Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Now Homeschooling? One Minute...and 2 hours

Put kindness and love first. These are extraordinary times. Let's not make it any harder on ourselves than it needs to be. There is more fear floating around than most of us can easily deal with, and kids are vulnerable to the world's fear and to their care-giver's. Treat yourself with tenderness; it is normal to worry, you may be feeling afraid of many things; your child need not be one of them. Find joy in anything and everything; and live in that joy for a moment, before moving on to the next part of your homeschool to-do list.

The word on the street (and the t.v. networks), according to "experts" in education, is that a student at-home needs about half to two-thirds of the time they would normally spend in school to be spent in work at home. This would mean 31/2 to 4 hours, 5 days a week. Quantity over quality is not a recipe for success. The "how" matters more than the "what" in this learning equation. 

How you choose to face each day is more important than what you do or how many hours of schoolwork are getting done. After 19 years of homeschooling, my opinion is the same as that of many others who have experience with learning at home; in purely "sit down at home learning time" it looks more like 2 hours a day, less for a young child, more if one is attempting to prep for an AP chem exam or study literature. 

I do have a child who went on to college without ever going to elementary or high school, she has

graduated college and is now in law school. Her high school years were entirely self-directed. I think she studied German, math, piano and kung-fu. I never counted the hours and neither did she. Do I feel our time homeschooling was entirely successful? Yes and no. Academically? No question. Functionally? We all survived, my kids are the most wonderful human beings I know, but I spent more time worrying about how I could get everyone to behave and conform to the ideas I had about how our school at home should look, than the amount of compassion employed as I went about accomplishing it. This is a real regret. Steiner was correct. The greatest work is the work of how, not what we bring to the student.

Only 2 hours a day?! What else can the kids be doing? What else do they normally do? Do you spend time outside? Go!  (When allowed by your local powers that be, or having a back yard.) Do you read aloud together? Do more! Do you cook or bake together? Make lunch or dinner an elaborate affair. Do they play Legos while listening to audiobooks? (Our kids also like to fold origami, draw, paint, twirl a baton or work on a puzzle while listening to audiobooks.) Are there chores that need to be done? You are all home; recruit the forces. If you have an adolescent who likes to dance, maybe you can be an extra cool parent and agree to make a Tik-Tok thingy with her. I may cave soon, I already let her give me a makeover, gosh...maybe we could increase the amount of hours needed for schoolwork after all. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Thank you, I am ready to receive the gift of this day

was my thought as I ended an early morning "lying down meditation" which is not as good as a sitting up meditation, according to the experts in meditation, but it is Better Than no meditation at all. My day was off to a good start, in spite of a poor night's sleep, with that simple epiphany. Today is a gift. 

The phrase from Catholic mass came to mind; "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Yes, this was the same thing, only taking responsibility for my worthiness and my well-being. "Worthy" has always been a weighty topic, hasn't it? My 7-year-old self, learning my Catechism, did not at all enjoy the thought that she had to say, out loud, "I am not worthy." 

There is enough in real life to beat us back down to size, no sense repeating it every single week. Yet, there is the deeper truth that this is how we feel deep down: not good enough; until we heal from the last set of wounds, or from an older, perhaps ancient bruise to the self. Healing is important, and gratitude for the present instant is the first step on the journey. 

For my sweet girl, on her own, quarantined in Chicago, her fave member of our household, one who is always ready to receive his due: caresses, treats, play time, adoration of all sorts:

Monday, March 23, 2020

Joys at Home...Because You Can't Be Anywhere Else

The mood is more subdued on this first Monday of real life while under siege. It does feel like the encircling of some distant enemy right now, doesn't it? As I stood on the banks of the creek for a moment yesterday, dog's leash in my hand while he sniffed and scratched, the thought swished through like a wisp of early morning fog; "this is what it must feel like to wonder if bombs will be dropped today. This is unsettling. I'll just lose myself in the water for a bit, as it flows, bubbles and gurgles its way, on and on. This is good."

Sharing some of today's joys, not to lighten the mood, but to inspire warmth, kindness and hope. Friends who mean the world to me, offered the gift of this tea kettle. I have always it thought the most beautiful sort; a real, copper, proper English tea kettle. Look! Then, a dear man polished it to a gleam by the fireside, for something to do. I would have to marry this guy, if I hadn't already done so.

An afghan I am working on for my son; contemplating the color scheme, half-way through:

And the weather, which, whilst not making going outside much easier, is at least conspiring to give the impression that inside coziness is the mood du jour:

That was last night. I fully expected it all to have melted this morning. I was wrong. Did I really, just last week, prep these beds and tomato cages for planting? I'll enjoy the vision of a snowy wonder world, one last time for the season. Happy Spring.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

The Big, Giant, Choose-Your-Own Adventure-During-Quarantine Plan

Now that we have had a full week of rest and relaxation, have you come up with What We're Going to Do yet? Besides survive, survival is very important, and that is why we are Sheltering at Home along with you and every person who has the luxury of doing so. 

I am excited. I like order and having time carved out for my own writing. We cannot predict what else may happen in the coming weeks, (and, aren't all of our nights filled with recurring thoughts of The Very Worst?) but we can create an atmosphere of calm and joy, one in which each has a chance to grow and become the creative self they are meant to be. 

Today was the deadline we gave ourselves to determine the Course of Action to be Taken During the Days at Home. It has evolved to a personal growth series, one per person. The parameters are parent-led and flexible in our house, due to having older children who can be and prefer to be autonomous most of the time. But part of the autonomy means presenting your plan at 5 pm today.

The general outline: 

We meet for a brunch/lunch, depending on what time your day started, call it as you wish, at 11:30. Tea at 3:30 and dinner after 6. During Dad's work day; no streaming. No noise after 9 pm, get up by 9 am. Study something, read something and write something. If school sends work, take advantage of it and do it. In the meantime and in your spare time, find and pursue something you want to know more about. Ask if you need resources or feedback. 

This is easy for the senior, 18. She knows there are exams she wants to take and there will be resources forthcoming from the teachers and from the AP test centers. She  says she will be playing piano at 11 each morning,  and she is practicing Spanish on DuoLingo. 

The sophomore, 15, seems to think he has it all worked out, but he is more private with his plans. The deadline is approaching; 20 minutes, as I type, so I will leave you in suspense for now. 

The 7th grader, 12, plans on drawing. He is in an arts program, so this is part of his daily life. He reads a lot, so that part will be easy. I may have to offer writing prompts. And, um, encouragement, in the form of bribery...or something. 

Hang in there, and when you get a chance, take a deep breath and look at the beauty around you just now. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Unexpected Homeschooling: You CAN Do This

Wow; we are all in one big, worldwide homeschooling club, aren't we? And most of us had not expected to be here today. From the looks of it, this ride may be the long-term sort, so buckle up, relax, and let's look at what may be in store for you. First, remember; this time is pretty precious. Whether or not you've figured out a rhythm yet, these days spent at home, wondering where the heck the world is headed, together with your family, are creating unique memories already.

Circa 2010, homeschooling for 3 months in France in a tiny aparment

True, I have been here before, but in different times and different circumstances. The children were...children, and I made the decisions about great portions of their lives. Now, my husband and I are thrilled to co-exist with four real humans who have separate realities outside of this house, or they did until about two days ago, and it is not the same. 

You are most likely in the same type of ship; they may be younger, there may be less of them, or more. You may have a more precise idea of how you want this to go down, or still be floundering in the waters of denial. 

In any case, first things first; breathe, and give yourself a few days permission to sit with this and see what presents itself; both in your own mind and that of your child's. It is not a race, my friends. This is not school, this is life. Life is nothing without tenderness, so start with love. 

Homeschoolers often talk about a period we call deschooling, like detoxing in a way. It means allowing for a free mind to emerge from the habit of having much of one's day scheduled in a familiar way. This is not always easy, and in uncertain times, it will present challenges yet unknown to our era. I believe some of the same principles still apply to the situation of forced-to-be-home. Expecting a family to go from all-day-school to zero school and a plan for home all at once is unrealistic. Take time to take care of yourself, and in the best of unschooling traditions, do two things:

1) Follow your own interests/passions/things that need getting done.
2) Let your kids share their interests with you. 

In our house, this has looked like a lot of things over the years.
Cookie maps of the world

Spending time outside: sailing


This week, it resembles this:

The past few days, we have all slept in (this is, after all, our spring break). We've cooked, baked, and cleaned and threw things away that should have been thrown away 12 years ago. The kids slept in even later, and joined us in cleaning or cooking or listening to French podcasts or the Presidential Address from Emmanuel Macron. We have read books, gone on walks (not together, it is no longer cool to head out on a 7-person walk), played Uno and watched movies. 

I looked at the weather forecast and saw only one day of sunshine all week; yesterday. We dropped everything else and did spring yard work for one glorious day, reveling in the good fortune that we have a backyard and it was warm enough to be out in it.

Today, when we talked about maybe coming up with a plan for the next month or so, the topic of Kahoots came up. I was the only one who knows nothing about this questionnaire/contest thing all kids play in school. They were more than happy to oblige, and we were soon immersed in a trivia game that we played all morning, had lunch, then played some more. We took turns picking topics and winning our faves; geography (Thierry beat the pants off the rest of us), anatomy (Charles, future sports medecine-something), chemistry (Valentine, hands down), Spongebob (Gael, naturally), 19th century lit (mine!) Is this game aligned with my Waldorf homeschooling values? Why not? It is on a screen, on many screens, as answers have to be picked on a phone or laptop, but it is also a fantastic way to bring people together in fun and challenges. 

We will come up with more of a plan by next week, and so will you. I have faith in you as a parent. Have faith in yourself as a parent. And enjoy the time that is now. 

For more resources, including another lovely blogger's straight-forward, zero filters take on it here, you might want to read Leonie Dawson:

Or for a Waldorf-inspired source of curriculum, but also parenting advice, including free videos and resources, Melisa Nielsen of Waldorf Essentials:

If anyone would like to work on their French skills, drop me a comment; Skype-pals may be a thing starting soon. Stay well and sleep tight. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

As You Were, Child. Coronavirus is Here and So Are You

The Before I wrote of, was it 2 days ago? 3? And The After is now, or perhaps this is the preliminary stages of during, but the fact is that I will now be home with four of my five beautiful children every day for the next month. Like many of you, I suppose. No school, no sports, no gatherings.

My kids just heard the official news. They are not rejoicing. Especially not my sweet senior girl who has had to renounce a spring break trip with show choir to Florida, senior prom, probably graduation, soccer season, and perhaps even finishing high school until sometime in July. This seems so very minor to us adults, but her heart is being torn in two. She's decided to eat a box of GS cookies and cry in her room. The boys are so upset about not being allowed to go hang out at the YMCA for hours on end, that they have resorted to playing godawful video games in the basement. I am practicing The Letting Go for now. At some point, post-spring-break, we will have to come up with a plan for life, lessons and work. But not just yet. 

There will be so many disruptions of life; the career I chose as a court interpreter is completely shut down, for now, and the one I gave up on in health care, I am rather grateful not to be dealing with, actually. 

If the above are the only things we have to give up this year, we will be among the most fortunate on earth. I am giving thanks for the wisdom of the leaders who have had the courage to take these decisive measures. 

I have been scrubbing things and baking. My defaults for days at home. I finished a book full of small life lessons on dealing with hardship gracefully; "A Gentleman in Moscow." Rather a good choice for the days in which we find ourselves.

The great gift is that this has begun in health. May it end in health for you as well as for us all. 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Before (Pre-Coronavirus Here)

Listening to jazz is a new thing for me. I have finally realized that it is an act in itself, a testimony to art and poetry in musical form. Sit, listen, breathe. Flow into the moods of the music. It is not in my nature to sit and breathe and flow, but I am learning, note by note. It comes to me in flashes of comprehension, this understanding. I see, I breathe, I fall in love. 

I could clearly see, last night, listening to the music, that our society is on the brink of a cataclysm. Yesterday was the before, today is the beginning, tomorrow is unsure. Everything will change, as it has for anyone who has ever suffered a natural catastrophe or war. Our country has been so long without a nationwide sorrow, that we have forgotten, unless we were in New York in 2001, what it means to work together to figure this out. Can you feel the tide of it? Are you doing all you can to stay the disaster?

Italy is trying to warn us. We are not listening. I am home with my family, which is a source of great joy, tinged with apprehension. I went to work yesterday, the kids went to school, but by the time we all came home, every single activity had been put on hold for the next week, at least. 

I stopped by the store on the way home. People were shopping for the oddest things. A Chinese man was encouraging a group of women to buy the 50lb bags of rice; "there will be none tomorrow,"  (this seemed like a wise choice to me, rice, beans, salt). Many, many people were pushing around carts filled with cleaning products, but looking as though they should be shopping for something more important, they just did not know what. There were buckets of complaints about the lack of any "bath tissue" to be found. (That is what the sign in the aisle selling t.p. still calls it in my neighborhood grocery store.) 

I want my children to be careful. I want them to be responsible citizens and help CONTAIN THIS. I also want them to have hope and faith and live in joy and gratitude. There will be an "After". May it come at a price with not too many regrets. Sing a glad song. And stay home.