Perseverance and the Perfect Cartwheel

 

Last Thursday I got a real treat. The Gymnasium was nearly empty for J-Man’s gymnastics class, which is pretty rare. Usually, I can barely see him through all of the other classes, much less hear him and his teacher as they discuss the finer points of the different tumbles. This time, I had a clear shot the parent bleachers and what I saw gave me hope in the face of some recent struggles.

J-man is gifted intellectually and what that often means is that he has become accustomed for things to be easy for him. He struggles with challenges and mistakes. Earlier in the week, he was helping me label some boxes for moving and misspelled a word. He lost it because it was permanent marker. He couldn’t deal with this mistake. This has been pretty indicative of his reaction to imperfection. On this day, though, I watched him attempt a cartwheel and fail. He tried again, and he failed again. And again. And again. He then asked his teacher if he could try again. And failed to keep his legs straight and swing them over. Why would this make me happy? He did not get upset. He asked questions, and asked to keep going. I could not have been more proud than if he had channeled Mary Lou Retton and cartwheeled the whole length of the gym.

We have been doing our best to help J-man develop a growth mind-set. This means encouraging J-man to focus on developing skills and not focusing on outcomes. As a former IB teacher I have been familiar with the IB attitudes in the Primary Years Programme. Students are encouraged commit to working through the difficulties of a task and come up with multiple solutions rather than placing the emphasis on getting the right answer to that multiple choice test. We try to stay away from comments like, “Wow, you are so smart!” in favor of comments like “I love how you stuck with that, buddy! Look at what you can do when you keep at it!” But, we are FAR from perfect. Carol Dweck is the guru of the “growth mindset” framework. Here she is giving a TED talk about believing in growth.

 

When J-man started to read early, we were known to exclaim about how amazing he was and how proud we were of him. I’m afraid we were contributing to a fixed mindset, focused on achievement, instead of focusing on the process and effort. This can be problematic because he was in those high growth years where his brain was forming dendrites and making connections. He started to connect achievement with praise. JoAnn Deak talks about this in Your Fantastic Elastic Brain. Learning comes easy in the early years, but the challenge is if they are learning bad habits at this time it is hard to break them and create new ones.

To help us with this process of focusing on growth rather than product, we created this info-graphic to hang in our work area, available on Teachers Pay Teachers. It emphasizes the things that students and parents can say to reframe their thinking.

Developing a Growth Mindset Infographic

While we probably have a long way before J-man will feel comfortable making a mistake, at least now we have some fertile ground to plant seeds. Oh…and the cart-wheel? On Monday, just three short days later, he executed a series of perfect cartwheels with beautiful straight legs and stuck the landing. Mary Lou would be proud!

Managing Our New Homeschool Life

Brace yourselves, kids. This is a long one.

After fantasizing for months about getting to have the opportunity to be with J-Man every day and all of the cool things we would do, the time is finally here. If I am honest, the transition has been a little hard on me. My job was hyper busy. Each day I would leave work feeling like I had run a marathon. I was exhausted mentally and physically, and sometimes even emotionally.

Fast forward to August. I talked about this overwhelming feeling to do everything with several stay-at-home mom friends recently, and the consensus is that it is really easy to get seduced by the idea that there will always be time to do more. The reality is, that the days get away from us when we don’t plan. So while I have the freedom to do anything, maybe I need to develop the discipline to narrow the focus and finish what I start. So in the interest of trying to organize myself I am putting to use the planner that I bought at the end of the school year to use at work, but this time, it is for my new job as Momster the Super Mom.

I bought this planner from Erin Condren, and I have to say it is not cheap. However, there are few planners on the market that have the customability and versatility that her planners offer. The video is positively seductive. I was convinced that upon purchase, I was going to have a transformative experience where the angel of organization would visit me with a gold pen to write appointments. Never would I double or triple book myself again.

And…no angel or gold pen, but I was rocking it with a  pencil. Here is an example of a page from my last month at work. Notice I have appointments! I was (semi)organized! If you worked with me previously, we don’t need to go into the hairy details of what semi looked like!

planner may

 

Now I’m planning for a move to a new house, a hopefully really cool creative gig, J-man social and gym calendar and we are already booked up again! Sometimes, because of not keeping track, I have double booked the J-Man for social engagements for the same day, not allowing him much downtime in-between as we rush from one side of the Tampa Bay area to another. I clearly need a plan.

Sooooo let’s lay out the priorities:

Grocery Shopping

Maybe, but after six years of often not having anything in the house for dinner, we have settled into a bad habit of fast food and eating out. So, this is now a priority.

J-Man’s Social Calendar

I swear that kid does more than I did in college. Of course, I was kind of nerdy, and there were a couple of periods when I had three jobs, but the long-winded point is, HE GOES OUT. We have to tame this socialization beast. I have pretty much accepted any and all invitations for us over the last month.

Gym/Fitness: I have not made this a priority since J-Man came into my life. The reality is this: how can I teach him independence and how to take care of himself, if I am not taking care of myself? He is going to have to see that taking care of yourself is important. I want him to grow up to have a healthy relationship with his body, and the best way to do that is to develop that in myself.

Learning/Reading/Library Time

Well, at some point we have to put the school in the home school. This will probably not include too much of me teaching and him sitting doing “work”, but I have to make sure not to overschedule him, or we won’t have time for spontaneous discovery and in-depth exploration. I have already found that the library is great to get him started. This will also include field trip times like when we go to the causeway at low tide to see the sea critters up close.

Work Time

Somebody has to make the donuts. I am trying to work several different hustles to make this all possible, and that takes some time. I will go into more detail later, when I hopefully have some good news to share on that one. If you don’t know the donut reference, this one is for you:

Family Time

Now that Hubs is working more on top of his class load, we need to be careful to schedule time for Jack to be with his daddy. I kind of want to see him too.

House care

When my fairy godmother drops in, I swear there will be a housekeeper twice a week. Until then, someone has to vacuum and do laundry. I put this waaaaaaaaayyyyy down the line in importance. I’m totally ok with dishes in the sink if it means a really cool experience with the J-Man.

Down Time for Mama (OK I really mean Pinterest)

I need some chardonnay, Netflix and sitting time as well. Most importantly this needs to not be at 2:00 AM.

So, how is this all going to happen. Well, I’m going to need some self-discipline and to really use this planner. I am also going to use the daily features that separate the day into morning, afternoon, and evening. I am going to start with the hubs’ schedule. This way I will guard some daddy-boy time in our daily schedule and add in all the other things we need to do.

What do you use to keep time sacred for what is important to you?

 

(I was not compensated for endorsing the Erin Condren Planner)

Revolution-Opting Out of Standardized Testing

I am still amazed, despite daily evidence, that in our country we hate science and research so much. We must! We run headlong toward false thinking and take up actions that are continually proven counterproductive and harmful. We do this in our food and lifestyle choices and in our use and choice of energy sources, but nowhere is this willfully ignorant avoidance of logic and research more clear than in our methods of education accountability.

Standardized testing is not new. I took the Iowa and California Achievement Tests as a child and I am 40. The SAT has been around since the 1920s according to Petersons.com. What is different now is the way testing is used. Where as in the past, testing was used as a general litmus test to get an idea for how well a school and its students were doing in comparison to schools and students elsewhere, now it has become a hard bar that determines student placement, teacher compensation, and the distribution of school resources. The problem here, is that while we may be getting better at testing, colleges and businesses are noticing an incoming workforce that is woefully unprepared to contribute to society.

 

 

With all of the money spent on testing, you would think that teachers would receive powerful information about students’ progress that would help them in to provide lessons that meet the needs of our students. You would think this, but you would be wrong. Despite the fact that the majority of Florida FSA testing will be computerized, the results will, in fact, be reported even later in the year than in the past. This means teachers did not get the results before school was out, and by the time the results are released, students will have had several months of learning. So what is this really reporting? (http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/education/school-zone/os-fsa-scores-school-grades-release-post.html)

I would like all politicians to understand that testing is not teaching. It is highly disruptive to the environment of the entire school by creating a level of anxiety and drain on resources that is inexcusable. But don’t believe me, check out the video below.

 

 

These parents in New York are done with this. Would that parents all over the nation would stand up as well. Parents have tremendous power, but they do not know it. You don’t have to home school or even leave traditional public schools. You do have to make your voice heard. Call your state legislators. Call your local board. Ask questions, and opt out!

Homeschool Room Makeover–Big Work in a Small Space

homeschool roomEarlier this spring we converted our dining room to a “learning room” by removing the leaf in the table and moving in some comfy chairs and bookcases. We moved most of J-Man’s books in there along with his Littlebits, telescope, and some of the other learning games and tools that he has. I cleaned out the china cabinet to make room for new collections and art materials, and made space for our laptops. I hung some of the little Leonardo’s art pieces and thought I was good to go. He loved it. He is in there all the time. He pulls books out, often reading three or four at a time. I should have been happy with this.

The thing is, I am home all the time now (well when we’re not at a museum, aquarium, park, nature walk, gymnastics, or a meetup with other homeschoolers or unschoolers). Being home more has allowed (forced?) me see where some definite improvements could be made. On top of this, we live in a small house, and this room is right in the middle. I know that if this room doesn’t work well and look good, it will not bode well fo r this endeavor.

Here is what we look like today. Note: that I did not straighten up for this shot.

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The messy and unorganized begining.

Research

Setting aside some of the bigger projects, my first thought was how best to organize materials, leaving space for adding materials as we get going.  Thankfully, I have never been let down by a trusty Pinterest search! Here are some amazing inspiration photos.

I love the organization and bright cheery color in this picture from Moffattgirls.blogspot.com

Love the colors and clean lines of the white built in. From Moffattgirls.blogspot.com

This next one is from Live and Learn Studio from Mt. Hope Chronicles I don’t even know what to say about this. I love the space, color and the feeling like learning and living are going on here.

Love everything about this room, but don’t have anything like this much space.

What We Need

After pinning many different homeschool spaces and reading how other moms organized their materials, I made a list of all of the things that I would like our space to be and have:

1) Comfy-this is still our house and we are homeschooling for a reason. I don’t want to lose the comfortable feeling of beeing at home, so I want it to feel homey and comfortable.

2)Organized-I can’t function in a space that is chaotic, and I certainly can’t be creative there. I want everyting to have a place so that we feel good about coming in here, even if we do the actual learning at the park or the museum.

3)Bright and cheerful-Many years ago, when I was a reading coach in Jacksonville, we did a survey of our students to find out what makes the model classroom. After organized and clean, every single child said colorful. This is important because it was a middle school and many secondary teachers were under the mistaken impression that kids didn’t care about dressing up the classroom anymore. A colorful environment can be cheerful and inspiring.

4)Full of resources-Sitting the boy down and saying this is what we are going to learn today, is not going to work. He would do far better with that approach in a school setting, as he, rightfully, does not really see me as a teacher. What work for me is to just pull out a couple of materials and leave them where he can find them. Sandra Dodd calls this “strewing” and it works. This can only work if you have the materials and resources to “strew” around the room. I am currently working on a Minecraft themed unit with rock collecting and geography. I plan to put together a collection of some of the rocks he sees in Minecraft, along with some books on rocks, and some story starters.

5)A place for me to work while he is working and keep my homeschool materials.

Making it Work

What I’m working with is two white bookcases from IKEA, a green china cabinet,two club chairs and an arm-chair. We have a buffet that is about to be moved in favor of two new cubbie units.

I thought maybe it would help us fit more materials in our small space if we sorted books in baskets and bins by topic. While, the room is not completely done, the process made me realize how science heavy our collection is. J-Man loves science, which is a good thing, but we also want him to be well-rounded, so we need to support other interests with as much vigor, as they arrive.

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Our room after a little organization.
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Another view of our study room.

 

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Soon to be painted cabinet to hold manipulatives and supplies.

 

 

The cabinet is an extra space for magazines, notebooks, and math and science resources. The key for me was to make sure all of our resources were easy to find, but looked attractive as this room is open to the living room.

So, all I really added were the magazine file boxes and white plastic bins I purchased at the Dollar Tree and the wire bins I purchased at HomeGoods. I took out more than half of my teaching resources as they won’t apply to us anymore, and removed all the duplicate Captain Underpants books (apparently the family did not coordinate purchases and J-Man had two copies of each). As I straightened organized and rearranged took inventory on some things I will add over time.

Comfy things:

I would love a soft rug and better lighting. The rug will give the room warmth and make the reading area more cozy, while the lighting will make it possible for this old woman to read better.

Technology:

I would love to put up a large whiteboard. That way J-Man has a larger space to do his MinutePhysics inspired drawings, and I can have a space to use something like a Smartboard (apparently you can make your own with a bluetooth, a Wii remote, and a stand–more on that later).

We also want to order Lego Storytellers Kits. We don’t actually need anymore Legos, but I the software

Materials:

More fiction for sure. We are seriously non-fiction heavy here. J-Man has been royally in to Roald Dahl lately, so we’ll probably add to his collection. He likes to read stories, so I am thinking about some Aesop’s Fables and Mythology.

Overall, I really like the progress we have made. I know he already used the space all the time, but I think he will really like the updates, and I know I will love spending time in here. So, if you could do anything to your homeschooling space, what would it be? What would you add or take out?

 

 

 

 

 

Terminology–Unschooling, Homeschooling, and Schooling at Home

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J-Man and I. He is pretty unperturbed about terminology. He just wants to take a selfie.

What we call ourselves is a hot debate in any tribe. My family has a strong Cherokee heritage and I cringe every time some one says Indians and they are not referring to the people from the country of India. I don’t like Native Americans either, as this wasn’t America when they came here. I actually prefer the term First People. At times I have been accused of being too PC (that’s politically correct). People say that what you call something doesn’t matter, it is the intent behind the words that really counts, but I was an English teacher, a word-smith as one of my former professors liked to say. As such, I know the power of words to not just reflect and express our thoughts, but also to shape meaning and create mutual understanding. What we call ourselves and others reflects what we believe and it shapes who we become.

I say these things because initially this blog was going to be about unschooling, and now I am not sure that is the best term for what it is we are doing.  The terminology used by homeschoolers and unschoolers can mean different things to different people as I am learning on our journey. If you, like me, are new to this journey, it might be helpful for you to learn some of the background and terminology.

People have been teaching their children at home since the dawn of time. It wasn’t until compulsory education was mandated that teaching at home needed a name and a movement. John Holt was a writer and a teacher who wrote a series of books beginning in the 60s on how children do and do not learn. According to his biographical website, “Holt originally called “unschooling.” Unschooling—learning that doesn’t look like school nor has to happen at home—is an effective way to work with, not on, young children and teenagers to help them learn.” As time went on, Holt became more and more disillusioned with public schools and lost faith in school reform, though he did not doubt their good intentions. Holt started a movement of parents who were wanted an education for their children that not only aligned with their values, but also met the individual needs.

For information on John Holt Click Here

There seem to be three movements in the homeschooling community.

Schooling at Home

Schooling at Home is not a term I have seen everywhere, and truthfully I forget where I first saw it, but essentially what it means is that children are learning in basically the same way as they would at school, but they are at home. These families purchased pre-made curricula and take a very conventional approach to education. They may be schooling at home due to religious reasons, distance, or other life situations.

Homeschooling

When people say they are homeschooling, I have found that they are doing any number of things to make sure their children are learning. These could be taking children to homeschooling co-op classes, buying a curriculum, or designing a learning program around the child’s interest. The key difference here from unschooling is that the adult maintains at least a degree of control over the direction of the learning.

Unschooling

Unschoolers themselves lead the learning. Parents of unschoolers have mastered the art of trusting in their child. Unschooled children tend to have the freedom to make more decisions on what, how, and when they want to learn. The parent is the facilitator of the knowledge, not the giver.

So. With these highly rudimentary definitions in mind, I am not sure what to call us. I don’t think we are unschoolers yet, and I know we aren’t schooling at home. I am guessing we are somewhere in the homeschooler area. We’ve sat down and set some goals together (I definitely did not know he wanted to learn how to juggle), but I am still guiding most of the learning. Maybe I should say we are still finding our flow. Maybe what we are is Flowschooling? You heard it here first, kids.

Here are two amazing resources I came across in putting this post together.

BEST PLACE TO START–Sandra Dodd’s Disposable Checklists

John Holt and Unschooling