've got another little piece about writing. Which means that here I am writing about writing about writing. Very meta.

On March 5, the Washington Post's education column will start with a letter I wrote. I'm working on a response to the columnist's response right now.

11 December 2008

Unexpected lesson

Since I'm having no luck finding the words to start this entry, I'll use TJ's. At the moment she said this, it felt like her soul was speaking to my heart.

My worries wake up with me
and yawn
and eat breakfast with me.

In retrospect, I, too, could have said good morning to those worries over a bowl of cereal. They have been present in our lives for the last year and a half (except for that too brief hiatus over the summer). What makes it worse is that I know the names of the worries, and that I let them trick me into thinking they were friends.

I hesitate to name the source of the worries. The blame doesn't belong to the organization we were in, nor to the girls in the group we were part of, nor to their leaders (who truly did try to help my TJ fit in), nor to the parents. Friendship: you just can't force it.

TJ and I have had a number of discussions about friendship since her revelatory words on Friday night. The best analogy we came up with to help her understand the situation was that finding a friend is like finding a piece of a puzzle that fits with your piece. The girls we had been meeting with -- twice a month! since September 2007! -- their puzzle doesn't have a place for TJ's piece.

TJ has lots of true friends, but they don't all know each other. I thought that this activity would provide her with a community of friends based on common experiences (what we did during our meetings). The five other little girls in the group all attend school together, leaving my dear one the odd one out of virtually every conversation. "Mommy, why isn't anyone speaking to me?" Also to be read as, Mommy, can you get me out of this situation?

It is obvious ... now.

So, whose lesson is this, anyway? Required reading: Little Big Minds by Marietta McCarty, a book on sharing philosophy with kids. Chapter 2, Friendship.

One bright spark from this misery, TJ came up with the solution. She just had to come down to my level and speak in a way I could understand. I guess I have the topic for my next blog entry.

07 December 2008

Cranberry Thanksgiving

Who Owns the Sun was a timely choice for the election, kind of by accident. Cranberry Thanksgiving, by Wende and Harry Devlin, was our choice for the weeks around Thanksgiving by design. I am beginning to suspect that all of the books in this series are going to be morality tales. The lesson from this one was, in essence, not to judge people by appearances.

The girls enjoyed this book for the story and the language. They liked the phrase, "Too many whiskers and not enough soap!" that the grandmother used to describe the old tar that Maggie invites to their Thanksgiving dinner. Grandmother asks Mr. Horace, a lonely city slicker who smells of lavender, to join them. Guess who steals the recipe for Grandmother's famous cranberry bread?

The authors provided us with that recipe, no theft necessary, and it provided us with the chance to talk about halves and quarters. TJ gets the concept, but I have to phrase my questions just right. Asking one half plus one half doesn't work for her yet. "If I give you half a cookie, and then I give you the other half, how many cookies did you eat?" That one she knows. That one little PJ knows! To think that I never liked word problems.

We visited my parents one day during our Cranberry Thanksgiving experience. Without my prompting, the girls used the toys in my old Sesame Street Little People playhouse to act out the story. TJ used a lot of the dialog word for word from the story as she played. That was neat to see.

The cranberry bread recipe at the center of the story is a good one. It is a quick bread that verges on being a cake. I suppose I could post it here if there is interest. Grandmother won't mind, as long as I give her credit.

30 November 2008

It's so easy to get caught up in other things ...

A brief recap of October and November is in order (and my apologies to friends and family who asked for updates!). Despite my best efforts, I got caught up in election emotions. Every time I started to write here, the entry turned into a rant about something or other that didn't have much to do with our homeschooling experience.

Five In a Row for us has become Five Every Other Day or So Spread Out Over a Couple of Weeks. Or in the case of Who Owns the Sun by Stacy Chbosky, it took us a month. The book is narrated by a boy who discovers there are some things too wondrous to be owned, including a person's heart and soul. He and his family are slaves in the pre-Civil War South; it is quite a lesson for him.

The author was a fourteen-year old girl in the '80s. The last line of the book is something to the effect of "My parents would be proud to know that their great-great grandson became governor of this state." It was moving to read this in the context of the presidential election of 2008. TJ and PJ don't really get how wondrous it is that America has elected Barack Obama.

We didn't do a lot of math or science with this book. The girls created a list of their own of "Things too wondrous to be owned," which inspired their own artwork. We also attended a political rally for Obama with 35,000 other people, a crowd that included at least twenty of our local friends. It was a great experience to be in that crowd -- such good will, hope, and energy.

I have to leave this update here for now. The girls are asking to play, and why would I sit at the computer instead of having fun with them?

13 October 2008

Making the proverbial lemonade

I misplaced the book. The FIAR book! The book about Mako, the little girl with the red clogs. I've been referencing Mako with some frequency because TJ has been complaining about her purple crocs. "No one else has two straps!" "They are dirty!" "When can I get new ones that fit?"

She might have a point with that last one.

Still, the book has appeared at just the right moment in our lives. All I have to do is say sweetly, "Yes, Mako, maybe I will get you new ones before the next festival day," and TJ stops whining.

And I couldn't find it, just when it was time to read it.

The plan was to read it to them as they ate a Japanese lunch like Mako might have had. It was a stir fry of snow peas and carrots, beef, and udon noodles. TJ discovered a new love for beef, and PJ slurped down the julienned carrots. Instead of enjoying lunch with them, I ran around the house looking through piles of stuff (because that's the way I "organize") not finding A Pair of Red Clogs.

To set a good example and not panic about losing the book, I decided to make the best of it and try something that I've been wanting to do anyway. It's the technique of narration as described by Charlotte Mason; just see how much of the story TJ could recreate, since I COULDN'T FIND THE D**N BOOK. (Is it clear how much I have to censor my internal dialogue, that I practice it in my blog?)

TJ then proceeded to narrate for me, beginning to end, Mako's story of the red clogs with the crack in them. I "scribed," to use the CM terminology, and wrote three and a half pages.
We followed this with the math lesson I had planned for TJ, of circling the multiples of 2 in a Hundreds Chart. Then she wanted to circle the odd numbers on another copy of the chart, and then to put hearts around each individual number.

All's well that ends well. Daddy came home and found the book ... next to the bed.

08 October 2008

A Pair of Red Clogs

My favorite part about the FIAR curriculum is the art lesson. It's right in the middle of the week and GREAT for the Wednesday afternoon doldrums.

A Pair of Red Clogs is our story this week. The illustrations are done in colored pencil, "Like Ping was," TJ observed. Also like Ping, the illustrator chose a limited color palette of red, blue, yellow, and black. Our box of pencils has fifty hues! For the last two art lessons, we chose to follow the cues of the illustrators.

If I had proposed that the girls use only four pencils for a picture, I think they would have gotten mad at me. The interesting thing is that I didn't have to suggest it myself. After examining the illustrations carefully, TJ decided on her own that she wanted only those colors to do the assignment. "Assignment" used loosely, of course.

You can see the result from this week. She turned a stick figure (that I provided) into her own illustration of Mako kicking off her red clog. I love it!

29 September 2008

We will not be ordering the duck.

Because I just can't let go and embrace unschooling all the way, I am adding the tiniest bit of structure to satisfy the teacher inside me. I have been looking at curricula for almost three years now: Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, the Well Trained Mind topped my favorites.

What they all have in common is gentleness and appreciation of literature -- even children's books as literature. Each of them is too didactic for me to embrace completely. I like pieces of them ... but I had hang ups, too. Especially as applied to TJ's learning style, none of them fit the bill.

Plus, when I notified the county that TJ would be educated at home, I explained that she would be completing a series of "unit studies" designed to meet her interests as she did her three R's. Reading, Riting, and Rithmetic, right? I did not use those words exactly. Can you imagine? The stumper for me: in the big, wide world of education, WHICH units to study? Where to start?

It figures that the last curriculum in my search is the one I like the best. (Sure, sure, the thing you're looking for IS always in the last place you look for it, because then you stop looking.) The idea is to read a picture book every day for five days in a row. Each day you do a different activity afterwards, with a loose structure of Social Studies, Language Arts, Art, Math, and Science tie-ins through the week. Ta-da! Each book is a unit!

Bonus: Little PJ can participate too. And for me, I love to read to my girls, not that I needed another excuse.

We are reading The Story About Ping this week. I'm thinking about doing a lap book like this one to go with it. On the other hand, we haven't finished our first lap books yet ... so maybe we'll go out for Chinese on Friday to celebrate the end of this short "unit." We just won't order any duck.