01 December 2011

Little House in the Hills

When I was little, I loved to read Laura Ingalls Wilder's books in the Little House series.  I loved hearing about her mother and father and sisters and the goings-on of every day life.  I even recall thinking that the best museums would have little interactive "vignettes," where the patron could see and feel and BE a part of the every day life of different cultures over time.

I suppose that's why I'm am anthropologist.

Anyhow, it wasn't until later that I learned all the rest of the story: that the Ingalls and other settlers weren't moving into uninhabited land; that the U.S. government broke every treaty it signed with the First Nations peoples of this continent; that there was a lot more going on than smoking meat and learning to sew.

However, none of that was suitable for children - which brings me to the present day and my very own children.  And how I'm raising them and teaching them about the world and their role in it.

And how - interestingly - we have moved from a big old city to a little (old) town in southern Indiana, and how I'm going to pretend to be a homesteader with a (real) cultural world-view and grow my own Swiss chard.  And my kids are going to learn about West African dance and Cherokee-style basket weaving and to speak Chinese and Spanish and about the native plants in Southern Indiana and the lives of Indiana farmers.

So from here, on, dear readers, we will begin the journey of a homeschooling mama and her two little kidlets.


It began when Nathan applied for graduate school.  Immediately, I was searching Craigslist for suitable housing in four different localities and had four plans of actions for every contingency.  Well, five, actually, including the possibility that we would stay where we were, but I didn't think that would happen, simply because this change of pace for him just seemed right.

When we found out that we would be moving to Indiana (Indiana?!), I started in on the schools.  Olivia had been in a wonderful Montessori school in Evanston - Chiaravalle - and under the wings of Molly and Kate she had really blossomed into an independent and articulate child.  Well, she may have already been articulate, but the independence espoused in the Montessori philosophy was wonderful.  So there was a high standard to be met by the schools in Bloomington.

I didn't even think that there would be any difficulty transferring her to the Montessori school here - my biggest concern was whether it would be as wonderful as Chiaravalle.  Well, I needn't have worried.  There wasn't even room in the Bloomington Montessori school for my sweet child.  Apparently, one may place his or her child on the waiting list at the moment s/he is born and there must have been a lot of children born in Olivia's year.  We received a package containing a note saying that we were on the waiting list and a copy of a book entitled How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way, which explained how to implement Maria Montessori's methods into the home.

It was at that moment that the idea entered my head that perhaps I could teach my own children at home, using the Montessori curriculum.  The idea was only the size of a tiny seed, but we all know what a seed can do.

I had already explored the other options available to us:  Harmony School (a democratic school), the Project School (a charter school) and of course the local public school.  Both Harmony and the Project School were full, and we didn't know much about Templeton, our local school, except that the building was brick and there weren't many windows.  I decided that I would move forward on the homeschooling idea, and so began to plan.

When I had just started, we moved.  And we moved in with my in-laws for the summer, meaning unlimited Ganni and Poppa time as well as unlimited cousin time (my sister-in-law lives right down the street).  So that was about two months of distractions.

Then I got sick.  Really sick with a nasty virus (read: no medication).

And then we moved again.  This time to Bloomington.  And I was still sick.

Then I had to unpack our house.  In a week and a half.

Then we had to go to IKEA.

Then Nathan started school.

Then - well, as you can see, things were a little distracting.  I was worried because I didn't have the materials set up for Olivia's school yet.  And it was school time.  Ack!

So - after a final plea to each of the schools on our list - and a final denial from each - Nathan and I decided on a whim to try Templeton.  I went in to see how things looked from the inside (my windowless impression had only been an outside one, you see).  There were still few windows, and when I explained to the very nice lady in the office that we had a daughter and asked what the school was like, I learned that it was a Title something-or-other school (Title 1?  I don't remember).  I suppose that was supposed to mean something to me, but it didn't.  I also learned that they had a multi-age classroom, which sounded promising.  Oh, but that was full.  If I enrolled Olivia she would be in a classroom with twenty-four other students and one teacher.  I said I would think about it.

I did, and Olivia was so excited about the possibility of school that I said we would try it.  She could go half-day and see what she thought.  She tried it and liked it enough to go back the second day.  But when the third day rolled around, she voiced her concern:  she couldn't go to recess.  She couldn't play with her classmates because she was a half-day student and left right before recess.  In fact, she got in line to go to recess every day but had to leave the line at the front office and wait for me, watching her could-be friends march outside to the playground.

I marched into that office and asked if she could stay for recess.  Could I pick her up a little later? No.  What if I picked her up and took her to the playground myself?  No.  She wouldn't be permitted on the school grounds if she wasn't in school.

What?  Is she a little criminal?  In jail?

Harumphed, I went home.  Nathan and I didn't want Olivia in school all day long - the school day was seven hours long and there was only one recess - and that was only 20 minutes long.  To add to all the numbers was my little five year-old.  Who really wanted to play.

So, we decided to try it.  The next week, she started as a full day-er.  The nice office lady almost squealed when I say she'd be in full-day.  Like that was some sort of prize.  Conspiracy?  I think so.

Anyhow, my radical thoughts notwithstanding, Olivia trooped out of bed at 7 every morning (against her usual 9ish time), got ready, walked to the bus stop, took the bus, and came home bedragled.  It was only the first day, so we tried again.  Again, a cranky and crotchety five-year-old was my prize at the end of a long day.  I thought that we should give it a week.  If she didn't spruce up, we'd try something else.

At the end of the school day at Chiaravalle, Olivia didn't want to leave.  She'd get in the car and say to me, "Mama!  Did you know that three tens is thirty?"  She would ask to go to school on Saturday.  This in sharp contrast to my Templeton Tiger, who was dragging in the morning, didn't want to talk about school, and brought home worksheets that asked her to sort items by color.  One day, when we were singing a little song about patience (it's hard to be patient when you're 2 or 5 or 31), she said, "Mom, I'm going to sing this song to the kids in my classroom at school, because they don't listen very well in line and are hitting each other."  Excuse me?  My five year-old has to enforce courtesy?  Where is the teacher?

The last straw came when we received a letter from the teacher.  It explained the curriculum for the year and introduced the teacher to us.  And it said that never in her 13 years teaching Kindergarten has she had such a work-based curriculum - she said that she would do her best to "work in" play time and other activities.  Essentially, reading between the lines, we saw that our child's teacher thought that the new standards were crap.

Enough was enough.  I just needed a reason to pull my baby out of that place, and this letter did it.  We left the school supplies of tissues and pencils and crayons and took that little girl home.

It was fun and exhilarating - I got to play my mama card.

But after that excitement wore off, I was left with the plain fact that I didn't know what to do next.  I hadn't done any preparation.  I had a few books and I had seen the Montessori classroom and materials.  None of which I had.  So I began to cast about for some sort of something to help me figure out this dilemma.

It finally came when I met a friend at the farmer's market.  We were waiting in line for bacon and eggs.  I don't know how we did it, but a conversation sprang up.  She was new to the area.  She had three girls (2, 4, and 7).  She was homeschooling.  Too.  For the first time.  Too.

We hung out.  We talked about curriculum.  About how homeschooling is not the same as school-schooling.  How we aren't trying to recreate the classroom, but to make the classroom the world.  How every day experiences are learning opportunities.  Things began to take shape.  My brain started to function again.  Ideas swirled around in my rather cavernous-feeling head and congealed into clouds.  Olivia and I had a little brainstorming session together to figure out what she wanted to learn.  I had begun to water that seed.

So that's where we are now.  My poor little homeschool seed is just beginning to peek its little shoot out of the ground.  But at least it's growing.  We've set up a daily schedule.  Olivia is taking piano lessons and we go to the library and WonderLab once a week.  We've instituted some home "school" rules and home "home" rules.  After the winter break, we will be starting up our official math again.

Looking back on the past three months, this first session was really about determining our assets and needs.  The whole time, I was lamenting not having a structure or a curriculum or a degree.  But my girls were learning about our new home, our environment, our town, and our food.  We took field trips to farms and met our farmers through our CSA shares.  We learned about bees and kettle corn at the farmer's market.  We practiced organization and discipline in setting up our new house and the girls' classroom.  And we discovered the seasons with our leaf collection, yard work, and preparing the house for winter.

Now, with winter coming, it's time to settle in.  We're snuggling down for the snow.  On the horizon are some exciting projects:  embroidery and sewing, knitting, reading and writing, counting and measuring, bread baking and cookie making.

Maybe we're not the Ingalls, but this Little House is ready for what's next!

1 comment:

Motherhood and More said...

Hi Liz - How exciting that you're on a homeschooling adventure! I've been perusing your blog since Heidi Baker shared your holiday post on Facebook. Good stuff! You might be interested in the Baha'i Homeschooling yahoo group. And feel free to msg me any time if you want to chat or vent or have questions. We've been on the homeschooling journey for a long time now, and I still feel like I'm figuring it all out. :) But it helps to have support.

All the best,