Sunday, September 28, 2008

One Of These Moms is Not Like The Others

I sometimes forget that I am the odd one in a room. Many of my opinions and beliefs do not gel with the popular masses, and I am completely cool with that. In that vein, since most people around me are similarly minded (at the very least, respectful of the choices I make) I am often surprised by what I hear when out and about.

I took Izzy to dance class this weekend. I was dying to see her dance. She talks about it all week long, begging to go back. I met her teachers, fellow classmates and the dance moms. There was the mom yelling through the glass at her 3 year old for forgetting the moves they had practiced so faithfully. There was the pack of competitive moms, attempting to garner sympathy from one another over the wicked schedules their preschoolers had. I mean I could barely refrain from sneering or rolling my eyes. These kids (at least two of whom attend full day preschool) are being dragged from ballet and jazz to swimming lessons, gymnastics, skating lessons...etc. I mean really, does society really need such well rounded toddlers?

These moms were stressed and frazzled. They complained of fatigue, exorbitant costs and less than cooperative children. I mean, come on. Am I the only one who finds this absurd? Sure my kids do a lot of activities but we don't do school so we can take part in many activities and still have plenty of down time.

Sometimes I feel so out of place.

Friday, September 26, 2008

...because it's funny

I think this is fundamentally why Rob and I are so compatible. We have the same appreciation for all things twisted and bizarre. Though completely unintentional, Alex offered up something morbidly funny...and his parents couldn't have been more amused.

The theme in art class this week was portraits. The teacher gave the class a great lesson on how to draw a human face. Heck, I learned a lot. The kids were given water-colour crayons that you brush with water after you finish drawing. Alex decided that his person should have red skin. He started colouring in the face, between the eyes, and then lost interest pretty quickly. Before I knew it, he declared it was finished.

He hasn't quite figured out why all the adults laugh when they see the painting. Thankfully he is still innocent enough not to realize that he painted something that can be construed as a person who met up with a quick and terrible demise.

What can I say, Rob and I couldn't be prouder. Is that wrong? LOL!

We have no will power...

We usually don't, not when it involves our favorite thing in the world, books. Yesterday we went into the city to pick up Rob and head over to that big toy warehouse that is only open from September until Christmas. Beyond a few things for babies, it is mostly junk with a few key exceptions - tons of Crayola art stuff and books, books, books!

I found a few box sets but passed this time around. I already have several with Harry Potter and the Spiderwick Chronicles to work through next. Instead we went nuts for the science and nature material. Little books, usually a buck or two, put out by Readers Digest or DK Books that are perfect for the kids. We must have been a funny sight. Rob holding open a big red bag as we all grab and holler to one another, "Did someone grab this volcano book yet? How about mammals? Or this one on spiders? Nocturnal creatures, anyone?"

Two giants stacks later it was time to force ourselves out. Alex was so cute. He didn't even realize they were all for us. His eyes lit up and smiled brightly when he found out we were taking them home. I think we have successfully passed on our addiction to the kids.

Only one draw back though, eventually I will run out of places to put more bookcases.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Happy Autumnal Equinox!

It might as well be Christmas as far as I am concerned. Today is officially the first day of Fall. I love it! Technically it's one of the two days when the Sun will spend a nearly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on Earth and night and day will be of nearly the same length. To me it is the start of the best season of them all. I wait all year for colourful autumn leaves, warm fuzzy sweaters, hot apple cider, homemade bread and comfort casseroles, pumpkin patches, Halloween and Thanksgiving. Heaven!

We wanted to start it off right so we went apple picking this morning at a local orchard. We filled our 15lb bag with about 8 different varieties.

It was a nearly perfect morning. We could only lament the absence of friends who were to join us but had fallen ill with that dreadful cold and flu that is going around. It was our first trip to a pick-your-own orchard.

The weather was fantastic. Just cool enough for sweaters but bright and sunny. We brought our compass so I could do an impromptu lesson about the equinox with the kids. Alex has been trying to get the hang of directions (left/right, cardinal points) so I thought this would be fun. It’s only on the spring and autumnal equinox that the Sun rises due east and sets due west.

We've chopped up half of our haul and have it warming in the crockpot for applesauce. Should be yummy with the baked ham tonight. We'll peel a few more for dessert too - apple crumble with ice cream. A very satisfying end to a lovely day.

Friday, September 19, 2008


I love the Royal Ontario Museum. It is one of those places that just make us happy. Back when we lived in Toronto we had a family membership we would go at least twice a month or sometimes more, especially in the dead of winter. We didn't have a great morning and by noon I knew we just needed to blow off to the city for some fun. Since we hadn't been back to the ROM since last Christmas and had a few free passes on hand, we figured what the heck.

I knew I had a kindred spirit in Alex. We could spend hours mulling over artifacts together. Every collection fascinating in their own way. We have our favorites, of course. The dinosaur and early mammal area is a real treat. I feel like a little kid standing next to these beautiful giants. Egypt is another favorite. That collection spun off a lot of unit-study type activities for us a year ago. Alex spent months obsessed with all things Egyptian. He learned how to write his name in hieroglyphics. He learned how to make a mummy (and experimented with an apple). He has touched on the geography, language and history of this period. It was real meaty stuff and a lot of fun.

Today was special for me in another way. I got to experience the ROM with Izzy in a way that I couldn't when she was younger. I never give this kid enough credit. It's almost like she just tags along for the ride and picks up scraps along the way. Today she wanted to know the names of the dinosaurs and what they ate. We studied the honey bees together. She spent a half hour at a computer and listened to bird calls while I read her the species names. Better than that, she actually took the computer and moved the cursor with the mouse to the sound icon and made it work all on her own. No help from me, thank you very much.

When your first child is quite precocious and verbal you stand up and take notice right away. Then you spend an awful lot of time enriching their environment and presenting new material to keep them going. I've told friends that the difference in parenting these two kids can be best summed up this way. When Alex was born I was constantly reading the baby books, waiting for him to reach the next milestone. By the time Izzy came around I had given most of the books away and whenever she reached a milestone I was caught completely off-guard and convinced it was much to soon to have done (X, Y or Z)...wasn't it? This is what homeschooling is like for us. Alex and I could see a milestone coming, like reading, and we worked towards it. Not fanatically or anything. Just that there was an awareness and eagerness to see it all coming together. Izzy can learn to count to 20 and I'll be like, huh, you knew that?! Actually she can count to 11 but continues on to 20 in a very funny way. She always stops at 20 though.

It really was a lot of fun today. After work, Rob joined us and we went to our favourite noodle place and browsed a few used book stores. So it wound up being pretty perfect day in the end.

Fevers, er...Beavers!

For some reason Izzy can't grasp that the group Alex belongs to is called Beavers. She is completely convinced it is Fevers. Also, because she got a new outfit for dance and then Alex got a special outfit for Beavers, she thinks his must involve dancing too. She really gets me laughing when she talks about Alex's dance Fevers. This is the wonderful logic of a two year old.

Alex did well in his first group meeting. Parents had to stay and be read the rules & regulations by the leaders. He had fun. I heard him laughing and running around the room next door. The only minor issues were lack of previous knowledge of ceremonies and songs. He hates not knowing what is going on and will fudge his way through it. I could see him frustrated, trying to sing along with a well known song, following a word or two behind. Fatigue was a problem partly because bedtime is usually around 7pm and Beavers run a bit later than that and, additionally, he was really excited about Beavers and worked himself up all day long. Then there was the bizarre, irrational fear that he was going to get homework, lol. We've signed up for a lot of classes this year and he thought Beavers was a class. Plus a lot of his buddies are stuck doing homework at night.

I think he is going to really enjoy it. The activities they are participating in are right up his alley. He has already bonded with a few of the boys and one his neighbourhood friends is in the group too. Should be a great year!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Well Rounded Kids

Posting about the kids art class got me thinking. I love art but really wouldn't call myself artistic. I love music but can't sing at all (Rob's says it isn't truly tone-deafness just a genuine lack of talent...nice guy, eh? LOL).

So, I've started asking myself the question, what will make the kids well-rounded and how much effort should I really put into it? By that I mean what will I really require my kids to pursue and to what degree.

I an a big proponent of child-led learning. I am also of the opinion that a variety oft ideas, situations and opportunities must come across the path of these homeschooled children - and that rarely happens spontaneously.

The arts are very important to me. I think good music and art are food for the soul. I would like to help them acquire an appreciation and understanding, to whatever level they choose. There will be music lessons, art classes and trips to concerts and museums.

Physical education is a no-brainer but we do not go about this in the way schools do. Or at least did, back in my day. Alex isn't big on group sports. He gets a little over excited and his attention span wanes quickly. He also does not have a competitive spirit. He has shown an interest in tennis, and (hopefully) will take it up next summer with Rob. He runs, swims, hikes and dances. Izzy is more interested in group sports. She loves the to work out the rules of the game. She loves that everyone has a part. So we'll find homeschool gym classes, take swim lessons and hopefully teach the kids how to skate. Whatever they do, I just want to see them carry it forward to adulthood. Good physical health habits will stay with them for life.

I want to give them opportunities to try out things they like. It wouldn't hurt to have them try out new experiences, even those they aren't necessarily drawn to.

It's a Tree in Autumn!

That is what our neighbour declared after looking at Alex's painting. Actually, I said to her, he decided it was a the suggestion of a fellow student that morning. Alex didn't have anything particular in mind but was open to ideas as to what it might be - after the fact. Izzy was very proud of her swirls and is looking for the right place for us to hang it. She has no need to label her efforts with anything as insignificant as a title, much less worry about subject matter. They were both very happy with their results, and really, that's all that matters to me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Top 5 Moments in Parenting

A post on a parenting website got me thinking. People were trying to come up with their best moments in parenting. A way to remind ourselves why we slug it out, everyday, in the trenches with these little rugrats. So Rob and I sat on the couch tonight, reminiscing about the good times, reminding each other of a few things we forgot. We excluded the obvious ones like births, holidays and firsts. Here's what we came up with, not necessarily in order of importance.

Izzy's first marshmallow roast. She refused to eat them but laughed like a demon possessed while setting them on fire and watching them burn. The highlight of her first camping experience.

Meteor shower last summer in the backyard. It was about 2am and I had just finished baking some homemade bread. I woke Alex up, tucked him in a warm blanket and we snuggled on a lawn chair eating hot bread smothered with butter. When I asked if he had any wishes he said "...only to have this hot yummy bread everyday".

Baking soda bomb experiment. With an insane amount of sandwich baggies on hand (one of the many hazards of shopping at Costco), and ample supply of baking soda and vinegar, we armed more than a dozen eager kids in the neighbourhood, not to mention their equally exuberant parents, with homemade explosives. I don't think we parents had ever laughed that much together with the kids still up and without any alcohol involved.

Tickle fights while mom and dad laze in bed. Usually instigated by those incorrigible tickle fingers. After all these years you would think the kids would figure out that a request from the TF-leader for a bellybutton conference is never a good idea.

Wacky car conversations. Such as Alex (newly 3) "tactfully" interrogating his aunt about a recent break-up. A chorus with silly variations on row, row, row your boat which lead to an interesting explanation in which Alex (4) explained how one might go about rowing a monkey up a stream in a most shocking manner. Recently, Alex (5) and Izzy (2) discussing family trees, as it pertains to the Star Wars saga, and why women die in childbirth. Izzy (2) after being asked if she would like to take dance lessons, "Do I get new shoes?" ...and countless others we can't recall off hand that have shocked and amused.

Ah, that felt good. Nothing like warm fuzzy memories to help you forget this evening's food fight with your two year old.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This one's for Izzy

Izzy specifically requested that I take her picture and put it on the computer. So I must or I will hear about it, loudly, tomorrow. Vain little one, she is.

Rob took Izzy to her first dance class on Saturday. I really, really wanted to go but was flat on my back in bed. Darned sinus cold! I did help her get dressed before she left though. She was so excited. A half an hour of ballet and then a half hour of Jazz. She came home all excited, showing me her latest moves (the butterfly - fluttering around the room and the castle - crouching down and tucked in) and the fantastic stamps on her hand.

The best part of all - the misty look on Rob's face when he got home. His baby girl was prancing around a dance studio, loving every minute of it. She was not one of the kids running out of the room or crying for a parent. A big deal for us seeing as she was the clingiest, shyest kid we'd ever seen just a few short months ago. She tip-toed across the floor, proudly, occasionally sending Rob an excited wave. He was so proud. I forgot how sentimental he could get sometimes. Almost as sweet as Izzy in her tutu.

Just what Mommy needed!

Flowers, courtesy of my little man. He ran out of the house and over to our neighbours to find me and present his newest project. His timing couldn't have been any better. After a week-long bout with a nasty sinus cold working it's way through the four of us (poor Rob, always the last one to get it, woke up sick this morning) and a series of condo board issues arising, I was not in the most amiable of moods today. This helped. I love how creative kids are.

Now he just needs to tell his daddy how much I love flowers.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Money, money, money!

Funny, much to Rob's horror, one of the few things that gets the kids quiet in the car is the new Mama Mia soundtrack. You know, the one with the crappy singing by the actors in the movie. They love it! Thankfully Rob usually carries his Ipod on him so he can tune out our car karaoke.

But I digress...

I have heard it many times before, the adage that homeschooling is only as expensive as you make it. Still, I have to wonder how some people manage it. I know that the money I spent stockpiling notebooks, pencils and art supplies would have been spent on back to school supplies. Still, this venture, at least for us, isn't cheap. Dance lessons, art classes and fees for scouting, etc. all add up quickly. I haven't even mentioned the memberships to various venues, field trips and the gas to drive all around.

I guess I am just in a mood to complain. My excuse, it's payday and everyone one of the kid's activities had to be paid this week. That and I made the mistake of reading about some of the awesome funding and programs available to homeschoolers in B.C. I guess the cost of housing wouldn't be worth the relocation in the end, lol.

All done complaining now.

Who are we and what are we doing?

It's funny, when you are so immersed in homeschooling that you forget that 95% of everyone else out there has no idea what it is all about. Our family, friends and neighbours all know what is going on...sort of. I have to say most people we run into, just in passing, seem not too shocked or offended by such a notion. Still, when probed, people really want to know what it is we are doing. Especially when they hear that what Alex and Izzy are not doing is school at home.

I am very fond of books (and now the internet) so when I first entertained thoughts of homeschooling Alex, I did my homework and then some. I am a planner by nature and thought, falsely, that I could plot this whole venture right out.

Of course, I found that there are those who do this for religious reasons (though they, as a group, represent fewer and fewer of the new recruits). There are the unschoolers who follow a child's lead and trust that it all comes together in the end. There is no fixed agenda and you follow the interests of the child. Some people do do school at home, either by following their own version of the provincial curriculum or by sending away for correspondence studies. The classical homeschoolers believe education has has two important aspects. First that it is language-focused and, secondly, it follows a specific three-part pattern: the mind must be first supplied with facts and images, then given the logical tools for organization of facts, and finally equipped to express conclusions. To the classical mind, all knowledge is interrelated. There is a lot of emphasis on the major works of the western world...from the ancient Greek poets and philosophers to classical British authors and playwrights. Lastly, there are those of us who fall into the ever popular eclectic homeschoolers. We take a little from column a and a little from b, c and, maybe, d.

So where do we fit in? Well, we are pretty close to being unschoolers at the moment. I still offer material to the kids, though, and initiate a lot of things I think they will be interested in. I will also have them sit down at the table and do some work - like practicing writing. Though that constitutes less than an hour or two of our time each week. We have no fixed agenda for when we do 'school' work and if we happen to miss some table work, oh well. I haven't looked at the Ontario curriculum online in over a year and have no inclination to do so any time soon. We tend to just run with whatever catches our fancy at the moment. So far, in the past 16 months, this has included running obsessions with the Titanic (and big boats in general), engineering and architecture, inventors and their inventions, outer space, flying, the human body and weather. Oh, and Alex taught himself to read too.

I anticipate changes though. I think the biggest asset to homeschooling is flexibility. Just like when a certain subject becomes boring and dropped, styles of homeschooling are not set in stone. I know, for my own piece of mind (and eventual university entrance viability) we will move towards more structured curriculums. For now I have a five and a half year old who is well beyond what the government educational model demands of him and happy. At this point, it is a case of why fix what isn't broken?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What's in a name?

I hate trying to come up with titles. I always want something clever and unique but often feel as though I come up short. While sitting at the computer one day Alex came up to me and requested scissors. A few minutes later he bounces down the stairs again and asks where the tape is. No problem. I send him off in search of said items and do not hear from him for at least another half hour. Only then does he glide down the stairs announcing a great surprise. He has decided to become a bird for the day! He cut strips of paper and taped them to his arms and legs. Even a tiny strip attached to his bum - funny kid! Of course Izzy requested he help turn her into a bird too, so off they went, happy to work together.

The first thing I thought was, wow, I never would have come up with that idea. It was simple, fun and creative - not to mention a great way to kill a few hours. See, when left to their own devices, they do find ways to amuse themselves. It seemed appropriate - left to their own devices the kids do quite well on their own.

Not the best start!

Last week the kids were a little off, health-wise. Odd bouts of lethargy and short run fevers. We had hoped it was all behind us but, of course, that would be too easy. After a lovely weekend away at a family wedding (complete with hotel stay - always a favorite with the kids, especially when there are two doors into the bathroom leading to endless circular chases) a cold came rearing its ugly head. Sure enough, the night before our first homeschool art class at the gallery, Alex is in rough shape. We wound up going. By the time it we were piling into the car Alex was a bit better. He and I had an agreement that we wouldn't decide if he would stay in the class until we actually got there and assessed how he felt. I wanted to go to pay for our spots and, hopefully, drop Izzy off with her friends if I couldn't stay with Alex. I also organized the whole affair and didn't want to be a complete no-show. Needless to say he rallied a bit by the time we arrived. We did opt out of the park picnic lunch afterwards with friends. Back to bed for the big guy.

The class was a hit. I really liked the teacher. The kids (about 14 of them) were very well behaved. I always chuckle when I see homeschooled kids raise their hands when asked questions. I wonder where they picked that up. Yesterday they painted landscapes. Well, my kids didn't paint landscapes but the others mostly did, lol. Izzy prefers to mix all her paints into one colour and just swirl in on her canvas. Alex isn't really artistic (rarely picks up markers or paint without being prompted to) but enjoyed starting a landscape. Half way through it didn't resemble anything so he gave up and just started doing abstract swirls like his sister.

Artists we are not. Though we appreciate the efforts of others. Alex made his way around the room, positively critiquing everyone's work. Next week will be sculpting with clay. This should be very interesting.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Homeschool Philosophy

There was a post on a parenting board I frequent, asking about our homeschool philosophy and this is what I wrote:

When Alex came along I sensed he was a bit different and would have a hard time in school. I was also unhappy with the educational choices left to us. School just felt like a bad fit for him. Funny enough, I wouldn't have hesitated to send my younger daughter but she is so different. Thankfully Alex helped us discover homeschooling first.

The issues I had with Alex sort of highlighted some of the problems I personally had with the school system at large. Though a scary leap, I decided homeschooling was a way for me to hold on to my personal ideals about how to live life and to not live with regret because I was scared - that it would have been easier to do what everyone else around me was doing even though it felt wrong.

I believe in family before peers, especially for kids. I want to be their biggest influence. (Well Rob too, lol.) I want them, as young children, to play and have fun. I want them to learn how to cope with boredom and learn how to be creative. I hate homework and busywork for young kids. I hate the sense of competition that develops in school and this need to keep pushing kids to get ahead. I want them to have a say over what they learn, and how, and when. I never want them to think of learning as a chore. I want competence in subjects that are severely lacking in schools today - like proper literacy and the ability to think and debate.

School would have changed Alex. Not for the better, I believe. Conforming would be difficult for him, not just the act itself, but because he needs to please others. Emotionally it would have taken a toll on him. I love homeschooling most of all because my kids get to be who they are and learn at the pace they set. They are not defined by grades or their behavior amoung peers.

School is set up for the good of the many, as it should be, but that doesn't always jive with what is good for the individual. That is more important to me. I won't sacrifice what I think is best for my children based on what 25 other kids need. For example, I know that a class needs to be quiet and settled for teacher to teach. I also know that my son needs to move a lot, find something to fidget with, and be attracted to the material being presented. I know that large groups not only take his attention but exhaust him quickly. That isn't fair of me (or anyone else) to ask of the school. So we do it at home.

Homeschooling isn't really even about schooling to us. It is about lifestyle. Rob and I still love to read and learn. Most of the things I retain have come to me through interests well after my 'education' ended. We don't want to teach our kids subjects, we want to teach them the thrill of learning something new and give them the tools to do that for the rest of their lives.

In my heart I am still an idealist. I cherish my days in university more for the debates I had and teachers that challenged my ideas than for career advancement. Schools (more specifically post-secondary) shouldn't just be businesses prepping future employees. It should be about growth and the betterment of one's self and mind.

First Post - First day of Not Going Back to School

Yesterday was the annual Not Going Back to School gathering at the Ontario Science Centre. It is something we look forward to, especially since we hadn't been back there since last September.

I should have known luck wasn't on my side though. Alex was sick earlier in the week. Nothing serious, the only symptoms being a fever and feeling lethargic. It passed within 24 hours. Izzy just wasn't quite herself that morning. She still wanted to go so I made a deal with the kids. We would head out and try to make it until lunch. If Izzy was still feeling crummy than we would head back. We almost made it. After an hour and a bit, while playing outside with some good friends, Izzy started fading. We hopped in the car and headed home. Later that afternoon her fever had set in too.

All was not lost though. We got to play for a bit in the KidSpark area and see the new Space addition. In the car Alex read to us from his new National Geographic Magazine and we discussed the possibility of a bee heaven and then tested each other on what was a predator and what was prey. The thought of humans being prey to anyone was very amusing to him. We have some of our best lessons in the car. Captive audience, I suppose.

We'll be heading back next week, probably. We bought another yearly membership. The last time we had a pass Izzy was just a baby. It is so nice to see her experience all this stuff now. I thoroughly enjoyed myself yesterday, Izzy's fever not withstanding.