How to homeschool an easy child

heart-598373_1280When it comes to outside activities, one of the reasons I want my kids to try different things is so they can discover who they are. How can someone know if they have a passion for music if they never touch an instrument?  But this philosophy isn’t really working for my son. The more activities or events I try to introduce to him, the more he just looks at me as if I just don’t understand him. When I think about the things he is currently involved in, they have all been his ideas, not mine.  I’ve never met a child who was so sure of what he likes and dislikes, who he is and isn’t, and about where he will end up in life. He sees new activities as tedious and a waste of time. While I sit back and try to figure him out, he plods on self-aware and confident.  I’ve had to learn the hard way to follow his lead and trust that he will find his own way. I believe life never stops giving you learning opportunities and in this case, I need to learn to let go and realize that my ways aren’t the only ways.

So what can a homeschooling mother do for a child who already knows what he wants? Support him. When he doesn’t want to join a specific class or group, I don’t insist. When he wants to set up his own ant colony, or raise a bearded dragon, I let him. As long as he is happy, healthy, and learning to be independent, I need to just let him be. It’s hard to trust a twelve-year-old boy to know what he wants from life, but he’s doing a great job so far. Even though I’m much more comfortable leading a child into the world than following a child who walks confidently into his own life, sometimes doing nothing is the hardest and best thing to do.

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Finding a Passion: Kendo

kendo

ken·do ˈkendō/ noun
  1. a Japanese form of fencing with two-handed bamboo swords, originally developed as a safe form of sword training for samurai.

My fifteen year old daughter has a passion for kendo. Kendo is the Japanese martial art of sword fighting. She began studying kendo six years ago when we decided to homeschool. One of her closest friends and academic rivals took kendo and we parents thought it might be a great way for them to stay in touch. The first time we visited these armor clad, stick swinging, screaming kenshi, I thought there would be no way in hell my daughter would would go for it. But I was wrong. She loved it!

For the first few years she was mainly excited about seeing her friend. It wasn’t until she was twelve that she made the decision to keep studying kendo for herself. Until that point she had progressed through the ranks steadily and easily. My daughter has a natural poise that was praised by the instructors. But at twelve she and her friend tested for the rank of 1 kyu (brown belt). Her friend passed but she didn’t and rightly so. She wasn’t taking the test seriously and only went through the motions. The judges didn’t pass her and she was heart broken. To her, it was as if they didn’t like her.

As for me, I saw it coming that day. I stood at the side lines suspecting the worst. I braced myself for how to respond. I didn’t tell her she did fine. I didn’t tell her it was okay. I told her that she can work harder and try again next time. She wasn’t so sure it was worth it. She was embarrassed.

We went home and she became ‘sick’ on kendo days. I told her to be honest with herself and to take a break if she needed one, but I wasn’t going to lie for her or make excuses to the senseis for her. She needed to tell them she was going to take the summer off to decide if she wanted to continue. She did. It was hard, but she talked to the instructors and told them she needed some time off. They knew. Then something amazing happened. The senseis, one by one told her stories of how they had failed and continued. How she was so good and shouldn’t ever give kendo up completely. They asked her to come back once a month to make sure she didn’t leave for good. She left that day feeling loved and supported in a way I alone could never make her feel. These were adults who had known her for years and genuinely wanted her to stay. She thought about everything they said that week and by the next class, she had decided for herself that she really loved kendo not because she had friends there, but because she really loved the sport and the group she worked with.

Since then, Gillian has advanced steadily. When she was fourteen she was finally old enough to test for shodan, a first degree black belt. She passed this test and went on to pass her nidan, a second degree black belt at 15. These are the highest ranks they allow for kids of this age. Last month she placed third in the women’s division at a regional tournament where she was one of the youngest in the division and had to beat women of higher ranking. Her attitude toward the sport is amazing. When she wins a match, she is gracious, and when she loses a match, she sees it as a chance to improve.

This passion for kendo has motivated her to study Japanese too. She tried on her own for a few years but really began to make progress when she enrolled in a Japanese Second Language (JSL) class at a Saturday Japanese school. She goes for hours every Saturday where she has met other motivated teens who share her passion for learning.

Every parent hopes their kids will find a passion and nurture it. We place them in group after group and pay for lessons after lessons looking for something to spark their interest. We do it because we want them to have every opportunity to be happy and successful.  I’m lucky that Gillian has found something she loves, but it didn’t have to turn out this way. If she had walked away from kendo at the age of twelve, I’d have been fine with it. She would have gone on with life and not been any the worse for having tried it. I don’t think children need to be pushed into events in order to make them well rounded or to look interesting on college applications. I think extra curricular activities should be something they do because they love it.

WEB

IMG_1778Last year I stumbled upon a new adventure in my homeschooling odyssey. I was asked to come and work at a homeschooling tutorial teaching chemistry to middle schoolers. I was thrilled by the opportunity even though I worried that my scattered ways might not translate well to teaching others.

WEB is tutorial set in East Nashville for middle school aged homeschoolers. It is academically rigorous and is meant to act as a bridge between homeschooling and high school for those who wish to reenter formal education. While it is held at a Methodist Church and is friendly to religion, the science curriculum is secular. This was extremely important to me. I had decided that I would never sign another “Statement of Faith” again. For me, faith is too personal to completely match up to anyone else and too important to sign anything less than what I am. It was precisely this that had prevented me from looking into teaching at other local tutorials.

While I was buzzing with excitement, my children were presented with the somewhat unwelcome challenge of entering their first tutorial program.

My oldest daughter was in eighth grade and excited about meeting new kids and challenges, but worried about adding too much to our schedule and not having time for her real school work.

My son was in sixth grade and absolutely adamant about not wanting to take classes where he had to write for other teachers. The ideas of tests and being forced to speak in front of others terrified him. We compromised by only enrolling him in an earth science class and not the literature class as I had hoped.

My youngest was too young to be enrolled but was welcome to sit in the science classes and  listen. It’s a good thing she is the type of child who sits still well and loves to learn.

The year progressed and we each confronted our fears and concerns. I worked hard to stay organized and on schedule. My older daughter did let her other school work slide sometimes, but no more seriously than before. My son overcame his test anxiety and even consented to being enrolled in the literature class this year. My youngest made new friends as well as learned to do some of her work independently while I taught.  Yet the most important thing we all learned was that I love to teach and need to do this for myself as well as them.

 

 

A Day in the Life

My youngest's artworkOne of the most often asked questions I get is “How do you actually do it? How do you get everything done for three kids in a day?” The question isn’t a hard one, but it isn’t a simple one either. Every day is different, but we have a basic plan that we use as a pattern for our days.

(5:30 am)

My morning begins with a whine. My puppies in the kennel need letting out. It’s my husband’s job to get them out and if I ever feel a twinge of guilt all I have to do is remember how short puppyhood is compared to the years I spent nursing and rocking the midnight hours away. I soon follow him to the kitchen where we drink coffee and talk, check the computer and calendars and synchronize our day.

(6:00 am to 7:30 am)

The kids stumble out of bed. They can have screen time before 8:00 if they wish so they usually get a few games in along with breakfast and getting dressed.

(8:00 am)

School is officially starting so screens go off. We go over the calendar and I tell them what to focus on in each of their five subjects: Language Arts, Math, History, Science, and Spanish. I’m very flexible with what they work on as long as they have something for Friday presentations from each subject. Every Friday night they do a show-and-tell with their dad. This keeps him up to date, helps the kids review, and helps me see if there are any weak spots that need emphasizing the next week.

I spend my time helping where needed and when things are running relatively smoothly I do reading time with my youngest. We curl up on the couch or on her bed with books I read to her and books she reads to me. We cover history, science, and language arts lessons in one lump.

(Noon or there about)

Lunch and an educational show. We rotate between documentaries and PBS shows but I have been known to break out the Wii on very cold days. Video games that cause them to break into a sweat can be a treat and help them to burn off some energy.

(1:00 pm)

We tie up anything left undone and begin projects. Projects can be structured science projects or unstructured lego building. Board games are also allowed. I spend this time usually cleaning the house and I usually recruit them for a few chores too.

(4:00 pm)

School is done. This is more for me than them. On days when our lists have very few check marks, I tend to want to push the kids to work longer, but this isn’t good for them or me. It’s very important that we all feel free to relax. This is time for winding up chores and prepping for tomorrow a bit. I will make them practice their instruments now if they haven’t during the day.

This is the framework for my homechool that my husband and I worked out at the beginning of this semester. I wrote about it in the post “Regaining My Balance.” We often have field trips and classes scheduled in the middle of the day instead of just curriculum, but we always default to this schedule. So far, this has been working very well for us and I hope it continues, but I’ll take a moment to reflect and correct the system later. I have found that my systems won’t last much past a semester before both the kids and I get restless. I don’t think of this as a failing system, rather a system that has become stale. None of us like to be slave to a system and finding what works for us is one of my favorite things about homeschooling.

Climbing Out of Comfort Zones

S.rockclimbingcollageI watched my brave six-year-old scale higher and higher. Every few steps she’d look back and say “I can’t!” but we’d have none of that. We cajoled, we encouraged, we applauded and we pretended the word “can’t” hurt our ears. Higher and higher she climbed and soon she was at the top. She was so proud. Twice more she scaled to the top before the class was over. Now that the path had been traveled, it was no longer scary. Today I watched her confidence grow and that makes a parent proud!

Then I thought, when was the last time I said “I can’t” to myself? How many paths have I avoided that could be familiar by now? Who is going to cheer me on when the path looks scary? Who says that children are the only ones who need to build confidence? Why don’t we adults have to leave our comfort zones? Why is learning reserved for the young?

I don’t like it when I think these thoughts. I like being comfortable. Yet, I know I am a hypocrite if I don’t lead by example. I’ve never wanted to be the parent that says “Do as I say.” instead of “Do as I do.” If I want my children to be strong, healthy, confident adults, shouldn’t I want the same for myself?

So today I started yoga again. I had forgotten how much I love yoga. I went online and ordered books from the library in subjects I  don’t normally read. I’m going to work on art projects again without care for how they end up. It won’t be easy and I know many things will be abandoned along the way, but I’m determined to start looking at myself with the same gentleness I do my children. If I don’t, I may just start treating them the way I’ve treated myself. Being overly critical and harsh has made me overly cautious and fearful. I would rather we all learn to climb than be stuck comfortably on the ground.

So, how do you step out of your comfort zone? When was the last time you did something new?

Exotic Pets

medium_2307503820Guinea pigs are considered exotic pets. Who knew?

I found this out not long ago when my son came to me and told me that one of the guinea pigs looked like she was loosing her fur. Knowing how well he takes care of them, I knew it couldn’t be scurvy. My son gives them their veggies every night so they were getting enough vitamin C. Looking closely at her I had to agree, something was off. The poor creature looked miserable.  Continue reading

Art and Appreciation

Swimmy2Jellyfish

I love getting out to see performances with the kids, and if we can get together with enough homeschoolers, many places will let us have a school rate. The only problem with this type of field trip is that we usually have to attend with other schools.

When we filed into TPAC‘s auditorium the place was vibrating with kindergarteners bouncing and yelling and waving their arms. I remember those moments from my own childhood when you could practically see freedom peeking through the cracks of a broken routine. The row of tiny children in front of me were doubly blessed with a young teacher who seemed to think field trips were a time for her to mingle with the other teachers. Continue reading