Category Archives: Reflecting

Why We’re Homeschooling. All the reasons.

Updated 5/5/2017: The new administration at the school we applied to reached out to me because they became aware of this post. They were concerned about public negative perceptions of the school, but were also apologetic about what had happened. I have mixed feelings about that. The weight of an apology is certainly lessened when it comes from a place of trying to protect the reputation of the institution, but I did get an apology and that does something to soften my feelings about how it was handled. Because of that I softened the language in this post, but what happened still happened. 

This coming school year we’ll need to fill out our affidavit that basically says we’re homeschooling. After lots of reflection, thought, research, hemming and hawing, and more thought, we’re doing it. Here’s why:

1. Our abysmal experience applying to private school. It took two years and a new administration to get an apology and acknowledgement that what happened was not okay.*  

1a. Private school is expensive and not only would it make things tight, it would rule out another baby and would ensure that I need to go back to work so I could get medical benefits. Because tuition is the same price as what we pay for our medical insurance.  

2. Our local public school is full this year. I considered them for two reasons. We have an incredibly diverse population at the school (that draws primarily from our neighborhood) and I want Cam to meet and make friends with diverse people, not just the rich white kids that go to private school. We don’t have to go to our public school to do that (all she has to do is walk outside our house because our neighborhood is very diverse), but it was an appealing part of the idea of the school. Also, they have a half-day kindergarten program. Unfortunately, next school year they would push her into first grade because of her age and she is too young. It’s that cut-off date quandary again without the options. 

3. They don’t teach what needs to be taught in any school I’ve encountered. Even with alternative methods they still skirt around the content/skills that needs to be taught. We’re going to focus a lot on anti-bias and social justice in our family for the next four years and beyond and I have not found a school that will do that. But more than that, I haven’t found a school close enough and good enough that steers away from traditional philosophy. Many schools claim to base their education on non-traditional models, but they still maintain that kind of thinking and never get far enough away from it for my preferences. 

From here on out, I probably won’t be posting here very often. I’m working on reviewing diverse books for my library book blog. I haven’t quite figured out what it is I want to do here, although I do really like popping in to talk about books and what is going on in our house. But after the election that all feels very hollow. I am going to try and share booklists and resources you can use in homeschooling that work towards the goal of anti-bias education and fighting racism, sexism and xenophobia. I would point you toward my library blog, but that isn’t really geared for parents. I can tweak content I post there or create new content that speaks to how parents can use resources and I will do that as the mood strikes me. 

*I realized I never did share what the aftermath was beyond saying the admissions department wanted to do some role playing. That never happened and they pretty quickly went into damage-control mode and played the blame game. They took zero responsibility for what had happened and never admitted to being sorry. The admissions office didn’t ask us this year if we’d be applying.  

Learning to Read

We’re all very excited around here because Cam is learning to read. She really started to show some interest a few months ago when she began memorizing the names of the letters and identifying them when she saw them. 

This is most exciting for me because I have plenty of experience with abilities later in the process. All my years working in lower school, and particularly in second grade, I have seen fluency really come together and skills strengthen. But I haven’t seen the start of the process and quite frankly it’s amazing. 

Some resources 

I’ve been looking for resources to help support her and here are some things I’ve discovered. I tend not to like worksheets and things like that, but she’s motivated and interested so I’ve been using them.

First, she needs lots of practice working out the sounds each letter makes. I downloaded a bunch of printables that have her practice letter sounds both by themselves and as initial sounds. Scour Pinterest for these free resources. Here’s a link to a Pinterest search for some of those activities and printables.

Next, she needs to be able to identify the upper and lower case letter as the books she reads in have different cases and different fonts. I bought this game on Amazon that is a memory-style game. It’s nice and she likes Memory so I figured she would be willing to play. Also, here is a search on Pinterest for matching upper and lower case letter games

Then we needed some little books for her to read. Costco has a four or five BOB book collections for $11. I just bought all of them. Many of them are way above her ability right now. One set is called the Pre-Reader Collection and it goes through some skills readers need (like pattern recognition) and also all the letters of the alphabet with their sounds. I find the BOB books totally boring, but Cam likes them a lot. She is also able to read the first few in the first collection. Which brings me to my next point. 

Let’s talk about easy readers

There are a lot of really great easy readers out there. You know them. They have a smaller trim size than picture books, but are bigger than an actual chapter book. They’re kind of short and have large print with spaced out lines on each page. They’re books like Frog and Toad and Little Bear and Cat in the Hat. The thing is, even the easiest ones require a fair amount of skill and ability to read. The vast majority do not use simple short vowel patterns and CVC word patterns (consonant-vowel-consonant). Add to this the fact that a bunch of companies publish them and their reading levels are not consistent across brands. Kids learning to read do quickly put spelling patterns together in their minds and memorize sight words (words you know on sight without having to sound out or look more closely), but it takes some time and practice. They do eventually get to a place where they can really read those types of books, but where Cam is now she needs super basic readers. That’s where the BOB books seem to have the market cornered. 

Waiting until the time is right

So one thing I am trying very hard to balance is pushing her to practice and actually read with not killing the interest she has. I know the more she practices the better she’ll get and the easier it will become. But right now it’s hard and laborious and fatiguing. I’m glad I allowed her to pick the time she actually began to work through it. It’s coming quickly and she’s incredibly motivated. Hopefully she can sustain that interest while her skills catch up. 

A final thought. I know the concept of your child learning to read can be incredibly stressful (as is nearly everything with parenting). Will they ever learn? Will they want to? Will they struggle? What if it happens later than all the other kids? The thing about reading is that by fifth grade, it’s all a wash. With very, very, very few exceptions teachers in the upper grades do not know who read first, second or last. (Well, maybe last. There are children with learning disabilities that continue to struggle.) But those super star readers in kindergarten and first grade? They are not always on top and frequently become totally indistinguishable from their peers. Repeat after me: it all becomes a wash. What does that mean for you right now, with a young child? Enjoy them as they are. They will get there. They do all learn to read. It’s an amazing thing to watch as this whole new word opens up to your child (remember how the world opened up when they learned to talk and to walk? it’s like that all over again, but with a more cognizant person). Enjoy that and don’t worry so much. 

In Praise of the Friend Without Kids

We all have mommy friends. Either ones we’ve known pre-children and have stayed friends with or ones we’ve met because we have kids. But today I am grateful for the friends we have that do not have children. 

As a parent it can be really difficult to separate your own emotions from your kid. So when they go through a phase or have some sort of issue it can be hard to remain objective and understand what is going on and what to do. I have a stellar mom’s group I can turn to and they often have superb advice. But they draw on their own experience with their kids. That isn’t always a problem, but I find that my friend without kids doesn’t have the same type of emotional attachment to parenting and sometimes you just need that. They can give you that hard, objective perspective. 

It helps that my friend without kids does have experience with kids. It also helps that she’s a level-headed sort of person and generally has good ideas and advice no matter the situation. I’ve watched her draw on her own childhood experience (something I also like to do). So it’s not like she’s coming from left field when she talks about kids and kid issues.

She’s had good advice for me when Cam struggled with preschool and with the admissions process for the school we originally considered. Even naps! She’s had good advice about naps. Sometimes she just affirms what I already know, but other times she pushes me a step further or makes me look at a situation from a different perspective. And that’s really refreshing and often the best advice I get. 

So to my friend without kids, you know who you are, thank you for all your thoughts and advice over the past few years. Outwardly you may not seem like the first choice for parenting advice, but you are. Also, get ready for the teenage years. I’m going to need all the help I can get. :)  

Difficult Conversations: Baby Dolls

So after several years of learning about diversity in this country and the problems around it (i.e. racism, Islamaphobia, police violence, etc.) I’ve started to learn about how to talk about it with Cam. In case it wasn’t obvious from my picture or from the fact that I’m blogging and other indicators, I’m white. As a White person I’ve been blind to a lot of these issues. Now that I know (and research points to this as well) it’s incredibly important that I talk to Cam about it, point it out, and name it.

I am using diversity here as short hand for about 12 major categories including race, religion, SES and orientation to name a few. While it is imperative I talk to her about diversity and name it and make sure she isn’t internalizing the wrong messages about it (those tacit ones we’re fed by American culture, politics, media, white priviledge and other avenues), I won’t be getting it perfect or even right. But I’m trying and I want to encourage you to as well. We need to get it wrong to get it right and we need to listen to people who tell us when we get it wrong.

My daughter has one completely white friend. Admittedly she doesn’t have the widest of social circles and she’s not in school, but out of the ten or so kids she interacts and plays with on a regular basis only one is white. I think that’s wonderful and am relieved that it happened organically. We would be having a very different conversation, probably about moving neighborhoods, if this wasn’t the case.

The other day her one white friend brought over a new doll she had gotten. A doll with a purple outfit. Cam totally wanted that purple outfit, so she asked me if we could get another, new doll. I’ve looked recently at her dolls and she has several dolls with darker brown skin, but there are several clearly white dolls. (If you aren’t familiar with the doll experiment look it up. It’s incredibly disheartening and eye-opening.) So when faced with buying her another doll I decided to talk to her about the color of her dolls.

I pointed out that she has a fair number of dolls with skin that looks like ours and only a couple with light or dark brown skin. She agreed. Next I told her to think about her friends and named several of them. I asked her what color skin they had. She, correctly, answered that they had various shades of brown skin. Then I explained to her that I wanted her doll collection to reflect her friends and her world. I told her I would be happy to look for either 

Sadly, Target didn’t have either a purple outfit or any color doll with a purple outfit. Damn. They also changed their dolls a bit so they have these much bigger eyes and less realistic faces. Cam wasn’t much of a fan of those either. She had her heart set on a new doll and after crying over not liking the new look of the dolls she cried over not getting any doll. *Sigh* Being five is tough. 

In the end what did she take away from this? Well, she did finagle my mom into buying her a doll with a play potty (using the potty is a BIG deal for her). Unfortunately it came with a white doll, but in their defense my mom didn’t know about the conversation we had had nor was there an option for any other color of doll in the store. This is another issue for another day. I’m not really sure how much she took away from this one conversation, but we are continuing to have many more so we’ll see what the cumulative effect will be. Ultimately it will be positive. I know that, but it’s hard when your kid is sobbing in Target over all her non-options. I am worried that experience will be what sticks out to her, so I need to be sure we have lots of positive conversations. 

I will say Target seems to be introducing other dolls into their store brand line which is a good thing. There is one listed as Latina and one listed as Asian. They do all have different skin tones and facial features, but with those big googly eyes they still bear a striking resemblance to one another. However, none of the dolls besides the white ones and a tiny handful of the black ones are available in the stores. Many aren’t even available yet online. Do better Target. Get those dolls out there. 

Introvert parenting introvert

I know talking about introverts and extroverts became really popular after Susan Cain gave her TedTalk and published her book Quiet. I have seen her TedTalk, read the article she wrote in The New York Times (I think?) that sparked the idea for the book, but I have not read her book. The thing is I’ve known long before she became popular that I was an introvert. I’ve also known that introversion-extroversion is a sliding scale. My husband is a lot more outgoing than I am, but he certainly has some introverted qualities and I am far less introverted than some of my friends. 

When Quiet came out it inspired a bevy of articles about introverts parenting extroverts and vice versa. I think they offer a lot of food for thought and good advice. I read a couple of them when Cam was little and I began to wonder where she would fall on the spectrum of introversion-extroversion. Now that she’s a bit older (almost 5!!) I’m starting to discover the answer to that. Turns out she’s a lot like her father. She is outgoing, but still needs that alone time to recharge her batteries. 

This past weekend was an excellent example of how that works in our family. Thursday we went to the zoo for dinner with two families. Friday night we drove several towns over to have dinner with another friend’s family. Saturday we were out and about running errands and then went swimming at Grandpa Tom’s house, then dinner at another friend’s house. Sunday we went to a birthday party in Napa. I knew in planning this that I would be fried by the end of the weekend and I suspected Cam would be too.

Friday night ended in tears as we left our friend’s house. Cam didn’t want to leave because she was having fun. While she loves to play, she’s usually pretty willing to leave when it’s time. She has never been the kid you have to pry away from something kicking and screaming. The tears were the first sign. Saturday night dissolved in lots of tears and opposition. Sunday was a lot of the same. By Sunday there was a lot of asking if we were “there yet”, another behavior we rarely see, and yet more tears and clinginess. 

I knew when I planned the weekend it was going to be too much and I was right. I usually limit us to one “event” per weekend or every few days. I don’t think we had much choice this weekend though (many of these dates were the only ones that worked). I do think I could have been better about making sure we had breaks between activities and got to bed earlier. My husband was frustrated with Cam and I was too, but we also knew her brain was just overwhelmed and wasn’t getting what it needed to recharge. This meant lots of hugs and cuddles even though we weren’t really feeling cuddly. Thankfully, because I was just as spent I knew exactly how Cam felt. 

I guess my point in writing this is a reminder to parents to consider how your child needs structure and downtime. We all need to be sure they got enough sleep, ate recently, and aren’t getting overstimulated. But don’t forget the power of their personality in the equation when you start seeing difficult behavior. 

Summer of Science: Round Up 5

This week ran a little less efficiently. I was teaching a makerspace class in the afternoons which compressed our day into a couple hours. I let stuff go and didn’t stress about it. It is summer after all! Please see the widget in the sidebar for pictures from each day. 

Day 1: Garden Harvest

I didn’t get a picture this time, but there were more tomatillos, squash, tomatoes, and peppers waiting for us in the garden.

Day 2: Lego Building

Our neighbor came over to play with Cam and they got out the Legos to build with together. Cam has told me she wants to be a builder when she grows up. 

Day 3 & 4: Machi Koro

I bought this card game at Target for Tom and I to play, but Cam saw it and wanted to give it a try. There was a lot of practical math and economics involved with it and she won the first game. She ended up asking to play again and again. 

Summer of Science

100dayspledgeI recently came across this project called The 100 Day Project. It encourages you to do one thing for 100 days, with an emphasis on making or doing something. The project technically started back in April, but I just don’t have time to do this kind of thing every day during the school year and I feel like I had my plate full this spring. So instead I decided to start late (which they still encourage you to do) and use it to frame my summer. For this blog I will be doing #100daysofscience with Cam. It will be 100 days of a simple, easy, and fun science exploration each day. 

I have the first week planned out and I think I will try and center weeks around a theme or concept that way it doesn’t feel like a bunch of disjointed projects. It might also allow us to hit on something Cam is interested in and explore more deeply. 

I will be posting (hopefully!) a picture each day on Instagram. I kind of hate taking pictures daily and I also don’t really like having yet another social media platform to check in on, so we’ll see if I can manage. You can see my latest in the widget in the sidebar over there. ———> I haven’t quite decided how to balance Instagram and the blog, but I’m thinking of writing a weekly round-up post where I share the pictures and a brief explanation of what the experiment was (and how successful and popular it was) so anyone interested can recreate it. 

In addition to these posts I am going to try and have a Friday Five book post each week this summer. While I enjoy sharing about our urban farm, our parenting successes and failures, and food, I am most passionate about books and I want that to come through here more. I haven’t been all that enthused about blogging lately (see my previous comment about a full plate this spring), and I want to find that passion again, because I do love it when I do it. 

One last note, I am also going to be doing this with my library/book review blog so if you’re following me on Instagram you’ll be seeing those photos coming through too. That one will be #100daysofdiversebooks. Quite frankly you may wish to see those too. Many of them (most) will be picture books that I test out on Cam and am looking at with an eye toward adding them to my library’s collection so they’ll be relevant here as well. 

Here’s to one more week in school and summer on it’s way!

Reflecting 2016:2

Admittedly I rarely wait for spring to give our house a good deep clean. I wouldn’t say I do it often, but it never seems to line up with any particular season. Over the last six months I’ve really been looking around and thinking about how we have way too much stuff and that’s led me to purge a lot of unnecessary things we had accumulated over the years. (If the accumulation sounds familiar, don’t feel bad. I discovered if you have the space, in a house for example, it’s very easy to tell yourself that since you have the space you may as well hang onto things.)

I have talked about this before where I noted Cam has a few toys we have bought for her and a lot of toys both my parents and my husband’s grandmother saved from our childhoods. This has been a blessing and a curse. We struggle to get rid of the toys because of our emotional connections to them despite the fact that Cam really isn’t all the interested in many of them. And then that space conundrum rears it’s head- we have the space so we should just hang on to them in case she does become interested. On the other hand, free toys that are awesome!

Instead of fighting that I took a look around over the last six months and got rid of a lot of things around those toys. Streamlined. It took buying a couple pieces of storage furniture and a fair amount of reorganizing, but I think I’m really happy with how tidy, but inviting our spaces for Cam are now. 

Cam's Room 2Cam's Room 1

Reflection 2016:1

So we have officially decided to unschool Cam. I don’t know why I say officially, but we’ve really talked about it and come to terms with the fact that she will not be going to school in the fall (or for many falls to come).

In some ways this makes me sad. I love the succession of the seasons and because of my childhood going to school I feel like the school year is very intimately connected with that. It makes me feel like she won’t have that even though I know this is not true. In our family we do a lot that is connected in with the seasons. Gardening, chickens, bees to name a few. Plus our family traditions and celebrations focus on the seasons too. For my husband I know he is sad that Cam will not be a “lifer” at the school he went to. He had deep ties to the school (we both do, but his are deeper and more positive than mine). I’m sure he’s mourning the loss of that potential connection, one we thought for several years would happen. 

I think we both have needed to come to terms with the idea that Cam will have a happy childhood without having one that looks like ours. It’s a mind shift for sure. 

Now that we are going to unschool we’re actually talking to people about our decision. I am getting questions from people. Is she going to school in the fall? Oh, really? What exactly is unschooling? And that right there has been a hard answer for me to articulate. Basically nothing is going to change. We’re just going to let her be. She can play and imagine and choose what she’s ready to learn. Which brings me to her latest endeavor. She’s started to write letters. 

The other day I was working in a puzzle magazine and she was watching me out of the corner of her eye. After a few minutes she leaned over and asked if I would help her write some words. I showed her how to form the letters and told her which ones to write and she did it. And she’s been doing it since. Prior to this she had been doing scribbled lines to indicate text, but she made a comment that she no longer needed to write in “her way” (which, as a side note, made me sad to see that go, it was so sweet).

This is how unschooling works and works well. She has the interest, no forcing or cajoling from me. I’ve offered to teach her letters before, but she hasn’t been ready or interested. Now that she is, though, she’s off. Slowly she is learning the letters’ names and the sounds they make. I suspect if she keeps this up she’ll be reading in six months or so. I’m helping her when she asks for it instead of inserting myself and deciding she has reached an arbitrary date for learning something. It’s very exhilarating to see this happen, because I think until you see your child do it, it’s worrisome and hard to disconnect from everything you’ve been taught about school and the traditional model. 

So, yeah. I’m working on formulating an explanation of what it is we want to do with Cam, not because I’m confused, but because others are. And they are genuinely curious about what it is we mean.  

Advent Reflections: Week 4

I am busy updating a few things on the blog and you can now see my new categories as showcased by the buttons on the sidebar. I also cleaned up my blogroll to reflect more accurately the blogs I read on a daily basis. 

As far as how often I will be posting I think it’s going to be two posts a week. One an activity that set up for Cam (an invitation to play) and another in one of the five other categories. 

Keep your eyes open for a new About Me page. Have a wonderful and safe holiday if you celebrate Christmas and a wonderful New Year’s Eve and Day. Until 2016.