Friday, 29 June 2012

And we're off!

Most of the mess has been put away (thanks kidlets!).  Most of the angst and self-doubt has been written about.  We've now swept that behind us and are on our way!

Our morning started with my son making breakfast for us - chocolate chip pancakes!  It moved on to playhouse building, with the children measuring, cutting, hammering, and getting tuckered out in the sweltering sun.  So, we enjoyed a change of scenery with a trip to the (air-conditioned) library.  My daughter got her own library card, we picked out some good books, and headed for home.  Some reading, skipping through the sprinkler, and hammering later, we've got the floor and one wall built in the first day of our first project! 

Our playhouse project is peppered with opportunities for our children to apply their math skills, and also develop skills that use their hands.  Much of the hands-on work seems more up my son's alley, likely because he finds the work less difficult than his sister does.  But that will change, I'm sure.  Once the playhouse is built, the children will use their creativity in painting the exterior.  They've also talked about making different kinds of signs to hang up, and talked about different ways to make them easily adjustable, depending on their mood or the game they're playing.  We're excited that they will have a handy place to play when their baby sister is having her afternoon nap.  There's already talk of reading in the shade of the playhouse's porch.

I'm looking forward to the rest of the playhouse taking shape over the days to come!  Stay tuned!

Thursday, 28 June 2012


"Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."  Albert Einstein

I've been conditioned to be a perfectionist.  Mistakes get me down.  Batting less than 1000 gets me down.  When things don't work out the way I planned, I take it personally.  I get disappointed, frustrated, down-in-the-dumps, quiet.  And, I wonder whether I shrink the game by avoiding risks in the first place, just so that my ego can be satisfied that what little I did decide to do went according to plan.  I wonder if so far I've gotten as much out of life as I could have.

One of the projects we're setting out to do is gardening.  This, of course, started before the school year ended.  While our children read up on how to care for the plants they selected and helped to plant them, I've been doing most of the watering, weeding, and checking-in on the plants.  We have a garden at home and at a community garden plot, as we are working towards greater self-sufficiency.  There's a lot to take care of.  And it's been an adventure this early in the year.  We struggled to grow our own transplants.  The community garden was quickly overtaken by weeds.  June was a really cool month, so the plants didn't germinate well.  And all this took it's toll on my enthusiasm for the garden.  While I'm determined to make something grow, I've taken the setbacks too personally.  Of course I should know that I can't control the weather.  And the things I could control and didn't work out were perfect learning experiences.  We do things a little differently next year and see what happens.  Hands on learning at its finest.

What my children could quickly catch onto though, is my reaction to failures. So I know I need to change my attitude towards my mistakes in a hurry. Part of the reason that we are homeschooling is so that our children can get away from the pressure to give the right answer in reading and math, the two subjects where they spend a lot of their time while in school.  We want to provide a safe environment for them to experiment... take chances...explore, without the fear of "being wrong".  I want them to experience all of life and be willing to take chances, backed by the knowledge that they are resilient and they will bounce back.  Knowing that a mistake is very rarely the end of the world.  Quickly moving from mistake to being willing to try something different next time.

It will take some time for me to think of mistakes in a more positive light.  I'll lean on my husband for support.  I'll need to write to get through the disappointments quicker.  I'll leave myself positive reminders throughout the house to remind me that mistakes are life's gift and what experience is built on.  I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

The Last Day

Just a couple of pictures to share what our place looked like on The Last Day.  The flag banner is a project from Maya Donenfeld's Reinvention.  My daughter and I worked together to make the banner - her with the paint and me with the sewing machine.  It uses up some scrap Tyvek house wrap that would otherwise be destined for the landfill.  It's such an easy, quick project to whip up.  I could even finish the sewing before my toddler could get into too much stuff I would dearly like her to stay out of.

The children brought home lots of stuff on The Last Day.  So, there will be a lot of sifting through said stuff for the next couple of days as we figure out what will stay, what will be recycled, and what will be shared with the family and others.  I hope we are able to keep the peace as the collectors and the minimalists work together to find a happy balance.

Other notables for The Last Day include my daughter and I taking in a dance performance by our local youth contemporary dance company, Prairie Dance Seeds.  Meanwhile, my husband and son collected some materials from my dad for our first "homeschooling" project.  You'll see pictures soon.

My thoughts today drift to rest...both literally and figuratively.  Literally, because there have been a couple sleepless nights this week and some sleepyheads in the morning.  That, combined with late nights as my husband and I try to carve out time for our own projects, makes for a pretty sleepy Mama and Papa.  We aren't at our brightest, we aren't as resilient, we aren't as patient, and we have more trouble finding the humour in situations.  July will be the month we start to go to bed at a reasonable hour.  July will be the month we start to take time during the day for our adult projects.  July will be the month we question what work needs to be done and we'll all work together to get the necessities done.  Yes, we will be more rested in July.

We need rest figuratively too, because I think it will be good for all of us if there is a pause between this ending and the beginning of our homeschooling adventure.  I think this year has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster for one of my little ones, and a pause to know this house is a safe haven will do a world of good.  And while I really want to get going establishing new routines, it could be just the thing that will turn our children off of homeschooling and me.  Besides, it is summer vacation.  So, we'll take it slow.  We'll do summer projects that we've picked as a family and that we are all enthusiastic about.  Activities that the children would not likely experience at school.  I will be mindful that we are in a marathon and not a 100m dash.  Slow and steady will be our mantra for July.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Letting go...

I've been warned about this.  An experienced home-schooling mama put it this way:  "When it's done, let it be done."  She was talking about unit studies, and saying that if the children have lost interest, to let it go and move on to the next unit, regardless of how many other exciting, engaging, and wonderfully educational projects you had up your sleeve.

In my head, I know she's right.  The last thing I want to do is take a topic my children adore, and turn it into the topic they never, ever want to hear mentioned again.  But then self-doubt creeps in.   

Will I know when my children are just having an "off" day, or need a break from the topic before they go in for another deep dive?  Will I be able to fight off the occasional panic attack when it feels like, or someone brings to my attention, that my children aren't learning anything?  Will I know when my children need a loving push so they can experience an explosion of learning or a new level of talent they didn't know they had, and will I know when they need me to back off?  Will I be able to be mindful during these times that their learning experiences must be enjoyable to them?  Will I be able to peel back the layers to see when it is my ego wanting to feel brilliant and creative and it's really not about my children at all?

It makes me wonder if the eclectic approach we're going to take will work for me or them.  Our intent is to take the parts of all the different approaches that feel the best fit to our values and vision of homeschooling.  Various aspects of unschooling, unit studies, Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, and other approaches appeal to me.  I like the idea of children taking the lead in what they choose to learn and how they learn it.  I like the idea of grouping subjects together instead of teaching them individually, because little in our world stands alone on its own.  I like the idea of caring for the whole child...head, hands and heart.  I like the idea of instilling a sense of discipline and responsibility in my children, as well as exposing them to beautiful and intellectually stimulating writing and art.  The flip side is that we're flying without a compass, which I know will be unsettling at times.

Lots of questions.  I'm not sure I have the answers right now.  And I need to be mindful that I don't need all the answers right now.  I just need to strive to live in the present moment, detach any emotion from the equation, and see each situation as it arises for what it really is.  Dig deeply to patient.  Hard, but do-able.  I'm not there...I am a work in progress.

A quick little "aha" moment...maybe my children will get their richest learning experience from watching me learn to live in the moment. I've really got something on the line.

Monday, 25 June 2012

About labels...

This week's posts will be gentle reminders to me.  About the behaviours I would like to adopt as we set out on this new journey of ours.  My weak spots that need to be out in the open and visible to all, so I can be mindful of the things I would like to change about myself.  I think our home life, and my spirit, will be happier because of it.

I was recently watching Sir Ken Robinson's Bring on the Learning Revolution talk.  In it, he mentioned a schoolgirl who was on the path of being labelled with a learning disability because she couldn't sit still.  Fortunately, the doctor the school asked her to visit saw her for what she was...a kinesthetic learner, and a girl who loved to dance.  Her mother put her in dance class and she went on to choreograph Cats.  Funny how the world could have been different if she had run into a different doctor, or if ADHD had been known at that time.

We too have put labels on our children.  Not in a vindictive sort of way.  It was just our innocent way of describing them and their behaviour to others.  Our son is the "one-and-done" type, where he only needs to see something once and he's got it.  My daughter is the compassionate social butterfly, who will chat with anyone and anything, and be the first to ask someone if everything is alright when they look down.  And it wasn't too long ago that I realized that these labels we placed on our children, as harmless as they seemed at the time, limited their potential.  Or perhaps the potential I saw in them.

It was after watching Sir Ken Robinson's talk and after my daughter's dance recital that I took some time to reflect about my children's personality types.  And it struck me that when I put a label on one child, it meant in my mind that one of the others didn't have that particular talent.  And that simply isn't true.  For while my son could remember something factual, like that 4 quarters makes a dollar, quite easily, my daughter also showed me that she could remember her group's entire dance, starting from any point in it.  It just depends on the topic, and whether it is something that interests her.  Right now, she doesn't really care about money or quarters or dollars.  But she does love to perform, and she wants her dance to be good, and she easily picks up all the moves.

So, going forward, I will be wary of placing labels on my children that will place them in a smaller box than they are destined to be in.  They are wonderful children.  They deserve to be seen simply as that. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Grade 1 math...our style

I was privileged to enjoy my daughter's company as we sat in the stands for our favorite CFL football team's preseason game tonight.  All was exciting and fun for the first quarter, and then my 6 year old lost interest.  To bring her back every now and again, we did math.  This is right up her alley.  She's the one who wanted to do math worksheets when we were on summer vacation last year.  She likes doing math problems when we do dishes together.  It keeps her happy and somewhat engaged, so we do it.

First, we practiced number recognition.  I'd ask her the number of the player who caught the ball, kicked a field goal, made a tackle, or was on the big screen for posterity's sake.  Soon, she was volunteering this information on her own.

As the game went on, we'd do some adding when points were scored.  We tried to finish our adding before the announcer volunteered the score for us.  And, if he beat us, then we'd do some subtraction by figuring out how many points we were up or down.

And the game was great too.  Here's to a great season - go Riders!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Our homeschooling vision

I come from a business background, where there was much work done to build vision and mission statements, goals and objectives, balanced scorecards, all of which was neatly packaged in a strategic plan.  It felt like play when I was involved in a meaningful way in developing these things.  I loved the utopian nature of such seemed the best way to build them was to kick back and simply daydream of what the future could look like.

So, I'd like to officially share, in writing, my vision of our homeschooling family.  Yes, it is only my vision and not my husband's, as writing a vision statement is just too fluffy for practical, feet-on-the-ground, live-in-the-present-moment him.  It may give experienced homeschoolers a laugh at my naivity, and it will likely give us a laugh too in a few years.  Nevertheless, I think it will be nice to look at where we wanted to get to, and how we wanted to get there, and see if we stayed true to the path or took a bit of a detour.  And, I'll never remember my utopian vision of homeschooling in a couple of years unless it's written down.  So, let's see...

  ~ I want my children to experience a balanced education, where their heads, hands, and hearts are called upon daily.
  ~ I want my children to take ownership of their education.
  ~ I want my children to be confident that they can tackle any problem because they know how to learn and be creative.
  ~ I want my children to love learning.
  ~ I want my children to believe they have a significant role to play in the world.
  ~ I want my children to know how to take care of themselves and their families.
  ~ I want my children to be risk-takers, who are not afraid to make mistakes, who are confident that these mistakes will lead to enhanced understanding of how the world works.

Now the challenge is to boil my wishes down to a single vision statement.  This wordsmithing takes an agonizing amount of time to come up with the final product - time I don't have by the way - so we'll just call it a draft statement and drive on:
Our homeschool will provide a haven for our children to safely and enjoyably explore the vast world around them in the way that suits them best, thereby giving them the freedom to grow their talents, be confident in themselves, and leave a positive legacy for those who follow them.
Does it sound daunting?  A bit.  Does it sound worth it?  Absolutely.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The countdown begins

While others are counting down the days until school is over for another year, I'm kind of doing the opposite...counting down the days until our homeschooling journey begins.  In one week, two of our children will have their last day of public schooling, at least for the immediate future.  I think our oldest is ready, and I wonder if the reality of what homeschooling will or could look like has sunk in for the other one.

After a year of toying with the idea, we finally decided to take the plunge to homeschool our children.  We made up our minds in January and started to ready our children.  Why?  We saw the opportunities for creativity, imagination, and experiential learning dwindle.  We saw fewer opportunities for our children to learn in and from nature.  We saw less opportunity for supported risk-taking and more focus on getting the right answer on a test.

Since then, we've taken time to prepare our children for the next chapter in their education.  We've talked about what they are interested in.  We've talked about what our family wants out of the experience and why we think homeschooling is a good option for us.  We've talked about worries and fears.  We've done a lot of talking and now we're ready to get down to it.  We're so ready to get down to it.

Slowly, very slowly, we started telling family and then friends.  Feedback has been mixed.  The first question fired our way was, "When are they going to go back to school?"  We have been labelled brave, patient, crazy, and I'm sure other things that weren't meant for our ears to hear.  Others are curious and supportive.  We feel blessed to run into folks in this last category!

And really, most moments I'm not too concerned about the future.  I believe firmly that our children...all of us, actually...will learn here.  Our children will learn different topics and differently than they would if they were in school.  But they will learn nonetheless.  They have that innate ability built into them I'm sure.  Of course, there is the odd moment where I wonder if we will be able to stand one another.  This is usually when the house in noisy, there is a crying toddler and fighting siblings, and I'm trying to get supper on the table.  There are others when I wonder if my sociable little one will get enough chances to chat with people who are not in her immediate family and if this will drain her.  And I wonder if the grandoise plans and projects we've thought up will be entered into emphatically to begin with, only to fizzle shortly thereafter, and how I will handle not finishing them.  But I do not worry one bit about whether they will be learning calculus or quadratic equations...because they just don't need to know that now.  They'll get there when they get there.

So, this blog will share our highlights, low-lights, and insights from our adventure into homeschooling.  Enjoy, and please share your experiences too, wherever you are on your journey.  Peace.