I’ve never been happier to lose a Kobo to someone.
Today was a big day for E, reading-wise. She finished lesson 20 of All About Reading Level 2, and even wrote her own book.
See, lesson 20 involved cutting out and stapling together a mini-book about whales. E read it to her stuffies, and then said, “Can I keep this book? It’s the perfect size for these guys!”
“Sure,” I responded. “We could also make more books for them, if you like.”
That’s how we ended up at the kitchen table with E dictating and me scribing for her. She made sure to include a cover and a table of contents, and then wrote three pages about wooly mammoths, elephants, and penguins, respectively. I drew the outlines of the animals and she coloured them in, and then we stapled it all together. Then E brought all the stuffies to the table and read them her book. Mr December came upstairs, and she read it to him, too. And to K, and then again to R.
Finishing lesson 20 before our trip was a challenge I had set for E a couple of weeks ago. Since she succeeded, we had a party to celebrate. Nothing fancy: just lemonade, popcorn, chocolate and butterscotch chips, charades, and some karaoke.
When E came and perched by my shoulder this evening, I passed her my Kobo and said, “Can you just take a look at these books I downloaded and tell me if they’re the right level for you?”
“Ugh, reading AGAIN!” she whined. “I already did so much reading today!”
“I just need you to look at a few of the pages and tell me if the books are okay for you,” I reasoned.
“Okay, fine.” She took the Kobo out of my hands.
The next time I saw the Kobo, she was waving it in my face and telling me that she’d already finished one book. As soon as I helped her open another book, she ran off to her bedroom to continue reading. I didn’t see my Kobo again until she returned it to me at bedtime, saying, “We can share this Kobo but you might not get it very much because I like to read A LOT.”
Okay, then. Guess I’m in the market for a new Kobo. The only question is, before or after we travel?
09:25 “Hey everyone, we’re leaving in fifteen minutes! Be ready!”
09:40 We tell everyone it’s time to get in the car. Some people need to go pee before we leave—because somehow that wasn’t part of “getting ready”—and that takes another ten minutes because they all line up for the main floor powder room instead of taking off their shoes and running upstairs.
09:50 We’re finally in the car… but wait! “Oh, do we need masks?” one child asks. We go get masks.
09:55 I turn on a Freakonomics Radio podcast. Traffic isn’t too bad.
10:10 R pipes up, “Were we supposed to bring masks?” Everyone groans. Mr. December launches into his “you need to be responsible for your own stuff and yes, you should always have a mask with you” spiel. We find R an extra mask.
10:13 We burst into MEC like a SWAT team. Or maybe we tumble into MEC like a landslide—I don’t know. “Footwear is upstairs,” I say, and we head in that direction like a six-headed, twelve-footed monster.
10:15 The shoe department is completely empty. When we announce that all six of us need hiking boots, the associate looks flustered. Mr. December suggests, “Maybe you could call another associate to help too, then we could do this in parallel.” “Oh, yeah. Good idea,” the guy says. A second associate arrives moments later and we begin the process of trying on boots.
10:35 Mr. December has chosen his boots. So have K and R. N, E, and I are not as lucky—so far I’ve tried about six different boots and found none of them comfortable. There isn’t much available in E’s size, so I reassure her that we can look for her boots somewhere else. N is covetously eyeing K’s and R’s boots.
10:55 I’m still trying to find a shoe that fits. Meanwhile, N and E have decided to get the same model of boots as K and R; looks like I’ll be buying colour-coded shoelaces to tell them apart (at least for the older three.) Mr. December takes the kids to choose some good Merino wool hiking socks.
11:05 Oh, for crying out loud… I’m still trying shoes. I’m down to two pairs now. Mr. December and the kids go off to find sunscreen and bug spray.
11:15 For better or for worse, I’ve chosen my hiking boots. Now it’s time for socks. Mr. December takes E to the bathroom.
11:20 Mr. December catches up to us on our way to the cash. “Where’s E?” I ask. Mr. December looks around and says, “I’ll be right back.”
11:35 All six of us are back in the car. The podcast comes on again. Good thing, because…
11:38 We’re in line to turn left onto Bayview Ave. It’s a long line, and the drivers are acting like they’ve never seen a left turn arrow before.
11:43 Still waiting to turn left. I hate Toronto traffic.
11:48 We finally get through the light. As I approach the on-ramp, I can see that traffic is moving nicely on the 401.
11:41 Traffic is not moving nicely on the 401. It was an illusion.
11:50 At least the podcast is interesting and educational… and long.
12:00 We arrive at home. The podcast is still not over. The kids take everything into the house without being asked.
12:02 Still sitting in the car, Mr. December and I look at each other. Wordlessly, we decide to call off school for the rest of the day.
I barely slept last night. I could blame Mr. December’s late-night meeting (it ended at 12:30,) but even after I was in bed with the lights turned off, I couldn’t sleep. I was exhausted, my eyes were closed, and I was lying fairly still, but I was still very much aware of ambient noises (thanks a lot, Metrolinx,) and I tossed and turned a whole lot. I woke up before 7, which in my world is pretty early, and I couldn’t fall back asleep.
The point is, I’m so tired that I can barely think. I have a vague feeling of panic—we leave in less than a week and I just know I’m forgetting something. But my thoughts are going around in circles (kind of like dogs, actually. Three circles and then they lie down and go to sleep.) Unfortunately for you, I need to use tonight’s post as a brain dump so when I wake up rested tomorrow, I’ll have a sense of what’s going on.
Today Mr. December decided that we all need hiking boots because we’ll be in some rainy parts of Costa Rica and the hikes will be muddy. After spending a lot of time on the Keen website (because we just bought shoes from them a few months ago so I’m sure of the fit and sizing) I decided that the most sensible course of action would be to just go to a store, all of us, and buy everyone shoes. Guess what, kids! We’re going on a field trip to MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op)! Feel free to place bets on how much unnecessary-but-really-nifty stuff we’ll come home with.
I’m working on picking out the elements of our Biology curriculum that I think will be most relevant on our trip. The evolution unit will probably be covered pretty thoroughly in the Galapagos; I think it could be neat to record observations of the different biomes we visit and compare them to our biome here in Toronto; I’ve got a few chapters of the history curriculum that discuss ancient Mesoamerican history; and I should probably choose a novel for us to read for literature. And I have no idea what I’m going to do with E for reading—I love the program we’re using but it has a lot of parts and we want to minimize stuff.
I definitely need to print off copies of all our reservations, as well as photocopies of our passports, and stash it away in one of the suitcases.
I now have two (count ’em, two!) bikinis that fit nicely and a third that needs to be tried on. I’d better try it tomorrow and then return it if it’s no good.
I managed to forget about E’s flute lesson today (not our usual day and time) and we missed N’s piano lesson. I’d better make sure I’ve told all our music teachers that we won’t have any more lessons until the end of December.
I need to take down the sukkah. Also, the kayaks need to be wiped down, folded, and packed away for the winter.
We need to start packing this week. I particularly want to see how many devices we have that will need chargers so that I can decide whether it makes sense to take our 6-port charging hub (readers, I’m pretty sure it makes sense. Mr. December seems to think that it makes more sense to have ten different adapters—hence the need to have a look in advance.) We also need to see whose carry-on has space in it, because R is taking her guitar as a carry-on and will need someone to take her other stuff in their bag.
K has asked me to head over to the optician tomorrow and get her glasses adjusted—apparently they’re feeling loose; it occurs to me now that if we’re ziplining and such, we should probably have some secure sport straps to keep our glasses on.
If my writing is still coherent, I’ll be amazed. My head is lolling back on my neck as I type. E is standing by, ready to tuck me in. I go shower now. ‘Night.
We went to our homeschool meetup in the park this afternoon (K, who still feels ill, stayed home.) R was so reluctant to go that she extracted a promise from me to bring along a board game and play it with her; N took along his Pokémon cards; E was very excited to see her friends again.
I was actually kind of looking forward to playing a game with R, but as soon as we got to the park she ran off to see what the other kids were doing (hunting for crickets or grasshoppers, apparently.) She abandoned me! I had to actually sit down and talk to other adults.
(Kidding. My mantra, which you’ve probably heard before, is “You’re the kid, and your job is to play with other kids; I’m the mom, and my job is to talk with other parents.”)
As I conversed with a new member of the group, another parent came to me. “The girls really want you to see how far they’ve climbed,” she said, and led me over to a tall pine tree.
“Hi Eema!” I heard, and looked up into the branches. R was sitting in the tree, but where was E?
“I’m up here, Eema! And I want to climb higher!” E called down.
She clambered up to the top of the tree—effortlessly, it seemed—while I tried to figure out when I could politely excuse myself. Not because I wasn’t proud of her, or because I really needed to get back to my conversation, but because every fibre of my being wanted to yell, “Great! Now please come down!”
It’s a reaction that’s at odds with everything I believe in: I want my kids’ childhood to involve hanging out in the trees. Truly, very few things make me happier than seeing kids get muddy, dirty, and scratched up while enjoying nature and playing with dangerous things like pointy sticks; but when it comes to things that have the potential for real danger, like hiking near deep crevasses and climbing a cliff with no harness, I can’t watch. What I really want is for the kids to do the thing and then tell me all about it and show me pictures… after I know they’re okay.
I don’t need the anxiety, and they don’t need my fears to cloud their own judgment of their abilities. So I generally tell them how awesome what they’re doing is, and then politely remove myself from the immediate area… except when I stay and watch because “I might need to describe this to the ER doctors later.”
I’m having a bit of trouble accepting that we leave for our trip in ten days. It doesn’t feel real. We’ve been planning for months, and we’re still planning, and right now I can’t imagine getting the six of us on a plane and going anywhere.
Part of my brain does seem cognizant of the timing, though, since today I sat down and organized our first aid kit for the trip. To give you a sense of the kind of first aid kit it is, I’ll tell you that of five pencilcase-sized pouches, one holds such useful tools as a stethoscope, thermometer, otoscope, pulse oximeter, and peak flow meter. The other four pouches contain ointments and creams; medications; gauze and tape; and six different kinds of adhesive bandages including steri-strips. If it sounds like a lot of stuff, that’s because it is. Most of the time we don’t need these things, but when we do, we need a lot of them; if we’re suddenly struck with a stomach bug we’ll need to hunker down next to a bathroom—not run to the store to get more Immodium and Gastrolyte.
On a more upbeat note, I’ve been shopping for bathing suits—bikinis, to be precise. Since I’ve finally accepted that a bikini body is just having a body and putting a bikini on it, I figure I should take advantage of what two-piece swimsuits have to offer: namely, easier trips to the bathroom and no more cold, wet midsection.
I’ve been ordering bikinis online with the intention of trying them all on and keeping one or two. So far the frontrunner is a hot pink high-waisted number with a top that’s both secure (i.e. I won’t fall out of it) and just a touch sexy. I still have to try a couple more that should arrive this week too, but I’m already feeling good about my bathing suit situation.
As for homeschooling supplies: it’s hard to strike a balance between how much work we’d like to do in a perfect world and how much work we think will actually get done (Mr. December estimates that we’ll do about ten school days on our sixty-day trip.) My current plan is to load up my Kobo with books on different subjects that I can read aloud and discuss with the kids, and for each of them to take their writing notebook to write about either what we’ve read or what we’ve done each day. I’m also bringing things like a monocular for wildlife-watching and a pocket microscope. Oh, and sketchbooks and drawing supplies. That’s it.
On second thought, I’m not as oblivious to our looming departure as I thought I was. I’m sure I’m forgetting something basic—while I’m busy planning for pulse oximetry and microscopy—but what?
I can’t believe we’re here already: it’s time to make a decision about K and high school.
She has options. She can go to the Gifted program that we’re zoned for; she can apply to an arts-focused high school for visual arts; she can write the entrance exam for a math-and-science focused program. All three of those options are in the public school system; all three of them will put her on a pretty solid track towards university.
There’s also the option of an alternative school that operates on a democratic school model: each student chooses what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, and teachers play a supporting role as facilitators and advisors. To me, this option sounds a lot like homeschooling, but with the added attraction of other students and a wider variety of teachers. To Mr. December, this option sounds terrible. I’ve tried to suggest he consider it as a type of homeschooling option, because right now he’s hung up on the idea that there are no credits and no diploma (students from this alternative school apply to universities the same way homeschooled teens do.)
Of course, she can also choose to homeschool again next year and reconsider high school in Grade 10; but I’d like that to be a conscious choice and not just a default “Uh-oh, didn’t decide soon enough. Guess I’m homeschooling.”
I compiled an email for her with the available options (that we’re willing to consider: there are more high school options in the Toronto District School Board than I thought) and all of the application deadlines. The ball is in her court to choose which open house events she’d like to attend, and then where she wants to apply. It feels like a very small-scale version of the university decision she’ll have to make in four short years.
Wait. What? Four years?!?! That’s not much time. I think I’ll go give her an extra-long tuck-in now.
Ed. note: He’s back! Did you know that Mr. December’s posts get higher stats than mine do? Anyhow, enjoy the next instalment in his gripping tale of woebraveryevidence-based research.
In my last installment I talked about our initial journey, and how we started to hit a wall with our kids. I had never taught before (well, I was a teaching assistant in university,) so there was a lot of making things up as we went. One idea was to set crushing expectations in order to catch up quickly and justify our life choices (and perhaps even our social status.) So no choices, but plenty of rewards and punishments. We figured that even if this failed, we could shift the blame to the children by talking about “grit” a lot (Read any Prof Duckworth paper on grit – do you see now how your failures are your own fault?) Maybe we could enroll them in a relaxation course so that they could internalize that high-stress schooling is a normal, acceptable occurrence. Anyways, rewards and punishments seemed awesome, and we used this to get past the initial objections from our kids. We had a few more problems though:
No way to punish K: She didn’t like computer games, and didn’t need a lot from us. Rewards and punishments also don’t help when skills or structure are the issue (as opposed to motivation). Her stubbornness also meant without buy-in there would be no progress. Anyways, we quickly understood why her teachers made like Elsa and just Let It Go.
N was a relentless optimizer: He loves computer games, so taking them away was an effective punishment. But he’d do the absolute minimum, juuuuust enough to meet the bar, with the minimum learning. He’d also ask questions like “okay, if I don’t do that, how much screen time do I lose?” so he could weight his options, and once you got past a threshold he would simply say “well, I don’t get screens today, so I won’t do any work either”. So despite his brilliance, progress was hella slow, and we knew extended conflict would grind down our relationship with him over time.
R was mostly doing fine: She was a great writer but needed time to write stories not do worksheets. She was behind but compliant in math, but had a lot of trouble focusing. Rewards and punishments didn’t seem fitting here either.
E was only 5: We eventually enrolled her in part-time online school. We added in a bit of math, but mostly we figured, meh, she’s 5.
In the last post, we had some early successes but now needed a new philosophy. Fortunately for me, I have a secret weapon against ignorance: extensive research. I have a high capacity for technical detail, so I got a dozen books on education & homeschooling, which I read cover to cover, as well as many research papers and a few education websites (my favourite was Alfie Kohn’s blog).
You may not have the time or interest, so here is my summary of my learning:
Public schools suck. Schools suck, including private schools, which suck in different ways. Your school sucks, and the way your children are taught sucks. Grades suck, competition sucks, and coercion sucks. The rewards you gave that you thought made you better than other parents also suck. If you teach at a school, maybe you don’t suck personally, but you probably do, and just listen to this teacher of the year talk about how he sucks too so don’t feel too bad. Even if your kids don’t suck when they enter school, they will by the time they leave, and if they don’t suck by some miracle they’ll be anxious and unhappy, go into the wrong fields to please you, burn out and then hate you later.
To summarize the summary: Modern education systems will produce the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked and your kids will be personally be the suckiest of the bunch of sucks who ever sucked.
I don’t feel this way about the education system (they do a lot of things very right,) so I was surprised at how negative some sources were. Even worse, there was some publishing mishap where the chapters that deal with what to do differently were missing (it’s surprising how common this issue was.)
But whether you see it that way or not, this was a great result for me: I could not do worse.
Since my older two kids were, in postmodernist educational parlance, “sucking big time,” I had the luxury of choosing my path. With an Alfie Kohn video playing dramatically in the background, I took that 50% math test and put it in the garbage. That was the last grade I ever gave. I’m not saying grades aren’t important – they are so, so important – and here is a chart highlighting the value they have by age range:
Fucks You Should Give About Grades In Homeschool
0 + 0i
Just make up a bunch of grades and submit them to universities – what are they going to do, call your principal?
I did later understand better the power of review, which we do more of, and I still need to add in some testing for learning.
I kept hoping someone would recommend bringing spanking back, but no one did. Very few modern experts even advocated for reward/punishment based systems:they talked about being “student centric”—as if our previous education attempts were just for our own benefit.
Okay, all good. But what to do next? Stay tuned.
About the Guest Author: Mr. December is an engineer and homeschooling dad who also moonlights as a blogger sometimes. He likes data, writers who cite their sources, spreadsheets, and his kids. He also has great hair.
Our kids’ school careers began at Montessori. Every day N and K would come home and tell us how much fun they had, puttering around the classroom doing random materials with their friends, with no homework whatsoever. It didn’t seem rigorous enough. They needed something more: evenings of tear-filled pointless homework where we’d eventually do most of it for them. High pressure testing to give the school bragging rights. Music pieces that they hated with lots of difficult notes. Remember: if they’re not resisting practice, it isn’t rigorous enough. You’ll need shorter lunchtime and recesses to make room for all the rigor of course.
So we pulled our happy kids out of Montessori and put them into school #2, which was supposed to be more rigorous in both English and Hebrew curriculum. In terms of happiness it was perfect – both kids were miserable within weeks. But it wasn’t working academically. The math curriculum proceeded glacially, with one assignment asking the kids to write a story about 7×3 (true!). Most assignments were so abstract that I could not see what a right or wrong answer might look like (such as: “what are the physical and emotional state differences between two mountains?”), yet alone how I would do the work myself. In one math test, K got every number right and every spelling wrong – final grade: 50%. The best objection I could muster was to write “Grate Work” on her assignment when I signed the test.
Maybe we needed to face the fact that whatever the hell this school was teaching, my kids weren’t good at it. When the school complained K was late 19.0 times, I saw my opening. After asking repeated questions about why a float instead of integer – is there a way to be late 0.5 of a time? – I wrote a (spoof) email asking if she was the most late in the school, saying we were looking to find things she was good at to encourage her. But alas, talking to other parents, 19.0 was nowhere close to the record – several overachievers were late every single day. K’s dream was to be late 0.5 of a time, but they wouldn’t tell us the secrets of how to do so. We tried everything – just a minute late, half a day late, late but didn’t get the slip, late and then forget something in the car to be even later, but nothing worked.
The next year we switched the older two kids into a public gifted program (school #3), which was wonderful socially, but didn’t seem to help academically.
So along came COVID, the kids were home, and suddenly we could see clearly what was going on. Nothing. Nothing was going on. Our kids were terrible at school and did not know their fundamentals in math or writing. Oops, my bad.
Okay, so what to do – I figured the best thing was to back to rigor. Put the “fun” back in fundamentals. S said to forget public school – let’s try out homeschooling. Teach the basics, and once they learn their fundamentals, power them through the grades. And, perhaps surprisingly, it actually worked, in the short term – the math instruction and drills worked wonders, with the kids’ accuracy improving and their processing time cut in half. I was starting to think I could even work in a few humble brags. But then we hit the wall: they didn’t want to do two hours of Kumon every day plus the basics of writing.
Okay, no problem, I thought, I’ll make my own rigorous work. Math was easy: Every last Kumon math problem done correctly, in order, for a certain amount of time each day. That seemed rigorous enough.
Then I got stuck, as it turns out I didn’t know about anything except math. No matter, we created our four pillars of non-incompetence:
Math: A goal of being two years ahead. I figured that lofty goal would satisfy most people and then they’d forget about it.
English: No idea, but that’s S’s problem
Science: I could not remember anything I did in elementary or middle-school science. Did we even do chemistry? Was it just a bunch of digging in dirt? Wait – thermocline – I remembered that word, for when water changes temperature depending on depth. But I think that was grade 9, so I figured I’d wait to teach them that gem. For now, we just joined HENSE*
Everything else not in the other three: This is S’s problem, so I left it to her, with the only condition that it be rigorous
Now that we had a model, I figured I’d start with a math test: what could be better for rigorous evaluation? That would show the parents we’re not total idiots. So I used a New Jersey grade 5 math test, and then my son got 50%. He rushed through, didn’t know some terms, and there was this one question I had no idea how to solve either (see below).
So what should I do now? Punish? Reward? Unschool? Back then I saw unschooling as the opposite of rigor: sprinkle (sorry, strew) some books around and they’ll be 18 and out of the house in no time!
Stay tuned for the next installment of my journey.
Ed. note: Mr. December offered to change the last two words to “our journey”. I declined. The views expressed in this guest post are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent the views of all of us here at SweetCrunchyJewy. -S
A new rule came into effect in Ontario recently: to go to a movie, eat inside at a restaurant, go to the gym, and probably a handful of other situations, one must show proof of vaccination and photo I.D. This is all fine and good, until you consider that this applies to everyone who is eligible for vaccination: that is, ages twelve and up. What twelve-year-old has photo I.D.? I wondered.
I knew that Ontario had some kind of photo I.D. for people who don’t have a driver’s license, so I googled that to see if I could get one for K. Nope—it’s only for people ages sixteen and up. Our provincial health cards don’t have photos on them for anyone under sixteen, either. What’s a young teen (who wants to see a movie) to do?
It occurred to me that a non-homeschooled twelve-year-old might have a student card with their photo on it; too bad homeschooled kids don’t get photo student cards… or do they?
Since we’re talking about how I solved a problem, the solution should be obvious to those who know me: as with everything else, when I couldn’t find what we needed, I made it myself… sort of.
I started with a search for “inkjet compatible plastic I.D. cards blank” and came up with a bunch of options for a thermal printer. Not helpful. But the internet algorithms came through for me and suggested that Zazzle might have what I needed. Boy, did they ever.
That’s how I ended up designing BFHS student and staff I.D. cards and having them printed and shipped to us. They weren’t even particularly expensive, which is why I also made one for our mascot, BukBuk. I invented student numbers for each kid (using gematriya, the art of assigning numbers to the letters of the Hebrew alef-bet) and gave them all an expiry date of 2027—it would be annoying to have to print them every single year, right?
Anyhow, our cards arrived and everyone was pleased with them. Then, on the news, they announced that people under the age of sixteen could use their health card as I.D. even though there’s no photo… so my project was basically useless.
Oh, well. At least they look cool.
Image description: Two nearly-identical cards with our school logo in the top left, “Student” or “Staff” in the top right, a photo, and the cardholder’s name. The one on the left is K’s, and the one on the right is Bukbuk’s.
Anybody who has met R in real life has a hard time believing that she’s afraid to talk to people. I don’t mean “people” as in “friends, family, and neighbours she’s known her whole life,” more like strangers in transactional situations—at a snack bar, in stores, at the bank. Sometimes we’ll be someplace and she’ll have a question and I’ll say, “Go ask that person with the name tag,” and she’ll shake her head violently, grasp my hand, and beg me to come with her.
This evening we volunteered at the orchard, running the pickup table for a fundraiser. I would greet people, ask their name, and check them off while R and E found the corresponding bag of apples; then I’d prompt the girls to give the person an information sheet while I explained a bit more about it.
It took six or seven pickups for R to warm up to the task; gradually she started explaining the info sheet before I could do it. Then she began to greet our customers. By the time our shift was over, she was running the whole pickup table and making conversation with everyone.
She refused to leave her post, even after the next shift had arrived and it was time for us to go home for dinner. I agreed that R could stay at the park with the other volunteers; E and I walked home for dinner.
We returned just as the volunteers were packing up. Apparently R handled the whole thing herself; the other volunteers (both of them adults) were impressed at how competent and confident she was, and sat back to let her run the show. As I approached the table I could hear R chattering away to someone about the problems with how Percy Jackson had been translated from book to screen.
All I could think—and what Mr. December commented on—was that volunteering has been an incredible opportunity for R to expand her social skills from dealing with her peers to interacting with people of various ages. When people tell me that my homeschooled kids need school because they need socialization, this is the counter-example I’ll be sharing with them.