The Elastic Waistband of Relaxed Homeschooling

kevinrosseel_032008_052As I sit here all snuggly in my Just My Size “relaxed fit” cotton pants (Translation? Fat girl sweats), I can certainly appreciate the comfort of an elastic waistband. But I’d never wear’em out in public. Because even though the pants are stain- and pill-free, they’re not particularly flattering. And I can pretty much say the same thing about “relaxed” homeschooling.

“Relax” is something you do after the work is done. And if you consider home educating your kid a vacation, then it’s time to vote yourself off the island. Because while I can certainly agree that home education shouldn’t be years of yelling over an over-scheduled manifesto, you’ve gotta plan your work and work your plan.

Okay, okay – I know that sounds very “Corporate.” But isn’t part of what we’re trying to instill in our children is some sort of work ethic? Not to (necessarily) assume the position in a windowless cubicle to work for The Man their entire lives. But to come to grips with adhering to a schedule, showing up on time or at least keeping commitments to friends and family. Hey, I’m a firm believer in lolly-gagging and foot-dragging whenever I can get away with it. But my son’s educational and life experiences are not areas for slouching.

I’ve heard more than a fair share of “relaxed” parents admit that their laissez-faire format has had a way of slowing from a laid-back pace to a casual crawl to a dead-in-the-water stop. And what’s that we’re taught about Newton’s Law of Inertia? Oh, sorry, that’s right… you’re relaxing, maybe you haven’t gotten to that far in your physics lessons yet. But, paraphrased, it states that “An object in motion will stay in motion and an object at rest will stay at rest unless acted upon by an external force.”

Trust me, I’ve thrown enough “external forces” in our own home education path to stop a truck. And it’s hard to get rolling again, once you pull the brakes, especially uphill. So we’ve learned to be more like the tortoise then the hare. Slow and steady. And just like that lowly reptile, we won’t relax until this 12-year race is won.

Unit Studies? Too Much of a Good Thing

Set01Auto3imagesFrom_drk0093But hey, that’s just me. Actually that’s my son. About three years in to our home educating experience, I learned that my then-eight-year-old was not of the emersion-mindset. But, in a moment of weakness, I thought it was worth a try.

We’d used the Calvert Homeschool curriculum since leaving public school after first grade. Even though I’d twist their lesson plans to fit our worldview, its old-fashioned, book-learnin’ format was an easy transition for Morgan after his two years of classroom experience.

Every summer, our school-in-a-box would arrive on our doorstep. Aside from household materials for science experiments and some optional math manipulatives, everything we needed for an academic school year was in that box – down to the pink eraser. All the step-by-step lessons plans were there. I could schedule our life. I’d be giddy.

But was I cheating? Maybe, I thought, I should try a less “home-school-y” format. Granted, I wasn’t ready to make that Unschooling leap-O-faith. But this Unit Study thing sounded like a fun option for my son and an organizing opportunity for this OCD gal. Pick a topic in which your child has expressed an interest. Then run it into the ground.

Or at least that’s what happened with our Weather Unit. I can’t remember exactly what prompted that specific subject-selection. Maybe a severe thunderstorm or hurricane watch. But I announced that I was going to develop a Unit Study about Weather. (Because, you see, that’s what real home educators do – develop their child’s curriculum.)

So over the course of a week, I planned, plotted and shuffled 3×5 cards to schedule our saturation by the weather world. The four-week foray was to include alotta cloud watching, drawing and creating; a visit to a local weather station, the beach and the supermarket; natural disaster documentaries and the local meteorologist’s forecasts. Plus, what I considered, a lively reading of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs long before it was a movie.

Morgan was done with Weather halfway through Day Three of Twenty-eight. Shit, now what? Back to the box.

Still Waiting on My Apology, Chris…

Chocolates_and_RibbonIt’s been about a month, now.

Election Night, Nov. 3rd, to be exact. The TV was on. But I was only listening as MSNBC’s Chris Matthews bullied some whiteshirt. I putzed, waiting for Rachel Maddow—a reason to actually watch the screen. Maddow has this really wacky interview technique. She asks a question, and then she shuts the fuck up and lets somebody else talk. Unlike Matthews, who uses the other guy in the room as his straight man.

Suddenly, I hear the word “homeschooling.” I prick up my ears and look to see Matthews pulling off the final wing of Chris Chocola. Who? Turns out he’s a former Indiana Republican Congressman and now is “the President and CEO of the Club for Growth, America’s leading limited-government, free-enterprise political advocacy group,” to quote the CFG website. Enough said. You get his drift.

Matthews interrupted Chocola’s response to forward his own POV… “homeschooling, where you don’t go to public school ‘cause you don’t want to mix with other people…” Then Chris turns up his nose and proclaims he “would consider that culturally conservative, at least.”

I am many things. But “culturally conservative” I am not. Within the hour, I’m banging out an email to Matthews. Short, but not sweet. I scold him for insinuating ALL home educators are living in bunkers. I wish!

Weeks pass. Matthews must have gotten distracted from my apology by the shootings at Fort Hood, troop escalation in Afghanistan and, tonight, by golfer Tiger Woods’ domestic dispute. Again, I was being too lazy to change the channel, just listening to Chris making light of whatever really went down on late Thanksgiving night with Woods, his wife and a golf club.

Matthews confesses he was out of the country when the Escalade hit the fire hydrant. And he goes on to share he was, in fact, in London with his daughter, who’s “going to school over there.” College in London, huh, Chris? I would consider that culturally conservative, at least.

What’s a Metaphor? Cows

meadow.cowsEmily Dickenson is a little too flowery for my taste, but her poetry is ideal to use for our studies, especially as examples of metaphors, similes and personifications. And although I can’t articulate why I know those writing techniques are important in the education of Morgan, they are.

Granted you could read, “The hills untied their bonnets,” never identify the phrase as a personification, yet glean its meaning. But, I believe, the quality and depth of that visualization is enhanced by the acknowledgement of the author’s intent. Oh, she meant to do that…

So if you aren’t using a structured grammar or poetry program that explains those concepts, how are children introduced to them? Maybe unschooled kids read prose or poetry that uses such comparisons; they intrinsically get it and move on without conversation. Because I’ve never heard a kid ask, “Hey, Mom, what’s a metaphor?” Have you?

The same can be said for science—the three states of matter, the water cycle, potential vs. kinetic energy. Math, geography, history, language, literature, even music and art. Concepts build from and mutate into others. Can you appreciate Picasso without being aware of his admiration of El Greco? Probably. Would a kid know to ask who or what influenced Pablo? Would he care? And does it even matter? I don’t know. But all those Devil-in-the-details sure make for a more interesting story.

Knowledge is power.

Educational Dominatrix

WhipI know I must sound like a total crack-the-whip Dominatrix about this whole Unschooling thing. But it’s like religion; I’m fascinated by the concept yet logic prevents me from making that Leap of Faith.

So I decided to go to the source. I interrupted Morgan from chain sawing zombies in the mall to ask him if he’d like to approach his education in a different way. Okay, I wasn’t ready to totally release my grip on what we were going study, but I was willing to work within a subject.

“We’re getting ready to learn about the War of Independence,” I announced, followed by a brief synopsis of 1776. “Would you like to watch some movies or study the weapons and the battles or just stick with the book we’re using?” I know, not a very broad choice, but a choice nevertheless.

Without missing a beat or looking up, M said, “Let’s just stick with the book for now.”

Apparently getting to hack-and-slash his way through dozens of virtual urban landscapes is about as much child-directed learning as he can handle in one day.