Confessions of a Relaxed Unschooler

January 2, 2013.  Someone has decided to learn cursive. I suspect it's because a friend is learning it at school. I see practice papers everywhere with loopy letters. I'm suspecting the 9yo.

January 6, 2012.  Did anyone notice I forgot to write here?  The teens have been home for winter break. Those school breaks are always just a few days late in coming, then last a few days too long.  We were so done with the school that I ended up telling the boys to have all their things turned in at school because I was signing them out 2 days early. Who makes kids go to school on Dec 23 anyway? I've never heard of such a thing!  My dd13 asked me the other day if she couldn't have workbooks and assignments that are graded like "all the other kids."  I wasn't sure how to tackle this question-  assign her books by John Holt?  But I think I know my daughter so I gather up every textbook we have around that is at her level, and head to her room. I spend a few hours with her that day, looking through the bookshelves to find all those books, showing them all to her, looking at the daily schedule she's written for herself, and then picking up the first book and opening it to find she's written in it already- last fall. We talked about looking up answers in an answer key, or if there is no key, bringing it to mom. Then I started looking at what she did, reading the pages to her and pointing out how well she'd done on the correct ones, and -gently, I tried- to point out the ones that were incorrect and suggested she correct them.  After half an hour we get to the last item on the page, and I say, "There are mistakes there. Correct them."  And she clammed up, and tears brimmed in her eyes.  I pulled her in my lap and full on crying commenced. I told her this is why I think that reading textbook pages and answering practice problems is a poor method of education- it's stupid.  I didn't care if she could do this type of work, because it is irrelevent to real life.  I prefer reading the wonderfully creative stories she has written, and working together to edit them- THAT is real education.  I don't care if she can't do this workbook without crying, but I DO care that she's crying and I would really like to know what brought the tears.  After a few minutes she had dried her eyes and looked up at me and said, "I am afraid of anyone ever knowing that I made a mistake."  I hugged her hard and said that was something we needed to work on- this was an unrealistic expectation she's putting on herself.  After that she picked out a few of the coursebooks that seemed appealing-  Writing Strands, to work on her writing which she enjoys.  Key To math, because she does want to be able to stand up against peers and be equal in math.  And she promised to bring those things to me and do them next to me, where she can ask me questions and have me check her work right away and not be afraid of anyone finding out she did something wrong.

September 2, 2011.  This week my home kids have been studying the fall of the Roman empire, Barbarians, and Celts. We have read 2 versions of Beowulf and today will watch as much of a one-man presentation of the poem in its original Old English as we can stand. The kids spent Tuesday afternoon at Courtney's where they made Celtic battle axes, painted their faces blue and spiked their hair with aloe vera gel. 

Wednesday I took them on a Fountain Hunt; I had printed up a list of 9 fountains using the search function for "Roman." We took picnic food with us, as some of the sites were suitable for resting. I wished aloud that we had a pad of newsprint and pencils with us. The kids were surprisingly enthusiastic about the fountain hunt. We saw not only the 9 for which our journey had been taken, but also others. 

With over 150 fountains in town, I suspect we'll try this activity again some time before the fountains are all shut off for the winter. The last few fountains had us walking in 100-degree heat, so  the kids were thrilled to make the next stop the library, where we used the Art Spot room to sit and roll out the homemade sugar cookie dough I'd brought along into Roman columns- Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian (ok, none of us attempted carving Corinthian columns out of cookie dough. 

After a while we proceeded to the local artists' supply store and got that paper I wished I had and something we better work on today while we still have the heat of the sun!  The kids have also been practicing Vlogging complete with editing for special effects, adding titles and subtitles, coming up with Intros and Outros, and uploading to Youtube. Oh and ds10 took apart a remote control car and put it together again. From what I understand, dd12 is planning a giveaway on her Vlog of one of her homemade 18" doll dresses.

August 22, 2011.  For the last week, my teens have done a pretty good job getting up for high school. They made the entire first week without missing the bus. I did have to drive two of them on the 7th full day of school. They are getting into the swing of things there- I have a harder time adapting than they.  Several times, I've asked, "Are you sure you don't want to stay home?" 

What is hardest for me at this time of year is having to sign all the teachers' syllabi. I couldn't help myself as I literally made corrections to a couple of them. It galls me when the English teacher sends home a syllabus with, let's assume, typos.  Every school should hire a copyeditor.

The other thing wrong with the syllabi are the various rules.  One teacher has a system for how to raise your hand.  Every teacher has their own rubric to come up with a final grade.  One has a discipline policy that belongs in a kindergarten.

The boys aren't bothered, and I remember the syllabus is the standard. They'll need the experience for college (not that they wouldn't adapt then anyway).  

So, I suck it up and spend an hour playing the fraction game with my 4th grader, at BrainPop.  He started very reluctantly. Rolling his eyes. I ignored him and kept playing. He decided that I needed help- and I did. How did I manage to make the mistakes I made? He stared in dismay as I lost the game, and then took the mouse and taught me how to do it right. I'm lucky to have him here.

August 15, 2011.   I have 4 kids staying home this year, grades 7-4-2-K.  I printed up Goal sheets from and asked them to write down goals. Showed them the space for writing down what books or materials they may need. Fifteen minutes later my 7 year old came back with this:

May 24, 2011.  I had a thought.  (I know, right?! And I was public schooled!)

I was talking to my 3rd grader (9yo).  Their school quit giving grades this year, btw, so it's not immune to progressive ideas.  It's a Standards Based School. They have a contest right now for each class to get a BINGO and win a class treat- how do they get the BINGO? Every day that the entire class is present on time, in their seats, they get a letter.  Five days of that, and they get a treat.  Renewable, could get a treat every 5th day until the end of the year.

I asked him, WHY the contest?  And why does his class have only 1 letter so far, out of 10+ days into the contest?

He said, there is an 11 year old in his class.  3rd grade.  An 11 year old who has been held back because he's had 20+ absences from school.  20 absences= automatic fail.  The child has missed SIXTY days of school this year.

So my thought today--  why are kids being penalized for attendance?  Do kids even have any control over their attendance?  What happens to a kid in this context?  He's doomed.  Can he even see his own value anymore, if he's continually held back for missing school? This is what compulsory attendance has given us-  kids who are penalized for something they don't even really have control over. This child is destined to be a drop-out.  [Frankly, this is what I'm talking about. Midtown Miscreant.]

Another thought I had the other day is what if kids weren't penalized for being late readers?  What if they actually just got an education where reading was unnecessary?  I homeschool my kids until at least age 9, and reading is optional/unnecessary.  We are a family of readers, mind you, and the children are read-aloud to for hours a day.  When they do watch TV it was with captioning turned on.  But what if I took this inner city classroom where kids miss 60 days, where several kids in class have missed more than 20, and read to them.  What if we didn't hold them back in remedial reading classes, we just read to them.  We let them do things with their hands.  We exploited their "other intelligences" so that they could succeed in something.....   in this atmosphere, wouldn't they do like the kids I've raised this way, and become readers?

Seems to me that teaching reading for reading's sake is just a deal-breaker for some kids.  They become "behind" and they see themselves as behind, not just their reading development.  What if they were total successes in school because someone else did their reading and writing-- until they caught on?  Because reading for the sake of reaching new goals is different than remedial reading for phonics' sake.  [ETA-- now this is what I'm talking about. The Boy Genius]

Just an idea.

May 20, 2011. What happens when a homeschooled kid goes to public school....

5th grader was having a great time, telling me how much he loved recess especially. One day I got a note from the teacher, "Please talk to your son about eating ants on the playground, it really freaks the other kids out."

Same child, in a different charter school for 3rd grade, got a note home from his teacher, "Your son is a delight to have in class. He's very curious and a quick learner. However, I'm concerned- every week, he fails to turn in his homework packet. I give him the homework packet every Tuesday and tell the children to write it in their planner, due Friday, but he never has it!"  I looked at my son, who has tears brimming in his eyes, and ask him to see his planner.  Every Tuesday is marked with "Homework- Do Friday."  

Same child, now in a 3rd different school for 8th grade, comes home from school exasperated.  "Why can't those kids just sit down and shut up and listen to the teacher and do their work?"  When you figure that out, kid, you are qualified to be a teacher in a public school.

[The previous child was homeschooled for K-2, 4, and 6-7 grades. He's entering 9th grade in an AP/IB program at a college prep magnet school next year.]

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