Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ten Minutes

I have noticed a tendency within myself to feel slightly anxious before family members arrive in our home. This is beyond the probably normal "I hope everyone is comfortable and that we have a nice time together and they don't notice the dust on top of the refrigerator" anxiety, because I have this feeling (self-generated) that the older our children get, the more scrutiny we will be under with our learning process. This, again, is something I am supposing, which means it is really just a part of my own processing of what we are doing, as imagined through the eyes of people who just haven't ever considered doing things our way. Thus far everyone has been very supportive and not critical at all, but it is natural that they would be curious - you know, about the well-being of their grandchildren. So at the same time that I welcome the opportunity to ramble on and on about what we are doing, I also somewhat dread the question, "So, Eliza, how is school?" It is totally well-meaning, but just the phrasing reveals a misunderstanding of what we are or aren't doing, and is based in a world of vocabulary and boxes that the kids just don't know about. We don't "study" science, social studies, english, spelling, we don't call anything we do "school" (unless we are playing school, which is a whole other ball game!), so that kind of a question confuses E into saying, "um...well, I don't go to school." So they press, but you do school at home, and she says, "uh...well, not really. No, we don't have school at home." and suddenly the world in which we are quite comfortable feels not so comfortable. There was a good conversation starter for Dan and I last week while my dad and his wife were here. Listening to Eliza sputter through the above conversation on their first evening here, I offered something along the lines of "We're learning all the time, through living" and Dan offered something along the lines of - ok, no, his exact words were "We're more casual than most people would be comfortable with." (Insert sound of heart flipping over and landing at feet) He was not being thoughtless, he was being honest, and while I wished he hadn't said it quite like that, this gave us the, um, opportunity to have a long heart to heart about what we are doing and what we are not doing, which he just doesn't have much opportunity to witness on a daily basis. We talked through some concerns or doubts and he as always had some good ideas to offer. Talking is good.

We were able to follow up this initial conversation with our family in the next few days, and share a little more of what we are doing. Then there was one morning after breakfast, while we were still sitting around talking, and Eliza piped up that she had a game for us all to play. It was something like taking turns thinking up words that started and ended with the letter "T", and then digressed into words that had "T" just about anywhere in the word. These spontaneous games go a long way into showing me what's happening in those amazing brains - Ani is past needing any kind of assistance with this kind of game and shocks us all with her vocabulary and phonic sense. The game shifted at some point, then or later, I don't remember, to the letter "S" and at some point someone used a "Sh" sound, and that opened up a whole new angle to the game. Anyway, this went on for about 10 minutes or so, and then we were on to the next thing, but my Dad commented with raised eyebrows, "well, that was school!" Yes! He went on to say that with this kind of one-on-one interaction, conversation, attention, we probably only need to spend ten minutes on something that a classroom spends whole periods, or several periods, on. Yes! It was such a relief to have him see that for himself, to understand why I keep little lists in a journal of the 10 minutes here and there that we spend on this kind of thing, just to remind the part of my brain that is stuck in school-mode that at the end of a day bouncing from one thing to the next, interspersed with dance parties and muffin making and hiking, there is learning - you can't actually turn that off if you tried.

** ** ** ** ** **
Here are a couple of the ways we've spent our 10 minutes this week...

Making concoctions
This is a new area for Ani; this concoction involved rosemary, raisins, hazelnuts, cinnamon, coconut, and water. Mmmmm.....she ate every bit of it.
Here is our version of "hangman", which we don't call "hangman" cause it just seems too weird to me and I can't bring myself to play it, let alone with my kids, so I changed it to "girlfriend", which works for us 'cause really, the drawing can go on and on and on (depending on who is drawing, of course)...anyway, the girls loved this game.
Sile Mama (silly mama) - drawing by Ani
(and no, this does NOT refer to the second of the Twilight just happened to be a new moon.) Eliza and I are enjoying a game from Family Math called Bridges. She whoops me just about every time...
On our way to get Dan (finally ) on Tuesday, we stopped at the craft store, and the girls saw these mailboxes. I think they are really hoping to get loads of valentines (HINT! HINT!), but in the meantime, there have been notes a-flyin' around here!

"Dear Mama I hope we did not make too much noise in the car
I love you I hope you love me too."

When Eliza saw the flag on Ani's box, she commented that she wondered why the school across the street flies the flag every day which lead to a discussion of the pledge of allegiance and what the flag stands for and I remembered that I had actually bought a book* that went through the whole pledge word by word and gave the meaning behind it, and the girls were totally into it. Anika paraphrased the first line by saying "I promise loyalty to the country", and we talked about what that means. Eliza remembered having to say it at Girl Scout Camp and of course not going to school she had no idea what she was supposed to do, which apparently really annoyed the scout leader who marched up to her and slapped her hand to her heart. I told them about not hearing the pledge until I was in the fourth grade (my family had lived overseas until then) and feeling the same way, like I didn't understand what it was about, while everyone around me seemed willing to recite it without questioning what it meant. She decided that she is ok with parts of it, but would "only mouth" other parts if she were forced to say it. (Shoo. I remember feeling the same way in church as a teenager! I'll only say the parts I believe out loud and mumble or mouth the other bits. Or clamp my mouth shut tight, depending on how I was feeling that particular Sunday...) We learned that it was written as a poem for school children, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas, and we talked about how important it must have felt as the states united to encourage Americans to feel united. Interestingly, what I didn't care for about the pledge when I learned it was that it celebrated only one part of the human team I belonged to - much like church did, later on. It celebrated an "us" that was not large enough for the way I had learned to feel about the people around me. And in fourth grade, I was coming from the USSR, where I went to school with kids from many other countries, and was not feeling very welcomed by the kids in small town America who picked on me for having lived where I did.

Whew. That probably took more than 10 minutes. But you get the idea right?

*I pledge allegiance by Bill Martin Jr and Michael Sampson, great illustrations by Chris Raschka - I just noticed that in his bio, Raschka says that he respectfully abstains from saying the pledge - I'll have to share that with Eliza...


Stephanie said...

That middle part made me teary.
The "Well, that was school!" and the following bit.

Stephanie said...

Oh! And that game is Hex - and it's hundreds of years old
and I absolutely love the mailboxes, and I want some and I want to put lovenotes to my children in them.

slim pickins said...

Ah, HEX! I wondered, but I had only had the chance to glance at the link you posted!

Hobby Lobby is where we got those...they probably have them at Michael's, Ben Franklin's, etc... We had gone to Walmart (the only in-person option for many things in our town...) and the girls saw the commercial mailboxes with valentines in them and yes, they were awesome, but i so try to avoid that kind of thing, so i was happy to find plain ones that they could decorate themselves...

Kerry said...

Good post, Debbie. I doubt that anyone questions whether or not your little ones are learning; it is evident that they are, and that you are teaching them every minute of the day. As you know, I am a strong proponent of public schools and have spent my life teaching there. But I have nothing but admiration for the careful, collaborative way that you are educating your girls.

Stephanie said...

So we don't have Hobby Lobby's here, and I thought maybe I was sol.
Today we went up into the next county to meet my sister and her girls for a day of fun, and lo and behold.... a Hobby Lobby!!!
You know that I had plans for that place after Play! :)
So I told my sister of my Big Plans and she said "I love it!! I go there all the time!!!" and so she wanted to come, too (after PLay) and so she did and we spent an hour and half in there and I spent about sixty dollars more than I had intended! :/ (all crafts, no furniture or anything)
But I got some fine things.....