This was basically Day 3 of us beginning to reintroduce some school routines. I got up, let the chickens out, made coffee, Towhee got up, ate, headed outside for chicken time.
Late summer means a lot of afternoon thunderstorms.
BlueJ got up, got dressed, and did some reading as she usually does. The text in the Illustrated History of Japan is minimal; most of the story is in the pictures. There is so much. She has read the book before but this time she is really focused; she was probably looking at it this morning for an hour. Meanwhile her brother made pancakes and I was busy with online stuff.
Once Towhee was done with the chickens, like we said, he came in to make pancakes for second breakfast around 10am.
After we’d all eaten, he sat down to do his own book work: Math, Spanish, Grammar. He said the last chapter of AoPS Pre-Algebra is general problem solving skills, something he loves. So today’s exercises were looking for patterns in order to come up with easier solutions to problems. I’m hoping he can finish this last chapter quickly so he can start Algebra 1 in a couple of weeks.
After pancakes, BlueJ disappeared in her room for a long time. Among other things, she said she did her multiplication facts. She went outside to clean out the birdbaths before the rain started and spent some time out there in the wind.
And then, finally, after Towhee had finished all of his homework for both online history classes, both kids hung out in the living room while I was (still) online. They were making up some imaginary world, something they do a lot, with characters and backstory, and lands with a map. I’m not ever directly involved with this stuff, but I will hear them talking or see the things they leave around, and I often see evidence of whatever they have been learning and thinking about in the imaginative mix. I’ve long felt like play is how kids process the information they are getting about the world, and I still see that happening at 13 and 10.
Then finally while Towhee watched his Ottoman Empire Great Course lecture for today, BlueJ just watched the rain pouring off the roof and waited for her dad to get home.
All homeschoolers are getting asked about homeschooling these days, by friends and strangers alike. Without further ado, I am reviving the 365 day project, in the hopes that showing is more helpful than telling. Because truly, friends, if I can do this, you can do this.
So….these days my kids are 13 and 10. Entering 8th and 5th grades. They’ve chosen their own “codenames” this time around. My 13 year-old son we’ll call Towhee; my 10 year-old daughter we’ll call BlueJ. (Those are birds we have in our yard, and if you know my kids, they want you to notice that their codenames contain their initials.)
Like most people we know, we’ve spent the last five months mostly at home (Almost Unschooling: The Pandemic Edition), and, like many, we incorporated additional pets in that time. BlueJ adopted two female rats: Chia and Tailey, and Towhee acquired three chickens: Sassafras (Sassy), Honeysuckle (Honey), and Ivy. We still have our dog, Lucy. My husband has just gotten home after 20 months away, and the kids have had nearly a two month break with no schoolwork at all (except for one excellent online class). In this post I will try to give a quick overview of what the kids are up to and planning these days, and then give you a snapshot of what the day looked like.
Towhee’s days as an early riser are mostly in the rearview mirror, being a young teen. When I’m the first one up, like today and most days, I go out to let the chickens out of their coop and into the small run, and bring out their food and water. When Towhee got up, he ate a piece of toast, made his bed, got dressed, and headed out to spend time with his chickens. This is his every day routine now. While he’s out there, he does whatever coop cleanup he needs to do, and then just hangs out with them while they free range in the fenced back yard. We can’t let them do that unaccompanied because of a family of juvenile Cooper’s hawks currently learning to hunt. Sometime he’s out there for several hours, reading or doing whatever, but today he came in after an hour or so.
Towhee has agreed it’s time to start back with schoolwork, so he’s back where he left off in the spring: Art of Problem Solving Pre-Algebra (just started the final chapter, though!), some Spanish, and Analytical Grammar. As is often the case, when I write out what he’s doing, it doesn’t seem almost like unschooling at all, given the textbooks. Maybe Child Directed Education (CDE) is the better descriptor, here. Because it’s all things he wants to do. And his textbook work rarely takes very long; he’s entirely self-paced. He’s about half-way through the 42 Electronics Robotics/Electronics/Programming curriculum. He’s currently enrolled in two Outschool history classes: Zinn People’s History and Black History from a Decolonized Perspective; those run through the end of September. And on September 8, the official start to our school year, he’ll begin the Derek Owens Physical Science online class, and start with AoPS Algebra 1.
Towhee had been doing wooden boat-building program for the last two years, and had been looking forward to continuing with that, going to sailing camp, and maybe finally trying swim team. But all of that is off the table until the pandemic resolves. With his dad home, he is starting some physical training and they will probably do some running and maybe tennis, if the city parks are open. That’s Towhee’s year in a nutshell. He’s also got some wood (some nice, some scrap) and he wants to try to build an outdoor worktable, and some kind of a structure for him and his sister. We’ll see what happens with that. These days he helps around the house a lot. He does everyone’s laundry (and folds it and puts it away or puts in on our beds), cleans the toilet and the tub, vacuums the back room (his bedroom) and the entry way, mows the front lawn, brings in the mail, takes out the trash and recycling.
BlueJ, on the other hand, has expressed an interest in starting a multi-year study of geography (like we did when she was very small and can barely remember, going country by country through the Americas, Australia/Oceania, Asia, and Africa). She wants to study Asia this year, Japan first. She currently has several books to read about Japan and Japanese Americans. I told her when she is done with those books to let me know if she wants more, or wants to move on. She has agreed that she should learn multiplication facts by heart before we move on with math study, so I got her some nice cards, and she has agreed to work on that 10 minutes a day. She also will be starting a section of the Outschool class Black History from a Decolonized Perspective; her class starts on Friday. She is also studying Spanish with an app her dad set her up with and…lots of other things. More on BlueJ’s various online endeavors another day. She wants to study architecture and chemistry this year, and we have resources on hand for that, but we’ll see if we get to any of it this month. That’s about it for BlueJ, for now. She draws and writes and does little projects all the time. Her chores include vacuuming the rest of the house, washing the kitchen floor, cleaning the bathroom sink and vanity and floor, and refilling the three birdbaths in the back every day. And the rat laundry which is…pretty substantial and pretty gross.
When BlueJ got up this morning, she ate toast, did NOT get dressed, read one of her Japan books and drew for a good long time, then made us all pancakes.
The thing Towhee was most excited about today was this: He worked for a few hours yesterday making a rat palace out of cardboard boxes and tubes for his sister’s rats. A ‘ratitat’ ( = rat habitat) he is calling it. He was SO EXCITED for them to try it out today, so he set it up in the kitchen and then fussed with it for a while. The rats were pretty groggy by that time (being nocturnal and all) but they explored and played long enough for me to get the rat cage cleaned out. Wednesday is rat cage cleaning day. Not my favorite. l let them keep the rat palace set up, so we can get them in there nice and early tomorrow.
In the afternoon, Towhee worked on homework for his Zinn class, then watched a Great Course episode in the History of the Ottoman Empire (he is still a lover of all things history), took all the trash out, then played Minecraft with friends until dinner. BlueJ played outside and did her birdbaths, did the rat laundry, called her cousin and talked to him for a while, worked on multiplication facts, worked on Spanish with her dad, and then played online with friends.
After dinner, we watched the Van Gogh episode of Matt Smith Doctor Who (we are working our way through all the seasons a second time), my husband read them a chapter of The Stormrunner, and now everyone is in bed but me. And that, my friends, was Day 168.
As I mentioned last week, when my kids ask to ‘do homeschool,’ they mean lessons. We’ve got stuff for them to do: Singapore Math, Moving Beyond the Page 6-8, and All About Spelling for Boy, and Moving Beyond the Page 4-5 for Girl. They hadn’t asked to do homeschool since September, but I made them a promise at the beginning of this year that it would be up to them when they wanted to do it. Of course, I was really hoping they would ask, but I want them to want to do lessons. I don’t want it to be something I’m making them do. If you think about it, if we get it right, lessons should be an attractive thing. A half-hour or an hour of your mom’s full attention, learning about things that are fun and interesting, without being too difficult or frustrating.
I got my chance today. The kiddos asked to do homeschool on Thursday, but we were too busy. When I asked them last night if they wanted to do some school today, they said yes. Additionally, I told Boy that if he got all of his morning things done early, he’d have some time to work on Minecraft. He said he wanted to build a castle.
As I wrote on Facebook this morning:
How can I tell that I set up my old laptop yesterday for [Boy] to play Minecraft on? Because even though he slept ‘late’ snuggled in bed with his mom (it’s cold this morning), it’s now 8:44am and he has made three beds, gotten dressed, taken the dog out to play, fed the dog, eaten his breakfast, and brushed his teeth. And he did it all cheerfully. [Boy] credited, “the power of focusing and listening to your mom” for having gotten his jobs done so early. Well played, kiddo. Now he’s playing Minecraft for an hour. He and I have a math-date at 10am.
So between 7:30am and 1pm, we ate breakfast, Boy did his morning jobs, we had breakfast, Boy built his castle in Minecraft and then cleaned his room while I did an MBtP lesson with Girl. I read her a book and asked her some questions about it, and had her act out some parts (I love the play-acting activities in MBtP). Then we put out her number cards, and she ordered the ones 1-10, and I lined 11-20 up beneath them. (Girl has been able to count 1-10 and count numbers of objects for a couple of years, but she is still learning the symbols.) At her request, we then turned the number cards over so we could just see the dots on the back, and I asked her to find the different numbers by name. She did great.
After that, I asked Girl to play in her area while I did some Balance Bender (algebraic thinking) and Pattern worksheets with Boy, and then did a brief lesson on graphs in his Singapore book. Girl then came in and started working on a Lego set she got for her birthday while Boy did some Singapore workbook pages and I took a shower.
Next we had lunch, Boy took the dog out to play for a bit, and then we practiced violin. Additionally, we gave Girl a little try on the violin for a minute; I showed her how to hold it and the bow, and helped her draw the bow across the different strings. Girl was very quietly pleased. Then we practiced our Girl Scout Penguin song, and did a sun salutation all together. After that the kids played and made things for an hour. Boy and I wanted to do some gardening before ballet, but by 2pm I felt horribly tired again. (Still not sure why, really.)
In the morning I had been feeling a lot better than the last couple of days, and I remade Boy’s bed with cool weather bedding, did some additional laundry, folded and put things away and did some other things around the house. But at 2pm it was clear I wasn’t good for much. So I made popcorn, put on Pirates (the second of the two movies Boy borrowed from the library), and went and laid down for an hour while they watched it.
The rest of the day was ballet, dinner (angel-hair pasta with steamed squash, pine nuts, parsley, goat cheese and olive oil), story, bed.
Tomorrow is Co-op, but it’s also Veteran’s Day, so Papa is off work. We decided that he would take the kids so I could work on a project at home. But I’ll tell you all about that tomorrow.
‘Co-op’ probably means different things to different people. Ours is effectively a one-day-a-week school held in a Unitarian church, though the program itself is secular. Classes (two periods in the morning, and two after lunch) are offered for different age groups, from Pre-K through high school. Some teachers are moms of students, some come from outside. All are highly qualified. We pay for classes. It can get expensive. There are a lot of students, in every corner. Moms stay on site, mostly in the large wooden main space, working on their laptops, talking to other moms. There’s a nursery/playroom for littles. At lunch time kids, even big ones, spill out onto the narrow lawn that encircles the old stone church, running, playing crazy tag games, gathering in little groups, crawling behind the bushes, talking about whatever kids talk about. A couple of moms sit outside or stand around to enforce the few rules and keep an eye out, but mostly they chat, too. Some of the little girls, in particular, prefer to spend lunchtime in the playroom.
There’s a Girl Scout troop that meets the last period of the day. In fact, Girl is newly a Daisy Scout. She knows the Girl Scout Promise. So does Boy. Girl told him he, too, would be a good Girl Scout. Lately, when Girl does something particularly considerate or helpful, she declares, “Because I live by the Girl Scout Law!!”
Today Girl also learned about elephants. She tells me on the ride home: elephants have pads on their feet so that they walk quietly, even though they are so big. She tells me: Africa elephants have large ears that flop around. Asia elephants have small ears, that cannot flop. She made a book of seasons. She drew a picture about the book Who Owns the Sun, a picture of things ‘too beautiful to own’. The sun, the stars; also me. You are too beautiful to own, Mumma, she tells me. I’m fairly certain she doesn’t much understand that book (it’s about slavery) but I am extremely gratified by the drawing nonetheless.
Boy tells us, driving home, that he learned about long-distance communication in ancient times. The ancient Chinese used kites, he tells us, the kites were big and could be seen from a long way away. Also, people could use flashing mirrors. One flash could mean everything was okay. Two could mean danger. Three could mean an enemy was spotted. Or carrier pigeons. They used carrier pigeons in World War I, he says. They attached a message to the foot of the pigeon. Maybe they also used them in World War II, he thinks, probably they did.
In his Mini-Makers class Boy constructed an automatic drawer. Four markers attached to a red plastic cup, topped by a popsicle stick that can spin, a little off kilter. There are tape and wires and paper clips and tin foil. He knows more about electronics than I do, I realize. After dinner we crowd around our little kitchen table, while he demonstrates, fiddling with the wire and the tin foil and the paper clip. He connects something, and the stick spins, off kilter. The contraption shakes and wobbles on its skinny marker legs, moving, drawing. Each marker moves a little differently. One makes little lines. One makes little dots, in a path across the paper. Girl says they are footprints. All of the movement originates simply from the off-kilter spin. We are fascinated. The automatic drawer reaches the edge of the paper and Boy moves it back to the middle, gently, so as not to dislodge the wire, over and over. It’s beautiful.
Today is the first day of our year-long unschooling experiment, the first of our 365 blog posts. I didn’t wake up knowing it would be. I wrote this on Facebook this morning:
[Boy] told me making toast had taken 200 seconds (he was counting), so I asked him how many minutes that was, and he came back with 3 minutes 20 seconds. So then I asked him what fraction of a minute 20 seconds was, and he came back with 1/3. Three (and 1/3) cheers for kitchen table math!
After that he wrote up a worksheet of addition problems, then solved them. I thought, he can do this. He can be in charge of his own learning. He wants to learn. I will help him, when he needs help, I will facilitate, I will be interested, I will read to him whatever he wants me to read, I will take books out of the library that I want to read to him, and ask him if he’s interested, I’ll make some suggestions, but mostly, I’ll stay out of his way. I will do the same for Girl. They are amazing. I’m going to let them be amazing. And I want to write about it, every day, so that I will remember.
And so this blog will partly be about my kids being amazing. But it will also (sometimes) be about them being awful, and about me being tired or frustrated or worried. It will be about the specifics of what we do in a day, and also about the balancing act this kind of life requires: time and money, their wants and desires vs. my own needs and limitations.
After hours of self-directed activity today, Boy had a real whopper of a melt-down. He tried to hit me, pinch me, even bite me. Because it was time to get ready for ballet and soccer, because his Dad was making paper footballs with his sister, because…who knows? My sweet amazing Boy, trying to bite me. He fell asleep on the bed. We missed ballet and soccer. I called the pediatrician to get a referral. I felt sick with worry. I thought…maybe I’ll start the blog tomorrow. No one has to know about our worries. But then I thought, no, this is part of it. I can’t leave it out. Even if no one else ever reads this blog, I want to keep a real record of our (almost) unschooling year. And if someone else does read it, because they are curious about what unschooling might look like, how can I leave out meltdowns (even my own)?
Boy woke up, I gave him some dinner while Papa read Girl two stories and snuggled her to sleep, then I read to Boy about how bridges are constructed, until I just couldn’t read any more and he kept reading to himself. Then he read his Lego books. Then he came back out to the living room and talked about…something. Then he finally fell asleep. End of Day 1. See you tomorrow.