Archive for the ‘Tidal Homeschooling’ Category
In no particular order, some books and links we’ve been enjoying this week:
Adam of the Road. Newbery-winning middle-grade novel by Elizabeth Janet Gray. We’re only on chapter three so I haven’t much to share about it yet, but it’s delightful so far. Young Adam’s father is Roger the minstrel, and Roger has been off at a respected minstrel school in France while Adam’s attending school at St. Alban’s. And now Roger’s coming back, and I’m guessing from the title that Adam’s hopes will be fulfilled and he’ll be accompaning his father on a journey. Loads of good rich detail here, including, in today’s chapter:
“Sumer Is Icumen In,” a very old English round which I remember learning in a college poetry class. We had to memorize it in Middle English. (I can also still recite the opening of The Canterbury Tales, thanks to Prof. Kraus.) The modern English translation of “the bullock sterteth, the bucke verteth” had, naturally, my nine- and twelve-year-old daughters in hysterics. Scatological humor has no statute of limitations.
I only knew it as a poem, not a musical round, so of course we had to turn to YouTube for help. Here’s a pretty rendition, and here’s a sound file with sheet music for two parts.
Beanie reread the St. Alban chapter of Our Island Story to refresh her memory of that tale, since the book opens on the feast of St. Alban in the town of St. Albans. On a walk, Adam and his friend Perkin pass the crumbling remains of the old Roman buildings from centuries past, and we found pictures of these at Wikipedia.
We’ve been reading bits of Gombrich’s A Little History of the World as well as sections of The Rule of St. Benedict. I looked all over for our copy of The Sailor Who Captured the Sea, a lavishly illustrated picture book that tells the story of the Book of Kells, but it hasn’t turned up yet. (We read it a few months back, though. It’s around somewhere.) Sister Wendy’s The Story of Painting has a nice section on the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels.
We keep returning to this Society for Creative Anachronism Flickr pool for illuminated manuscripts. I am repeatedly astonished by the lovely things people can make. Beanie shares my fascination and is eager to try some of the tutorials at the Gutenberg School for Scribes, another SCA gem.
I had the pleasure of seeing this scroll (scroll down, no pun intended) up close in real life at our visit to Sandra Dodd’s house in Albuquerque last month. It’s a marvel. (I am still kicking myself for forgetting to take pictures during that visit. It was a good lesson for me—I kept my camera close at hand for the whole rest of the trip!)
Yesterday, by chance, Rilla pulled Barbara Cooney’s picture book Chanticleer and the Fox off the shelf, based of course on the Chaucer tale. We meant to read that (again) today but we got distracted by our old timeline, the one Jane and I began in New York in the year 2000 and which graced our wall for the four years we lived in Virginia, filling up with colorful entries. It has been in a roll on top of a cabinet the whole time we’ve lived here in California because I couldn’t find wall space for it. Too many bookcases! But today it occurred to me that it would fit in the living room/dining room if we stretched it all the way across the fireplace. It just barely fits—the dinosaurs wound up tucked behind some bookshelves, but we know they’re there.
ETA: More links & books I forgot in the comments.
Books about the Middle Ages
Heraldry & Illumination Links
What we read today (an excerpt; “the astronomer” is a boy named Dick, who is stargazing with his sister, Dorothea):
“Got it,” he said. “Just over the top of the hill. Come and see it.”
Dorothea joined him. He pointed out the bright Aldebaran and the other stars of Taurus, and offered her the telescope.
“I can see a lot better without,” said Dorothea.
“How many of the Pleiades can you see?”
“Six,” said Dorothea.
“There are lots more than that,” said Dick. “But it’s awfully hard to see them when the telescope won’t keep still. How far away does it say the Pleiades are?”
Dorothea went back to the fire and found the place in the book.
“The light from the group known as the Pleiades (referred to by Tennyson in ‘Locksley Hall’)…”
“Oh, hang Tennyson!”
“The light from the group known as the Pleiades reaches our planet in rather more than three hundred years after it leaves them.”
“Light goes at one hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second,” said the voice of the astronomer in the darkness.
But Dorothea was also doing some calculations.
“Shakespeare died 1616.”
“Well, if the light takes more than three hundred years to get here, it may have started while Shakespeare was alive, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, perhaps. Sir Walter Raleigh may have seen it start…”
“But of course he didn’t,” said the astronomer indignantly. “the light of the stars he saw had started three hundred years before that…”
“Battle of Bannockburn, 1314. Bows and arrows.” Dorothea was off again.
But Dick was no longer listening. One hundred and eighty-six thousand miles a second. Sixty times as far as that in a minute. Sixty times sixty times as far as that in an hour. Twenty-four hours in a day. Three hundred and sixty-five days in a year. Not counting leap years. And then three hundred years of it. Those little stars that seemed to speckles a not too dreadfully distant blue ceiling were farther away than he could make himself think, try as he might. Those little stars must be enormous. The whole earth must be a tiny pebble in comparison. A spinning pebble, and he, on it, the astronomer, looking at flaming gigantic worlds so far away that they seemed no more than sparkling grains of dust. He felt for a moment less than nothing, and then, suddenly, size did not seem to matter. Distant and huge the stars might be, but he, standing here with chattering teeth on the dark hill-side, could see them and name them and even foretell what next they were going to do. “The January Sky.” And there they were, Taurus, Aldebaran, the Pleiades, obedient as slaves…He felt an odd wish to shout at them in triumph, but remembered in time that this would not be scientific.
—from Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome,
one of the Swallows & Amazons books
Where it took us:
* We read the opening of “Locksley Hall,” a long and complex poem which I enjoyed thinking my way through later in the day. With the kids, I read and discussed the first several stanzas, all of us lingering especially over:
Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the West.
Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.
* Of course after that we had to see the Pleiades. Discovered Google Sky. Oh. My. Goodness. Truly, we live in an amazing age.
* Spent a long time playing with Google Sky, looking up many constellations including all those mentioned in the Winter Holiday chapter. Rose told me the story of Orion being chased by the serpent, and we read the legend of the Pleiades, those seven sisters, daughters of Atlas. Beanie fetched D’Aulaire’s Greek Myths because both she and Rose wanted to read me several relevant passages.
* Hunted up our copy of Rey’s Find the Constellations and read about the different magnitudes of stars, among other things.
* Rose found Sirius, the Dog Star, her favorite star, says she, because she loves Diana Wynne Jones’s fantasy novel, Dogsbody, so.
“Here about the beach I wandered,” Tennyson’s poem continues, “nourishing a youth sublime / With the fairy tales of science, and the long result of Time…”
I don’t know about “sublime,” and we’d have to substitute “internet” for “beach,” I suppose, but yeah, it was a pretty nourishing morning.
Want more poetry? This week’s Poetry Friday roundup is at Wild Rose Reader.
Updated September 2015: High Tide for Huck and Rilla
Since I’ve posted on what I call “Tidal Learning” or “Tidal Homeschooling” both here and on Lilting House, I thought it might be helpful to compile a list of all those posts.
(My favorite kinds of posts are in the Connections category.)
What the Tide Brought In (and Carried Out, and Brought Back In)
Tidal Homeschooling, Part 3
The Tide is Going Out
Accidental vs. On-Purpose Learning
A Low-Tide Day
Lovely, Lovely Low Tide (a follow-up to this post about connections)
Radical Unschooling, Unschooling, Tidal Homeschooling, and the Wearing of Shoes that Fit
Way Leads on to Way
Can you tell I really love low tide? LOL!
This post isn’t about tidal homeschooling per se, but it gives a good picture of the flavor of our high-tide days: All Roads Lead to Rome (Even for Bunnies)
This is part of a (much) longer response to the comments on my "Lovely, Lovely Low Tide" post. I thought this part of my comment was relevant to the ongoing discussion here:
I am certainly not perfect
and I try show my warts and all on this blog. I am constantly pondering
and working with questions, and I wonder sometimes if that makes me
seem inconsistent, like people must be wondering if I’m ever going to
pick a lane! I am comfortable, though, with who I am (my favorite John
Paul II quote was, "Families, be who you are!"), and who I am is
someone who likes to mull over a wide range of ideas and see what
WORKS. For me, for us, for my kids, my husband, in our unique and
I sometimes do feel an urge to "belong" to one school of thought or
another, to find that label that fits me perfectly. As I said in my
original Tidal Learning post, I couldn’t find the label, so I made one
up. It’s useful mainly as a way of answering people’s questions when I
meet a new homeschooler.
I have written elsewhere about how some part of me seems to stick out
of every niche I enjoy visiting (and that is probably true for most
people). I’m a pro-life Democrat, for Pete’s sake! Sort of. Ha!—I
don’t even fit THAT label across the board.
But still there is that desire to find the perfect label. There are
times I read Charlotte Mason and think: She makes so much sense! I want
to be a whole-hog CMer! And other times when I read Sandra Dodd and
think YES, I grok that, I’m an unschooler! But the reality is, I have
places where my understanding doesn’t completely line up with either CM
*or* radical unschooling. And that’s fine. I can still learn from both
schools (unschools?) of thought, and identify with aspects of each.
One area I’m keenly interested in is the balance between a rich
unschooling environment (the kind of environment & relationships
Sandra describes so vividly in her book and site) and the logistical challenges
of raising a big family, especially with my special-needs son. When
you’ve got big kids and babies in the same house, all with their own
(sometimes conflicting) needs, you’re probably going to have to make
compromises somewhere. Tia, that’s the issue you seemed to be exploring
in your post on Always Learning—-how your need for a clean, uncluttered
space seems to you a valid need that benefits the whole family, and how
you feel able to maintain that without shortchanging your children of
your time or attention. It seems like a good question to explore, but
is perhaps a bit out of context on that particular list. And I saw that
the reactions of experienced radical unschoolers there were coming out
of a sense of concern that your vision of it being possible to maintain
a tidy home while unschooling might make newbies feel like failures if
they can’t pull that off.
Probably some of the friction comes in the different definitions people
have of unschooling. I try to consistently use "radical unschooling"
when describing the lifestyle Sandra speaks of, which incorporates an
approach to parenting that believes kids grow up happier and nicer if
there aren’t constant conflicts with parents over chores, TV, and so
forth; and that the way to avoid that kind of tension is to relax
control in those and other areas.
While I find much to learn from in that vision of parenting, I cannot
say it totally lines up with mine. I’m completely on board with "say
yes as often as possible"—but I also see myself as the leader of this
crew of kids and am comfortable with the notion of parents being in authority
over their children. I don’t see authority as a bad thing or
necessarily meaning there will be friction and discontented children.
But I digress. I was saying that as I understand it, "radical
unschooling" has a specific meaning, and some discussions are not going
to be relevant in a radical unschooling context.
Just plain "unschooling" is a tricky term, because to some it means
radical unschooling, and to others it means "kids growing up without
‘doing school’ either in a schoolhouse or at home"—without necessarily
applying to *parenting* style. You’ll find, then, families who consider
themselves unschoolers but where the parents have an authoritative (not
the same as *authoritarian*, and I credit Jeanne Faulconer for writing
a post years ago that first made that distinction clear to me)
parenting style. That probably best describes how Scott and I are
raising our kids. So while I have great respect for people like Sandra
who have, by all accounts, raised some fabulous, considerate,
compassionate, respectful, nice kids according to the parenting
principles that accompany radical unschooling, I’m coming from another
perspective, one informed by my Catholicism (the only label that truly
fits me across the board), my experience, my husband’s viewpoints, and
the temperaments and needs of our specific children.
So yes, I think you can be both an authoritative parent and an
unschooler, and there are unschooling discussion lists where it might
be interesting to have that discussion, but I would naturally expect the
experienced & happy radical unschoolers to speak up with strong
arguments from their perspective. And if they all disagreed with my
opinion, I’d have to say, well, I went to the vegetarian banquet
looking for hamburger recipes!
Still, I love to hear the RU perspective, with its emphasis on JOY.
Joyful parent/child relationships, joyful person/learning
relationships, peace and delight and harmony in the home and with the
world. It’s a refreshing vision—invigorating, I think is the word I
used in my Low Tide post. Sandra’s work truly refreshes and empowers
me, and I would hate to discourage anyone from encountering it, even if
I’m not a radical unschooler myself.
One insight I had about myself during this current re-immersion in
Sandra’s website & list is that I was able to put my finger on why
our foray into pure CM method this past winter/spring fell flat after
six weeks, so that I found myself—for the first time in our
homeschooling experience—with a roomful of discontented kids.
(Discontented with our learning experiences, I mean. They have
certainly all been discontented before, like whenever I cook dinner.)
The realization that
came to me via my rethinking Sandra’s philosophy is that what was
different about our High Tide time this winter was that always before,
while we may have been taking an excursion aboard the S.S. Charlotte
Mason, I was captain of the ship, adjusting our course as needed, and
pulling into port for refreshment or exploration as my young sailors
required. This time around, I turned the ship’s wheel over to Cap’n
Mason herself—and much as I love her captain’s logs, she doesn’t know
my crew the way I do. After six weeks, they were ready to mutiny.
So I am back where I belong: comfortable in my own shoes. I’m a Tidal
Homeschooler, and it works for us, makes for fun times with my happy,
pleasant children. But it was the Radical Unschoolers who taught me
this lesson, and I will continue to enjoy learning from their
perspective— just as I learn from the pure Charlotte Mason folks and
the Real Learners and the classical-ed folks. I
really, really like to learn. So do my kids, so I’m content to "be who
The first time I posted about tidal homeschooling at Bonny Glen (in January of 2006), I said,
Our family enjoys both kinds of learning—the heady adventure of the
well-planned fishing trip, with a goal and a destination in mind, and
the mellower joys of undirected discovery during weeks at the
metaphorical beach. Around here, the low-tide times happen much more
often than the high tide times, and often I find that the children
catch more fish, so to speak, when the tide is out. Beachcombing
reveals many treasures.
I was talking about unschooling v. Charlotte Mason-style learning, which, as readers of this blog know, are the two philosophies/methods of education which most resonate with me—even though they are very different philosophies.
We have been unschoolish Charlotte Mason learners, and we have been Charlotte Masonish unschoolers; I described it in that post like this:
[T]he what we do—read great books, study nature, dive deeply into history, immerse ourselves in picture study and composer study—is highly influenced by Charlotte’s writings and their modern counterparts; and the how we do it—through strewing and conversation and leisurely, child-led exploration—is influenced by the writings of John Holt, Sandra Dodd,
and other advocates of unschooling. But I couldn’t say we’re “real CMers” because I don’t carry out Miss Mason’s recommendations in anything like the structured manner she prescribed; and I probably do too much behind-the-scenes nudging for us to be considered “real unschoolers.”
I’d say that continues to hold true, a year and a half later. If you start looking for a definition of unschooling, you’ll find there’s a lot of disagreement between different people about what exactly unschooling is, and any definition I attempt to apply to it is simply my own take; but to my way of thinking, the term is most useful when applied to an approach toward childhood in which the parents do not “make” the children “learn stuff.” The children are learning, constantly, enormously; and the parents are actively engaged in discussion and strewing and facilitating and offering new experiences, and at times classes or curricula may be a part of those experiences—but only as the child wishes.
And so, since there have been some studies I have required of my children (Latin, for example), I can’t say I’m a full-fledged unschooler. I am very, very unschooly, most of the time.
This past winter, I veered farther off the unschooling path than ever before, with our very much by-the-book Charlotte Mason term that began after the holidays. And, as I talked about here, it started off great guns, loads of fun, a very rich and animated time of formal learning—and then we hit some rather large bumps and the fun started to spill out of the cart.
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.
(And re-reading that post, I see that a lot of what I’m writing here is a repeat of that one.)
I reassessed and saw that the year’s upheaval had tangled us up quite a bit, and I turned to my favorite homey activities to help us untangle: we immersed ourselves in the soothing pursuits of baking, painting, making things with yarn or clay, singing, telling stories. Our CM lessons continued but at a slower pace, and mostly for Jane. Gradually, as our spring got busy with recitals and outings, I retired the CM schedule altogether. I did this without fanfare or announcement, and the children seemed scarcely to notice: they’ve been too busy learning.
Learning about (to rattle off a few topics from the past week) the history of purple dye, the legends of Hercules, musical notes, how to make cookies without mom’s help, how to adapt a knitting pattern for crochet, measurement, air pressure (pumping up a baby pool and watching the pressure gauge), geography, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, ISBNs and book cataloging, ocean life (could be a long list itself), the joys of playing in the sea, snakes, turtles, goats, miniature horses, Lightning Lad and Superboy, writing and cracking codes—and that probably isn’t the half of it. Just today, Rose sat down to write a story, and when it was finished, she asked me to correct it (“I want it to be like a real book”), and that led to conversation about spelling rules (slam/slamming, split/splitting, reply/replied), punctuating dialogue, indenting paragraphs and when to start a new paragraph, capitalization of titles, when to capitalize “mom” and when not to, and more grammar stuff that I can’t remember.
Whenever our low-tide times come around, I laugh at myself for forgetting how true are the words I wrote above: I find that the children
catch more fish, so to speak, when the tide is out.
A week or two ago, reveling in the richness of low tide, I got in the mood to read some Sandra Dodd. Sandra’s website is one of the best educational resources on the ‘net. She has been collecting wisdom from experienced unschoolers (including herself) for over ten years, and her site is a vast (really, I’m not using the word carelessly—there must be a hundred? pages there, at least)* repository of quotes and anecdotes to inspire and edify anyone who is interested in how people learn. Be careful; you’ll lose yourself there for hours.
But you’ll find yourself, too. Sandra always makes me think. She can be challenging, in the sense of ‘one who challenges you to examine your assumptions.’ I’ve lurked on her email lists on and off over the years (and not always lurking; I used to participate in the discussion, two or three younguns ago), and I sometimes found her almost painfully blunt. But now, ten years into my own home education journey, I think I understand why she doesn’t mince words in conversation with other homeschooling/ unschooling parents. She doesn’t want them to lose precious time to friction and tension. She wants there to be joy and delightful connectedness between parents and children, always and as soon as possible.
I don’t necessarily agree with her on every topic, but I appreciate the way she gets me questioning, pushing, pondering, learning. I like her emphasis on saying yes as often as possible. That one simple idea can effect HUGE changes in your relationship with your kids. Sometimes I get so busy, so caught up in the logistics of managing this busy household, that I drift into scolding mode. Ugh. Sandra’s work reminds me not to scold, but rather to listen, and to smile, and instead of barking out a kneejerk “No” to the child who proposes something, to ask myself “Why not?”
A small example. On Sunday after Mass, the three older girls and I were standing on the sidewalk outside church, waiting for Scott to pick us up. There are two entrances to the church parking lot, and I had positioned myself at the corner of a traffic lane in the lot, so that I could see both entrances. I didn’t know which way he’d come in. The girls wanted to cross to the other side of the lane. I didn’t want to, because then I would only be able to watch one of the entrances.
A month ago, all wrapped up in my brisk busy-ness, I might have simply said no—offering no explanation.
A week ago, with my renewed focus on saying yes and, well, being nice (the busy me is not always the nice me), I might have said, “Sorry, gang; if we cross over there, we won’t be able to see Daddy coming.”
A day ago, with my wits sharpened and my desire to be connected and happy with my children renewed by an immersion in unschooling belief, I asked myself, “Why shouldn’t they cross the lane? I can stay here and watch for Scott. Anyway, even if I don’t stand here, it’s not like he won’t find us. It’s not a big place. Why do I need to watch for him at all? What was I thinking? Or rather, why wasn’t I thinking?”
So I said, “Sure!”
And guess what? Scott found us just fine.
Oooh, that pesky auto-response! It is so easy for a mother’s default setting to be NO. But truly, so unnecessary too.
About the same time I went poking around Sandra’s site, I treated myself to a copy of her book, Moving a Puddle, which is a collection of essays she wrote for homeschooling publications, message boards, and other places. I’d read some of them before, but many of them were new to me and it’s nice to have them all in a book I can curl up with or tuck in my bag. I got halfway through the book and had found so much I wanted to talk about that I simply had to order a copy for my pal Eileen in Virginia, Wonderboy’s godmother and my crony in unschooly Charlotte Masonishness. (Or is that Charlotte Masony unschoolishness?) She received it a few days ago and we’ve racked up quite the tasty phone bill, discussing and enthusing every day since she opened the package.
I feel downright invigorated, and I didn’t even know I needed invigorating.
Of course this begs the question: if low tide is so fabulous, why not stay there forever? Why have high-tide times at all? That’s the question I am continually examining (see this post: Accidental v. On-Purpose Learning), and will be pondering again this summer.
*Turns out there are over FIVE hundred pages at Sandra’s site, and that’s just the unschooling arm of it; she’s got other sections, too. 500! I told you it was vast!
We all slept late this morning. Scott had taken Jane to a Padres game last night, which pushed bedtime back for everyone, and I don’t think I opened my eyes before 7:30. Nice.
The baby was sorely in need of a bath. She hates baths. I wound up with three other kids in the bathroom trying to coax a smile out of our screaming princess; she is such a jolly baby that it tears everyone up to see her in distress. But she survived, and it turns out her feet are actually a sort of pink color. Who knew?
Jane kept an eye on the two little ones while I grabbed a shower for myself (bless you, Jane). When I got out, I found Rose tucked into my bed, reading Jane of Lantern Hill—a family favorite, and the book from which Jane gets her blog alias. She looked so comfy I would have liked to climb right in beside her and possibly steal the book. The part where Jane encounters the circus lion? It makes me laugh out loud, every single time.
But the baby summoned me to the living room, where I found Jane sprawled out with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Some of her best friends have just completed a production of this play, and Jane wants to learn some bits by heart so as to join in the quoting fun the next time she sees them. We divvied up the parts and read a few scenes. Wonderboy perched between us, our own "little tricksy Puck," and amused us by echoing random bits of dialogue.
Titania: Full often hath she gossip’d by my side,
And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands—
Titania: Marking the embarked traders on the flood—
My apologies, Mr. Shakespeare.
During all this, Beanie was The Flash up and down the hall about eighty times. She is very fast.
Then Rose finished her book and turned The Flash into a penguin for reasons unknown to me. Penguins romped in the girls’ room until lunchtime. The baby ate toast crumbs off the floor, and possibly an ant.
Jane worked on the songs she is preparing for her piano guild audition. Is it called an audition? Testing? I don’t know the terminology. I do know that there is a Highland Jig kicking its heels all around my brain, over and over and over.
All the Midsummer Night’s Dream enthusiasm (thank you, Alice!) spilled into a debate over which of Noel Streatfeild’s Shoes books has that play in it. Jane insisted it was Ballet Shoes, and she was right. Naturally this sent the day’s make-believe careening in a new direction, and I believe that Posy and Petrova Fossil are currently practicing their fairy roles in the room that was so recently Antarctica, while the oldest Fossil girl, Pauline, is putting the finishing touches on a purple crocheted slipper. Puck is supervising. He thinks she should add some YELLOW!
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.
The other day a neighbor asked me if we take a spring break. I laughed and said, “Yes—the whole spring!”
We’ve had such a pleasant time the last couple of months, immersing ourselves in some good books and other forms of study. Now the outdoors is beckoning, and our daily rhythms are shifting. Spring is calling us, urging us out of the house. We are a bunch of Mary Lennoxes, unable to resist the rustlings and chirpings, the spikes of green, the gypsy winds.
I keep finding cups of water on the counter with tiny blossoms floating like fairy lily pads: the first bluets and starry white chickweed flowers. Chickweed, so Jane tells me, is an edible plant and quite tasty. (“Like sugar snap pea pods, Mom.”) She has begged me not to uproot the vast patch of it that has taken over a stretch of our backyard mulch bed, just uphill from the strawberries. Another weed, a purple-flowered plant the children call “cow parsley,” is popping up all over the lawn, much to their delight: they suck the nectar from the itty bitty orchid-like blossoms and proclaim it better than the honeysuckle they’ll seek out later in the summer.
Jane, who had been binging on math during the past three weeks—such a Math-U-See enthusiast is she that she devoured half of her new Pre-Algebra book in a month’s time—seems to have shifted her attentions to botany. I find myself tripping over her tattered copy of All About Weeds everywhere I go, and upstairs, the microscope is much in demand for the viewing of leaf cross sections. An experiment involving scarlet runner beans has become the centerpiece on the kitchen table.
Our oregano and thyme are greening back up, and the foxglove is quite large already. Daffodils are in glorious bloom on the slope at the edge of the yard, but I don’t venture down that hill often; the walk back up wipes me out these days. Such is the ninth month of pregnancy.
A mourning dove is nesting above our front porch light. I can’t imagine how she tolerates the clamor, for this is the season of constant in-and-out. Red Virginia mud is every-where. (Please don’t look at my floors.) A great vat of mud has appeared in the backyard under the white pine, and someone painted the slide. This may account for the recent destruction of several pairs of pants.
My hyacinths bloomed yesterday, beating the forsythia for the first time. The crocuses and windflowers have been flaunting their sky colors for two weeks. It’s just about time to get our peas in the ground—our tradition is to plant them on St. Patrick’s Day.
So yes, we’re on spring break already, and it’ll last until summer.
This post is part of my series on Tidal Homeschooling.
Tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home education, unschooling, unschool, nature, nature study, spring
I found a major flaw in my metaphor.
I’ve been writing about what I call “tidal homeschooling,” the way my children experience an ebb and flow of alternating periods of deliberate study, directed by me, and periods of what is sometimes called “natural” learning but which I more often describe as “accidental” learning—the enormous quantities of facts and ideas children are wont to soak up when given time and freedom in which to do so. I’ve described the periods of structured study as our “high tide” times, when I charter a boat and lead my merry little crew on a fishing expedition in quest of a particular skill or subject, in contrast to our “low tide” times when they wander off, each in her own direction, to explore the shores and tide pools of the world, eager little beachcombers gathering sackfuls of treasure. Because of the high-tide voyages, I cannot accurately call us unschoolers; but because of the frequency and fruitfulness of our low-tide times, which sometimes last for months, I have shied away from various other home-education labels as well, finding more in common with the outlook of the unschoolers than with any other group. Since no label fit, I coined my own term which seems to aptly describe the rhythm and manner of learning that takes place in our family.
But I was mulling over this excellent post at The Common Room (subsequent mulling-over being the usual pleasant result of reading a Common Room post) and it struck me that my metaphor breaks down when I come to the beachcombing part.
“The adults in the child’s life,” writes the Headmistress, referencing Charlotte Mason,
“have the ‘power of appeal and inspiration,’ and the responsibility to act ‘the part of guide, philosopher and friend’ to these young people with wonderful minds but no knowledge to speak of.
“Or… we can just abandon them to their uninformed judgment about what’s important and what isn’t, leave them to their own devices, and allow them to believe that their own judgment about what is and is not important to know is just as well informed and solid an opinion as Mortimer Adler’s, Thomas Jefferson’s, Peter’s, Paul’s, or…. yours. Leaving children to pick up what scraps of knowledge they think to ask about, willy nilly, is not doing them any favors. It isn’t respectful of their situation as newcomers to the world or to the adults they will grow up to be. And if we don’t do our job as the adults in their lives when they are small, the adults they grow up to be will have a malnourished background upon which to build.’ “
For a brief moment, the unschooler in me bristled defensively. Not that I think the Headmistress was denouncing unschooling with this statement—she has made gracious remarks about the philosophy in the comments section here on Bonny Glen and elsewhere. But this statement jumped out at me: “Leaving children to pick up what scraps of knowledge they think to ask about, willy nilly…” Is this, I wondered, exactly the sort of experience I have enthusiastically hailed as our low-tide times? Allowing children the freedom to learn by undirected exploration of the world? To be sure, what I have witnessed and described as the collection of a sackful of treasures is a rich and bountiful harvest of knowledge, not an aimless scrounging after scraps. And yet…is there a willy-nilliness to their education? Am I—are unschoolers—leaving too much up to chance?
Then it occurred to me that I’ve overlooked an aspect of my beachcombing scenario. I’m the one strewing the beach with treasures for the children to discover. You see, this is where the metaphor breaks down. Sometimes, yes, I am simply the person bringing the children to the metaphorical strand and turning them loose to explore. But other times—a lot of the time, when I think about it—I have visited the beach in advance and filled the tide pools with interesting creatures; I have hidden the treasures behind the dunes.
This strewing is something unschooling parents talk a great deal about. It is the same thing Charlotte Mason meant when she said, “Education is a life. That life is sustained on ideas…we must sustain a child’s inner life with ideas as we sustain his body with food,” urging parents and teachers to provide hearty feasts of ‘living’ books and firsthand encounters with the natural world. Of course, Miss Mason recommended regular and orderly mealtimes, while an unschooler would probably say that the human mind thrives best when allowed to graze. But in both cases, we see a committed, thoughtful parent doing the shopping and preparing the food. I am doing just as much preparation (to jump metaphors again) during our low-tide times as I am during high tide. Whether I am piloting the boat on a fishing trip—as I am doing now with our studies of German and Shakespeare—or whether I am hiding bits of sea glass in the sand for a wandering child to discover (or not), my role is indeed that of “guide, philosopher, and friend.”
And so I see that my metaphor needs tweaking. And I continue to chew on these ideas (with apologies to the gentle Headmistress for running off with her post in my mouth), which—like everything connected with Charlotte Mason that I have come across in the past ten years—provide such stimulating nourishment for my own mind.
At any rate, the tidal homeschooling metaphor is not a method; it does not shape what we do. It is useful insofar as it is a way of answering the many variations on the question, “How do you do it?”—which is to say, “What does homeschooling look like in your home?” This is a question homeschoolers are constantly asking one another, and it is a root question in many discussions between homeschoolers and folks whose children go to school. And perhaps a better way of answering it is to apply the Writers’ Rule: Show, don’t tell. I think this is why we love blogs and discussion boards: we crave these peeks into other homes.
One of my favorite “peeks through the window” is Elizabeth Foss’s lovely book, Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home. Here we have an entire book full of examples both practical and lyrical to the “How do you do it?” question. The Common Room family lives in another house full of enticing windows. This post at Cottage Blessings is a glimpse into a cottage that is truly a blessed place—so much so that I am daily tempted to pack up my little brood and move right in. (Wouldn’t Alice be surprised!)
Other recent peeks-through-the-window I have enjoyed:
Castle of the Immaculate
Living Without Schooling
Every Waking Hour
And these books:
• Homeschooling With Gentleness by Suzie Andres
• Homeschooling Our Children, Unschooling Ourselves by Alison McKee
• A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola—like Real Learning, this is a book I return to over and over
• The about-to-be-published Catholic Homeschool Companion, edited by Maureen Wittman and Rachel Mackson—a glimpse through many windows!