Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Homeschooling Requires Jelly Beans

WHY ? why? Why?

Why do we homeschool?

This is the question a psychologist asked me two years ago with great incredulity when I went to her for help during my dark days of postpartum depression. It's a fair question, especially for someone feeling overspent, overworked, underslept, and overangry.

The answer to this question eluded me then as it does now. I have read books about why other people choose to homeschool and I relate with some of their reasons. I get catalogs from the great amorphous right-wing, conservative Christian homeschooler guild that is sure I am homeschooling so that the infidels in the schools won't whisper the name of "Darwin" to my little darlings, lest they be convinced there is no God.

I don't order from those catalogs .
And Darwin is not why we homeschool. Unless that is to say there would not be opportunity in public school to answer or explore all the questions my children have about who he was and what he did . We do have opportunity to indulge curiosity in a way that cannot be done by a teacher in a classroom. I have a finite number of curious minds to indulge. The logistical impossibilities are stacked high against teachers from the outset. I can't blame them for the parameters that restrict their abilities.

I am Christian and I admit this does play a part in my WHY. We don't watch television in our house. It is bad for us. This is a personal choice that has made us a happier family. We do not have any video/computer games in our home. Again, this has helped us turn to other forms of entertainment and engagement - namely each other. These choices stem from our Christianity, our own interpretation of how we, as a family, can prepare to know Christ. I do think that the influence of media and gaming found swirling around in the brew of popular culture in the public school is at odds with our choices as parents.

This, of course, may be considered being overprotective.
tomato - tomahto

I think I mostly find my Why in being privy to my children's moments of discovery. If I sent them elsewhere for their education I would not see the first stitches of recognition as they sew a new concept to their own young collection of ideas.

I am rewarded constantly by the time I give to my children in the name of education.

Jonah does a timed math sheet every day - one minute to complete 25 addition facts. The point is not necessarily finish all 25, but to continue to improve and get as many right as possible, an effort at proficiency. Jonah only sees the 25 that need to be completed and we have gone through many days of tears for the blank addition facts glaring at him at the end of one very short minute.

The crying.
Ughh, the crying.

One day I said to him, "Jonah, you don't need to be so devastated if you don't finish every addition fact."
Without hesitation he responded "Just give me some jelly beans if I feel devastated."

Caroline and I did a reading lesson yesterday; number 64 of 100 - the 100 that are in the lesson book. There will be a thousand more lessons over the next few years as we read together regularly. She has a story to read each day and they are getting longer. Yesterday's story was a full page and at the outset she slumps her body into the refusal posture that tells me we will be at it for a long time and each word will require frustrating coercion on my part. The battle ensued. But it was a funny story, as most of them are, about a boy who tries to send his mother a card but a cop gets it instead, and it inspired her to make two beautiful cards for me that said "Mom" with hearts and flowers.

Jonah and I read Shakespeare. Not the intense, full language Shakespeare that will come several years from now. And not the Henry V Shakespeare that is best left until one has developed a true appreciation for the slightly more approachable plays. We have read children's versions of the plays that make us laugh.
It did not occur to me the other day as we read Romeo and Juliet that the end of this story was very different from As You Like It or A Midsummer Night's Dream.
While Romeo was kissing the lifeless lips that would soon warm giving Juliet her turn to find the death of love lying poisoned beside her, Jonah was already crying. When Juliet turned the dagger on herself Jonah's crying became full sobs that wracked his little body. I couldn't finish. He had his head in his hands, full of tears, while he asked over and over "Why would he write this, why would he write this?"
When Jonah calmed enough to talk I finished the last few paragraphs where the Montagues and Capulets vow to resolve their differences for the sake of the lost youths.
I told Jonah, "It's not a true story."
"I know," he said, "it's just so sad."
"Why do you think Shakespeare wrote a story like that?" I asked him.
"To torture someone."
"Do you learn anything from it?"
"It teaches you one thing," Jonah acquiesced, "never quarrel, because bad things might happen and it all turns out horrible in the end."

Had I any jelly beans that day, I would have offered them as balm to his devastation.

Strangely, my biggest regret with this experience was that Jonah will never discover Romeo and Juliet for the first time again. The tragedy is known to him no matter how many times he reads it or sees it on stage. But at the same time I am so glad that I was with him to talk through his visceral response to a very unhappy ending. That is the gift of homeschooling.

A week may turn out very different form my vision on Sunday night of our next round of lessons. This week there has been letter writing to Norway, philosophical discussion about the nature of curfews imposed by Henry Plantagenet in England, uncovering Herculaneum (the lesser known city destroyed by Vesuvius in 79 A.D.), a trip to Temple Square to participate in another homeschooler's geography project, watching the leaves sprout on our sweet potato immersed in water, and the creation of two very impressive versions of pages from The Book of Kells.

It's a good week.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Without Invitation

Here is something I will not do again:

Google images of spiders.

Spiders are disconcerting in the best circumstances, but coming at me in ultra close-up, or ultra millions from my computer screen makes my arms feel week from the inside. My mind sends the cold sting of venom into my fingers.

I don't hate spiders. I don't love spiders.
I recognize that spiders eat other undesirable living things in my house, but they are their own kind of creepy. I find them hiding in my pile of towels in the laundry room more often than I care to. A strange red, crustacean looking fellow that ends up atrophied in the bottom of my washing machine if it does not escape before the awful drowning. I see the hairier type lounging in the upper corners of the house. I find them scurrying across the white tile in my basement - a flash of dark hoofing it from one hiding place to the next before I can bring down the nearest Animal Atlas in one crushing blow atop the offender.

This past week spiders have invited themselves into my days with no thought to how unwelcome they might be.

The Spider Encounters

Sitting in the dining room I hear Cecily scream in primal waves from the stairs. I lay the baby on the floor and run to rescue her from whatever injury has just befallen her. She is visibly unharmed but cannot stop screaming and shaking. On the step beside her - difficult to see in the carpet that camouflages its bulbous body - is a spider making a leisurely escape. Cecily is crying now, trying to speak through her tears, "My toes . . . 'pider on my toes, 'pider on my toes. Scary Mama."
"Did that spider walk on your toes?"
"Yes," she sobs.
"Did it bite you?"
But it has been several days now and multiple inspections have revealed no spider bite. It just walked across her lily white toes which nearly killed her from fright - no venom necessary.

Bringing the kids in from the car after a late Saturday evening at the Homestead. We are herding them down the stairs directly to their beds. I hold Ewan and walk right behind Matthew while he carries Cecily. While he is descending the stairs a spider is descending it's thread such that I think they are going to collide about face/shoulder level. He cannot see the spider, and it is happening too fast for me to warn him. But they just miss each other. Matt makes it to the bottom of the stairs and I wait for the spider to reach the floor so I can make sure to step on it on my way down.

I am driving. There is a mosquito zipping about in the space between me and the windshield that I cannot kill despite much thumping and waving of my hands. It mocks my iron fist with skilled evasive maneuvers. As I approach irate frustration and reckless driving that will surely put the four children I have buckled into my van in jeopardy the mosquito seems to stop mid air near the bottom of the windshield. I realize it has been caught in a spider's web. I laugh out loud to think that I could not bring down this little flying creature but some spider hiding out in my van has got the thing absolutely. There is obviously no escape for the mosquito that is now a meal. This is funny until . . .

A few days later I buckle the kids into the van after trick-or-treating at Grandpa's office. We say goodbye to Matthew as he drove separately and I slide into the driver's seat when I catch a glimpse of a FAT, hairy thing dart across the top of my windshield. My first thought as I am ejecting myself at light speed out of the car is "I know why you are so fat." This is no ordinary spider - as most arachnid close encounters are of the extraordinary variety. I reach in to find something with which to vanquish the oversized brute. All I come out with is a little packet of papers stapled together that is surely one of Caroline's homemade books. I position it with great care fearing that my one shot at annihilation will result in the thing jumping out at my face instead of being crushed on contact. My strike is swift and successful, resulting in a morbid crunch beneath my fingers and a brown smear across the glass. A little sign of Halloween cheer. Luckily I have baby wipes on hand.

I might have spared him since he took care of the mosquito for me, but the cardinal rule of insect eating spiders is that they must keep themselves unseen. Had he hidden in the depths of wherever I would have let him be.

It was his mistake, not mine.