Schooling, unschooling, homeschooling

One thing that really annoys me about unschoolers is their need to take every little thing they do with their kids and turn it into Who Unschooling is Awesome. “I went to the science museum with our kids today! #unschooling”

Wow. I take my kids to the science museum, too. Does that mean I’m unschooling? Am I an unschooler now? Bob Blow takes his kids to the science museum, too. Does that make him an unschooler, too?

Then again, this is something regular, run of the mill homeschoolers do, too. “The great thing about homeschooling is that you can just go on field trips to learn about things. Like we’ve been learning about animals, so we went to the zoo! It’s so hands on! Homeschooling is awesome.”

Non-homeschooler can then reply, “Oh! I take my kids to the zoo, too! So I guess I’m homeschooling, too! Hahaa.”
And the homeschooler frowns. This was not what they meant at all. “No no no, you send your kids to school, so you’re not homeschooling when you take them to the zoo. You’re just…going to the zoo.”

It’s a matter of definitions, but also a territorial issue, too. Homeschoolers want people who send their kids to school to know how awesome they are as homeschoolers. They want them to know that yes, they, too, could homeschool. But as soon as the non-homeschooler points out that the things they do are hardly exclusive to homeschoolers, the homeschoolers immediately get defensive and try to mark out boundaries as to what makes them special. And more importantly, what makes them better.

It’s the same with unschoolers. They know that on the surface it looks like they aren’t doing a whole lot with their kids. So they end up pointing out every little thing that happens as the learning that must be going on in that moment. And, boy, does it get annoying. “Outside splashing in the puddles! Kids are learning physics! #unschooling.” Wow I wonder how long until they use that to derive the Pythagorean theorem all by themselves! My kids splash outside too! The difference is…I just call it playing. Sure, they might be learning something, too, but they’re also having fun. No need to dress it up.

I’ve started having fun with the labels. Whenever I hear someone talking about unschool this, homeschool that, or how they could never do either of the above, I like to tell them I couldn’t either.
Because I couldn’t. There’s no way I could structure my childrearing around just one of those things. We have our structured learning times (“homeschool”), sure, but I also give my kids lots of time to follow their own interests (“unschooling”). My kids also go to German school, Finnish school, PE class and art (“school”). We divide our time between all of those because all three of them have merits. Parents teach their kids, whether they want to or not. And you’d probably have to tie them up and leave them in a darkened room to prevent them from learning things on their own.

Which brings me to those “homeschoolers” in California who did just that to 12 of their 13 kids. “We need more homeschooling regulation!” people are now screaming. “Homeschooling should be illegal!” Except…well, California is actually quite strict when it comes to homeschooling. Except…they weren’t homeschooling when the abuse started. Their oldest kids went to public school in Texas and former classmates remember them being thin and smelling bad. They were dirty. And still, no one did anything. They fell through the cracks simply because there are so many cracks for children in abusive families to fall into. They’re so lucky one of them worked up the nerve to save themselves because, in the end, you’re the only who can.

But…on the other hand, there has been discussion among homeschoolers I know as to what level of regulation they would deem acceptable in order to prevent homeschoolers from falling through those cracks. In order to prevent educational neglect from occurring. The short of it was…there is none. Homeschoolers want to regulate themselves. They don’t trust the state to educate their children, why on earth would they trust the state to make sure they are actually educating their children themselves? It doesn’t help that the government spent so much time trying to keep homeschooling illegal or that they see homeschooling as competition or one way they lose money (state funds are distributed according to pupils enrolled). Nor does it help that homeschoolers watch the amount of their property taxes flowing into the public schools, which they benefit from and can’t opt out of.

But I’ve noticed whenever people are left to regulate themselves or self-police, they usually don’t. We excuse things in ourselves that we would never tolerate from others and that is a problem.


I am THAT parent

I am not one of those parents, I’ve always told myself. I’m not helicoptery. Sure, I homeschool, but I’m not one of those moms who dislikes activities that are drop off. I don’t hover in the corner, raising my hand and insisting on participating in things right along side my kids. I don’t co-opt their projects, knowing that I can do them better. I wish I lived in a place where my kids could go to the store or library unaccompanied and I wouldn’t get arrested as a result.

I’m also not a Tiger mom. I don’t insist on my kids playing instruments, doing 100% on all their activities and work. I don’t send back drawings I consider to be less-than what I’ve seen them do in other ones. I have my standards for them, but I don’t see them as being insane.

I’m not, I tell myself, that parent who is convinced the sun shines out of their kids’ asses. I know my kids can do wrong. I’ve seen them do it. They aren’t going to be the next Einstein. Simple statistics shows that is unlikely. They will most likely grow up to be your average adult, maybe an above average adult if I’m really lucky.

But…we insist they go to both German School and Finnish school. They need to be trilingual. It’s the minimum. On top of that, they take art class. I have them enrolled in both rock climbing and swim lessons and find occasional fantasies of them joining a swim team or rock climbing team. Maybe they’ll get good enough in it to become recognized nationally! They’ll compete! Everyone will know my kids are amazing. Maybe they can do a spelling bee and win it! And since they’ll be homeschooled people will be impressed!

Aside from that, we’ve spent lots of time and money on Alpha. He’s been in both occupational therapy and speech therapy as we try to get his fine motor skills and speech ability up to snuff. He still has trouble catching balls and I’ve mentally crossed any sport involving that of my mental list of things he could be good at. My Beta almost certainly needs speech therapy as well. While going through phonics with her, I discovered she can’t say “ng.” Her “r” needs help. Her s sometimes goes out her nose. She’s on the never-ending waiting list for physical therapy because she’s knock-kneed and in-toes both feet when she walks. She’s not terribly impaired, but she could stand to fall over a bit less.

Each day my kids have their work they need to do in writing, grammar, spelling, math, handwriting, German, and science or history that they need to do and I proceed through their lessons with the determination of someone who is not going to move on until they get it, god dammit. We’ve just finished world war two in history, but since it’s my favorite historical period we’re still reading books in it. We’ve read the Upstairs Room, A Thousand Tracings, another picture book whose name I’ve forgotten, and are in the middle of Number the Stars. After that, we will read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes before moving onto reading other things. In the car, we listen to the Economist or one of our numerous audiobooks that are supplementary to whatevery books we’re reading that are also history related. Right now, it’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. I’m probably enjoying it more than the kids since I’ve never read it before. We only listen to music when I’m too tired to properly follow a narrative.

I’m considering private swim lessons simply so that I can save time and get all the kids (I wish) into one half-hour semi-private lesson, even if it does cost me $55 per kid per half hour lesson. Then we could cram all our sport activities into one day and save time.

On the drive home from one of our many activities, it hit me. I am that parent. Not a helicopter parent or a curling parent or a tiger parent. I am a concerted cultivator parent. I tend over my children like an OCD gardner rummaging through the leaves looking for predatory insects and picking off any signs of blight, ready with a nourishing spray or fertilizer should I find they need that edge. All with very little guarantee that it’s necessary or will make a measurable difference in the long run.

Is it worth it? I’m not sure. I know homeschoolers who are much more relaxed and when asked what they’re up to, simply respond that they’re still working on reading. Internally I scream, “YOUR KID IS TEN! If you’re still working on learning how to read, it may be time to get a reading tutor or some sort of external help!” I can’t tell if I’m extreme or they are. It tell myself I’ve chosen the middle way: they do a few hours of proper work each day, have some extra curriculars and then lots of free time to pursue their own interests. I have no idea if this is accurate. As a homeschooler, you have no readily available peer group by which to judge yourself. You’re pretty much floating alone in an ocean by yourself, assuming your the normal one.

I just spent the last week playing civilization 6. Fine, not the entire last week, but probably most of it. As soon as homeschooling and other obligations were done, Alpha and I (but mostly me) played. It’s the first time in 7 years I’ve played computer games at all and holy crap now I remember why. It’s hard to break away from it. You feel compelled to continue just a bit longer to see what happens. Yesterday as I approached the final turn, it started feeling more like an obligation to see it through than fun. My son and husband were both eagerly waiting to see what would happen after the last turn. Nothing much; I came in 4th place on settler mode. I’m not too upset. It was my second game on there. The first one I had no idea what I was doing and spent about 50 turns just wandering around aimlessly before I figured things out. And in my second game I totally dominated in religion, converting three other civilizations to Buddhism. Go me!

My son currently has a game set up with Teddy Roosevelt. He wanted to play America in the worst way, so here we are. Only problem is he can’t get a great person to help him start a religion and he has so much faith built up! I can’t figure it out. He said, “Maybe I can’t get a religion because the US is an atheist country.” I had to correct him. “This US is not an atheist country. It actually has one of the highest rates of religiosity of all western countries. What you mean to say is that the US does not have an established religion. The government isn’t allowed to support religion and we believe very firmly (or should) in the separation of church and state.”

I’m tempted to start another game simply to show off all I’ve learned now and see if I can win. But to be honest, I can’t do the minimum necessary for another week. I think my husband is getting tired of always seeing me playing, too. He tells me he’s glad I’m enjoying it and I’ve been in such a good mood, too, even if I don’t get much sleep, but “I wish I could play this game so much.” Indeed, when his sister was complaining about how busy she’s been in this last year while getting her master’s degree with two kids with her parents, her sister and her husband’s parents helping watch them and both of them going to daycare while she didn’t work and her husband worked one job, he wouldn’t stop asking how she didn’t know what busy was. “We have four kids, homeschool, have only one kid in preschool part-time and have two and a half jobs between the two of us.” Aside from the occasional babysitter, we don’t have anyone coming by to help us with the kids. We are very, very busy. I have to remind him that he’s the one who moved and had he stayed in Finland, he might also enjoy the benefits of having family close by to help with the kids.

I had evil plan to enroll the kids in ski camp over winter vacation. It’s three days and I thought Gamma would be in preschool for two of those. “That means, honey,” I told my husband, “we will have two days with just the baby at home. It’ll be like a vacation! You could take off from work and do whatever we want!” We were so excited.

Then I looked at his school calendar and my face fell in disappointment. His preschool is closed that week! He’ll be home! No vacation! No break. It was crushing. I’ve rallied my spirits since and reasoned that, just like summer camp in the summer, even having the two oldest kids gone results in a much quieter house. And when do I get a chance to just hang out with Gamma and he gets to be the oldest kid? Not very often. It could be a good thing for him.

And maybe, just maybe, I can sneak in some civilization. This time I’m going to play Gandhi and aim for total religious domination. Because I find that terribly entertaining.

The Travails of Homeschooling

Homeschooling has been going pretty well. It’s my first year homeschooling two kids, so things have been a bit different. The biggest change has been the fact that it takes about an hour longer to get things done on a good day. On a not-so-good day, things can take several hours longer.

Alpha is doing really well. We had him tested through our school district last year to see how he was doing and how much his ADHD and Dyslexia were affecting him. The results showed that his dyslexia wasn’t affecting him at all. He was performing right at grade level in every subject except for writing. While he still had some issues with reversals and forming letters backwards, he did well even with decoding nonsense words. It’s a sure sign that switching up our phonics program in first grade worked.
His ADHD, on the other hand, was still hindering him. He tested as very distracted and would definitely need some interventions to help him manage his ADHD if he were in a classroom setting.

We gave him the option of going to school, but since he was exactly where he needed to be, we didn’t see the point in forcing the issue. He remains happily homeschooled and has insisted that he never wants to go to school. I told him that eventually he is going to have to go to school. He can’t stay home forever.

His favorite subject is history and this year we’re covering the modern times era, using history odyssey from pandia press. I love pandia press’ materials so much, I wonder why anyone would use anything else. Then I remember not everyone likes a very structured and detailed program that requires a lot of work. Not even me, at times.

Beta is a more reluctant homeschooler. She’s very social, but decided after being in school last year, she wanted to stay home this year. So we let her. But she quickly started complaining about how she wished she were in school. When she would get frustrated about her work, she would start complaining that she wished she were dead, she hated her life. All very dramatic.

I panicked and found myself wondering if she was suffering severe psychological damage from homeschooling or something. I was used to my son getting frustrated and yelling or throwing his work, but not this. So I had her tour a local montessori school to see if she wanted to go there. I was so sure she would that I had the paperwork printed and filled out before she toured it.

Afterwards, she said, “It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” That was the most positive thing she had to say. Aside from that, she said she didn’t want to have be there five days a week and the days were too long. She would miss the homeschooling groups we go to and the art class.

I was surprised, but I slowly realized that her dramatic statements of self-hate was just her venting her frustrations, similar to how Alpha’s yelling and throwing his books were his. It’s not that she hates homeschooling or that I’m damaging her. It’s that she hates it when she doesn’t get things immediately. Since then, I’ve changed my tactics with her. When she declares herself stupid, I ask her why she thinks she’s stupid. I force her to question her statements until she reaches the conclusion that she doesn’t reaaaaaly mean them. She’s just frustrated.

So that’s getting easier.

Harder is the fact that she’s learning physics and modern times history in fourth grade when these subjects are basically too advanced for her. But I didn’t want to start off teaching two kids at two differen’t subjects and levels in history and science, which would make my day very complicated. So Beta is basically auditing Physics and Modern Times history. When she complains about it being too hard, I just remind her that this material is meant for an older child and next year, she’ll do Ancients 1 and Life (Biology 1) and things will be much easier for her.

Because I don’t have enough to do, I’ve decided to try and organize a science and history co-op so I can have other homeschoolers to hang out with and help teach these subjects to our mutual kids. In other words, friends. Unfortunately, I’m realizing this means I’m going to most of the work while the other people just show up. But that’s pretty much how all these things go. I’m trying to finagle it so that I’m only teaching one of the subjects and other parents do the other three. So I would teach, say, Biology 2 and then three other women would do Ancients I, Ancients II and Life. Or we would alternate which subjects we teach so everyone teaches or doesn’t teach based on how things work. I don’t know. It’s a work in progress.

But so far I’m the only doing anything, so I don’t know. And I want to make sure things are taught well, so there’s a distinct possibility i will be too much of a control freak to be able to hand over any of the control to anybody else and have a successful co-op.

We’ll see. We’re halfway through this year and we’re doing well and that makes me happy.

A day of rest

Every time the kids have Finnish school, I make plans for what I’m going to do with my day off. These include some firm things I really must do (make food for the week ahead, clean out the chicken coop, go through the baby clothes) and things I would really like to do (take a bath! Exercise! Calisthenics! Thorough stretching! Foam rolling! Watch a movie! Write! Read a book!), but I rarely manage to adequately gauge the time available to the amount of things I aim to get done.

Today I:

  • Made 11 quarts of sausage stew
  • sanded the cubby holes in the boys’ room, which have been unsanded and unpainted since we installed them 6 years ago. So it’s probably time to finish that so we can cross it off our damn list.
  • Cleaned up the sanding mess.
  • cleaned out the chicken coop. It really needed it because I’ve been avoiding it like the plague during the horribly cold weather we’ve had since Christmas. My presence also forced the chickens out into the snow and I’m hoping their discovery of bare ground will encourage them to leave it more often. They’ve been staying in the coop since the first snow, the big wimps.
  • brought in Christmas lights that the snow finally melted enough to uncover. It’s a limited time opportunity since more snow is on the forecast.
  • Put away diapers.
  • Had lunch
  • Pumped. Omega went to Finnish school for the first time today, so this was necessary.
  • Watched more Anthony Bourdain on Netflix. I loved No Reservations. Parts Unknown is a bit different in tone. Less adventurous, less behind the scenes in front of the camera. More polished. I’m buying No Reservations so I can get more of that and forget that Tony has actually aged because it’s kind of bumming me out.
  • Showered. Sanding is an awful, awful activity and I was covered from head to toe.
  • Brought in the mail.

Then the rest of the family came home and I nursed Omega, who had drunken about half the bottle I sent with her. She was thrilled to see me, thrilled to be back home among her usual toys. With the kids home, I:

  • Started the laundry
  • Sorted through Omega’s clothes, getting rid of all the clothes under 6 months since they no longer fit.
  • Sat down on the couch and read. I’ve been on a reading kick this year and right now I’m reading Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher. She has a very distinct style.
  • Cleaned up the mess in the kitchen.
  • Front plank and side planks. Got to strengthen the core for my back pain.
  • Ate dinner.
  • Dealt with the kids
  • Made 5 lbs of taco meat for the week

The end. Now I’m chilling and I’m tired. I should probably have one Finnish school day were I don’t really do anything, but I enjoy getting things done too much. I like progress. I like crossing things off my list and there is almost an endless number of things on it that I could cross off if only I get around to doing them.

The Cycle of Gardening

Spring: We’re going to plant an awesome garden this year! We’ll get so many veggies and melons and tomatoes and herbs we won’t have to buy any produce! We’ll save so much money!

Fall: What a fucking waste of time! I’m a horrible gardener! I spent more money than I saved and I should have just gotten a damn job instead. I’m never gardening  again
Winter: Oooh a seed catalogue!

Rewriting “Frederick”

Have you read the book Frederick by Leo Lionni? If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the heartwarming tale of a group of field mice who are preparing for winter – all except Frederick, who is just sitting there collecting the sun and the warmth instead of nuts and grains to eat in the Winter. But this pays off because he warms the mice with his imagery and poetry once the food runs out in the bitter cold winter. It’s a commentary on how artists aren’t useless I guess – though I’ve often wondered why Frederick couldn’t collect the sunshine and warmth along with the nuts and grains, thus saving the field mice from starvation, but whatever. It’s not my heartwarming picture book.


At any rate, I’ve been on a winter rodent killing spree. My main aim is rats, but those have proved either more elusive or less numerous than I thought. I’ve been mainly catching field mice.

So the new version of Frederick goes like this (bear in mind I’ve only read the German translation of the English, which I’m now returning to English and condensing):

In a stone wall next to a field lived a family of field mice who were busy gathering nuts and grains for the upcoming winter – all except for Frederick.

“Frederick, what are you doing?” asked the field mice.

“I’m gathering the sunshine and the warmth, the blue skies and the green grass, for the Winter is cold and grey.”
Whatever, the other field mice thought and went on gathering stores of food. Eventually, the weather turned colder and the field mice retreated into the stone wall. For a while, they had plenty of food and were merry. But after a while, the food stores ran out and the weather grew colder. “Frederick, what about your stores?”

Frederick gathered them around and warmed them with this visions of warm weather and blue skies and enthralled them with his poetry.

But as the winter wore on, they grew hungrier and eventually ventured out of their wall to the nearby farmhouse in search of food.

The farmer saw their tracks and placed traps by the wall. One by one, he picked off the field mice as they left in search for food. All except for Frederick, who starved to death.

The End.