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So we’re all sick today…everyone but Jack. Thankfully, my mom was able to take him for the day and that allowed the rest of us to get some sleep. As best as we can tell, it was food related rather than contagious.

More importantly, Nora lost her first tooth yesterday. Of course she put it under her pillow. As I checked on the girls before going to bed, I heard them talking.

When I asked what they were discussing, Julia said, “We’re talking about if the Tooth Fairy is real.”

Of course, this floored me, coming from a barely 4 year old. I asked them, “So what do you think? “

Julia said she thought the Tooth Fairy was real but Nora said she wasn’t sure and we’d just have to see in the morning.

I could not have been prouder of my girls that they were actually thinking things like this and that Nora was taking a slightly skeptical, experimental approach to the question.

Gina and I looked for the tooth later during a throwing up episode (of which there were about 20 last night) and could not find it.

Eventually, she admitted that she had put it in her dresser so she could keep it rather than give it to the Tooth Fairy.

Oh well, she was close to a breakthrough and will get there soon.  ;-)

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TV

We don’t have broadcast TV in our home (GASP!)  We do, however, let our kids watch quite a bit of DVDs, VHS, and programs downloaded on the computer.  (We adults watch an hour or two a week on the computer.)  In our living room, there is a shelf full of games in the place of honor where most people put their TV.  I really like this system because A.) We still have “TV” enough that the kids are savvy and our parents don’t think we’ve gone too far off the deep end, and B.) We can control which programs the kids watch, and they rarely see commercials.  Plus it’s nice not having a satellite bill.

The way this pertains to homeschooling is related to the “Just Wait Until They’re in School” theme that I’ve mentioned before.  The way this works is no matter what your kids do, no matter what progress you’ve made, any uniqueness in them will be completely wiped out once they start school.  If your children are surrounded by dozens of other mainstream kids day in and day out, they will be bombarded with the other kids’ values, just as we used to be bombarded by commercials and daytime TV.

My kids don’t like SpongeBob.  Even at 5 1/2, my oldest still thinks he’s “yucky.”  I’m proud of this, and I’ve worked hard to keep it this way.  I am glad that she doesn’t go to school and feel pressure to watch that show, or anything like it.  I am glad that she isn’t made to feel weird for not having a TV on all the time, and I’m glad that she has never heard of Jerry Springer.

No, we can’t shelter them forever.  And they aren’t all that sheltered…they have seen commercials, they have seen bits of SpongeBob, etc.  I’m not trying to keep her in the dark…for heaven’s sake, she just watched “Ghostbusters” three times a few days ago.  But neither does that mean that we must throw her out into TV land to be inundated with valueless amoral crap.

Just as I want to teach my children particular things without abandoning them to whatever the public schools teach (and don’t teach), so I want them to be able to watch television without abandoning them to whatever the satellites can broadcast.

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Unschooling?

As you can see, I don’t blog a whole lot about homeschooling. [Note from John: this is Gina’s post.  Not that I blaze up the aether with my posting, but hey, at least I’ve done some, right? ;-) ]

Part of the reason for that is that I don’t really consider us to be homeschooling yet.  By normal timelines, our oldest child still has a few months to go before starting kindergarten, so I haven’t been worried about structure, scope, or sequence.

So far, my teaching method has been to try to answer all of my childrens’ questions.  When they ask, “What’s insurance?” for example, instead of saying it’s a grown-up thing, or I’ll explain when you’re older, or otherwise dismissing the question, I take the time to simplify concepts to a five-year-old’s level, introduce new vocabulary words, and actually answer the question.  This is not easy, but it’s made for a five-year-old who talks about the government, decomposition, and flood insurance.

Today, I was at the computer when she woke up.  She came into the room, and her first words to me were, “Let’s look on the internet about the body.”  (Because she knows that the internet is our portal to information and pictures.)  So we spent quite a while discussing the skeletal system.  Afterwards, I realized that we really did some serious learning.  I had to check the clock to see that we spent 40 minutes, nonstop, of pure learning.  Some college students hardly have that kind of attention span.

What’s more, I would say that she learned about the skeletal system at a middle-schooler’s depth, at least.  Besides going through the names of the bones and their purpose, we learned about the structure of bones, how the marrow makes blood cells, the types of joints, the purpose of cartilage, tendons and ligaments, how bones protect the brain and spinal cord, on and on and on.  With each thing, I would an example on her so she could move or feel the bone or cartilage in question.  I was really impressed at how much information she could soak in, without tiring of me adding yet another new word.  We even took the quiz at the end.

So, at the end of this, I was spent.  Like checking off a box, whew, we’ve learned enough for a week!  But no, after just ten minutes of down time (playing the game portion of a DVD) she was ready for something else.  So far this morning, we’ve played Blink (educational about matching shapes and numbers), cooked lunch (including a treatise on how sugar is made from sugar cane), had a treasure hunt (she read the clues herself), and now she’s learning how to darn a sock.  It isn’t even noon yet.

This has got me contemplating the pace at which one learns.  Today must be a good learning day.  You know, sometimes you’re just in the mood, and sometimes you aren’t.  We’re all like that, aren’t we?  I know I am.  Just look at my sporadic blogging history.  I seldom write, but when I do, it’s practically a novel.  I suppose there’s value in being able to work steadily toward a deadline, but I don’t think that’s a particularly important, considering the rest of us procrastinate and hurry, and do just fine.  Yes, I’d like to teach my kids self-control and time management, but I think those can be taught in other areas of life, and don’t need to be the focus of their education.

Speaking of the focus of their education, all of this is coming around to a point.  (I’m not a writer, so bear with me if my writing style is all over the place.)  The point is, unschooling?  I had never seriously considered it before.

Unschooling is for the wackos who are so off the deep end that they basically think their child doesn’t need to learn anything, and any attempt to teach is just indoctrination and brainwashing, right?  Well, maybe not.

Lately, I’ve been reading a guide that helps you choose a home school curriculum.  Among some of the choices that sounded like they might fit my plan were some that are apparently considered unschooling.  I think the idea is that you teach without the scheduling and rigor of school, not that there’s some schooling or brainwashing that needs to be undone.  As one can see by my skeletal system example above, the lack of scheduling doesn’t mean a lack of depth or difficulty.  It just means that you go with the flow.  Topics can come up, be dwelled upon or not (the reproductive system was thankfully ignored this morning), and learning can be accomplished in unusual ways.

When my daughter wanted to draw a treasure map this morning, I had the idea of having her read the clues for a treasure hunt.  She was thrilled to read each one, and I was able to write clues that were just at her reading level.  What a fun way to practice reading!  How completely impossible in a school setting!

(Ok, this may be an arugument in favor of homeschooling, not unschooling per se, but I think my point remains: all of the leaps and bounds of education that ocurred today were succesful largely because of the timing and flexibility of them, which would be lost in a traditional structure.  Even a curriculum made for homeschooling couldn’t be personalized to our family and magically know when my children would be receptive to certain activities and when it was time to leave it for next month.)

The only problem I foresee with unschooling is making sure to cover all the topics.  I want to drop the strict sequencing and scheduling aspects of school, but of course we all want to have a scope, not leave out chunks of education just because they never came up.  Hopefully, it seems that this shouldn’t be too diffictult to overcome.  I’m sure one could find yearly or semesterly(?) exams to gauge expectations, but more likely I will browse curricula and use them as a checklist as the year goes on.  I’ll check off each topic that has been done to my satisfaction, and look for gaps.  Once in a while, my daughter asks, “What do you want to do?” which would be a great time to say, “I want to learn about…” or, “I want to play…”.  It shouldn’t be too hard to bring up any missed topics.

Remember in my opening paragraph, where I said I wasn’t worried about structure yet?  Well, maybe I just won’t ever worry about it.  Hah!

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The Holy Grail of Parenting

Amy Henry of Whole Mama has a wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal today.

You can leave her a comment here.

Here’s what I said:

Nicely said, Amy.

I wish more people would understand that THEY are the best expert on their kids, not some sterile study that tries to force all of these millions of fascinating little individuals into some colorless morass of bell-curve “normality.”

For god’s sake people, just PARENT. Do it.

And you find your kids turn out well because you cared enough to make it happen rather than because you bought into the latest soundbite science.

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