DIY · family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · waxing philosophical

Day 229: Reality Check

“Your kids play Little House on the Prairie? Wow! Look at them with the brooms and everything… this is how kids should play, you know?”

The kids had gotten tired of the trampoline, so R took charge and announced that they would play Little House on the Prairie. Moments later they were all doing their chores and waiting for ‘Pa’ to come back from hunting in the Big Woods. I happen to agree with my friend’s assessment: imaginary play like this is, in my opinion, the kind of play our kids need more of.

Shortly after that, the back door banged open and K emerged with several bowls and plates. “Who wants to taste-test my weird pasta flavours?” she hollered.

My friend turned to me with a questioning look, so I explained that lately K has started adding different flavours to the water when she boils pasta.

“Wow, that’s really cool. Your kids are amazing!”

“They have their moments,” I replied. “Oh, did I tell you that N is trying to teach himself whittling? I finally bought him a knife so he would leave my x-acto knives alone.”

That morning, sitting by the campfire in our backyard, we probably looked like a stereotypical homeschooling family: the younger children playing “wholesome” outdoor games based on the books they’d read, the independent teenager doing weird culinary experiments for the family to taste-test, and the boy with his own knife who is teaching himself to whittle.

That beautiful picture lasted all morning. Then I went into the kitchen for a glass of water and saw the formerly-tidy countertops strewn with bowls, colanders, and spoons. An empty cellophane pasta package was lying on the counter next to an identical bag that was half empty and wide open. K may have taken the initiative to experiment and share her pasta with others, but she did no cleanup whatsoever. In fact, I asked her to put away the bag of pasta five times throughout the afternoon before she finally did it.

That seems to be the norm these days. This morning I walked into the kitchen and immediately called Mr. December to come in and look. The microwave door was hanging open; there was an empty takeout container on the counter in front of it; a dirty plastic plate was next to that, and a plastic spoon lay beside it, dripping sauce onto the counter. “Who do you suppose finished the leftovers?” I asked sarcastically. Mr. December shook his head, sighed, and cleaned it up himself.

Meanwhile, R (the same one who came up with the Little House on the Prairie game in the backyard the other day) was on her third straight hour of playing Roblox on the computer. When I finally told her it was time to get off, she moaned about how there’s nothing else for her to do.

I’m not saying that my kids aren’t amazing—they are incredible, unique, and fascinating souls who will be wonderful adults one day. I’m saying that they’re kids. They do some wonderfully creative and independent things; they also do some thoughtless, lazy, and annoying things. It comes with the territory.

Every time a friend or stranger comments on something my kids do that is unusually responsible or mature, I feel the urge to show that person photos of the wet towels on the floor or the smoothie cups that went outside one summer day and have been on the ground near the trampoline ever since. You know, in the spirit of keeping it real. But the truth is that seeing my kids through someone else’s eyes is probably a more important reality check than the other way around. Every time I notice a wet towel or a tantrum, I see that my children are still children; when other people comment on my kids’ mature, creative, responsible behaviour, I get to see the adults they will become.

bikes planes and automobiles · education · Homeschool · Independence · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 210: So, How’d It Go?

Today was our first day of homeschool. After all the preparation I did, it felt very anticlimactic. N and R did their work pretty enthusiastically (although R was having trouble focusing), E did a very little bit, and K worked hard on her math but balked at the writing assignment.

“It’s easy!” I said for the millionth time. “You’re just hunting for words. Any words. Just find words in a bunch of different places and write them in the tiny notebook I gave you. Take words from this pile of catalogues. Borrow words from the spines of the books in our library. Snatch them from the lyrics of songs. I don’t care what the words are and I don’t care where you find them. Just do it.”

K went into anger mode: “It’s so pointless! Why are we even DOING this? It doesn’t make ANY SENSE!” And on she ranted. I walked away. I still don’t know whether she actually did the assignment or not.

My short Pirkei Avot lesson went pretty well, with a very animated discussion of what it means to “Make a fence around the Torah” and a demonstration of the unbroken chain of transmission of the Torah. The latter featured the six of us and a chocolate bar. It was my take on the Jewish custom of putting sweets in a child’s first school books so that they associate learning Torah with sweetness. Judging from my kids’ reactions, Pirkei Avot will be a popular lesson in future weeks as long as I always bring treats.

The copywork for it, though, was only done by R, and even then only partly. She insisted that she didn’t know how to write Hebrew letters; they “might have tried” to teach her at school but she never learned. I don’t see how that’s possible—I’ve seen her Hebrew homework over the years—although maybe she had a lot of help with her written work at school. However it happened, I’m a bit miffed. Six years in Hebrew Day Schools, the last three in a school with a “rigorous” Hebrew program, and my kid can’t write Hebrew in grade four? I want my tuition money back.

One of today’s highlights for me was biking with the kids to their dentist appointments. The fresh air and exercise in the middle of the day was good for all of us. When I went to retrieve N from his, E insisted on riding her bike alongside me. It’s only about a kilometre of mostly-flat road. Still, she biked hard and was exhausted at the end.

(Here I must interject to say how excited I am that at least two of my children can travel to and from their own dentist appointments independently. I accompanied them each one way because they wanted me to.)

All this is to say that really, today went about as well as I expected, if not as well as I’d hoped. It wasn’t a “normal” day for us, though, with dentist appointments (for two of the kids) in the morning and an optometrist appointment in the afternoon (speaking of which, N needs glasses.)

Tonight we’re having poetry teatime, for which E is going to help me make tea biscuits. And then I hope to go to bed nice and early so I can wake up tomorrow morning and do it again.

education · Homeschool · Independence · Just the two of us · Kids · Montessori

Day 205: It’s Complicated.

I had figured it out. “It”, in this case, means our homeschool schedule. I had finally arranged all of the subjects so that they were appropriately distributed and the schedule worked for all of us, Mr. December included. I heaved a big sigh of relief and went to tell Mr. December the good news.

“This is great!” He said. “I think we should give each kid a system like this with cards so they can choose their own schedule for the independent work.”

“Good idea,” I said, picturing a magnetic to-do list for each child, where they could move their tasks around to suit their own work preferences.

But he wasn’t done: “Actually, we should make the cards different sizes for different lengths of work periods, so math might be an hour but read-aloud might only be 30 minutes. And we’ll probably need icons on each card to show if it’s independent, adult-dependent, or a family activity. Oh, and maybe a different design for things like dentist appointments, that the kids can’t move around on the schedule. You know the cards and the board need to be scaled the same so that it makes sense visually, you know, so three hours look longer than one hour…”

He might have continued past that, but my internal dialogue had ramped up by then. All I wanted to do was give them a different way to organize a to-do list of their schoolwork! Not teach them all the complexities of maintaining a calendar for six people!

Oh, wait. I actually said that quiet part out loud. Oops.

What Mr. December is describing seems to be just a few items short of a schedule you might see in a large corporation, where people need to book conference rooms and have to see what everyone else on the team is doing. Such a schedule is, I hear, indispensable in a corporate setting, but I fear that it’s a bit much for a humble homeschool. At what point do all the different icons, words, colour codes, and shapes become confusing visual clutter?

Visual clutter is a concept that’s been with me since K started Montessori at age 3. The classroom was neat, organized, relaxed, and serene—partly because of the natural colour palette, but mostly because there was plenty of empty wall space. In contrast, when I went into a public school with N (we volunteered for Roots of Empathy), the walls were littered with posters about spelling rules, motivational sayings with inspiring pictures, behaviour charts, and math facts–each more colourful and eye-catching than the last. Apparently there just wasn’t enough space on the walls, as clotheslines with posters criss-crossed the classroom ceiling. It felt like an assault on my eyes.

Ever since then, I’ve tried to keep our home visually uncluttered. Homeschool has changed that to a degree, because the fact is that some things need to be posted where everyone can see them. Still, I believe that there’s such a thing as too much information on a single poster or chart, and I fear that adding all of Mr. December’s suggested information will make these charts so cluttered as to negate their original purpose. Does everything really have to be so complicated?

education · Homeschool · Independence · Just the two of us · Kids · Montessori

Day 203: A Matter of Time

It has been a long, long time since the word “late” has come out of my mouth, and an even longer time since I’ve added it to the words “you’re going to be.” Yet this afternoon I biked with K to her B’nai Mitzvah class (an outdoor session, with masks) and found myself urging her on, the way I used to when we commuted to school. In the end, she was five minutes late; the class had started promptly. Apparently they missed the memo about Jewish Standard Time (15-30 minutes later than local time.)

I’ve been thinking about time all day as I plan our first month of homeschool for this year. I spent this morning up to my ears in curriculum, post-it notes, cue cards, notepads, and a huge roll of easel paper, trying to consolidate all the information in one place so I could make heads or tails of the plan.

“Couldn’t you just type it out?” Mr. December asked when he saw the markers and cards strewn all over the table.

“Nope,” I said as I highlighted a word and then jockeyed some cards into a new configuration, “I don’t know why, but for me there’s nothing like doing it the old-fashioned way.” He looked skeptical, but wisely said nothing.

I was trying to grasp how much of the homeschool work required constant adult presence, as opposed to intermittent check-ins. I used different coloured sharpies to write the name of each subject or task on a cue card: green for “Eema needs to be involved”, purple for Mr. December, orange for independent work, and magenta for family time. With that done, and with multiple cards for tasks that needed to be done multiple times each week, I arranged the cards on a big piece of easel paper and tried to create a somewhat balanced schedule.

But how to organize each day? Mr. December and I weighed the relative merits of more and less structured schedules. In the end I found myself leaning towards a mix of scheduled group activities (grammar lessons, read-aloud time) and something resembling the sacred (to Montessorians) Montessori 3-hour work period, where each child can choose what to do and when. It will, I hope, give the kids some practice in time management and goal-setting.

That might be a long shot, though. Do we all have the same capacity to learn to manage our time and be punctual? Or are some people doomed to a perpetual struggle with the clock? As in so many other areas, I really don’t know whether what we teach the kids will really make a difference in their adult lives. Some things, like personality, are just inborn. Is time awareness another one of those congenital traits?

If it is, my kids might have gotten lucky and inherited the punctuality gene from Mr. December’s side of the family. They’re so punctual that early on in our marriage, my in-laws arrived for dinner while I was still wrapped in a towel post-shower. They were 5 minutes early, which is pretty much par for the course for them. In my family, it’s not unusual to be 15 minutes late. You can understand my surprise, right?

Anyhow, Mr. December’s genes would stand our kids in good stead when it comes to time management. If they got my chronological awareness genes, on the other hand, it’s hopeless. Punctuality may be a virtue, but it’s not one of mine.

family fun · Guest Posts · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · water you paddling? · whine and cheese

Day 190: Guest post by K, commentary by me.

I did not want to do a lot of stuff today but my parents dragged us all out onto the water. I would have stayed home but I was promised brownies. I thought I was getting normal sized brownies, buuuut nnnoooooooo… of course they were one bite brownies. Yes, one bite. Not two. One. One normal bite is the size of those brownies but i only take tiny nibbles so i managed to get a lot of bites out of that brownie anyways…

The trip. the trip was meh. We started out by getting into canoes and kayaks. I did not want to go but my dad convinced me with brownies. I just wanted quiet but no. R just had to be in the canoe and kept talking the entire trip and my arms were hurting. When we got to the island we ended up running through pointy bushes.

Okay, I’m back now. K had to stop so she could go to bed.

Do you need closure on that anecdote? We had canoed (and kayaked) across the lake and tied up our watercraft at a bridge. We told the kids it was time to explore, and once again we hung back and allowed them to lead us. Mr. December and I disagreed about the implementation: I argued that we should be teaching them how to use a compass and a map, and what to do if they get lost, before turning them loose in the woods; he countered that he was trying to encourage them to be fearless and to relish the exploration. As usual, the disagreement wasn’t resolved. The kids eventually were able to lead us back to the boats.

It’s amazing, the amount of complaining coming out of that kid. Right now she’s going through a growth spurt or something, because she’s eating all. the. time. An hour after breakfast she warmed up a huge bowl of chicken soup for herself. She warmed it in a pot, which she then left on the stove (which she left on) while she went to eat it. Sated, she brought the bowl and spoon back to the kitchen and left them on the counter. Later on, N was cleaning up and accidentally knocked the bowl over. Soup and noodles spilled all over the counter and the floor, and then I noticed the pot with the burned bottom and a few sad carrots sitting in it.

Lest it sound like I’m digressing, I’ll finish the thought. The complaining is incredible because in reality, she does very little without being told, then nagged. And, like all of her siblings, she needs to be constantly redirected back to the task at hand. It’s exhausting. I’m almost ready to give up on chores and just do it myself, because it’s a heck of a lot less frustrating some days.

Someone with adult kids — please tell me it’s just the age and they’ll grow out of it. Please.

family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Kids · parenting

Day 179: Cliff Hangers (and hangers-back)

You guys, we climbed a cliff today. For real.

We took a day trip to Bruce’s Caves Conservation area. It was over an hour-long drive, but once we got out of the car and onto the trail, the excitement began. There were boulders of all sizes, many covered in moss, dotting the forest floor. E ran into the woods yelling, “EVERYBODY CLIMB EVERYTHING!”

Even she didn’t know how right she was.

When we got to the caves we wandered around until K and R saw a ledge they wanted to sit on. Mr. December held a flashlight for them while they climbed up. One by one we joined them, until we were all on the ledge. Then R wanted to get down and keep going farther from where we’d come in.

At first we were just checking out what was behind the ledge. They we “had to” climb a particularly fun-looking boulder. Almost before I knew it, we were scrambling up the edge of the cliff, using tree roots and cracks in the rocks as handholds. Finally we made it to the top.

The Bruce Trail runs along the top of the cliff, so we hiked along it for a while. Then when we turned around, Mr. December encouraged the kids to find a way down from the cliff. R and K shared leadership duties, taking turns scouting out the best route. Mr. December and I hung back to watch their decision-making process; and when we all got back to the main trail at the bottom of the cliff, we told them that they would lead us back to the car, too.

R and K made a very sensible decision: we’d walk back to the mouth of the cave, since they knew for sure how to get back to the car from there. Back we trekked. The kids ran back into the cave and started climbing, and Mr. December and I sat outside the cave and waited for them.

I have to tell you that there were moments during that hike where my heart was in my mouth and I wanted to scream, “STOP!!!” Although I talk a lot about letting kids take risks and get hurt, I’m generally thinking of city life and the miniscule risks children can take in their own neighbourhoods, like climbing up a too-tall slide or walking to the store alone to buy some milk. It was a lot harder for me to sit on my hands and bite my tongue when the risks were much greater and there was a real danger of tumbling fifty feet into a crevasse.

And yet the experience was so much more powerful because the danger was real. The hike wasn’t restricted only to the beaten path; there were no signs telling you not to climb the rocks; and there were no ropes or railings along the cliff’s edge. The obstacles were natural, real, and we conquered them. The kids planned, scouted, chose their approach, and then led us through it.

It was a powerful exercise in trust and leadership, one that I hope made as much of an impact on the kids as it did on me. If I had to have one takeaway from today, though, it’s this:

We climbed an actual, honest-to-goodness cliff. This family is so badass.

education · family fun · Independence · Keepin' it real · Kids · parenting · well *I* think it's funny... · what's cookin'

Day 174: KP

After our frustration with our children’s unwillingness to be helpful here, Mr. December and I decided to implement a better system than the one we have at home. No arguing about which chore belongs to whom: one person is on KP (Kitchen Patrol) for an entire day, and is responsible for preparing, serving, and cleaning up breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Halfway through day one of this new system, it’s working well in that I haven’t had to do much. N took his turn today because the menu consisted mostly of things he already knows how to make: oatmeal for breakfast, grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch, and chicken fajitas — which he doesn’t know how to make but is about to learn — for dinner.

Since it’s his first full day on KP, N has a few things to learn: you have to start cooking a meal for six people at least half an hour before you want to serve it; you have to unload the clean dishwasher before you can load the dirty dishes; and you have to set up and clean up while everyone else is out having fun. He tried griping about that last one, but I looked at him and deadpanned: “I have no idea what that must feel like.”

We brought a lot of food up with us. Mr. December has remarked several times that we have way too much and won’t finish it before the end of the month. He clearly doesn’t cook for the family very often; if he did, he’d know that it takes a whole loaf of sliced bread and two packages of cheese to make grilled cheese for the family. We brought six dozen eggs, which he thought was ridiculous. I broke it down like this: a dozen eggs is a single breakfast for the family (along with a whole loaf of bread for toast), or two batches of challah dough (we’re here for four shabbat dinners as well as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, which means we could probably get by on three batches of dough.) I know there are people who buy those little half-dozen cartons of eggs, but we’re not them.

“Okay!” He says, with his hands up in a gesture of innocence, “But look how many different kinds of bread there are! There’s so much of it!” And then I tick them off on my hands: pita, one dinner (with falafel and salads); naan, two bags will take us through two dinners of tandoori chicken; those six bags of flour tortillas will go quickly when we use them for PB&B wraps, quesadillas, and fajitas. I give it two weeks before we’re down to our last bag of bread.

K has just come outside. “I’m hungry,” she announces to me.

I check the time. “Well, we can tell N that it’s time to start getting dinner ready.”

“But I’m hungry now!” she whines, “and I can’t go in the hot tub as a distraction because the water is a weird colour because you guys didn’t add chemicals to it last night. Can you do something about one of those problems?”

I sure can, I think. Tomorrow I’m instituting a new daily job: Hot Tub Attendant. And since K seems to know what’s needed, I’m nominating her.

community · Independence · Kids · parenting

Day 141: Who are the People in your Neighbourhood?

A few days ago Social Dendrite left a comment, asking:

How do you meet the local neighborhood friends? I’d really like this for our kids (now 7 and almost 5) but have had a hard time finding anyone. The few families I do know […] never seemed to be around. But I’ve seen loads of similarly aged kids around during the pandemic […] Did you approach the families, or did your kids make the connection somehow themselves? I remember when we moved house when I was about 7 or 8, my parents sent me and my older sister round by ourselves to knock on the door of a neighbor’s house that they knew had kids, to introduce ourselves. But that seems somehow weird in this day and age. Or is it? PS I’m an introvert so find this sort of thing difficult!

Well, I’m glad you asked. We don’t go to the neighbourhood public school, so we had to find friends in other ways. Here’s how it worked for us:

With K’s friend (also named K) I had met her mum when the girls were just babies. It’s easy to strike up a conversation if someone’s got a baby or a pet, so we walked together and chatted. Then she went back to work and we didn’t see each other much. The girls met a few years later at a neighbourhood day camp and became fast friends. We invited the little girl over for a play date in our backyard. The girls bonded instantly. As soon as they were old enough, we allowed them to go freely between the two houses (it was a 100-metre walk in a straight line) and the friendship was out of my hands. It’s been wonderful.

N met his neighbourhood friend through school. It’s not the local public school, but it’s relatively nearby and this boy was in the same specialized program as N — he just happened to live four blocks from us. Thankfully his parents (one of whom we had coincidentally met while waiting for our meeting with the school placement committee) also believe in free-range children, and soon he was ringing on our doorbell in the afternoons to play with N.

R met her neighbourhood bestie on the bus to day camp. I met this girl’s mom while waiting for the bus and we hit it off. The girls liked each other, we live just down the street from them, and that was really all it took for the girls to want to play together.

The story of E’s new friend is probably the one Social Dendrite really wants to hear. We didn’t meet her at camp or at school. I actually had met her mom ten years ago when she moved in. A few weeks back Mr. December and I were out for a walk and I saw her unloading her car. We walked up and I said, “I remember meeting you a long time ago and I just wanted to say hi. I’m Sara, by the way.” From there I asked about her children’s ages, and when she mentioned a five-year-old girl I said, “My youngest daughter is five. She’d love to have a friend on the street. We should introduce them.”

This neighbour responded enthusiastically and was soon telling me that since they don’t go to the neighbourhood school either, her kids don’t know anyone on the street. I promised to come by with E and introduce her later in the week, which we did. I exchanged phone numbers with the mom and texted her the next weekend with an invitation to come play in our backyard. As it turns out, we got along well and she’s easy to talk to. We share the same attitudes about being connected with our neighbours. The girls had a lot of fun and didn’t want to part. It was a promising beginning.

To read these stories you might think it all happened pretty easily. For the record, I’ve approached many of our neighbours over the years with disappointing results. There was the mom whose daughter was the same age as K but far more mature, and when we had playdates K was rather aggressive; I shied away from that friendship after a while. There was the family on the next block with a few boys, one around N’s age. After a couple of backyard visits it became apparent that the boys just weren’t really interested. Then there was the new family to whom we introduced ourselves while delivering a Purim basket. The mom opened the door just a crack and seemed hesitant to take the basket or to converse much. I assumed she was just not a neighbourly sort of person, and I respected that. We later met her very congenial husband and their son, who is just a bit younger than E, but the lack of warmth meant that we didn’t really pursue it.

And finally, there was Molly (not her real name.) I had introduced myself to Molly’s parents when they moved in about seven years ago. When I saw them out in the front yard last year, I re-introduced myself and asked the little girl how old she was.

“Four,” she replied.

“You know what? My daughter E is four, too. She’d love to play sometime if you’re around. Is that okay?” Molly and her mom agreed that it would be fine.

At every opportunity E begged me to go knock on Molly’s door and invite her to play. And we did — quite a few times. Somehow it was never a good time. Molly was too tired from school, she was napping, she was out with her dad — all very valid and real reasons why she couldn’t play. But after the fourth or fifth such encounter, I started to feel awkward. It was always us reaching out, never them. I was starting to wonder if maybe they were just not that into us. So after a while we stopped knocking. If they’re interested, well, they know where we live.

I guess the best advice I can offer is that you have to be unafraid of rejection. Or, if you are, and you live with your co-parent, get them to do it instead (that’s what I did.) And just in case you need them, here are some of my favourite opening lines:

“Hi, I don’t know you yet. I’m Sara.” The “yet” implies that getting acquainted is inevitable. No time like the present!

“Are you our new neighbours? I’m Sara. Ours is the big blue house.” It’s always a good idea to know who lives where, right?

“Your front garden is beautiful — my kids admire it every time we pass!” People love a compliment. Also, I’ve just signalled that I have kids. That’s usually enough for the other person to ask about my kids and tell me about theirs.

So there you have it — my guide to meeting the neighbourhood children. If you’re an introvert, find out what day camp the neighbours’ kids go to and sign yours up for the same one. If you’re okay introducing yourself, go do that. And don’t take rejection personally. Get out there, be friendly, and meet people. Your life will be richer for it, whether or not you find your child’s new best friend.

Independence · Kids · parenting

Day 128: The Dreaded Hair-Brushing

If you ask my mother, she’d probably say one thing that really drives her crazy about my parenting is that I don’t make my kids brush their hair. I can’t honestly say that I know the exact reason why, but I once quipped to my father, “The state of my children’s hair is not indicative of the whole of my parenting,” and he responded, “Actually, it is.” So maybe Mum’s reaction to it is along those lines… or maybe she just likes seeing her babies looking all sweet and clean.

I do, too, if I have my way, but it’s generally my parenting policy not to engage in power struggles on a daily basis (or ever, if I can help it, which I often can’t.) My rule for hair brushing is something along the lines of, “If you don’t want to brush your hair, then we need to cut it to a manageable length so it doesn’t get all matted. Your choice: brush the hair or cut it.”

(It’s important to note that I draw the line at matted hair. A few tangles, okay. But when my kid’s hair is starting to look like wannabe dreadlocks, that’s my limit.)

At various times K has decided to cut her hair rather than have to brush it every day. E’s hair is super long, but she’s okay with having it brushed. Even unbrushed, it takes a long time for E’s or K’s hair to mat. Poor R, on the other hand, has very fine hair that gets matted with the slightest friction — even a night’s sleep on her pillow will result in a mini-dreadlock right at the back of her head. She does brush her hair so it looks nice in the mirror, which means that the hair around her face is always smooth and shiny. I can’t say the same for the back of her head.

See that nascent dreadlock at the back? Neither did I.

Yesterday I failed to mention that while we were volunteering in the orchard, a cameraman showed up to get some footage for a CBC documentary about urban farming. It wasn’t until I saw the camera drone hovering over R that I realized she had some really, really matted hair. The look was beyond “personal bodily autonomy” and on its way to “Bob Marley” (which is a great look for Bob Marley. Not so much for R.)

So tonight I insisted that R take a bath so that we could detangle her dreads. Using my hands and half a litre of conditioner, I was able to untangle the locks — but it took me a good half hour to do it. Then I brushed it out and braided it. I’ve decided that’s the new rule: braid your hair before sleep, or cut it short. Daily untangling sessions are just not something I want to be spending my time on.

Now R’s hair is sleek, shiny, and in a beautiful French braid. She looks so sweet that way — I think I see what my Mum likes so much about well-groomed children.

I still won’t make them brush their hair, though. If the kids’ hair indicates anything about my parenting, it should be that I pick my battles very, very carefully.

education · Independence · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 124: Deschooling?

I’ve heard from a few sources that we should take the time to “deschool” our kids and ourselves before we begin homeschooling in earnest. We’ve read many articles and looked at the reasoning, and I have to say that I’m not sure I see it. Not for three of our kids, for sure.

In part, the concept of deschooling relies on the assumption that our kids (and we, but let’s focus on the kids for now) have been indoctrinated by the school system and will need time to “deprogram” and to understand that learning doesn’t have to happen in a classroom, with the learning schedule dictated by bells and a calendar. Fair enough. I would contend, however, that our kids were never really indoctrinated in the first place.

Take N, for example: at parent-teacher interviews we were told that he wouldn’t move on from one thing to the next until he was fully ready to do so. “He’s never rude about it,” his teacher said, “but when I say ‘hey N, it’s time to put away Math and take out Language Arts,’ he’ll say, ‘Okay’ and then keep on working on his math until he’s done.”

Mr. December thinks that the whole concept of deschooling relies on a straw man version of conventional school. To that I say, “Remember K and her jacket?”

One day last winter, the principal called me to say that she was having a problem with K not wearing her jacket down to the lunchroom; apparently the kids weren’t allowed to go back upstairs after eating lunch because there was nobody to supervise that process. The principal was at her wits’ end and wanted to know if I could help her deal with it. I was polite and supportive of the school, and since I’m in favour of natural consequences, I suggested that K should just go outside without her jacket. At the end of recess the principal saw K wearing her jacket, so it would appear that K sneaked upstairs and got her jacket before going out.

Part of me felt I should support the rules of the school and tell K off for doing what she did. The other (bigger) part of me agreed completely with K. Who wants to eat lunch while wearing a winter jacket indoors? And how ridiculous is it to tell a twelve-year-old that they are too irresponsible to retrieve their own jacket without an adult watching? Furthermore, I was impressed that instead of being confrontational and belligerent (as she so often is), K solved her problem quietly and without fanfare.

As for me, I definitely don’t think that learning needs to happen at school. I’m a fan of Mark Twain’s Grant Allen’s statement, “I never let my schooling interfere with my education.” I’m also not sure what most people retain from elementary school, besides the mechanics of writing (I would hope) and math.

If anybody here needs deschooling it’s Mr. December, who believes that everything should be measured and learning doesn’t count if you haven’t produced something from it. According to most homeschoolers, you need about a month of deschooling for every year your child was in school. So for Mr. December… hmm… elementary school plus middle and high schools… undergrad… masters degree… carry the one… it looks like he would need about 20 months of deschooling. And who has that kind of time?