Saturday, February 11, 2012


My friend Natalie and I have been planning a screening for the documentary film Race to Nowhere for some time now.  Funny that the one we chose to attend happened to fall during this week.

Looking ahead to our schedule, I checked the calendar, and noticed it looked . . . a tad packed.  Some things couldn't really be helped.  There were five (count'em!) doc appointments that couldn't really be put off.  Son#2, our resident artist, had a one-off 90-minute art class for homeschoolers at Longwood Gardens.  I could have canceled that commitment, but didn't really wish to do so.  We had gym class, swimming, gymnastics, karate, and fencing all at our regular times, plus our weekly library trip.  I had my ironic trip to see Race to Nowhere Wednesday night.  We had other commitments lined up as well.

If you read last week's blog, you'll notice we are not casual homeschoolers; people who think homeschoolers "do school" in 90 minutes a day or less are not thinking about our family.  Occasionally we bend to get around an appointment here or there, but this week was looking a bit extraordinary.  Four thoughts occurred to me.  
  1. If we attempted to put in a regular school week, I would stress myself out
  2. If we attempted to put in a regular school week, I would stress the kids out
  3. If we attempted to put in a regular school week, I would stress my husband out
  4. If we attempted to put in a regular school week, I would be setting everyone up to fail.
Number four above felt particularly unacceptable.
What's a homeschool Mom to do?  Just a few weeks out from a pretty generous Christmas break (2 1/2 weeks?  3?) it was too early for a full-on vacation, and if I tried to call this kind of a week a "vacation," the kids would cry foul-- there was too much running around.  But getting in a half-hearted attempt at school didn't work for me.  Enter the "Fake-Cation!"

Analyzing the schedule, I noticed everything was clustered on Tuesday and Thursday, or Monday and Wednesday evenings.  Monday morning, the kids woke up, expecting a regular school week, and instead found this note on the kitchen table:

Welcome to Fake-cation

1.  You may read or play what you wish until Mommy is finished with her shower and breakfast.
2.  No regular school books this week.  You may leave them put away.
3.  This week we will spend:
  • some time on "special projects"
  • some time cleaning up the house together
  • some time at doc appointments, classes, and errands
  • the rest of your time is free play time.  This time may be academic-related or not-- it's you're choice.
And then the fun began!

Son#2 watches Son#1 make the first cuts in their 3-hole miniature golf course, under construction.
Son#1 files down his work while Son#2 creates pilot holes for drilling.

Son#2's turn to man the drill.  There are still many steps to go here, but you get the idea.  So much for my constant indignant insistence that homeschoolers never lock their kids away in the basement <grin>.
Longwood Gardens' meadow is beautiful in winter, too.  Son#1 and I had 90 rare minutes to ourselves while Son#2 took an art class for homeschoolers.  I guess we do get out of that basement.

Proving we let Son#1 out of the basement once in a while.  He's enjoying being 11, outdoors at Longwood with Mom!
Okay, back home, time for fun science.  Hint number one:  it floats in water . . . 
Hint number two: It turns into a fluffy souffle in the microwave!  Why does this famous soap behave like this?  (Look!  Kitchen, not basement!)
Son#2 built a circuit, and now turns a hand crank to start charging his rechargeable battery, verifying with the LED light that he's cranking fast enough, and checking the battery's voltage using the Volt/Amp meter.  (Dining room now.  Still no basement).*

Not pictured, is cute video of Sons 1 & 2 attempting to blow up a 10' long balloon made from Diaper Genie refill tied off at one end . . . and Mom proving she can do it in ONE breath (thank you Steve Spangler Science) and wonderful jumping cups (thank you to Rob Krampf's Happy Scientist and a great discussion of the scientific process, rather than the usual demonstration masquerading as a lab).  We worked in Brain Pop videos, which were a first for us, the coin-toss flash card game, reading as usual, and our usual karate, gymnastics, homeschool gym class, fencing, library time, chores, and game/play time, on top of our usual dose of Minecraft, and still had time to dote on a very welcome visitor from across the country. 

Oh, right!  Son#1 brought his camera along to Longwood too.  He's never owned a camera before, so these are among his first-ever pictures.  I only gave him minimal coaching, and told him to take pictures that show how he views the world as an 11-year-old:

 There you have it.  Son#1's first ever photo display.  You can say you knew him when.

Watching the Race to Nowhere (upcoming Blog: A Homeschooler's Response to R2N) in the midst of all of this was an interesting experience, and it absolutely validated my choice to back off and have some fun with the kids this week.  Particularly given that we homeschool year round, we had the time to spare from formal studies.  It's roughly six weeks until my husband's spring break, so the timing is right for a mini-break, but only a few weeks in from Christmas, we weren't quite ready for a complete vacation.  And although my kids do enjoy learning our traditional way, this week reminded them that we can keep on learning even when we're really having fun.

I think everything we did this week was actually important, and an important part of their growing up.  I'm glad we had this week.  I'm glad Son#1 gets to be there for Son#2's neurology appointments; it helps to make him a better big brother and bonds them more closely together, as well as helping him understand his little brother's challenges, smaller though they are becoming, that much better.  I'm glad we can take a week to focus on woodworking, circuitry, "fun" science that wasn't necessarily planned to the teeth, and just being outdoors.  I'm glad Son#1, who thinks of himself as completely non-artistic (and are we partly at fault for that?  Do we word things around the house that way sometimes?  Perhaps?) got to experiment with a new expressive medium.  Everyone needs one, whether it be through words, pictures, dance, or whatever. 

This week was in its own way, just as big a part of their education as the usual weeks filled with Latin and grammar and chemistry.  All of that NEEDS to be balanced with play. That was a major point of Race to Nowhere-- it's important for children to not lose themselves, their sense of who they really are-- in some quest to become whatever it is they think their parents want them to become.  More on that next time.

--Thanks for Reading!

*For those of you lost about why I keep on with the in the basement/not in the basement references, I recently had yet another run-in with a well-meaning but clueless individual who was "concerned about socialization" of my homeschoolers.  I didn't have time to answer them very thoroughly, sadly.  We were too busy running off to activities with other children, of mixed ages, genders, and backgrounds to spend time justifying ourselves . . . if I thought the person was actually open-minded enough to really listen rather than just wanting to expound their own point of view, I might have invited them for a ride-along to meet some actual real-life homeschoolers and see what a day is like . . . 

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