Saturday, September 5, 2015


**Note - this post was written in late May, but never posted.  (No idea why)  It expresses lots of good stuff for a homeschooling parent to ruminate on, so I thought it worthwhile to set it free...

Yesterday morning, in the midst of the chaos of baking muffins, answering email, finding clean underwear and pouring grape juice and then cleaning up spilled grape juice, I had a thought come to me.  Well, several, actually.  The thoughts were like teeny tiny droplets of water that were spread out over a leaf, and then the leaf was disturbed and all the droplets fell victim to gravity and rolled down toward the center of the leaf, gathering speed...

I had planned, so very carefully late last summer, to dump any unnecessary or unfulfilling obligations, clear the decks, free up our (my) time and let homeschooling take center stage.  I sought out an ally - Calvert, to help me do this.  I let Calvert dictate the schedule, the process, the content and so forth.  I let the teachers work with my kids, they took tests, did assignments and got grades.  It actually has been a good experience - mostly for Jordan.  It allowed him to really grow as a student this year, his writing skills, planning skills and organization skills are getting a workout, and we both feel he is ready.  He is ready to take on public high school next year, a transition that is right for him and for me.

For Rylan and Owen though, the experience has been difficult.  Rylan loves the social aspect - the twice-a-week online classes complete with chat box, but hates, HATES, H.A.T.E.S. the school work. Rylan is not the complete-a-worksheet sort of learner.  She loves projects, she loves to write, and she takes initiative  - - when she is inspired.  Otherwise, she curls up into a ball, faces the back of her chair, and all of sudden her head is simply too heavy to hold up.  Same with her pencil.  In Owen's case, he is in la la land.  He fiddles with everything within arms reach, ignores any requests that involve moving a pencil on paper, yet he has this irritating gift that he hears everything you say even though you think he took a mental vacation to who-know's-where, and can repeat it back to you, word-for-word.  Owen also has a gift of finding patterns in everything.  Math with be a breeze for this kid.  But he also finds patterns in language - surprising me at every turn.  This is also the boy who can't tell a 'b' from a 'd', or a 'p'.

Which brings me to my epiphany that I had this morning.

We are slogging through the last four weeks of school.  All three kids are finishing up projects, have tests to take and so forth.  Both Rylan and Owen take the STAR test.  They took it at the beginning of the year, then again at mid-year, and now they have to again at the end.  Since we school at home, the teachers send us a link to get into the test, and we are supposed to take it within a two week window. When we did the tests before, I followed the teacher's directions and once I was sure the test was started and they were in good shape, I left the room as I was instructed to.  I know what the STAR early literacy test is, I had my own students (back when I was teaching in public school) take it and so forth.  But here is the rub - at every opportunity, the kids were wearing headphones.  I never heard the audio that goes on during test.  This time, since I was curious and the house was unusually quiet, I unplugged the headphones during Owen's test so that I could watch and listen.  OMG.  


This is why we made the decision to homeschool in the first place.  This is why I hate testing and lost my teaching job because of it.  Testing is so fucking stupid.

Here is why I am pissed.  All year long, in Owen's case, we have been working on learning the alphabet, phonemes, beginning sounds, ending sounds, vowel sounds, blah, blah, blah.  It is presented in the same fashion, every time.  I am supposed to present it a 'certain' way, much like reading a script.  Occasionally I would vary it if we were working on a Bob book or something, and Owen worked on Reading Eggs as well, which adds a ton of variety.   But when it comes to the test... oh the HELL NO.  Here is a sample:  The question shows three boxes, with a word in each box: 'lip', 'cat', and 'jet'.  Then there is a word printed at the top - "sit".  Then an annoying voice says, "Which word has the same middle sound as in the word "sit"?  Okay, - yes, this is a good question.  But the presentation, the multiple skills involved at decoding, phoneme matching and selecting are all really complicated to begin with - for a beginning reader.  Also, never in the lessons has isolating the middle vowel sound ever been presented in this way, so this is totally new to him.  Furthermore, the annoying voice only gives you 10 seconds to think about it and then it asks you again.  And again.  And again.  Even I was thinking hard and saying "SHUT UP!!!! LEMME THINK!!!!" inside my head.  Poor Owen.  It was the same scenario in Rylan's case, too.  And it was question after question, just like that.

I already know what their strengths and weaknesses are, I hate that I have to put them through this.  Yes, I want to see benchmarks met and check for growth, but if they can successfully do something this week that they couldn't do last week, that's good enough for me.

I've had a lot of brief conversations with other homeschooling friends lately, they know I am struggling with Calvert and ask how it is going.  I've heard lots of stories and affirmation that kids will learn, in their own time, their own way, and if we just get out of the way and stop putting limits on them, they will find the connections, and in a much more meaningful way.

Calvert did let me take a break from having to plan everything.  I didn't have to scout out the right materials for each subject, I didn't have to construct the proper pace or sequence...  In fact, Calvert allowed me to check out completely.  Which allowed me to have a complete emotional breakdown, and the stress of keeping up with mountains of worksheets led to lots of crying and thoughts that I completely suck at anything I try to put my hand to.

I reminded myself a few days ago to take myself back to when I was last truly happy in life - a happiness that you feel at your very core, a joy that can't be rattled or dampened.  I was happy when I was in flow.  I was in flow when I was planning, organizing, scouting out materials, writing, presenting.. all the things I was doing as I was in school getting my teaching degree - and I would also have to add my first year of teaching - up until that fateful month of April when my name on the classroom door changed.  Twice.

The fact that I haven't been able to stop thinking about the curriculum that I wished we could be using, or the activities I know the kids would get much more meaning from, or the fact that we are bound to the desk and can't be out exploring and doing, tells me that my heart knows where we need to be.  My heart is aching for that place of pure joy again - that place where flow was happening.  If I could just get my head to stop interfering with what my hearts wants, all would be good.

Therein lies the epiphany.  Follow your heart.  Your heart knows the path you must take.

It is also a message that has been tattooed on my ankle for the past 22 years.  Go figure...