Friday, August 28, 2009

Birthday Boy

[Updated: Can you see the pictures now?]
Last week, N. turned 5. In the past, we’ve celebrated his birthday with family members, but this year he wanted to invite friends to a party, so we invited 5 kids. We tried to keep it as low-key as possible. The invitations were written out on the back of N.’s drawings, and we didn’t plan any games or other entertainment but simply asked children to join us for playing, pizza, and cake.

I made felt crowns for party favors...

...and for the second year in a row I made a train cake (with lots of help from my sister!):

Sadly, the cake looked much better than it tasted (dry and baked too long, I think) but at least thanks to the all-natural food dyes, real-flavored candies, and absence of chocolate, there were no birthday-boy meltdowns this year! And fortunately there was plenty of ice cream to moisten the cake.

It was a lovely day, and I still can't believe my little boy is five.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

First Day of Homeschool Kindergarten

Yesterday was the first day of school in our district, so it was our first official day of homeschool kindergarten. I had wanted to do something to mark the occasion, like take a hike together or go out to lunch, but I recently had emergency laparoscopic surgery so I couldn’t hike and Tim and N. both seemed to prefer to have a normal quiet day at home. So they had a very typical day, which was nice for them since the last couple weeks have been full of upheaval with guests, N.’s 5th birthday, and my surgery. In the morning N. worked for a long time on his drawings and Tim read to him from a volume of African folk tales. They went to the organic farmers’ market held on Tuesdays at our favorite coffee shop, came home and had a long lunch with lots of talking, reading, and listening to music, then took our neighbor’s dog for a long walk. They spent a long time poring over a new book on famous buildings that N.’s sister Julia gave him for his birthday. Then lots of playing time with blocks, trains, and trucks. Then playing outside briefly with our next-door neighbor who is N.’s age before supper, then two long chapters of Homer Price and to bed.

N. and I always look at our local newspaper together over breakfast and this morning we saw first-day-of-school pictures of kids and parents, including one of a boy crying while his dad comforted him. I said I felt sad looking at that picture, and N. said he did too and asked why he was crying. I said, maybe he doesn’t want to go to school, or maybe he’s just nervous and doesn’t know what it will be like. N. said, “Well, he doesn’t have to go to school! He can do homeschool! That’s so much more fun!” I tried to explain without going into it too much that there are lots of reasons why parents send their kids to school. Maybe the parents have to work and can’t stay home with their kids, or maybe they believe it is important for their kids to go to school.

Yesterday especially I felt so grateful that we are able to homeschool, that my husband is willing to do this with N. Here’s why I feel good about our decision not to send N. to kindergarten, in descending order of importance to me:
  • He has lots of unstructured play time, which is increasingly disappearing from kindergartens, and which is the primary vehicle for young children's learning.
  • He can pursue his interests, whether art, old buildings, trains, or whatever, for as long as he wants, and those interests can lead organically to other unforeseeable interests.
  • He gets lots of unstructured time outside, which again is not common in many kindergartens and which is simply crucial for children (and adults!).
  • He doesn’t have to be tested; we know what he is learning because we are with him and talking with him all the time. What he learns is not predetermined by tests.
  • He can eat a healthy leisurely lunch at his own pace. This may seem minor, but like me, N. is a slow eater and lunch is his biggest meal of the day, but it takes a long time. When I went to an all-day kindergarten, I lost a significant amount of weight because I couldn’t adjust to the short lunch time. My mom had to ask for permission for me to stay in the cafeteria to finish eating rather than go out for after-lunch recess so that I could get some food in me! For N., lunch is a big learning time because he and Tim talk, read, and listen to music over the 1 ½-2 hours that lunch sometimes takes!
  • Our mornings are low-stress because I am the only one who has to get somewhere by a specific time, and that’s usually not till 9:30. I have seen so many pieces in the media recently about getting your kids adjusted to the early morning deadlines of the school year, and I am so glad not to have to worry about that yet.
  • Finally, N. gets lots of interaction with a broad range of people. Yesterday, N. had lengthy conversations with several adult neighbors, acquaintances at the farmer’s market, a chicken farmer, and a coffee roaster, and he played with his friend next door (though not as long as he would have liked to). I believe strongly in the value of multi-age social interactions, but I have not yet made strong enough connections with other homeschoolers N.’s age, and that is one of my goals for the fall.
I am excited to be part of N.'s learning and growth in the coming year!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What I Did on Summer Vacation: Duluth

We spent the entire month of July in Duluth, Minnesota, where Tim and I both grew up. Some friends of ours there were going to be in Colorado in July so they very generously let us stay in their house while they were away. We go to Duluth every summer for a week and a half or so, staying with various family members and friends, and while it is always wonderful to catch up with people, it is a visit, not a vacation. But this year, the trip was a vacation, not a visit. And it was a perfect vacation in so many ways: we could shop the farmers’ market and cook our own healthy food, we could control our schedule and see family and friends on our own terms, we could do all the things we’ve wanted to do with N. in Duluth that somehow we never had enough time for in the past. Most importantly, we could see Lake Superior every single day.
The lake means a lot to both Tim and me, and we want to share that with N. Last summer we spent our last night in Duluth on the Lakewalk watching a full moon rise over the lake and when it was time to leave, N. began to cry inconsolably. He didn’t want to say goodbye to the lake and the moon. We were so moved by this that we promised we would come back for a long stay this summer.
So every couple days this July we’d head down to the lake to look for ships, throw rocks in the lake, look for agates, and watch the water. We spent hours at a time there, communing with the lake. It was hard to leave and return to our North Carolina life far from a body of water.
[The last picture above is N. looking for agates with his half-sisters Anne and Julia, who were visiting Duluth during part of our visit.]

Monday, August 24, 2009

Read-Aloud Log

I have lots to catch up on here, but this is just a brief post to say: I am reading Jim Trelease's Read-Aloud Handbook after seeing it mentioned on several homeschool blogs and I can't recommend it highly enough. If you are already doing lots of reading aloud to your child, it makes you feel like a parenting rock star. If not, it will inspire you to do more, and it gives you oodles of suggested titles. He makes a compelling case for reading aloud as one of the most crucial elements of a child's learning process.

[This was the first book N. noticeably paid attention to when it was read to him: Iona Opie's Mother Goose collection, illustrated by Rosemary Wells. He's about 4 months old in this picture -- oh, my baby!]

Trelease's book inspired me to keep track of what we read aloud to N., so I've added a LibraryThing widget to my sidebar for this purpose. North Carolina homeschool laws require very little record-keeping, but I want to get in the habit of keeping track of what we're doing, though in an unschooly way, and this seems like a good place to start. I've begun my list with recently read chapter books, but I will go back and add as many picture books that we've read as I can recall, since these are a crucial part of reading aloud as well, and Trelease points out that reading chapter books should not replace reading picture books.

[Grandma reading Sandra Boynton's Barnyard Dance, another early favorite of N.'s. I will probably be reciting this book when I am senile and in a nursing home some day. "Stomp your feet, clap your hands, everybody ready for a barnyard dance! Bow to the horse, bow to the cow, twirl with the pigs if you know how..." N. is about 6 months old here.]

[Daddy reading a grown-up illustrated book about birds to N. while N. holds some of the birds in the collection of his adult half-sister Anne and her husband Kyle. N. is 20 months old here.]