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:













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.


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.