Tag Archives: homeschool

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Class Dismissed

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Some of you know us well enough to know that up until very recently, we were pretty die-hard city mice. One of the toughest parts of our decision to leave city life behind was leaving our beloved Waldorf school. Our whole family loved the place and I was so looking forward to sending Noah there too when the time was right.

We weren’t able to find any favorable alternatives to public school when we moved to the country in July of 2013. This is why we decided to home school our kids until a better solution presented itself, or until we were ready to travel the world as a family (our long-term dream). The role of teacher fell to me, while Nekky and Sarah both work at their own jobs full time. Fast forward eight months, and the time has come to assess where we are at with our plans and our goals. We aren’t ready to take on the world just yet, so what’s the plan for September?

I’ve really enjoyed our homeschool journey, and the freedom and flexibility it has offered us. However, there is so much that I can’t give the girls that they are missing out on. Trying to balance life, work, school, toddler-rearing, is truly exhausting, so I find myself just focusing on the basics in our classroom – covering the most rudimentary subjects, leaving little time for more creative pursuits or games. The girls get two lengthy outdoor recesses, and they are terrific playmates for one another, but it’s just not the same without classmates. They miss their peer group, and I miss the school community too. It was nice interacting with other humans each day, and I miss assemblies and parent nights.

Also, any parent knows that children behave much differently at home than they do when there is a teacher to impress, and classmates to surround them. Our girls are great, but managing their quirks and challenges became really taxing. I would never in a million years sign up to become a teacher in the conventional sense, I don’t have the patience to handle so many little personalities all at once. In fact, handling two is taking all the gumption I’ve got, and I adore those two people!

If we were travelling, if there were no other options to consider locally, I would continue on with homeschool in the fall, learning from the mistakes we made this year. We’d make sure there were extra curricular activities where we could make new friends, I’d change our scheduling to focus more on each girl for longer stretches, and I’d devote one day per week to games and creativity. I’d do a lot of things differently, but we found a very interesting school in town, and so we’re going to give it a shot in the fall.

These days, homeschooling is bitter sweet. I know the end is in sight, for now anyway, so I’m trying to really enjoy the time we have, and I’m trying to relax more and make sure the girls enjoy each day. Part of me is also looking ahead to a life where my focus shifts again to other work, and finally an opportunity to focus on my writing in a fresh new way. There are lots of things unfolding here, and it feels right on so many levels.

This time with my children has been beautiful, and so valuable – as challenging as it has been rewarding. I’m so grateful that we tried this, and I hope that the next time we open the books on homeschooling, we’re living on a beach in Thailand.

Don’t be afraid to deviate from what you thought was the best plan. We’re meant to bend and stretch and grow, and something better always lies around the bend.

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Teaching Tortoise and Hare

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There are so many moments, like the one I’m having right now, where I sit at my desk in our cozy little classroom and I can’t believe my life. If you had told a twenty-two year-old me that I would be a stay-at-home mom who was homeschooling three kids in the middle of the country, I would have laughed. Sure, we have dreams that we’re working towards, but this really is some kind of Utopia I’m living in.

Homeschooling has proven to be an incredible challenge. There are days where I, and my pupils, have all cried in frustration. There are days where I can’t believe the immensity of the job. There are nights when I lay awake wondering if I’m doing right by our kids. Ultimately, I know that there are no other circumstances where they would receive such a quality, hands-on education, but it’s an enormous responsibility, and sometimes I shudder at the weight of it.

My daughters are opposites. This isn’t news to me, but applying this knowledge to our classroom has really proven to be my greatest challenge. Siblings, especially those close in age, are so naturally competitive.  I’ve found the girls continually trying to outdo each other, even though they are quite aware that they are in different grades. Their learning styles are so very different too, which is equal parts amazing and frustrating. Hannah, our ten-year-old is deliberate and careful and meticulous. She’s a gifted artist, and she spends vast quantities of time on a different plane, we think. This makes her very dreamy, romantic, and empathic. She’s a born nurturer and humanitarian, and her imagination is vivid and epic. As her teacher, my greatest challenge is drawing her back to the here-and-now, and keep her on point and focused. I also struggle to keep her working efficiently and completing her tasks in a timely manner. Ayla, our seven-year-old is whip-smart. She often grasps the concepts (particularly in maths) that I’m trying to teach her older sister long before Hannah does. She is wickedly funny, spirited, out-going and sassy. She’s the kid with the answer for EVERYTHING. My challenge with her is to keep her from getting bored, because that’s when she starts to get disruptive and naughty. She races through her work, often sacrificing neatness and care, and so I must always work to slow her down. If she doesn’t immediately grasp something, she gets lazy and frustrated and wants to skip on to the next thing to race through. You can imagine trying to balance both of these kids at one time is a bit mind-numbing. I don’t rightly know how teachers handle classes with multiple kids!

I forget sometimes the freedom that homeschooling, and my unique lifestyle offers. When I lean on these realities, great things can happen. Here’s how I’ve decided to approach my girls individual needs, and keep our classroom a happy, inspiring place.

I’ve turned our schedule on it’s ear. I’ve decided to work with one girl at a time, switching off between Monday and Thursday. The girl who isn’t in class spends the day “at work” with my man, who runs our family business from our home. The kid in the classroom gets a full day of one-on-one attention. This almost totally eliminates any issues of focus or behaviour. The kid “at work” learns all kinds of valuable skills, gets to contribute to our family business, and gets lots of one-on-one time with Daddy. We still do morning recess, lunch, lunch recess and afternoon snack together, and each working day ends at 3:00. Then the girls will do a household chore and relax into some screen-free playtime, as we try to only do screens on weekends.

This week was our first foray into the new schedule. I think I should mix it up, so they do get some time together, and so we can have some more opportunities for play, which I feel we may be lacking. Our new twist seems to be going very well. Once again, creativity and risk-taking prevails!

How do you handle difficult sibling dynamics?

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Creating a Space for Learning – Part 2

As promised, and long overdue, some photos of our homeschool classroom! You can see the ‘before’ photos at the bottom of this post from August. Thanks to all of the helping hands (Mamma S, Chacha, Nanna, and the girls) we’ve really got something special here! [three_fourth last=”no”]

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Mamma S is the reigning queen of the chalkboard drawing. This is her first, Ayla’s Math Squirrels.

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This is some of the bounty from our first nature walk in September, which happened in our own backyard!

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Re-purposed baker’s racks from our Toronto kitchen provide open shelving, complete with Noah-friendly toys.

We started out with a communal table, but now thanks to Nana, each of the girls has their own proper desk and chair.

We started out with a communal table, but now thanks to Nana, each of the girls has their own proper desk and chair.

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Lunch on our first day of school. We invited the nursery school to join us.

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Our nature table for the month of September.

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Creating a Space for Learning – Part One

How, how, how can we be approaching the end of August? I am so not ready to begin our homeschooling! I’m only halfway through familiarizing myself with the curriculum, and our classroom doesn’t exist! Thank god we have the freedom and flexibility of keeping to our own schedule!

I wanted to share some of the inspiration I found for our classroom space, and some of my ‘before’ photos with you. Our room was originally intended as a formal dining room, but we’ve never used it as such because we have such a lovely space in our kitchen where we can eat and look out over the field and forest. The dining room is lovely with gorgeous hardwood and a working fireplace, I just think the color is a bit dark and dramatic for a classroom. I’m hoping with some of Mama S’s talent we can transform it to a very soft parchment color. She’s game for this even though it took her something like ten coats of paint to get it the current deep red many moons ago. Once it’s painted, I just have to hang our black boards, and get everything unpacked and put away.

The room currently has a bit of overflow from the move – some extra furniture that doesn’t belong in there, and some musical instruments and photos from before we moved in. The plan is to empty the room of all of the things that don’t belong, take down everything on the walls, prime and paint, and then install the blackboards and our map of Canada. We don’t have a free weekend from here until god knows when so I really don’t know how this will get done. Somehow we always find a way, so I’m trying to stave off panic.

There are three educational styles that I love; Waldorf, Montessori and Reggio. All three focus on the whole child, and try to foster a passion for learning instead of ‘teaching to test’. All three also have some common ideas about classroom spaces that really make intuitive sense to me; everything should have a place and everything should be easily accessible by the children, each room should be looked at from a child’s perspective and created with their needs in mind, children should have access to the best quality materials and art supplies you can afford, children should be surrounded with as many natural materials as possible. Here are some images of classrooms that I love:

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And here are my ‘before’ shots of our own classroom:

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Wish me luck!

Create Great Theatre With Kids

A couple of weeks ago, I finally bit the bullet and took a crash course in driver’s ed. I was in class every day from Monday through Thursday from 9:00 until 2:30. I wanted to leave the girls with something engaging and fun to do, so I made a list of what I called ‘Boredom Busters’. 

The activity that most appealed to Hannu and Aylu was creating a play. Hannu has been devouring the McEldery Greek Mythology book, so I had the girls select a story and create a play complete with props and costumes that they would stage for our close friends and family. They chose the story of Arachne, who is turned into a spider after challenging the goddess Athena to a weaving competition.

It turned out that the girls eventually felt a little overwhelmed about committing Hannah’s sophisticated adaptation to memory, so I spent a couple of hours with them and worked through the story. When I broke the story down into parts in a “what happens next” series of questions, both girls knew almost all of the lines. We decided I would read the part of the narrator, to help out Hannah who already had three roles to portray.

They seriously blew my mind and we had so much fun with this. All I did was jog their memory and suggest some very basic staging. The rest is all their steam and attention to detail, and they were so proud and excited to present their creation. I’ve included a link to the very simple video we shot, but like all stage shows the real magic was in watching the live performance.

Some tips for creating theatre with children:

  • Let them choose a story that they are inspired by and excited about. Stick with classic tales from mythology and folklore because they tend to be very simply written. Have them create a ‘script’ based on the story.
  • Keep a well-stocked dress up box for your kids and replenish frequently with thrift store finds. Think beyond commercial characters and try to find costumes for classic characters and archetypes. Sometimes the ‘ethnic clothing’ section of a thrift store can be a gold mine!
  • Don’t hold them to memorizing lines. Instead, help them remember the story arc and the key characters. If they can re-tell the story to you, then they can create a play that brings the story from the page.
  • Encourage them to play multiple characters by changing simple costume pieces. It’s great fun for kids to explore the ways different characters move and speak.
  • Create pride in their work by having them make hand made invitations that they can issue to friends and family. Turn the play into an event they can look forward to.
  • Help them rehearse by working with them on annunciation, volume, and simple staging. Resist the urge to over-direct them or turn into a rabid ‘stage mom’. Prompt them to consider how lines might be delivered, or how their characters might feel about what is happening.
  • Get involved by helping with props, costumes, set design, but don’t take over. You’ll likely be amazed by the scope of your kids’ imagination!
  • Document the event. Make sure you get video so you can play these when your kid wins their first Tony or Oscar.

Why I Love Waldorf

Hannah and her wonderful teacher in front of the long house

Yesterday our family headed way, way up Bathurst Street to the Toronto Waldorf school where we took part in a ceremony with both the grade three class from our school (of ten kids) and their grade three class of thirty!

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Our kids had the opportunity to visit their northern buddies several times this year, and one of the projects they engaged in was building a long house (a long, low structure with walls lined with cedar boughs modeled on the traditional Iroquois family dwellings of the 17th century). The parents scheduled some time with their child and their teacher in this long house for an end-of-year ceremony, and then joined in on the potluck feast where we all brought fruit or veggies to compliment the epic amounts of pizza.

I’d heard lots about the Toronto Waldorf School, so I was really excited to check it out. The campus hosts a nursery school all the way through to grade twelve. They have a huge ravine, a vegetable garden, and a small farm with animals to tend. It was everything I expected, and I wanted to stay there.

A birds eye view of Toronto Waldorf School

For those of you who don’t know much about the Waldorf approach to education, here’s a brief overview about why I love it so much:

  • Each classroom is a community, and there is a strong focus on building and nurturing that community, and really sharing in the care for their classroom ‘home’.
  • The teachers are charged with integrating the curriculum across all levels and really injecting life and their own passion into it.
  • The focus is on encouraging children to develop their own thirst for knowledge, and to use their creativity at every turn. Children are taught how to think, not what to think.
  • The classroom environments are very serene and beautiful. Natural materials are used for furnishings and toys, they are free of excessive clutter, and the walls are even painted in particular colors to promote peace and harmony.
  • There is much focus on the importance of a relationship with nature. Students in younger grades get extensive outdoor playtime, regardless of the weather. Older students tend gardens, enjoy ravine walks, and in some cases tend animals. The cycles of the seasons are honored at every grade level.
  • Lessons are tailored to each students level and learning style with lots of individual support for any kids who need it.
  • Mythology plays an important role in the curriculum for all of the lower grades.
  • There is a ‘no media’ agreement that parents are asked to sign, pledging to keep the children from exposure to media during the school week. There are countless reasons why I think this is essential, but that feels like another blog post.
  • The children create all of their own lesson books, which are meticulously hand drawn and carefully crafted. Even math and science books are incredible works of art and precious keepsakes.
  • It’s a non-denominational environment, and even though some of the Rudolf Steiner (the founder of Waldorf Education) methods are rooted in Christianity, the schools work to integrate all faiths, and families of all configurations are welcome.
  • The grade one teacher typically carries their class all the way through to grade eight. A mindful meditative practice, where they hold each child in their hearts and minds is part of their teacher training.
  • Only nutritious foods are permitted for lunches and celebrations.

Tuition isn’t cheap, but there are now public schools popping up who are modeling their approach on Waldorf, and of course there’s homeschooling for those of you who can invest that time and energy.

Our ceremony yesterday was beautiful. Hannah’s teacher is unbelievably awesome, and it’s really breaking my heart to take her away from that class. Her teacher has so much love for her, and her reflections during the ceremony were so thoughtful and specific to Hannah. She shows such care and consideration in all she does. I really hope we can stay in touch, because she’s a completely inspiring woman.

It’s hard to believe we won’t be seeing all of the children and parents we’ve really come to love. I hope our path will lead us back to Waldorf because I so badly want Noah to benefit from this incredible environment and method the way his older sisters have, and I’d love to see the girls carry on through high school. Every time I’m in a Waldorf school, even our tiny one here downtown, it just feels magical.

Maybe I’ll just need to get a job at a Waldorf school so we have one more good reason to head back in that direction.

I’ve attached a video that I found a while back which distills the Waldorf approach quite beautifully.

 

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Making Our Beds

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This past weekend, we ran away from the city to begin work on our vegetable garden at the Niagara house. Our goal was to build four raised beds – three for veggies and one for cut flowers – using this tutorial from the awesome Pioneer Woman blog. We packed up the car and a small mountain of laundry (our city dryer has been broken for over a month and it’s hard to keep up with the laundry demands of six people) and we set out at seven p.m. which is the time to travel on the Friday of a long weekend.

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Saturday was a late start. I needed the extra sleep, because the Noodle has taken to waking as of 2:30 each morning, and then every hour or so after that. At first, he was just interested in eating during these waking moments, but now he’s into trying out all of his new moves; scooting, crawling, sitting up, standing, all with his eyes closed and mostly still asleep. Thankfully, on Saturday he was into sleeping in, and when he was done, extra hands made it possible for me to get a little bit of extra rest. After a leisurely breakfast, Nekky and I set out for the Home Depot at around noon, while Mamma S stayed behind to tackle the epic chore of lawn mowing. Both adventures turned out to be day-long investments.

The finished product

The finished product

Nekky and I took Noodle with us because he’s a fussy monkey these days. His little teeth are ready to burst forth, and he can fight a nap with UFC flair. Once he was secured in his car seat, he was k.o’d and remained that way for the two hour duration of our Home Depot visit, where he slept in a cart, still in his car seat. He really must be a man’s man (whatever the hell that means) because the smell of sawdust and paint and dudes really lulled him into deep sleep. Not even my stacks of garlic and onion bulbs disturbed him from his reverie. Also, if you want to see cute, take a wee baby to a hardware store. Even the burliest men were cooing at him, and straining to get a look inside the cart to watch him sleep.

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We cut down on some material costs by choosing untreated fir over cedar or pine, and we’ll be sealing it with an Eco wood treatment. Our real surprise came in seeing just how much wood we ended up with. There was no way it was fitting in the car, so we had to rent a Home Depot van to drive it back to the house, ten minutes away.

Of course the baby’s car seat wouldn’t work in the cargo van, so I hung behind with the Noodle, who was still out. I grabbed myself lunch at Subway, and got three quarters of the way through it before the baby woke up, all smiles and game show host charm for the seniors lunching around me. Man this baby can work a room!

He can also work his shorts, and so after I finished lunch, we wheeled back into the Depot for a bum change and some boobie. By now we were on a first name basis with the staff, who were all happy to see the awake Noodle, riding in the cart like a pageant queen on a pride float, clapping his hands and squawking with glee. (Our baby is so happy to have everyone’s eyes on him. I don’t know where he gets that from.) The restroom was kitted out with a big comfy leather chair so we had more privacy than the patio furniture section afforded – this is where I’d scoped out some breast feeding real estate earlier.

After Noodle’s snack we waited for daddy (and Ayla, who decided to come for phase two of the shopping excursion, which was Costco) in the garden centre. Noodle loves flowers, birds and old ladies and all were plentiful in the garden centre.

So, yes we tackled both Home Depot and Costco on a long weekend Saturday and lived to tell the tale. Needless to say, not much building got done on day one, though us three parents ran outside after dinner to take advantage of the waning sunlight and cooler temperatures. We got quite a lot of the more tedious stuff knocked out too – measuring and drilling pilot holes and such. There was also some beer drinking, which we all know is essential to any home improvement project.

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Sunday was building day, for real. We got a much earlier start and got a lot of work done before noon, when the sun became unforgiving. There isn’t a lot of shade at the Niagara house, so our veggies will be happy, but us laborers were not. Coconut water has become a staple for us and the kids. It’s a greater source of electrolytes than those sports drinks, and it’s delicious, especially with vodka and a twist of lime. No, the kids don’t get vodka.

We took a break for lunch, and then hit Home Depot again, because one trip is NEVER enough, no matter how thorough you think you’ve been. After lunch I got to learn how to use a jigsaw (terrifying) and a drill. Yes, it’s true, I’ve barely used power tools. I’m more of a sanding, staining, finishing, painting kind of worker bee. I’m also really good about planning, and I quite like being the foreman.

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I’m very pleased with the results of our efforts. Lulu got in there and worked with daddy, and was very proud of herself. She was also thrilled when I pointed out that she’d been in homeschool wood working class all day.

Next we’ll need to seal the beds and line them with landscaping fabric, then order dirt and compost and get planting. I can’t wait to get my hands in there and plant our little seeds. I’ve never attempted a vegetable garden before, so I have no idea how successful this project will be, but it’s really been wonderful working together towards a common goal.
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