Saturday, September 08, 2007

A Kinder Garden?

I got my Sensational Beginnings catalog email on 8/17 with the following expression I found hysterical:

“With more than 500 educational and art items, you’re sure to find exactly what you’re looking for to ease them back into learning.”

So, “learning” takes a vacation over the summer, too? Ha! What a crazy misunderstanding of the concept! Children must be “eased” back into that DIFFICULT experience of LEARNING! Ouch.

I cannot express how much learning took place tonight, just at the dinner table when my son's brain stopped mulling over a curiosity he'd not been able to solve on his own over a couple of days, and he asked me a poignant question about the Titanic disaster to discover the answer. He has been acting out the scenarios of the iceberg crash in his bed, pretending there has been a "new wheel" added to the "oceanliner" which will help it, now, steer quickly away from the danger ahead. I, as his passenger, was given full assurance that he, the captain, had everything under control and that I would safely land on the shores of the United States unharmed. There were other ships coming along to assist us, tonight. Ships coming in from multiple directions--a Chinese ship, a Spanish ship, an English ship and a British one, too. I explained that English & British would be the same, and he grasped that pretty quickly, almost like an "Oh, yeah, duh!" moment. Please!

And, Logan READ his first book tonight!!!! We got a perfect first reader just before "last call" as we checked out right at 6 PM at the Reston Public Library. The lights were dimming, and Logan was anxious about the library closing while we were still inside--that was adorable. I assured him they would let us finish out transaction and not kick us out. In the car, before we pulled away, he had this small book in his lap--one he'd randomly stripped off the shelves like a speed shopper in a contest. Each page had just one word, "Hat. Wind. Gone..." etc. Out of approximately 30 words in the book, I only had to help him, slightly, with three. I was so proud of him! And, his was not painful learning; he wanted to read, so he learned how. That's all. What did we do, one new friend asked me, to "teach" him. We read to him. We talked about letters, words, sentences. He went onto the Starfall website, played Reader Rabbit games and watched Leap Frog videos. We pointed out words in public, helping him see the patterns. It was just a natural part of our day. I didn't choose a curriculum--it was all around us. That is what it means to learn--if what you learn has no direct connection to the world around you, you will not retain it. How are we learning math? With money. With music. We count everything. We add. We subtract. I give him four carrots and Teagan three. She gets one less because she is smaller. I get one more because I am bigger. It isn't a brain strain for us--it's just infused in every conversation.

Learning. It's as natural as breathing for a child. Everything in the world is new--and inborn curiosities seek to discover, understand and gain command over those objects and concepts that make life operate. We do not have to force learning. We sing songs, we live together, he asks questions, I answer. If I don't know, we research the answer to his satisfaction and mine. I am learning, but I am not in "school."

For our 27 days in Kentucky, Michigan & back we brought along 15 books about trains from the library. I kept them in one canvas bag, where they were returned every night. Logan, Teagan and I poured over those books again & again. Some were aimed at the elementary school level, but most were coffee-table-book-sized historical exposes of trains across America. The photographs were unbelievable, beautiful, and very educational. Then, to give meaning to what we read, we went on three train rides (two were cabooses) during those three weeks (two in MI, one in KY), then took Amtrak (in VA) down to Williamsburg to see Daddy for Labor Day Weekend. Not one of those trains had a Thomas face painted on it, although that would be fun, too.

Motion teaches physics--when the brakes are hit, unexpectedly, a child learns about the principle that all things in motion remain in motion until they encounter an equal and opposite reaction. At age four I don't have to give him those words for him to learn the concept, but I will. He will tell you Like Attracts Like (or water attracts water), if he has a spill to clean up. Use a damp towel instead of a dry one--it will work more effectively. This is our life. When one of our train rides ended abruptly and unexpectedly as a result of the air brakes' failure to release, we learned about disappointment, and reframing a situation. It was exciting to walk back on the rails, an otherwise forbidden activity!! Cool. (Oh, you know, I gave it the ole "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade" twist...).

I was recently admonished that the stresses of my life may be, in part, attributed to my homeschooling the kids. Nothing could be further from the truth. If I were letting them go into a stranger's hands every day, and having to drive them to & fro daily to do so, that would add stress to my world; not having them near me, playing along beside me, learning how to interact with each other as siblings. Sure, parenting brings on unbelievable stress--especially when solo, but the homeschooling part has nothing to do with it.

I met two young girls this summer, ages 8 & 10, who were literally dreading the start of school because they had been assigned the worst teachers imaginable. Presley told me how she had seen kids leave the classroom she’d be entering in mere weeks, literally crying because the teacher is so mean. Hannah's expectations weren't quite as dreadful--she only hadn't gotten her choice--the favorite 3rd grade teacher. Well, isn’t that a great way to anticipate the start of school?

And here’s a story for you: Tuesday was the start of kindergarten for five girls and one boy whom we know in this neighborhood—Delaney, Liseth, Shelby, Lilly, Brenna and Joseph are all attending the same school. After the first day there was chaos and some kindergartners got on the wrong busses—they were not home until after 6 PM, once the school & bus drivers sorted out who belonged where...Can you imagine being five years old and feeling anxious, already, about your first day, then being misdirected for two hours!?!? Have you been "taught" your home address & phone number yet?

And, of those five neighborhood girls (none of whom were lost on the busses), one cried so hard on Day Two about her outfit (supposedly) that she was allowed to stay home. DAY TWO! Then another girl three houses down from the first was HIT by two boys on DAY TWO during recess! Then, there is my nephew, who learned his first swear word on the first day of kindergarten two years ago...(I confess, my son heard his first swear word from me...I guess we homeschool that, too. But, at least I was able to discuss it with him, correcting myself & explaining that I was wrong for letting my anger take control of my sensibilities. I accepted responsibility for my actions and asked his forgiveness. He got to see the balance of one person correcting her own mistake. How could I possibly mitigate the swearing-child-at-school situation? How many more times would it happen? Who would correct it? A teacher with 20+ other students to care for, who cannot possibly hear the conversations between boys? How could I help my son follow along to be cool, if I wouldn't even be aware of the habits & patterns until they came home one wretched night, in an impulse of rebellion against me? Oh, no, that was actually me swearing at my mom the words that I learned from boys at school...

Another friend is having incredible difficulties this week with her son’s first week of Kindergarten—major problems with his teacher that are incensing this, she has an impulse to pull him out & homeschool, but believes he has benefited from his preschool year enough (socially) to keep him in, regardless. I hope I can help change her mind.

It is only the first week! Are these just kinks that need to be worked out, and are the children going to fare alright at the other end of it all? Is it worth the experiment on your child? Doesn't that bring on stress for a mom?

I am reading John Holt’s book with example after example like this—it makes me so convicted about our choice, even on the days when I am stressed out.

So, two of the kindergartners’ moms across the street were talking to each other saying, “I feel bad for them...they have 18 more years of this...” (Eighteen? That’s a miscalculation on her part, with 12 more years of public school and then 4 of college...but, anyway...). And the other mom agreeing, “Yeah, I feel bad for them, too. It is so hard...”

Now, remind me, why should I consider forcing my child into this next Fall? The kinder place for my children is not kindergarten. It is at home, and interacting with other homeschooling peers in natural settings--playing, learning about life in context. Plus, we have enough social interaction in our neighborhood at all hours--with children after school. It is how I know all of these moms & their children. We didn't have to attend some institution to socialize--we did it on the streets of our neighborhood. I want to have more choices over the influences in his life--what we allow on TV (or not), what books we check out from the library, or buy for our shelves, what foods they take in every day. Why should that stop so soon? Eighteen will be here before I want it to be, anyway, and my influence will wane enough then (Or, again, in own case, influence had faded long before eighteen. I was smoking after school at age ten, swearing at my mother bold-faced at age thirteen, and breaking all sorts of family-set boundaries the second I stepped foot on my college then I was nineteen, but the damage of peer influence had long been sealed).

Today I felt frustrated at the grocery store--so many really bad choices I had to keep explaining away--I sounded like a broken record, "No, son, we don't eat that. Why not? Because it's loaded with High Fructose Corn Syrup...Because it's colored with artificial coloring...Because it isn't good for us...Because there is a better alternative over here...Because that isn't in our budget..." Finally I said to him, "When you are all grown up you can make your own choices, and eat Cookie cereal if you want, but as long as your daddy & I are buying the food we'll give you the best we can afford." (Think I'll shop at Trader Joe's more often when the kids are along for the trip. Fewer "no's" there).

As far as I can see it, the best we can afford for his education is to just say no to Kindergarten. Amen?

Please forgive me if you feel differently. It might be working out wonderfully for you. If so, God Bless You!! Thank Him tonight for the great teachers or school that your children are lucky enough to be districted into, or that your money can afford.

Oh, and for the record, yes, I know that the "kinder" in kindergarten is German for "child." It's all a play on words...

p.s. Learning to count by odd & even numbers can be so much fun! Here are the original lyrics to one of our favorite silly songs, where (I'll be darned), you learn without knowing it! (We sing the Trout Fishing In America version, which I have written below). I love that we can sing it on the highway & give CONTEXT to numbers.

18 Wheels on a Big Rig
(originally written byStuart Mitchell © 1990 South Hand Music)

Well, there’s 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-
11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18 wheels on a big rig
“Okay, everybody now!”

Well, there’s 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-
11-12-13-14-15-16-17-18 Wheels on a big rig
And they’re rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

“Mighty fine, good buddy, let’s back the big rig on up now.”
Well there’s 18-17-16-15-14-13-12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Wheels on a big rig
And they’re rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

“Okay, let’s just count the even number wheels...”
Oh, there's 2-4-6-8-10-12-14-16-18 wheels on a big rig
And they’re rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

“Okay, let’s go to other side of the truck
and count just the odd number wheels”
Well, there's 1-3-5-7-9-11-13-15-17 wheels on a big rig
And they’re rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

“I think you blew a flat, Dad.” “I think you might be right.

Ok, you think you're so smart. Why don't you try counting ‘em in Roman numerals!”
Oh there's i-ii-iii-iv-v-vi-vii-viii-ix-x-xi-xii-xiii-xiv-xv-xvi-xvii-xviii wheels on a big rig
And they’re rollin’, rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

I will now attempt to divide the wheels of a big rig by pi!
Well, there’s 3.143142567911..million wheels on a big rig
And they’re rollin', rollin', rollin', rollin' rollin' rollin'

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