Category Archives: homeschooling

Acronyms R Us

So way back when we pulled PK from school and did all the testing and assessments, we found out that he’s not just “gifted.” He’s “2e.” Welcome to the world of kids-with-acronyms. “2e” (“twice exceptional”) is a euphemistic way of saying “your kid is super smart but he has, um, “issues.” For some folks the “issue” is another acronym: ADHD, OCD, ODD. In our case it’s good old-fashioned anxiety and depression, which don’t have acronyms (though ADHD still needs to be “ruled out”, so we don’t *totally* know), and apparently some kind of “sensory hypostimulability” or something like that.

Which means, in plain English, that PK likes banging on stuff and making noise and sticking his head out car windows on the freeway and other exciting! things. Educationally speaking, he’s smart. But he’s not so great in the classroom, what with the fidgeting and loud voice and constant interruptions and so forth. Not to mention when the anxiety kicks in and he gets shouty and aggressive. It would be so much easier if he were the weepy, cowering kind of anxious kid, because people feel sympathetic to weepy cowering. But alas, shouty aggression is actually pretty common in anxious kids, though people tend to misconstrue it as a Discipline Issue and get even more demanding and rigid. Which isn’t terribly helpful, let’s just say.

So my job has become figuring out how to academically challenge him while at the same time not totally freaking him out (but you can’t just cater to his freakouts because if you let someone with anxiety avoid the things that make them anxious that just reinforces the anxiety) and also learning how to tolerate the jiggling and interruptions and him climbing on the back of the couch while I try to explain math to him, or whatever. And teaching him about the distinction between how he feels (feelings are okay!) and how he acts (shouting at people is not okay!), while being empathetic to the shouting and trying to avoid situations that will push him to that point (but again, not avoiding them too much).

Because of all this, I have to admit drives me batshit when people say things like “you know your kid best!” and “you’re totally qualified to homeschool your own kid!” and “of course you can do it!” and other shit that makes it sound like it should be easy. THOSE PEOPLE CAN STFU. If PK were an easy kid, he’d still be in school. If teaching him were easy, the credentialed teachers (who by and large were super at their jobs) would have taken care of it and we wouldn’t be homeschooling.

Luckily, though PK is not easy school-wise, and despite the anxiety and occasional meltdowns, he is easy in other respects. He’s hyperverbal, he’s got a great sense of humor, he is shockingly self-aware by any standard, let alone for a kid his age. We have learned (are learning) to talk stuff through. I’ve learned to keep myself calm when he loses his shit, the husband is learning not to become enraged when PK is difficult, PK is learning to manage his anxiety (square breathing).

I do often wonder when and why parenting became such a high-stakes activity. Though otoh, I’ve known plenty of smart, sensitive kids who ended up dead, or with serious drug habits, or never really finishing college. So it’s not as if smart kids with Issues is a new invention, even if the alphabet soup and medications and educational accommodations and all the bureaucratic language that boils down to “if you can put a diagnosis on it, your insurance will cover treatment and/or you can generate the paperwork to get a school to take it into account” is.

Things I’ve found extremely helpful:

The Brainology course developed by Carol Dweck (she’s the psychologist whose work showed us that telling a kid “you’re smart!” undermines their confidence; instead, you should praise them for having “worked hard”, which sends the message that their intelligence and achievement is actually something they have control over). Honestly, I cannot too highly recommend that course: I did have to do a little prep with PK by warning him that “the animations are kinda cheesy, but the point is the content, which is excellent and research-based”, and he does indeed make fun of the online cartoon lessons–but he thinks *really hard* about what they’re teaching him and it’s already making an enormous difference (we’re in part three of the program). I’ve recommended it to those of his former teachers I’m still in touch with and everyone else I talk to about school stuff these days.

My overdeveloped research skills. I have read dozens of books and hundreds of articles about anxiety, depression, ADHD, gifted kids, etc etc etc. It never ends.

SENG and GHF. God bless SENG for providing solid, research-based information about giftedness, parenting, and all the 2e stuff, and GHF for providing a support group of other parents who’ve been there, as well as more resources and links than you could possibly explore in a lifetime.

Family therapy. PK hates talk therapy and won’t go (the last time I took him he freaked out), but me and the husband go anyway, and talking about parenting stuff and getting advice has helped enormously.

Health insurance and the husband’s well-paying job, without which all this therapy and the coursework would be out of our financial reach. Thank god for Obamacare: I hope it means that more families with kids who need support can get the help we’ve been lucky enough to have access to.

 

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Food science & history with crappy camera-phone photos

Started the food history lecture today (we spent the first week getting hung up on math assessments). Good enjoyable stuff–PK making connections between what Professor Albala was saying about prehistoric cooking practices and things he already knows about prehistory*–and it turns out that there is a downloadable course booklet that comes with each of the Great Courses. In the one for this course, the professor specifically mentioned, there are accompanying cooking activities. So I went and looked, and the first activity was a perfect hands on, homeschool type of science/anthropology experiment. Here ’tis.

Boiling Water in A “Skin” Bowl Made of Paper

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Yes, that’s a Trader Joe’s bag

Make a cup out of a large, flat piece of paper (not one that’s been cut and glued into a cup, b/c the seams will leak)–an 8″x8″ square cut from the side of a grocery bag will work well for this, as the paper is thick enough to hold the water without soaking through and 8″ is large enough that you can hold the corners without burning your fingers.

Light a candle in a holder so it’s ready to go (or just hold it in your hand and have the kiddo do the next part, assuming kiddo is old enough to have sufficient motor control). We burned a whole taper down and were just short of boiling when we finished, so I’d suggest using either a high-quality taper or a larger candle.

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No, the sink is not clean. This is not one of those blogs that pretends to perfection.

The cup may drip a tiny bit (ours did), though, so if you are using a pillar candle there’s the possibility that accumulated water will put

it out; I recommend a good taper held sideways–or just laid down with the burning end over an open area.

The kitchen sink is perfect since it’ll contain any spills and there’s water just in case something does catch fire….

Fill the paper cup halfway with water. Hold it over the candle flame. In a few minutes, the water will start to steam and then, to boil.

Stuff you can talk about while you’re waiting:

  • Why isn’t the paper burning? (It will probably smoke, and if you pay attention you may see little ember glows within it right above the flame.) You can point out that an animal skin (leather) would be even less flammable than paper, of course, and therefore better able to stand up to an actual campfire as opposed to a tiny candle flame. Plus it’ll hold more water.
  • Do you think cooking this way would be something that would be more characteristic of settled agrarian people or hunter-gatherers who had to move around a lot to find food?

We did ours, as I said, in the kitchen sink; initially I held the candle sideways and PK held the cup, but once he realized that this was going to take a while, we decided to just rest the candle on the side of the sink while I held the cup and PK did his job of cleaning the kitchen. :-) It’s fun to watch, though, especially if you look for the tiny embers that you can occasionally see through the water. Because I am a klutz, I twice spilled some water while adjusting the candle as it burned down, which means that by the end we had very little water in the “cup,” and the candle burned all the way down before the water actually started to boil–but there was quite a bit of steam by that point and the water was quite hot to the touch, so we deemed the experiment successful.

*Including the interesting fact, so PK says, that the sword was the first weapon built exclusively for fighting and killing other humans. Other weapons used for that purpose (spears, slingshots, clubs) can also be used against animals, and axes and knives can be used as tools, but swords are too big and unwieldy for either hunting or even to cut up an animal carcass; they are weapons built to be used in a situation where your opponent will not run away, but will stand and fight. i.e. there is a “rule” about the fight. He did not, however appreciate my thought that this fact suggested that the laws in pre-modern Europe and Japan (and for all I know, other places as well) that actually forbade commoners from owning or wearing swords, along with accompanying ideas about sword-carrying being a mark of nobility, effectively meant that the idea of status in complicated modernizing societies basically amounts to being able and willing to kill other humans (and therefore, to forbid others from having this power), since he is a 12yo boy and still really wants to believe in the idea of knights, soldiers, etc as protectors….


Back to school…..

So having decided to give PK the summer off has turned out very well … for ME. Because it’s given me time to plan for the year. And boy howdy have I planned. I always did enjoy creating syllabi.

So, with the wisdom of ONE WHOLE YEAR of this homeschooling thing under my belt, here is what I have learned.

1. The first year is a wash, or at best you’re treading water. Maybe this isn’t true for people who start out homeschooling from the beginning? I dunno. But for pulling a kid out of school, oh yes. When the unschooling people say you need at least a year to “deschool,” they aren’t kidding. BUT.

2. That’s cool, because while you’re flailing around trying stuff, you’re learning what works and what doesn’t. Between that and the kid taking the summer off, I’ve done a lot of observing him, a little bit of initiating conversations (“so, for next year, do you think you’d like to try an online course…?”), and a lot of listening to his random thoughts (“Mama, you know what I’d do if I could design the perfect school…?”)

3. So I planned this year based on PK’s vision of the “perfect school.” According to PK, a good school should have one subject per day, so that kids can focus and go into depth. Teachers should be there to present new information, sure, but above all to facilitate while the students explore stuff on their own–to answer questions, to ensure safety (“but don’t step in unless something is genuinely dangerous, or if someone is bullying!”). He reckons that about three hours a day is a good length of time to ask kids to stay focused. So, having observed his interests and listened to his thoughts, here is our plan.

I’m going to sign him up for a math class through Art of Problem Solving because I hear good things and b/c I think he needs someone who actually understands math to help him; he’ll start the school year by taking their assessment test to figure out which class to sign up for.

For history, the Great Courses folks have a new “food history” course that, when I saw it, I immediately latched onto; PK loves food history. So we’ll use those lectures as kind of the “backbone,” and I’m going to supplement with a lot of stuff I’ve found online (if you follow my Pinterest board, you can pretty much tell what I’m planning subject-wise because there’ll be a flurry of pins on it). I’m going to spend some extra time, I think, on the Renaissance (since that’s what he’s “supposed” to be doing according to our state standards) and on the African diaspora/African-American history, because I love that stuff and think Anglo-Americans have rather a major responsibility to educate our kids about race. Luckily PK is pretty interested in talking and learning about race and racism and global foodways–he already knows a fair bit about the Columbian Exchange–so I expect that will go over pretty well. Plus I had a huge brainwave, thinking about how I would fill three hours on this while mixing up activities and decided I’ll try having PK plan a meal one week and then cook it the next (or maybe cooking once a week can be “homework”). YAY SCHOOL/CHORE SYNERGY.

I’m going to bite the bullet and make him start doing some writing this year. I anticipate that’ll be my biggest challenge, since he loathes writing–but now that he can type, hopefully it’ll be easier. I’m also going to do some general “how to learn” stuff on those days, since no one writes for three hours at a stretch; we’ll start by doing the Brainology course that’s based on Carol Dweck’s work. I’ve also made him (and me!) PLANNERS, based on some of the stuff I’ve been reading about ADHD and organization. I don’t know that either of us have ADHD–though we might, and I hope to get assessments done at some point–but god knows organization is no one’s strong suit in this house, and the advice around ADHD and organizing has been super helpful.

One of my big observationally-based “aha” moments was realizing that PK freaking *loves* to draw. Which I knew, but hadn’t really thought to do as a subject until I slowed down and paid attention. So we’re doing art this year as well, which will involve drawing, letting him build artsy craftsy stuff (which he loves doing) and I think monthly field trips to museums. He’s always loathed museums, but I think if, instead of taking him and hauling him around we go, pick *one* thing to look at, and practice sketching it, that might be a way to go. Plus I am hoping it’ll help with the mindfulness and observation/slowing down things that god knows he needs help with.

Science is going to be kind of a mixed bag. He has a chemistry set which he’s barely dipped into, because I’ve always put him off (the mess! the time! I’m busy!). I proposed just using it for science this year and he agreed, so we’ll work our way through the experiments there. He also has some other science kits he’s barely touched and a digital microscope his father got him for Xmas a couple years ago, so I’m going to order some slides. But my real goal for the first half of the year is going to be getting in touch with the community college chemistry department, schlepping him over there, and seeing if they think he is ready (and if they are willing) to take a cc chemistry course in the spring.

Finally, I’m planning a kind of economics & political science course. He loves to ask questions about economics and spends ridiculous amounts of time hypothesizing about what kind of political systems are ideal, so. Mostly I’ll be using cartoon guides / graphic novel type intros to various subjects–luckily there are a lot of those on topics in econ, sociology, Marxism, Capitalism, etc. I also asked my Facebook friends for book recommendations and got a lot of fiction which I can weave into the writing/language arts days for some interdisciplinary practice; am thinking, for example, of having him create his own “cartoon guides” to novels he reads.

You may have noticed that that’s actually six subjects–and if we only do a subject a day, presuming he gets weekends off (which he will insist on, believe me), that’s one subject too many. I’m not yet sure which two subjects I’ll combine, or perhaps swap every other week: possibly art and econ, since those are more “electivey” than the others. The husband has every other Friday off from work, which means that we’ll do either art or science on Fridays, so that the whole family can visit museums or so that his father can occasionally do a science project with him.

That huge robot head? He made that the other night while he was up and not sleeping. This kind of thing is why we're doing art (and also why I still need to figure out a separate space to store art materials and supplies, because kid goes big).

That huge robot head? He made that the other night while he was up and not sleeping. This kind of thing is why we’re doing art (and also why I still need to figure out a separate space to store art materials and supplies, because kid goes big).

Finally, I finally bit the bullet and went out and bought some stuff to set up a work space for him, after finally reading Lori Pickert’s book, Project-Based Homeschooling. She says something in there that I think is very wise: if you want your kid to value his or her work, then you need to show that you value it by creating space for it in your home. Now, our house is quite small, and there is no space for a “homeschool room”–but there is an unused fireplace in the living room. So we bought PK a small desk that has some built-in shelf space, and I bought some magazine holders, one per subject, which I color-coded (I have also used color-coded portfolio folders in his planner). He is SO. THRILLED. to have a desk of his own, and an office chair with wheels–which he uses to roll around the living room. It’s the first year ever that he’s been excited in any way about “back to school stuff”–so thank you, Lori Pickert!

Finally, since this post is part of the “Where & How to Begin” GHF blog hop, two other book recommendations. The book that actually made me think I could do this was Lisa Rivero’s Creative Home Schooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families. I believe she is currently working on an updated version, but I’m not sure when it’s coming out–meanwhile, though, the existing version is (imo) first rate. And specifically for math–everyone is always worried about math, including me–for god’s sake get a copy of Denise Gaskins’ Let’s Play Math: How Homeschooling Families Can Learn Math Together, and Enjoy It! I hestiated on that one for a bit because I was concerned it would mostly focus on younger kids–but I needn’t have worried. It does mostly focus on younger kids, but there is plenty enough in there to start with for middle and high schoolers, believe me–and again, I think she is working on either a revised edition or a separate book specifically for older kids (I forget which).

So to sum up, my advice, such as it is:

  • Spend the first year dabbling with various topics and approaches, don’t sweat it too much, and pay attention to what your kid is interested in and what approaches he or she likes best.
  • Ideally, ask your kid what their “perfect school day” would look like, and try to make your “school days” as much like that as possible. (If nothing else, this helps address any complaints later!)
  • Collect ideas like crazy (Pinterest, if you’re an online person; notebooks if you’re the pen-and-paper type; whatever works for you). It won’t take long before you realize there is way, WAY more out there than you could ever possibly use–but that’s great, because it means you can pick your resources, pick your approach, and pick your topics based on what you think will work for you and your kid.
  • Three books that are very worth buying: Lori Pickert, Project Based Homeschooling; Lisa Rivero, Creative Home Schooling; and Denise Gaskins, Let’s Play Math. Links are above in main post–and for the record, no one has asked me to promote those books and I don’t know any of those women personally. I just truly believe that those three books are excellent.

Stay tuned to see how my plans work out. As Burns says, the best laid plans o’ mice and homeschooling mamas / gang aft agley….

Click here to read all the other posts in the hop!

Click here to read all the other posts in the hop! #ghfblogger


Unschooling the Intensely Gifted: A Cautionary Tale

So you’re supposed to “follow your child’s interests.” Which for gifted kids can include “overexcitabilities” (aka “intensities,” which is a better descriptor imo) like “intellectual intensity” (the need to explore an idea RIGHT NOW) and “psychomotor intensity” (the need to do something physical) and “emotional intensity.”

Here is what that looked like today.

I took PK out for a walk on the beach, because he and I have both observed that if he gets some fairly strenuous exercise every day, he is less anxious and argumentative. But because of his Intellectual and Emotional Intensities, he refuses to just, say, take a martial arts class; he has no patience for formal instruction or putting up with other people and is especially stressed and shy about doing anything in a group right now. We are still dealing with the fallout from middle school. So because I am a 45-year old woman, the compromise position is long nature walks rather than, say, sparring or footraces or some other shit like that that I am not going to do. Mostly this works pretty well.

After our exercise/p.e. regimen, we sat down to do a little bit of math. PK is working on finishing the Portfolio Assignment for the first chapter of IMP book one, which is as far as we have gotten this year; by way of Not Letting Him Off The Hook I am insisting that he finish the portfolio before we can call the un/homeschool year “over.” It asks him to collect some written work, write a cover letter showing that he gets the point of the first chapter (i.e., math is largely about figuring out patterns in things) and describe his own “learning” over the course of the unit, which mostly so far means him saying things like “math itself does not suck but schools make it suck and I used to love math but now I hate it.”

Needless to say, working on this triggered some of his Emotional Oversensitivites and he became pretty upset and angry, and we had a loooong talk about why I make him do math even though he now hates it. (The answer I gave him: because I am hoping to help him rediscover his enjoyment of it, because I want him to learn not to give up, and frankly because being able to do basic algebra is kind of a requirement for high school and college and although I cannot make him go to college or even finish high school I am still hoping that he will at least have those options available to him.)

This discussion, by the way, triggered my own Emotional Overexcitabilities, but luckily once he’d written a bit for the portfolio–which actually means he dictated it and I typed it up because he has some Motor Difficulties which make writing difficult for him (he is seeing an Occupational Therapist for this but for the time being I act as his scribe)–we were done with “school stuff” for the day. We were also done with his “non-computer-based free time” because it took us about an hour to process the ensuing discussion about why he hates school, how unhappy he is, etc., while I took the laundry off the line outside and he paced about, venting.

Since in addition to refusing formal classes of any type, he also refuses to do talk therapy for the time being (we have an appointment with his psychiatrist on Wednesday to talk about adjusting his meds, by the way), I am more or less also serving as his therapist. I am perhaps slightly less unqualified for this than one might expect, given that I’ve been in therapy myself for years (yeah, yeah, that might also make me even more unqualified, hardehar) and that I have been basically drinking this gifted/child psychology stuff from a firehose for the past year. At least I hope I am slightly less unqualified than one might expect, since it’s the only kind of semi-therapy the kid is getting these days other than the medication. In any case, I am pleased that he is starting to talk about not only how much he resents his middle school experience but also about his hopes to overcome and get past it–including, in this case, his hopes that some day he will enjoy math again. I am calling this progress.

In any case. So after p.e., math, and an informal nonofficial “therapy” session, kid was allowed to get on his laptop with the caveat that he would get off it and clean the kitchen when it was time for me to make dinner. I went out for a well-deserved beer on the porch, and did some more reading about Gifted Adolescents and their Overintensities for about half an hour, until he came to me with a request.

“Mama, I have two questions for you. The first is, will you give me permission to do something? The second is, will you supervise me so that it will be safe?”

“What is it you want to do?”

“Make and throw a Molotov cocktail.”

Now, before you think DUH THE ANSWER IS NO, you also need to know that because of his Psychomotor Intensities he has been getting in a lot of trouble lately for destroying things–breaking up terra cotta pots that held plants in the back yard, smashing pieces of scrap wood that his father had designs on, etc–and that I made him a deal that if he feels the need to destroy something, would he PLEASE come tell me and I will do what I can to accommodate that need in a way that is safe and will not get him in trouble. So instead of just saying HELL NO, I put down my book.

“Well, that could be pretty dangerous. Where do you want to do it?”

“I thought the driveway seemed the safest place. I don’t intend to really throw it hard, more like just a gentle toss.”

“The problem with the driveway is we’re going to end up with a lot of broken glass and possibly some fire. What if we went somewhere like a big empty parking lot? We could put the push broom and a dust pan into the back of the car…”

“No, I don’t want to have to go anywhere. I want to just do it in the driveway. I promise I’ll clean up.”

“Okay, well, if you do it on our half of the driveway,” (we share part of the drive with the neighbor, who you will not be surprised to find thinks PK is an absolute spoiled brat and therefore I try really hard to rein him in when it comes to our shared space), and you don’t throw it near anything flammable, I suppose it might be okay. I will have to move the car, and we’ll have to make sure we have the cleanup stuff and safety gear ready to go.” Yes I realize that I am not being, perhaps, as firm as I might be about Safety, but a parent only has so much energy. So either hang on to your judgment and fuck off now, or suspend it and keep reading.

“Great!” he says, and starts to run off.

“Hang on!” He stops as I stand up. “We need to do this carefully, which means that we need to talk our way through each step. You can’t just go off and get started until I know exactly what you’re doing and we’ve prepared. How do you intend to make this thing?”

“I’m going to put some rum into a bottle and light it on fire.”

“Okay, first of all, you are not allowed to use the expensive rum. Let’s see if we can find some cheap alcohol.” We dig around in the bar and I come up with some Captain Morgan coconut rum that someone must have left after a party. “We can use this. Let me go get the shop vac out of the closet. You will have to help me carry it down stairs and into the back yard, but first let me move the car.”

When I’ve finished moving the car and return to the house, he is holding an empty ginger beer bottle filled with coconut rum, with a dishtowel stuffed into the neck.

“PK. I do not want you lighting one of my good dish towels. We will have to use paper for that,” I say, taking the bottle away from him and pulling the towel out. It is soaked with rum, of course, so I set it in the sink. “Now let’s get the shop vac.”

PK, meanwhile, is grabbing some printer paper. “HANG ON,” I say. “I’m not sure printer paper is going to work; if you twist it up it won’t have that much oxygen in the neck, and it’ll probably go out. Though it’ll be soaked with alcohol so maybe not. We can give it a try, I guess. BUT FIRST,” I raise my voice as he starts twisting the paper into the bottle’s neck, “you need to help me get this vacuum cleaner outside. We need to get everything set up beforehand.”

He sets the bottle and paper down and helps me with the vacuum cleaner. We get it back to the driveway and I instruct him to pull the cord towards the house to see if it will reach. It doesn’t, of course.

“Okay, now we need an extension cord.”

“There’s one right here!” he exclaims, and reaches down, unplugging the back yard freezer and starting to pull the extension cord it’s attached to–which the husband carefully ran up and over the door frame to reach between the freezer and the outlet–off its hooks.

“No, STOP. You just unplugged the freezer. We need a different extension cord.”

“Oh, shit! I’m sorry.” He plugs it back in.

“Let’s go see if we can find the blue outdoor cord,” I say. We look around in the house and fail to find it. “It’s probably in the garage. Let me find my keys,” I say. The garage, you see, is now locked in order to keep PK from getting into the tools unsupervised and smashing up more things like potted plants or, god forbid, windows.

I can’t find my keys in the house, so I tell PK I am going to go see if I left them in the car when I moved it out of the driveway. I’ve locked the car, since it’s now on the street, so I am peering through the windows trying to make sure the keys aren’t in it when I hear PK shouting for me from the house. Once I’ve figured out that the keys aren’t in the car, I walk up to the front door.

“WHAT, Pseudonymous Kid?” I probably sound a little exasperated.

“Mama, never mind. This is turning into way too much work,” he says.

So it’s true: unschooling will eventually teach your kid the lessons you want him to learn. Lessons that no matter how many times I have explained to him–“No, that will be way too much work,” I have said–he has never really internalized.

That said? I’m really not sure it was worth it.


You Can Lead a Horse to Water, But You Might Have to Trick Him into Drinking For His Own Damn Good

This post is part of the

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop: Stealth Schooling

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop: Stealth Schooling

It is a truth universally acknowledged that education = jargon. There’s the jargon of education as profession (“differentiated curriculum,” “learning outcomes,” “Maslow’s hierarchy”), the jargon of the educated (lawyers, doctors, various academic disciplines), and of course the jargon of “giftedness” (including the word “gifted” itself).

You might think that homeschoolers, being an independent lot, would eschew this kind of thing. BUT NO; there’s jargon in homeschooling, too. Do you homeschool or unschool? Do you use Charlotte Mason? Unit studies? Are you a “radical” unschooler?

Part of what’s behind homeschooling jargon is territory marking, same as any other group: WE use THIS approach, we’re not like those crazy uptight people who use THAT approach. But I think most of it is more just an attempt to explain (to ourselves, even) what we’re doing–again, same as any other group.

I’m not setting Pseudonymous Kid down at a table for six hours a day; there’s no recess or lunch “bell”, we only have one (math) textbook, which PK has only dipped his toes into–so what are we doing? How do we ensure that PK is getting “instruction in the several branches of study required to be taught in the public schools,” as the law requires in my state (even for homeschoolers)?

You might think that home educating a kid who is very bright, enjoys reading, likes building things, and never met a narrative or an argument he didn’t want to analyze and take apart would be easy: take the kid to the library, get him some books in the various required “branches of study,” and let him go. I suppose some homeschooling works that way: at least, that’s often how people seem to talk about it when you’re first getting started.

In our case, though? That is so very not how it works. SO VERY NOT.

Now, whether it doesn’t work that way because PK had a bad school experience, because we didn’t start homeschooling from the very beginning, because we’re doing homeschooling “wrong,” because PK is an anxious freak, because I’m a lazy-ass homeschooling teacher/mama, because we’re in “the deschooling phase,” or any other reason one might come up with, I can’t say. Maybe it doesn’t work that way for anyone and the people who say it does are lying. I dunno.

Here’s how it has worked this year.

  1. Trial-and-error. I propose something–a book, a schedule, a topic–and PK refuses it, or resists outright (directly or with that irritating passive dawdling/avoidance thing); or else he sorta kinda goes along with it a little bit but gets more and more resistant over time while I cajole or command, until finally I give up; or else it actually works. Mostly the only thing that’s actually worked is a series of video lectures on medieval history. The reason these worked is
  2. Observation. I pay attention to what PK is willing to do. Watching video documentaries turned out to be something he’d go along with, so I spent some money on video lectures to cover medieval history, which is what he’d be doing this year if he were in public school. He likes videos, so sometimes I show him youtube videos of, say, some scientific phenomenon. He reads a lot of stuff on cracked.com, which is actually surprisingly educational, and I’ve run across a couple pieces there about medieval history and shown those to him. He plays a lot of video games and likes to tell me ALL ABOUT THEM, so I’ve listened to his monologues and asked questions that ensure that he “provides evidence” of his various claims about why some game is great and another sucks, that he “develops his argument” by explaining more about his reasoning, and so forth. In other words, I’ve relied a lot on
  3. Manipulation. AKA “stealth schooling,” because no one is going to say “I manipulate my kid”–especially in unschooling circles, which are all about self-directed learning. In addition to manipulating him into turning his video game explanations into exercises in exposition and argument, I’ve subscribed to a couple of magazines (Smithsonian and Scientific American)–and the subscriptions are in MY name, so he doesn’t think I’m trying to “make” him read them. When they come I sit down and read them, occasionally saying something like “huh, this is interesting, did you know ___?” or “oh, this is a neat chart, check it out”–and within five minutes he’s taken the magazine away from me and is reading the article himself. I’ve played dumb over math so that he would figure it out for the joy of being able to tease me about my slowness. PK’s papa has explained math and science things over dinner because I was “confused about them,” and then turned to PK and asked him to figure out “for fun” what would happen if ___. I’ve wondered aloud while cooking why eggs turn white and solid when they’re heated or why dishwashing detergent helps pans be less greasy, and let him explain the chemistry behind those things to me. I’ve used walks to the grocery store and back as “P.E.,” and I’ve started proposing to PK that we “play hooky from school stuff” by driving to a nearby forest and going for a long hike–on which he’s explained to me why there’s a river at the bottom of this canyon and I’ve pointed out to him the way the plants change as we get higher into the mountains. I’ve encouraged him to practice typing by rewriting the typing exercise sentences so that they’re silly or irreverent or profane. This morning I showed him this video and then said, I wonder what other kinds of things one could use that technology for.

Basically I’ve learned that if I tell him to do something, he’s almost certainly going to resist it. But if I offer it as an alternative to “school stuff,” or post it as a question that either allows him to tell me something or else riff on a bunch of ideas, then bingo.

Of course, this means I’m basically teaching PK 24/7, since I have to take my opportunities where I find them, or create opportunities as I can. In a lot of ways it would be much, much easier to just say “read the damn textbook and do the problems on page 47.” But in other ways–ways that matter more to me–the textbook approach is much, much harder, because it requires me to nag and supervise and insist and argue and there is just no. freaking. way.

You might say PK has manipulated me into manipulating him. To which I’d say hey, whatever it takes.

Other posts on this topic:

Wenda Sherard, “Stealth Schooling: A Tale of Two Teachers.”

Building Wingspan, “Stealth Schooling.”

Cedar Life Academy, “My Experience With Stealth Schooling.”

A Voracious Mind, “Stealth Schooling.”

Mommy Bares All, “Stealth Schooling: One of the Reasons I Love to Homeschool My Kids.

Thea Sullivan, “Stealth Schooling: Just Don’t Call it ‘Educational.'”

Chasing Hollyfeld, “The Gentle Way.”

Little Stars Learning, “Stealth Schooling–Bait, Hook, Reel, Release.”

Sprite’s Site, “Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Bloggers Group Blog Hop: Stealth Schooling.”

How to Work and Homeschool, “Simple Stealth-Schooling Strategies.”

 


Un/Schooling

This post is part of

Speaking of Unschooling: A gifted homeschool blogger's hop

Speaking of Unschooling: A gifted homeschool blogger’s hop

Click for the whole list, or see individual links at the bottom of the post.

A major part of the last fifteen months with PK at home has been about me observing how he acts and what he does when he’s learning something new. When he is trying to do something that’s a bit of a stretch, he gets anxious. If the anxiety is minor, he can handle it by being jumpy and physical: he’ll get up and pace around, or crawl on the back of the couch and look over my shoulder while I show him how to work a problem or something. If the anxiety is major–or if he isn’t allowed to do the wiggling, like if I say “come back here and sit down!” rather than *very gently* saying, “sweetie, I need you to look at this, come back” and then letting him crawl on the back of the sofa rather than pacing around the room–then he starts arguing and trying to physically get away, and it looks like refusal. (Though interestingly, sometimes after refusing and leaving he’ll come back a few minutes later to say “I figured it out in my head.”)

Needless to say, this is a BIG FUCKING CLUE as to why middle school–where he was finally starting to have to push himself *and* where, unlike his hippie (public) elementary school, they weren’t even going to consider letting him move around the room for a bit–totally, totally didn’t work for him, and why the math teacher in particular thought it all boiled down to a battle of the wills. He says that he mostly didn’t even try to move around, because it was so clear that that was not how things were done, and in elementary school we had done a LOT of work on teaching him not to shout or act out when he was frustrated, so I imagine that his attempts to restrain himself sent him fairly quickly into the refusal mode and would just shut down (and feel anxious, which is pretty much the recipe for causing depression). His first grade classroom was also a “traditional” school, and one that was very proud of its “good test scores” and mostly attended by the children of the kind of affluent (or hoping to become so) parents who “value education” in the sense of wanting their kids to go to the “good” school, so there, too, he was pushed to sit still and complete his work, which led to nightly crying jags and homework avoidance. Which is why I put him into the hippie school.

I’ve also come to recognize that when he’s doing something new that’s physical? He deals with that discomfort–including the excitement of the new–by talking. Which his PE teacher loathed (“stop talking to me and go run laps”) and which honestly drives me nuts b/c whenever he’s got a new video game, same thing: he has to tell me all about it at top speed any time he takes a break.

There’s some of that with new learning of ideas, too. He stops video lectures like seventeen times every half hour to comment on them, and when he was in elementary school I used to try SO HARD to get him to just write down questions/comments instead of interrupting. Most of his 2-5 teachers did a good job of setting up some kind of “hold on, ask/tell me later” signal with him, bless them. The first grade teacher and most of the middle school teachers, though, just tried to shut him down. Result? Frustration, anger, anxiety.

Which has led me to a broader realization or, at least, a hypothesis. It seems to me that everything about and around education, in the U.S. right now, is under enormous pressure. I used to be firmly of the “send your kid to public school, it’ll be fine” school in part because I saw people of my socioeconomic class worrying about whether public schools were “dangerous” or “good enough” as unnecessary anxiety, and I still do, where that anxiety is focused on whether kids will be exposed to “gang violence” or whether the standards of public schools are up to snuff. Which I still think are concerns that are motivated (consciously or no) out of racism, primarily. But what I didn’t realize is how much public schools themselves have become the focus of those pressures. In fact, it seems to me that homeschooling, too, is affected by the broader social pressure and anxiety around the entire category of “education” these days.

“Unschooling,” maybe, can be seen as an attempt to open up the pressure valve and let some of that build up out of everything associated with education. I’m not comfortable with the term for reasons that I think led me (and lead a lot of other people) to misunderstand it as *anti*-schooling (and indeed, there is some anti-schooling prejudice in both un- and homeschool circles, as well as among people who send their kids to private school; and I think that all of that has  roots in historic racism, but that’s a different topic). When people start making blanket statements about schools as “factories” or how they “oppress children,” it gets my back up. And I continue to not understand how people who care about education enough to actually decide not to just follow the beaten path with regard to their own children’s education can be hostile to free, public schools as a fundamental institution in a modern society.

But that said, I am starting to understand where people are coming from when they talk about actually experiencing school as oppressive or inimical to education, because I am starting to see exactly how the amount of pressure in the system right now does function to undermine one of the most basic requirements for learning and teaching, which is the ability to be patient, and to listen.

I got this off FB and can't read the copyright--if anyone knows where it's from, please let me know so I can credit it properly.

I got this off FB and can’t read the copyright–if anyone knows where it’s from, please let me know so I can credit it properly.

People under pressure don’t listen well, and they tend to be a lot less patient than they otherwise would; and psychological stress tends to be “catching.” (Which might also suggest, by the way, why mass shooters sometimes attack schools even if their grudge isn’t “against” the school or they have no association with it? As well as why school shootings, more than any other kind of mass shooting, push all of our buttons. Yes, obviously the fact that school shootings affect kids is a big part of that last one, and it’s certainly a sufficient explanation in itself; but might there also be something going on with shootings that happen in an arena about which we all already feel enormous pressure and anxiety just ratcheting it up that much further?)

Or, as this school principal puts it,

Teachers are engaged in practices like these because they are pressured and afraid, not because they think the assessments are educationally sound. Their principals are pressured and nervous about their own scores and the school’s scores. Guaranteed, every child in the class feels that pressure and trepidation as well.

Surely, this is not a good atmosphere for learning, or working, or teaching, or collaboration of any kind.

One of the things they say about unschooling is that if your kid has been in school, there’s a “deschooling” period of about a year–during which the kid (and the parents) need to “unlearn” the entire mindset of school: that work is opposed to play, that learning is something grownups have to make kids do, that what kids want to do on their own is almost certainly neither educational nor healthy. That certainly proved true in our case (it took a little longer than a year). What we’re doing is not quite unschooling, I don’t think–we have a formal math curriculum (which I love), we have a formal series of history lectures (which are in accordance with the historical period his grade peers are doing in this state–and which he loves), I am “making” him learn to type (which initially he had a panic about but is growing to really enjoy), I “make” him get some kind of exercise, which we call P.E., every day. For language arts stuff I rely on my own expertise to be able to determine how his skills in exposition, persuasion, marshaling evidence, forming theses, etc. are coming along simply via our talks about things (he’s very good at this stuff), since writing is still a sore spot for him. I am arranging occupational therapy for him at the suggestion of a psychologist, and in the hopes that it will help him with the writing (which is also what the typing is for, obviously).

However, this “curriculum” of ours has taken shape very, very slowly, and only within the last couple of weeks has it really started to be an everyday thing. For the most part, we’ve been “deschooling”–giving PK time to get past the anxiety (with the help of medication) that is probably his birthright, but which I think was also made much worse by the current atmosphere in public education.

And while I’m pretty happy with how we seem to be doing for now, I can’t stop thinking of all the kids and teachers who are still swimming in that pool. I’m glad to know that lots of folks are starting to resist, challenge, and organize against those who want education to mean pressure, stress, distrust. I wish for public education that it be an institution where we don’t need to “un”school kids in order for them to enjoy learning.

And for all the kids and teachers, I wish them a nice long period of un”schooling” from the way we currently think “school” is supposed to be. Because that shit isn’t healthy for anyone.

More unschooling posts:

Red White and Grew: Reflections on Unschooling

Building Wingspan: I’m Not an Unschooler … But …

Thea Sullivan: How Unschooling Saved Us, Sort of

Cedar Life Academy: Everyone Deserves A Childhood

Wenda Sheard: A True Story: Unschooling and the Superintendants

Life with Intensity: We Unschool (Well, Sorta), What’s Your Superpower?

Laughing at Chaos, Between Homeschooling and Unschooling

Chasing Hollyfeld: I am Not a Teacher

Sui Generis: Unschooling and the Benefits of Unstructured Time

A Voracious Mind: Unschooling 101


A Completely Uncontroversial Mommy Blogger Post About Dinner

I like to cook, Pseudonymous Kid likes my cooking (in fact, he prefers it to eating out and actively complains on the nights I say we’re getting takeout or going to a restaurant), and I’m pretty good at it. Somehow this year my cooking stepped up a couple of notches, too, and I can’t remember the last time I made something disappointing: I finally seem to have mastered a broad enough range of techniques and gotten a good command of flavor profiles, enough that I can reliably wander into the kitchen, decide what the backbone of the meal will be (pork chops? Pasta? Rice?) and just start gathering things and deciding how I want the end result to taste (North Africanish? Mediterranean? bright and tangy? complex and earthy?) and pull it off. I am proud of this.

The thing that got me started cooking many years ago, though, was baking. I really like baking. And a couple of years ago I got started with this Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day thing, and I am telling you: it is true, and it is a total game-changer.

Let me start by saying, you really should buy the book, and the follow-up, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which has a lot of whole-grain recipes. But I will tell you–from memory, because it is that easy–how to do the most basic, simple bread in the first book, which is what I use for our basic every day bread and, as one of my staple quick dinners, the dough for pizza.

Get a big tupperware-type container, one that holds like 4-5 quarts. Pour in three cups of warm water, add a tablespoon and a half of yeast and the same amount of salt. Measure out 6 1/2 cups of flour (I tend to be scant with the cups, because since you’re doing this by volume not weight, you’re better off with a dough that’s a little loose than one that’s too dense ime). Stir the whole thing up with a butter knife (which will cut through the thick dough more easily than a spoon).

That literally takes like five minutes. If you have a kid who wants to help in the kitchen, they can do this part, though they might spill some flour. But if you do it regularly, they can totally contribute to one of your staple family “chores” in a substantive way.

Then put the lid on loosely and leave the dough for a couple of hours. Like, if you’re doing this at dinner time, leave it out until bedtime, or if you’re doing it in the morning, leave it out til you go back into the kitchen at lunch. The dough will rise and then collapse a bit. At that point, snap the lid tight and put it in the fridge.

The next day, when you want some dough, get out a cookie sheet or some parchment paper. If you’re using a sheet, sprinkle either corn meal or oat bran or some other fairly gritty dry thing on the pan (this is so the bread will not stick to the pan, so sprinkle heavily; any leftover you can wipe back into the corn meal or oat bran container after the bread goes into the oven). Heavily flour your hands and the part of the dough you’re going to grab, and use another butter knife to cut off about 1/4th of the dough volume. Shape it into a ball-type shape and put it down on the cornmeal covered cookie sheet or the parchment paper. (I recommend a cookie sheet for bread, and parchment paper for pizza; you’ll see why in a minute.)

If you want it to be bread, slash the top of the ball a few times with a serrated knife (this is to help the bread expand as it bakes, and so it looks pretty), set the timer for 15 minutes and walk away.

If you want it to be pizza, flour the top again and roll it out with a rolling pin to about 12-15 inches. Pour some olive oil on the rolled-out dough and spread it around to coat the dough, using a pastry brush or the back of a spoon or your hands. (If you use your hands, you will obviously need to wash them afterwards, but that’s not difficult.) Then put your pizza toppings on the pizza: I’ll put some ideas below. Basically preparing the pizza takes about the same 15 minutes as letting the bread sit.

When the timer goes off (if it’s bread) or when you’re done prepping the pizza (if it’s pizza), turn the oven on to 400 degrees. You want the oven to contain another cookie sheet or, if you’re fancy, a baking stone so that the surface the bread will bake on will be HOT when you actually put the bread in. Otherwise the bread will stick, but a hot surface will cook the bottom immediately and the bread won’t stick. On the bottom of the oven you want a metal roasting pan, something with an edge on it so that you can pour water in to steam the bread later (you don’t need this for pizza, but mine lives on the bottom of the oven regardless b/c this whole process makes breadmaking so easy we make all our bread now). Don’t use glass, b/c a glass pan will break if you pour cold water into it when it’s hot! (For the same reason, if you decide to splurge and buy a baking stone? Make sure never to get it wet when it’s hot.)

Set the timer for another 15 minutes or so to let the oven heat up, and because 15/15/15/15 is easy to remember.

When the timer goes off a second time, it’s time to put the bread/pizza in the oven. If it’s bread, you’re going to use the cookie sheet the bread is on as a kind of big spatula; transfer it onto the hot sheet in the oven with a quick jerk, and assuming that you put enough corn meal under the bread, the transfer should be clean. If it’s not clean, your bread loaf will be a bit of a weird shape, but that’s not the end of the world. Mistakes happen.

If you’re doing pizza, though, in my experience it is impossible to do a clean jerk with a fully-laden pizza, so instead I just use the parchment paper the pizza is sitting on to pull it onto a clean cookie sheet, then use that sheet to transfer to the hot sheet in the oven parchment paper and all. Parchment paper is non-stick and thin enough that the hot sheet will still cook the bottom of the pizza quickly, so just let the pizza cook on the parchment paper in the oven. The paper will probably brown around the edges, which is no biggie.

Set the timer for another 15 minutes.

When the timer goes off for the third time, if you are making bread, fill some kind of pouring container (I use an empty wine bottle) with water, open the door real quick, pour the water into the roasting pan on the bottom of the oven, and close the door.  The steam will help the bread form a nice crispy “artisan” type crust. Try to do this as quickly as possible so that the oven temperature doesn’t drop. If you are making pizza, have a look at the pizza to make sure the cheese isn’t burning; if it is, maybe turn the oven down a bit.

Set the timer for another 15 minutes.

When the timer goes off, your pizza or bread is done.

This all sounds more complicated than it really is when you’ve done it a couple times, so here is the real short version:

Dough: 3 cups warm water, 1 1/2 tablespoons salt, 1 1/2 tablespoons yeast, 6 1/2 cups flour.Let it sit for a couple hours, til it rises and collapses a bit again, then put it in the fridge.

Bread: cover a baking sheet with oat bran or corn meal, flour your hands and the dough, cut off 1/4 of the dough volume, roll it into a ball, put it on the bran-or-meal-covered sheet. Slice the top.

Pizza: same thing, but put the dough onto a sheet of parchment paper instead of a baking sheet and instead of slicing, roll the dough out (use more flour so it doesn’t stick to the rolling pin). Spread olive oil on the top and then make pizza.

Baking: 15 minutes to rest (or prepare the pizza); 15 minutes to heat the oven (with baking sheet inside); 15 minutes to bake without steam; 15 minutes to bake with steam.

If you’re doing pizza, you can just set the timer for 30 minutes baking, obvs. 20 might be enough, but surprisingly I have found that even though the dough is thinner, it still requires the same baking time. Probably b/c stuff on it keeps it wetter longer.

Pizza “recipes”/ideas:

Sprinkling the olive oil with a seasoning mix–Italian, Greek, “pizza mix,” etc–can kick up the flavor, but is not necessary.

For tomato sauce, you can just use bottled marinara or pasta sauce, or plain bottled crushed tomatoes (in which case the seasoning mix really does help). Or you can not do sauce. Or you can use bottled alfredo-style sauce or make a white sauce, which is basically a roux with garlic to which you add milk, parmesan, and oregano or basil or whatever. There’s a recipe at the link if “roux with garlic and milk and parmesan” doesn’t make sense to you.

Toppings: my kid likes sliced salami; I really like mushrooms, which you can buy pre-sliced, thus making it super easy. Goat cheese is grand. Another family favorite is olives, preferably real ones (i.e., the greek kind–pitted and either cut in half or put on there whole). Sliced multi-color bell peppers look nice. Pre-grated mozzarella makes cheese toppings easy, and there’s even grated soy mozzarella for the non-dairy types like my husband.

Greek Pizza: greek seasoning, olives, crumbled feta and bell peppers.

Potato pizza: no sauce, rosemary sprinkled heavily over the olive oil, and thinly-sliced potatoes and red onions (use the slicing side of a box grater to do thin slices really quickly).

Chicken and garlic pizza: Crushed or thinly-sliced garlic on white sauce, and grill a chicken breast, then slice it and put it on top. (I often grill an extra breast or two if I’m cooking chicken, then slice the breasts and freeze the slices, which makes chicken pizza even easier.) Broccoli is yummy with chicken, too.

BBQ Chicken: use bbq sauce instead of white sauce, or use tomato sauce and mix the sliced chicken with a cup or so of bbq sauce before putting it on the pizza. This is also yummy with sliced or diced red onions and cilantro.

Basically one of the things I love about doing pizza is that a cup or so of pretty much any kind of leftover–random chicken breast? pepper starting to wizen? couple of meatballs? A carrot?-can be sliced up and made into a pizza. Interesting looking goodies at the grocery store–peppered goat cheese? a small jar of roasted peppers? artichoke hearts? capers? fresh mozarella–work great, too, and you don’t have to figure out a “recipe” for them.

And the clean up is super easy. Throw the parchment paper away or reuse it if it’s not too burned, wash a cookie sheet and the pizza slicer and maybe a knife, and you’re done.