Tuesday, September 29, 2009

On the Shelves - September

I have been meaning all month to take close-up, tidy pictures of what's on the shelves in our learning area. Well, there are but a few hours left of the month, and I have yet to do it. So, instead of taking the time to take and upload such photos, I am simply going to record what's been on the shelves for the past few weeks for the kids to explore.

Mind you, when I say explore, I mean it. For although the items and activities were put out with Montesorri-inspired intentions, over the course of the month, they have been used in a much "free-er" way, being combined and transformed into all manner of things - from clothespin unicycles to elaborate structures to circus train set ups. Also, there have been occassional additions and substitutions of items, and, of course, much learning not tied to this area (everything from a picture study of Mary Cassatt works, to an introduction to the composer Vivaldi, to lots of outdoor exploration and adventure, to cooking and cleaning, to free play and what it brings about...) The beauty of homeschooling is that it is limitless in many ways. All of life is a learning opportunity!

What a joy it has been to witness Luke and Nina create their own learning this past month throughout the course of our days. And, how intriguing it has been to witness them create such unique learning experiences with such simple things as were found on our learning shelves in recent weeks, such as the following:

Montessori-Inspired Shelves

- Sensorial: Stacking Cups
- Mathematics: Two-Piece Puzzles
- Religion: Various Library Books about Saints
- Practical Life: Cleaning Caddy (Spray Bottle, Cloths)
- Practical Life: Button Jar
- Practical Life: Basket of Purses, Small Bags, Etc. with Various Closures
- Practical Life: Basket of Matching Fabric Squares, Clothespins and Clotheslin

- Language (Pre-Writing)/Mathematics: Cubes and Cards
- Mathematics: Melissa and Doug Pattern Block Puzzle
- Language: Leap Frog Spell & Match
- Sensorial: Color Matching Cards
- Practical Life: Wooden Bowls, Puff Balls and Nutcracker for Tonging/Transferring
- Mathematics/Practical Life: Clothespins and Number Cards
- Language: Foam Letters and Letter Mat
- Practical Life: Star-Punched Cards and Chenille Strings for Lacing
- Sensorial/Mathematics: Blocks

Special Interest Shelves

Read Alouds: The Little Engine that Could, Down by the Station, Farmyard Tales ABC Book, Eric Carle Number Book

Train Tracks and Trains

Coloring, etc.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

No Longer a Tourist

Wow! Is September nearly over? Did I really begin a new effort at more consistent and intentional homeschooling this month? If so, why didn’t I share more about the passage here? Well, I guess it was because I was too busy taking part in our journey to stop and journal about it... It seems I was taking the kids lead by casting away my tendency to be a homeschool “tourist”, becoming a “traveler” instead.

What do I mean? Well, Luke and Nina are toddlers. By their very nature, they explore each moment with great gusto and every experience with a keen sense of detail and wonder. They look about at what surrounds them and choose to observe or participate as the spirit moves them. They immerse themselves in whatever is happening, unsure of where they are going, but happy to see whatever they are seeing.

And me? Well, I am an adult. Jaded, I might say, by “supposed to’s” and “could do’s” Swayed by “you should really do’s”. Tempted by teasing pictures of perfect moments and lists of “what’s hot”. Too often, seeking elusive “best of’s”, instead of simply seeing – and enjoying – “what is’s”

Someone named Gilbert K. Chesterson once said, that “the traveler sees what he sees, (while) the tourist sees what he has come to see.” I admit it: My children see what they see. I, on the other hand, often am hampered by more narrow vision...

For nearly three years now, my husband Mike and I have felt called to homeschool our children. In that time, I have been reluctant to heed the call and to fully immerse myself into the Land of Homeschooling. Instead, at first, I sat safely at the sidelines as a bit of an armchair traveler, reading books, researching homeschool curriculums and styles, thinking and praying, talking with those who currently homeschool, who wished to homeschool and who had given up homeschooling... I collected maps of ideas, compiled hit lists of things to do, even went on fanciful trips in my mind, imagining what the true adventure would be like.

Then, somewhat prepared, I became a true tourist. I made quick, planned jaunts to take in a site or two. A yahoogroup discussion here, a local homeschool group there. I even dabbled, now and again, at actually getting lost in Homeschool Land on occassion, crossing over the line of what most folks would call mere “active parenting” into purposefully providing “provocations” for learning and exploration that echoed of Reggio-inspiration, or “following my children” by providing Montessori-based learning experiences for them, and even knocking off a curriculum map by dabbling in literature-based unit studies. In short, I “did” a lot but remained a bit unsure of where I’d truly been. And, yet, somehow, I still thought I knew where I was going... Indeed, I became a classic tourist as defined by a man named Paul Theroux, who is oft quoted when folks abroad (folks like I once literally was in my pre-marriage-and-kids days) debate the difference between “traveler” and “tourist”. “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”

Fast forward to today... Well, I hardly feel that I have crossed all the t’s on our packing lists, nor dotted all the i’s on our itinerary, and, yet, I have been traveling mostly happily in Homeschool Land with my children for the past few weeks. Please note, here, I did, indeed say “traveling”, not “touristing”. For, it seems, without meaning to, I cast aside my lists and plans for the most part and simply became absorbed in each day. I made the crossover from being a homeschooling “tourist”, who simply buzzes through a fistful of earmarked activities, to being a homeschool “traveler”, who makes a slower journey, embracing opportunities that come up along the way, which add depth and flavor -- experience. Yes, I have pushed aside the armchair and tossed aside the tips that were narrowing my vision. And, in doing so, I have discovered a great journey is underway.

Can I promise that I will keep traveling with the children each day from here on out? I’d like to. But, I cannot. Undoubtedly, I will sometimes retreat to the comfort of well-trod paths and carefully planned whirlwind tours. Yet, for the most part, I hope I will remain a traveler, enjoying the gift my children give me – the gift of learning to travel with them, seeing what they see.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The First Step – Where I Stood

I stayed up the other night with the intention of fully preparing for the September 1st kick off of Jammies School. For weeks – even months, maybe a year – I had had increasingly specific ideas in my head about what our curriculum, daily rhythm and environment might look like. I had even begun, in fits and starts, working on it all. But, all too often, I got overwhelmed. Thus, after getting the kids to sleep the other night, I stayed awake with three main intentions:

(1) Put down in words a streamlined plan for the start of Jammies School, deciding which main “subjects” and focus areas I could honestly keep up with on a daily basis.
(2) Make a basket of learning activities for the kids – especially Luke – to work with me on during a dedicated morning preschool time.
(3) Transition our office/classroom into a “new” room by better “preparing the environment” through clearing away all the clutter that has collected in parts of the room, changing out some of the activities and games on the shelves and, generally making it more “Montessori”.

By doing these three things, I hoped to take a solid first step into a more official home-preschooling journey. But, before my figurative foot even hit the path, I felt overwhelmed, and, then, distracted... Instead of taking the step, in practice, I began thinking about it in theory. The olds adage, “a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step” kept repeating itself in my mind. Who said that anyway? I thought to myself.

A quick google search later, I knew Lao-tzu was the quote’s original source. I also discovered something interesting on the quotationspage.com. Michael Moncur was credited as saying:

Although (a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step) is the popular form of the quotation, a more correct translation from the original Chinese would be “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet” Rather than emphasizing the first step, Lau Tzu regarded action as something that arises naturally from stillness. Another potential phrasing would be "Even the longest journey must begin where you stand."

This struck me. Through the words of an ancient Taoist philosopher, the Holy Spirit seemed to converse with me about the step I needed to make that night. He guided me to change the course of the first day of Jammies School. Our conversation went something like this:

What is beneath your feet? What grounds you?
-Faith in God.

Where can you find stillness?
-Certainly not in scurrying about all night preparing activities nor in staying up too many more hours lost in some vortex of thought, planning and overwhelming intentions. Rather, I can find it in prayer as I go to sleep and in standing firm against my habit of busyness when I awake. Instead of continually trying to take and maintain control, I can let go a bit more. I can seek moments of stillness – of peace and joy – where I usually find them: in nature, in creative reflection, in being present with my children for play and for impromptu discoveries and, of course, in prayer.

Where do you stand?
-In need of letting go and letting God, of quieting my mind and listening to my heart, of letting less be more.

And, so the discussion sunk in. I heard and chose to listen. I decided to finally turn off my computer, walk away from my self-directed to-do list and quiet my mind before sleep. I realized there would be no “Grand Opening” of Jammies School. Rather, there would be quiet prayer until I fell asleep that night and a simple focus on faith the following day. I would find stillness through offering to God more dedicated “simple” time with my children as Jammies School opened. I would stand on the firm ground, knowing that if I abided by the tranquility of the day, the action of learning would naturally arise. In stillness, not in a final push of preparation, I rested knowing the journey was already underway.

The result? More peacefulness. Some learning (on the kids’ part and on my own.) Lots of creativity. A balanced flow. And, a grateful heart as I go to sleep this evening.

Our journey is underway and will continue – with God’s good grace – from where we stand.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jammies School - Part Two

The name “Jammy School” was conceived one day when I was sending pictures to Nana and Papa of their grandchildren at “work”. As I uploaded the photos, I realized the kids were in their jammies in many of them. It occurred to me, then, that the natural flow of our mornings often included impromptu lessons while Nina and Luke were still in their p.j.’s. So, I referred to the set of photographs as “Jammy School”.

Later, as I was thinking about developing a more formal pre-K experience for the kids, I realized that my youngest had just enjoyed a spontaneous lesson on colors and one-to-one correspondence by matching Silly Pin bowling pins with corresponding color cards from a defunct Candyland game while my eldest snoozed away in his room, gratefully catching up on sleep after several late nights of celebrating summer festivities. Immediately, I found myself thanking God for the blessing of being together most mornings without the rush of having someplace to be fifteen-minutes-ago.

Upon further reflection, I realized that as long as I am not too vigilant about sticking to self-set schedules, and provided that I remember not to commit to too many outside activities, our little family can continue to relish the flexibility of comfortably attending to growth of mind, body and spirit in an unhurried atmosphere. In fact, regardless of how we are clad, we can fortify our faith by offering all of our daily activities – educational and otherwise – up to God, trusting that he will provide not only the means with which to attend to them, but the time in which to do it all. All we need to do is obey his commands and welcome the natural rhythms He has blessed us with.

And, thus, the name of our family preschool was set: Jammies School. This name honors the blessing of being afforded time to relax together in our p.j.’s most mornings. It also reminds me that our preschool teaching and learning need not be as regimented and carefully planned as my Type A, teacher-trained brain often thinks it must be. True learning can – and does! – happen in our jammies. In letting go and letting God more often, I will truly be able to train up our children in the way they should go.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Jammies School – Part One

Oh no, I dawdled half-dreaming in bed too long again! The school bus just drove by. But, I know, if I hurry, I can catch it on its way back out of my neighborhood. So, I run to the kitchen table, gobble down my breakfast, pop my vitamin, race to the bathroom, swish a toothbrush ‘round my teeth and grab my knapsack. I’m out the door in minutes flat - just in time to wave down my oh-so-kind bus driver, who willingly makes an extra stop right at the end of our front walkway.

Whew! I made it. With a deep sigh, I settle into one of the few seats left on the bus. Just as I sink into its green vinyl, a giggle punctuates the general din of morning chatter on the bus. A guffaw chimes in. Finally, a wave of full-blown laughter erupts. I don’t get it... “She’s wearing her pajamas!” a boy shouts and points directly at me. I look down. Oh no! It seems, in my rush to get to school, I forgot to change. How humiliating!

This never really happened to me. However, with the number of times I raced to catch the bus on its way back out of my childhood neighborhood, I often feared it would. And, believe it or not, I still have “nightmares” about this very occurrence in its different variations. Indeed, over the years, a horrified dream-me has shown up not only to school, but also to work, the airport, interviews, appointments – you name it – in jammies. The fear of turning up somewhere in my pajamas runs deep...

Such will never be the case for my children, I hope! And not just because with today’s fashion sense, pajamas and street clothes have become somewhat synonymous. No, rather than teach my kids that it is cool to romp around in public in p.j.’s, I hope to simply offer them an opportunity to grow – in mind, body and spirit – unhurried here at home. Indeed, my husband and I aim to take God’s call to be our children’s first teachers quite seriously -- not so seriously, however that we cannot attend to it, comfy and relaxed, in our jammies. Thus, the name of our home-preschool: Jammies School!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why This Journey?

“What do you do?” a friend’s business partner asks my husband one day.

“Where are you sending him to preschool?” asks the mom of a child that my son started playing with at the local playground on another day.

“Live well.” “In the way he should go.” We’d like to answer, but, we don’t. We play the small talk game, with my husband summing up what he does for work and me explaining that I will be home-preschooling my children. My husband’s answer satisfies his inquirer. Mine results in raised eyebrows and a dropped jaw. “Oooooh...” Very little further conversation ensues.

Both exchanges leave us questioning: Shouldn’t we be defined by more than what we do for a job? Shouldn’t teaching one’s own children be acceptable? Isn’t there something greater to life than “rat races” and school systems? Indeed, we believe so. And, that is the very reason we have chosen to journey on some of today’s less traveled upon paths.

In doing so, we hope to make a difference in our children’s lives – both here and in the hereafter. We aim to define ourselves as followers of the unique characteristics that God has placed within each of our hearts. We seek to learn more about our own temperaments and talents. We desire to honor our Creator through training ourselves to think, inquire and trust. In short, we want to discover what we are supposed to learn and live how we are meant to live so that we might most fully receive God’s grace in Heaven at the end of our journey.

So, all niceties aside: What do we do? We live well – or as well as we can despite our own flaws and faux pas. And, where will we send our son – and our daughter for that matter – to preschool? In the way they should go, with hearts that know Jesus, right here within our own domestic church.

How will it turn out? With lots of love, laughter and learning along the way, we hope. And, a fair share of bumps, bruises and unforeseen bends in the road, we don’t doubt. Whatever the case, we’ll journal it here and welcome anyone who wants to share a bit with us to join us in the journey whenever you wish.


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