Wearing Lots of Hats/Adult Metamorphosis

“If you are good through this meeting, I will let you watch a lot of Magic School Bus,” I said to the boy this afternoon. He doesn’t get free range of Magic School Bus. It is a coveted bus. I had just finished talking to him in my most scolding voice—acting in my role of Strict Mother—about how he was terrorizing the household. I needed good behavior today.

image-2018-07-01.jpgSwitching roles: from raindrop to diamond.
The thing most likely to make a homeschooled family roll their eyes is the word “socialization”. I know, because I sometimes tie my hair up in a tight bun, pick up a ruler, and take on a role as Homeschool Teacher. “Socialization” is such a popular topic among those that haven’t thought homeschooling through. For a naturally outgoing kid, meeting friends and interacting in society is ridiculously easy while homeschooled. There are endless opportunities. For a child that is a little shy but warms up easily, it is still not a concern. For the child that is hardcore shy—that clings to a parent’s leg and takes more than one meeting with a new friend to actually interact—is where things get a little more difficult. This fall my son will be joining a lot of activities for the sole purpose of getting a bit more comfy interacting with the outside world. The first of which we started today.

Oh the things a parent will do for a child. I will put on a forest green polo shirt, rummage through the closet to find a pair of khaki pants, and smile while I open my door to some strangers, all for my newest role: Scout Leader.

image-2018-07-01 (1).jpgTransformation from princess to mermaid.
I decided to start up a local chapter of Spiral Scouts, acting as co-leader. The boy needed a scouting program to join that was not too big—something low key; something that could grow with us. In addition, I really like to teach my children the rhythms of nature. The rhythms of nature are a lot of what Spiral Scouts is about, because it was started by a pagan church. So here I am, living in what I consider the southernmost tip of the Bible Belt, starting up a scouting program that reeks of pagan undertones. Although we are not actually pagans and the group is run secularly, I have a strong feeling that we are going to have some interesting interactions around town. It is so easy for people to judge what they don’t understand. That said, I always see value in showing the kids the world without the rose colored glasses of “normal” life.

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The well mannered scout and the driveway pool.

The Magic School Bus promise kept things smooth. My clean living room internally exploded with craft supply rubble as the eight children entertained themselves. I was busy in the dining room with the adults, pamphlets spread out neat across my table, while I transformed into Scout Woman.

I wonder if most people transform like I do, or if it is a unique feature of my personality. I fill whatever void is left in a relationship. If I am with robust personalities, I fill in the role of shy listener. If my companions are taciturn, I become outgoing. Standing in my dining room surrounded by the staring eyes of adults all waiting to hear my presentation, I am suddenly an organized, dependable scout leader.

The boy was making crafts with the lot of them, not outright socializing, but not hiding either. Progress. Once we really start to get our hands dirty, friendships with his fellow giggling kindergarteners are inevitable. Meanwhile, I’ll be Strict Mother-Homeschool Teacher-Scout Woman, among other things.

After all the stress of metamorphosis, we unwound before dark in the pool of the driveway. We all unwind in our own ways. The boy kicked the water to see how far he could make it splash. The tot crawled, rolled, and frolicked. What a strange lot we are. For my final role of the day, I walked lazily barefoot through warm puddles, and stared up at the sky to think about life, as Philosopher Woman.

Firefly Magic (for any age)

 

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Beautiful lace.

Gleaming neon butts blinking away to the dark night are completely fascinating to Floridians. I can’t say with certainty that Florida does not have fireflies, but we only see them once in a blue moon. My three favorite things about coming up north to visit my grandmother are Queen Anne’s lace, fireflies, and rocks—in that order.

 

We were all tinkering around my grandmother’s porch as dusk approached this evening. My grandmother was sitting on the porch-swing telling me a story about her high school days.  She once had to ride on a logging truck while wearing an evening gown, in order to attend a special event for her graduation. During this story, the tot found a miniature version of a mop and was scraping it haphazardly across the boards. The boy was counting cars, shouting out with enthusiasm what the models were. It was then I caught the first glimmer of the blinking neon butts.

The boy ran down the porch steps with his little glass jar and aluminum foil top. He is far from a bug catching novice. He knows the importance of speed and dexterity—gentle but not too gentle. He is very effective at what he does. But soon he was back, imploring me to assist with controlling the captives while new captives were shuffled in. I walked down to the dry green grass, dotted all over with clover. The woods was painted with odd shadowy shapes, having taken in night before everywhere else. The fireflies looked like happy little nightlights gleaming on and off against it. They looked like pure magic. I had been wanting to catch them in a jar—like I’d seen in books and on TV when I was a kid—but until recently I had no real excuse to do so. Finally, the boy could be the excuse to get those little blinkers in one place for a proper examination.

image-2018-06-20 (3).jpgWonderful, useful rocks.
It should be pointed out here that “firefly” is not the correct terminology for where I am visiting. Apparently “firefly” is a northern term. In the dialect of my location, they are “lightening bugs”.

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The tot, intrigued with the fireflies lightening bugs but lacking the concentration stamina of the boy, ran around the grass carrying a paintbrush she’d picked up somewhere while yelling out random things. I was busy manning the aluminum foil. The boy kept catching them, and I kept tapping on the top saying to them “Back, beasts! Back!” as I resealed the aluminum foil. Calling them beasts was maybe a little harsh. They are so lovely, they deserved better.

“Come up here and let me see what size jar you’ve got,” my grandmother called from the porch steps—cane in one hand, hammer in the other. A proper sizing and holing of the top was done, and we were prepared to take on the lot of them with our new, efficient equipment.

The tot ran up to me, putting her face within two inches of mine, and with wide eyes declared “Fireflies!” Toddler excitement is so contagious.

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The best I could do.

The boy beckoned me down toward the deep, dark woods where they were plentiful and magical like a gathering of fairies. Who should a female lightening bug pick? The one that flashes the most frequently, or the one that flashes a millisecond longer than the other? Or just the first flasher she comes along? Decisions, decisions.

We captured what I thought was ten, but got confused because there were many escapees, and many additions, and too much movement to get a proper count. We carried them up to the porch where I kept telling the boy to startle the jar to make them flash. I was bent on getting a flashing picture. After all, I’d been waiting for this opportunity for years.

Eventually we went in to eat homemade chocolate chess pie. Now I sit awake in bed with a jar of lightening bugs on the night stand.

The stinkers are not flashing though.

The Creatures of Nightmares, a Field-trip.

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“Where’s that food shipment for the T-Rex? He’s getting pretty grouchy,” a woman’s voice chirped out from a radio overhead. “On its way,” a man said. “What about the Velociraptor issue? There’s a lot of noise over here.”

A camouflage colored fabric surrounded the corridor, keeping us on track. We passed the four foot long skull of a creature lying abandoned in the sand just outside of our hallway. The boy eyed it, squinting. I could feel the adrenaline rising in his little four-year-old self. The radio continued with its alarming rattle of static and voices squawking out concerns. We passed a nest the size of a sandbox, tall as the boy’s chin. He strained himself to see the large eggs inside. He looked cautiously. Anything could be in there. Anything could be coming out of there at any moment. The tension was mounting.

We rounded a corner and there was the entrance into the danger. A large map told us we had entered Pangea. The boy didn’t look at it – he’s always wanted to see Pangea, but now that he was there he must keep his wits about him. Pangea made a gentle transition. The first creature in sight was small and looked like it could be the boy’s pet. It shook its tail back and forth, shuffling along the ground. This did not calm the anxieties from the distant rumbles and groans pounding through the woods. We rounded the next corner and saw a Protoceratops. A swamp surrounded the trail on one side with thick tangles of vines and low hanging plants. More humans crowded in behind us. There was no escape, only forward.

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The sister, only two years wise, walked at his side. She did not know fear. She did not know dinosaurs, either. I awaited a change in heart. She stopped in front of a grouchy looking fellow, as tall as her papa. It spat at her and she did not flinch. She looked him square in the eye and said in firm toddler words, “He have water.” This little tot had proved herself. She was then our guide.

Onward ho, past the freakish Archaeopteryx, around the angry pounding on a shed marked “velociraptor”, next to the formidable Dakotaraptor.

Things took a sudden alarming turn. Out of nowhere stood the story-tall Spinosaurus. He nodded his thin face back and forth, his mouth open wide displaying his sharp teeth and his tongue flicking back and forth. He towered over our guide and the boy. The boy stared on with trepidation, declining a photograph with the beast, but no doubt absorbing his monstrous proportions. The Spinosaurus never again would be an inch tall orange plastic model bought from the dime bin at the thrift store. It would now have new life.

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We continued past the mild triceratops and a freakish looking tractor-sized reptile coated in white hair. The boy was growing more comfortable; the guide was walking with complete confidence. We reached the finale. Peeking through the tree branches, sneakily watching until we approached, and then letting out an almighty roar with a shake of its massive head and barred teeth, was the inevitable Tyrannosaurus Rex. He roared on, and fool-hardy tourists took pictures beneath him. The boy stood still briefly for one, because he knew the others would be the first to go should the T-Rex attack.

The guide earned a two dollar tip, the equivalent of a carousel ride.

This is a homeschooling fieldtrip: learning about dinosaurs, and scaring the tarnation out of your student at the same time.

Our Lamborghini is the Shop. Homeschooling is a house full of car parts.

“Some days are diamonds, some days are rocks.” Yesterday was a diamond kind of day, or at least some sort of gem stone. Today was a rock. Or not even a true rock—a block of concrete.

Yesterday, we stayed home and took it easy. The boy spent his free time working on his extracurricular pursuits. He has high hopes of being a toy vehicle mechanic. First, he figured out how to properly put in AA batteries into his electronic trucks. Then, he had to figure out how to remove screws from them, and before I knew it, the boy was taking them all to pieces. We have a truck graveyard on the kitchen counter—six inch long bumpers, colored plastic headlight squares, and screws rolling all over. He learned an important lesson: When taking something apart, it may never fully go back together. This knowledge hasn’t slowed him down in the least.

Right now there is a milk truck in my living room flipped upside down, exposing its underbelly and a missing battery cover. It looks as though it is waiting for anesthesia before surgery begins. A large Hess tractor trailer is taking up part of the free space on the couch next to me. It has a cracked flatbed. Half the screws have been removed and an intricate system of internal organ/wiring is exposed. This is a difficult case, but what the mechanic lacks in experience he makes up for with enthusiasm.

A Lamborghini has its top casing off, revealing an electronic board—the brain. I don’t know what is wrong with the Lamborghini that would require brain surgery. I just hope the mechanic remembers to count all his tools before sealing it back up this time. A Lamborghini with a rattle would be an embarrassment, especially for the Italian police. This is, for the record, a Lamborghini Polizia car. It says so on the side. I had no idea Italian police drove Lamborghini’s—you learn so much when you have children.

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There is a Hess Gasoline helicopter sitting at my feet. I have no idea why Hess needs helicopters, but apparently they do. At present it is missing the door to the cockpit, which looks exceedingly dangerous and likely the cause for it to end up in this repair shop. The first fix of tape did not work. The door was lost, hopefully without taking the pilot with it.

A random boom with a roller attached to it has been dropped in the middle of the living room. It is kind of like seeing a detached robot arm. I don’t know why it was removed from the tractor, or if it will be returned. Who knows, maybe it is going on the Hess helicopter – the Frankenstein of helicopters.

Today—concrete day—I accomplished nothing. I spun my wheels all day. While wasting time, I found screws and car pieces beginning to invade normal areas of the house. Stray screws were falling onto my clean dishes. There are car parts on my bed. I’ve begun to invent and enforce ordinances—no trucks in the kitchen, no screw drivers on the floor, no tune-ups during meal times, etc.

Last I heard, there was mention of making a “toy store” of truck parts. Tomorrow, all may be hauled off to the toy truck junk yard. They will be salvaged, for what mechanical research I do not know.

Learning While Not Learning: Skins, Wings, and Shells

I was up to my elbows in soap suds this afternoon, when my son came in to ask me to look at a snake he had found. I assumed it was one of two scenarios: he’d managed to find some discarded toy that was snake-like, or by the time he had meandered in and I meandered out any real-live snake would be long gone. Neither inspired me to drop what I was doing, but I went out anyway. Can’t be too careful with children and snakes. As it turned out, there was a snake. Or rather, part of one.

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This is a great specimen for our nature table. Unfortunately the snake managed to squeeze himself under a picket fence while shedding it, and it tore easily into multiple pieces. It now looks something like a strip of papery bubble wrap. At the moment that it was found I had a bit of indigestion, and the look of the tube on the inside of the skin made my weak stomach want to empty itself. Something about that tube, yuck. The stomach turning papery bubble wrap is now on display with our other odds and ends.

Here is our bug collection. Of course, looking at and handling a real specimen is a much better learning tool than any picture. Better still, having them all together for viewing the characteristics of an insect. Do they all have six legs? Yes. Exoskeletons? Check. Perhaps wings? Antennae?

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I am not too easily intimidated by bugs, unless they creep up on me. Since this bug collection was started, zombie bugs have managed to startle me. Mostly it has been by way of my son suddenly dancing them around in front of my face like a puppet on his finger.

The thing that catches my eye most about this collection is the cockroach. That is the only bug in the group that has a negative association with it as being a “dirty” insect. Not considering its habit of invading human homes, it does have a repulsive look to it. It is so shiny and such an unattractive brown. Poor, disgusting creature.

The nature table also sports a bit of ocean. I snuck some writing practice into my kindergartner’s examination of seashells. We both learned a lot of shell names and there were a lot of good questions. My son kept wanting to know more about how the shells once had creatures similar to a clam living inside them. It is hard for a four year old to grasp that the slimy, sluggish blob is a living creature.

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Sneaky homeschool teachers are always finding ways to push some learning into times outside of the teaching schedule.

The Virtues of Nursery Rhymes

I love children’s books. Long before my children could understand, I was reading to them. When my son was a toddler I would read to him things far above his attention span while he played toys. Initially it seemed like only a soothing activity to me, but now I realize that I genuinely love the content of children’s books. They are likable for a few obvious reasons: the stories are happy, beautiful, or peaceful; and if not, they are exciting stories of adventure. They are a short reprieve from the reality of adulthood.

My toddler daughter has been very interested in Mother Goose lately, so I have spent a lot of time with our tattered copy. The poor thing has tape on almost every page.

As a child I learned many Mother Goose rhymes by heart. I was surprised how many rushed back to me once I started reciting them for my son. There is all sorts of virtue mixed into the classic stories of childhood. For instance, there is the classic rhyme:

Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream,
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

I struggle to take this philosophy to heart, but I would like to.

There is also a lot of sneaky wisdom in Mother Goose. For instance, we have the importance of details:

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost,
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost,
For want of a horse, the rider was lost,
For want of a rider, the battle was lost,
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Perseverance:

The itsy bitsy spider
Climbed up the water spout.
Down came the rain
And washed the spider out.

Out came the sun
And dried up all the rain,
And the itsy bitsy spider
Climbed up the spout again.

Procrastination:

They that wash on Monday
Have all the week to dry;
They that wash on Tuesday
Are not so much awry;
They that wash on Wednesday
Are not so much to blame;
They that wash on Thursday,
Wash for shame;
They that wash on Friday,
Wash in need;
And they that wash on Saturday
Are lazy folks indeed.

Kindness:

Speak kindly to your dog, my boy!
All things that live know pain and joy.
Speak harshly to your dog and see
How sad and shamed he seems to be;
His head, and ears, and tail all say,
Oh! Let me go far, far away!

And for patience:

Little Maiden,
Better tarry;
Time enough next year to marry.
Hearts may change,
And so may fancy;
Wait a little longer, Nancy.

Then there is the more well-known side of Mother Goose, which leaves the reader full of questions.  Like this one about the ultimate party:

Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with
The spoon.

And lastly, one relevant to conclude this post:

The man in the moon
Looked out of the moon
And this is what he said,
“Tis time that, now I’m getting up,
All babies went to bed.”

Goodnight World.

Headmistress

I am a reasonably young person, with an old person’s mind.  My body might be thirty-one; my mind is seventy-one.  If reincarnation is possible, I was likely a headmistress with a well pressed dress, hair tied up in a fierce top knot, a scowl across my face, and a ruler in my hand for slapping knuckles.

In most other facets of my life I am a disorganized mess, but when it comes to my children I have high expectations and become a strict, and at times intense personality.  It is simply because I want them to not be a procrastinating, disorganized mess (i.e. me).  The trouble is, I feel like most of humanity has a bit of a rebellious streak.  There is something about being given a forceful command, which makes a child want to do the opposite.  I have been slowly accepting that my role as scowling headmistress is not going to fly.   You catch more flies with sugar, I believe the saying goes.

I need balance, and patience, and…maybe a sugar high.

This sketch is my reminder to fight my alter ego tooth and nail–to save our little schoolhouse and my forehead from those deep set wrinkles.

Headmistress

 

 

The Kitchen Table

Books
This homeschool’s greatest love: Books.

I crept away from the soft blue glow of a nightlight and sleeping children.  The house was silent except for the gentle tick of the grandfather clock.  I nuzzled down into the couch that has grown well-worn from nights like these. I could see the smooth gray river rocks set on the kitchen table, contrasting awkwardly with the brown faux-granite tabletop.

We used those rocks earlier to illustrate arithmetic.  A glorious moment happened with those rocks this morning, when I realized my son understood the concept of multiplication.  At the same brown tabletop my son learned to read—step-by-step, one little piece of phonics at a time.  The faux-granite has been rubbed raw of its glossy sheen over these months of arithmetic and phonics.  Craft projects hang from a miniature clothes line suspended in a corner nearby.  Colorful toddler scribbles, shaky abc’s, dried glue drippings, truck outlines in thick blue marker—each one is a masterpiece in its own right.  Each one is a testament to growth.

Water plants
Hands-On Learning

I turned on the lamp so that my work space was cast in gold light.  I used a book on constellations as a mouse-pad.  The grandfather clock ticked on as the soundtrack to the night.  I felt heavy from the weight of time.  I feared losing a grasp on it.  I wanted to hang onto those lovely, peaceful nights of planning and reflecting.  I thought about the day’s successes—about the sudden realization of multiplication.  In that moment my son looked at me in silence.  I could imagine the gears turning in his head and could almost feel the rising of emotion as suddenly the connection was made, a second before the correct answer to the problem was spouted out.  It was another concept to be put in his memory.

We are laying a foundation that I am fascinated to watch, as it continues to be built onto, closer and closer to something magnificent.  I hope his mind will be a mansion someday, but I know that isn’t in my control.  What I do know is that with our work on that worn kitchen table, his building will have a strong foundation.

Running on the beach
Life is a field trip: Learning happens everywhere.

I sipped earthy tasting coffee turned beige from heavy cream.  I looked at that book on constellations.  I felt a thrill roll through me as my eyes wondered to my ever growing collection of texts.  A globe sat idle on the desk, looking very foreign with all the bumps and ridges of its continents.  It didn’t look bland to me like it did when I was in school—here in the comfort of my living room it was approachable.  I wanted to touch it.  On the coffee table sat The Complete Chronicles of Narnia.  A red ribbon dangled out the end, inviting me to open it again.  The world felt wide, wide open.  I get the feeling I’m not the only one in this house that feels that way.

Dog Eyes
A deep sigh.

Big brown German shepherd eyes looked up at me, followed by a deep sigh.  When are we going to bed?  I felt a tired sigh in my lungs too.  The grandfather clock told me the night was slipping away.  I can’t stop time.  This is a season in my life that I want to fully embrace—and that I want to share.

This is homeschooling. Welcome to the kitchen table.