Sunday, February 14, 2010

They Will Indeed Soar!

I have had many conversations over the years with others who have not been champions of homeschooling, to say the least! When we started, family members were skeptical of our ability to keep up and really give our children a proper (whatever that is) education. Their skepticism did nothing to assuage my own doubts about the process as I reluctantly started down this path.

There were many days in the early years of our homeschooling when I doubted we were doing the right thing; there were many days throughout our homeschooling years when I wondered if they would be able to make it in the “real world” (whatever that is). When the house was a disaster and they were bickering and I wasn’t at my best, I longed for solitude, for quiet, for a clean house!

Today I have that wish. The house is silent. I have hours of solitude. For the most part all the toys that gave way to books, CDs, calculators, video game cartridges, backpacks, and coats helter-skelter as they were shed, etc. are all gone – put away or with my children miles away.

For you see, they did grow up into independent young adults steeped in their roots so they can now soar.

With one living in New York (though right now visiting Cincinnati), one living in the D.C. area, and one having just embarked on a 3 month journey to his beloved Japan, the house is empty – the quiet echoes.

I know it is cliché to say they grow up so fast so cherish your time with them now. I often had trouble believing that in the midst of teething, fretting about whether they would learn to read or do math, the difficult early teen years, their feelings of isolation, and my own doubts.

But grow up they did. And, while I miss their constant chatter, their antics, even their arguments, I am so proud of the young adults they have become.

When I first started reading about homeschooling I read the books by the Colfaxes and others. Their successes seemed far removed from our own lives. When main lessons didn’t go as planned, when they refused to do my circle, when they tired of the times tables, when they were slower than their peers to care about driving, I wondered and worried.

But our successes came. Unschooling works.

Our oldest is finishing her fifth year at Eurythmy Spring Valley and will embark on a new adventure of teaching eurythmy in a Waldorf school come fall. After living on her own for five years in New York, she will now be moving to a new part of the country, on her own. Our middle is now living in D.C. finishing her year with the Truman-Albright Fellows program as she continues her tireless work to combat human trafficking. Poised to begin either grad school or law school in the fall, she has already been accepted into several of the top law schools/grad schools in the country including Harvard Law. And, our youngest is completing a gap year between high school and college of his own fashioning culminating in his trip to live, work, and play in Japan for 3 months before he heads to college in the fall.

Your days will sometimes be chaotic; your way of homeschooling will not match anyone else’s no matter what dogma you decide to follow; your days will not look like what you envision and hope for in your minds’ eye. But it will be okay – if you respect your children’s individual needs and development, trust yourself and the process, and above all say yes every day to this adventure you have decided to undertake.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Quick Update

Things have been very hectic this past several months as I have returned to school myself working towards a second master's degree this time in counseling. So I pack my backpack and head off to college in the morning with Jenn! It has been exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time - not unlike homeschooling was all those years.

We move towards spring when many things will change around here. Sarah will graduate from Eurythmy Spring Valley in May; we will head out first for solo performances and then a couple of weeks later for the graduation performance. Hard to believe she will be a eurythmist in four short months! Jenn will graduate from the University of Missouri, Columbia with full university honors in May as well. As soon as the Honors Convocation is done and we have our pictures, we get on a plane to head to Spring Valley for soloes! Then she will head to Washington, D. C. for the year first with Truman Scholars Summer Institute and then with the Truman-Albright Fellowship program.

Josh will also graduate this spring from our homeschooling high school. Thus our homeschooling adventure will officially come to an end. He is discerning his future; even though he was accepted into the several schools he applied to, he will most likely take a year off and spend much of that time exploring D. C. and living with Jenn for the year. The empty nest is almost upon me! Good I have so many fiber art projects and my own school work (till spring 2010) to keep me busy. And, maybe I will have more time to add to this blog!

I apologize for not adding more updates more consistently. I did hope to get more done over the holiday break but that time flew by. I will say this - keep believing in the work you are doing and enjoy your days with your little and middle-sized ones. Even though I know you don't really want to believe me, the years fly by too quickly. I love this stage with my children but there are sometimes I do miss the days of reading together, making messes, and just enjoying each others' company. And, even though I clearly remember the rough days, there are times when I miss even those days as well.

Keep on having fun together - laugh, read, sing, play, even cry - soon enough they will soar!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Yes, But Can They Read?

Recently, someone asked me if my kids can read. When I stopped shaking my head over the silliness of that question, I decided to share an update on what my three have done with their year and what their plans are now.

The simple answer to the question "do your kids read" is YES. If you want to know the more involved answer to that question, read on!

Yes, my children can read. What’s more they do read. Voraciously. And not because someone else has given them assigned reading to do but because they love to read. They read because they are curious. They read because they enjoy a good story however long. They read because they are seeking information.

Sarah’s favorites: Scarlet Pimpernel and Eldorado both by Orczy, Middlemarch by George Eliot, Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and historical fiction. Jenn’s favorites: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte ( really about anything by all 3 of the Bronte sisters - Charlotte, Emily, Anne), Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, quality mysteries but also popular math books. Josh’s favorites: anything by Terry Pratchett, anything by Heinlein; anything by Asimov, anything by Jim Butcher but mostly he has always loved non-fiction about almost any subject most recently military science.

Sarah is finishing up her third year at Eurythmy Spring Valley. Along with her normal artistic studies, she also started the pedagogical training to prepare her to eventually teach in a Waldorf school. Always able to memorize long poems/forms quickly and with ease she has been encouraged to pursue the study of speech formation as she has a knack for eurythmy speaking.. She continues as a manager of the local food co-op as well as her involvement in the community theater at Spring Valley. This summer she will again work for the Testing Center on the Mizzou campus proctoring placement exams for incoming freshmen.

Jenn was named the Truman Scholar from MO for 2008 - a very competitive, highly prestigious national scholarship that is given to only 60-65 selected students each year. While sometimes there are two from a particular state, this year Jenn was the only student selected from MO. She is being courted by highly selective graduate schools as she finishes her junior year at Mizzou. She continues to maintain a 4.0 and is often told she is doing graduate level work already. As a writing tutor she is helping others to write college level papers and has had two articles published in writing tutoring journals (one on line and one hard copy). She was tapped into two secret honor societies this spring, one national society, Mortarboard and one local to Mizzou, LSV.

Josh is finishing up his junior year of homeschooling high school. He sat for the PSAT last fall and took the SAT this spring bringing in very respectable scores. He plans to major in Japanese Cultural Studies (or similar) and is looking at various schools as he narrows down his choices. Though he didn’t wake up to reading until he was about 11, his critical reading score on the PSAT was in the 96%tile, on the SAT in the 91%tile. When he isn’t reading he is writing, studying Japanese or working on various martial arts. And, he continues to do his volunteer work at PeaceNook. Now that the SAT is over and he can take up that math which interests him, he is diving into combinatorics and game theory.

So, yes, they have all mastered their basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills - and have gone on to be active citizens in the community. They are finding their niche by following their passions and curiosities yet are not afraid to jump through those hoops that are necessary to reach their goals. They have an inner motivation and perseverance that I admire. They carry on intelligent conversations about many subjects. In short they can (and do) read……and much, much more!

So here’s to the joy of reading and unschooling - happy summer to all.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

All That Finger Knitting!

My oldest learned to finger knit (sometimes called finger crochet) during her kindergarten year in a Waldorf school. She loved it, finger knitting yards of yarn while she listened to a read aloud, rode in the car on short or long trips or anytime she was in a quiet mode. Now at 23 yrs, she still loves the feel of yarn through her fingers. She often stays up late at night watching a dvd on her computer in bed. While she watches, she finger knits.

There is always the question of "what to do with all that finger knitting". When the children were much younger we used it as decoration on handmade items or as "horse reins" or any number of other creative things. A few years ago, Sarah decided to see what would happen if she sewed the finger knitting together into some kind of a shape. It has been amazing to watch what forms! No two are alike but all are creative and decorative. As you look at the pictures of some of her creations, you might keep in mind that each outcome was somewhat dictated by how the different types of yarn sewed together and she never cuts the length of finger knitting ("that would be cheating, mom!") so she uses the whole of whatever length she has finger knitted to sew it into some kind of creation. In general, the wools and silk/wool blends come together much looser than the cotton fibers.

1) Doorknob hanger: This was Sarah's first creation. Made of 100% cotton, it was a very long piece of finger knitting that she started sewing and this is what was created. When she was finished, she hung it on her doorknob and put one of her favorite little Waldorf gnomes inside peeking out!

2) Doll's hat: This was made of a 100% wool yarn. It is very floppy and sewed together very wide. She finger knitted the whole of the ball then took various colors of embroidery thread and sewed that down the middle of the entire piece of finger knitting. After that process was complete she started the sewing together process starting in the middle of a circular motion. At a point on the brim where she wanted the decorative zigzag of her finger knitting to go, she sewed that part in place and then finished the brim. So again there is no part of this where the finger knitting was cut - it is all in one piece from start to finish including the decorative design on the brim.

3) 3 small baskets: Perhaps perfect for a nature table. Made of some kind of blend - it was just some left over yarn she found that she finger knitted together. There wasn't too much of it but she made these 3 small baskets. The two baskets that have flat bottoms were sewn with the finger knitting running back and forth side by side for the width of the bottom (rather than circular as the others). This allowed her to control the width of the bottom of the basket. Again, she sewed the finger knitting all as one piece including the handles and decorative aspects on each basket.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Waldorf Unschooling Through the Teen Years: Final Thoughts

(The final essay in a series on Waldorf Unschooling Through the Teen Years)

One of the hardest parts of parenting and therefore homeschooling was to learn to trust that each child was unfolding in the way they needed to unfold. The tragedy comes from both ends of the spectrum – shifting the responsibility to our children at too young an age as well as not ever shifting the responsibility to them. It was hard to not push sometimes. We knew that if they wanted to matriculate in a traditional institution of higher education at some point in their future they would need to show four years of English, three-four years of math and science each, three years of social studies and two years (sometimes four) of a foreign language. While we didn’t want to abandon them to their own devices, somehow we had to figure out how to move the onus of responsibility for their education onto their shoulders even if that meant later they would have to deal with certain consequences. We had to trust and respect that their unique, individual educational process was right for them.

I have come to completely believe that there is much happening deep inside them even when I cannot see any immediate outward results. The hours my oldest spent digging in the yard or my youngest spends now pouring over his comics are not lost hours. Daydreaming and times for introspection are needed during these teen years. And, sometimes boredom is the impetus for great leaps in learning. Agatha Christie said, "We owe most of our great inventions and most of the achievements of genius to idleness, either enforced or voluntary." Maybe we actually owe it to our teens and society then to give them that time of idleness, of impasse and indecision. My daughter Jenn said once, "most people don’t really waste their own time, but most people don’t mind wasting other people’s time."

Our days were a mish-mash of laughter, work, tears, doubts but our schooling became just a part of the process of our lives together. There wasn’t a day that went by without something academic being accomplished but we didn’t do school at home. Our lives continue to be guided by Anthroposophic principles. Through the years some days that looked amazingly like "Waldorf" while other days it probably didn’t look like "Waldorf" at all. I look back on these almost 15 years with wonder and awe. It has been an amazing journey to be privileged to share with our children. We rarely did all I saw in my mind’s eye. Some days were bumpy. Sometimes it seemed we weren’t doing enough. I had moments of doubt and loneliness. But often it was the most difficult moments that led to the most powerful outcomes. I believe it is in the striving that we find ourselves; it is in the striving that we bring forth that which wants to be. Sometimes along the way it was helpful to look back and remember where we were 2, 3 or 5 yrs ago. I was usually amazed at the growth that had taken place somehow unfolding because and despite of the choices, decisions, twists and turns we had taken.

You never quite know where your child’s interests, abilities and opportunities will lead them. Looking back I can clearly see how each of mine has reached their current adventures in life but it wasn’t always clear looking ahead. On a plane to England during the summer of 2004, Sarah turned to me and asked "what would I have to do to become an eurythmist?" I was flabbergasted but on reflection of who she is and the path of her journey this made perfect sense. She is now in the middle of her third year at Eurythmy Spring Valley. As of right now, her plan is to finish her eurythmy training and then stay on at Spring Valley to do a fifth year of eurythmy training or be a member of the eurythmy troupe; after that she hopes to teach in a Waldorf school setting. She found a job at the local co-op, works in the costume shop on campus and progresses with her eurythmy studies; she is cooking her own food and navigating life in a dorm far away from the family base.

Jenn is now in the middle of her junior year at the University of Missouri, Columbia. She is majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Leadership and Public Service. She continues to thrive in an academic environment maintaining her 4.0 while become ever more involved with campus and community activities. She is holding down four jobs and continues with her community volunteer activities while carrying a full academic load. Future plans have her looking into any number of graduate programs and vying for various fellowship opportunities in the public service arena. This fall she coordinated a fashion show to raise money and awareness to combat human-trafficking. Her efforts made this event a rousing success with standing room only and raising over $2000.

Josh is now the only one in the homeschooling fold in the middle of his junior year of high school. He successfully navigated the PSAT this fall and is turning his thoughts towards college decisions and tests. His love of the Japanese culture is influencing his thoughts about what to study in college, thinking he will major in Japanese Cultural Studies. A trip to Japan is planned for this fall after all college applications are in. While he plans to apply for college, he is also exploring the possibility of a year’s deferment and has his eye currently on the Artistic Year at Eurythmy Spring Valley. And, so even my youngest, who claims to have the least Waldorf connection, is considering a year of eurythmy training before heading off to college full time.

I think back to the days when all three were under foot and wonder where those days have gone. In a little over one year, our official homeschooling days will come to an end when Josh graduates. But I sincerely believe that we will continue to enjoy each others’ company and continue to learn from each other no matter where the next steps on our journeys take us.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Waldorf Unschooling Through the Teen Years: Their Passions and Curiosities

(A continuation of a series of essays on Waldorf Unschooling Through the Teen Years)

As they got older and began to explore their passions and curiosities more deeply, they had to move out into the community because they were not in a school situation where all that was built in. At first we helped with this process, finding them classes, mentors, and areas to explore but as they got older they became instrumental in finding their own way with this. They have studied with various music teachers (in voice, fiddle, piano, oboe, Irish tin whistle), taken classes from community centers and private studios in various martial arts, fencing, computer gaming, dancing (from ballet to jazz; clogging to Irish set) as well as various community theatres and orchestras. They were led to many wonderful mentors and experiences as their passions and curiosities drew them out into the wider community.

Sarah was intrigued by the performing arts very early on but it wasn’t until she was 12 years old that she really identified this passion as something to actively pursue. She started auditioning at several children’s theatre companies in the Phoenix area. That first year, she auditioned for every children’s production at four children’s theatres and got rejection letter after rejection letter. She started taking dance lessons and struggled with that till it finally clicked after two years of hard work. She started taking voice lessons and had a range of about 5 notes and even then she wasn’t always on pitch. We supported; we encouraged; we dried the tears when rejection letters came; we found the auditions and drove her to them; we found the voice teachers and the dance studios and got her to classes in dance, voice and theatre. After the first long year of auditioning without getting parts, she finally got some pay off with numerous parts in numerous plays at three of the theatres as well as working behind the scenes. She struggled with voice lessons and then after studying for four years with a voice teacher, we changed teachers because we realized that how this particular teacher was teaching was not a good match and in fact this was ruining Sarah’s voice. She continued to audition and also got a paying job through one of the children’s theatres. She got parts sometimes, other times not. She continued to study voice and dance, really starting to click with dance when we finally found a laid back dance studio that matched her personality better. And, all along, she read Shakespeare plays and memorized dialogue and scene information, watched old movies and read biographies of actors, memorized monologues and poems, volunteered at theatres as often as possible either behind the scenes or ushering so she could see numerous plays, dived into historical fiction and spent time writing her own stories.

Jenn’s passion is music, math and academics. She always had to be busy and intellectually challenged. She went off the charts with her math, working through 60+ math textbooks and popular press books (many published by Dover). She got excited about knot theory and game theory as well as statistics. She did geometry artistically with origami and by drawing with colored pencils. She began to play the violin at the age of 6 years and continues to study violin/fiddle to this day at age 21 years. She also studied the piano and the oboe for a time and taught herself to play the bowed psaltery. Throughout her high school years she was a member of three different community orchestras. She started studying dance as well and fell in love with ethnic dancing as well as the discipline of ballet. She has always been an avid writer of both fiction and non-fiction. Today she is a writing tutor on campus and has been published twice in two different Writing Tutor journals. Before she started college, she was writing a book on unschooling; someday I hope she finishes this gem. Despite never writing a formal research paper during her high school years, she has received accolades from all her professors on her writing skills. From her volunteer work at the DVRAC and a community radio station, she has found a love of archival work.

Josh’s passion is the Japanese culture. He has been studying the Japanese language with his Dad for several years now, learning first the hirgana and katakana alphabets and now working on the kanji. He has intensely studied the histories of Japan as well as other Asian cultures, also studying their cultural practices, geography and art. This passion grew directly from his enjoyment of video/computer gaming, comic book heroes, and anime. He writes extensively; he draws extensively. He is studying the art of web-comics. His love of the various card games has increased his math, logic, and reasoning skills as well as influencing his voluminous fiction writing. I am constantly amazed at what he is learning from all this from the Greek alphabet to mythologies of many lands. At one point he shared with me an article on the Internet about Magic the Gathering and what the colors mean in that game. The article was very in-depth and the whole of the concept reminded me very much of the temperaments. From that article we had numerous conversations about various groups of characters and how they might fit into this Magic the Gathering color wheel. This led to us some interesting discussions about personality and psychology.

And, so I came up against one of the most difficult parts of Waldorf homeschooling: honoring their interests without compromising my own values. But as hard as it has been sometimes, I felt I had to meet them where they were even if I wasn’t interested in what they were interested in. And, then we would build from there. If I wouldn’t talk to Josh about his passions, then why would he come to me with his concerns or listen to me when I wanted to share something with him? How to honor their interests without compromising our own values? How to step aside so they could start to own their education? How to help them find and then encourage their passions, however fleeting they might be before a new passion/curiosity comes along, even when we didn’t understand their passion/interest? These became the questions we grappled with as we moved into the high school years. It took trust in our children, of their own wisdom, of the time they each needed unique to them to let this unfold.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Waldorf Unschooling Through the Teen Years: Volunteering

(A continuation of a series of essays on Waldorf Unschooling Through the Teen Years)

One of the most important pieces of homeschooling into the high school years is getting your teen out into the community. I once heard Doug Gerwin, from the Center for Anthroposophy speak about education. He felt that it was imperative that during the third 7 yr cycle (14-21 yrs) the teen needed to move out into the community even beyond the school setting. This was something we had been doing all along in a number of ways.

An extremely important way my children moved out into the community was through various volunteer activities. I cannot sing the praises of volunteering enough. It did not even really matter where they volunteered or how they picked the place, they just needed to be out there as early as possible. My daughters both logged more than 1000 hours of volunteer time during their high school years; their brother is easily moving in that same direction as he moves into his last years of high school.

Volunteer opportunities are sometimes hard to find for the younger adolescent but it was worth the effort of searching. When Jenn wanted to volunteer somewhere on her own at the age of 15, few places would take her. She finally checked out the Deer Valley Rock Art Center because it was just two miles from our home. We had been there once in all the years we had lived 2 miles from it and she didn’t have a strong interest at the time in archeology or petroglyphs. But they allowed her to volunteer there before she turned 16. She started in the fall of her sophomore year in high school. By the end of that school year, she had been named the Junior Volunteer of the Year but more importantly she had been given real work to do (cataloguing and accessioning their entire library collection and then entering the data into their on-line site). Soon her sister joined her at the DVRAC as well. They were allowed to participate in the Pueblo Baby Canyon petroglyph recording project where they worked alongside archeologists cataloguing petroglyphs on site and then entering that information into the computer later.

When we moved to Columbia, both girls began volunteering at the community radio station and Peace Nook, a not-for-profit venue involved in peace and social justice issues. Soon enough Josh, then age 12 years, joined them at the Peace Nook and he continues to volunteer there weekly recently finishing his fourth year. Jenn is now the director of the reel-to-reel project at the radio station and in that capacity has written grants, worked with programmers as well as others in the community, and gained extensive archival experience.

My children’s volunteer activities have included community theaters and orchestras, community radio, museums, rescue greyhound, and social justice venues. From their various volunteer activities they have received offers for paying jobs as well as leadership and academic opportunities. Sarah’s first paying job was with a children’s theater where she helped with an after-school theater program in an inner city school. Their portfolio of letters of recommendations from the various mentors/teachers they have worked with over the years is voluminous. As volunteers their opportunities and experiences were more diverse than many entry level jobs could have offered. These experiences quickly built a strong resume for both employment and college applications. Their volunteer activities strengthened their high school transcripts helping them to secure some scholarship money for higher education.

Volunteering was just one way my three have gotten involved in the community. My next essay will focus on how we found outlets for their passions and curiosities throughout their high school years.