Tweak Tweak

The nice thing about what I call "tidal homeschooling" is that it keeps the pressure off me. By now, I have learned that our family’s life seldom maintains a consistent rhythm longer than, say, four to six weeks. I have learned to enjoy the ebb and flow, the seasonal change. When monkeys toss their fabled wrenches into our works, as those naughty little monkeys are wont to do, I know it’s time to do a little tweaking.

Our "high tide" Charlotte Mason term chugged along nicely during February, but this month we went a bit off kilter. Scott’s back went out; we sold our old house; there were lots of distractions. We stuck to our rhythm of morning read-alouds and narrations, but last week I noticed the kids were squabbling with each other a lot and our lesson time was turning grumpish. That is always, always, a cue for me to shift gears. (And mix metaphors. Good heavens, I am haphazard with the metaphors today. Metaphor soup!)

I’ve mentioned before that my introduction to the idea of homeschooling was through the writings of John Holt and Sandra Dodd. Sandra is the guru of radical unschooling, and though I don’t agree with her take on everything, I have learned a great deal from her writings. Jane was a babe in arms when I began to ponder Sandra’s ideas about children learning naturally, through life experience, apart from school; and truth be told, it was Sandra who sold me on the lifestyle, way back when I was lurking on the homeschooling boards at AOL.

Now you know that while I have a big streak of unschoolishness in me, I’m not an unschooler per se; the Charlotte Mason method, applied according to her principles, is not unschooling. But Charlotte, too, envisioned the kind of happy and eager childhood that you hear about in the writings of the unschoolers. And that’s my main answer to the question, "Why do you homeschool your kids?" I say, "Because I think it’s a way to give kids a great education and a joyful childhood."

During our low-tide times, which occupy the larger portion of the year, we are like unschoolers. We live and play; we take care of our home together, the children and I; we have adventures and read lots of great books.

During our high-tide times, we keep doing all of the above, but I’m the one picking out the books, and I have the kids narrate a lot of the reading back to me, and we work more deliberately on mastering skills that take practice, like piano and math and Latin.

After the big adventure of moving to California, quickly followed by the big adventure that is Christmas, all of us were ready for some structure, some predictability. Hence our current lineup of studies a la Miss Mason. And as I said, our "term" (the term amuses us, ba dum bum) got off to a terrific start. Last week, when the fun started to fizzle, I gave some thought to what might need tweaking.

The first question I always ask myself when I’m assessing our family rhythm is "What would we be doing if we weren’t doing this?" If, for example, we weren’t spending three mornings a week reading and narrating, how would we spend them? We already have activities the kids love which take us out of the house twice a week, sometimes more; plus I’ve tried to be good about making spontaneous outings to the zoo or the park, exploring this vast new land we’ve moved to. I find that an important ingredient for family harmony is having plenty of mellow time at home. I am not, therefore, inclined to add any more activities to the mix right now.

Home time, then. The kids want to do more painting. Check. I can make that happen. They want to do more baking, and Easter is around the corner…Check. Jane has a flat of herb seedlings going, and all of us are in the mood to do some gardening ("all of us" as in the entire Northern hemisphere), so: Check.

Thus far in my ponderings, I have found nothing that really requires a tweak. We can do all those things any afternoon of the week; I just need to remember to DO them. (Check.)

But the grumpishness of the last week or so, that’s got to go. That’s where the tweaking comes in. What jumped out at me when I gave some thought to the question was that it has everything to do with the challenge of keeping five small people happy at once. (Make that four small people and one medium-sized person; Jane is really getting to be such a big kid.)

I decided I was trying to do too much all together. After traveling in a pack (both literally and figuratively) for the past nine months, my kids are ready for some one-on-one time with me. This can be as simple as making sure Beanie gets to help me wash dishes, or Jane gets me for a few screens of Absurd Math, her favorite online pastime. Rose wants to stretch out on my bed and chatter; she is my most introverted child, and I think she soaks up a lot of observations during the big group activities and wants my ear in which to pour them later on.

This morning I gave Rose a stack of books and helped her set up camp on my bed. She beamed. While Jane read a picture book to Beanie, I spent some one-on-one with Rose. Then I grabbed Bean for some cozy couch time, and we rediscovered Eric Carle’s Animals Animals together. Jane went off to her favorite corner of the craft room and read the books I’d given her; later she came back and narrated to me while I changed a few diapers, nursed the baby, unloaded the dishwasher. It was a good morning. The house is a mess but our moods are tweaky clean.   

    Related Posts


11 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Tia says:

    Oh my my how I needed this little jolt. We also “tidal” homeschool though we sound a wee bit more on the “un” side of things. But the grumps have been ruling the roost lately we need to tweak as well. The next 6 weeks are jam packed with Big Events that need lots of prep (read that: Mom has a lot to do and can’t necessarily delegate much of it) but I think we absolutely MUST carve out some new time together-alone and maybe a few new things strewn about as well. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Jen says:

    My entire church homeschool group was going thru the grumps in Jan/Feb so we’ve started a monthly “Homeschool at Church” Day. Everyone just packs up and moves to the church for the day to do the same schoolwork they’d do at home. The kids feel like they’re not alone as homeschoolers, the moms get to see other people’s curriculum and learning styles, we all eat together and this month we’re going to do a service project together also. It’s unlike a field trip in that it doesn’t take you away from your necessary work. And yes, the kids all got their work done!

  3. Alice says:

    Your tweaking is always great, Lissa.

    Thanks for this account–I loved it!

  4. Karen E. says:

    I loved this account, too. And, that one-on-one is so important.

  5. Amy says:

    Oooo boy do we need some tweaky clean around here …maybe one-on-one time is the answer. I’ll have to ponder that — and figure out how to manage it with four children who never want to go do their own thing! :0

  6. keri says:

    “Because I think it’s a way to give kids a great education and a joyful childhood.”
    SO TRUE!
    As Charlotte wrote:” That the happiness of the child is the condition of his progress; that his lessons should be joyous, and that occasions of friction in the schoolroom are greatly to be deprecated.”

  7. Mary G. says:

    Always such a pleasure to read about your homeschooling/unschooling/living journey! Your Rose is my String Bean (she even comes to Adoration with me just to have some one-on-one); the others fall in place too. Sometimes it’s so hard to give everyone the one-on-one they need (and still have some time left to do the things we need to do).

    Keep up the wisdom — I’ll keep coming back for more….

  8. Mary Beth P says:

    This is why I nominated you for “Best Homeschooling Mom”! You have such a gift for articulating what we are all going through. Grumpiness has invaded our home, too. In our case it is: impending move, LONG Maine winter (very little outside time with 4 active boys) and a myriad of other things. You gave me some food for thought, and alleviated a little of my guilt for my part in the grumpiness.

  9. Meredith says:

    One-on-one always works for us too in times of tweakage!! Great points on all accounts!

  10. betty says:

    You homeschooling mommies are all so wise! If ‘that’ isn’t working for you then try ‘this’! Isn’t that the beauty of homeschooling?! Oh, if only I could go back and do things differently…I, too, would homeschool! All I can say now is MORE POWER TO YOU! Y ‘all are doing a great job!

  11. Judy Aron says:

    Wow.. I remember when I first started homeschooling – or actually was considering homeschooling over eleven years ago (I can’t believe it has been that long), I ran across Sandra Dodd on the old HEM chat rooms – she helped me get started along with others I met there, and I also didn’t agree with all she had to say, but she inspired me and really got me thinking. She surely jolted me out of Government school mentality.
    Thanks so much for sharing your post – I enjoyed reading.