Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our Project

A few magical things happened this year to make homeschooling possible for us. I haven't written much here about bullying, but it was a major factor. Although it was a difficult experience for my son, we wouldn't have made the jump without it, so it was a blessing in disguise. I'd been wanting to homeschool for years, and my son was interested, but he always pushed it back another year. "We'll homeschool next year..." Even if he had wanted to, I didn't have enough time. I was always running around managing project activities and volunteers.

In the nine years of the project, I have watched hundreds of kids grow up. Some are married now, with kids of their own who will start coming to project activities themselves in a couple of years, and I will watch them grow too. My son and my project were born at the same time. He's grown up in it. He's been part of it his whole life. Since he can remember, people have been dancing, juggling, painting and performing all around him every day. He has always shared his mother (and her attention) with thousands of children.

As I mentioned in my last post, my son just turned 9 and he's changing. He's growing up, becoming more independent, not needing me as much for the little things, taking initiative... At the same time, all of these things are happening with the project too. My eldest student has taken on the coordination of the project, and with it, the main chunk of my job. This happened three months before I pulled my son out of school, so that by the time we started to homeschool, my student had proved his competence as coordinator, and I could focus on this new thing we were going to do - just my son and me.

This Friday, the project will be celebrating its 9th annual show for parents and community members. I won't be running around like a crazy person, screaming my head off until I'm left with no voice, and directing all the millions of details that go into putting on a show with 70 kids. I'll be sitting in the audience, watching the most beautiful show on the planet - my project, operating independently of me.

They say that the ultimate success of a social project is exactly that - to function without the founding director. So I feel proud, but I also feel a lot of other things. This project has been who I am for the last decade. It's nice to answer the
"So what do you do?" question with "I run a free arts center for 3,000 kids." Now, I homeschool my son full-time. Since the project runs from our house, I am available for applying band-aids to scraped knees when needed, and I still do most of the external communication for the project (it's minimal), but other than that, the project runs without me.

Homeschooling my son might not sound as heroic, but it is. I'm taking responsibility for his education, and in 9 more years, when our homeschool project is done, our success will be measured by his ability to direct himself in the world, and to function without me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Very Different Nine Than Mine

My boy is 9!
The birthday was actually a couple of weeks ago, but this post is more about the changes I've seen since the big day.

I remember being 9. My mom's boyfriend bought me Prince's Purple Rain album (mostly because he was sick of hearing the Thriller album played over and over again). It became the soundtrack for what would be a year of deep introspection, and probably my first complex philosophical ponderings.

I was a weird little kid who liked writing in her journal, taking long walks alone on the railroad tracks, and nursing baby birds fallen from their nests. On Saturday mornings, I would take a big trash bag and pick up all the trash (including cigarette butts) from an alley on my way to the park. I had my own business - washing cars ($3) and pick-ups ($5). I was a loner when I was 9.

I was living in a very different country, had survived my parents' divorce, and was being raised very free-range. By the time I was my son's age, I had made an international flight (with stop-overs in Miami and Colombia) and several domestic flights by myself, already had two years of experience as a latch-key, made my own breakfasts and packed lunches, and was very independent.

My son's life is different. He has two parents at home, has never gone to a sleep-over or stayed with a babysitter, and I wouldn't dream of sending him off on an airplane by himself. We live in an extremely dangerous country - social and political violence, and natural disasters every year. He has not experienced early freedom as I did.

There are some similarities though - he also runs his own business making and selling jewelry (he's already saved $75 this year), but I go with him and watch from a distance. He's really listening to - and understanding - lyrics in the new music he likes (pretty grown-up protest rap). He's starting to question me, and not just accepting my opinions as facts. I can see in his eyes that he's looking at the world in a whole new way.

This is the half-way mark to legal adulthood. He's growing up so fast and I'm so, so, so happy that we're homeschooling and I can enjoy every second of this amazing and beautiful part of life that is childhood, with him.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


It's been pretty relaxed around here lately.
We've mostly been finishing up projects
and all 3rd grade stuff.

We're done with several subjects,
which has freed up plenty of time
to catch up on the others.

It's nice to not have to rush,
and just flow through the day,
doing a bit of this and a bit of that.

I wish I could say we've been taking naps,
but we're not really nap people.
(Our kittens sure nap lots though!

working on our Greek Mythology Unit
we read a story together, he summarizes,
I dictate his summary, and he types it.
We still have a lot of work to do on his handwriting,
but typing in Word has really helped his spelling.

catching and studying incredible creatures


making and eating Sushi

working on the last chapter of 3rd grade Science
I'm especially proud of our Science notebook.
All year, I prepared questions, we would read together,
and then he would answer the questions.

For this last chapter, we're doing it the other way around.
He pre-reads and prepares questions, we read together,
and then I answer the questions.
He loves being the teacher!

Today, one of the assignments was:
Here, do something creative with this
used toiled paper roll.

And 73 minutes later, voilá,
Man on Swing!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lean On Me

We've been starting our mornings by singing "Lean On Me".

I've loved this song since I was a child in the 80's, when Club Nouveau made a remix of the original Bill Withers version.

The lyrics are nice and simple, with such a wonderful message.
They also give for some great discussion on friendship, community, solidarity and being a good neighbor.

We also do some movement with it - just a basic side-to-side-clap for the main verses and chorus, and then pick it up by snapping on the offbeat for "Just call on me brother, when you need a hand...". It helps
release tension and gets our blood flowing.

It's a warm, gooey, cuddly start to our day that helps us avoid early morning grumpiness.
This is my favorite verse:
If there is a load you have to bear
That you can't carry
I'm right up the road
I'll share your load
If you just call me

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Standardized Testing

I printed out some standardized tests - free CAT released tests for 3rd grade.
Just want to make sure that we're getting the basics covered.
Since my son is ESL, I thought he'd have a hard time with the Lang. Arts Test.
He scored 80%. Of course I didn't have a curve to consider.
Our confidence was high, and I was sure that we were on track.

I thought he'd do great on the Math test, our next test.
He spent 2hrs on the standard 90+ questions,
and didn't even get half way through.
I think it was a mistake to do it in the afternoon,
so today he's trying in the morning.

Apparently he's like me in that if we learn content in one format
(a yellow workbook with the problems numbered from top to bottom),
and the format changes
(to a pink workbook with the problems numbered from left to right),
we panic.

I checked his answers from the half of the test he did yesterday.
66%. He was so frustrated. I was so frustrated.
Testing sucks.
I hope today goes better.

We were both on the verge of tears about twenty minutes ago.
I apologized for getting frustrated. I know he knows how to do this.
He just needs to look at it with a clear mind, and try not to panic.
I know how he feels.
So much information in an unfamiliar format is overwhelming.

Take a deep breath together.
Leave him to it.
We're both calmer.

10 minutes later, he yells out "Woo-hoo, only 35 more to go!"

So, yes, testing is painful. I question its worth. Mostly I do it because I think test-taking in itself is a skill that needs to be developed, in the case that my son ever choose an academic path. But I tread with caution, as I don't want to break his motivation or hurt his love for learning. So we talk a lot about why we take tests, who writes the tests, what they mean and what their objective is. I explained that they are standards of a system that we don't believe in, and that we use them (like spies), just to make sure that we can make our way around the system, but can also jump in when we want or need.