Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Year-Round Homeschooling: Why and how it works for us

Summer has arrived in all its heat-soaked glory. We're enjoying the usual summer traditions - berries and watermelon, garden-fresh vegetables rinsed off under the garden hose, sidewalk chalk and bubbles, ice cream and popsicles.

While the parks and grocery stores are busier than we're used to, filled as they are with kids on summer break, I find that claiming the same for us doesn't quite ring true. I do take advantage of late summer to re-evaluate where we are and where we're heading, but there's no official start-and-stop to our homeschooling year. It just continues on, weaving its way through our ever-changing lives.

How dreary that sounds! No break, no year-end celebrations, no first day back? For us, though, it works.


Our homeschool journey is ever-changing, shifting to fit our life and our children. There's an ebb and a flow to it, sometimes a focus here, other times a focus there, sometimes more formal and sometimes less. Sometimes it looks like math and reading and writing, every day. Sometimes it looks like spending hours outside. Sometimes it's weekly science experiments. Sometimes it's maps spread over our laps, history while we each lunch, read-alouds about other people and places and times. Sometimes it's new babies and all the science that brings - not to mention all the love and cuddles. But what it always is is ours. It's what we need, what we love, and what makes sense in our life.

What hasn't yet made sense for us, though, is taking a summer break from our learning. Our educational leanings are whole-life based, a learning that is part of what we do and who we are. Our goal is to nurture that holistic education, in part by preventing, as much as possible, a separation between "school time" and the rest of our daily lives. To disentangle those homeschooling strings from the rest of our everyday life would feel unnatural.

Our unschoolish bent means that we are ever following what fits with our lives and interests at that moment. Summer might mean less math and more nature study, but it's all learning. It might mean fewer days of dictation and more days of listening to history in a shady spot outside. Yesterday it meant picking wild blueberries, then coming home and turning them into a berry crisp before playing a few rounds of Crazy Eights. Our days have a familiar in-and-out rhythm, but the details within that rhythm are rarely the same.

Sometimes I wonder if our education should look more "traditional", but it always comes back to that time thing, still, now, four years later. It proves itself to be true over and over: Learning just happens as we go about our daily lives. I notice an area that could use some work, I start to worry, I begin planning a formal lesson, and then - they learn it. Without me and my lesson. They learn in their own good time and their own good way, and only my own unsubstantiated worries try to convince me otherwise.

But this is now. Always we are watching, considering, evaluating: What needs to change? What do our children need at this moment? What still works, and what no longer does? Perhaps the summer will come when we put away our books and declare ourselves officially, properly, on Summer Break. For now, though, it's just another ebb, another season in our lives - with traditions and rhythms all its own, yes, but with that ever-present homeschooling thread, too.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Inspiring Dinnertime Conversation

"No books at the dinner table" is easily Jay's least favourite rule in our home. Being lovers of books ourselves, the husband and I sympathize with his plight, but that's the rules, sorry Love. Dinner time is for talking, not reading.

Every evening we gather at the table, marked as it is with scratches and burns and glitter and paint. We hold hands as we offer our thanks. Water is poured, food is passed around, pieces are cut for those who need it. There's noise and a few moments of chaos and then everyone settles in to their dinner (save for the occasional "I'm not eating THIS" holdout).

And then our dinner conversation begins.

"What did you learn today?"

It's a simple question, but the discussions it has created since its introduction a few months ago have been nothing short of fascinating. Jay likes to share a random "weird but true" piece of trivia with us. Kai usually insists he didn't learn a thing, but a bit of prompting often coaxes a tidbit out of him - a new word he sounded out on his own, a fact picked up in an earlier conversation, a new game he learned, a unique Lego creation from the day's play. Ell "didn't yearn nuffink today," but she's happy to chatter away just the same.

Then it's our turn. The husband has often read about a new scientific discovery to share with us, and I round things up with something from my own day's reading - a new-to-me nature factoid, a social justice campaign, a young entrepreneur, a bit of world news, a new skill I've been working on, whatever inspires me when the question comes 'round my way.

Sometimes we each share our little bit of learning and the conversation moves on. Usually, though, we find ourselves exploring one of the introduced topics at a deeper level, or branching off into related discussions - from science to math to etymology to social awareness, wherever the kids' questions (and our own) lead us. What started as a deliberate way to stimulate conversation, share information, and keep all interested parties appraised of the kids' homeschooling situation (not to mention take some of the sting out of Jay's book prohibition at the dinner table), has become one of our prime opportunities to learn and ask and rabbit trail to our hearts' content.

Last night's conversation began with the automated cameras recording Serengeti life. But what is an aardwolf? or a zorilla? How big are they? How big are they when they're born? What does "aard" mean? What does "aardvark" mean? How many ants does it eat in a day? How many seconds are there in a week? So how many ants is that per second? And so it goes.

The question itself was chosen not for its informative opportunities, though, but rather for its encouragement to always keep learning. Listen, Daddy learned something new today. So did Mommy. And you? What did you learn? What do you have to contribute to our conversation? We all have something to share. Learning isn't limited, isn't top-down, isn't separate from our daily lives. It isn't dull and boring and forced, something to suffer through until free time can begin again. It has no beginning and no end. It is part of what makes us human.

It has been good, this question, a lovely addition to our frequent bedtime conversations, which hold familiar questions of their own. Keep the conversation going, keep quietly pointing them to all that is good and worthy, keep listening and learning and hearing as they tell you, piece by piece, who they are.

Do you have a regular topic or question that you use to inspire dinnertime conversation?

Thursday, 30 April 2015

What I Am Into - April 2015




What I Am Into :: April 2015

April was an adjusting month for us. Our daily rhythms were evaluated, dusted off, and given a bit of new life as I entered a new season - or, perhaps, reached back for something from an older season. My accounting career has sat quietly to the side as our family has grown over the years, and for us, that was perfect. April, however, brought about a new opportunity, and we decided that the time was right to open that door again. I'm working part-time hours in my field, and thanks to the wonders of technology, I get to do it entirely from home. So my mornings are earlier and my afternoon quiet time has morphed into work time and sometimes I slip away for an hour in the evening or on the weekend; it's ideal for me as a homeschooling stay-at-home parent, and I'm relieved that it's been a smooth transition so far.

On My Nightstand:

It did indeed take me a while, but I finished Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell early this year. Such an incredible piece of literature. Easily the best written book I have read in a very long time.

I finally read through Lois Lowry's worthy Giver Quartet. Although I was startled by the sudden ending of the first book, everything was nicely tied up throughout the rest of the books. The final one, Son, was my favourite, but all of them were absorbing and compelling reads.

Speaking of finally getting around to reading, I started Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time Quintet. I quite liked the first three books, but the fourth one is sitting half-read on my nightstand and I'm not particularly fussed about ever finishing it. Truth be told, I rather strongly dislike it. I know, that's barely even allowed, given the L'Engle love from basically everyone who has ever written anything ever. Please don't throw too many stones.

I bought Randall Munroe's What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions for the husband's Christmas present, and then promptly read through it myself as soon as he was done with it. Highly entertaining and interesting content.

I enjoyed Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train, as well as Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies and The Husband's Secret. I read both Ransom Riggs' Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City straight through. Hello, 3am. Worth it. The accompanying photos are fascinating.

I've just started Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, and I'm utterly absorbed in it already.

Currently on the back burner are George Eliot's Middlemarch and Kate Atkinson's Life After Life.

On the Screen:

Not much, actually. I did watch Gone Girl, which was, incredibly, nearly as good as the book. I absolutely loved The Imitation Game. The Theory of Everything was both fascinating and disappointing; it was rather a depressing love story in the end.

In My Ears:

I have discovered that, for reasons entirely unknown to me, P!nk is absolutely perfect to listen to while I'm working. Put in the earphones, turn on the music, dim the various home sounds around me, and get a good hour of work done while P!nk does her musical thing. Love her.

In My Kitchen:

I've rediscovered the pleasure of yeast breads rising in my kitchen. Actually, that's a lie. They actually rise on top of my husband's computer, which is old and runs hot and rises bread just beautifully. I'm only a tiny bit devastated that he has a new computer on the way, after all these years - exciting for him, very very sad for my breads.

Anyway, my particular favourites recently include French bread, bread sticks, and rosemary olive oil bread.

In My Memories:

Jay ran a 10K marathon with his dad earlier this month. It was so neat to watch the two of them training and then running the race together. It's especially beautiful to have entered this stage where Jay's going to remember this sort of thing forever. While we love watching the little kids enjoy their experiences, knowing that it's contributing to a general sense of security and well-being and so on and so forth, there's just a little extra joy in knowing that some of the things we do will become actual real for-life memories now that our boys are getting older. I love that.

What I'm Looking Forward to in May:

You know, I'm simply looking forward to a quiet continuation of our new daily rhythms. This May holds no particular events and our calendar looks fresh and open and ready for as much sunshine as the weather has to offer.

Well, friends, that is What I've Been Into this past month. What about you?


Linking up to What I'm Into with HopefulLeigh...

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Ridiculous Hope

It's Easter Sunday and we're celebrating resurrection, life and light, victory and joy and hope. He Is Risen!

In the face of my heaviness, the sheer ridiculousness of this hope has never been more apparent. Look at us! Hope? Where?

Hope when we are steadily finding new ways to capitalize on brokenness? Hope in the face of greed that drives us to further and further depths? Hope when we pervert everything that is beautiful and good in this world? Hope in the midst of war and oppression and exploitation? It's ridiculous. Foolishness.

And yet we hope anyway. We trust not in our own selves but in the One Who has already declared victory over the darkness. He has come, He is coming, and He will come again. Alleluia!

Today we remember with the ease and comfort offered through the familiar Easter celebrations, but some days we forget. This is why we have been blessed with one another, this messy imperfect Bride of Christ, brought together that we may remind each other that hope and light and love exist.

This need echoes in my mind often these days. We have been learning to share our stories of heartache, pain, loss, unmet needs, failures, abuse - and it is Good. It is good to share, to understand, to heal. But oh, such stories. Such a steady stream of deep stories.

We need hope, too. Not instead of our stories of brokenness, but as well as. Both. Share our deep pain, always, yes, take away its power and receive comfort and bring more moments of me too so that less of us hide in shame. But the other stories, too, stories of joy and hope and beauty and compassion, stories filed with good and love and kindness - we need them. Let us not forget to tell them.

Let us show each other that this world also holds the good and holy things that we need and long for. Remind us of that ridiculous Hope we cling to, the one that says all is not lost, that darkness has already been defeated, that evil does not win and unity will one day be our song and our reality.

Proclaim your stories of hope, and in doing so buoy one another up. Hold on to that ridiculous hope, rejoicing in it not only today, but every day. He Is Risen!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Heavy

I feel heavy these days, heavy under the weight of the world's pain. I watch as despair curls and licks and winds its way near me, looking for a way to settle in. It's filled with lies, I know, the precise opposite of the hope that we know we have, but it's tempting to let it in all the same.

Money, sex, power, that trifecta of human apathy. Every day we hear more of the many ways in which we value a gained dollar, a passing moment of pleasure, a bit of control, over the person next to us or across the world from us. Of what concern is the good of our neighbour, wherever in the world that neighbour might live, in the face of selfishness and comfort and what's in it for me? There is such unimaginable horror in the things we do to each other, to all of creation.

Too often we look at one another and fail to see a created soul, loved and valued and of great worth. How many new ways will we find to objectify and oppress, to exploit and pervert, to treat people as commodities and opportunities? Money, sex, power, in endless permutations, big and small, and the small all the more insidious for their seeming unimportance. Endless, endless.

And here we are, remembering the death of the One Who was to free us from all this sin and death and darkness. Die to defeat death, to conquer sin, to pave the way for our salvation, to lay down His life in showing us what Love looks like in action, all the varied and familiar ways we talk about what was done and why and yet - and yet. And yet today I struggle to see it. He has overcome darkness but I see little else.

This is why the world needs every reason it can find for celebration, for joy, for expressions of love. Let us see that there is good, too, and beauty and love and compassion and togetherness and all the things we need and long for. This is why we write down gratitude, why we seek opportunities for joy and celebration, why we shine light and be light and bear witness to light. This is why we push back the darkness again and again and again, reminding ourselves of our own selves, because we are not immune to the things that bring us to tears when we see them in others. This is why we try to do a little good each day, wherever we are, in whatever way we can.

But today I simply feel heavy with the weight of all that breaks our hearts in this world - and perhaps that's as it should be on a Good Friday. Shed tears for the evil, the horror, the brokenness, and the apathy. Light candles and repent and wait, wait, let despair wash over only for a moment and then remember hope as Sunday dawns.

Such is the already-and-not-yet of God's Kingdom Come.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

What babies do

I was tough, once upon a time. I was tough and untouchable and unreachable and unabashedly proud of it. Just try to make me cry. Just try to make me reveal the deeper parts of me. Just try to make me share myself, my thoughts, my fears, my dreams. Just try.

Sometimes I wondered what was wrong with me. I didn't cry at deaths or funerals or marriages or births or any of those other tear-worthy events. I still don't. Four times now I've birthed my own flesh and blood and still not shed a tear; am I broken?

But then I look at my babies, later, I mean, when it's just the two of us and everything is perfectly ordinary. I look at them and my heart swells and I cry, I do. I tear right up at the sheer perfection that is this child. I really and truly get to raise this tiny human? Really? It's baffling and beautiful and terrifying and wonderful and yes, I cry. Now I cry.

Maybe this is what babies do: They make us soft. Soft around the middle, soft in our hearts, those hearts we now watch walking around in the world.

(Maybe they even make us a bit soft in the head. There was a time when I loved a good intellectual debate; now, though, I find less interest in reasoning someone under the table. Perhaps it's because I spend all day with argumentative children. I'm simply all argued out. Let's just hang out and not debate the timing of chore-doing or the merits of sharing or the importance of whatever life skill is currently lacking. Yes?)

My great-grandmother was fond of reminding others that it's those who are closest to us who hurt us the most. She said it bitterly, though, and that bitterness was passed down to her daughter and then to her grand-daughter, my mother, who repeated it often to me as I disappointed her time and again.

I want to be the woman who takes the bitterness out of that adage. Yes, those who are closest to us will hurt us the most. But it not because of them - it's because of us. It's not because they treat our feelings carelessly or take us for granted. It's because we care so much more. We love and fear and worry and protect and care. It is our own love that wounds us. And oh, there are mama-aches innumerable as they grow.

These babies of ours make us soft, vulnerable. But it's a softness born of love; it's an ache as their humanity collides with our hearts; it's the madness of seeing both perfection and weakness, both indescribable beauty and utter chaos, in the same small person. It's rediscovering our own weaknesses through the eyes of a child. It's a refining, to be sure.

Yes, I'm softer now.

It's what babies do.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The Little People: An Introduction

For most of my time in this space, I have referred to my nameless children by their growing titles: the boy, the preschooler, the toddler, baby girl, baby boy, whatever was appropriate at the time. These descriptions, useful but ever-changing, have become increasingly more difficult as time passes.

The olders are mentioned here less often, their individual lives and stories being left alone for them to tell on their own someday, at a time and to an audience of their choosing. I still like to chat about them, though, just those innocuous everyday comings and goings that make up the pattern of our lives. The babies, of course, are fairer game, being rather universal in their coos and cries and naps. Either way, still small or growing older, how much simpler to just refer to them by name!

To that end, I'd like to properly introduce you to my little people, with nicknames and ages and oh so very big personalities:


This is Jay. He's coming up on eight years old, and like countless mothers before me, I can scarcely believe it. Sometimes I catch myself staring at him, just staring, marveling at how old (and yet still so young) he looks. He has a delicious sprinkling of freckles across his nose; he pretends to hate them but grins all the same as I try to kiss each one. Then he wipes my kisses off, because gross, Mom, but that's okay, there are more where those came from and I can't get enough of his laughter. He is my mini-me, my childhood self reincarnated, which is beautiful and hard and lovely and challenging and more than a little frightening. He is, in a word, amazing, and I am endlessly in awe of the person he is growing into. He loves late night snuggles, a chance to talk about his day and ask his big questions long after the other kids have fallen asleep. His interests vary from math to soccer to science to drawing to reading to comics to Mario Kart. He cheers for any sports team but the one his dad cheers for, and he is full of mischief and love and thoughtfulness.


This is Kai. Oh, my wild five year old, endless bounding energy and passion and extremes. He's everything his brother wasn't - the lover of potty humour, weapons, wrestling, and all that is loud and crazy. He will protest chores like it's the end of the world, no, I'm not going to do that, I won't, a steady stream of refusal right up until the job is finished. Then off he goes, cheerful as ever, and I just smile and shake my head at his ability to dig his heals in even as he does the task at hand. He's never felt a need to do anything at less than full volume and throttle. He's a determined skater, his Canadian-boy dreams filled with the hope of becoming a hockey player someday. He is my incredible storyteller: Kai has an entire imaginary village in his head, and we are often regaled with tales of "his people" as we sit around the dinner table. The inner workings of his body, too, are a story unto themselves, from the "reflections" that his eyes shoot out to the armour-covered white blood cells that not only destroy germs but also build themselves little houses. Kai's stories are as much a part of him as his arms and legs.



This is Ell. She is my delightful baby girl, as much as her two-and-a-half years will still allow me to call her that. She is every bit as passionate and unbounded as the one before her, loud and silly and wild and crazy and passionate and joyful. Her steady narration is the background music of my day: "What you doing, Mommy? Oh, you cooking? What you cooking? Oh, you cooking oatmeal? I yike oatmeal. We have boo-berries? Oh, we do have boo-berries? I yike boo-berries. Oh! Baby wake up! He wake up by hisself! I not wake him up! HEY BABY! I YUV YOU, BABY! You wake up!" If her brothers are doing it, she wants to do it, always right there in the middle of everything. She thanks me enthusiastically every time I do the laundry, which is often, given the amount of laundry around here. She takes great delight in combing her daddy's hair: "Turn head, Daddy. Now down. Now up. Now udder side." This one likes her routines, a nice predictable pattern in which to snuggle safely. She's my little thumb-sucker, hair-twirler, and lover of all that is Hello Kitty.



This is Min. Oh, my Min. He's been melting our hearts for half a year already. He likes to chew on fingers and pull on his sister's hair, much to her indignation. He is the sort of happy that cannot be described, just endless smiles and cuddles and laughter and contentment. I could happily spend my days nomming his neck or blowing raspberries on his belly or letting him grab my face as I growl at him. I was pretty chill with my babies - friends and strangers alike have always commented on that, you're just so calm! - but this one? This fourth sweet baby? He's the one who released those last niggling worries, foolishness about holding babies too much or forming bad habits or spoiling them or other such ridiculous nonsense. No, this one is my joy-baby, my snuggle-baby, my don't-worry-about-a-thing-baby, my soak-him-up-baby, because every cliché about how fast they grow is true. They are all so very very true. Babies are made for days like these, slow days of cuddles and laughter and entirely devoid of worry. It all works out in the end.

Introductions finally accomplished and story-telling made a little simpler, I hope to return to a more steady pace in this little space of mine. Thank you for being here.