Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Curriculum for the Future: Happy and Successful Kids in a World of Global Upheaval

In my search for balance and inspiration in my homeschooling life, as well as my own personal journey that blends mystical Christianity, Paganism, and sustainable living, I have begun to identify what I think children need to learn today. While certainly schools and other formal learning communities could take this curriculum on, it may be more suited to homeschool families because it's about understanding the insufficiencies of our modern relationship with spirit and the heart, and about changing those to create a vibrant and healthy world inside and out. It's about being flexible, individually designed, and responsive to the world. Traditional learning skills, such as reading, writing, and math are learned through the following five areas, rather than as separate "subjects." As our society grows ever more diverse and we tap into a global force through the internet, environmental stewardship, and the global market, children and adults need to know how to think in an interdisciplinary way. They need to understand how reading, writing, science, and math support these five areas. Learning this way also makes these skills relevant. It makes them easier to learn.

The Four Pillars of a Global, Ecological Education

- Service to others. This can take many forms, appropriate to your family and your children's interests. This is about learning to view the world with compassion, from any spiritual or religious path, and to honor differences. It is about being grateful for what we have, and sharing what we can with others. As a family (or as yourself, if you have young children) identify service projects. Do them together. Make blessing bags. Send books to Africa. Serve breakfast to homeless youth. Grow a row of vegetables for the hungry. Check out the free educational programs at Heifer International.

- Ecology and nature study. This starts with simple time outdoors that lead to observations and questions that lead to projects and research that lead to bigger studies of the natural world. Read books about nature - not just non-fiction, but animal stories, children's books about gardening, etc. Here's a list to get you started: Books about nature. (will send you to Amazon). Read books about math in nature, such as Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature. Set up a weather station.

- Sustainable living skills. This might be second nature in your family if you already garden, compost, bike, recycle, knit, cook, carpenter, etc., or it might be a project the whole family can take on. What do you want to learn? How can your community support this, and how can you support your community in your quest for sustainable living? This includes financial skills. To find local organizations, search "[Your town] urban farming groups" to find classes and community. Read articles at Mother Earth News.

- Pursuit of a child's individual skills and interests. One of my children is an artist and loves computer time. She is a gymnast. She loves to DO things like go to the park, ride horses, play board games, and cook. My other child is a dreamer. He reads, pretends, and imagines. He is still young, so I'm not sure what other preferences will emerge, but I notice how he likes to categorize (he likes to know super heroes' powers just as he used to want to know the names and personalities of all of the Thomas and Friends trains) and create in his mind. These different interests and skills drive our days. For more on this kind of learning, read Free to Learn b Peter Gray, anything by John Holt, Deschooling Our Lives by Matt Hern, or The Unschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith.

The fifth pillar is spirituality. 

This will look different for each family based on your family traditions. It will include and inform the above four pillars.

And that summarizes what I think children today need to learn to be successful, happy members of the world, and to gain the understanding and skills needed to survive in a world that faces global destabilization and everything that comes with it. Oxymoron: happy in a global crisis. But as a homeschooling parent who is aware of climate change and wants what every parent wants - for my children to be happy and successful - I hold both of these as central to all I do.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

We call it homeschool...

We call it "homeschool" but this word hardly does it justice. The thing is, someone who still lives within the school paradigm can't even conceive of what life is like for a homeschooling family. Because no longer is the point education. The point is living. The point is exploring what it means to be human. What do we love? What makes us tick? How can we get along with others while pursuing what we love? How can we honor what other people love? These questions become the central axis of life as homeschoolers. And suddenly it has nothing to do with "school" and sometimes very little to do with home.

When I look at school websites, thinking there might be some educational community that we would enjoy being a part of, what I see is the limitations that define these institutions. Dress codes to avoid bad things (gangs, shootings). Locks and security guards to do the same. Curriculum wrapped around external measurements called testing and mandates and standards. Crowd control and germ control and behavioral control.

When we homeschool, the focus shifts. We learn from within. We explore out of curiosity. We share out of excitement. We wear clothes that express our moods and dreams and sensations. We lock the door when we feel the need to nest, and open it wide when we seek contact and stimulation. Our behavior is shaped by relationships. There are no "standards." There are goals, like learning multiplication and spelling and geography, but we have time to get there, and ways to integrate these learnings into things that matter and make sense.

Homeschool seems crazy to people living in the school paradigm. But when much of the structure of school falls away, an unnatural structure geared towards external measurements, what we are left with is far saner a lifestyle.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How I Would Redesign Schools to Awaken Passion in All People

I had a dream last night, inspired by my reading of Deschooling Our Lives (ed Matt Hern) and my attending a Town Hall meeting last night at which education came up a lot, where I told someone (a school board member? middle school principle?) how I would redesign our schools.

Schools would meet for four hours a day (a flexible four hours? just mornings? afternoons?). Then instead of putting more money into schools, we invest in libraries, rec centers, museums, and professional partnerships like local attorneys, food pantries, hospitals, and municipal centers. Kids - say grades 4 through 12 - would choose what service projects or other interests they would pursue for the rest of the day. This could be anything from a sport to serving at a food pantry to studying Russian literature at a local library. It would be totally up to the student. Guidance counselors, teachers, and parents would help provide resources and direction based on the student's interests and goals.

This would require two things: community partnerships and trust in a young person's inner guidance. In our current society we do not trust young people at all, and barely trust adults. This is partly because people who know themselves are dangerous. They start questioning things like capitalism and consumerism. We would have to develop faith in human curiosity, innovation, and soul. As any grown unschooler will attest, when we trust in these traits, beauty and magic ensues.

There are schools like this, such as the Free Schools and the Sudbury schools. I think public education needs this. It would awaken young people's fires and passion and reawaken their natural love of learning. It would transform the way we think about young people. It would transform our society.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What Can My Kid Learn from Watching My LIttle Pony???

My eldest spends a whole lotta time on the computer. It's either Animal Jam, Netflix - the same few shows - or sometimes Poptropica (she's almost 8). I worry. I fear I'm letting her brain rot. I fear she doesn't know how to self motivate, that I let her watch shows too early (she loved her Caillou and Baby Einstein shows). And simultaneously, I'm a big believer in unschooling, or letting my kids choose their path of learning.

She likes My Little Pony, Powerpuff Girls, and Horseland. She used to be really really into Rugrats and All Grown Up. Occasionally, she'll check out something else recommended by the Netflix algorithms, like Ruby Gloom. Sometimes she'll watch some other fluff, like Maco Mermaids. When she's into a show, she watches it over and over, and I know there are important wheels turning as she watches these shows. But still I worry. Not about the content, as some parents might, just about the seeming inability to do anything else. Yes, she does hours of gymnastics, plays with friends, goes to her enrichment classes, draws, plays piano, plays with her brother, reads, is read to, plays board games and cards with her dad and me, and knows how to cook French Toast and whip egg whites - but sometimes there are a whole lot of extra hours in a homeschooling day.

So to make myself feel better, I did some digging about what other people thought on the subject. Here is what she is learning.

- Storytelling, characters, plot development, irony, and humor.
- Strong female role models - and comparing them to not so strong ones.Early feminism via MLP.
- Art. She draws a lot, and I know seeing these different styles of illustration and animation influence her (though she usually draws her own characters, still lifes, etc., I think it has to get in there).
- Music. She's also really drawn to music, and all those catchy jingles have a lot to teach a budding musician about structure, catchiness, and lyrics.
- Reflection on the ins and outs of friendship, respect, community, and culture.

And then there are the online games. She was so pleased to share with me her "den" in Animal Jam, and I could see how much creativity and efficacy went into her virtual creation. Sometimes she'll Skype with a friend and they play together (and yes, we play with that friend in real space, too). I have to say it's pretty cool to have a play date while staying home. Not for every day, but on occasion, it's lovely.

It's hard for us parents to know where this is all leading. I'm trusting her, trusting my gut (I do tell her sometimes to find something else to do, when there is this stagnant feeling in the house), and trusting that what we do as children often leads us right to our best place in the world.

But I still sit with this question: how can I encourage the things she is learning by watching her shows and playing her games to blossom into other areas of her life, like composing, writing, working out differences with her friends, and so on? Do I need to, or does it happen organically? When do shows become a crutch? An ongoing question to work out with her, I guess.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Teaching Children to Think

"When you want to teach children to think, you begin by treating them seriously when they are little, giving them responsibilities, talking to them candidly, providing privacy and solitude for them, and making them readers and thinkers of significant thoughts from the beginning. That's if you want to teach them to think. There is no evidence that this has been a state purpose since the start of compulsion schooling." - John Taylor Gatto, "The Public Schooling Nightmare" in Deschooling Our Lives ed. Matt Hern

Just have to say I highly recommend this book, a collection of essays blasting schooling and educating others, and celebrating how we learn and grow as a function of being human.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Homeschooling and the Bigger Picture: Learning through Life

We participated in the Denver Botanic Gardens homeschool day last week, themed "nature and art." The stations were fun, including playing with clay after comparing clay soil to sand, dying yarn and squishing plant matter to "paint" paper, looking for patterns in plants and fruits, building Andy Goldsworthy inspired sculptures, and planting seeds. But I think some of the biggest learning happened just by observing. There were so many bees, and the kids (ages 2-8) were fascinated with the different kinds we saw (we learned later that there are 946 documented bee species in Colorado). We noticed what flowers they were drawn to, and which ones didn't have any bees on them. We watched water skippers, saw huge cabbages that had been chomped by something, smelled roses, and wandered through the tropical green house.

One of the volunteers commented on how he wished he'd had activities like this when he was a kid, and implied that he wished more kids could do stuff like it. I reflected again on how schools can do some things like this - really cool schools - but that it requires small groups and curious kids. Our kids goofed around a lot and did their social thing, but they were ready to peer at plants with magnifying lenses and share their observations in a way that would be deemed nerdy in many circles. In our group there is never any feeling stupid for being curious or smart. And I don't have to avoid sculpture building with sticks in the way I would have to with a classroom of twenty or thirty kids. Also, when my almost four-year-old wants to fill his little notebook with drawings of ladybugs, I don't have to redirect him to the task at hand, which had nothing to do with ladybugs. I know that everything is learning and what is important to him is more valuable than whatever he was "supposed" to be doing. I don't have to document his specific task being completed ecause we focus on the bigger picture, so it doesn't matter if he completes it. I can delight in his new-found love of drawing.

The next day we went with the same group, plus two other families, to a creek. There were no learning objectives here, just playing. But just because we were there, hanging out, the kids learned about crawdad habitats, the difference between a dragonfly and a damsel fly, trusting their bodies as they crawl on rocks and climb trees, and the art of negotiation when an emotional issue came up between two of them. We had no agenda, so the involved moms could sit back, keep half an eye on the two kids, and let them work it out. Which they did.

Every time I fantasize about putting my kids in school, giving me a break and my nearly tweener daughter more face time with other kids, I reflect on how we would give up some key aspects of homeschooling: time, curiosity, the ability to follow a question to its conclusion and beyond, playing/learning with different ages of kids, freedom to go at our pace and where we want, and the closeness we share, with all its ups and downs. We would have to get up by an alarm clock (the kids have bedtimes but sleep till they are done sleeping). We'd have busy work and permission slips and bullies to contend with. Today I heard about a really cool school for grades 6-12, one that would have fit the bill perfectly when I was first looking for a school (we initially chose to homeschool because I couldn't find that school). I thought about getting her on a wait list for 6th grade (three years away), but then, no, I think this life we've stumbled upon is about as magical and power-filled as it gets. Even on the hard days, when I can't stand the kids and they just watch too many shows of Netflix, this is the right life for us.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Unschooling Lessons

So today my kids have learned (or at least encountered, no one really knows what a person has "learned," though you can be sure we are all learning all the time):

  • How to clean mud off the floor.
  • That while you may not care about the broken sword, you care about the person. Take a moment to  imagine what that other person feels like before saying you're sorry so that your being sorry is genuine and expresses some compassion.
  • Egg whites don't whip when you get a little yolk in them.
  • That some email accounts block certain kinds of emails and you have to contact Help to get your account going.
  • That cookbooks can be wrong, recipes can be adapted, and then you learn from the finished product. But it still tastes good.
  • It generally makes more work for yourself when you do things quickly and hyperactively.
  • That imbalanced washing machines make great percussion instruments.
  • It's harder to roller skate while holding dolls.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Family Learning: Exploring and Riding and Discovering Our Own Selves

My daughter's riding lesson wasn't until 2, and it was a gorgeous spring day. 62 and sunny. We decided to pack a picnic and go to the lake just north of where our riding instructor lives. This took some doing, as I am not eating any sugar, starch (like white rice), gluten, or dairy. I made brown rice balls rolled in sesame and a little salt, and a kale salad with apples, raisins, and grated carrots. I threw in the gluten free banana pancakes left over from breakfast (they have potato starch and white rice flour in them so I didn't eat any) and some fruit. We were ready to go.

When we arrived at the lake, it was WINDY. The kind that takes your breath away. We hadn't dressed for the wind, which can make a warm day really chilly in dry Colorado. So we hiked down the hill, over horse prints pressed into the dry mud, and discovered a little hollow with a pond just off the main beach area. To the kids it was a secret haven to play in, but the first things I noticed after we got out of the wind was the garbage scattered everywhere and the general brownness of things. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where it is green year round. Here winter is brown. Brown sand, brown water, brown trees. Overhead spread a brilliant blue sky smudged with fast-moving clouds, so I tried to take it all in, brown and blue and white together. And I began to pick up garbage.

We played at the edge of the water and made sand castles, then ate our lunch. Apples and pancakes got dropped in the dusty sand, and the rice balls proved to be too salty. So really the kids didn't have lunch. They did have fun, and we carted out a large bag of garbage.

We drove the half mile to our lesson, taught by a college freshman I found through my mama network. It was still quite windy, but not as jarring as when we first arrived at the lake. Our instructor wore a sweatshirt and jeans, and cowgirl boots with spurs. My daughter chose to ride the dark horse this time, Blitz, a rather large Paint who is a deep brow color with a white patch on his nose. I pet him as they brushed him and picked his hooves, and I considered how while horses don't really scare me, I don't really know them, either. Like before I had kids, and a person would ask me if I wanted to hold a baby, and I felt awkward and ignorant; now, though, I can hold any infant and feel comfortable. Not so with horses. I've been on them, but not really cared for them much.

I wandered around as my daughter had her lesson steering and stopping the horse. He seemed cranky, or stubborn. She had to nudge him hard to get him to go faster. I remarked to my husband that this will help her learn to lead and be in charge without being bossy or whiny. A crow flew overhead and landed on the fence, cawing at some unseen companion.

The other horse, Woody, a thirty-year-old white horse who is a bit smaller and gentler than Blitz, nickered at us from the paddock. And then he farted. A lot. Long, loud horse farts. My three-year-old found it funny - but I think was more fascinated than amused. Horses fart too!

When my daughter was done, my son got a chance to ride, but he was feeling crabby and shy. So I said I'd like a turn.

Man, that horse's back was high up there. I really had to thrust myself up to get on his back. As I said, I've been on horses, but never fully in charge. As a child I rode docile, bored horses walking down a trail, nose to butt with other horses. This time, I was in charge. And I decided to try a trot.

It's hard to explain, trotting for the first time. I wasn't afraid, but fully in the moment. Aware only of my body and the horse's. Trying to push down my heels and lean back, trying not to grab onto the horn, trying not to fall off, trying not to yank on the reigns. I went around the ring twice. Then I slid down and thanked Blitz. He turned his head to me and shoved at my chest hard as if to say, "That sucked. You obviously don't have any idea what you're doing."

But I felt exhilarated. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. You know when you've wanted to do something so long you've forgotten you ever wanted to? And then you get to? Yeah.

I asked if we could brush him more, for I was feeling less shy and awkward now that I'd ridden him. I brushed all around, getting the mud off his hair. Just before I finished, he turned to me and repeated the head butt, but this time it was gentle and nuzzly, as if to say thank you and forgive me a little for sucking as a rider when he didn't really feel like being ridden anyway.

That second head nudge was truly one of the neatest moments of my life.

My husband and daughter told me I looked very natural trotting on that big horse. Didn't feel natural! But it did feel... right. Like finding a part of myself I'd only ever dreamed of.

Homeschooling for me is this day: being outside as a family, caring for the earth, making discoveries, and learning more about who we are as a life-long journey. 

What adventures have you been on recently as a family? How has it changed you?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Nature Play: The Heart of Homeschooling

For me, the heart of homeschooling is being out in nature with a group of friends, letting things happen. Today three of my friends and their kids joined us on an outdoor excursion to a wetland area I hadn't yet visited. It's in the middle of a trendy housing development, and is restored wetland taken over from an airport. I could tell from looking at the satellite pictures on google maps that it had two little ponds, a few creeks, and some trails. But I wasn't sure if it would just be a lot of yellow grass and garbage, or full of fun nooks to explore and things to discover. March in Colorado is spring trying its hardest to wake up, so most of the land is still brown. Not a lot of bugs to find. Patches of snow and mud surrounded by dry and brown. But we had such a fabulous time and made many discoveries. It was a perfect example of just letting learning happen.

We had fun and got muddy trying to get down to the water. Ann Patchet writes, "Water will always seek out its own." (The Patron Saint of Liars, p1) Well, we are mostly water, and a big part of these nature excursions is to seek out water in our arid mountain habitat. We found a tiny bright green katydid or grasshopper, a flash of spring against the reddish sticky mud. One of the seven-year-olds discovered an owl pellet, which she dissected with the tweezers I had brought along. We took the pH of two streams using simple pH strips, and discovered that a thin film of alkaline water floats on the surface of the otherwise neutral water, probably from oil and soap from road run-off. We found bat houses, under which were poops that had seed in them. I know the bats here eat mostly bugs, but there aren't a lot of bugs out yet, so my hypothesis was that they eat seeds in the spring before the bugs come out. Or maybe the droppings were from a bird, as the bats are probably still in mild hibernation. We saw coyote and deer or rabbit scat. And we saw prints from some very large raccoons. We heard and saw robins, a meadowlark, a jay, and a couple of hawks.

Then we found a lovely little area in which to sit and talk while the kids ran and played and threw snow at each other. They tossed a ball around they had discovered in one of the culverts. They shared snacks. Then the little ones started to get fussy, and we all headed back to the cars.

I feel so happy that my kids get to play in nature this way, and to discover that nature can exist - thrive! - in a suburban setting. They get to free play and learn through doing. the babies can throw stuff in the water to see it splash, and the big kids (all of seven years old) can contemplate predator and prey relationships. I feel happy that these places exist at all, and that I can use my outdoor education experience to create opportunities that my kids just take fro granted, a day of playing outside and exploring and discovering the world and themselves.

Monday, March 25, 2013

How Homeschooling Teaches Me: Learning to Trust Myself and God

You know how you thought that you would raise your kids, but in many ways they are raising you? Yes, you are the parent - but they are the teachers, pushing you to be more than you thought you could ever be. Becoming a mother was like a shamanic death, releasing the old self and struggling to figure out what being a mother actually means.

Homeschooling is like that, too. Here I thought I'd get to use my stellar teaching skills to be at the helm of my children's education. That we would fall into this comfy rhythm of my teaching and their loving to learn. Crafts, science experiments, writing projects, math problems - all would flow joyfully along here at the old kitchen table.

These days, my kitchen table isn't even the same as it was. Literally - we bought a new one to fit better into our house. I keep rearranging rooms, trying to make a family of four who spends a lot of time at home, and all our stuff, fit into our smallish house. The dining nook we bought almost fits, but a little awkwardly. Sort of like homeschooling. It's all a journey of figuring out how the pieces fit together.

We gravitate towards unschooling, but I do keep my finger on the pulse of where my kids are in their academic discoveries. If there is something I feel they "should" learn, I teach it in a way that meets their learning styles and is mostly play-based (even for my seven-year-old). One day a week, we attend an enrichment program for homeschoolers sponsored by the public school district. While it isn't terribly academic, it gives the kids a sense of belonging to a school and having teachers that aren't Mom. And they get to pack a backpack and a lunch, and have recess.

The kids want to go to this "school" for the same reason I looked forward to putting them in school. No, not just for a break from each other, but to be a part of a community. I and my younger brother were part of fabulous family-centered school communities, and I looked forward to being the mom in that scene. But the schools here are very different from where I grew up, especially in my neighborhood. My kids are different, too, and our family system is different. So we ended up homeschooling - and while I love my homeschooling community, a part of me longs for a more structured, accountability-based milieu. Not for the kids, but for me.

So my brilliant idea was that I would get licensed to teach, and could teach language arts at this enrichment program. I got so excited about the idea, figuring with my masters degree and a test I took years ago when applying to grad school for a master's in teaching (k-12 art in this case, a program I didn't attend for various reasons), I could fill out some forms, pay some fees, and voila, be licensed. I would be even more of a a member of this school that values and understands education the way I do: as a family-centered flow, that also benefits from having a home-away-from-home base.

Well, in doing some research I found that it wasn't so easy to procure said license. In order to get licensed, even with my degree, I have to do a year-long teaching training program teaching in my area of endorsement (in this case, English). So I would have to put my kids in school. I considered the idea- it would be a year of living differently, for contrast. It might not be easy, but would benefit everyone in the long run. But it's a way I chose not to live, for all sorts of reason, not the least of which is that my gut tells me that putting my kids in school would take something deeply important from them. Do I really want to jump through mainstream hoops just to work at most two days a week in an alternative environment? I don't need a license to teach co-ops or private school or homeschool - just public school, and therefore this program that I love.

I've been analyzing WHY I want this so much. If it were an easy hop skip and jump, I wouldn't question, I would just do it. But it would mean major upheaval for the whole family. So if I can understand my deeper motivations, maybe I can meet that need some other way. Long story short, I want to feel a little bit normal. I homeschool, but don't use a curriculum. I write eco-spiritual books that don't fit in any one religious category and don't really make sense to a lot of people. My own spiritual path is also an integration of Paganism and wisdom Christianity. So I just don't fit anywhere and am not normal in any way, and I'm tired. I want to fit. I want to get rewarded for what I do. And this program that I would teach in is just enough normal and just enough different. And who knows - maybe some day after my kids go off into the world, I would even teach in a normal public school.

So here I come to the whole point of this long blog. My big realization: Just as I support my children learning through a variety of channels not being graded or tested, and exploring all their interests in however it fires them up, I need to support myself living the same way. Just as I fiercely defend balanced unschooling (i.e., not radical), I need to defend to myself my own flowing in life. That whatever I am doing, writing, learning, and following is just right for where I am now and I don't need someone to approve of whatever that is to make it valid. This is a realization I am still sitting with and trying on for comfort. My inner devil's advocate says there's nothing wrong with being accepted and understood and rewarded. And I agree with her - but I also realize I need to let go of some of the egotistic need for that. I'm doing what I'm doing, and as long as I am in integrity with myself, following the compass in my gut, I am doing the path God has set out for me.

I don't know where this will lead me, or what will come of my ideas and plans, but for this moment I am trying to center in my heart and trust God and myself. Which is really, when it comes down to it, what homeschooling is all about, too.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Reason We Homeschool - And Also, the Goal of Life

I've figured out the goal of life. And therefore, the goal of education.

Bold words, and I offer them as something to mull over and agree with as you will, or shrug off as you choose.

The goal of life is to live a life that instills a sense of satisfaction in oneself. This means one has to know what it feels like to be satisfied and fulfilled. And that one has to have a set of tools that can get him or her to that fulfillment, whatever it may be.

That's why play is so important, especially for young people. It's why establishing an early sense of morality without guilt is important, for it forms the foundation for being satisfied and fulfilled. The Thomas Jefferson Education folks call this early phase the Core Phase. Only then can a child have a sense of justice and right selfhood. Only by wasting time, for instance, can she learn what about that feels nourishing, and what feels empty. Only by trying on other selves and playing in all sorts of environments and learning to ride the waves of emotions in a safe place can a person learn who they are, and what they want out of life.

Then one needs tools to get where one wants to go, and that's where reading, writing, arithmetic, and other traditional aspects of learning comes in. But these need to be taught through play and exploration as well, or a child gets confused and thinks the point is to get things right all the time, and then gives up trying anything at which he might "fail." [The TJEd folks call this Love of Learning Phase.]

Even in areas not included in the canon of imperial education, like art, athletics, and music, in order to give children a sense of what they want and who they are, we need to step back from our grand ideas of perfection, and let them find their way. An example is my daughter's gymnastics. She loves gymnastics. She was the toddler who would hang on everything, climb everything, and could execute a forward roll before she could talk. We found a gym that fosters strength, self-esteem, and skilled gymnasts. We spend a lot of time and a lot of money there. But recently she reached a point where she had to decide if she was going to go the competitive route, which eventually means 14 hours or more a week of practice plus traveling and meets, but means she would be shaped into a strong and perfect gymnast; or we had to take the "Eagles" route, where girls get medals no matter what at their few competitions and advance to the next level just by continuing on, not through perfecting skills. I really struggled with this choice (and I hate having to make it now - she's only seven!), because the high level of competition with choice A doesn't feel like a good fit, and it feels too critical and pushy to me (for my daughter's personality and needs). But choice B feels like they just don't care. Like if you're not going to head for the Olympics, we'll still take your money and give your kid something to do, but we won't care that much about it. I feel those non-competitive kids still need to be met where they are and encouraged and coached, no matter what. But our culture doesn't support that idea.

We decided to go the Eagles route, because my seven-year-old is not interested in making gymnastics the be-all-and-end-all-center-of-the-universe. But a part of me watched the top level girls work out and do their routines, and I feel a sense of longing and regret. What if my daughter could be like that? I realized that underneath this feeling was a desire for her to have a Thing in the world, and this desire comes from my not knowing what my Thing is. I envy people who got a degree in something and go do that thing and identify with it and get accolades for it and that is their Thing. I had equated having a Thing with being fulfilled.

It's not about having a Thing. It's about feeling satisfaction and fulfillment - which might mean having a Thing, or it might mean doing gymnastics just for fun, or having lots of little things, or it might mean earning lots of money - but then knowing what to do with that money and not judging oneself on the money or the accolades themselves. And I think most people don't know how to get there. Because most people were schooled in the traditional system.

So I'll continue to value all the little things I do - writing, gardening, walking to the library, belly dancing while I cook breakfast - that fulfill me. And I will encourage my kids to do the same. I should mention, too, that I think a huge part of feeling fulfilled and motivated in life is a rich spiritual life. 

And that's the reason we homeschool (and specifically, we Flowschool, if you will - sort of unschooling meets TJEd). To help my children grow up to be people who know what they want from the inside and how to achieve it in the world.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Environmental Education Activities

Eleven activities for outdoor education for elementary grade students: Scroll down to "Student Activities."
A homeschool family could easily incorporate one a month to expand your outdoor /environmental education activities.

Looking for PK or secondary? Try these links here:

The easiest way to learn about the natural world is just to get out in it. Find a local trail, park, beach, or other habitat to explore, question, and fall in love with.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Homeschooling as Integral Spiritual Practice

Every day of homeschooling is hard. Every day of homeschooling is brilliant and a blessing. A lot like parenting, or living life. It's a great lesson in spiritual awareness and committing to flow.

I read something recently about how we moms today feel guilt no matter what we do. No matter which way I choose, there is always someone there to tell me it is grossly insufficient. If I homeschool I'm selfish and don't trust anyone and have a self-righteous complex. If I send my kids to school I am failing them and letting my family be run by the government and giving my power away to a teacher.

What if it's not so cut-and-dried? What if we flux and flow - school for the purpose of being part of community (or whatever one's reasons), homeschool to center in family, half time school for both, adjusting to the emotional needs of everyone in the family as we go? Isn't that, after all, why most of us chose to homeschool - to respond to the varied needs of everyone in the family?

We moms, whether we work or stay home, homeschool or send our kids to school, we need to stop focusing on the insufficiencies and look at the deeper flow, deeper reasons behind what we do. And we need to allow that to flux as needed.

When we were thinking seriously about sending my daughter to school, I went into a deep depression. I felt like all I'd worked towards and everything that gives me value was going away. I realized how much I've put my identity and self worth into being That Mom: homeschooling, attachment parenting, earthy mama extraordinaire. Also, I didn't want my life to look like other people's. I am proud of how we are different, how we spend time together visiting farms, harvesting our own food, exploring natural areas in the middle of the city, reading Laura Ingalls Wilder. But I was looking at school because I also feel like I fail at all that and my kids would do better with less computer time and more friend time. And how could I decide about school based on which action was the lesser fail? How could I decide between feeling useful and feeling free? As if either choice is so all-or-nothing?

We ended up continuing to homeschool, a day at a time, despite too much computer time, despite my temper that I struggle with daily. First because I couldn't find a school that fit our family's needs, which is the reason I started homeschooling in the first place. And second, and maybe most importantly, because my daughter doesn't want to go to school. She likes her freedom and she enjoys her one-day-a-week homeschool enrichment "school." I do too. And I see the deep value of homeschooling, the sense of self that my children get to grow without measuring themselves based  on test scores or the latest fashion. We get to ask - are my kids fulfilled? am I? do we feel loved? responded to? inspired? No batch of test scores measures this.

But I have homeschooling friends who have put their kids in school because they need to. One family needed the time so mom could work and they could get out of a bad financial situation. Another is sending her two daughters to school because they want to go. A third friend is contemplating school because she has found her calling and needs more time to pursue it, towards the emotional fulfillment and financial richness that this would bring her and the whole family. I applaud these friends for doing what their family needs, as I applaud all my friends who keep on homeschooling. It's all flow. Our kids can go to school for a year, or half a year, or not at all, and we are teaching them that we value their needs and desires and curiosity - and our own. 

For my family, valuing our needs and desires means continuing to homeschool a day at a time. Sort of like a spiritual practice. When you meditate, you take it a breath at a time. You keep calling yourself back to present moment and living in the witness. You have to keep calling yourself back. When you pray, you keep returning to that relationship with God, that wordless sense of purpose and rootedness that may be lost again in the next moment. Homeschooling, like any relationship that matters, is like that. And when you return to breath, or return to connection with God, you gain a little reminder of what it's all about. Same with homeschooling. When I have those brilliant moments, it all makes sense. 

It's less important that we religiously adhere to one path or another, and more important that we live a spiritual, living devotion to our deepest commitments. And then we can let go of the guilt of not being enough, and just look inside at that inner compass, that ongoing relationship, and open to both the blessings and the challenge.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Our first poem and drawing from The Private Eye

We are using the book The Private Eye, a system of using a jeweler's loupe to examine natural objects close up, come up with analogies about what you see, draw the object, and use the analogies to write poetry and stories, and then to learn about it's scientific properties, again through the lens of analogies.

My seven-year-old created the following poem and drawing. This is the first time we have done the analogies part, rather than just looking at things through the loupe. We will revisit the same coral in a few days to come up with more analogies, explore it's properties ("why is it like a whirlpool/rose/seaweed? What does that tell us about it?") and write a story.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Free Ecology and Geography Curriculum

Kids for Saving the Earth has a free education packet, along with a "Conserving Classroom Calendar." The calendar has links on it that bring you to printable lesson ideas.

Another fabulous free resource for learning about the earth and our relationship with it are the classroom resources at Heifer International. They also offer a program called Read to Feed, where kids take pledges, raise money, and help other kids and families in struggling countries. Meanwhile, they learn about giving and service and about other countries. Compassion and education are important traits to teach in order to raise eco-loving kids.

The Rainforest Action network also has curriculum available, including reading lists, films, and a save-an-acre program.