Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Chopin is Salad Music to My Kids, and Other News

The past 2 weeks we have been in Chicago visiting my family. I decided to try a bit of homeschooling to see how it would feel. I had a grand plan of getting started in a Nature Study (observing and drawing during a nature walk), Composer Study (Chopin), Reading, and some Spelling/Copywork (selecting words to spell and working on handwriting while copying passages). Here's how it turned out.

Nature Study:
The first day we tried this, the girls went out to my mom's backyard with their notebooks and pencils, looking for 10 living things to observe and draw. They had a blast, finding things like bugs, mushrooms, ducks and flowers. We didn't try it again until we went to the Chicago Botanic Gardens. The girls absolutely loved looking at the gorgeous flowers and writing down the names in Latin as well as trying to draw their favorite ones. We had a picnic at the Japanese gardens and observed a squirrel chasing another squirrel; they were delighted! It was a beautiful day- 70 degrees and breezy, and my mom was with me, which made the day even sweeter. We talked about our discoveries and our favorite flowers on the way home. We didn't do any more nature studies except for those 2 days.

Composer Study:
My goal was that we would study the life of Chopin and then conclude the 2 weeks with an outdoor concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Ravinia in Highland Park. Ravinia Festival welcomes artists from all over the world to their outdoor venue and you can purchase a lawn seat for $10 and watch/listen to the performers from the outdoor concert hall. To prepare for the all-Chopin concert, I had the pieces playing in the background during our playtime and in the car. Sadly, they didn't really seem very interested in it even though I was bawling like a baby at the melodies. When I tried to sit them down to talk about Chopin and his life, their eyes glazed over like, "When is this torture going to be over?" I didn't pursue it anymore after that. When we got to our lawn seats on the day of the concert, the girls were more excited to make their picnic dinner and play cards than listen to the music. We did see the piano soloist play with the orchestra for a bit, but they quickly wanted to return to their games. I realized that Chopin's music is really just salad music to my kids right now (my word for background tracks), and even though I could appreciate the interpretation of the music, they weren't ready for it. They preferred playing with my mom's keyboard that had all the funky rap sounds and creating bizarre sequences from it than listening to an orchestra. So we did have some form of music appreciation, but not exactly what I had in mind!

Ellie is my natural reader. She finished her 3rd Harry Potter book and is now into the 4th one in those 2 weeks. She loves to tell me about the chapters and keep her nose in the book all afternoon. Chloe on the other hand, would much rather play with her legos or run around the house. We found a Calvin and Hobbes book for her, and it was the first time that I had ever seen her quietly reading and laughing as she read! She wanted to show me what she was reading and the pictures, and sometimes she could barely talk because she was laughing so hard. I didn't care that the book was a comic strip, I was just happy to see her delighted to open a book for once! With Sophie, I read from the Complete Stories of Winnie the Pooh, which Ellie and Chloe actually enjoyed listening to as well. We also decided to read about the childhood of Abraham Lincoln at bedtime (from the Childhood of Famous Americans series), and they loved talking about how amazing it was that Abe didn't have any toys, or that he had to walk 3 miles barefoot to school, or that he was almost kidnapped by Indians. Reading to the kids is something that I really hadn't done much in the past, but it has quickly become one of my favorite things to do with them.

All 3 girls sat with notebooks and pencils at the kitchen table, and I gave them each a word or a letter to spell. I took words from an article about Chopin, and we did some vocabulary learning as well. I discovered a lot about where my girls are in their spelling! Ellie is very familiar with spelling patterns and more difficult words, while Chloe has barely learned how to spell even the simplest of words. We have a lot of work to do in this area. Although Charlotte Mason's methods don't necessarily focus on spelling right away, I just did this exercise as a way for me to see where my kids' skills are right now. Poor Sophie can only write certain letters and has the hardest time with the letter "s," so she writes her name "OPHIE". What was interesting is that we did about 35 words, and they wanted to do more! I made us take a break and then they spontaneously wanted to write a poem. Ellie wrote an interesting poem about shadows, and Chloe wrote about the blueberry muffin she ate that morning. Sophie drew a mermaid, her favorite obsession of late. Afterwards, I gave Ellie Psalms 1 from the Bible to copy word for word in her notebook, and we talked about what it means to delight in the Word of God as it says in the verses of the Psalms.

I didn't have a schedule laid out, so we didn't do all of these things in one day, or even every day, but when we did it, I began to see my kids differently and get a glimpse of their innate love of learning. I know some of my friends are already doing daily activities with their kids and being intentional about their learning through the summer, whether or not they are homeschooling. I am embarrassed to admit that this is my first time really being intentional about their learning, but I see the value in it now! I definitely identified some challenges that I will have to figure out, such as balancing the 3 of them together and adjusting my expectations of what they can handle, but it's worth the challenge. And maybe by the end of it, they will someday change their minds about Chopin!

Friday, June 4, 2010


It's already here- the last day of school! And it's official- we are homeschooling Ellie for 4th grade and Chloe for 2nd. I had a chance to talk with the principal about withdrawing our kids for next year, and she was incredibly supportive. Her own daughter homeschools!

As I have been slowly letting people know about our decision, I am consistently met with "Why?" It reminds me a lot of when we decided to go with home births rather than a hospital delivery. When I told people I was going to birth at home, they would look at me probably like Columbus' peers did when he told them that the world was round. It just doesn't compute. Why choose a home birth? Everyone goes to the hospital to have a baby! Why choose home school? Everyone just goes to public school! Why question the establishment? Why reject the standard?

To that, I respond, "Why not?" Why not see if there is another way? Why not try something different? What will it hurt if we do something new for a year? And if it doesn't work like I hope, what do I lose? Of course, the stakes were high with a home birth; many people thought I would lose the baby's life and it was irresponsible to do a home birth. One thing I have always believed though is that the most natural way is the best way. Birthing at home for me was the most natural, and I sought to make it happen; what a wonderful experience it was. Teaching is also naturally done at home; children learn from their parents, whether we realize what we are teaching or not. Probably the most acceptable version of this principle can be seen with food and the organic movement- the more natural and home-grown, the better. We just had dinner tonight with some friends who have started an organic garden; what an awesome example of how much you can gain from some careful investment of time and effort!

So yes, we are going all-natural next year. I look forward to spending quality time cultivating the garden of their minds and souls next year. I will be planting a lot of different seeds and I pray for a good harvest. Will I have bad days? Yes, I expect that. Will I question myself and why I chose this path? I'm sure. But I also hope that I will see some fruit of my labor, and I consider it a privilege to be able to try school at home. So to answer your question of "Why?" Well, "Why not?"