From School and Education

Ways to maximize educational opportunities for your kids and navigate the system as your child grows.

Great thoughts on the intensity of giftedness

Even the Dog is Intense: Giftedness, Intensity, and Collie Puppies

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Last Sunday was our 4 month old Scotch Collie puppy’s first training class. It was Tikki’s first class but I’ve been through this before with previous dogs.

Great thoughts on the intensity of giftednessI manhandled Tikki past the other puppies to a clear section along the outside of the training ring. Unlike our old lab mix, there was no frantic leash pulling to reach the other dogs. No desperate whining to let me know that his very bestest friend that he just met is 5 feet away.

Instead while I dutifully listened to the instructor, Tikki sat and watched. Watch is probably a bad verb for the intense laser-like focus of a collie. Less than 5 minutes in the instructor had to stop class. Tikki was unnerving the poor beagle puppies on our right. She wasn’t helping the overwrought German Shepherd on our left, either.

I spent the next 50 minutes feeding her a constant stream of treats to keep that laser-focus on me. Sure once I got her to turn that laser on me, she rocked out the attention exercises. She quickly understood what I asked of her on new exercises, too.

But her intensity was draining. I admit to giving the giant, immobile pile of mastiff puppy a longing glance. He wasn’t unnerving anyone. Or moving for that matter.

Later as I herded our loopy children toward bed, I told my husband about the class. “Even the dog is intense,” he replied.

And then it clicked into place.

Our gifted children are intense. Their intelligence, boundless curiosity, and endless energy is a wonder to behold. They devour books, rip through curriculum, and ask poignant questions. But just like our collie, there is no off-switch to their intensity. That same intelligence, curiosity, and energy can be off-putting to their peers.

And that intensity is exhausting for parents.

Like when your 5 year old decides at bedtime to finally learn 4 digit addition. That’s wonderful and all, but mommy has been on the clock since 5am and it’s quitting time. Can’t we just be a immobile pile of fur -uh, child for awhile? Please?

People often think of giftedness as being a universally positive thing. Parents of gifted children know that it’s a double-edged sword. Intellect can translate into academic achievement. Or it can mean learning the loopholes and underachieving. Creativity may lead to great artistic talent. Or thinking up new ways to wreck havoc.

Because, get this, my gifted children are no better than any other children. Just different. They have strengths and struggles just like all children. Or dogs for that matter.  That mastiff is an all star at ‘stay’. Assuming he wakes up to hear you say it.

Having groups like “collie” and “mastiff” doesn’t make one dog better than another. It just means you can quickly guess a particular dog’s likely strengths and weaknesses. “Gifted” is another useful designation for relaying the traits of a particular child. Their likely strengths and struggles.

I’d better quit before I run this metaphor too thin. Also, the collie is herding the golden retriever into the wall. Again.

Raising Bilingual Kids

Raising Our Children to Be Bilingual

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We never questioned whether or not we would raise our children to be bilingual while living in the United States.

Raising Bilingual Kids

My husband is from Ecuador and I am from Texas. If I could help my children speak Spanish without my Texas twang (I speak Spanish with a heavy Texan accent), I would do so. When my first son was born, my husband spoke only Spanish to both of us. I spoke English to everyone, because frankly as a sleep-deprived mother, I was lucky if I could spit out a complete sentence in my native tongue. In order to further instill Spanish in an English dominant society, we also placed our children in a Spanish immersion preschool. Thus, my children’s bilingualism wasn’t an issue for us. In the rest of the country, however, dual language and multi-lingualism aren’t without controversy.

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Our current place of residence, Texas, has a particularly complex and dark history with speakers of foreign languages. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, most schools punished students for speaking any language but English. As a result, many non-native English speakers taught their children to speak English in order to save them from the horrible maltreatment they faced while in school. Other immigrant parents emphasized English as a way to demonstrate their loyalty to their chosen country. While attitudes toward bilingualism and multi-lingualism have changed, remnants of the discrimination against non-native English speakers remain in our country. My neighbor, who ironically has a sign written in German on his back fence, also has a bumper sticker that says, “Welcome to America. Now either speak English or leave.”

Raising Bilingual Kids

In 2005, a Kansas school suspended a 16-year-old boy for speaking Spanish in the hall between classes (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/08/AR2005120802122.html). In Hempstead, Tx., a principal announced over the intercom that students were now banned from speaking Spanish in school (http://www.texasobserver.org/hempstead-habla-espanol/).

Fortunately, this type of xenophobia, while still present, is no longer the rule. In fact, a number of cities in Texas and around the country have instituted dual language schools. In Austin alone, we have dual language schools pairing English with Spanish, Vietnamese and Mandarin. Many English-only speaking parents transfer their children into these schools as a way to secure their children’s fluency in a foreign language. Still, opinions abound on the best way to educate our multi-lingual society.

In our own immediate family, we have received mostly support over our decision to raise our children in a bilingual household. A few people have wondered if the two different languages would confuse our children. Fortunately, a lot of research demonstrates the benefits of knowing more than one language. Studies show a marked improvement in cognitive abilities, situational awareness and, later in life, a delayed onset of dementia in bilingual individuals (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/18/opinion/sunday/the-benefits-of-bilingualism.html?_r=0).

I hope that my children will benefit cognitively from their language skills, and I am also glad that they will have the ability to travel to another region of the world and speak to the people like a native speaker.

In my opinion, the greatest advantage we have given our children is to bridge some of the gaps between foreign and native populations and to reduce their likelihood of viewing people as the “other.” After all, language is communication and to be able to understand another population reduces our isolation from that population. In testament to this fact, Israel has a few public schools that teach in both Hebrew and Arabic languages (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/04/in-some-israeli-schools-its-arabic-in-first-period-and-hebrew-in-second/275300/). Students in these schools not only benefit from the educational advantages of bilingualism, they also become more accepting of other cultures as well. I also hope that my children become more open-minded and compassionate through their bilingualism. The only thing I worry about their bilingualism in an English dominant society is that they will lose it.

How much are you willing to risk to reach your goals?

Coalition of the Willing

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How much are you willing to risk to reach your goals?

As I sat in a professional development class last week a new idea was brought to my attention that struck a chord with me. The idea is “the coalition of the willing.” Now, on further review there are some political ideas that might accompany that phrase, but this was not at all how the presenter explained it. We were embarking on how to be more blended in our approach with technology in the classroom. If you teach or deal with technology, sometimes the thought of really purposefully merging the two is quite daunting. Over and over the presenter said, we are not looking for perfection or to have everything figured out before you start, but rather a coalition of the willing.

Willing to try, willing to fail, willing to try again.

I am a person who loves learning and in learning there are always some failures. Most failures are great teachers. I like the idea of seeking out others on this journey that want to be in a coalition of the willing.

I can see many parts of my life where this is applicable:

  1. I have much to learn and much to teach about kids and parenting.
  2. I love to find new books to read and will talk to anyone about what they are reading even if it is a genre I don’t usually care for.
  3. I aspire to learn how to crochet better and hope a high school friend that lives far away can be a mentor.

I tell my first graders that one of the most important things they will ever do is become a life long learner. How can I espouse that, and not truly be following my own advice?

In my adulthood, I have wanted to learn new things in certain wheelhouses or in my comfort zone. I now seek others that can teach me, guide me, learn from me, and fail with me so we can strive for new learning and new adventures.

May this fall be filled with adventures, learning, teaching, mentoring and fun with others that seek the coalition of the wiling.

 

10 Small Things That Make My Day Brighter

10 Small Things That Make My Day Brighter

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Life has gotten so much busier since Jack started half-day school, 5 days a week. I truly thought life would breathe a little easier once the school year began. Although I laugh every day at my naiveté, we couldn’t be happier with the decision to send him to our small, heartfelt Montessori school. He runs right into class every day.  It makes me so proud to see him loving this new part of his life but I have to admit that I’ve felt a wave of emotions these last several weeks. My little boy is in school! Our long days together have come to an end. Sniff. Sniff. Etc. Etc.

Need a pick me up? Check out these ideas for appreciating the moment.

In times of big change and big emotions I like to take a step back, take a deep breath, and look around at all the little things that make my day brighter. The following is a list (with helpful links) of my ten favorite things of the moment.

  1. I purchased this bento box from Zulily.com nearly two years ago in anticipation of making school lunches. Am I the only one who can’t pass on a good deal?  I thought it would be a great way to eliminate Ziploc bags and even more fun to get creative with food. Boy, was that an understatement.  I’ve had a total blast (most mornings) making food fun for little dude. Sliced cheddar in the shape of tiny teddy bears was a big hit.
    bentolove
  2. If you want to give yourself a kick in the pants, GET A FIT BIT. The holidays are coming up. Make sure to get your letter to Santa in the mail now.
  3. After Pops gets Jack to school in the morning, it’s an absolute treat when his sister graces me with an extra hour of slumber because that means I can have my favorite breakfast-of-the-moment in solitude. There is no better start to the day than with a bowl of blueberry oatmeal and a piping hot cup of coffee.
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  4. On the days that I’m thrown in the driver seat full throttle I turn to my new friend The Complete Cookie. These little vegan, kosher nutritional gems are conveniently perforated into two servings. For a full cookie it’s 16 g protein and 6 g of fiber. They have many delicious flavors but at this moment peanut butter cookie is my favorite.
  5. Two books that I would highly recommend…
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    Mom’s One Line a Day: A Five-Year Memory Book. This is one of those grab in a fire things for me. It is so wonderful to look back on my babies’ lives and see what they were doing each day and how they’ve changed. This is a wonderful gift you could give to new parents. There have been many days when Albert has picked up the pen and taken over too. I love that this book is chocked full of love and so much pride. What a treasure!
  6.  Small Victories (Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace) by Anne Lamott. She is such a breath of fresh air. I laugh, cry, and ponder when I read her books.
  7. Tortilla wraps have become a bit of an obsession for me. I’m especially fond of the big spinach ones by Mission that only set me back 210 calories. The following is a quick list of what I’ve put in wraps lately; Spring mix, spinach, artichoke hearts, cherry tomatoes, smoked Gouda cheese spread, black beans, crab cake, tuna salad, Trader Joe’s roasted eggplant dip (2 tbsp 30 calories), hummus, peppers, cucumbers, pasta salad, cannellini beans, edamame, etc. The list goes on and on. The key to a healthy, happy wrap is portion control with a variety of fillings. So yummy and for someone who gets in a rut with meals, perfect.
  8.  When I saw these Saucony tennies (found here on Amazon) on the sale rack at Nordstrom ($25!!!) I knew they were coming home with me.  My Emmaline has a teeny tiny fondness for all things shoes. I blame it on her Nana and her turquoise sequined house shoes that E has been after since birth. My Mom informed me recently that those slippers have been bequeathed to my sweet daughter. For now, she will have to slum it in these wee things.
    shoes
  9. IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Under Eye Concealer & Hello Light Liquid Brightener. These early mornings aren’t doing my under eye area any favors. I picked this up at Ulta for half off during their recent 21 days of beauty. A Beauty Blender sponge works really great with this product.
  10. Radio Flyer Ultimate Wagon. This contraption was a well thought out purchase for us. Sadly we have not taken it to an amusement park or major outdoor excursion yet, but those times they are a coming. We have been enjoying this as a way to wind down our evening taking a nice stroll after dinner and before we settle in to the night time routine. It’s easy enough for big boy to pull when he feels inclined and handles like a dream. Cup holders and a pouch that fits a good sized picnic are also a plus.

I would love to hear about all the little happy things that bring joy to your lives, especially on those slumpy days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading is magical. Reading transforms us. Reading transforms our kids.

The Magic of Reading with our Kids

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Reading is magical. Reading transforms us. Reading transforms our kids. So, it’s Friday night. I’m a freshman English teacher. I’m watching The Two Towers with my eleven-year-old daughter as we grade papers from the week. I’m physically exhausted and my brain is mush. I feel as if I’ve been run over by 166 wildebeests. (I do have 166 students; however, none of them are actually wildebeests.)

I know I’m scheduled to write a blog and I need to submit it in the next several days. I also know that my heart has been telling me to write about reading. So, I begin to think about reading.

Reading with my personal children.

Reading with the 166 wildebeests, er, students.

Reading by myself.

And here’s what I come up with.

We started reading to our children when they were born. My oldest daughter’s middle name is Scout. So, of course, during the 13 months of breastfeeding, we read To Kill a Mockingbird, among other books. I’d prop the baby on one side of the boppy, the book on the other side, and Harper Lee’s words flowed through us. Mother to child.

My husband read to her too. We didn’t have a digital camera back then (believe it or not)! So this is a picture of a picture.

David and baby Carlee reading

When the second one came along, so many things were different. I worked full time. We lived in a different house and town. We had a new circle of friends in our new place. But, the reading remained. As a working mom, I cherished and coveted our reading time in the evenings. My older daughter even got in on the act.

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Daughter #2 also carries a literary middle name, Arwen, the elf princess. She is 6 now and we’re currently reading Fire and Ice, the 4th book in the Spirit Animals series. Our evening talk now centers on what our spirit animal would be if we had one. She’s got a fierce nature like one of the main characters, Meilin, and has decided she’d need Jhi the Panda to balance her ferocity. She’s probably right.

spirit animals


At school each day, I teach 14 and 15 year olds about reading and writing. Some of them have home literacy experiences much like my children, but most of them do not. I find myself wanting to mother them in their literary lives. At times, we cover what I consider developmental gaps in their reading.

 

“Have you read Dr. Seuss? No? Well, we must. He’s the master of rhythm and rhyme and he teaches about persistence in the face of adversity and the perils of inflexible thinking.”

“Have you read Love You Forever? No? Well, we must. It’s the story of a kid whose mom loves him–no matter the stage of life he’s in or the difficulties he causes. And, what’s really cool is at the end, he loves and cares for her. The story comes full circle. He goes home to his baby and carries on this generational tradition of love. Loving your kids is powerful stuff, folks. It changes the future.”

“Have you read A Strange Day? No? Well, we must. It’s a beautifully illustrated story that relies on pictures to help convey the message that the actions we choose to take have a ripple effect that we can’t imagine. Yeah, you could do something today that might alter someone else’s world forever!”

 

We fill in these gaps while we read the required 9th grade material and prepare for state mandated testing. (Click the link if you want to try your hand at taking the English I STAAR test that my students took last year!)


Finally, when I get home at night, mush-brained and sore-footed, I sometimes manage to stay awake after reading time with my kids and read for myself. Currently, I’m reading Eragon, by Christopher Paolini, at the insistence of my older daughter. I love it because I can escape into a world of dragon riders, dragons, and unlikely heroes. One of my favorite passages that I just read the other day is this…

“But what does that [language] have to do with magic?” interrupted Eragon.

“Everything. It is the basis for all power.”

And I guess that brings me to my mentally mushed, wildebeest trodden-brained, Friday-evening point.

Language is power.

When we read and write and work the magic of language in our lives and the lives of our children, it transforms them. And us.

Blowing your homeschool budget? Check out these tips.

Homeschooling a Large Family on a Small Budget

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One question people often ask when they learn we homeschool is, “How can you afford it? That must be really expensive! Especially when you  have so many children!” It does help that my husband is an electrical engineer with a good salary. It doesn’t help that we live in California’s Silicon Valley, which is notoriously expensive, and that we have six children. But that doesn’t mean that educating our children at home has to be incredibly expensive.

Blowing your homeschool budget? Check out these tips.

My oldest son has just started college, and my youngest daughter just turned three, with four more girls in between. My son was the guinea pig, the one for whom I found a path by trial and error, so the expenses for his homeschooling were perhaps more than for the others as we tried and discarded different books and curricula. Of course, with only a couple of children, other expenses in our lives were not as great. Once we figured out a curriculum and books we liked, we had materials and approaches to use as the others got older. And just as in other areas of large families, the younger children got a lot of hand-me-downs!

When we had an idea of how our children learned, and found a curriculum that fit their learning style, we also found other people who had a similar approach to homeschooling and used the same books. So we all saved by swapping books over the years. At the beginnings and ends of school years, emails and phone calls would fly around: “Do you have my history books for third grade? I think I have your fourth grade math book!” This community sharing of resources helps greatly in keeping the expenses down – and saves on storage space!

There’s a catch, though, to this great hand-me-down system: one of my middle children has a very different learning style than my older children. So all the materials I carefully collected didn’t work with her. Now what? Again, my community of homeschoolers was very helpful. Someone was done with a different math program and passed the supplies on to me. I got recommendations for different programs that might work for her, and was able to find them at the library or inexpensively at curriculum swaps or ebay. I did splurge on an expensive reading program for her, and once she learned to read, I was able to re-sell it for a pretty good price.

The library is, of course, a great resource for thrifty homeschoolers! Many times the books we wanted to use were available at the library. Or if we were considering using a different book, we could borrow it from the library and save the expense of buying a totally unsuitable book! The savings in not having to purchase books is tremendous! Our local library also has a used book area as well as regular used book sales where I’ve found useful books, including textbooks, for very little.

Used curriculum swaps are also great. There are always a lot of local sales, as well as bargains online at ebay, Amazon (always using the GHF affiliate link!) or curriculum swap sites. My local homeschool group often has people informally buying and selling curriculum, but many people just bring stuff to give away once they’re done with it. Each week, there’s a blanket to the side of the group gathering covered with books and stuff for our “great exchange.”

Aside from the direct academic expenses, such as books and supplies, the enrichment activities can be very expensive! To control these expenses, I try to put my children in the same activities as much as possible to take advantage of multiple-child discounts. Some places have given extra discounts for my younger children because I’ve been such a loyal customer: “Yes, we can do better than the 20% off for an additional child once your fourth child is in the program!” It never hurts to ask! This can also work if several families inquire together: a class might be started at a less popular time at a discount over the regular prices. Also, once my children are older and have a job I ask them to help contribute to the expenses of their activities. I also try to use smaller, local activities, such as through the community centers as they tend to be less expensive but can be just as rigorous as the “name brands.”  For the most part, my children have participated in extra activities such as soccer, dance, and gymnastics as much as they wanted.

Trying to homeschool on a budget? Check out these great ideas.Our family vacations are always learning times as well. With so many children, flying is not cost effective for us, so our vacations are driving trips. To save on costs we camp when we can, sometimes borrowing my in-laws old motor home. Since we like to visit state and national parks, the costs for this are quite low. And the children always do the Junior Ranger activities, so every vacation continues our learning adventure! This past summer, we drove up the Pacific coast, visiting lighthouses, the Olympic National Park rainforest, and beaches with tide pools with starfish and otters. We all had fun learning new things!

Now that I have one child in college, I can look back over the years and the costs and consider, has it been worth it? And it definitely has been worth the sacrifices along the way. My son has grown to be a fine young man, and my daughters are also growing into lovely, talented young women. And I have also learned many new things. Education may be expensive, but the results of are priceless!


About the Author:

Eleen KamasEleen Kamas is a homeschooling mother of six who lives in the Silicon Valley of California, where the weather is great but we’re all praying for rain. When she’s not driving the kids to activities or guiding their learning, she serves on the board of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, helps out at the local Catholic homeschool group, and occasionally has time to read, cross-stitch, and try not to trip over her feet in “beginner” ballet lessons.

This poGHFst was written as part of a blog hop hosted by The Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.

Check out other people’s thoughts on Parenting Gifted/2E Kids on a Shoestring.


Our first steps into homeschooling

Homeschool: Into The Great Wide Open

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What is the ideal learning environment for your kids?

Is it the best public school tax dollars can buy? Is it a private school that keeps you broke but your kids engaged? What about a puddle of mud, 4 sticks, and no worries of how dirty you child will get?

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If you’re a parent, then chances are, you’ve stressed about your child’s education. What teacher will my kid get? Will there be a behavior chart? What in the world will I have to deal with to pick up my kids everyday?

We all have our different take on school, that’s why there are so many options, because, let’s face it, kids learn in different ways, so experiences can be quite different, even for 2 kids at the same school.

My wife and I want our kids to have access to nature and lots of it. We want them to have a sense of wonderment attached to their learning, and we want the kids (especially my son) to be encouraged to move and play to learn, and not sit in a chair. And we wanted to see it all from our backyard. So, our answer became clear, we could homeschool, or as my wife prefers to call it: “home based learning and exploration.”

Now, I was homeschooled in high school, and I just needed to finish my reading assignment before an upcoming rerun of Chips, or complete my ethics workbook in time to watch Maury Povich (you laugh, but it’s true). So – not exactly a challenging, or inspiring atmosphere, so you can understand my slight hesitation when my wife proposed the idea of homeschool to me (“What? Why? Are you crazy?”)

But there’s nothing like coming home from work to my kids like this:

 

I am now a believer, seeing how homeschool can look.

We are only providing instruction to our kids based on their interests, so they are always enthused about learning, and any and all learning opportunities are child led. We are constantly challenging ourselves to encourage our kids to extend an idea, or use something in a different way.

As my wife and I are both educators, we understand that teaching children is never a one-size-fits-all situation, and our kids are vastly different and we try to honor that by presenting them each with provocations that learn toward their individual strengths.

For example, our son NEEDS rich sensory experiences like a duck needs water. So in our environment, we provide him with meaningful sensory experiences. Practicing scooping and measuring flour, whisking bubbles, pouring water into different containers, drawing with chalk pastels, painting, manipulating clay all meet his need for in depth tactile experiences while providing practical life applications and creative expression and problem solving. (pictures)

If you are interested in homeschooling, here are some tips:

  1. Designate an area in your home for learning (we renovated our backyard patio into a classroom, but it could be as simple as designating a corner of a dining room – a clearly defined space relaxes the children by letting them know they have a space of their own, where they can have freedom within limits.)
  2. Develop and (continue to) hone your patience. You will need it. Lots of it. Truckloads. I firmly believe that no child will test your patience like your own child; and your kids definitely know this.
  3. Refrain from answering their questions with answers. Answer questions with more questions. Shoot for open-ended questions to bring out their own ideas and their train of thought. There are no wrong answers. Google is here to stay. We are no longer teaching facts and figures to our children, we’re teaching them how to think for themselves.
  4. Plan daily instead of long term, using your observations of what they are into, and let their questions guide where you go next.
  5. Observe, observe, observe. Take notes. Look deeper. Keep asking questions of yourself and how you can better facilitate your child’s experience. This is so, so, so important and should serve as your very own individualized pedagogy for your own children’s education.
  6. Give your child lots of social opportunities. sports, gymnastics, dance, horseback riding!, ice skating!, art classes, these are very important things. Giving your children experiences of their own is important for their confidence and development. Homeschooling takes much less time of the day than traditional school giving plenty of time for unstructured play AND extracurriculars. Win!
  7. Find or create a community of likeminded parents that you can draw upon and share with. Don’t go it alone.
  8. Find experts within the community that can teach classes (authentic art classes, Spanish, etc.)
  9. Be flexible. It may not be for your kid every year. Follow their lead. I do plan on taking my son to my wonderful Pre-K school next year, if I can.  I feel like the whole child philosophy at my school and nature/nurture components are just perfectly in line with our own philosophy, so yes, I do hope to take him to my school next year, provided that is still a good fit for him.
  10. Give up the TV during school time.  Facebook too. And screens, as much as you can. Just be present for your kids.
  11. Extended recess everyday. There’s no such thing as too much outdoor time. Ever.

 

Back to School: Homeschool Style

Homeschooling: The First Day Back

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It’s the first day of our new homeschooling year. The books arrived two months ago. My son [TB] begged to open them and dig in. I’ve held off as long as I could until today. This evening, he’s half-way through the history text and well into high school geometry. To be honest, he got a head start in his online geometry last week. I couldn’t take the begging and whining any longer. While many boys his age read comic books – TB prefers primary source documents and accompanying essays.

Actually, that’s not our real life. It could be the first day for some of our closest homeschooling friends. It’s a first day commonly protrayed in social media with a glossy shine. It’s just not our first day and that’s ok. Homeschooling embraces who our children are and where they are while exploring and discovering where they want to go and who they want to be.

Let’s begin again.

As summer ends and first day of school facebook photos fade, we slowly sneak our way into homeschooling, beginning with a vigorous attempt to finish spring’s leftover Latin lessons.

This year, like others, we’re beginning slowly. We’ll tie up Latin’s loose ends, finish an audible Jane Goodall biography, and the final chapters of The Omnivore’s Dilemma – a book that started summer with high hopes and ended with poor follow-through. We’ve also started memorizing the presidents. (Aren’t we supposed to do that?) I found this cool presidents’ book with pictorial memory techniques. It’s already proven my theory on his learning strengths. I thought he was a visual learner. A 15-minute dentist office wait ended with the first 10 presidents successfully memorized. Validated before Labor Day. Score one for Mom.

Our newly inaugurated teenager misses back-to-public-school-already friends. With homeschool activities beginning after Labor Day, I use this to my advantage. No video games until 3:30pm and the boredom grows, creating space for school (i.e. Latin) to nonchalantly creep in.

Schedules, new books, old books and a dollar bill to find the Latin inscriptions.
Schedules, new books, old books and a dollar bill to find the Latin inscriptions.

 

This year, the biggest part of our “back to school” activities is scheduling. Secluding or protecting our kids is never a goal of our homeschooling. We’re all about experiencing and navigating the world. It’s a good thing, too. Living in Texas affords so many homeschooling opportunities: activities, classes, clubs, etc. Homeschooling is sometimes a misnomer — we’re rarely home. Especially now, baby introvert turned adolescent extrovert keeps me on my toes and at the gas station.

While some lucky ducks buy those aromatic new crayons, join PTA, and sign a million forms, I’m sketching out schedules and Amazon Prime-ing a couple last minute Texas history graphic novels. Oh, all right, they’re comic books – but educational comic books.

We started August by talking about what we should cover this year. We both agree math is important; we’ll do Texas History and some awesome Texas field trips with a friend; there’s grammar; spelling; world history Crash Courses (if you don’t know these, check them out, regardless or where or if you school); co-op classes and introductory Spanish. Technically, we didn’t discuss Spanish. Since he proofread this, el gato fuera de la bolsa. There’s Lego League, Odyssey of the Mind, and, of course, basketball with lots of stops to refuel – vehicles and bodies.

For us, there’s no big actual “first day” of school fanfare. We’ll begin our day a little earlier, feeding horses, dogs and chickens like every other morning. There’ll be homemade waffles – or a trip to Jim’s for breakfast. By the way, Jim’s has excellent wi-fi, roomy booths and they’re pretty cool with what I like to call “Cafe Homeschooling”. The coffee is always hot, fresh, and not too strong. TB swears the chocolate milk is da bomb, too.

In the past 14 years, we’ve had many different first days. When the girls were younger, we celebrated a new school year with pedicures, movies and a drive-by the local public school holding a Sonic Limeade in the air – simultaneously toasting their friends and enjoying their freedom. I knew part of this tradition and sweet memories took hold when I received this text from College Station last weekend:

they remembered...
they remembered…

Our first days morphed and changed through the years. Early on, new books, notebooks, and crayons filled our red Target cart. Ok, the crayons were for me. I love the smell, don’t you? As years progressed, we stopped stockpiling and simply used what we had. Handed down textbooks and the internet soon became part of school.

Homeschooling looked different for each child. The girls approached school uniquely. One needed everything clearly laid out. She completed a few years of Calvert Homeschool, did co-ops, and later chose to attend public high school. Another homeschooled second grade through high school. She particpated in co-ops, dual credit and attacked life in a more unschooling way. Both enjoyed horses and other activities. Today, one is a recent nursing school graduate, while the other works for Texas A&M EMS while attending college.

The last homeschooling child is a mixture with basketball and swimming replacing horses. Video games, Legos and dogs fill his days his dwindling days at home.

We’ve had a total of 15 homeschooling first days. New beginnings, dreams and hopes. Like most first days.

However your first day happened for you, I hope your transitions were gentle and the days ended serenely.  Here’s to a year flying by all too quickly while our children grow way too much for this momma’s heart. I hope your first days bring or brought good things to you and your family. Savor the moments. Make some memories.

It's back to school. What happens when your kids are not excited to return?

Another First Day of School

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The memories are still clear in my mind. Fondly, I can see my boys racing through empty school hallways, hear their footfalls on the squeaky clean floor as yet uncluttered by the year to come. Their gleaming eyes dart from side to side in search of the familiar faces of friends not seen since the previous June. I remember sharing their excitement as we found and set up their desks, serious work intermittently interrupted by explosions of chatter at the entrance of a new friend to class.

It's back to school. What happens when your kids are not excited to return?

The start of school used to be very exciting for our family. My boys were anxious to see their friends and meet their teachers. I would look forward to the seven-hour daily respite that school provided me. The summer months required a lot of work, shuttling the boys to and from activities or trying to fill their home hours with something other than television. The structure that school provided helped me as much as them.

There has been a polar-shift, however. My children are literally too-cool-for-school. They are supremely unenthused by the prospect of school restarting.   The old spark is missing. It makes sense. They have experienced multiple first days of school. This will be my oldest son’s ninth first day (K-8); it will be my youngest boy’s eight first day of school (PS-5). The thrill is gone for them. The spark of excitement that I used to feel at my boys’ returning to school has dimmed as well. My boys are greatly self-sufficient and quite easy to monitor. Their going back to school won’t make my life easier- just more quiet.

Perhaps a wiser parent than I would simply accept the changing times yet I continue a pointless quest to make the start of school exciting.   I ask my boys pointed questions regarding friends whom they have not seen in a while or about changes in their classes. “Will the school feel different without R there?” I ask them open questions: “what do you think it will be like having Mr. D as your teacher this year?” My queries, which would have begun animated conversations a few short years ago, are now met with unintelligible grunts.   Still, I try – without success- to drum up some enthusiasm for the coming school year.

The start of school, though less necessary for my sanity, still seems exciting to me. I dropped off some vaccine forms there this morning and was delighted to see many teachers and parents whom I’ve not seen in months. This is cool, I thought, a whole new year of school. Then my thoughts shift to my boys. Perhaps I could impart some enthusiasm with…. But I stop myself in mid-thought. My boys’ reactions to the start of the school year are completely normal. The lack of excitement is not satisfying, but it makes sense developmentally. My trying to inject enthusiasm into their systems vis-à-vis school’s starting seems futile.   I need to accept the changing times. I’ll always have the memories.

Have a kid who struggles at drop-off times? Check out these ideas for help.

School Drop-offs: Easy Peasy or Dreaded Disaster?

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Have a kid who struggles at drop-off times? Check out these ideas for help.

Transitions are hard for us.

For the past year or two, my now nearly six year old son had a hard time separating from me.  It didn’t matter if I was dropping him off with a friend or even leaving him with his dad while I went for an evening out.  There was nearly always a few minutes before I left in which he was uber clingy, whiney, and teary-eyed.  The worst, however, was when I dropped him off at school.

School Drop-offs: The worst punishment for your child since eating vegetables for dinner.
School Drop-offs: The worst punishment for your child since eating vegetables for dinner.

On good days last year, everything was fine leaving the house, on the drive in, and going into school. The closer we got to his classroom though, the slower his steps got. He got clingy and the whining started. On bad days, it started at home, with passionate pleas on how much he didn’t want to go to school. It continued on the drive in. The actual drop off was devoid of actual complaining, but instead had an onslaught of body clinging that would put an octopus to shame.  (One morning involved a full-on, writhing-on-the floor tantrum.  That was fun.  Nothing like putting your parenting skills on full display to start your day.)

I know with certainty this is how my child looks & behaves 2 seconds after I leave the school.
I know with certainty this is how my child looks & behaves 2 seconds after I leave the school.

Importantly, there was nothing wrong at school. His PK class was a tight knit group of friends, having been with each other since they were babies or toddlers. His teachers (and all the teachers in the school) are world class and he’s known them since he was a baby. And once he’s there (2 seconds after I leave), he has a great time. So much fun that pickup at the end of the day can be another challenge.

We had dealt with separation anxiety before — when he was much younger.  When it cropped up again, I was thrown for a bit of a loop.  Initially, we had to brute force it, with a teacher holding him while I left. No amount of distraction by other kids or activities — strategies that used to work — would make for a pleasant experience. We tried all of the usual strategies (like those found here and here).  Simply saying goodbye with a kiss & promise to see him that evening would not make things easier.  Letting him keep his taggy (or other beloved item) was a must, but not sufficient for an easy drop off. Quickly, however, we developed a goodbye ritual that almost always allowed him to separate easily.  A conveniently placed window and access to a small outside play area from his classroom allowed us to wave and blow kisses to each other after I left the building. When the weather was nice, he was allowed outside for a “fence kiss”.  To get him to the window/fence after saying goodbye, we always had a race to determine whose shoes were faster: his sneakers or my pumps/boots/flats.  (A couple of times, he let me win.)  The final piece to our drop-off puzzle was a reward.  My son earns stars for making good choices about his behavior, so easy-peasy drop-offs earned him more stars.  A quick race, a kiss through the fence, and some earned stars got us through 95% of the clingy drop-offs.

How I imagine my child looking at school drop-offs this year.
How I imagine my child looking at school drop-offs this year.

With the end of the school year and the beginning of summer camp, I was worried about changing up our process.  Rather than dropping off at his daycare, he took a bus to summer camp each day.  Transitioning each morning was still a bit of a challenge, but we established a few rituals to make it easier.  Quickly getting on the bus, waving through the window after he was on the bus, and blowing kisses as it pulled out of the parking lot was our summer ritual.  We’re making progress.

Kindergarten starts in a few weeks.  I have no idea what drop-off will entail or what rituals we will come up with.  He and I have starting talking about it a bit, prepping ourselves for the change.  I’m not so naive as to think it will be easy-peasy from the get-go.  But we’ve learned and grown a lot this past year (both of us!).  I’m optimistic that Kindergarten drop-offs will continue to get easier and easier.  When drop-offs are always easy-peasy, I know I’ll miss these days of him needing me constantly.  However, my pride at his independence and confidence will overshadow my nostalgia.