Dada Math in the Park (working with Palindromes)

Dada Math in the Park (working with Palindromes)

In my last post, I talked about how my perspective had changed regarding my son’s education. How I was convinced that homeschooling would be great for our family, but that my son wasn’t convinced. I got the feeling that having been given a choice to homeschool, he felt more in control of his situation. We decided to wait until the end of the second trimester and see how he felt. In the meantime, I resolved to become more of an advocate within the school, and therefore help many more kids than just my own.

That’s how MMM and I found ourselves in the principal’s office, discussing our son and his feelings about school, as well as many larger questions like:

  • As a school, should we be allowing recess to be taken away as punishment?
  • Does the school have a homework policy? What happens if homework is not done?
  • Is there a way to promote positive discipline techniques among teachers? (I learned that our school is a Positive Behavior Support School, which I wasn’t even aware of!)
  • Are teachers being evaluated in any way?
  • Is there a way to improve the math curriculum so that it is not so intensely dependent on worksheets? 

These are hard questions that may not necessarily have one right answer. However, I found that our thinking was in line with our principal’s, which I was pleased to hear. We have a really good feeling about the direction the school is taking, and we are aware that it can take a long time to turn a school around. As I’ve said before, we believe in our neighborhood school and want to help, rather than abandoning the school.

Next, we asked the principal about the option of homeschooling for the remainder of this year and having our son attend school part time. Surprisingly, the principal was very agreeable, and said that our son could continue to attend school on a part-time basis while homeschooling.

The laws vary from state to state on whether a public school must allow children to attend on a part-time basis. These states are called Equal Access States. According to this document, in Colorado, “Children participating in a nonpublic, home-based education program are allowed equal access to the public schools’ extracurricular and interscholastic activities.” This document is provided by the HSLDA (Home School Legal Defense Association), who we can probably thank for paving the way for our generation of homeschoolers. Their arguments may have been originally based on religious freedoms, but the laws that were enacted are obviously beneficial for secular homeschooling families as well.

Meanwhile, our son continued to be disgruntled with school and things seemed to be getting worse. He complained more and more every morning and kept telling me that he felt like he was in jail. He said it was a place where he couldn’t be free to pursue his interests, where he was always being told what to do, where he couldn’t even talk to his friends, and had to ask to go to the bathroom. He even said he was losing his creativity and was having trouble thinking of things to draw (he’s always been an avid artist). I kept reminding him that we could homeschool for the last trimester of school, and he started warming up to the idea.

The day of our meeting with the principal was right around the end of second trimester, so I had a talk with my son about what he wanted to do. I told him that he could continue to go to school part-time and he really liked this idea. We discussed which classes he wanted to continue attending and together we formulated a plan and a schedule. I cleared it with the principal, his teacher, and other teachers involved. We handed in our Notice of Intent to Homeschool form, per the instructions on the Colorado Department of Education website, which means letting everyone know that we will start homeschooling in 14 days.

Given my last post, many have asked me why we’ve suddenly turned around and decided to homeschool. Ultimately, I think our son just needed a break and he needed to re-establish a positive relationship with his school. We think of this as a homeschooling experiment, to see what is possible.

We’re really lucky to have so much support from our local school. Our son can attend any class he wants. He attends school on Monday and Tuesday from 10:30 am until 2:05 pm for GT class (gifted & talented class), recess, lunch, and specials (phys ed, art, and music). MMM makes an appearance for an hour during the time that our son would normally have math class. We call this time “Dada Math” and they go to the park on nice days or hang out in the school hallway and have their own little math class. On one additional day per week, he goes to Art class with his classmates. In total, he’s in public school for 6 hours per week.

This schedule works out really well. He told me the first week: “This is great! I get to attend all the interesting classes, see my friends, and skip all the super boring stuff.” The first time he returned to school after officially leaving, all his friends came running up to hug him at recess. We still get to bike to school together three times a week. The streets are usually pretty quiet, which makes the bike rides much more enjoyable.

What’s important to me is that he’s starting to develop a healthy relationship with the school again. For the first week, he said he didn’t even want to bike past the school, but now he feels very comfortable going in and attending the classes he enjoys and seeing his friends. I can tell he is much happier and feels like his time at school is more balanced and productive.

There’s much more to report on: awesome days and projects, as well as some challenges. But, so far, things are working out surprisingly well in homeschool land. We still have our foot in the public school and our son has plenty of opportunities to hang out with his friends, so the social aspect is not an issue. MMM and I are still actively involved with the school and we continue to spend time with families that attend the school. In August, the plan is to have him return to school for the first trimester of third grade and see how it goes. We’re open to whatever ends up happening.

Education On My Mind

in Blog, Community, Homeschooling, Kids, Life

Ever since MMM wrote his article “My Son is Ready for Early Retirement“, I’ve been obsessed with the idea of Homeschooling or Unschooling our son.

When I get like this, I go into full on research mode. I read every single comment on the article (which I rarely do these days) and contemplated every idea presented. I was pleasantly surprised to read all the pro-homeschooling comments. I looked up Waldorf schools and Sudbury Schools (this was really interesting – look it up if you’re curious). I figured out that in Colorado, you can homeschool and even participate in programs run by the public schools for an option to do a bit of both.

Then, I did some research online and looked at homeschooling studies. I checked out a bunch of books from the library with titles like “The Good School” and “Radical Unschooling”. I read some of these books in a single sitting. The general consensus for me was that homeschooling is a very effective way of educating a child. I was convinced that with the right attitude and resources on my part, my child would do very well and even thrive.

So, I told my son that if he wanted to be homeschooled, I was all for it. Guess what? He didn’t want to talk about it. Somehow the idea upset him and for a full week, every time I brought it up, he was upset and wanted me to stop talking. So I stopped, but I was sad that as soon as I had convinced myself, he suddenly wanted to keep going to school. I had become so excited about the possibility and my role in it. I had been ready for action and was brought to a complete stop. It was a very odd reaction on his part considering his feelings on school and his repeated insistence that he wanted to stay home.

I mentioned this on Penelope Trunk’s blog in her article “What does genius risk-taking look like in the context of school?“. She had mentioned MMMs article on her Homeschooling blog and I chimed in asking: “What do you do if your kid doesn’t want to be homeschooled?” Penelope kindly replied with: “My younger son wants to go to school. I don’t let him.

I found this to be a really interesting answer, as many homeschooling parents have said that if their kids ever decide they want to go to school, they let them attend. She obviously feels so passionately that traditional schooling is terrible and possibly detrimental to a child that she won’t allow her kids to attend. This threw me for a loop, as I feel that my child’s opinion in the matter is of extreme importance. Was I really subjecting him to something so awful that I should take charge and just take him out? Her comment had me thinking for days.

Meanwhile, as this was going on for a couple of weeks, I continued to volunteer in the classroom. I volunteer every Monday morning for about 3 hours, so I get to see what is going on at school. I also volunteer for other events, so I’m at the school a lot. All my reading did not go to waste, as I realized that my perception of education had shifted quite a bit after doing so much research. I started acting differently with the kids and seeing their discussions and free-play in a more positive way. I also saw things I didn’t like – with the curriculum and how certain situations were handled by the teacher and by the school.

I was also perfectly comfortable letting the teacher know that my son would not be coming into school on his birthday. We stayed home and built a gigantic snow fort instead.

On those volunteer days, I watched my little boy and his interaction with others and realized that school provides him with a lot of fun times. For example, he enjoys being a leader in groups, he likes to make people laugh, and he’s very comfortable with his group of friends at school. He’s well liked and not shy at all with his peers. His personality and his comfort in his school environment have really blossomed since he was in kindergarten. And, while I think his reading and math skills would have been equally well developed (and perhaps more advanced) as a homeschooled kid, I do feel like his writing ability and his story telling have really benefited from the more structured school environment. Is this stuff important? I don’t know the answer, but my instincts say yes.

I also see how his day starts outside every morning as he rides his bike to school. We have very relaxed school mornings with dad making breakfast and lunch, while I sit with our son and read. He has recess twice a day and he has a gifted and talented class twice a week that he absolutely loves. He has an outstanding Art teacher and our son is always so excited to go to art class. There are a lot of good things. The teachers, for the most part, are wonderful and very excited about teaching. Their enthusiasm and experience really make the school special. He is always happy after school and bikes home excitedly telling us about his day. We know all the kids and their parents – we all hang out together for fun. We often bring a kid or two home with us after school. The community just can’t be beat.

So what is it then that he dislikes about school? Waking up early, being away from his parents, math worksheets, and many of the rules. The same stuff MMM hated about school, actually. Our kid is a homebody. He hates being away from us. Is the forced time away good for him? I’m not sure about that either, but I think it is, to some extent (I am really starting to think that a three or four hour school day would be ideal… 6.5 hours is a long time).

Since I volunteer, I also see all his classmates regularly (there are only about 17 kids in his class, which is nice). These kids, some struggling and some thriving, but all with so much personality and spirit… I love these kids. I want to see each and every one of them succeed. Some don’t have great support at home and I feel like I am able to help so many of them. They all yell out my name when I come into class and say goodbye when I leave. I have seen them struggle and make breakthroughs. I see them laugh and cry. One child told me she was sad because her father was in jail. These kids are incredible and I feel like I would be abandoning them. The school is incredible and has so much potential. It is a school I really believe in. In many ways, it is how a neighborhood school should be. They definitely have the right idea. There is community, diversity, incredible parents, fabulous teachers (again, not all, but most), they focus on things I care about: the environment, a world view, walking/biking to school. This school is trying to do amazing things and I want to help them. It is a school in transition, but they are on the cusp of something incredible.

One of the books I read encourages being an activist in your school. For now, I’ve decided that instead of taking my child out of school, I’m going to integrate myself more into the school. I’m going to be an advocate for the kids. I’m going to help bring the school up to its full potential. I’ll be more outspoken about things I think should change. That way, I help my own kid, but I also simultaneously help many more kids. Because every kid deserves a good education. I also get to be a role model for my child – he will see that when things aren’t the way you like them, you can change them. That one person can make an impact.

I’m not saying that homeschooling is not a good answer for families. I think it is a wonderful thing and I will homeschool my child if he wants me to. We might do it for a bit and then go back to his neighborhood public school. But, I also feel really empowered knowing that I can help a lot more kids than just my own.

Parent Sex Education Workshop

in Blog, Community, Kids, Life

Last night I attended an absolutely fantastic workshop for parents about teaching kids about sex and sexuality. My expectations were not very high – or, more specifically, I didn’t have any expectations. But I left feeling educated and empowered.

The woman running the workshop has a lot of experience and background on this topic and clearly did a ton of research. We were all there to help review the workshop, provide feedback on the content, and have a general discussion on the topic. We probably helped her out a little, but we all left feeling like we got so much valuable insight and education.

It’s a topic that is pretty taboo in our culture. As the presenter mentioned, using the words “kids” and “sex” in the same sentence makes many of us cringe. It’s not a workshop I would have signed up for myself — after all my kid is only seven! But this is a workshop that is going to be offered to parents of preschoolers (among many other parents as well). After listening to what this woman had to say, starting early makes complete sense.

The idea that we sit with our kids on one big day to talk about the “birds and the bees” is an intimidating and antiquated idea. In reality, these conversations start very early and are short discussions that happen constantly throughout a child’s life. Being able to start these conversations at an early age sets a precedent that it’s okay to ask your parents these questions.

The other point that resonated with me is: we need to know what we ourselves believe about sex. When she put this question forward, I was unsure. Nothing really came to mind as it’s not something I think about very often. Once she started asking questions, I realized I do have some pretty strong beliefs in this area.

In order to teach our children about sex (or about anything), we need to understand what our beliefs are, remind ourselves of our own history and how it has affected our beliefs, and provide information that is age-appropriate and also appropriate for a particular child’s disposition and emotional capabilities. We can think back to our own childhood and determine what our parents did to help us – what things we want to continue and what we want to do differently.

We discussed so many topics, that it would be hard to cover here, but they varied from young kids discovering their body parts, naming body parts appropriately, masturbation, the extremely important idea of consent, puberty, gender roles, different types of families, and sex in the media (by the way, once I know where and when this workshop is offered, I will let you know – I highly recommend it for any parent).

Consent is something that I am really interested in teaching my son. One thing the presenter mentioned that really stuck with me is that children need to be able to say no to adults in certain situations and that is okay. Whether it is giving grandma a kiss, having their picture taken, or hugging an uncle good night. To make children feel like they have to provide these kinds of affection because otherwise it might “make someone feel bad” may give a child the message that they cannot say no to adults or to their peers. I’ve always allowed my child to choose whether he wants his picture taken or hug or even say hi to an adult, but I always felt a bit of guilt due to social pressure. This piece of advice reminded me that there are other reasons for allowing kids to choose. The idea of consent becomes so important in relationships down the road.

Another aspect of the talk that resonated with me was the idea of secrets vs surprises. Secrets are something you keep from someone forever and surprises are eventually revealed. This helps me explain to my son why secrets are not a good thing for adults and children to have (which is how sexual predators often operate).

Finally, an important question was asked. What are your goals for your kids? By considering this end goal, conversations about sex and sexuality become more positive and focused.

What struck me most about this workshop (besides the fact that this very important topic is rarely discussed) is how gathering together as a community and having these difficult, yet important conversations, makes us feel united and empowered. It allows us to discuss particular scenarios in a comfortable setting, it gives us people to continue conversations with in the future, and it brings about varying types of people with different kinds of families points of view. It was a lot of fun – we ate good food, laughed a lot, and taught each other so many things.

No matter what the subject matter, whether it is money or sex or even the most mundane of topics, having conversations in a small group setting (perhaps with a leader to help focus and provide guidance) is something I want to try and do more often. It was sort of like my own mini 4-hour Chautauqua.

I’d love to see a similar workshop on discussing finances with kids. This is another topic that is confusing for parents to navigate. Perhaps I’ll even feel motivated enough to create one myself.