Friday, October 17, 2008

A Different Kind of Normal

A Different Kind of Normal

I attempted to make cookies with my three children yesterday. But first I had to clean off my kitchen counter. If your kitchen is anything like mine, it becomes the dumping ground for all things going on in your house and in your life.

My counters may be just a little bit different than the “normal household”. Before I could reach the sugar I had to push multiple jars to the side. The jar with the snake skin was first, and then came the jar with a mole skull, owl droppings, a butterfly wing, a Praying Mantis cocoon and a dead June bug. Not to mention the mold experiment, ant farm and seedlings growing in egg shells. These are lined up next to the home made compost (complete with earth worms), algae water from the pond and a jar of polliwogs.

It is the afternoon. We have finished our morning lessons, and my seven year old daughter just came out of her bedroom with a box on her head to complete the robot costume she constructed from paper towel tubes, yards of masking tape and tons of paint. She is in full armor and delightedly tells me exactly what the “motherboard” controls are used for. She informs me that there is even a button to rehydrate dried up clay. I ask her if it will work for dry, stale cereal also.

I’m cleaning up from lunch, look outside, and notice the beautiful pioneer hut that the kids constructed from tree limbs lost in a recent storm. They worked for hours last week finding just the right Y shaped branch to support the sides of the hut. When the hut finally collapsed they borrowed an old sheet, propped up the branches and made a tee-pee. As a final ode to creativity, the branches endured a final calling as homemade crutches.

My twelve year old has just completed an experiment on Magnification and even made his own magnifying glass out of a Ziploc baggie and water. Tae, my four year old is happily chatting away using cookie cutters with his play dough.

This past September we started our third year of home educating our children.
Home schooling was not our first choice and the details that led us down this amazing path are long and cumbersome. A child with learning disabilities, too many labels, a public school that didn’t understand him, four years of trying to get him services, state mediation, some chest pain, lots of crying (mine-not his), and ultimately……the best decision that we could ever make. We are a home schooling family and life is so good.
Deciding to home educate my children was probably the scariest thing I have ever attempted and also the most rewarding.

In public school, we were told that Patrick didn’t know how to write, could barely do Fourth grade math and “never completed his work.” Since we started home schooling, he has had two papers published on the Internet, is now at grade level in Math and has blown me away in working on his High school Biology even though he is in seventh grade. Home school allows us to move ahead when a concept is understood and spend extra time on areas that need more attention. There is no “cookie-cutter factory production” learning in Homeschool. It is child paced and child led and provides a wonderful foundation when moving on to harder skills.

Recently, a fellow adoptive mom who was considering home schooling her children called me and asked, “But how can you know everything to teach them?” The answer is we can’t and neither can public school or private school or any other educational venue. Years ago, finding information to help our children excel might have been difficult. But we are living in an age of technology that is readily available at our fingertips. The truth of the matter is I often don’t know something that my kids should be learning about. The greatest gift I’ve received this year is the gift of honesty. If no one knows the answer, we find it together. It’s a learning experience for all of us. At a time when I should be going back to school to earn my Master’s degree, I’ve somehow ended up back in Elementary school and it is awesome. I have been stuck many times teaching the kids, but it is knowing where to find your resources, be it other Homeschool moms, the internet, the local college, online support groups and yes, even the local school department, that helps to round out our day and make learning fun again.

This mom was also concerned about the “socialization issue.” It is the number one concern I hear from most people when questioning home school. Since we started home educating our children, I can honestly say that socializing is not an issue. I think it gives non-homeschoolers, those so used to the failing public school system way of thinking, something to talk about. Homeschoolers are seen as hermits never to socialize with anyone. If they only knew! The children can interact with people of all ages and not just their segregated age group as it would be in public school. My children are quite comfortable speaking with a 9 year and a 99 year old.

Patrick and Morgan are learning Sign Language, Soccer, Karate, Brownies, youth groups, science fairs, play dates with the Homeschool support group, church activities, Spanish lessons, music lessons, art classes, community service projects, play dates, Nursing home weekly visits, multicultural lectures and performances and a whole host of other activities. We have been on whale expeditions (where the kids were invited to steer the ship and talk with the marine biologist on board), we have visited fish hatcheries, birthed kittens, cared for goats, attended lectures at the Boston Museum of Science and learned of Rhode Island State history through various field trips. We have visited Planetariums, Aquariums and had our backyard certified as a Wildlife Habitat. They have made models of lungs, cell structures, and built scale models of Pyramids. Patrick and Morgan have taken part in classes in animal enrichment at the zoo, built electromagnets and visited a Geologist at a local college. Our kitchen has turned into a laboratory chock full of experiments, critters, hermit crabs and art work. My children learn by living life and absorbing it all in.

Patrick and Morgan have taught me patience and understanding but mostly they have taught me how to listen. To really listen to all that they need. They have taught me to accept their “disabilities” not as a hindrance but as a completely wonderful, insightful, dynamic attribute of learning.

Our lives have changed dramatically this year. We focus now on the gifts of the child and not the challenges. It is a life directed by our own desire for knowledge, of learning exactly what you are capable of and what you find challenging.

When we first started homeschooling, I was not confident in my own skills despite a college degree in Nursing. What made me think I could tackle this? What made me think that I could be totally responsible for my children’s education?

They do. Plain and simple, these three glorious children give me the confidence every single day to nourish them and provide an education that is meaningful and enriching. Patrick and Morgan have learned so much these past years. I have learned much more.

This week there was no formal schooling as we traveled to Connecticut for my mother- in- laws funeral. The kids stayed home with a friend of mine and I spoke to them frequently. They kept me grounded as we attended the funeral and wake. While they didn’t have book work this week my kids learned a tremendous amount about life and death. They saw their parents cry, they saw us comfort one another and they saw us grieve. They knew it was ok, that it was part of the process of loving and letting go. We had lots of hugs from them and comforted them when we returned home. Losing a grandma is never easy. These aren’t lessons that we could ever teach them. They are life experiences that must be learned, no matter how difficult to bear. It too, is a part of homeschooling.

Is home schooling for everyone? Of course not. But for those whose children do not and will not fit the public school norm, for those struggling within the system, for those who want to expand their horizons and bring their family closer, it is an amazing journey of hope. Homeschooling is “a different kind of normal.”



Sam said...

Bev, Thank you for sharing a glimpse into your life!

I have two kids, 9 & 7, who have never been to public school. But I'm still learning to trust my ability to teach them.

It is inspiring to see what hsing looks like in other homes.


Crafty Mama said...

lol, man I wish we lived closer to one another! Your life mirrors mine!! Glad you found my blog and I enjoy yours! Living in Idaho ( mostly LDS, Baptist and Evangelicals) I am a HUGE outsider and the UU here is not very big at all. its hard to find others who I can talk to, and who understand me!

Welcome to the UU Homeschoolers Blog!

We've got so much to say and so much to think about, that we wanted more room to speak and think about it all!

UU Homeschoolers with over 1000 members, continues to grow steadily. Our members are thoughtful, compassionate, curious, funny, insightful and provocative. Some of them are Ministers and Religious Education Directors. Some of them aren't even UU -- Unitarian Universalist. But all of us can get behind the idea of a:

"UU principles centered-philosophy that we will always respect and honor one another, encourage and help one another,join our strengths to create a more just and open minded educational community and build a supportive online community that brings us camaraderie and opens our hearts and our minds in ways we hope our children's hearts and minds will always be open."

Now more than ever, we need open hearts and minds. Our new home on the blogosphere will strive to continue the spiritually uplifting culture of peace, compassion and community that we've created online for so many people for the last 7 years.

So come on in and consider the world with us. It's an amazing place to live and learn!

UU Planet TV Blog