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Sunday, January 25, 2015

homeschool update

Here you have it: my homeschool update.

I haven't written about this yet for three reasons: first, I haven't really known what to say yet.  Second, I haven't had the time!  And third, I wrote a long, extensive post once already and somehow lost it which was incredibly frustrating given how little time I have to write these days.

We have been homeschooling for nearly 3 months.  It is wonderful, frustrating, inspiring, profound, patience-testing, all-consuming, exhausting and totally, absolutely worth it.

It is hard to describe the changes that I am seeing day to day, week to week.   My daughter is happier, more content, more creative, notably more compassionate, more outside herself and significantly less stressed.   Remarkably different is the relationship between our girls.  No longer is Ella so spent that all she feels is aggravated with Maya.  She is so happy to see Maya at the end of each day and they actually spend time playing together now, creating elaborate imaginative games and creating structures in the living room.

This was a sign that awaited Maya when she came home from school.

Ella made this cool butterfly snack idea for a very proud Maya (which also produced some very jealous first graders in Maya's class).

Right now they are working out of corner of the living room they call their "studio" using a video camera and conducting interviews on very important topics like which is the best Elephant and Piggy book by Mo Willems and P.S.As about the importance of wearing a helmet when you ski (complete with doll reenactment).

There are also just so many beautiful things happening if you are willing to find them in the ups and downs.  We are able to do so much more as a family because Ella isn't so tapped out all the time.  She is on the gymnastics team.  We are able to all ski one evening a week and one or both of the weekend days.  This simply wouldn't be possible if she were still in conventional school.

Ella says stuff that surprises me all the time now:  "Can I help you with that?"  "Thank you so much, Momma, for doing that.  It must have been difficult." "I'm sorry I said/did that.  I don't know why I did it." There are so many connections being made: compassion, empathy, insight and appreciation.

I am certain, 100% certain, that this is the right thing to be doing for her.

And it is one of the most difficult things I've done in my life.

Starting the process of homeschooling reminds me of what I call the "newborn tunnel."  Having a newborn can be such an all encompassing, life-turned-on-its-head kind of experience that one can forget what real life is like for a bit.  You calibrate your being so entirely to this new, fragile life in a way that takes mental priority over everything else.  Regular details of life become mountains that must be climbed.

That is kind of how I feel.  I am funneling all of my emotional and mental energy toward the success of our child.  I have to know what to study, when to study it, how Ella will best learn it, how to be two steps ahead all the time and then how to rework all of it when my idea totally fails.  I need to do all this and still do all the grocery shopping, laundry, cooking and cleaning, appointments, phone calls, bill paying and, oh yeah, find time to work.  My cabinet is wall-papered in sticky notes so I can keep all these plates spinning.  Recently added to the fray: plan the PTO Valentine's Dance and get all of our financial records ready for our tax appointment.

The first week of school after the holidays this all happened: a sewer overflow in the basement, a frozen pipe which meant the washer wouldn't work, about 3 hours on and off on the phone with the cable company, the receipt of an electrical bill so exorbitant I had to make umpteen more phone calls to research why we were being charged triple the standard rate by our supplier.  I made 5 phone calls to try to get our elliptical machine fixed.  Every phone call I made to resolve some household issue produced 3 more before I could check it off my list.  I had clients canceling last minute and upsetting my carefully contracted childcare plans.  Unloading a ton of wood pellets when it was something ridiculous below zero.  All while trying to teach school and be emotionally available for my other child.  And my wife.

When the bread dough failed to rise I almost cried.

This momma is taxed.  I want to hole up in a hotel room for a full two days (preferably with Sandi) and have my only responsibility be to decide if I go for a run before or after I take a nap.

I want to be doing all this.  Some days I just wonder if there is enough of me to go around.

Welcome to motherhood, right?

Here are some of the significant challenges of getting into the grove of homeschool: never having time alone, having to return to lining up childcare to go to work,  and listening to Demi Lovato and Bridgit Mendler on repeat in the car.  It is so mentally tiring to always be the one who has to figure out what we work on next.  I find the amount of time we lose in transitions (from non-work time to work time, from one project to the next, one worksheet to the next, from meal-time to work time) to be entirely frustrating.  I am such a quick mover and motherhood has made me very efficient with time and multitasking that I find I have to exercise great volumes of patience for the slower pace Ella has.

But perhaps most significant is that homeschool is a very difficult bugger to measure.  I find myself asking every day, "Did we do enough of that?" with an ever changing that.   Some of our biggest reasons to homeschool was to reduce stress and allow for more natural, creative, Ella-paced learning.  Yet I find myself asking everyday if I should be pushing more or pushing less.  It is nearly impossible for me to identify how much is enough in any given day.  It is very difficult to know when some tough love is needed in the form of, "I need you to work harder than you are," or "Would you talk to your teacher that way?" or "I know you don't want to do that but I need you to do it anyway."

If we do a lot of practical learning (long division, sentence structure, parts of speech and living versus non-living organisms) I am like: Phew! We accomplished something. But usually we did so at the cost of more creative time.  Yet if we have a lot of creative time and follow one of Ella's whims to an end (like melting crayons on canvas with a blow dryer), we lose the book learning time and at the end of the day I am nagged with a feeling that we are "getting behind."

It would be easy to say, "Just do what feels right" but that is such a nebulous concept here.  After all, it is our daughter's education.  I don't want to half-ass it.

I'm sure that veteran homeschoolers know how to go down rabbit holes and make them educationally applicable, how to coerce learning out of pedestrian moments, how to make nearly everything fun and engaging.

Let's just say I'm not quite there.  I am more pre-K homeschooler than veteran.  I have a 4 page, double-sided checklist from our district of the fourth grade curriculum.  Some days I use at as guide to what we need to accomplish and other days like a whipping stick to measure my slackery (I don't think that is a word) as a homeschooler.  There are so many things to be taught in 4th grade!!!

(Side note: I have such a newfound and profound respect for teachers.  I can hardly mobilize one fourth grader.  How, oh how, do they do it when there are 18 or 20 of them?)

People often ask me, "How are you doing this?" or "What is your plan with that?' to which I answer, "I'm not actually sure.  I am going day by day and trying to find a groove."  When I'm at my best, that is my homeschool zen: to try to take it as it comes and not worry about the hitting every benchmark.  So what if she falls behind if what she gains is the ability to trust herself and like her life more?  Perhaps today success can be measured in  a spontaneous hug, an unexpected laugh, a spark of interest.

I tell you there are ton of life lessons to be found in homeschool.

A friend of mine told me that I would get to know my daughter really well through homeschooling.  That is for sure.  I would add to that that I am also getting to know myself better.  I see my flaws on display for myself every day: how my ambitious personality is a blessing and a curse, how impatient I still can be, how much I want to be on top of everything.

Sometimes I get impatient or a little snippy and I think I suck at this.  She needs a real teacher with a real set of patience.  Or I feel stressed by all that is undone around me and I say something I regret and wish I had an emotional vacuum to suck back in all my shortcomings.

Imagine how an item like that would fly off the shelves.

A lot of people have said to me that they don't think they could do it.  I want to reply, "I don't know if I can either do it but I'm doing it anyway."  Homeschooling doesn't come from any internal calling to teach my child.  It is born out of a need to exhaust all avenues to give her what she needs.  I am very aware that no matter my sacrifice, what I can give might still not be enough.

As part of the sea turtle unit we did, Ella wrote a story called "Tessa the Turtle" which we decided was really a book. The hours of writing and then typing her story, editing and revising and editing some more, finding just the right pictures and formatting it into the 23 page volume it became was just so was such a huge learning process for her.

She wrapped it up and gave it to Maya for Christmas with the dedication: "To Maya, who gives my life just the right amount of crazy- except when it is too much." It is funny and suspenseful and even informative!

Homeschool projects: hand knitting with Tia and wreath making with me.
My friend Heather took Ella for a morning so I could work and she made these super cool Borax snowflakes.  They are so cool and easy to make that we made a bunch more for Christmas.  
Heather sent me a text last week saying, "Let me take Ella for you for a few hours so you can have some time to yourself."  Again, she came up with a project (which they have both kept secret from me) so I was off the teacher hook for a couple of hours.  I cannot even tell you what an unexpected gift it was.  To work on taxes uninterrupted whilst sipping coffee?  I may never have had it so good.

Another friend, Kristen who is a former science teacher, offered to do some science lessons.  I am so relieved to be off the hook for teaching atmosphere, weather and the water cycle!!!

As part of increasing her independence and empowering her, I've been teaching Ella how to do lots of things on her own, especially making her own lunch.  She was asking about me making her some of the granola Emilie had given us for Christmas.  I was getting ready to make it and then said, "You know what?  This can be part of school.  YOU can make it."  And then I sat on my hands so I wouldn't do it for her.

She is so proud of this granola and eats it with fruit and yogurt nearly everyday now.

Ella asked me if she could do something nice for Tia who has also been spending a lot of time with her and helping her with her work.  Ella found a recipe on Pinterest for strawberry granola bars and she made them with just the smallest amount of stove help from me.  I was so proud of the thoughtfulness she was showing in the gesture itself but also in selecting something healthy for her super healthy Tia.
Learning to use a knife, a daunting skill that she can now do independently.

Our homeschool motto which is posted where we work.  After thinking this quote was a trick until she fully understood it, Ella then asked me to print another copy to put in her bedroom. 

I told Ella the other day that I would like to go to yoga class.  She didn't want to.  Despite my level of need for some SERENITY NOW! I decided not to push it.  What could be less serenity producing than taking a reluctant child to yoga class with you?  So I said, "It is okay if we don't go today but I need to be going to yoga.  At least every other week but preferably every week."  

Two days later when she woke up I said, "We are going to yoga at 9.  Wear something comfortable."   

"Okay,"  was the reply.

Then when the girls were brushing their teeth, Ella casually and without malice asked me something about yoga class.  Maya spun around and said, "She gets to go to YOGA with you?! I want to GO to YOGA with YOU!"

Now I felt like crying.  This was reminiscent of when the girls were both under 4 years old and I felt that they both wanted to own me, as though they would pull me limb from limb and fight over each fragmented piece.  

I'm also fairly certain that if Maya had heard that Ella was accompanying me to the dump she might have said, "WHAT?? She gets to go to the DUMP?? I want to GO to the DUMP!"

Maya is feeling the injustice of all of Ella's solo time with Momma.  Let's just say that it occurs to me that in a family it is hard for everyone's needs to be met at the same moment in time. 

It occurs to me that we only have about 8 years left with our daughter at home.  And truly we might only have 2-3 years of influence.  I want with every part of me to make sure that our relationship is solid going into the trials of adolescence.  Homeschooling is forming a bond of trust and partnership between us that might just be irreplaceable.  

Now, if I can just not lose my mind we will be all set. 

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