My son is a first grader

Today Oliver began school as a full-timer. He goes from 9am-3:30pm and it’s just mental to me that he is in school again; it’s never been this long though. He went for a few months last year but it was part day so I could handle missing him for a few hours a day. He actually loved it. He came home with tons of projects every week and always played with the wee little boys and girls that seem so tiny to me with their little back packs and their little shoes.

I’ve had a variety of thoughts since my son was about two years old regarding school. It was clear to me early on that he was highly curious and he soaked in information at lightening speed. All kids are little sponges that soak in learning (they are natural learners) but there has always been something unique about my son in terms of how he learns. He’s very tactile so he needs to manipulate materials in order to understand. He learns very fast and has a curious interest in science and art. He also loves to make things out of ordinary items. I have had so many kitchen utensils disappear into the abyss of our home because he is always making robots out of spoons and spatulas.

I have long asked myself what I will do when it comes to school and I have read, and reread, countless books on homeschooling vs. public school vs. unschooling all before my son was even of traditional schooling age. He needed intentional investment early so I’ve been reading about learning since he was about two. While most kids are fine just playing I had to keep him busy by teaching him about space and the human body otherwise he was always bored.

I’ve always told myself we will only take school one year at a time because my kids are always growing and changing so their needs will likely change from year to year. Yet, I have gained a very different view on education because of what I’ve researched and the questions I’ve asked regarding my own family values on education. It’s been a fascinating journey that is very much still just that; a journey.

It was also clear to me that he needed school this year. He’s been very under stimulated at home these past six months homeschooling and I haven’t really been able to keep up with his level of curiosity and creativity. Many days were spent researching a project for him online, gathering the materials for it, helping him put it all together (all of this taking about an hour or more from start to finish) only to hear him, the moment the project is finished, say, “Ok. What are we going to make next?”  Then I would collapse into a ball and rock back and forth, clutching my knees to my chest. This has been every day for the past six months, that and the endless asking of who we are going to play with every moment of the day. He’s also highly social.

We were able to send him to our community school, a centre for the expressive arts, and I was floored when I realized he would be able to attend this year. Oh, the stuff he will make!!! The thing that has been the hardest is feeling like we’re ‘giving him over to the system’. I’m entrenched with homeschooling mentality so it’s very hard for me to let go of what I wish I was able to do with him (homeschool). I still agree that every child is different and you can always take things one year at a time, which is exactly what we’re doing; one year at a time.

Matt made an interesting comment this morning as I was wiping the tears away after dropping off Oliver. He said, “It’s not like we’re handing him over to the federal government and asking them to educate our child! We’re sending him to a school in our community and there is also something Biblical about this model; the entire community helping invest into children.” It’s a valid point. I realize the analogy breaks down because it’s sort of a community we don’t know intimately yet but there is always space to be highly involved in our kids’ education even if we are sending them to school. In fact, I think that’s what teachers expect of us too; to be highly involved in our kids’ lives. Imagine that! I just wish first grade didn’t have to be so long.

In my heart I still agree that we can turn out amazing kids who are highly creative, compassionate, having close connectedness to family before peers, all while fostering a love for learning. I think it just has to be done very intentionally. But that’s what I found with homeschooling as well, it has to be intentional or it doesn’t work. So we’re still at the place with our children where we follow their lead in terms of what they are interested in learning, we create space for them to try new ideas in a safe and nurturing environment and we teach them compassion all in the same vein. The only difference is that he’s also in school while I do all of this. Oh the things we will all learn this year!

Another beginning

Today I’m listening to Vivaldi’s, The Four Seasons and it’s the Summer Allegro that reminds me how fast this season has gone by in our cloudy state. I almost feel like we didn’t really have a summer as we all sat near beaches and pools, shivering with our kids, trying to enjoy sandy turkey sandwiches while many of us wrapped ourselves in light sweaters in AUGUST! When the sun has come out it’s been crazy outside. You can smell BBQ wafting down the street from all directions and you can hear (in our neighborhood anyway) music blasting from every corner. It’s like we’re making up for lost time and snatching the small scraps of summer that we can.

It’s August 10 and that means only a few short weeks until September 1….and THAT means Oliver is starting first grade….in school! I decided, after months of heaviness to put him in school this year. I was preparing to order curriculum and still didn’t feel right about homeschooling next year. He loves to craft and make projects but also loves to do experiments and learn about the scientific world. These are the things I find very hard to do with him while having two small children to take care of. Lately he’s been bored and under stimulated at home and also, he wants to be around kids ALL THE TIME!

It usually takes me about 30 minutes to research a project that is just right for the both of us. Then another 30 min to find the materials around the house that we’ll need for this project and after 10 minutes of actually doing the activity he asks, “So, can we do another one?” That’s when I want to collapse into a ball, rock back and forth while holding my knees in the fetal position. I’ve been realizing I can’t quite keep up with his need for input so I decided to enroll him this year and it was quite a dilemma for me. I really believe, contrary to what some homeschoolers might believe, that you can give your kids a great education and nurture them wonderfully if they are in public, private school or home schooled. It just takes the parents being highly involved in the kid’s life and in their learning process. It helps to lay good foundations of self esteem and security while releasing their own creativity.

I have heard about this school in our area, but not in our district, that is a centre for the creative arts but the wait list for out of district families is quite long. Some parents have had their kids on the list for over two years and still not getting in. These days, it seems like a good school is hard to find. I must have tried to call and left a message with the principle inquiring about getting Oliver enrolled for next year, I honestly don’t remember speaking to her so I think I just a left a message about a month ago. I was told of the wait list so I considered another school that is similar but it’s pretty far of a drive from our house. I decided to enroll him there but still felt heavy about the far drive. It would have been about 80 minutes total for two, ‘there and back’, drives each day. The day I enrolled him in the school that is far from our house the secretary for the first school I originally wanted him in, the centre for creative arts, called me and said even though I’m out of district they would not put him on the wait list, they would enroll him straight away! It was so random and unexpected, so divine! The call came out of nowhere and it’s just something that I’ve never heard of as happening to a family wanting to enroll at this particular school but I’m amazed and thrilled that Oliver gets to go here.

Learning math and science through the arts! Designing a building and learning about numbers and problems! The elements of science and the beauty of creating through artistic expression! Crafts and projects. Glue, glitter, paints and clay. Charlotte’s Web during story time. Robots from tin cans. Mosaics! Music and dance. My son, I’m thrilled for you and what you will create this year. Your heart longs to invent, manipulate, bend, click and snap things into place. I can’t wait to see what you bring home, showing me each masterpiece you will make.

Can beauty save the world?

Now THIS is a book I want to read. I am so intrigued by the title alone and the concept is something I have been thinking about for months now. Not really that EXACT concept (saving the world and all) but mainly that art, in a variety of its forms, and the dignity of beauty for beauty’s sake are slowing dying in our Western culture, being replaced by stoic ideologies and political blah, blah, blah. I have been thinking tons about education since….another drum roll….we are sending the boy back to school again this year (more about that later) and as Matt and I have been considering the environment which he will spend a good portion of his day (another topic I have LOTS of opinions on) we have researched school after school. The one we are sending him to has a strong focus on nurturing the arts and literature in little kids while most schools these days are freaking out that our kids are failing math and science. “We’re behind China for the love of GOD!” We also only speak one language by and large so sorry, researchers, we’re behind on languages too.

I’ve been thinking a bit how science is not separate from art and math is an art in itself rather than a series of absolutes that must be memorized and regurgitated in order to make it into a good college. I have a lot of great talks with Naomi about college and education and the empire it’s become. We shed sad tears that apprenticeships are a thing of the past. But there is just something about the arts that cause us to ponder, to ruminate (one of my favorite words), to create solutions for difficult problems and there’s a place where we experience the dynamics of faith in the presence of the arts. Faith isn’t just a set of ‘things’ that you do or that we are, it’s beauty, fluid and graceful. It’s profound and transforming and because we are all so wildly unique, faith really is swooning with beauty.

Lately I have been too worried about how my kids are going to turn out based on the education I will provide for them (homeschool, private, public) and it’s just driving me crazy.  Even my own life has been wrought with stress because I feel such a pull towards justice and it’s killing my insides to think of all that things to be done alongside with everything I’m not able to do right now, or will ever be able to do. But there is something calming about fixing the worlds problems through civility and creativity, through beauty. Yes, I believe it but I am trying to slow down and live like it’s true.

If anyone has already read this then I would love to hear a review.

These are the days…

I’ve shifted once again into a state of chaos that I didn’t anticipate once I had three children. A friend of mine, back in WI, had three of her own and occasionally I would visit her and the kids wondering how on earth she could leave her house in such a crazy state. I’m not talking mess. I find that it’s not so easy to judge people who keep a messy house. Sometimes we aren’t all as much as a perfectionist as myself, noticing every bit of dust in the house (it’s a gift and a curse). The craziness was more of a chaos brought on by many children under the age of five that made me scratch my head in curiosity as I noticed random things in the corners of rooms in the house. And it wasn’t stuff like toys (that’s pretty typical when you have kids) it was stuff like an empty box of cereal in the corner of the bathroom floor or a wrench sitting randomly under the dining room table that always made me wonder, “How on earth did THAT get there and why hasn’t someone noticed how out of place that is and put it away?” Every once in a while I just thought it was because of her own quirkiness that things got left out, things like a shovel in the living room or a lightbulb in the bathroom sink. These things always made me wonder if it was because her life was a bit hectic or if she was just a bit bizarre. Enter my present day:

I have three children now and the baby is starting to crawl. She’s no longer content to just lie on her back in a crib and giggle. She’s also not content to just sleep the laxidasical day away. She has new demands and a new ferocity to her cry. I find myself busier than ever, along with the fact that I started homeschooling the boy again and we are in full schooling mode lately. I still work in my garden, which is in the process of being torn up anew now that spring is here. I still bake bread when I can, mainly because we go through so bloody much of the stuff and I’m still trying to spend most of our fleeting sunny days outside every chance I can. With that comes the random ‘thing’ on the floor in the corner staring at me, wondering when I’m going to put it away. And for the first time….I get it now! Sometimes you just don’t have time in the big scheme of things to put something away!  A crying baby needs to be picked up because the wall art fell on her face. A six year old needs to finish reading a book about a 16th century, vertically challenged man named Pepin, and a little four year old needs to be pet on her head because she keeps telling me she’s the new house kitten. It happens.

 

My time is so stretched lately and it’s not like I’m running around the house like a headless chicken but it’s more like I have to get really important stuff done while the random stuff has to wait. It’s driving me crazy to see piles accumulate around the house but it’s something I’m starting to accept. The perfectionist in me is going nuts with piles of laundry that need to be done or the kids don’t wear clean bloomers the next day. The clothes sit in the dryer for two days. Then they get folded and sit in the basket for two more days waiting to be put away. How did this become my life?

 

Yet these are days to cherish, I’m certain of that. I’m sure I’ll look back on this time of my life with great fondness and laugh at all the stories. Today as I was rushing out the door with the kids I noticed, as I was shutting the door, that there was an empty box of ice cream sandwiches lying on the kitchen floor. A random box that needed to be put in the recycling. I don’t know why it didn’t make it there but it didn’t. It sat on the floor most of the day because it’s wasn’t the most important thing for me to do at that moment. There is a divine chaos that has come into our home with the addition of another child and I understand why people with a lot of kids can have a messy house. My Tupperware was used to make a robot a while back so it’s been sitting on the floor for three days. My daughter smeared styling oil on the bathroom floor so that she could ‘ice skate’ last night and even though I tried to get it all up I still skid every time I turn the corner to leave the bathroom. Our life is pleasantly full with three little people but these are indeed the days!

 

Artistic Children

Chloe's painting. I loved the colors so much I framed it and hung it in our living room

Right now we’re in the midst of homeschooling and I’m teaching phonics and a bit of math to my son. So far he’s loving and understanding it. We read aloud, get outside, even in the teen temps and work on a lot of little projects that I come up with to feed their imagination and creativity. I was watching a show last night about artists and what inspires them. One of them talked about his childhood and the things he used to do while his dad and brother worked on cars. He would draw the parts that they used. Much of what  the artists talked about regarding growing up and where their inspiration came from reminded me of my kids.

Oliver will often put together some outfit and explain what look he’s trying to throw together. Usually I’m blown away by the accuracy. Recently he put on a belt, put some sort of plastic tube with a string around it on his back (acting as a gun and it’s strap), put on some Indiana Jones looking leather hat and found a child’s vest in order to go ‘exploring’. He even strapped Raggedy Ann to his back because he was rescuing her and needed her attached as he ran with her through the jungle. He draws really well, for sure, but there’s something about who he is that I’m very perplexed and fascinated by. It’s how he thinks and how he sees the world. He not only remembers places that he went a year or two ago (some days I forget what I came into the kitchen for) but it’s how he interprets the sounds that he hears, things he sees and materials that he touches. It’s very interesting and unique to who he is.

Our 'spoon people'. They played with these for days

I’ve seen the artist in me fade into a garden that needs weeding, a nose that needs wiping, a child needing potty training and a pile of laundry that needs hanging. Motherhood is the onset of identity crisis and I’m not the most grounded individual so at times I’m really struggling to work out, “Who am I, again?” Motherhood enhances capabilities while stagnating them simultaneously. You find you have this new side to you but you can’t always act on it right away, to put it ambiguously.  You may have to wait a few years to pursue what you’ve discovered you are now good at. So in the process of being practical, how am I to cultivate the artist in my children? I think this is where I do it in them and put it on hold for me.

What I do now is watch, listen and place things in front of my little people to see how they will respond. I also allow… I allow them to be a bit bizarre and to play in bizarre ways. My daughter plays with her hands and pretends her fingers are little people. I adore it. They dance and talk to each other. At times she’ll even put rubber bands around her fingers so that her ‘friends’ have something to wear. The funny thing is that what she invents actually looks exactly like what she’s seeing. I see it to!

I know there is a lot of curriculum that you can use to teach art to your children but that’s not really what I’m looking for. I love the idea of teaching art history and exposing them to museums and pieces of art that others have created but what I’m wanting while they are so small is to make space for their own expression and communication on what they see and think about life, toys, people, air, trees and all sorts of images. I think we’re doing well with that but I really would hate for them to lose this part of them, especially since I know what it’s like to long to have it back again. Homeschooling is a great platform for letting our kids express themselves freely (although I firmly believe parents can foster this even if they have their children in school) so here we are trying to explore the little part of the world that my children know. Some of the best ways I’ve noticed that will cultivate creativity in my children are:

1. Let them play. We read, do some chores, have a lot of practical activities during the day but while they are so young they just play most of the day. It helps them develop their imagination. We have very few toys so they also have to come up with things to do, to create their toys.

2. Draw, color, write, play, sew…. do it with them. I don’t have to do it for them but I do notice when I just draw a little bit or color a tiny bit of something, they are exposed to a new way of making a tree or a car. I am not someone who draws well but what little I do my kids will try after me and it develops more ability in them. Once they have the ‘how to’ they are free to make it their own.

3. Let them get bored! This is a hard one because sometimes when they get bored they get on my nerves. They cry out for something to do. It’s often in these moments that the pressure they feel pushes them to the point of creativity. Some of the most amazing characters they have invented have come out of heavy snow days and severe boredom. That’s how I got into furniture design in my teens; lots of boredom and an introverted disposition.

More writing ideas

He wrote the first two items. Then he was done.

I’m trying to find creative ways to help my son practice his writing and reading. Ways that keep him engaged (a daily task for his curious mind) and that foster his ability to give more input. So we are heading to the grocery store today, a task I have dreaded over this past year because he use to run off a lot. I would have my mind on milk, eggs and butter while also saying, “Wait! Come back here! Stop it! Put that down!” Some of the issue for me has been that I needed to incorporate him more but I’m not a multi-tasker and I really need to focus on what I’m doing. Doing two things at once (reading the back of labels while trying to entertain two toddlers) makes me walk away from grocery shopping feeling like I need a nap. So I have often taken them with me but I honestly prefer to go alone.

Today I asked the boy to help me write our grocery list. I asked him what we needed (one item was peanuts to feed the elephants. ??? Um, ok). He did enjoy coming up with foods that we do need (critical thinking skills). He also did a great job writing out some of what we have to get. He can’t handle writing an entire list or we’ll all be sitting at the table until Lent is over. I just had him write out a few things and then we headed off.

We went through the store with the list in HIS hand so he could practice reading what he wrote, and also it will gave him an anchor to stay next to me rather than running off. Then he picked out what we needed while and the responsibility was fully his. He felt like such a big boy, I could tell.  This is really the best way to keep him involved and to keep my sanity in tact. I beleive our children really want to help us and be a part of our daily tasks. It’s always easier to just do it ourselves but I’m learning that flying solo isn’t really an attribute of being a family.  I always tell my kids, “We’re a family. We stay together”. My personality is to just ‘get er done’. Get in there and get right back out. But I have to slow down and let my kids come into my world so they can learn, enjoy the process and practice being a family together. What are your tricks for keeping kids engaged? Leslie has some great ways to help your kids gain interest in writing.

Here’s to the whole of life.

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Letters and writing

My son is extremely tactile (hands on…literally) and most of what he does to learn is feel, try, touch and manipulate objects in order to tinker and figure them out. I’m convinced that he’s going to be an inventor, but you never really know. I’m going through a phonics program with him and he does really well with it. He understands what he’s learning and even likes the worksheets but there are lots of times that I think he learns better by using his sense of touch and discovery. I’ve researched a ton of info on how to engage a tactile learner and it’s very interesting since most of our education is set up through rote memorization. Also, how does one teach letters in a tactile way? Braille is likely not the best option for a seeing child and I wasn’t about to make a series of letters out of sandpaper for him to feel to his heart’s content.

Last year I tried the boy on cornmeal design. When I was a preschool teacher’s assistant we had a cornmeal table set up like an indoor sandbox so the kids could play and feel. I read a lot on how to help kids draw letters with shaving cream and frankly that option was not to this clean-freaks liking. I could just see him covered head to toe in cream without any sort of desire to go through the alphabet. So I went with cornmeal. I just dump it out in baking sheets and they draw away. We use to do letters in the cornmeal, he’d trace the letters with his fingers, but he really is ok sticking with a phonics worksheet at this point. But drawing with cornmeal is always a hit. I’ve actually been really encouraged how many moms saw the photos I posted on facebook of our cornmeal extravaganza and tried it with their kids. I love seeing an idea work!

Right now I’m helping Oliver to practice his letters by simply….writing. I ask what he wants to write (a letter to a friend, a story or just a note to papa) and I help him with the words. He seems to enjoy it more than working on the sheets every day. Around Christmas he sent his first letter to a friend and it simply said, ” (name), I like to play with cars. Love Oliver”. We even put a stamp on it and posted it. He also wrote his grandpa over Christmas to say he missed him. A few days ago I started a book with him, “What makes me happy”. He draws things that make him happy (petting his cat) and I help him write out a caption. Perfect! Practicing writing! Just doing it! I’m realizing that home schooling isn’t easy in this beginning phase as we try to figure out a rhythm and flow to who we are as a family and who my kids are as individuals. They are different from anyone else on the planet and I’m trying to tap into what they need and foster a love for learning in their hearts. Everyone needs to find their own rhythm!