Homeschool · Kids · Montessori

Day 420: Essay Writing and Personality

Despite the difference in their ages, we’ve taken to teaching the three older kids all together. They still do skills-based work (math exercises and so on) at their respective levels, and our expectations differ from kid to kid when we give them all the same assignment, but by and large they’re learning the same stuff. As N says (about everything,) why not?

I’m using a grade 7 book for our writing class. In the past few weeks we’ve covered allusions, metaphors, thesis statements, and transitional sentences. This week I introduced them to their newest assignment: a comparative essay.

I’m a big believer in what Montessori called “isolation of difficulty”: each material or lesson is designed to teach one thing. That’s it. The Suzuki Method does this as well, at least in the beginning books: each song introduces only one new skill. Likewise, I’ve taken to thinking carefully about what specific thing I want the kids to learn so that I know what I should be nitpicking about and what should be deferred to another lesson.

For this essay, I wanted them to focus on the skill of putting together an essay; writing an introduction and conclusion and stringing the paragraphs together so that there’s a smooth transition from one to the next. If that was to be the challenge, content had to be super simple to write. I decided to have them write an essay about Animal Farm and its similarities to the Russian revolution.

(Before you ask, I’ll tell you that yes, they have learned about the Russian revolution. I’ll also remind you that the point of this assignment was not to have them generate content.)

In the spirit of not having them focus on research or content generation, I found and printed a comparison chart between Animal Farm‘s main characters and the historical figures of the Russian revolution. I gave each kid a copy and told them to use those notes to write an essay (we’ve already covered how to write compare/contrast paragraphs.)

Naturally, there was a problem (of course there was): Two of the three kids didn’t want to write about this topic.

R asked if she could write a comparison of something else. She then eloquently laid out to me all the ways in which Gravity Falls (an animated TV show) was just like Land of Stories (a popular kids’ book series.) At this point I threw up my hands and said, “Sure, fine. I was trying to make this assignment easier by giving you the content, but you go ahead and do your idea instead. It sounds way more interesting.”

K wasn’t keen on the assigned topic, either. “Does it even have to be a comparison? Can’t it just be an essay based on a story? And doesn’t a TV show count as a story?” (She might have a point there—Shakespeare is literature even though what he wrote was intended to be watched, not read.)

This is where knowing the real purpose of the assignment comes in very handy. I could have tried to force K to write about Animal Farm, or I could have required her to write a comparative essay; but neither the content of Animal Farm nor writing a comparison was the purpose of the assignment. The whole point of the essay was to write an essay with an introduction, a clear thesis statement, and good transitions between paragraphs. The content was really beside the point—so I let K pick her own topic. Problem solved.

N was the only one who chose to write the essay as assigned. He has a tendency to do only what’s required and not an iota more, in schoolwork as well as at home. In his calculating way, he determined that using the notes I’d given him would allow him to get the job done with a minimum of fuss.

All three kids have worked diligently on their essays this week, and they have until next Friday to finish them. I’m still floored by the lack of resistance from K, the-kid-who-swore-she-couldn’t-write. I’m still astonished at R’s clarity and descriptive word choices, although I should be used to her writing ability by now. And N’s philosophy makes me chuckle and then shake my head in chagrin as I remember that I, too, used to calculate the absolute minimum grade I’d need on the exam to pass the course. It’s obvious he’s Mr. December’s mini-me in so many ways, but if I stop to consider it, he’s pretty obviously mine too.

education · family fun · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · love and marriage · Montessori · snarky · The COVID files · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 309: Snapshot of a Homeschool Day

8:05 a.m. – I wake up. One of the nicest things about homeschooling is that we can finally get the sleep our bodies need.

8:30 a.m. – Freshly showered and dressed, I go downstairs to make oatmeal and coffee. The kids are already up and dressed, and are just waiting for breakfast.

9:15 a.m. – We had decided on a late start this morning; normally this would happen at 9:00. We all meet in the attic for our family exercise time: three sun salutations, six pushups, six squats, eight sit-ups. Every day we increase one exercise by one repetition.

9:30 a.m. – Mr. December works on physics with the three older kids while I do some Montessori lessons with E.

10:00 a.m. – K has a coaching session now, so I get her set up in the library. R and N start working on their Kumon at the dining room table. It quickly becomes apparent that they’re not focusing well, though, so N is banished to his room, where he has a usable (read: clean!) desk. I return to my work with E.

10:30 a.m. – R is still working on the same five Kumon problems. Each time she starts a new one, I hear “Eema, I need help!” My standard response: “I can’t right this second. Why don’t you read the question so you can tell me which part you need help with?” A few seconds pass and she replies, “Never mind.” Internally, I lecture: “Child, this is Kumon math. The questions are all the same problem with different numbers!”

11:40 a.m. – Everyone is finished their math except R. “We’re moving on now,” I tell them, but R kicks up a fuss and begins to cry. “If I don’t finish my math, I can’t have any screen time!” she wails. We all sit there and wait for her to finish one measly stinking question. It takes ten minutes.

12:00 p.m. – The kids are settled around the table, eating lunch. I’m reading to them from The Secret Garden, our literature study for the month. I’m switching back and forth between voices and accents: Yorkshire and something a bit more standard, young female, middle aged male, grizzled old gardener. The kids hang on every word. And since their mouths are full of lunch, they don’t interrupt me every few minutes.

1:00 p.m. – “I’m cold!” I announce, and head into the library to start a fire. The kids do their literature copywork on the floor in front of the hearth. Pretty soon I realize that some of them don’t understand margins and indentation very well. A lesson ensues.

1:30 p.m. – We settle down in front of the fire with our sketchbooks and calligraphy markers; each kid’s project to celebrate the end of our studying Pirkei Avot (for now–we obviously didn’t do the whole book) is an illuminated manuscript of the child’s favourite quotation from those we’ve studied. I’ve been learning Hebrew calligraphy on my own, so now I teach the kids how to form the letters with calligraphy markers. I’m shocked (but pleased) that N is working on it with such excitement and interest, given that he’s been resistant to any kind of Jewish learning lately. Here he is, sprawled across the floor, practicing the letters of his chosen quotation.

2:30 p.m. – I suggest to N that maybe it’s time to wrap up the calligraphy for the day; his sisters were done (for the day) long ago.

2:45 p.m. – The four kids and I are snuggled on the couch watching Canada: A People’s History. N loses the privilege of snuggling under my super-soft faux fur throw because he keeps trying to wipe his nose with it. Not with my blanket, buddy.

3:05 p.m. – R and N are begging to be done for the day. I remind R that she has some copywork to finish, and suggest to N that he practice his piano. They do as I say. I look out the window, alert for any signs of flying pigs. There are none. Will wonders never cease?

3:30 p.m. – I go to the post office to pick up a package that I’ve been told is waiting for me… but it isn’t. E and K came along for the ride, so I take the opportunity to get their passport photos taken. If I wait until the COVID lockdowns end, it’ll be us and every other person in the country trying to apply at the same time.

4:30 p.m. – I whipped up some pizza dough half an hour ago, and now each kid gets to make their own pizza. E makes breadsticks, R a pizza and breadsticks, N a standard plain pizza, and K makes a “pizza” with chocolate sauce, strawberries, and mangoes. “You said we could top it with whatever we want!” Note to self: be a bit more specific next time.

5:00 p.m. – Dinnertime. Mr. December and I eat leftover eggplant lasagna while the kids chow down on their pizzas. As soon as I’m done, they beg me to read them a story from Percy Jackson’s Greek Heroes. They munch and listen to the story of Psyche. They don’t even know they’re learning!

5:45 p.m. – We squeeze onto the couch to watch the second half of The Story of the Jews, chapter 2. I learned something: the hoods worn by the Ku Klux Klan were copied from Holy Week processions in Spain, which got the idea from the Spanish Inquisition. Seriously, these penitentes in Seville look like the black chess pieces to the KKK’s white. There have been weirder chess sets than that, I’m sure.

6:15 p.m. – Mr. December and I retreat to the library to chat in relative quiet. I end up playing guitar and singing, and later move to the piano to perform the first love song I ever wrote (to Mr. D., of course.) We also take some time to read all the little notes in our new suggestion/complaint box, but that’s a goldmine of material, so I’ll save it for another post.

7:15 p.m. – I realize the reason the kids are so quiet is that they’re watching Netflix on my phone.

7:40 p.m. – “If you don’t choose and eat a bedtime snack now, you won’t get one tonight.” I am so done with the 8:30 p.m. cry of “but I didn’t eat anything yet!” as if we don’t do this every evening.

8:00 p.m. – After she changes and brushes her teeth, E asks me to read to her from What is our Solar System? When I finish the chapter she begs for another. I guess her professed book-hatred has taken a backseat to curiosity.

8:30 p.m. – E is down for the night. Mr. December is reading to the three older kids—they’re at the end of On a Pale Horse and want just a bit more time, even though it’s now bedtime. I shrug and sit down to finish this post. If they’re not ready for bed in twenty minutes, I’ll be the one getting tucked in and demanding extra hugs.

DIY · education · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Montessori · parenting

Day 281: Appy Days

I’m a firm believer in the Montessori method and its underlying philosophy. I vastly prefer my kids to do their learning with materials that they can pick up and manipulate, rather than on a tablet or computer. I really do believe that the motor planning, fine motor skills, and sensory feedback kids get from wooden tiles, or puzzles with pieces in the shapes of the continent, are important input. And yet…

I’ve been trying to engage E in learning to write her letters for months now. I had one success; then E went back to refusing to do anything resembling schoolwork. I have tried writing the letters in kinetic sand, shaping the letters with play dough, writing letters on the windows and mirrors for each other to find, having her trace in pencil the letters that I’ve written in highlighter. So far, nothing has been successful for more than a minute or two.

In a Montessori classroom E would have observed the writing lessons being presented to other children; she would be familiar with the materials and might eventually be curious about them. I don’t have a classroom of children around her age. Clearly, a lot of the motivating elements of Montessori are absent if you’re not in a Montessori classroom.

Meanwhile, R has asked me to find her a cursive writing workbook so she can learn it too. I started Googling, and very quickly came upon lists of cursive writing apps. A year ago I might have scoffed at the idea and extolled the benefits of learning to write with pencil and paper. Today I took a look at the app, made sure it was ad-free and had features I liked, and I hit “Buy.”

I got out our convertible tablet/laptop and told E that I got a new app just for her. That was enough to fuel her excitement. I then realized that the kids lost the stylus that came with the device (of course.) Not to be deterred, I made a DIY stylus out of a Q-tip, an empty pen barrel, and some tinfoil (and yes, it works!)

I introduced E to the app. She was instantly enchanted by the animation that follows each writing attempt. She worked diligently with the stylus and tablet for at least twenty minutes. She told me excitedly that it even lets her practice writing her numbers.

When I first imagined homeschooling E, I pictured peaceful mornings of working with the wooden movable alphabet and then writing the words down on paper. Having her work on a tablet for half the morning would have been on my list of things not to do. But in some ways homeschooling is just like every other aspect of parenting. You go in with ideals and principles, and after a few months or years you’ve accepted that you have to do whatever works, even if it doesn’t look the way you wanted it to.

education · family fun · Homeschool · Montessori

Day 260: It’s a December miracle!

We got through an entire school day with no whining and no resistance. How, you ask?

Enchantment. It’s not my concept—we read about it in The Brave Learner—but essentially the idea is to inject some combination of surprise, mystery, risk, or adventure into homeschooling. So today, instead of just insisting that the kids write their assignments, I had them attend a writers’ meeting, complete with steaming mugs of coffee hot chocolate, which seemed to me like a prerequisite for a table full of writers trying to meet a deadline.

Their writing assignment for the month is to create a magazine of sorts, a guide to local businesses to support during the pandemic. They each have to research and write blurbs about five local businesses, select images to go with the copy, and do the graphic design to create one publication.

At our meeting, the kids took turns reading us their draft blurbs and sharing suggestions or ideas for each other’s write-ups. I acted as secretary, taking notes on yellow post-its. By the end of the meeting each child had a plethora of sticky note suggestions attached to each blurb; they left the “writing room” and went back to the computers, where they wrote for another forty-five minutes straight.

I don’t know if it was the hot chocolate with marshmallows or the idea of a “writers’ meeting” that enchanted them, but the kids all participated in writing today. I haven’t looked at their updated work yet, but I’m hoping to see some good things there.

Tired of bribing the kids with sweets, I took a different approach with geography. We began our study of Nova Scotia with a review of landforms à la Montessori: everyone got a tray of kinetic sand and we each made our own example of each landform. In this picture, R and N are both making archipelagos (which weren’t in the curriculum, but are definitely my favourite landforms, just slightly ahead of isthmuses.) The kids kept creating more examples of landforms we’d already done just so they could extend their time playing with kinetic sand.

We moved on to science, which was linked to geography in that we learned about lighthouses, prisms and the Fresnel lens. We headed up to the attic to do an experiment: first with a flashlight and then with a candle, we measured how much farther away you could see the same diameter of light beam with a Fresnel lens than without.

Word to the wise: if you’re trying to show the impact of adding Fresnel lenses to lighthouses, definitely use a candle. Most flashlights already have a lens of some kind, so the effect is less pronounced.

We came back downstairs and the kids finished writing up the experiment in their science notebooks. With that, the school day was over (except for some sort of read-aloud that I’ll do with them this evening.) Miraculously, nobody cried, screamed, tantrumed, stormed off, ripped up work, threw binders, or even yelled at their siblings. It was oddly peaceful and cooperative.

So next time I complain about a homeschool day gone completely sideways, please remind me that days like this happen too.

crafty · education · family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Montessori

Day 257: All Astonishment

I’ve changed my approach to scheduling our week: instead of doing a little bit of everything each day, I’m doing lessons in large blocks of time. Today’s major block was literature and language arts. Our start was delayed by Mr. December’s very drawn-out physics lesson (but really, how can I complain about that?) so we didn’t really get started until after lunch.

Instead of K going off on her own to do her work on a computer, I kept her in the living room with the rest of us and insisted that she handwrite her work today. She did a pretty good job, and I heard not a single complaint about people talking (one of her pet peeves, and often a precursor to a meltdown.) While R and N worked on their passage I invited E to fill in the blanks in the first sentence; after some mild resistance she checked the spelling on the page and then gave me the appropriate movable alphabet letters to add the missing words. In the end it looked like this:

The opening line of The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich.

We all reconvened to discuss the linguistic and literary element of the book’s introduction. The kids found the non-English words in the first paragraph and were highly amused to hear James D. Nicoll’s assertion that “English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose vocabulary.” They pulled out all the adjectives, and then had to brainstorm adjectives for each letter of the alphabet (I gave them “xenophobic” for X and they came up with the rest.)

Through all of this, E played with her Lego and listened with one ear; K alternately participated in N and R’s lesson and worked on her own literature passage. Nobody screamed. Everyone was fine. It was so refreshing.

After a short break, I brought out our Hannuka Chanukah חנוכה box and asked them to tell me what they know about the story of the holiday. K volunteered a fairly complete, if simplified, version. I asked them what they knew about what was happening in the world at the time: they responded with blank stares. So I read them a chapter about the historical context of Chanukah, pausing to reword or explain as needed. By the end they were, as Jane Austen might have said, all astonishment.

“How come they never taught us that stuff in school?” K demanded indignantly. “That’s way more interesting than the usual story!”

Wide eyed, R asked, “You mean there were Jews who wanted the Jewish laws abolished too? That’s crazy! I thought the Maccabees were only fighting the Syrian Greeks!”

N had many things to say on the subject, but (as so often happens) he rambled so much that I lost his point.

To end the lesson I asked the kids to help me put Chanuka on our history timeline. E decorated it with a shiny Menorah sticker and I wrote the caption—although I probably should have had the kids do it. Sometimes I get a bit too excited about this stuff and just do it myself.

After that the kids ransacked the Hannukah box for decorations and went to put up all the window clings they could find. Of course, there are never enough decorations, so we wound up in the Makery creating more. I put on our favourite album of Chanuka music and everyone did their own thing. I made a dreidel garland, K and N made window clings out of hot glue, and R folded teeny-tiny origami dreidels. E worked in mixed media and finished this sign:

That was the end of our school day, although I did read them another chapter and a half of The Birchbark House for literature. I went back to the Makery after dinner and started painting my drawing from last week’s art class (I’ll show you when it’s done.)

It was a good day, a full day, and a lot of learning happened. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow, when I’ll introduce them to this month’s writing project and teach them about Michelangelo before we attempt to paint on plaster.

crafty · DIY · education · Homeschool · Independence · Montessori · parenting

Day 244: Obvious

Even experienced parents sometimes forget the basics.

Last Thursday I had a meeting with E’s Montessori teachers. “It’s really hard to get her to do anything,” I griped. “I find myself threatening loss of screen time, but I know that’s not the Montessori approach.”

The teacher nodded sagely and suggested a visual schedule so that E could choose the order of activities and keep track of them herself. You know, kind of like the magnet boards I made the other kids.

You might have heard me slap my head and groan. Of course. This is, like, parenting 101. How did I forget?

So this morning I made her some schedule cards based on the assignments her teachers suggested for the week. I don’t have an extra magnet board, so I put elastics through a hole in the top of each card and wrapped them, luggage-tag-style, around the bannister railing on the main floor.

Did it work?

Sort of. She did the first three things eagerly enough, even snack prep. I found that amazing, given that she’s always been able to make her own snack, but almost never did it before the schedule board told her to. It’s almost like magic!

She very happily brushed glue along the lines of cursive letters and then sprinkled them with sand, making her own sandpaper letters. She dove into the stencilling work I’d prepared for her, holding her pencil and the stencil carefully. And she made her own strawberries and toast with cream cheese for snack, all by herself.

To think, she could have been doing far more these past five weeks if only I’d remembered the power of this kind of list. D’oh. At least I finally got my act together.

education · family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Kids · Montessori

Day 232: Fun and Games

Look, I know I’m supposed to be in high dudgeon about climate change. I get it. But on days like today—a sunny, nineteen-degree November day—I find it hard to lament the unseasonably warm temperatures.

This morning Mr. December and I were talking to a friend about how homeschooled kids never get snow days and get far fewer sick days. “But you know,” I mused aloud, “It would make a lot of sense to give them ‘warm weather days’ when the weather is too nice to be stuck doing book work.”

We still made the kids do their school work, of course. But R chose to do her math work outside, and then we did our literature, language arts, and Pirkei Avot work on the back porch. We didn’t even need to use the infrared heater that’s been a fixture on the porch since sukkot ended.

This afternoon we went to the park for a weekly homeschool meetup. I love this group. The kids range in age from preschoolers to teens, and everyone plays with someone. I don’t know if it’s because they’re all homeschooled, but these kids are very good at taking the initiative to organize and invent games. Today was particularly idyllic: R climbed a large tree with two friends (at a distance from each other, of course,) K and some other tweens organized a huge game of hide-and-seek, and the parents all sat in an enormous circle on the grass, each of us on our own picnic blanket six feet away from the neighbouring blankets.

I don’t know if I can explain how full my heart feels when I see my children playing like this. I’ll just put these pictures here and hope that you can feel some of the energy from this afternoon.

This evening I tried to engage E in some reading and writing. I pulled out our newly-acquired movable alphabet and started playing with it. E was too busy swinging in the hammock to place any of the letters, but she did an excellent job of telling me which ones I needed to place.

Afterwards, I tried to get her to practice tracing the cursive letter “e” with me. She refused in no uncertain terms, so I ratcheted up the fun by turning it into a competition.

“Tell you what,” I said, “Here’s an orange dry-erase marker. You’re going to write a cursive “e” on any windows you like. Everytime I find one, I get a point. But if you see one of my blue “e”s, you get a point. Let’s see who has the most points by lunchtime tomorrow.”

Well, that got her fired up. At first E started to cry because she didn’t know how to write the letter. Then she pulled it together, grabbed an “e” from the movable alphabet, and asked me to hold it up for her so she could copy it. She drew the first one in the wrong direction. The second was messy. E got upset. But she couldn’t just let me win this contest, so she tried again. And again. By the fourth time, E’s “e” was pretty good. I’m not really allowed to say that, though, because I wasn’t supposed to be looking.

I’ve already hidden two of my “e”s on the front door and the mirrored library door. I can’t wait to watch E beat me at this game. One letter down, twenty-six to go.

And since I’m in such a good mood right now, I’ll leave you with my favourite silly joke. I set up the question and E did the answer.

What is brown and sticky? A stick!
education · Homeschool · Just the two of us · Keepin' it real · Montessori

Day 220: Oh, come on!

That’s E’s favourite phrase when things don’t go her way. I’m pretty sure she got it from me.

E is doing online learning with her Montessori school. As part of the online program, I have a short meeting with the teachers once a week. The only problem is: I’ve never attended. Not once. I keep forgetting because the meeting time is in the afternoon, by which point I’m usually eyeballs-deep in something with the kids. It’s been hard to remember.

Last time I missed the meeting I wrote a profuse apology to the teachers and assured them I’d be setting a reminder on my phone so that I wouldn’t stand them up again. They thanked me, then asked if we could switch this week’s meeting to Friday. Sure, I said, and diligently set an alarm on my phone.

Today is Friday (for the next two hours, anyway.) Mr. December and I covered a lot of ground during our P.D. day today. We made some decisions about summer camp, Hallowe’en, and screen time limits; we worked independently on school assignments for the next two weeks; I rejigged some of the magnetic schedule boards; and we made a list of all the things that need to be done around the house.

I’m sure that when normal people make that kind of list, they sit on the couch or at a table and think of things, then write them down. Not Mr. December. We did a walk-through of the whole house, bottom to top, checking each room to see what might need to be done. It was a bit anxiety-provoking for me—five pages of “to-do”s, most of them in my wheelhouse. And somehow the list never gets shorter. Maybe the items get smaller (fix N’s curtain instead of window coverings for all bedrooms) but the list always seems the same length, if not longer. As E would say, “Oh, come on!”

It was sunny and unseasonably warm today, so we decided to take a walk to clear our heads. Wanting to be fully present with Mr. December, I opted to leave my phone at home. We wouldn’t be gone that long, and I’m just not important enough that I have to be reachable at all times. So when my phone chimed to remind me of today’s 4:05 meeting with E’s teachers, I was a kilometre away from it. I didn’t check it immediately on returning home, either, so it wasn’t until 4:35 that I logged into my computer and noticed the meeting on my calendar. I had stood E’s teachers up. Again.

I can’t just apologize profusely and reassure them that I’ll really be there next week, can I? That was fine the first three times, but at this point I’m not sure why they’d believe me. I don’t even know if I believe me. I mean, sure, the intention is there, but even with a reminder on my phone I managed to miss the meeting. It’s like the universe is conspiring against me. Should I give up and just communicate with them by email?

Of course not. I’ll set up three alarms next time so that I’m reminded every hour for three hours leading up to the meeting. I’ll send the teachers a confirmation email that morning. I’ll write a reminder on a post-it and stick it to my monitor. I’ll tell Mr. December and the kids about it so that they can remind me too. And if, by some perverse chance, I manage to miss another meeting, then I’ll be justified in throwing my hands up in the air and yelling, “Oh, come on!” …and probably a few choice words after that.

Let’s just hope that E doesn’t adopt any of those phrases. That could be… awkward.

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.