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Monday, August 29, 2016

{radical art of homeschooling} learning spaces

Even though homeschoolers spend a huge amount of time outside of our homes, how you use your home when you homeschool will no doubt change. Maybe even radically. Your home will become a laboratory for learning and experimenting. It might shift from a place to relax and find refuge to an active playhouse of possibilities. And you will accumulate more stuff (books, art and craft supplies, recycled things, globes and microscopes...).

Several years ago at an unschooling convention, I led a discussion on how eclectic homeschoolers used their space. I was fascinated to hear about how families had completely reimagined their homes, reclaiming dining rooms, formal living rooms and even hallways and walk in closets to use as learning/reading/dancing/art making spaces. The creativity applied by these families was inspiring and boiled down to 2 major points. 

Rethink space

After actually deciding to homeschool, rethinking domestic spaces and how we use them is the next big mental shift. You might want to start with a description of a perfectly supported learning home, if you have a clear idea. Most of us, will more likely try new things and evolve along the way. 

You can decide if you will have a dedicated school room. Some people decide to use an unused bedroom, basement, or formal dining room as a learning space. Although I am not interested in recreating a traditional school room in my home, we do have a "learning lab" which is essentially a family office. Each kid has a desk and some wall space. In addition, the learning lab has shelves with basic art supplies and storage for notebooks, workbooks, science apparatuses etc. We have this room because our current house is big enough, but to be honest, the kids rarely use their desks and prefer to work lounging on the couch or at the dining room table. (note: we recently moved and are using the dining room as a learning lab, along with laptops that move around the house). 
I see all rooms in the house as education rooms, really. The kitchen is open to everyone to cook and make experiments. Making sure kid appropriate tools are accessible is a key to kids learning to use this space. A learning tower was one of the best investments we made when our children were younger (it was so sturdy, we were able to sell it for a good price when they outgrew it). They were in the kitchen during most meal preps, either helping or playing with various kitchen materials. They are all now pretty proficient cooks and I own much of it to their ability to hang out safely in the midst of kitchen work from the time they could stand. 

The bathtub was a prime learning space for many years. We built with pool noodles, read poetry, mixed benign ingredients, try to make floating  crafts, turned off the lights and dropped in glow sticks. You can search "bathtub science" on Amazon and Pinterest and find enough ideas to have an entire tub curriculum.  

You might even want to rethink the way you use your bedrooms. I feel like we have had every combination. When our kids were very young we had a huge family bed on the floor that ensured everyone got great sleep. Then my kids all shared a sleeping space and used an extra room for a playroom. Now, everyone has their own room, but our landing area is where we meet and read together at night.

The point is, there is no one right way to organize your space. And even if you find the perfect set up, be prepared to rethink it later. We have discovered that the only constant is the frequent evolving. 

One extra idea I want to share is the the joy of an empty room . There is nothing better to offer your kids than a completely empty room, at least for a while. If you are moving or renovating a room, see if you can give your kids the gift of an unstructured space.  And then stand back and see the villages and race tracks and forts they create. 

Bless the mess
There is no way around it. If you homeschool, your home is not likely to look magazine or even company perfect. Your home is a work space, and as such you should expect it to be full of projects and displays and works in progress.

It is very easy to be hoard-y when you homeschool. Empty yogurt containers and bubble wrap are kept on hand for building projects. Old electronics are piled up in the garage to  take apart. Fabric is stacked on shelves for quilt and clothes making. Cheap books and passed down curriculum might fill your shelves. There is a temptation to keep things around just in case you need them in the future. 

While you might want to keep a few things on hand try not to gather items for years ahead. Not only is it a pain, but I think in many ways, it impedes creative, open thinking. Work books, craft kits and various supplies that you never use become reminders for things not done and might create a guilt that slows you down. Be realistic and frequently cull your supplies, books and stores. A clean space is often way more invigorating and inspiring than a multitude of cool things piled up. 

I thought it would be interesting to share a list of our most used supplies. These are the things that are consistently used and that I have to effectively store. Obviously, these would be different for each family. (I am leaving off books and curriculum).

a microscope

blank notebooks

poster board paper

pencils and an electric pencil sharpener

3 ringed binders and page protectors

pronged folders

glue sticks

water color paints

globe and world wall map
pom pons, popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners
cigar boxes - I buy them at the local cigar shop for $1 each
a variety of papers and stickers
a sewing machine

a recycling center - we have bins like these and keep egg cartons, old cereal box cardboard, strawberry baskets, newspapers, yogurt containers, and any interesting packaging that comes into the house. I try to keep the recycling limited to this area. If I start to get too much, I cull.

stuff for the yard

a place to dig a hole - my kids have had the most fun digging big holes
sand box - to build rivers and forts and playscapes

scrap wood and various junk to build a shack

water source

trampoline - we love our trampoline! I am pretty strict about only allowing one kid on at a time ( I recently read that 75% of injuries happen when more than one kid are jumping). My friend has an autistic son and told me that the trampoline and swinging were really good for his vestibular system and sensory processing. I have noticed a remarkable ability in my kids ability to calm themselves down with a 10 minute jump - so maybe there is something to that!).

geodesic dome - this was a big gift from grandparents. And even though it seems super expensive, it is made to last forever and so beautiful in the yard. It is sturdy enough for adults to stand inside and climb on.  

skateboards, balls, kites


What would a perfect learning space look like for your family? Write a list or make a Pinterest board. 

How are the rooms in your home used? 
Are there rooms that are not being used?

Where do you homeschool now? 

How do you store supplies? Are there any issues? Too much? Need to add a few things?

What outdoor space can your kids use?

Are there any projects that you would like to add to your indoor or outdoor space?

Are there items you would like to add to your homeschool that you could ask for as a holiday or birthday present?

Monday, August 22, 2016

{radical art of homeschooling} it's a lifestyle

“I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built upon the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Whereas, if the child is left to himself, he will think more and better, if less showily. Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table, while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of, before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experience.” 
– Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s Teacher

a disclaimer - the views,opinions and thoughts are completely my own and based on my personal experiences of raising my kids and interacting with my community. I am in no way meaning to prescribe a particular method of lifestyle. I want to share my journey and open up a discussion and safe space for each of you to explore this subject, either for the first time or to go deeper into you current practice. 

How we began homeschooling

I never intended to homeschool, although looking back, I can now see how everything led me to this point. I did fairly well in school, but early on felt that I was just putting in my time. I knew I was in a flawed system and I figured out how to work with in it to stay under the radar, get good grades and even cultivate a positive reputation among my teachers. But I was not learning much. I memorized content and completed projects which I immediately forgot.

I came alive when traveling with my family, hearing the rare engaged history or humanities lecture, and while working at one of the many jobs I held from the time I was 14. The real world was where I wanted to be and school seemed like an institution bent on keeping me out of it. So, I paid my dues, started college early and wondered what my future would hold. It wasn't until my upper undergraduate classes that my mind was reawakened. My major was art history and I studied gender and power constructions, historiography, mythologies, photography, costume, performance, and low art. I worked with an amazing array of professors who were challenging and pushed me until my mind cracked. I was able to travel to NY and spend several summers in Paris meeting and working with artists who through their examples of engaged and discursive living helped me rebuild my brain and create my own approach to life.

Later, in graduate school, I taught humanities and American studies courses to freshman and sophomores. I was under impressed with most of them who came straight from the school system. They lacked creative and independent thinking skills. In fact, they were right where I had been a few years earlier, punking the system for a grade. (I had thought I was the only one who went through this). The most interesting and engaged students were older, had lived, worked and traveled and hungered for knowledge and conversation. 

I even tried teaching 5th grade for a semester at a local public school. While I loved my students (who were severely socially and economically challenged) it became apparent that the system I had contempt for had gotten even worse. The constant testing, implementation of new learning schemes, and complete lack of understanding of my childrens' actual needs was eye opening. Luckily, I was at a school that was so bad, the principal was just happy to have someone in the classroom keeping the kids safe and contained. I had a little freedom and would try things like reading chapter books aloud, mediation, watching and responding short art films and unstructured outside time.  I will never forget the time we were watching a Little Rascals episode and I looked at the face of my favorite student (troubled and brilliant, he was). In the flickering light he has relaxed, put down his ever present posturing and defenses and was laughing. Laughing like a real kid. It broke my heart because this is what these kids needed. Space and time to connect to something safe and fun. And it was nowhere in the curriculum. His drug-addicted mom took that from him, his community with its crime and guns took that away from him, and the school system was taking it from him. 

When I started having my own kids a few years later, I spent so much time watching them explore and experiment. They were natural scientists and learners. My job seemed to be to support them and offer resources. To be there and witness their process.  When they approached school age, I could not fathom taking their time from them. They were so happy, healthy and connected to each other, their extended family and larger community. (I know some have really great school communities - but there was not a great option for us at that time). So, our decision was not necessarily to "homeschool." It was really a decision to not add school to what was already working so beautifully. School did not seem like it would add as much as it would take away. 

The lifestyle and its benefits

Homeschooling is not an education method, it is a lifestyle and has the potential to change everything. If explored deeply, it becomes a lifestyle of curiosity and questioning. Homeschooling has led us to rethink nearly all of our automatic thinking from housing, to health care, to sleeping arrangements to jobs and careers. Many people have told me they could never homeschool (I guess assuming it is way too much work). I usually respond that I could never adhere to a typical school and work schedule. Homechooling is intense and hard work, but there are some sweet, sweet luxuries built in. Here are the benefits for our family:

We sleep in our natural cycles. Typically, we have slept with the sun cycle. As the kids enter teen years this might be changing. I love the fact that they are able to sleep in when their bodies need the extra rest. Experiencing puberty in your own comfort and boundaries has been wonderful. This is total luxury, but I love the fact that during certain uncomfortable times, we can rest and take care of ourselves. 

We eat better than we would with a more typical schedule. We eat home cooked meals together as a family (for the most part!). We can eat when we are hungry and take as long as we want. 

We learn in multiage groups. Not only within our family, but also in various home schooling groups and classes. Kids are attracted to each other because of common interests not simply because of arbitrary ages or school grades. The past two summers, my son took a master naturalist program intended for adults and learnt along side school teachers and retirees. 

We follow interests as they arise. We are always up to try something new and not held to a schedule of when things need to be learned. A deep interest in Egypt can be studied right away. In school or within a strict curriculum, this is not as easy to accommodate. 

Life becomes an experiment - the ultimate lab. I love that we are able to try new approaches to life. We can experiment with where we sleep, when we read, how we eat dinner, where we meet friend to learn, anything. It is all open. We can try and adjust all we want. 

We can adjust days easily when illnesses arise. We are not sick to often, but I have often felt a deep sense of relief that when I am up with a sick kid all night, I know I  can recoup the next day. I can not imagine how hard it would be to go to work, find care for a sick kid and fit in doctor's appointments. I know this is a privilege and I appreciate it immensely. 

More physical exercise. I will never forget when my daughter was at her 5 year check up. The doctor, noticing how tall she was, was relieved when he knew she would be homeschooled. He shared that when kids enter school (especially bigger kids) they are prone to gaining weight right away due to sedentary days. Because she was homeschooled and would be more active, this was not a problem. As my boys were born and also active and outdoorsy, I knew that they would have a problem in school too. When my kids were young I read about Charlotte Mason, a 19th century educational reformer. She believed that children should spend at least 6 hours a day outside. That number stayed with me, and I made it my goal to get them outside for the majority of the day. That could never happen with a school based lifestyle. 

More quiet and self focused (and even bored) time. We can schedule tinkering/reading/hanging out days as often as we want them. These are some of my favorite times when the best ideas and plans are hatched.

Better integration into daily chores. They can cook their own hot breakfast. I have noticed that when we are in a heavily scheduled camp week (one that seems to most closely represent a typical school schedule) they are less able to help with chores. 

Peer pressure seems to be rare. I rarely see serious bullying or peer pressure in homeschool groups. For the most part, the kids are helpful and supportive to each other. And I have never (ever) heard anyone tease another for what they are wearing, the backpack they are carrying or what they are interested in. Seriously. For much of my kids' life they dressed in costumes (or the same outfit everyday). And they are accepted. They have, at times, weird and esoteric interests. And they are accepted.  

Deeper sibling relationships can be cultivated. Early on, I read several articles explaining the impact and importance of sibling relationships (even over parent relationships). For the most part, my kids are very close and I hope that their bond continues and offers them support long into their lives. 

Education is not parceled out or divided into discrete subjects. When it is working the best, learning is a vital part of everyday living, part of who we are, a family of autodidacts. 

Every homeschooler knows about taking advantage of sites when everyone else is at school or work. For a long time my husband worked shift work, so we were already used to the luxury of midweek shopping, eating out and site seeing. When we had kids, it got even better. We have spent long quiet afternoons at the zoo and aquarium talking in depth to the animal care workers, we go to Disney during the week and DC right after school is back in session. The off season and off times are our favorite times to do stuff. We tend to stay close to home on the weekends and holidays. A lot of homeschool groups have back to school parties to celebrate the emptying out of the science centers and bowling alleys. 

Write down what benefits you will have (or already have) from homeschooling. Get as detailed as possible. Include selfish benefits (like, I don't have to wear a bra first thing in the morning!). 

Is there a big goal or dream that your family would like to work towards? (a year of travel, moving to a farm, starting a family business...)

What is the biggest drawback? (be honest here, many people worry about time to themselves, loss of income, lost of status, what others might think...)

What are your biggest worries?

Write down what a perfect day would look and feel like for you and your kids. (this is a great journaling activity to do as a family. I am always surprised at what is most important to my kids. I try to ask them this a few times a year).

If images move you, I highly recommend creating a collage of words, magazine images, original art and text exploring what it might be like (or what it is like) to live a life outside the mainstream. 

Share you thoughts in the FB group or the comments here. 

+also, if along the way, you are digging the content, I have added a donation button at the top of the page. I am trying something new (always trying new things...). Instead of having every lab be a paid for thing, I am interested to see if I can create and share content in this way. Thanks for any support (monetary, notes or good vibes :)

Sunday, August 21, 2016

{radical art of homeschooling} welcome

Welcome to The Radical Art of Homeschooling! 

I have had this lab brewing for awhile and decided to offer it last summer as a sort of a beta lab, especially for those who are on the fence about sending their kids to school this. I think it will also be useful for those of us who are moving into new stages in our homeschool experiences. My kids are 10, 12, and 14. Their needs are rapidly changing and if I thought I had it all figured out when they were younger, I was wrong! I am constantly recalibrating to meet their evolving needs.

This lab will consist of weekday blog updates exploring different aspects of homeschooling. Topics will include: lifestyle, learning spaces, learning communities, uncommon resources, the value of process, building lessons, documentation, mission statements and parent care. I will include journal questions that you can write responses to or use as discussion prompts with anyone else who will be involved in homeschooling your children. We will not go into depth about learning styles or curriculum, although those topics would certainly be perfect to discuss in the Facebook group.

Which brings me to the second part of the lab. The community I am hoping we build through this lab will be as valuable an asset as anything I could ever offer. Please, participate in the FB discussions (join HERE). Share your experiences, fears, ideas, and breakthroughs. We have a gathered an amazing group of women who have varied backgrounds and rich experiences. We have seasoned homeschoolers, unschoolers, education specialists, new homeschoolers and part time homeschoolers.

Collectively, we are an amazing resource. So tap into it and share your expertise and divergent ideas. Never underestimate the value on a good online group! In the past few years, I have made friends online that have become real life friends. I hope to extend this to my children, too. After the lab, we can do nature and mail exchanges, send each other postcards or even meet up when we travel. We can build something spectacular! 

You really do not need any supplies for this lab other than a journal, pen and internet access.

I will see you tomorrow! Here we go! (below is one of my favorite music videos speaking to the magic of spending your days with your kids- enjoy)

And as always, please let me know if you have any questions or issues. I am here for you.



Thursday, August 18, 2016

the radical art of homeschooling {a free lab + group}

Last summer, I ran what I called a "power lab." It was a quick fire lab all about starting and sustaining a homeschooling life (which of course is limited to my own experience). 

We covered : 
learning spaces + communities 
mission statements
how to build a lesson
how to disrupt a lesson 
mama care and more

The group that gathered was fabulous and full of ideas, resources and support. 

This year, I am moved to a new state and in the midst of rewriting our homeschooling lives. So, I decided to share the content from last year for free and add my still forming ideas (via the FB group). 

If you are interested in joining us, just follow this blog (I would suggest subscribing to the blog - there is a small link on the right hand side of this page.)


Join the Facebook group

We will start soon. I can not wait

{review} The Little Prince

The Little Prince (streaming on Netflix now) is breathtakingly beautiful. It is a haunting tale about growing up, memory, love, reality and mystery and complacency.

This film is not a simple retelling of the Little Prince story; it is a fresh, new narrative that references the original book and folds its characters, iconic images and scenes and messages into an original tale.

It is the best thing I have seen this year. And while my kids enjoyed it, I really think adults will get the most from it. Watch it a few times, reread the original book, get comfortable with not everything making sense, and let your mind travel back in forth in your own personal narrative space between childhood and adulthood.

I would love to know if you have seen it yet? What did you think?


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