Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Finding Structure

I have had a version of this conversation with a number of people lately, and thought I would write about it a bit here.  On the one hand being new to homeschooling, and on the other hand being old hands at learning through living, I think we are always shifting and struggling to figure out what kind of structure works for us in our days.  Three or four times a year I go through a cycle of thinking we need more structure - which could mean formal curriculum, or a schedule imposed on our days - and I reach for something outside of "us" to find that structure, feeling dissatisfied and scared, and then rediscover the fullness of what is already there.  I had been feeling some angst again about reading skills and borrowed a popular book about teaching your child to read and as soon as I opened it I knew it was really not for us. I tried to imagine squeezing all of E's energy and enthusiasm and excitement into small scripted boxes and expecting anything but strife to come of it.  I already know that the key to giving her the opportunity to practice her growing skills is to be playful and spontaneous.  I understand that I often fall into these periods of worry when I am feeling depleted, physically or emotionally, and am not connecting well, seizing opportunities, being creative.  

So we pare down the week's schedule, clean the slate as it were, and take time to reconnect - without screen time, without extra obligations, with lots of time spent outside together.  Slowly the classes, coops, library time and the things we do to keep our family fed and clothed fill in the days and we again have a structure of sorts ready-made for us - here are the days we expend a lot of energy outside of the house, here are the days that allow us to move slowly and more creatively. I was reminded in the current Camp Creek post that it is often the mama of the house who sets the tone - she described a "gravitational pull" she has on the rest of the house - what she gives attention to, her kids begin to show attention to.  My goal to be a healthy, mindful, productive role-model for the girls often gets lost in the shuffle of laundry, dishes, bills...none of which feels or looks very productive to the kids (or to me, half of the time!).  I have a hard time doing creative things while the household list looms large, but maybe I'm going about this all wrong - could I find time after they're in bed to do those daily tasks? Focus more attention on the creative and the alive during the day while we're awake together?  At the same time, I want to involve them more in the daily tasks, understanding that it really takes all the members of the family thinking of each other to make our home run smoothly. But I forget something I've known since Eliza was just a few months old - the more time we spend actively connecting early in the day, the more time opens up later in the day when we can all spend a while doing our own projects, happily humming in each other's company.

I have heard time and again that kids like structure, and I'm not sure that that's it.  I think structure makes things easier for me - I have some framework for measuring productivity, achievement, all those things that are drilled into us early in life if we attend school; I can see the skeleton of our week and fill in all the points of progress...But I think that while the girls enjoy knowing where they are in relation to the rest of the day or week or month, enjoy knowing the calendar days, the moon phases, and the weather forecast, enjoy knowing that Mondays mean choir and Wednesdays mean coop, too much structured time wears on them, disconnects them from themselves. Maybe it's because we didn't do things a certain way from the beginning? I think of how intricately the Waldorf philosophy orders things - certain colors, certain grains for each day - and how if you've come to expect things a certain way you might find freedom within that structure....

When I am in the uncomfortable  part of the cycle, I find myself making lists and plans, outlining our days - math games on Thursday mornings, letter writing on Mondays, hiking and nature journaling on Friday mornings - and while it all sounds really appealing, with a lovely rhythmic flow, well-rounded in a cheerful and productive way, the reality of our flow, of the flow of three people plus the orbiting papa, is anything but orderly. Our natural cycles are brief, the only constant is change.

Just some thoughts...more to come, I'm sure...this is helpful to me, so thanks if you read the whole post!

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