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Homeschool, Year 1: Thus Far

4 Jan

When we initially made the decision to homeschool eight-year-old Phoenix this year, I did what I always do: I researched everything I could get my hands on.  I checked out almost every how-to-homeschool book that was on the shelf at the library, I read piles of homeschooling blogs, joined a local Yahoo group, Googled curriculum choices, unschooling,  deschooling, reschooling, homeschool laws, and on, and on.

When I had reached the million word mark, I really felt more confused than confident about how to homeschool.  I was certainly more knowledgeable about all the different possibilities of method, but which one was right for me? More importantly, which method was right for my child?

As the beginning of the new school year drew closer, I enrolled her in a one-day-a-week enrichment school that is chartered in a local school district. Because they are a publicly funded school, they provide curriculum at no charge to the parents. Better yet, because the program is purely complimentary to the families’ homeschooling choices, and they serve many families with differing opinions, they provide a large variety of curriculum options to choose from. The coordinator cautioned new-comers against ordering more than the children could handle in one year, so I went to the curriculum book fair with that in mind. I came away feeling I had ordered just enough.

It all began according to plan. I planned lessons based on the books, organized days around the lessons, scheduled field trips to support learning, wrote daily assignments in Phoenix’s planner…

Two and a half months in, we had used only half the curriculum, given up on lesson plans, disorganized the days around what had been planned. We were frustrated. We were exhausted. Phoenix resisted every effort I was making to teach her.

So I stopped.

It was a convenient time to pause. Phoenix had been taking ballet for over three years, and this year, she had auditioned to be in a professional production of  “The Nutcracker”.  She got cast in two parts (exciting!), and was scheduled to rehearse/perform multiple times per week during the last part of November, and the entire month of December (crazy!). We decided that, because this was very time consuming, and took a lot of hard-work and dedication, that she would focus on ballet.  We would temporarily stop “schooling”. I figured we could call it unschooling.

It is now January, and let me tell you, it has been wonderful. We quit arguing (about school, anyway), and have been able to simply enjoy each other’s company. We have talked to one another. We have listened. We have read books to each other, just because; gone to the library to check-out books on whatever piqued her interest; watched movies next to each other on the couch, and then discussed them over tea. Unschooling is awesome.

But the nagging voices in the back of my head won’t shut-up.

So for this, the second half of the school year, I need to find a happy medium (that sweet spot that is oh so hard to find sometimes). I cannot teach her directly–we tried that, and it doesn’t work well. She is a work-at-her-own-pace kind of gal, and really loves learning (which public school seemed to crush at times). I am not worried about her skill levels in any subject, but I also would like her to continue to learn new skills that she probably won’t find in a novel, and maybe not in everyday life. I’m going to have to get sneaky–like chopped-up-kale-in-spaghetti-sauce sneaky.

Phoenix loves kale now. Perhaps if she gets enough chopped-up multiplication and division in cookie recipes, she will love math too.

(By the way, seeing Phoenix perform in “The Nutcracker” with all the pros was an amazing thing.  My big girl looked so tiny up on that stage).

The Whole World Belongs to You

6 Jul

“Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.”
― Lao Tzu

Phoenix and Magpie are such different people in many ways. Magpie is generally happy, easily excitable, and practically bulletproof. She is just happy to be alive, most of the time.

Phoenix is complicated. She is very introspective. She works things over in her mind so completely that everything seems all wrong, and all right, all at the same time. She is overly susceptible to, and concerned with other people’s thoughts and feelings, which ordinarily is a good thing–she understands people, and has so much compassion and empathy–but it is often to her own detriment. I think she tries pleasing other people so much that it leaves her drained of her own happiness. Don’t get me wrong, she is a bright and cheery young lady much of the time, but it seems as if the smallest thing can strangely upset her to the point of deep sadness.

The fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. I am also introspective. And, like Phoenix, I used to be highly sensitive to the feelings of those around me, until I learned to filter most of it out (and sometimes block it out completely, or so says my sensitive husband). As well, I can be a very positive person, but when the right mood strikes (or wrong mood, perhaps), I do seem to focus on the ugly.

I have been trying, for years, to figure out how to teach Phoenix to focus on the positive more than the negative; to remember what she has, and not what she lacks. But I think that, generally, I do not pay enough attention to the words that come out of my own mouth, to effectively show her the positivity and acceptance that I wish she would have. Then a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine gave me the book Steady Days, by Jamie Martin. I was reading through it, thinking, ‘This woman is brilliant! Why didn’t I ever think to put my whole life in a three-ring binder?’, when I came across her chapter about Daily Blessings. She recommends writing down all of the things we are thankful for everyday. She has her whole family do this. I figured I could make my whole family do this too. It didn’t work quite as I had hoped–Adam was very irritated at the idea. He enjoys being a cynic.

However, the girls and I have made a (somewhat irregular) habit of asking each other what we are grateful for each day, when we are sitting at the dinner table. It is a small start, but it helps put things into perspective at the end of the day.

This morning, as I sat in a dental examination chair, under glaring florescent lights, thinking about all of my woes, I stared at a cheesy photo poster of a misty mountain cliff, with the above quote printed in the bottom corner.

the fam–this was one of two pictures I could find with both Adam and I in the frame–one of us is always behind the camera.

Times are difficult right now, but I am better off than so many. I could not ask for a better family, more amazing daughters, a more thoughtful and caring husband–and that is what I need to focus on. I lack nothing.

Top 5: Reasons Today is Better Than Yesterday

6 Jul

1.  I have the day off (from my day job, anyway).

2. Today has not been spoiled by bummer phone calls.

3. I actually got my lazy ass out of bed at 5:45 and went for a run.

4. This afternoon, I get to spend time with Phoenix at her adventure camp because it’s parent-day–we’re   going canoeing! 

5.  All of those things that happened yesterday will probably not happen today.

that's not Denver

This is not me. I am not that fit. Yet.

Grrls

1 Jul

Image

A woman recently told me that she never got over the fact that her parents had a second child. Her life was forever changed the day her baby sister entered the world. She is now an adult, and still carries resentment towards her sister, as well as her parents. I do not actually know this woman, so I cannot speak to the relationship she has with her sister, but her story saddened me.

One of my fears for my girls is that they will not have a relationship when they get older. I know it is normal for siblings to argue, fight, sometimes throw some blows, and that in the end, they can still become the best of friends. But sometimes I worry that Phoenix will end up like the woman mentioned above–resentful and bitter.

Most of the time, or maybe more like half of the time, the girls get along wonderfully. They put on plays together, take turns being each other’s audience for dance performances in their room, help each other out. But often, there is this undertone of melancholy in Phoenix when anyone gives Magpie special attention.

Like this week, for instance, Magpie started a creative dance class. Phoenix has been taking ballet for three years, and week after week, Magpie watches her big sister put on her leotard and tights, and go into the studio with all the other ballerinas. She watches and imitates her big sister’s graceful movements across the living room floor. This week, it was Magpie’s turn to go into the studio. We pulled out Phoenix’s old pink leotard and dance skirt–Magpie was beaming. Phoenix was scowling. Then she began to cry.

I sat down to listen to her thoughts. She feels as if Magpie has to do everything she does, and then Magpie steals the spotlight. I understand what she is saying, and I feel for her. I told her that, but then I also explained that Magpie thinks Phoenix is the coolest and most beautiful person in the world–she will always want to be like her big sister. I hope that someday Phoenix understands this. I think I need to read up on cultivating loving sibling relationships.

Anyway, this entire post was prompted by a photo I took of the girls on their way into their dance classes.  It captured the mood perfectly: Image

That picture says it all! I didn’t have a sister, so I think I cannot understand what Phoenix is feeling to the full extent. I had a pesky little brother, but by the time we were eight and ten, we were friends–and still are. I honestly believe the girls will end up being close when they are older, but I am a mother, and I worry the way mothers do.

I Love You Denver!

21 Jun

Denver Skyline and MountainsI grew up in a small town. We did not have museums, or zoos, or even a shopping mall. My mom didn’t plan outings or activities during the summer months–there just weren’t a lot of resources, especially for poor families. Moslty we just played out in the yard, or at the elementary school playground that was directly behind our townhome.

We took family “vacations” to Denver once every year or so. It was about a four hour drive, give or take depending on the road construction, but I absolutely loved those trips. My favorite part was that first glimpse of the skyline. My little brother and I would squeal with delight at that sight. We would usually stay a couple of nights at the Holiday Inn, and do a couple of touristy things, or go to Elich Gardens Amusement Park. I remember going to the Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature and Science) during a few of our stays. I loved it there–my dad always knew what everything was, and that amazed me.

When I made the decision to move to Denver, when Phoenix was a year and a half, I knew it was the right one. I wanted her to experience all that living in a city has to offer–and she has (she’s eight now). She trains for ballet at The Colorado Ballet Academy (on scholarship), there are a ton of school choices (Denver Public Schools has a “choice-in” option if your neighborhood school is not a good fit–I had one choice growing up), we frequently visit the Denver Zoo, The Children’s Museum, The Butterfly Pavilion, The Denver Botanic Gardens, and of course, the Denver Museum Of Nature and Science (DMPS). We purchase at least two different memberships to these places per year because we get much more than our money’s worth.

I love how excited the girls still get when we go to the DMNS, even though we go almost once a week. There is so much to see and learn! The photos are from our trip yesterday. The first stop was Space Odyssey where we watched an interactive digital image projection of the universe. We looked at a few of the planets, asked some questions, and gawked the amazing technology in front of us. The girls were really into it:

looking at the solar system

Listening to the volunteer in Space Odyssey.

In response to my decision to move to Denver seven years ago, one of my best friends said to me, “I could never let my child live somewhere where they can’t see the stars at night”.  To be honest, I do miss the pitch-black sky with that mind-boggling spray of stars that we can only see far from the city’s glow. But I guess we all need to make sacrifices, sometimes, in order to have those things which we feel are important.

We have traded the clear night sky for a glimpse of the sun.

Looking at solar flares through the BIG telescope

Eggs and Caterpillars

31 May

Yesterday, I found three empty egg cartons on my counter, patiently waiting for the soil and seeds that I never gave them. I had big plans for these molded pieces of cardboard, usually destined for the recycling bin. They were going to become the temporary homes to our sweet smelling moon flowers, our giant summer squash, our bright-faced sunflowers, and our Halloween jack-o-lanterns. But, alas, May is a very hectic month in this house, and I never got around to buying the soil. Too late now–we’ll have to buy starter plants again this year.

So, anyway, I had these empty egg cartons. I also had three loud children who couldn’t agree on anything (and, frankly, were really getting on my nerves). It was so obvious: 3 empty egg cartons + 3 bored and bickering children = egg-carton-caterpillars! Just like when I was a kid. Perfect.

Supplies:

  • empty egg cartons
  • scissors
  • white glue
  • crayons
  • watercolor paints
  • pipe cleaners
  • googly eyes (or you could draw the eyes)

Instructions

  1. Cut the egg cartons down the center, lengthwise, then cut to desired length. I only ended up using one whole carton, and we each had one half of one length–three egg “pockets” each (what is the correct term for the egg “cups”?). You can trim any excess cardboard on the carton as desired.
  2. Have the kids color a design on their caterpillar with crayon (the design will show through the paints later).
  3. Then have them paint the caterpillar.
  4. Cut a pipe cleaner in half.
  5. Poke two holes where you want the antennae to protrude, then pull one half length of a pipe cleaner down through the top of one hole, and then up through the bottom of the other. You can curl the tips.
  6. Squeeze drops of glue  where you want the eyes to be, then affix the googly eyes (or just draw them on).
  7. Go outside and play with your new friends in the grass!

There are more ideas and links for Activities involving The Very Hungry Caterpillar here: http://fabulousclassroom.com/2011/06/hungry-caterpillar-activities-lesson-plans/

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