Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Rhythm

School years have rhythms.

In the seven schools all over Oregon I have worked in over the last 13 years, they have all had the same rhythm. First month, September, is all about procedures. How to sharpen your pencil, go to the bathroom, wash your hands for lunch, check out books from the library, fire drills, earthquake drills, emergency drills... Not that there is no learning going on, it's just secondary to learning how to function in this little community called a classroom.

From October to December it is a run through the holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, even at the high school level. Halloween is the study of skeletons, spiders, the human body. November studies fall, Pilgrims, early American history, and Native Americans. December is all about Santa (don't mention Jesus.) The months have holiday breaks in them that disrupt the flow of learning so that the learning has to center around the holidays. This is less evident at the higher levels, but still there.

From January to March the real learning occurs. No major holidays. No vacations. Sometimes you get your federally mandated standardized testing in there to muck things up, but even that usually only takes a week and the kids certainly don't get excited about it.

After Spring Break is a sprint to the end of the year. Anything that didn't get learned yet has to get done NOW! We haven't studied adjectives yet! Australia! Analogies! Cold deserts! The Mayans! On top of that are the end of the year festivities--field day, spring concerts, science fairs, sing-alongs. And on top of that you have a tired, cabin fevered, hormonal student body (throw the teachers in there, too) that CAN'T WAIT 'TIL SUMMER! Even if they are bored with summer a week in, it's the frenzy to get there. Trips to the principal's office increase, pranks, friendship dramas, fights. It's a wild and wooly time of year. The last week of school everyone just simply looses their heads.

Homeschooling is different, of course, but has the same kinds of rhythms, though muted. We are winding down, finishing up our books, thinking of what we can do when the books run out but the school year hasn't. The thoughts run towards summer--horse camp, OMSI science camp, theater camp, camping trips, relatives visiting, summer parties. The hormones are charged, the lack of other people about during the day rankles more, the arguing has either increased or is bothering me more, tempers flair, schoolwork is harder to produce.

I'm ready to do something different.

My friend who homeschooled said that they took the spring off and schooled summers instead. Another friend of mine said that his kids homeschooled year round, no holidays because everything was so fun or something.

We are taking the summer off, for sure, although all the camps going around have a good deal of learning in them. We have about a month of our math and Latin books left, but about two months of school to go. Since Mi'ita is considering going back to school in the fall, I'm considering hitting her official 4th grade math book to see if there is anything she needs to cover before 5th grade starts. And she can switch to Greek when Latin gives out or learn a bit of cursive that she has refused to learn all year. Or maybe I'll let her set up her own learning agenda.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

It's April 8th!

Mi'ita burst out of bed this morning saying, "It's April 8th!" My husband and I stared at her.

"Why is that a big deal?" he ventured.

"I get my candy today! And we get to go out for ice cream!"

Ahhhh. Remember when we got back from Vietnam and Thailand I said that we had been out to eat three meals a day and had ice cream and soda pop daily. I told Mi'ita that we would have nothing bad to eat for one month solid, kind of like a late (and shorter) Lent. We got back March 8th. I also told Mi'ita that if she exercised an hour a day every single day all month we would go out for a triple banana split sundae with all the toppings.

Yesterday Mi'ita actually exercised three hours--horseback riding, ballet, and swimming, and she got almost all her work done, too (she has to do double writing today because we missed that.) Although we did miss a couple days of exercise this month, she doubled up enough days that we are going out for our triple banana split sundae with all the toppings. God help us. Or her, that is. I'm not going to have one!

So how did this month go? Were we able to eat healthy for a month?

Nope. The United States is set up for failure in that regard. I laud Michelle Obama for her efforts to get our children healthy, but we are going to have to do some major structural and societal shifts to make it happen.

Our downfalls? Well...Mi'ita was invited to two birthday parties this month. I could have just said that she couldn't go, but I didn't. Could a kid go to a birthday party and not eat cake and ice cream? Nope. She ate. I didn't--adults have more leeway. Both times she came home with a sack of candy to boot. I confiscated the candy, promising she could have it on April 8th. One stash she found and ate on the sly. The other stash made it.

And Easter. Ever heard of Easter without jelly beans or chocolate bunnies? She actually had one, and was cranky about it. Our bunny hid cash inside of those eggs. She made a haul, too, with $30.86 that she hasn't spent yet but is dying to. I called the Easter Bunny and so no candy whatsoever, but he (she?) had pity on her and brought four eggs with peeps in them. Four peeps! Nothing else, though. But...she had friends over, two sets, that both brought their candy to share. I confiscated three bags of jellybeans for April 8th, but I know some candy got down her throat.

Three major sugar events in one month! We're doomed, all of us, and we will have to roll to hell because we'll be too fat to walk.

Was that it? Nope. There were the few days that we were on the road and had to eat out, probably 3 or 4 times this month. My husband has a hankering for desserts, too. He was mostly supportive, but figured that after dinner Jiffy muffins don't count. They may not be candy, but highly refined they are. And we had a new neighbor move in next door. To be neighborly, we made snickerdoodles to welcome him in. And some burned. So we ate them.

Snickerdoodles, Jiffy muffins, pizza, jellybeans, pinata candy, cake, ice cream, and M&M geography on occasion. And we were trying hard. Our children's lives revolve around getting candy.

That said, we ate very healthy for almost every meal. Salads, eggplant curry, lean elk meat, omelets without cheese, lots of fruits and vegetables. We actually went into the doctor last week (Mi'ita's eyes were bothering her) and she had lost weight. She was down 7 pounds from our pre-trip weight, and the same weight she was a year ago. Losing weight? I don't like the idea of children losing weight, really. If they have a weight problem, mostly they are encouraged to cease the weight gain until their height catches up to their weight unless they are severely obese, and Mi'ita is not. But we weren't trying to lose weight, and she still looks good and has lots of kid energy, so I guess it's fine.

So, today's April 8th. I gave her all her confiscated candy after breakfast. Three bags of jellybeans; two huge chocolate hearts; and a bag of gummy worms, cockroach clusters, sugar quills, and such. After lunch we'll go out for ice cream--a triple banana split sundae with all the toppings.

Should I make her eat them over several days or dole them out somehow? I'm experimenting. I think she will either get sick of it and stop naturally or get sick, literally. Maybe she'll learn something about eating too much candy. You hear all the time about how too much candy makes you sick, but it may not sink in until you get the full effects yourself.

Hang on! It's going to be a wild ride!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Time limits

Mi'ita gets distracted, especially when she is doing what she doesn't want to be doing. Since she is such a contrarian, anything I ask her to do is what she doesn't want to do (a good argument for unschooling if I have ever heard one.)

I could leave Mi'ita with three things to do (always math, Latin, and writing) which would take me less than an hour. Sometimes we sit together and do them and sometimes it indeed takes less than an hour. Sometimes I leave her to it and do my own thing, either by her request or because I have my own thing to do. And once again sometimes she gets it all done no problem. If she is feeling contrary though, which is often, she can diddle around and get nothing done forever. Read a book, work on some art, play with her legos, read Snopes (a very cool website that debunks urban legends), write in Greek, watch her new tadpole or old lizard, sneak onto her computer games...or just plain argue with me if I sit with her trying to get her to do it.

I try very hard not to get trapped into arguing with her. She can be downright rude, though, and I need to address that...which traps me into a discussion I didn't want to have. Argh!

I've taken to setting the timer. We agree on a time limit (less than what she wants, more than I think it should really take) and I set the timer. If she is not done with the assignment I double it. Sometimes. If she is working hard and is almost done, I give her five more minutes. If she is doodling on the edges of her math, I double it. She doesn't like it at all--I get more arguments out of her, but I don't need to talk at this point other than tell her that her time is ticking.

It works. She gets her three required subjects done in a day.

If I didn't have a husband with his own opinions, though, I'd be very tempted at this point to unschool. Yesterday I set her with her math, Latin, and writing to do while I did my yoga. When I came back she had spent two hours reading about Lewis and Clark from multiple sources on the web and typing up a report on them, including pictures and a bibliography. She didn't get her math or Latin done, but was I going to punish her for this? No, I simply let her finish working on her report and then started her on her math and Latin. Also, she has been working on a model kit of the Parthenon and learning Greek on the side. She hasn't had time to work on this because she diddles around when she is supposed to be doing math, Latin, and writing.

Is Latin more important than Greek? Of course not, but if she skips around and dabbles in language after language, she will never learn one well, right? So I said that she had to stick with one for two years, and she picked Latin herself! I question myself constantly on the logic of all this. I like to dabble around in languages myself, which is the study of linguistics rather than the study of a language.