She Has An Eye For It

While visiting friends a couple years ago, Rue picked up my former preschool student’s SLR camera (my former student was 19 by then and Rue was 10).  After a few pointers, Rue began to move around the group taking photos.

When we looked at them later we all were taken by the quality of the photos, the composition, the angle, and the way she captured interesting moments.  You could immediately see that she had that “eye” for photography.

That Christmas we gave her what we thought was a high-end camera for a 10 year old, a Nikon point and shoot.

The thrill of having her own really nice camera lasted about 6 months and then she began to pine for a camera with more options and a greater lens range.  I could have easily gone to, “ungrateful child!”, and maybe I did just a little, and yet she made a good case that she had a vision she wasn’t able to fulfill with a point and click.

Christmas came around again, and though we couldn’t believe we were doing it, we did what felt right.  We gave her the camera she was dreaming about, a Canon T3i.   It’s a serious camera for a child.  Yet what she can do with it amazes me daily.  I know I’ll never regret this investment.

And now photography has morphed from an interest into a real passion for her.   She loves the process, she spends enormous amounts of time creating the perfect shot, and it’s a great outlet for her creative expression.   And that, to me, is the real gift.

 

A timer + a tripod = happy girl

A timer + a tripod = happy girl

 

 

She's Been Baking

A lot.

Both Gigi and Rue are adept in the kitchen.  Since we’ve been homeschooling, however, Gigi has really, really gotten into baking and cake decorating.

It started with cupcakes.

The layered rainbow cupcake.

The layered rainbow cupcake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then it went from there.

A handful of her creations.

A handful of her creations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She used boxed cake mix and ready-made frosting in the beginning and watched every episode of Cake Boss on Netflix.  The cake itself was just a canvas, her energy was devoted to the design.

When it came time for my parents’ 50th anniversary party, Gigi wanted to make the cupcakes.  Now it was time to take this to a higher level.  She found recipes at The Cupcake Project:  ultimate vanilla cupcakes, half with chocolate cream cheese frosting and half with vanilla bean buttercream frosting.

Simple and absolutely delicious

Simple and absolutely delicious.
They were finished off with gold sugar crystal sprinkles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These recipes were a big jump in complexity from the boxed cake mix (I mean seriously…vanilla infused sugar using vanilla beans)  so we worked on them together. Although Gigi, with her extensive experience, was much more adept than I at piping on the frosting (the funky ones in the pic are mine). These cupcakes are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  My dad couldn’t stop taking big spoonfuls of the vanilla bean frosting right out of the mixing bowl.  And the frostings and cupcake together…inspired.

Which in turn inspired Gigi to get creative with the batter, making maple syrup cupcakes with a bacon frosting and most recently champagne cupcakes.

Gigi’s passion continues.  And as far as the scale is concerned, I’m just relieved she combines this passion with her other one and takes most of her creations to the horse barn 😉

 

My Husband is Sexy and Awesome

Ok, folks, FINALLY the wrap up to our first year of homeschooling.  The learning curve wasn’t just steep, it was crazy wavy with depressing lows and heart-bursting highs.  AND I’m so glad we began this journey and continue to tempt fate with our particular path.

So go ahead, read, and get a bird’s eye view into one of a gazillion possibilities of how to go about learning…

 

Wiggling Into Self-Directed Learning

After being inspired from reading “Freedom to Learn” by Carl Rogers,  I thought I’d wait until I had the plan figured out before presenting to Rue and Gigi the idea of a new structure for our days.  Then I realized the whole idea of self-direction is to take ownership and responsibility for your own learning, so it would be best to bring them in on the planning.  From the beginning they each were curious, but weren’t sure how this was going to move into action.  At first, either did I.

Over the course of a week the container we wished to create began to take form.

I would be their facilitator.  I would assist in any way they needed and especially as a provider of resources.  First thing in the morning each girl would sit down and make a list of what she would be working on for the day.  We would go over the list together to see if anything was needed from me such as instruction, a worksheet, a book, or other materials, or if we would need to go offsite for a field trip or to gather more information.  Once we had done that I would have my “to do” list and each girl would have her own self-directed curriculum to work on.

A few days in I decided I would feel better with a bit more oversight on their progress.  We decided we would meet on Fridays, one-on-one, to go over the week’s work.  Each of us ended up looking forward to this time for different reasons.

Gigi would show up with a pile of paperwork and books and proceed to go through them with confidence and pride.  She talked about what worked for her and didn’t. The Friday evaluation was a chance to show the quantity, quality and completion of her work, an important goal for a producer like her.

At the first meeting with Rue she brought a few papers and her planning book.  She was eager to meet and then started out kind of apologetic, “I really didn’t do much that I can show.”  “That’s ok.” I encouraged, “Tell me about what you’ve been working on.”  She opened up her planning book and went through the days, describing in great detail about what she had discovered, figured out, and thought about, none of which could easily be tested or graded, but was incredibly rich in depth and insight.  For Rue, this was uninterrupted time with Mom going over her week, her ideas, and her stories, offering a great sense of accomplishment, worth, and connection to a relator like her.

And for me, well, it was this Mom’s dream scene…my children sharing happily, even excitedly at times, about their discoveries in learning and being able to let myself listen and connect with their joy without an agenda or timeline.

At the end of the first week I called a process evaluation meeting.  “So, what do you think so far?”  These are the notes I wrote down on their responses:

Positives- get to pick what you are working on for yourself, lots of possible projects, able to focus easily, more fun, look forward to it

Negatives- G felt R was getting more of my attention, R frustrated by not being able to finish her plan on Thursday

Obviously, the positives far outweighed the negatives.

Each day both Rue and Gigi willingly (almost eagerly) wrote up their plans and set to working on them.  Sometimes they would stop and chat with each other or get up, do something else, and then go back to their plan.  A couple of times I saw one of them engrossed in a “school-like” learning activity in the evening. Something they would have fought previously.  They also started working on more projects together.

You see what I mean? Sexy, huh? Experimenting on Science Friday.

Now we are 6 weeks into our second year.  We’ve approached learning in the same way with a slight modification.  I certainly don’t want to mess with a good thing, but the girls continue to talk about going to our local high school eventually.  With this in mind I created a weekly calendar that has the requirement of studying certain subjects on certain days.  In my teacher mind I’m hoping to ensure they stay well-rounded (you guessed it, Rue was avoiding math like the plague).  The particular subject matter is still at their discretion.

I feel we have hit our stride, at least for now.  One never knows what’s around the next corner.  I keep wishing for world travelling in our future!

Thanks for following our first year!  Don’t think this is over.  I’ll be sharing projects, experiments, field trips, and who knows what else in future posts.

 

Enlightened

Each February for the past 3 years I head to St. Dorothy’s Rest in Occidental to gather with a group of open-hearted and conscious women for four days.  Our goal is to set our intentions for the coming year.  It was during this year’s retreat that I stumbled upon the missing piece between my philosophy about education and turning it into something real where the rubber meets the road.  I’ve been in search of that connector between the natural way an individual learns and creating an environment that allows each individual to learn in the way she needs to.  In a one-to-one situation that can be doable, but with a group or even a student body of two – as I was finding out – it’s more than difficult…it felt just this side of impossible.

When you’re on retreat pretty amazing things happen.  So frequently, in fact, that you stop being surprised when something you’ve been searching for, maybe even for years, is suddenly right in front of you.  This is how I reached out and touched the missing piece.  I was stretching on the floor of my cabin tucked into a ring of towering redwoods and while I lay back stretching out a quadricep I turn my head to stare at the bookshelf.  The books are pretty old and are not a conscious collection, but the results of donations over the years.  As I glance down the shelf at the titles I land on one that looks intriguing.  The title is “Freedom to Learn” written by Carl Rogers (the same Carl Rogers that wrote “On Becoming A Person”).  It was published in 1969.  I read the first page.  It starts like this:

“I am writing this book because I want to speak to teachers, professors, educators, administrators of schools, colleges, and educational institutions.  But what is it I want to say to them?  I sit here in my study puzzling over this question.  Such a flood of thoughts and feelings flows over me that I have no idea where to begin.  Then the thought begins to emerge – I want to speak to them about learning.  But not the lifeless, sterile, futile, quickly forgotten stuff which is crammed into the mind of the poor helpless individual tied into his seat by ironclad bonds of conformity!  I am talking about LEARNING – the insatiable curiosity which drives the adolescent boy to absorb everything he can see or hear or read about gasoline engines in order to improve the efficiency and speed of his “hot rod”.  I am talking about the student who says, “I am discovering, drawing in from the outside, and making that which is drawn in a real part of me.”

Yes!  He had my attention.  This is what has plagued me since those first days as a teacher in a classroom and again, now, with my own two children.  Whether working with my own children or someone elses, I have struggled with the conflict of supporting them in their own discovery process, while at the same time being weighed down with the externally driven need that there’s this body of knowledge that they MUST learn.  How do I bring those two pieces together in a meaningful way? Is it even possible?

It became clear that what was being offered in “Freedom to Learn” was the missing piece.   Rogers is committed to approaching learning from an individual-centered perspective and then moving out from there.  Right off the bat in Part I of the book, Rogers offers three case studies of teachers creating structures for their students that allow the students to take responsibility for their own learning.

And that is exactly what I hoped for with my children.  I modified my goal for the year.  Now it was, “to create an environment where my children love learning and take responsibility for their own learning process”.

It was that moment of epiphany where all I had been figuring out and struggling with falls into neat stacks and suddenly makes perfect sense.  Now I had the tools to create the structure needed for Rue and Gigi to blossom.

Details next post…

Freedom to Learn by Carl Rogers, First Edition

This is a picture of THE book. I know, it’s kind of dirty. You should have seen it before I cleaned it up. This is a first edition. Later editions are more heavily edited.

Control, A Curious Strategy

Many excuses come to mind as to why you haven’t heard from me in nearly a month and all are pretty good.

  1. The weather is gorgeous and we’ve been living in the moment.
  2. I’ve spent much of the past few weeks letting ideas for the new school year swirl around in my brain. I’m excited about all the upcoming possibilities and not as interested in rehashing the past year.
  3. I’m struggling a bit on how to describe the homeschooling transitions we made last winter.

See.  All good and all true.  And still I want to wrap up our story of our first year of homeschooling, partly because it’s a good story and partly because I’m ready to start writing in the present.

Deschooling through the holidays had given us some breathing space.  I spent a lot of my time researching and contemplating how to approach learning in the new year.  Even now I’m surprised by the strategy I decided to take, but it’s a common pattern many of us snap into, especially me, when feeling like things are out of control. I turn up the control.

Never mind that we had all had a pleasant holiday season and were enjoying ourselves.  That was not a consideration for me.  My driving force was, “Those girls are not learning enough. I need to get them on track!”

So I created a schedule less flexible than the previous one.  It wasn’t like I got militant or turned into an evil headmistress, I just enacted a schedule that had timetables for different subject matter throughout the week, like a traditional school schedule.  I felt that more structure was exactly what we needed for me to feel more secure about what we were doing.  And yes, I do know exactly what I said in that  last sentence and it’s only now that I know why I did what I did.

This is the schedule I announced at the beginning of January:

curriculumspring2012_web

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gigi and Rue had been in a traditional school up until 4th grade and though they may have had issue with the strict schedule of a school day at one time, it was something they knew well and when I presented it they accepted the new schedule readily.  Like eating a big bowl of chili, they found it familiar and comforting, all of us conveniently forgetting that later there’s likely to be some negative kickbacks.

“For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  This is Newton’s third law of motion.  I think this can be applied to many facets of life.  For instance, try to control a situation and somebody will rebel.

We easily fell back into the “us and them” pattern.  Or more accurately, the “me and them” pattern.  I was innovative and fresh and they were non-plussed and complaining.  Gigi constantly interrupted me and Rue would whine about whatever she was working on.  One day I found myself at the computer Googling “what to do with ungrateful children”.  Seriously.

Little did I know my saving grace was just around the corner.  By mid-February I was on my way to my annual women’s retreat.  I was about to be enlightened.

 

Deschooling, Sort Of

As November came to a close, I was at a loss.  Not the throw in the towel kind, but the back to the drawing board kind.  In the moment, though, I needed an immediate plan, so my temporary answer was to take that open-ended time that all the experienced homeschoolers recommended; we’ll deschool in December.

My announcement went like this, “Let’s spend December getting ready for Christmas.  We can make gifts and bake.”  I suppose that wasn’t so open-ended, my need for a product very much intact, still we all thought it sounded pretty luxurious.

The first week we were off to a good start.  My good friend and writing teacher, Susan Hagen, once worked as a baker at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo back in her college days.  Susan brought her gingerbread house patterns, recipes and love into our kitchen and spent two mornings making houses from scratch with Rue and Gigi.  It was a sweet experience and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves while gaining some new baking and decorating skills.

Putting the finishing touches on the gingerbread houses

The rest of the month was filled with visits from family members, our regular schedule of science, horseback riding, and music classes, a trip down to see the reindeer at the Academy of Sciences, and a couple stage performances.  Gigi spearheaded getting together the pictures for the Christmas card. She also spent much of her time reading and riding.  At this point she was up to four days per week of horseback riding, two of the days working as trade for riding.  Rue spent as much time as she could taking pictures, filming, and editing and working on her novel.

In educationalese, I would say we worked on the following subject matter and skills: Consumer Math, Angles, Geometry, Fractions, Project Planning, Language Arts, Computer Sciences, Biology, Large and Fine Motor Skills, Research, Design, and Visual and Performing Arts.

This was the first holiday season in memory where we had enough time to prepare for the holiday, see friends and family, and continue to do most of the activities that we enjoyed.  It was ALMOST stress-free.  And, in my experience, that’s saying something.

Now that I’m writing, I see that Rue and Gigi were involved in a project, a book, or an activity much of their time, but in December I felt guilty and somewhat irresponsible for allowing so much free time.  It makes me wonder about how conditioned we are to believe that real learning doesn’t happen unless children are instructed in set time slots, using a specific lesson plan with a clear objective, and then evaluated using a standardized test.  These tools make a certain amount of sense (honestly, I don’t think standardized testing ever makes sense) the way most schools are set up, but I began to see that they were completely unnecessary and irrelevant in our homeschool setting.

 

Jumping Into the Deep End

As I sit here typing at my computer, we have completed our first year of homeschooling.  For those who are considering homeschooling, getting ready to homeschool, or are morbidly curious about the ups and downs of our grand experiment, you can follow along as I recount the tale of our year with as much authenticity of the frustrations and satisfactions as I can muster in hindsight.  If you’re just jumping in you can catch up here, here, and here.

 

When Mom Sets the Schedule

 

We were now honest to goodness homeschoolers.  All three of our hearts seemed lighter after experiencing the ease of that first day.  Gigi’s comment was “This is much better than I expected it to be.”   I took that as a compliment and thought, “Maybe I can pull this off.” We moved into a routine for our mornings.  Both Gigi and Rue are night owls making morning slow going.  Instead of a struggle to get out them out of bed and get ready by a certain time, I decided that they could wake up and stay in bed and read a book until 9:30am.  At 9:30 the girls would have a half hour to putter, get breakfast, and get dressed before we gathered together to focus on our lessons for the day.  This worked well for me too.  I had until 10am to take care of myself and other household needs, or even last minute curriculum planning.  At Gigi’s request, each morning I wrote the schedule for the day on the whiteboard (no problem, Ms. Producer).  Of course, that meant I had to know what the schedule was going to be.  Sometimes I was so prepared I wrote the schedule on the board the night before and other times I was sussing it out as I wrote it at 10:00am.

As I discussed in my previous post, we dove into Greek mythology.  We made a family tree of the Titans, Gods, & Goddesses, read several of the myths, compared and contrasted different versions of the same myth, created our own Goddesses and their thrones, designed blueprints for temples on graph paper and measured the area and perimeter.  My mom mentioned that she had never studied Greek mythology and would love it if Rue and Gigi taught her what they learned.  Since my mom lives 7 hours away, the girls wrote a play based on the story of Cronus’ rise and fall from power, filmed it, edited it, and burned it onto a DVD for Grandma.

I had a great high school Biology teacher, Mr. Grecian, who drilled us weekly in Greek and Latin root words.  That was a gift and it has stuck with me to this day.  I still give him much of the credit for my SAT vocabulary score.  Rue and Gigi loved the idea of learning Greek root words, so that became a part of our weekly routine as well.  It soon became apparent that Rue has a love for language that I had never noted before.  On her own she started learning the Greek alphabet and words.  One morning she prepared a lesson on it for Gigi and I.  Somehow I was wise enough not to interfere allowing her to find her own discovery process.  No, she doesn’t know Greek now, but she continues to be fascinated by all languages and for fun plays with translations on her iPad.

We compare and contrast versions of Persephone’s story

I had bought some books I couldn’t resist.  One was Karen Benke’s Rip the Page: Adventures in Creative Writing and the other was How To Be An Explorer of the World by Keri Smith.  Rip the Page, with its short, mind-loosening exercises was (and still is) a big hit.  I ended up buying each of us a book so we could write right in it and sometimes RIP IT! We love doing the exercises on our own then reading back to each other what we wrote.  How To Be An Explorer didn’t go over so well.  I may have introduced it too early in our de-structuring as the girls, still in the mindset that school had to look a certain way, thought the explorations were weird.  I haven’t given up on the book yet.  I think it’s cool enough to suggest at a later date and see if it gets a better reception next go around.

Rue despises math.  She carries a tremendous amount of anxiety around the thought of it.  In order to help change the way she looked at math, I knew the approach had to change.  We would do real world math and make it meaningful for her.  I had visions of Rue and Gigi breezing through fractions as we cooked, jumping at the chance to do math at the grocery store, and finally internalizing the multiplications table by practicing it everywhere we went so they would see how convenient having those facts at your fingertips would be.  Initially, I had us all playing and working together on math skills.  This idea backfired big time for both girls.  Gigi’s quick answers compounded and confirmed Rue’s belief that she was “bad” at math.  And, not surprisingly, this method didn’t scratch Gigi’s itch to check a completed task off her list.  She begged me for a worksheet.  Okay, I can adjust. I’m flexible and committed to supporting their process, but it didn’t take long for me to get weary of planning separately for each of them.  Rue’s anxiety did begin to subside, if only by the lack of welling tears in her eyes when I said the word “math”.  But my visions of fun, enjoyable, and easy skill attainment were not happening.

I barely kept the girls’ attention with our study of the American colonies and Revolutionary War.  This may have been due to the fact that I LOVE history and want to dive into all the angles of it, discussing the “what ifs” and reading different perspectives on the same event.  I had rebels in my midst.  Even the awesome HBO mini-series, John Adams, got a sideways thumb for being too slow and boring.  (FYI, I thought it was extremely well written and really brought the dilemmas of the time period to life.)

Finally, I assigned each of the girls a project based on their interests (boy, was I bossy).  For Gigi, who rides horses a few times a week, the project was to write a report about the care and cost of having your own horse.  Rue, who loves fashion and make up, researched and wrote about what she would need to know and purchase to open her own salon.  Both girls dove into their projects, because they were honestly curious about the answers, but getting them to wrap up the reports in some cohesive presentation was like pulling teeth. I see now that my goal was a finished product and their goal was answers.  It was starting to dawn on me, I needed to deschool.

I comforted myself that at least they had had a good run with Greek Mythology, science, writing, and project management.  I had no doubt they were gaining solid learning skills that could be applied throughout their lives.  They were learning how to learn and having fun (mostly).  For that I was grateful.  Unfortunately, as the study of mythology waned, so did all their attention and enthusiasm.  I was spending many hours in preparation and would often be staring into glazed over eyes when I was explaining a lesson.  It was a drag.

At the end of November I was left wondering, again, “Now what?”

First Day of Homeschooling

The journey of our first year of homeschooling continues…

Armed with the knowledge of the learning styles assessment and the workbook pdf provided with the assessment results, I got busy getting ready for a 5th grade homeschooling year.

The dominant learning personality for one of my daughters (let’s call her Gigi) is Producer.  This means she prefers to work with structured, sequentially ordered components.  She thrives in a routine, prefers to have things planned and scheduled, and needs her quiet time.  According to the workbook, she wants to be acknowledged for being organized, neat, productive, and punctual.  Yep.  That pretty much nailed her.

My other daughter (let’s call her Rue) has the dominant learning personality of Relater/Inspirer.  Her ideal learning environment would have a people-centered point-of-view.  She wants to be social and talk about what she’s learning, so she would prefer to be working in a group.  She wants to be acknowledged for being kind, fair, thoughtful and noticing others.  This is also my dominant learning personality.

To portray how different the Producer and Relater learning personalities are from each other, imagine putting each of my girls at a desk with a worksheet.

Gigi: clean organized desk, sharpened pencil, she’s ready to go. In front of her is a task with a clear, delineated, and attainable goal.  She will complete the worksheet and check it off her list. Ideal set up.

Rue: papers are quickly stuffed haphazardly into desk, she can’t find her pencil, finds it and now needs to go sharpen it.  Finally sitting down she sees the worksheet, looks up, asks a question, tries to engage with anyone near her, tries to refocus on the worksheet and work a problem, puts head down on her desk because this is SOOOOO boring. Nightmare set up.

Of course other learning personalities come into play, but this really does sum up the way this scenario plays out in real life for each of them.

I DON’T want our homeschooling to look like this for Rue and I DO want the structure for Gigi.  I’m keeping both dispositions in mind as I do my planning. I’ve ordered the book What Your 5th Grader Needs to Know, we’ve signed up for a weekly homeschooling science class with a fab teacher/tutor, Meredith Caplan, and I’ve found lots of online resources for every subject, mostly sourced from Diane Flynn Keith’s ClickSchooling email which she sends Monday through Saturday.  I have a whiteboard, games, books, and math manipulatives.  And, because of the educational value, of course, our big splurge for the homeschooling year was to get each of them an iPad (more on this later).  I’ve thought about and made notes about various ways we can approach subject matter and I can’t wait to get started.  I’m back in teacher mode.

Then the night before we begin I remember my goal.  My goal for the year is for my children to have a love of learning again.  Will that happen if I’m deciding what they learn about? I make the decision that we’ll still cover the gamut of “school subjects” but I’ll ask the girls WHAT it is they’d like to learn about.  And I mean it (mostly).

The first day of school my daughters wake up moaning about having to go to school.  Yes, it’s 9am and school is 12 feet from their bedroom and STILL they’re moaning.  Geesh.

We gather on the sofa.  I have a large whiteboard on a stand set up on the coffee table.  I draw a big circle in the middle and write “CURIOUS” inside it.  “What are you curious to know more about?”, I ask.

Brain map on the first day of homeschooling

It’s not an avalanche of subject matter, but a few substantial ideas make their way onto our brain map.  We decide to start by exploring Ancient Greek Mythology.  We head to the library for books.  While we’re there, without any prompting from me, each of my girls starts taking notes from Greek Mythology books they’ve found.  Gigi says she’s pulling out vocabulary words and Rue is writing down important facts.  We come home and spend the rest of the morning working on fractions (otherwise known as baking).  When we clean up, both girls find a cozy spot to read.

Not too shabby for a first day of school.  I fall asleep that night with a smile on my face.  So far so good.  Well, we’ll see about that.

How Now, Homeschool Frau?

We decided to homeschool. We had also decided to file a Private School Affidavit (PSA), which lets the state know that we are functioning as our own private school with no attachment to a district.  Giddy and slightly bewildered the question became, “Now what?”.

The advice I read and heard most often was, “Don’t buy any curriculum sets, you’ll just be throwing away your money at this point and you’ll likely never use them.” Easy. They cost a fortune and I was still gathering information on how we might approach the next school year.

The second most common advice was “If your child has been in school, give her time to deschool.” The rule of thumb most often provided was a month of letting your child do her own thing for each year she was in school. If you’re not familiar with the term (and I’m familiar with it and it’s still a bit illusive), deschooling is about taking time to let go of the school-based structure of how learning happens. By letting go of these preconceived notions we begin to see learning from a perspective that doesn’t necessarily include an assortment of textbooks, worksheets, project centers, tests, allotted time slots, and other deeply-rooted beliefs in the tools of education. This just glosses over the shiny freedom of deschooling. Believe me, it’s much more extensive than that. There are entire books written about it, like Tammy Takahashi’s Deschooling Gently, in case you’re interested enough to pick up a book about it. To say the least, I didn’t tell my girls about deschooling. I was totally freaked they’d love the idea and never learn another damn thing in their lives.

“Now what?” still loomed large. In August we went to HSC’s homeschool conference. Wow. If you are considering homeschooling, do this. The event is designed for the entire family: workshops for kids, teens, and adults, plus non-stop group activities. It was all fun and games and interesting until the end of the very last day when I found my golden nugget. The workshop was presented by Marilyn Mosley Gordanier of Laurel Springs School and was my first introduction to learning styles by breaking them up by learning personalities. Marilyn described each one (of which there are five and we are each varying degrees of these five personalities) and when she described my dominant one I had that knot-in-the-throat, you are speaking the truth moment. I actually got teary. The residual negative feelings of all those moments of my education where I felt “less than” or misunderstood drifted away as the reality that I am who I am and my teachers were who they were and it was just a miss of expectations and internal motivators that caused the chasm. I’m well-schooled in Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory (which, BTW, is incorporated into the assessment), but the information I learned in that itty-bitty 45-minute workshop gave me a whole new perspective on learning dispositions, approaches, and motivators.

The concepts of the learning personalities and the assessment were created by the women of Learning Success Institute, however, Marilyn offered that if the people in her workshop sent her an email, she would provide the tools to give your children the learning assessment for free. That email may have been the first thing I did after I walked out of the workshop. And I went ahead and purchased three more assessments for my husband, my wasband, and myself. Your learning personality makes a huge difference in how you approach teaching, we needed to be clear on where we all stood.

Here is a graph that shows the degree of each of the personalities for my daughters (green and red), my husband (blue) and myself (orange). The sections are in this order: Performer, Producer, Inventor, Relator/Inspirer, Thinker/Creator. You may or may not be able to deduct that my two daughter are almost exactly opposite in dominant personality.

There are 5 sections with 4 colors in each. The sections are the personalities, the colors represent each of my daughters, my husband, and myself and how we “rate” in each personality.

 

I came home pretty enthusiastic, with access to a tool that could shed a lot of light on how to reach my number one goal for the school year: to create an environment where my children were once again in love with learning.

So Why Homeschooling, You Ask?

A year ago, while wrapping up a challenging 4th grade year, we made the HUGE decision for our daughters to learn at home for 5th grade.  It wasn’t the first time we had considered it, but instead of feeling anxious about the radicalness of it and its consequences, this time it felt like a relief, like the right thing to do.

Both of my daughters had survived well enough in an academic-based school setting.  Each one has the ability to take in information in different ways, can process that information, take a test and regurgitate it, and sometimes, if the information is interesting to her, engage in multi-layered and meaningful discussions about it.  And yet each, in her own way, was not thriving. The love of learning was slowly and distinctly drifting away.

It took a barn door-sized catalyst to prompt us to reconsider homeschooling.  It began with the school district we are in deciding to close the school they had been attending, because of drastic state cuts to their budget, and move the K-5 program onto the middle school campus.

I really can’t speak to the pros and cons of Kindergarten through 8th grade on the same campus, I’ve never experienced that, but I was very clear that, for at least one of my daughters, 5th grade was way too young for 8th grade girl exposure.  Ever since she was a preschooler she has observed bigger girls and tried to emulate them.  All I could think was, “I know what happens on a middle school campus.  I was there once.”  I had to keep the cocoon around her just a bit longer.

The reasoning was completely different for my other daughter whose impatience with the school day had been building in earnest since 1st grade.  Her regular comments about school went like this, “If everyone paid attention, and we skipped recess, we could be out of school by noon and then I could go do something I really want to do.”

So, in November of my daughters’ 4th grade year I began to read every book on homeschooling that I could get from our county library and I also read many, many  homeschooling blogs.  I joined the Homeschool Association of California (HSC), and our local Sonoma County Homeschool Nonprofit (SCHN) and joined their respective Yahoo groups.  I contacted local families who were homeschooling and asked lots of questions.  My daughters and I visited the enrichment classes for our local independent study charter school and applied there for the following school year.  (Though eventually we decided to go it alone…more on that in the future)

I pored over all the information and I started to get excited.  It became startlingly apparent to me that if we were to take this road it could be rich in possibilities I had no way of imagining from where I stood at the time, but it rang of something forgotten and true.  I knew homeschooling was about to blow anything I thought I knew about education and learning out of the water.

And so, with all parties in agreement – my husband, my wasband (my daughters’ father), and both my daughters – we made the decision to give this new venture a try.