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Chandra's Blog


Entries in unschooling (1)


MONDAY MUSING -- What to Do with the Boys Part Two

This week I will continue my series from last week as we look deeper into our microcosm of the traditional vs. homeschool debate. You can find Part One here. In our attempt to find the right answer, what we keep coming to is that there is merit in both options, and my husband often reminds me, 'one year at a time'. But what about this time, this year? Ironically, academics are the least of my concerns at this point. Hayden scored in the 95th percentile on the required standardized tests this year. At six, Max can read, add, subtract, multiply and divide. Two of their learning stretches were to know multiplication tables through ten (Max) and twelve (Hayden) and be able to identify all fifty states. 

Education is about so much more than academics, and in our attempt to look at the boys as whole people, we ponder their paths for next year...



Our oldest son is now nine, and his experience as well as our battles over homework, time management and the way school seemed to negatively flavor many of our interactions are a big part of why we started on this journey in the first place. The irony of telling my reader to put down his books so he could go to school was never lost on me. And school, even a school I like, was starting to feel like a bossy nanny, who tells parents how to dress the children, how to feed them, and dictates how our shrinking time together in the late afternoon and evening will be spent--on busywork. 

This year has brought few surprises where Hayden is concerned. What he loves: learning that is 'expeditionary'. Some of his favorite moments have happened out in the wilderness, where we assisted a watershed employee with her fieldwork trapping and identifying turtles and fish, complete with a downriver swim home. 

He also became a huge asset to me on my travels this past fall, using his newly acquired map and navigation skills plus an iPhone to get us from point A to B to C and more. (I can't say enough great things about the Rand McNally geography books!) A bonus: a trip for the two of us to Atlanta where he ate paleo with our hosts, stood awestruck in front of the whale shark tank for more than an hour, confidently dropped in the half-pipe at the skatepark, kept me company on my guest teaching experiences and read quietly during my book club and Borders appearances. You can read more about this here

Hayden with whale sharks, Georgia Aquarium 

What does he balk at? No surprise; busy work. Handwriting. Journaling and blogging. But the surprise was this spring--paired with an education major at the local college for a twice weekly writing class, Hayden had the good fortune to be matched with someone who believes in the value of graphic novels as the bridge to writing, and together they created an illustrated story about a snail with social challenges. His enthusiasm for a writing class thrills me, to see him watch the clock and itch to hop his bike and head over early. 


Social Butterfly and the Terrible Gardening Analogy

When I ask what is his favorite part of home schooling, Hayden says 'time with friends'. Hayden has a deep hunger for constant social activity. He often asks, as I am driving him home from a playdate at dinnertime, if he can have another friend over right then. The mini-session we put together this spring, three hours, three subjects, three times a week for nine kids peppered with lots of challenge course and team building activities were some of his favorite weeks of home schooling.

When I ask about next year, he says the only reason he would go back to school is for more time with friends. In explaining this to my sister, I tried to create an analogy: "That's like saying, wow, I really love corn. I'm going to toil and labor and do all the work of putting in a 4 acre garden and devote much of each day to its cultivation and care so I can have some corn. But corn, equally delicious corn, can be picked up at a roadside stand and enjoyed on your way to many other interesting, fulfilling activities."

"And yet," my sister gently, tactfully, pointed out, "there is some intrinsic value in learning how to garden."

Okay, bad analogy, considering how strongly I do feel about the value of gardening--as part of our curriculum, we do plenty of it in season--and how I am filling my soul with a slow read of Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle right now. Max drying our heirloom Harry Martin lima beans for next season


But back to the original topic, and Hayden only considering traditional school for more 'friend time'. I recently read this article written by a rather articulate, unschooled teenager on his return to public school as a freshman in high school in a search for more social life.


I asked Hayden again this morning. He said he's thinking about it, but he wants to do whatever most of his friends are doing. 





Max collecting Chinese chestnuts for roastingGiven Hayden's rocky transition from preschool to Kindergarten and Max's innately home-centered nature (he is only good for about six days away when we travel, and then he hungers for his constants and familiars) it seemed natural to home school him this year. At six, Max is still very connected to the rhythms of his family and though he loved preschool, he has said many times he wants to be home schooled forever. His preference to sleep with us and his main motivator (money) are documented in this blog post here.  Should we push this baby bird out of the nest? My heart says no, not yet. This is not to say he is shy or doesn't relish social life and sports--he is active on the soccer field and ice, and because the majority of kids in our home school crowd are older, Hayden's peers, I strive to find things that are just for Max. 

To this end, I formed the YBC (Younger Brothers Coalition). This is a weekly playgroup with five of his friends who all have dynamic older brothers. Max sometimes refers to this group as Younger Brothers Corporation, which makes me anxious to see their business plan and product. They are also sometimes the Younger Brothers Consultants. I picture a group of sage six and seven-year-olds sitting around a boardroom table, wisely offering counsel to those with older brothers who alternately guide, torment and cast long shadows over their lives. 


Is that enough? Is giving them separate sports and peer groups and spelling lists adequate? At six, does Max deserve a learning environment that is completely his own? The chance to become a leader among his own peers? Should he have more time away from the home and the older brother, from reading by the fire or watching an anthill or growing beans or playing typing games on the computer (as he is now?)

And then I worry about the increasing pace of school, should he ever decide to re-enter. Like me, Max prefers to do much of his reading and writing while lying on his stomach, not upright in a chair. Even in winter, he usually prefers to be shirtless. "Homework" to him means I have him dictate a blog entry to me and we work together uploading some of our photos from the day.

Specifically, is there a window for integration to school? Here, he doesn't have to raise his hand to speak, and though we frequently stand in lines at airport security or for amusement park rides at state fairs, Disney and Santa Monica Pier, he has never had to 'line up for gym class'. When he wants to go outside, he opens the door. I worry that if I wait, school will quickly have become too rigorous, too boring for him to adapt. Should a six-year-old have exposure to school so he can make an informed decision? (Can a six-year-old even make an informed decision?!) Do I send him for a year now, to first grade with a teacher I love, where he will admittedly be bored learning addition and phonics, but can also try out the social structure of classroom education and nightly busywork? 


The Bond Between the Boys

There has been an added bonus to all of this family time. The relationship between my boys is rock solid. Of course they are brothers. They bicker. They pick. Big Brother takes advantage of Little, and worse, makes him believe it was Little Brother's idea! Yesterday they cleared weeds for my mom--Max was more of an industrious laborer, Hayden in typical supervisory mode with frequent bathroom breaks, so my mother paid them accordingly. By the time they had walked home, Max crowed to me, "I divided the money evenly so we both got the same amount!" and Hayden was smiling like Eddie Haskell, what J and I privately call his shit-eating-grin. 


But their connection is undeniable. 



Though we do many things each week with our homeschooling group, the majority of our mornings when their little sister is at preschool are spent with the two boys working together on a science project or spelling words or a math bee at the whiteboard, reading on their stomachs by the fire, drawing, building Legos or making Crazybones out of clay while I read aloud Greek myths. Recess means they go outside together to sled, or bounce on the trampoline or play street hockey or skateboard together.



What would happen to their relationship if seven hours of every day were spent in separate classrooms, reinforced by the school culture that says you don't play with kids outside your grade? 





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 Stay tuned for next week, as we circle ever closer to that elusive right answer...