Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: homeschooling

Two Boys and Their Smiles. Seasons and School

FaceThe summer came to an end a few days ago. Or so it seems. It is cold in early morning, and cold at night. It feels like late October mornings when dollops of hot breath snake out of your mouth and you feel the tip of your nose becoming a separate, cold entity.

Calendula orange suns are the only flowers that still ornate our lost little garden, the one that became so small and dry it required daily water support. Except that we were not here every day and thus the story of what could have been ended a while go with some sorry half-ripened tomatoes and leggy minuscule cucumbers that tried to embrace some oh-so-dry beans with their last drop of climbing energy.

Summer endBut I will not dwell too much on that. The summer had its fruit in days of hot and silly times, it had swimming and traveling and waking up so late the sun was almost scolding us. It had starry nights and lying in the dry grass in the back yard waiting for a meteor shower that we barely saw but relished the experience so much that we thought it was a successful adventure. Are they not all like that though?

Yes they are. Boys grow and as they do, they make it so. We dance as they sing and no one knows which song comes next. Life happens. It did so all summer and now fall comes back like a stray dog we left behind last year. Hello September, here already? Of course you are.

But this year… Stop. We talk about school but our words have wings. The boys and their smiles are complete. We have stacks of books awaiting, we have stories to tell and write and we have a world to discover. And then another. Time will not stand still. Be it so, we make it sing with us.

Boys smile and snuggle in early morning, hikes to follow just before we start the day of school which this year we will call homeschool.

as far as...With gentle ties to online schools that will assist our flight, plus a forest adventure every week for little boy. Thus shall be our dance and time will have its say complementing our words rather than have us chase for better ones. Time is never enough, not with growing kids and life tumbles. Slow slow, so you can hear leaves whooshing in the wind and blades of grass grow…

 

them twoTime with boys, growing boys that still have plenty of smiles and their growing trust. That we can have our school here, that we learn together and travel to places unknown. Day after day, this month and the next and all that will follow until the nest becomes too small for their wings, the boys will snuggle, ask for more, ask for less, laugh, scream loud enough for half the world to hear, hug and say ‘I’m sorry, never again’, and then it will happen again, because we never learn all there is to learn, but keep on trying… and I will see it all, I will see their footsteps tracing paths I never knew existed. It is so. Magic.

To flySchool, ours, with two boys and their smiles. To fly, infinitive. To make wings out of love and have them spread all the way over the horizon. ‘Tis so.

Are We Afraid Of Learning For The Love Of It? We Shouldn’t Be

It is almost 10.30 pm, way past bedtime and the big boy has finally been peeled off his book and is now sleeping. Unless his mind races for a while, ruminating the stuff he’s been reading about… Ancient Greek history, today’s reading, complementing part of our history class today. Perhaps calling it ‘class’ is a tad forced now that it’s the two of us.

A month into it, we still love it, the learning together. Not a tinge of discomfort. I love the enthusiasm and wide eyes, he loves the multitude of things he learns every day and the challenges I carefully prepare for our daily journey.

There is no resentment over too much work. I do not do it on purpose, you see, I am not piling topics up just for the sake of it. I take cues. What can complement this and why add one more subject to the roster… which one? If there are questions about certain things during our dinner conversations, I make a mental note: to be added somehow to the learning.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing. A treasure and a privilege to acquire as we go. There is a lot to be acquired, a lot of dots to connects, a lot of connections to be made between bits that have been collected over the years… ‘Mom, did you know that so many words came from the Greeks?’ The meaning of this word and the next, once you know where they come from you know what they reveal, you can understand, not just memorize.

You can ask why and you learn to delight in finding the answers. It will not be easy all the time, but that’s where the beauty and the challenge lies. In carrying on for the love of it.

That is the gift I intend for my sons.

Yet once I step out of the home learning bubble, the world turns a few degrees colder at times, with what has now become the most often asked question about our homeschooling adventure.

‘Do you follow the school curriculum?’

When I say I do not, eyes grow big and uneasiness settles in like a dark cloud.

I tell of the wonder of learning based on what interests him, I tell of my wonder of seeing it all. I could tell of the slight apprehension that all worthy adventures have attached to them, whether you’re the guide or the guided (and these roles switch constantly, as I have come to know during my earlier teaching experiences), the humble nature of the guiding process itself when you immerse yourself in it fully, the expanse of all that learning-to-be. There is much to tell but many people stop at the school curriculum.

Guiding ourselves based on a curriculum can only take us so far and our children not so far, I believe. If they start losing interest because, as you and I know, a curriculum is a ‘one size fits all’ when learning is everything but, then what? Can we revive it every time and are we aware of it flopping?

There is nothing wrong with guidelines, and there is nothing wrong with curricula if they work for some children.  We have to be honest though, and apply critical thinking: do they truly work? I believe in seeing the spark in a child’s eye, curiosity satisfied and primed for more at the same time; I’d hold onto that for guidance, rather than hold onto a curriculum that might give me the feeling of a job done, when what I should be after is a job well done. Not just by my standards, mind you, but by of the ones who learn.

I am but a guide, grateful and humble and awed, all at once, by the steps children take to learn, by their joy of prying open the world with their minds… I am not sure if curriculum has any recommendations on that….

Thoughts?

An Adventure Begins

BoysIt was not entirely my idea but a combined effort. In all fairness, the topic of homeschooling had been on the agenda, on and off, since those first day of Tony’s kindergarten when he asked if we could. I was hesitant, possibly because it was still a new and exotic concept with more questions than answers. To me anyway.

His very kind kindergarten teacher softened his first schooling experience and our determination to homeschool to the point where we said ‘we shall see’ and that’s how that year passed. It was a good year, especially because kindergarten back then was only four hours a day and that seemed manageable.

Then grade 1 started and that was six hours a day. Big boy was six, little boy was two. Every day we would walk to school, the three of us, rolling down the hill and counting houses and trees. Come lunch time, I was back at school with little boy in tow, ready to have lunch-in-three on the steps of the nearby church. It’s what Tony wanted and it made all the sense to me as I missed him around the house.

Every now and then we talked about homeschooling. Again. Some days more than others. Main reason was occasional boredom.

The grade 1 teacher was good and nice and when we admitted to the great sin of plotting against the system and wondering about homeschooling, she said she understands why I would think that and she mentioned the gifted kids programs. I was too shy back then to say it was not that, or that I am not a big believer in such programs.

Grade 1 came and went and starting with grade 2 our lunch rendez vous stopped. It was suggested that kids might make fun of him if that continues, plus he would miss an opportunity to socialize. With the same kids, of course. A conundrum of some sort.

Homeschooling was set aside for most of the time but it kept resurfacing every now and then. Could we, should we? When he was the one asking I flinched; when I thought we should he said ‘Not yet’ and so the wild homeschooling creature would fly away like some rogue bird every time, not before flapping its wings a few times.

At the end of grade 4 we said goodbye to Vancouver and grade 5 saw us in Kamloops. New school, new friends, new everything. It seemed smooth enough until six hours proved too long to bear and some supervision aids too enamored with the occasional power high some of us experience when fate puts one in charge. The homeschooling bird returned, bigger and stronger than ever. It clawed its way into our lives on a daily basis and promised to stick around for longer this time.

Tony was increasingly frustrated with topics he perceived as irrelevant. In the social arena, the above-mentioned power high issues made for some added bitterness.

At the same time, he was hailed as gifted, which at some point I came to resent as it was reflecting, I thought and still do, rather awkwardly on the rest of the kids. I think they all are. Not being politically correct, I simply believe in creativity and I believe it is ours to play with until we become self-conscious. The school system does not cater to all kinds of giftedness but rather the academic kind (think math, sciences.) Personally I have always been in awe of children, their creativity

The bird did not leave this time, but fluttered its wings over our heads enough times for me to say ‘ok, ok, let me take another look.’ A feeble attempt to go half-school, half-homeschool was just that; a feeble attempt. As my mom used to say ‘you try to sit in two boats at the same time, you’re bound to fall in the middle.’ I thought there was a high of the half school half homeschool project to become just that.

So I choose the one boat we could both fit in comfortably and enjoy the ride. We started homeschooling three weeks and so far it has been a great experience.

The first day was quite similar to that first day of having a newborn in my arms, and the same question sprouted almost instantly: ‘now what?’

Once I got past that, things rolled smoothly. There is something particularly enjoyable about having various assignments handed in. I believe in research-based homework, the kind that looks at a fact from many angles and involves critical thinking in analyzing the why and how. The joy comes from knowing that I will be a witness to my son’s learning to connect dots, I will be privy to the a-ha moments and I will get to guide and learn at the same time. A privilege and a grand responsibility.

I pick topics of interests for him, with occasional new subjects that I hope he will never get to call irrelevant. The day he does, we revisit and try again. To be interested in learning and curious and eager, that is paramount in education. To never be bored but to enjoy knowing more and making more sense of this or that. To savour every day and the learning that comes with sounds romantic indeed.

What about the hurdles, you may ask? They’ll be there, that much I know. But then again, smooth seas do not make good sailors.  It will get hairy at times, frustrations will poke their heads through the harmony mesh, moods will be ruffled by this or that, and, if we care to make it a worthy journey, we will make it work.

We sail with trust and openness. I listen, he talks; he listens, I talk. It’s an adventure. We will learn, more than math, physics, geography and history. We will learn about ourselves and how to find purpose in everything we do. As for little brother, he will be in school this year. Next year he’ll hop aboard this boat and we’ll keep on sailing.

One day at a time, that is, because, in the end, that is all we can count on.

The School Conundrum. Again

Morning todayThe trees in our front yard are raining leaves, swayed by the same gentle breeze that has been peeling off grey clouds from the hills that are now draped in a bright October sky. You cannot take this kind of beauty for granted.

I called the boys to witness the sight this morning. Fresh out of warm beds, pitter-pattering bare feet on the wooden floors, eyes and souls pried open by the carnival of nature. It’s Friday, a long weekend begins today and that is reason for celebration: among others, school is out until Tuesday. This year, the fall comes with changes we’ve been anticipating for a while but had yet to address: We are on the brink of homeschooling, at least part-time for now, unless the school deems such liberal approach unrealistic, in which case it becomes a full-time adventure. Conventional schooling has been creating a few ripples for a while now, and the reasons are as complex as they are puzzling.

It’s not academic challenges that have led us to where we are today but the opposite, and the negativity that sprouts from being immersed in a system that allows for wings to be clipped, thus preventing children to think for themselves instead of encouraging them to do so, and welcoming the challenge that can only lead to minds that will keep expanding. The world today requires thinkers more than ever; people who will challenge established, convenient views not for the purpose of being different but because they see occasional wrongness and are able to envision better outcomes through revisiting and reshaping concepts. That is a tall order.

I believe every independent, critical thinker starts with a baby dropping an object and delighting in being able to do it again and again (hopefully, if adults will allow) until one day the baby becomes the child asking why the object falls instead of floating and thus beginning the amazing journey of discovering the world. The question is: how do we make curiosity grow into creativity and critical thinking? Rules are different than boundaries, and rules that have no other explanation than ‘because I/we said so’ or ‘because that’s how it’s always been’ will work against everything that the human spirit is born to live up to.

I have, over the summer, witnessed my boys delving into what interests them without any reservations, waking up every day ready to create, play, read, run around, and share their joy of seeing the world and learning about it through the unique lenses each of us is born with. It’s easy to become addicted to that twinkle of joy in their eyes. Curiosity just ate a big portion of what will make my appetite for learning grow even bigger, they seemed to say.

On the other hand, I have witnessed morning grumpiness, frustration, moans and complains associated with going to school. Why is that? Many reasons that have, for a while, made me question whether my sons are seeing the world through negative lenses. Raised to trust a system that promises to address my children’s academic needs and help develop social skills and help them thrive, I ended up doubting it greatly and feeling as if I was failing my sons by not listening carefully to how they saw it all. While my youngest is still shielded from some of it, my oldest’s lists of complains has been growing steadily: Boredom, lack of challenging subjects, repetition of already learned topics, gratuitous forbidding of what one could call ‘normal children’s play’ by supervision aids who seem to forget that children need to feel welcome and safe rather than incarcerated in the space dedicated to learning of life skills, authority figures that fail, sadly, to grow into appropriate role models because the way they approach teaching and disciplining intimidate children, rather than motivate them to do better and learn more.

Six hours a day should cover enough interesting material to make the mind soar. Instead, it leaves my oldest say it is more of a daycare than he would ever want it to be. A few interesting topics covered do not make up for the ones that are either not challenging enough or downright insulting towards children that can and should be trusted with so much more. The problem is not all are at a level that allows for more challenging material, I am told by teachers. Many higher grade students struggle with basic things and that has to be addressed. I believe both teachers and students are double-crossed by a system that does not see the forest for the trees. It is not the teachers’ fault that children are not up to par, and if I am correct, we are witnessing the degradation of a learning system that has become children-led but not in a constructive way. Children need boundaries and guidance, rather than praise and complacency. They need to be presented topics that will pique their interests whatever those interests turn out to be, rendering them wide-eyed and ready to jump in with questions and delightful ideas to build further thinking avenues from then on. If a child falls into lack of interest and boredom or downright hates school, it’s not the child’s fault, or the teachers or the parents’, but the system that prevents all of them to move freely and understand that every child is born with a mind ready to learn and create and should be fully encouraged and nourished to do so.

A taste of added challenge is only for the gifted ones though, which, I am told, my oldest son is. I’ve never believed in that concept. I believe both my sons are creative in their own special way, just like every child is. As for gifted, the greatest gift of all, which is life, has been given to all of us. Beyond that, it’s up to them to build a path showing what they are interested in and it’s up to us adults to help their creativity and love of learning grow; through discussions about what they see, what they learn and through debates on topics that go beyond political correctness and ‘thou shall not’. I do believe that, given enough attention but also room to explore and find their interests, all kids have to potential to thrive.

Fall days ahead will be bringing sunshine and cloudiness, blue skies and grey, just like many hours of pondering over this complex matter will bring arguments that will help solidify our decision. Our decision, not mine or my sons’ alone, but ours as a family, ours as people who hold themselves accountable to each other, and  keep together, knowing what we stand for and honouring the amazing gift we’ve been entrusted with: life.

It should go up from here, bumps in the road notwithstanding.

To be continued…

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