Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hall & Oates

Okay, I hated these guys in the 80's, but I think the following was a cover they did (or maybe it was their song) either way it seems to fit an aspect of my life:

You've lost that lovin' feelin'!
Whoa that lovin' feelin,
You've lost that lovin' feelin'!
Now it's gone, gone, gone!
whoa, whoa, whoa!

Hey, I guess it can't last forever? :-(


Friday I'm In Love

I just wanted to say thank you to Robert Smith of The Cure. I had been trying to get the whole days of the week thing through to my unschooled kids who, seemingly, have no sense of time except for Saturdays and Sundays (which mean vigil or regular Mass) and Monday which means school for 2 of my 3 kids. But the rest of the week just melds together. Oh, but not anymore, because Autumn and Ben have been listening to The Cure Galore cd in my car; and they love Friday I'm in Love. The lyrics repeat themselves alot but here's one stanza:

I don't care if Monday's blue
Tuesday's gray and Wednesday's too
Thursday's I don't care about you;
It's Friday I'm in Love.
Sunday always comes to late,
but Friday never hesitates.

All of that is put to the catchy new wave stylings of The Cure (a favorite band of mine) and you have yourself a way to teach the days of the week painlessly and fun.
Take that worksheets!!

Beautiful Day

Okay, so today is AWESOME! I love Fall (obviously, my daughter's name is Autumn), but, man, when it kicks in there is nothing better. Atlanta is a pretty city, as are it's suburbs, one in which I happen to reside. There are so many trees and garden-y type things here. It is so lush with foliage. So, seeing a few trees with tips of red or gold just gives me tingles. Then there is the weather. The kind that had me just cuddling my hubby this morning with no real urge to leave bed. (And yes, it was G rated cuddling...the door was open and the kids were going in and, alas, just G rated cuddling.) It was in the high 50's when we woke up and, now at 3:45pm is about 74. It is clear, sunny, breezy and wonderful. Thank you God for Autumn!!!

After cuddle time I took Ben and Autumn to the park to play tennis. They are so into it now. At least, if my dad isn't going to be an active grampa and only show up every 4 years (like last week) he did have a great time with the kids and introduced them to a sport they seem to really love. Funny, if Dad could have been more unschoolish with me, maybe I wouldn't have grown up hating tennis. I don't hate it anymore. But, because Dad had Chrissy Evert aspirations for me, which I did NOT have for myself, I spent more time throwing rackets at him over the net, than figuring out if I really liked the game. It's the same ole' story of being introduced to something in a "see if you like this because I love it sort of way" or "because I love this I am going to make you like it by forcing you to get involved". The latter always turns people off. Ever notice that?

So I just watched a really good movie titled "Catch and Release" with Jennifer Garner and Kevin Smith. Robert watched it with me. It was a great little ensemble piece involving love, loss and finding out who people really are. Of course, it took 3 hours to watch a film that was barely 2 hours long. It seems Ben and Autumn can't be without Robert or me for much time at all. Sweet, but annoying. They had me all to themselves for 2 hours playing tennis earlier. Give mama a break, please!!

Well, I am sitting here at my pc as the breeze blows across my arms. So, I think God is trying to lure me back outside. Maybe it's time for a late afternoon coffee on the deck as I watch the kids scream and chase each other around the house.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Reading a great book.

I am reading a great book. It's a book I have always wanted to read and just got the chance (because a great pal of mine loaned it to me). It is For The Children's Sake (aka:FTCS)by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay. This is the daughter of the great Christian (protestant) apologist Francis Schaeffer. He is the one who wrote The Christian Manifesto and The Mark of A Christian...both great books (from my Evangelical days). Anyway, back to FTCS; it is a book based on the ideas and educational theories of Charlotte Mason. Though there maybe things about the execution of her philosophy that wouldn't necessarily work for unschoolers, her philosophy regarding the personhood of a child fits right in with Pope John Paul's teaching in his profound Theology of the Body where he writes about the dignity of each human person. Miss Mason's feelings about children also are in line with much of what John Holt was trying to tell the world about children...that they are people who have needs and rights and shouldn't be treated as just adult's possesions. If you want to know more about Charlotte Mason click on the title of this post and it will take you to more info.

Kids are people to be loved and respected in their own right because they are persons created by God. They are not blobs of playdoh we get to play with and mold just the way we want. Maybe God has other plans for our kids that we should ask him about before we set them on the path to physicianhood or lawyerhood??? Our children, like us and all those who came before, are individual people with their own bodies, minds and souls. As parents we are supposed to help our children to adulthood, but there is nothing that says we are supposed to "decide" their adulthood.

I have made so many mistakes by my kids because I have not trusted them, or worse, I let people talk me into not trusting them. The idea that kids can't be trusted with their own learning is so pervasive that it is hard to forge a different path. But I think I have to see my way through this morass the same way that I, as one trying to live an authentic Catholic life, would do my best not to fall into the trap of Cafeteria Catholicism. Just because everybody is doing it (or not doing it) doesn't make it right. Compulsory, institutionalized school from preschool through 12th grade is very new on the historical map, having been around only 150ish years. Someday, God forbid, abortion will have been around that long. Will it mean that abortion is credible, right and true? NO!! SO, neither is school.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

When I counted up my demons,

Saw there was one for everyday,
With the good ones on my shoulder,
I drove the other ones away.

I have decided to use my blog more as a way of working stuff out rather than journal events (at least for a little while). I have worked so hard to suppress the unschooler in me, mostly to make others happy, that I have never just put down on paper why I feel the way I do. In other words, it's time to drive the demons away.

So, this whole blog thing was started as a way for my kids to see what was in their mom's head, I can't think of a better use than for me to try and say what it is I believe regarding learning.

So kids, I hope you find this illuminating because this is the stuff I have and will continue to grapple with as long as you are living under my roof (and will probably obsess about after you're out on you own). Just know that I love you all and always tried to do what I thought was best.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Awesome email from Sara

This letter is from a friend of mine, Sara, who is also a Catholic unschooler. She wrote this piece in defense of me (so to speak) regarding the mutual friend, Lisa whom I addressed in the previous post. Lisa is the friend who doesn't quite get the unschooling philosophy. Her daughter goes to a Catholic schoo. However, Lisa and her husband and daughter, Morgan, are wonderful friends. Anyway, I loved, Sara's response to both Lisa and I so much I asked if I could reprint it here.

Dear Lisa & Rach,

I think that the truest and best form of discipleship shows itself when we, as sisters in Christ, are available to each other. I absolutely love that we are such good friends as to be there for each other to watch each others children, to "watch out" for each other's children.

My contribution to the "discipline-academics" discussion is this: prayer. Ideally, children are taught their faith, their habits and customs from the perfect example of their parents (as primary educators) and other mentors (pastor, teachers, older children). If you read the long version of the above Gospel, there are holes in it. For example, the landowner told his steward to prepare an accounting because he was being fired. Monsignor (yesterday) pointed out how imperfect this was. I was thinking how imperfect of a landowner I am, at times. Other times, I am the imperfect steward. So, we come to the conclusion that we are utterly dependent on God and the graces He bestows. We tend toward lives of dissipation, but He lifts us up and gives us the grace to transform ourselves and those around us.

In his homily, Monsignor exhorted all to their primary responsibility: prayer, because then, we can ebb and flow with our families' varied needs. What one family needs at a given time (even a given day) is very different from what another needs. I need more consistency and discipline in my family when it comes to household chores. It is so hard for me to set the perfect example because of my frail body. I am often begging my kids to clean up after themselves. We have some chores put on a schedule, and, others are "catch-as-catch-can". A more structured (and energetic) mother would be a better house manager than I am.

When it comes to academics, I encourage a balance between lessons, house chores and community service particpation. I grew up very disciplined in academics and, as you both know, earned my way into the Ivy League. I graduated from Brown with Honors and earned a full tuition and monthly stipend to Vanderbilt where I complete a Master of Arts degree (and they paid for it!). Yet, and this is a big yet, I was living an immoral life. Discipline in academics does not translate into discipline (read: discipleship) in the moral life. I spent time with the K-12 curriculum last year and it is very, very rigorous. It was too time-consuming for our family, but I am glad we tried it as I think it is a wonderful tool to use sparingly (ie, maybe sign up for one subject here and there, as the need arises). Rachel tried K-12 for free because of this Virtual school which is funded by our tax dollars. I spent hundreds of Jerry's hard-earned salary last year. We both tried and learned and that is a gift for parents -- to try and learn with their children. Lisa, I know you and Morgan will try lots of stuff together. Right now, you are "trying on the shoe" that is an authentic, classical and Catholic school and it is a beautiful fit for lots of families. If, by chance, it does not fit (and, I hope it does) do not think that it is a failure in your loving discipleship. Please see this blog entry I wrote last week:

I love you both and love how we are encouraging each other to be the best we can that is definitely God's Will and His Word for each of us....thanks to both of you for sharing your thoughts with me. May God continue to shower us all with His blessings! Love, Sara

Letter to a wonderful and concerned friend

Following is a letter to a really great friend who was wondering why I had quit 2 weeks into using a free virtual academy which utilizes the K12 curriculum. Hey, I know it's not very unschooly of me, but I thought we'd be able to use it more the way we wanted...WRONG! Anyway, this friend of mine was worried that I lacked discipline in teaching and that my daughter lacked discipline in learning. My friend was not judging at all, just concerned. Here is my response:


First, let me say that I totally adore you. And I love that you are concerned. But don't worry, you don't have to be. This k12 thing was new for me. The last time I did a structured curriculum like this was when Andrew was 7, and in first grade. We almost left the planet in a double suicide it was so horrible. :-) I have always been opposite of the type of homeschooler who feels they need to reproduce school at home. I'm the kind that is referred to in homeschooling lingo as an more of an 'unschooler'. Unschoolers take the position that humans were created to learn. It's what we do. As a result, one no more needs a pre-packaged, arbitrarily designed curriculum to learn the "three R's", than one would need a curriculum to teach them how to walk or talk.

Look at infants/toddlers there is no stopping their learning. They literally "live to investigate" the world around them. This never stops for human beings...never. However, people start to assume that kids don't like to learn because around the time kids have been in school a few years, many start to say they don't like school or learning because it's boring. I don't think learning should ever be boring, but let's face it, in school, it can't get boring and seem pointless.

So I ,and thousands of other homeschoolers like me, use our children's interests to help them learn the basics and beyond. Instead of bending my child to be interested in the history of Rome (k12) , at 7 years old, I read to her stories about princesses, because she wants to hear those stories, and she then learns about medieval history. It doesn't matter that she doesn't learn things chronologically in much of any subject except for maybe math, because it builds on itself.

I believe a person's desperate desire to know and to learn is completely different from the idea of education. Learning is what we all do. Education, the way people refer to it, is something that you get or is given to you. It may be semantics but I think it's very true. Everything in school that I truly learned, I learned because I wanted to know it, not because someone was teaching it to me. How do I know? Because there is so much stuff I conveniently forgot from school. I forgot it because I didn't care, it was not useful to me. I might have retained it long enough to regurgitate it on a test, so what, I still did not learn it. So, I want my kids to really learn things. I want them to really love learning things. I want them to know that learning things really isn't hard. Because when you love something so much that you want to know it you *will* do whatever it takes to master that subject.

When you used the word discipline, which has many meanings, the only meaning it has for me is: to train by instruction or exercise ( Autumn is most definitely disciplined. There are things she is not allowed to do and there are things we, by example (first) and word (second) try and help her understand is the way to go. But as far as academics go, that is mostly up to her and when she is ready, because she will not learn what she doesn't care about or is not ready for. Heck, I won't learn what I don't care about...I never have. You know the old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink"? Well my saying is, "You can lead a child to schoolwork, but you can't make him think." When it comes to embracing hardships and the tough stuff that inevitably comes with life, I really tend to think it is more faith and discipleship to Christ that gets us through those times, and less discipline. Those things are really lived more than they are taught. I had to live through my mother's death. I didn't take a course on it...know what I mean?

If I were to say that there is something I actually "teach" Autumn, it is about our faith. However, because Autumn sees that being Catholic is a huge thing for our whole family, she WANTS to know about it. She is learning to read now, because she really WANTS to know how to do it. She likes to work on things in her math book because she is interested in math. And she really loves science. So, as an unschooling kind of homeschooler I make sure I have all sorts of stuff around and do things with her that she's really into and then her retention just blows me away.

Below is an excerpt from a note I sent to another K12er doing the Virtual Academy, this is what I wrote to her (maybe it will help explain better where I am coming from):

..... Actually, I am feeling relieved about the Virtual Academy. We are very much relaxed homeschoolers...kinda unschooly, the most formal I get is religious ed. I love CHC stuff for that. Since K12, in all it's advertising stressed the "go at your own pace", I figured we would, since our pace is a turtles pace. :-) However, K12,(as you know) really does have schedules and targeted times for completing the year's work. At the rate Autumn was going it would have been January 2009 by the time we were done. :-) She really LOVES the science tho.

Our oldest, Andrew (now a senior in public high school), was barely formally taught much academically, until he started 9th grade at school. He is not a genius and we didn't do anything special. We just let him guide his own academic education, although we did alot of the guiding of his moral/religious education. Anyway, after the initial cultureshock of 9th grade in public school he has consistently stayed on the honor roll, with no pressure from us. This was a kid who's idea of reading was Calvin and Hobbes and his writing was his own comic book series. I never tested him, I never graded him, I didn't 'make him do school'. He did have chores, and church etc...but his education was his own. I helped facilitate it, not force it.

Now he is taking college level English and is great at math, though he doesn't like math. He loves economics, history, and literature...though he still doesn't read for pleasure. He has excelled in the media/film department (which will be his major in it makes sense). For us, and it doesn't work for everyone, we started to realize (early on) that the more I tried to teach things to Andrew (ie: coerce him to learn some arbitrary subject) the less he was interested in learning anything, but the more he pursued knowledge for it's own sake ( because he was interested or passionate about a subject) the more he learned. Learning things had to be Andrew's choice or it just bounced out of his head. Highschool was Andrew's choice, not ours. So, since he chose it, he realized he needed to do well, for himself, and no one else. Anyway, that is a brief synopsis of how we homeschool. It is mostly child-led. And to be perfectly honest, even most grown ups don't like being taught something unless they have first chosen to learn it.

I read to Autumn and Ben all the time, right now they are into Spiderwyck. I read to Andrew as well, long after he knew how to read. We have lots of discussions about things as family. Just through growing up and wanting to do what grown ups do, did Andrew (as Autumn and Ben are now) learn the things they need to know to be grown ups in the world. No one's education is perfect, everyone has holes. To instill a lifetime love of learning is what I want my kids to have....whether we use a curriculum or just life.....

So, my sweet adorable friend, Autumn's gonna be fine and I'm gonna be fine. You and I both know that life throws enough shit at us that God will be given the opportunity to mold us to His will....if we let Him. That is the most important thing I could ever possibly teach my children: to be faithful to Christ and His Church and to strive always to do His Will. I want Heaven not Harvard for my kids. And if you think about it God molds us to His will lovingly and when we are ready. How long did He want me to be Catholic? How long He waited. But God gave me the time I needed to figure it out...and that is that same thing I am doing for my kids.

Thank you for loving me the way you do. I love you too!!! See ya tomorrow when you pick up Tumnal.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

A great day.

Saturday ended up being quite serendipitous (one of my friends favorite words). We woke up and Andrew had to head out to a Fencing tournament. This the morning after the night of his life...going to see and end up meeting Interpol. So, he was a tired Andy. Robert took him to the school where the tournament was.

I took Ben and Autumn, who have suddenly become enamoured of rocks (due to a recent visit by my Dad...long story), out for an adventure. So, my Dad had given them each some money. So, Ben promptly bought some Bionicles. He's into them again and playing with them again...and I am totally cool with him ACTUALLY playing with his it's all good. Autumn, who is really into me reading her the Spiderwyck Chronicles wanted the Field Guide.

So, we went to Borders and Autumn bought the Field Guide (which is really neat) and herself a hot chocolate at the cafe there. It was VERY CUTE watching her pay for her hot chocolate and then suck down the mound of whipped cream and chocolate bits which the gal behind the counter had loaded on top for her. Ben got a Mad Libs (a painless way to teach adjectives, nouns, adverbs, verbs etc...) and I got them, to share, a little DK guide to Rocks and Minerals.

Then we went to the nature center. It was a little warmer than it's been, but not so terrible. So we hung around in the butterfly garden. I was taking pictures of different butterflies on the flowers. Autumn was desperately trying to catch one, and Ben was not complaining...which is great. We had hit the gift shop first, and they had each bought different the "need to buy" compulsion had been assuaged. Then we went and saw the beaver who was adorable paddling around his pond. From there we went to get cooled off in the indoor area with the snakes and stuff. We caught the last of a presentation about Red Tailed Hawks and the guide was holding one. We got a great pic of him. Then another guide came out with a corn snake and the kids got to touch it. Ben raised his hand and had great comments to make like, "I know how you can tell when a snake is about to shed. It's eyes turn blue." The lady with the snake was impressed with his knowledge and it was obvious Ben was feeling proud. I felt proud of him too.

The coolest thing by far though, was, on our way out, we noticed the little Screech Owl. They are so cute and spooky at the same time. Well, he had a dead rat in the bottom of his cage. When Autumn pressed her face to the glass he must have worried she was after his lunch. So, he swooped down and grabbed the mouse with his feet and dragged it to the corner. From there he proceeded to rip of the mouses head and ate it, followed by an arm, then the other arm, then it's insides. Finally, after eating all those pieces seperately, the owl picked up the bottom half of the mouse, kind of threw it in the air a bit and grabbed it so that it looked as if it has swallowed the first half of the mouse whol and just it's butt/tail/legs were dangling out. Then it choked down (that is what it looked like) the entire bottom half of the mouse in about 6 gulps. It was totally freaky and totally awesome. Ben and Autumn were completely enthralled and grossed out at the same time. I filmed the owl when it ate the mouse's head. I will try to post it later.

The fun continued when the kids went to hang out with friends of theirs, and we got to hang out with some friends of ours. The best part is that the older teens were in charge of the little kids, so the grown ups went and hung out without them. YEAH! A win-win for everyone.

It's a day like Saturday was that makes me just so completely convinced of unschooling. I followed the kids' lead all day and things unfolded so nicely. They learned all sorts of things...asked all sorts of question.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What am I doing up?

Okay, so it's 2:30am EST and I have to be up by 7:15am. Andy has a Fencing tournament tomorrow. Now that he is CAPTAIN (feel the maternal pride swelling?) I gotta make sure I get him there on time.

BTW, my little Andy will be toast in the morning. He just has the peak experience of his 17 years, on this planet, and it was seeing in concert, and then MEETING, his favorite band: Interpol.

I was so excited for him when he got home and showed me the CD with all their signatures. He talked to Sam Fogarino a bit, their drummer, and got a pic with him. Now all I have to do is get him to meet Stewart Copeland and his drummer mentor list would be complete.

When I got home tonite from all my chauffeuring kids and participating in said kids' activities, I read a little Spiderwyck to Autumn and zonked out. Then, about 2 hours later (11:30pm ish) I woke if from a nap. Now I am WIDE AWAKE!! I gotta get up in 4.5 hours. I am so glad it is a Saturday coz I will be taking a nap at somepoint.

Since I was awake I finished Homeschooling With Gentleness; A Catholic Discovers Unschooling by Suzie Andres. WOW!!!! I LOVED IT!!! I am a John Holt fan from way back, and nothing she said about "unschooling" was new to me, but to put it in a Catholic context was simply wonderful. I have to thank my friend, Sara, for suggesting to me that I reread it (as she recently did) so that she could talk about it with someone. Of course, Sara, was just doing God's will, unbeknownst to her very sweet self. Because I had gotten myself into, YET AGAIN, a situation that was destined to blow up in my face was only a matter of when. I had signed Autumn up to try a virtual academy that uses K12. OY VAY! It was really cool, but oh so structured and oh so not what Autumn is into. God needed to remind me that I need to trust my children to learn because that is the way He created human beings to be....and by not trusting them, I am not trusting God. Again me and my lack of trust.

Not to lay this at my Sweetheart's feet, but there are so many times I think that I would have been happily unschooling all along, this whole time, had he just trusted the process too...had he just backed me up and supported me, instead of second guessing me so often. Admittedly, the biggest reason I have for jumping on the curriculum train is that he wants to see results. (Thanks Marine Corp Dad-in-Law!!!). Anyway, EVERY SINGLE TIME I spend dedicated time in prayer (alone and before the Blessed Sacrament) God calls me back to unschooling-Catholic-style. What I find hysterically ironic is that here I am wondering why it's taking my 2 youngest kids longer to read than their brother...or many other kids their age, when it has taken God over TEN YEARS to get it through my thick skull that he wants me to Trust Him that He created my children to learn....and they will do so when they are ready...not necessarily when I am ready. God has been waiting, quite lovingly and patiently, for me to learn this lesson. Why I am not giving my kids that same grace.

Dear God, Help me to trust in You. Help me to trust in the abilities that You have given my children. Remind me that what my children need to learn and know more than anything else in the world is that Jesus is the Truth, the Way, and the Life and that no one comes to You but by Him; and that there is nothing better than to love, and be loved by, You. In Jesus' name, Amen