Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Too Much Togetherness? (Or, Have I Lost My Mind Yet?)

     One of the many excuses that I used to not homeschool for as long as I did was that, as much as I absolutely love my children, adore spending time with them, and think that they have fantastic personalities, creative minds, and unique perspectives on the world, they can be really exhausting at times.  In short, the idea of spending all day, every day with these two beautiful, short people scared the you-know-what out of me.  I enjoyed my walk with them to the bus stop every morning, and I smiled every morning as the bus drove away.  I came home, sometimes still wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt, made a cup of cocoa or chai, curled up in front of the fireplace with a book, and relaxed for the first 45 minutes or so of my day before starting any chores or heading to the gym.  I never ran the television during the day, savoring the quiet.  And when time came to start watching for them to return from the bus, I'd put the garage door up, secretly watch through the curtains or "just happen" to collect the mail 5 or 6 times until they came home, and be ready for the chaos to resume.  Homework, snacks, hugs, chattering about the day, friends from the neighborhood arrived and the TV turned on while I made dinner (sometimes; other times that didn't happen until my husband got home and did the cooking) or else we'd jet off to karate or swimming or gymnastics.  Boys & noise, that's what a healthy house is all about!  But when the boys are home, somebody needs something about every minute and a half-- did I really want that 24/7 with no vacations?  No. I LIKED my quiet time each school day.  Nobody in the house was more enthusiastic than I about the arrival of each new school year.
     So.  Now we're homeschooling!  Have I lost my mind yet?  After all, it's been seven weeks of blissful togetherness with both of them, and eight with my litigator 7YO!  And the verdict is . . . we couldn't be happier.  Okay, maybe we could be a little happier.  The 7YO has just been nearly as sick as he's ever been in his life, which has led to us being nearly sequestered for the last 2 weeks or so, which has led to the 10YO going a little crazy and getting a little case of the lonelies and me going just a little nuts (for those of you who are a little behind, "homeschooling" is a bit of a misnomer for the vast majority of us who are not doing this for primarily medical reasons, and much of the experience is often conducted away from the home and around other human beings).  But except for these two weeks, we couldn't be happier.  And I am most definitely not going crazy (these past two weeks excepted, just a little; I've gotten used to use being able to go whereever and whenever we want).
     So, where did my hypothesis go so far afield?  It turns out that . . . school is fantastically cool when a) you are being challenged academically and b) the subject matter is interesting and c) you are free to move around and get into a comfortable position and take motion breaks as often as needed while working and d) you can think and discuss your ideas as you study.  So the kids are happy, enthusiastic, and excited about subjects they thought they would dread.  They are getting themselves out of bed at 6am just so they can start their day and see what is awaiting them.  For the teacher, I'm discovering that my kids are fantastically exciting all over again; I always used to wonder, during the day, what they were like in school, and now I get to see it.  I get to watch the lightbulbs go off, when my 7YO says, "Hey, shouldn't that Roman (Diocletian) have known he was doing something not smart by splitting the Empire in half?  I mean look what happened to the Greek Empire when Alexander's generals did the same thing after he died-- that's when the Greeks started to lose their power, too!  If this Diocle guy had studied history, he might have known better!"  I get to hear my kids say, "Turn off Spongebob!  It's time to read Homer!"  Even better, I get to watch my 7YO with mild learning disabilities finding his own rhythm as we work his therapies into his school day, and watch him improve daily.  Instead of "Reading is boring!"  I now find him curled up on the couch with a book.  Instead of getting back reports from teachers that his recall of stories is behind schedule, I find he can analyze and draw comparisons between stories in very intelligent ways.  My 10YO is discovering interests and abilities, and a new self-confidence that he never knew he had.  And he finally has the time to explore extra reading on topics that pique his interest.  During history he was fascinated by Alexander the Great, so now he is reading a biography about Alexander the Great, to round out the biographies of Herodotus, Socrates, Archimedes, and fictional works from a variety of series about the Greek and Roman myths and emperors.
     Okay, that's fantastic, but it doesn't really answer the question, now does it?  So, you're a selfish brat and want to keep all the fun of watching your kids light up to yourself?  (Couldn't resist-- the "People homeschool out of selfishness is one of my favorite lines lately).   Okay, so all that doesn't really answer how it is that I'm not going nuts. 
     If our school days were all like a typical weekend day or holiday back in our public school time, I would likely be certifiable by now.  But . . . they aren't.  Although we definitely don't just recreate school around the kitchen table, we do still have a certain amount of structure to our days.  It is a flexible structure, to be sure, but there is structure.  For each day, I look ahead at any appointments, pre-scheduled outside classes (science classes at the Delaware Museum of Natural History, gym classes at the Hockessin Athletic Club, science or literature or music at Longwood Gardens).  I estimate how much time we should spend on school that day, and then allocate to activities such as science experiments, math, reading, history, geography, grammar, Latin, music, art, etc, and then I create a list of activities for each child and leave it on the kitchen table the night before.  If they wake up before I do (a common occurance) there are things on there that they can do before I come downstairs and get that cup of chai into myself, such as silent reading.  Each kiddo has a scientific lab timer, so if son#2 is supposed to read for 30 minutes, he sets his timer for 30 minutes, finds a comfy spot and curls up with his book and starts to read.  Yes, reading longer than the timer is perfectly fine; that's a minimum time, not a max.  If something interests you, you can pursue it, and adjustments can always be made if we run out of time later!  Sometimes, we pack up and head to the park-- we might play for an hour or two, and then pull out some notes and do a history lesson in the shade while we cool off, sometimes attracting a few extra students to our "class." :)  One little 3YO joined us on Monday, insisting to her mother, "Story!"  The toddler Moms at the park were kind of smiling at the way the boys were jumping in with ideas, thoughts, and analysis of the fall of Rome-- both were really involved in the lesson, which was awesome.
     Oftentimes, the history discussion spills over into dinner, as the kids are still processing what we discussed.  Or sometimes the topic will be the music we're listening to, or the book we're reading together out loud (We've finished the kids' Iliad and Odyssey, and have moved on to the Aeneid). 
     They still have time for friends, Pokemon, chess, swimming, swinging a sword like a pirate in the back yard, and some down time on their DS's.  But no longer is all of their time around me spent quizzing me incessantly about which thingamabob is a Fire Type or which one could defeat a Psychic.  They have things to do, places to go, and things to read and think about, even during their free time when they have nothing assigned to them. In short, between the structure that gives them something to focus on, and the information that is actually occupying their minds these days, and, I believe, thanks to the degree to which I have gotten to know my children better, they have become more interesting people.  And it's perfectly fine, at ages 7 and 10, that they still want to discuss Pokemon from time to time-- that is, after all, what 7 and 10 year olds are supposed to do.   It just helps all of our sanity that they don't do it 24/7.
     Of course, it also helps that my fantastic husband also facilitates me getting the heck out of dodge every now and then!  My usual strategy is to go shopping with a friend for a few hours on a weekend day.  Failing that, dinner out by myself on a weeknight will do the trick.  This past weekend, we went with extreme measures, and even with son#2 rather ill, I stuck with my plans to attend a fantastic conference hosted by The Focus Foundation.  Aimed at parents of kids with 47,XXY (an extra chromosome), it featured a fantastic lineup of speakers, including Dr. Darius Paducah, Dr. Alan Rogol, Pete Wright, Dr. Kenneth Rosenbaum, Dr. Laura Tosi, Carol Stock Kranowitz, and Dr. Carole Samango-Sprouse, EdD, head of the Focus Foundation.  Okay, so I had a weekend escape steeped in information about my kid??  Yep!  It was a fantastic weekend, and I spent it with some really great parents, pediatricians, and school administrators (yes, they were) who all showed up to learn more about this genetic arrangement and how it affects those eXtra special individuals who carry it-- and all of the people with whom I spent the weekend were adults :).Great information, and time with adults-- and I returned ready to spend more great time with my kids!
     That leaves one missing piece-- exercise!  Exercise I work in while my kids are taking classes at the gym.  I can drop them off and then go work out myself, either karate or hit the cardio and weight machines and stretch.  It's not as much time as I'd like, but it's time at least.  And of course, if I take the kids to a playground or park, playing with them counts! Then I can put in some time at home while the kids join me and I can go at a pace where they can keep up.  I am sure this will not last for long, and my older son will soon be giving me a run for my money.  I do not let on that sometimes he already is.

So, looking back, it feels kind of silly now that I ever worried about spending time with my own children.  I mean, they're my kids, and I really, really like spending time around them!  They're neat people with neat ideas in their heads and interesting things to say.  And really, home schooling is not just endless free time; whether we go on a field trip or set up with specific learning goals for the day, we generally have an agenda to get after; we're all on the same team, and they're learning how to relate and negotiate in age-appropriate ways.  As long as I can honor that-- and as a mother, how could I not-- we are ready to succeed!

     --Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. After reading that, I believe I need a nap. :-D Exhausting! I wish I had that kind of energy.

    And really? Selfish? I've never heard that one before! Sad. *shakes my head*