Week One of Homeschooling

So let me just start with saying that I’m so grateful to all the pioneers before me for writing so many helpful texts on homeschooling that I’ve been gorging on morning, noon and night over the past several weeks. One overlying message that I read over and over was to let the traditionally schooled kid “decompress” for at least a week to a month as the unofficial start to homeschooling. So from the teacher’s standpoint, I was ready to start last Monday at 8 am, but was prepared to just let her chill if that’s what she needed. Let’s be clear, chill did not mean watch television, play computer games or lock herself up in her room for hours (as she had taken to doing). Blessedly, there was no real struggle in getting Charlotte to abide by this. In fact, I don’t even think I told her that these were the rules until our sitter came to the house on Wednesday (sitter day, yeah!) and I let her and Charlotte know these were the ground rules for the 2 hours I left the house.


What did Charlotte do? From the time that she knew she was “done” with traditional school for now, she began to sleep. Eleven hours on average. We managed to get her to start going to sleep earlier, but she still slept a lot nonetheless. On the seventh day, this is what she looked like when she woke up. I took this picture, because it was the first time I’d seen a look of peacefulness on her sweet face for such a long time. When she did wake up, we used our “homeschooling” time to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland out loud (me to her), try out different math “stations” I had created that emphasized as much creative play and learning as possible, write Valentines, and she read two books to herself. When I gauged her knowledge of things, she was frequently defensive and angry. In Wonderland, Alice tried to ground herself by practicing her lessons: “London is the capitol of Paris, Paris is the capitol of Rome.” Charlotte chuckled knowing it was wrong, and when I asked, “say, do you know what country London is the capitol of?” she retorted “NO! No one ever taught that to me! Ever!” That wasn’t the only time she got angry or impatient and I realized that it would be a long haul to undo a year’s worth of robotic teaching, extrinsic rewards of candy and frequent praise for high scores and shame for low ones. It gets worse.

We celebrated her turning 9 on Thursday and she seemed to be peacefully happy. After seeing that, meeting with her principal with whom I deeply respect but disagree on teaching methods and lack of recess, and another successful day at the homeschooling co-op, I was feeling like the universe wanted me to know that this was the right path for her. On Friday, we took a field trip and stopped off at her old school on our way back to see the third grade art display — her first and only art project for this year.

The projects were all quite impressive and well displayed. They were upcycled art and the kids were instructed to focus on something they felt passionate about. Most were on animals — horses, dogs, fluffy ones mostly — but some were on olympic sports and some others were on the environment.

ImageCharlotte’s was also about the environment, but instead of being upbeat and inspirational. It was dark. In color, in vibe and literally. That’s right, “The world is screaming” is the text written across her piece. And in her description, she explains that pollution hurts her because it happens everywhere and in this case, the world is like her heart.” I haven’t really had the time to absorb the entirety of what this one expression of creativity my daughter worked on at school this year. I’m hopeful that as more time passes, she’ll explain it to me. I don’t think that anything illegal happened. I just don’t think this environment was at all right for my sensitive kid.

This week, I’m eager to actually get started, because I know it’s going to be awhile before we get to the good stuff. As she draws out of her depression more and more, I’m hopeful she’ll be more opinionated as to what is interesting to her and she wants to dive into more deeply. I long to see her take chances and feel okay with making lots and lots of mistakes. Because we don’t learn or accomplish anything of worth without a willingness to error often and then examine those errors close-up.Image

For now, I’m content to take it slow. Creep along and build the foundation of schooling relationship that will serve us in the months and maybe years to come. And if she can just be content to spread her wings in things that don’t seem “schoolish” then we’ll make sure she has plenty of belly dancing on her schedule.


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Day One of Homeschooling

Charlotte & I kicked off our homeschooling adventure yesterday with our first day of classes and socializing at the homeschooler’s co-operative. On the drive in, we did vocabulary: cooperative vs. Co-operative; economics and a smattering of law. By design? Hardly. To unwind, Charlotte & I are taking the “unschooling” approach to our lessons which means we learn wherever her curiosity takes her.

The economics talk was driven by her concern after she saw the prices listed for the classes she will take. They are extremely reasonable, and to explain that I put it in contrast to other activities she has done and had her do the sums of these: Homeschoolers co-op vs. Shorewood Pool membership vs. Gymnastics class vs. Summer Drama. This led to questions of why things are differently priced (hence the economics lesson in how an organization can alter behaviors through pricing structures) and why a theater group needs to pay for the use of a script and score beyond the original purchase (how we got into the legal field of royalties and intellectual property). And all this while I navigated rush hour traffic in a city known for bad traffic. Whew!

Upon arrival, we whisked off to Theater, Period 1; Bellydancing, Period 2; Lego Movie Making, Period 3; lunch and free time, and Robotics, Period 4. Then several people met across the street at a large park where the children played and the moms chatted. I feel so welcomed into this ready-made group of moms who are oddly like me (crazy analytical and with a never ending thirst for reading and learning). While Charlotte was at classes and at the park, I got the chance to talk with a great many of them who happily shared what they’ve learned in their years or months of homeschooling. At one point, I gathered something Alice had dropped under the table and before I resurfaced, I realized that they sounded like my friends in Madison–easy chatter, laughter, and bold personalities that were unique but clear from first encounter. It was all I could do not to show tears of relief on my face to find a group I can see weekly that fills me up on this much needed commodity of humor, sharing and intellectual banter.

On the drive back, Charlotte filled me in on her classes, and I tried to gauge in a way that she will soon grow tired of with my obsessive, “How do you feel, Charlotte?” We stopped off at the organic farm where it is our job to pick up the weekly share, and she so enjoyed weighing out our turnips and carrots and each of the other items set out for members. I had to promise we would return to the farm soon to volunteer as manual work is so soothing to her as is time outside and in an environment like the farm. Add it to the list.

We made it home in time for me to do a quick turn around, cleaning myself and Alice up from a day of outside fun, donning yoga clothes and heading out to teach. But upon my return from class, Jason and I heard her humming the theme from Harry Potter and saying, “I don’t know why, but I really feel like watching a Harry Potter movie (we celebrated Friday pizza & a movie last night as today is a school holiday).” I looked at Jason and we remarked on how she was actually humming a song and expressing her interest in something. Both things she has been short on for quite a while.

So maybe I did get an answer to my question of “How are you feeling?” And the answer is “a little bit more like Charlotte” which is the whole point of this exercise. Image

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One Week In and All’s Well

The morning of the day we drove home, I visited a fountain on Hubbard Ave, next the diner in which I partook many a piece of pie, and made one last wish for my family. Already before I returned to my parents home where were we all packed up and ready to head out, I received a sign: I saw someone in a parking lot and mistook her for one of the few people I know from Tampa.

The realization made me smile and feel like the gods had not only heard my wish, but wanted me to keep the faith. For months in Tampa, particularly in the first few weeks, I would mistake strangers for people from home, only to remind myself, ‘no, you don’t know anyone here.’ To experience the same, but reversed for the cities the morning of our return trip was very auspicious.

Since arriving home, we were greeted by kind friends who fed us dinner and entertained our older kids while we unloaded, learned that Charlotte was accepted into the magnet school she’d hoped to attend and that Emma’s International Baccalaureate school seems to be all the things we were hopeful it would be.

Transitions, while time-consuming and taxing, are also energizing. I feel like I’m in a position on which to speak of this after my past year. I am trying to maximize that energy as we settle into our school year and begin to incorporate schedules and habits that we hope will support us this year.

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It Was Never About the Weather

When you move, you find yourself in almost constant situations where the subject of your recent move comes into the line of conversation. Such as, “I need a Florida driver’s license because I just moved here from Wisconsin,” or “Could you change the name on the water/electric/gas bill? We just moved in,” or “Sorry, I have to look my phone number up, I just moved here and my mind is a blur,” not to mention to curious neighbors who want to see who the new people are.

In so many of these situations, people felt they must point out something positive about your move and/or they want to share something about the area in which they themselves like or feel pride. In Florida, this is almost always the weather. So this is the conversation I feel I had at least 100 times.

“Where did you move from?”

“Madison, WI”

“You must love the weather here.”

“I never minded the weather in Madison.”

Here’s the undertone of what was happening in these conversations (I think):

“Where did you move from?”

“Madison, WI” And I miss it terribly. I’m so tired, and overwhelmed, and I would give a lot to just see a friendly face at the grocery store or when I pick the kids up at school.

“You must love the weather here.” You seem sad, I’ll remind you that you don’t have to deal with snow or cold anymore and that will likely perk you up.

“I never minded the weather in Madison.” You see, you can almost always get warm in the winter, but it can be really hard to get cool in extreme heat. And snow, even though you’ve maybe never seen it or haven’t seen it in years, it’s magical. It creates a sense of wonder while it falls and covers the earth like a lovely quilt and makes everything look frosted. And except for a few really cold days in January, you can get outside if you dress right and you can ski, sled, ice skate, snowshoe or just make a snowman.

For Jason and I, when we made the decision to uproot our whole family to move to Florida, never once did we put weather in the “plus” column. I don’t think we ever put it in the “minus” column either. It was just never about the weather. Here, in no particular order, is what we did worry about:

Will our kids have the same educational opportunities in Tampa as they’ve had in Madison? Will they maintain that great sense of innocence that we see in both girls and their peers enjoy in Madison that we know is  not the case for the rest of the country? Will we ever have the sense of community that we enjoy in Madison? Will each member of our family thrive?

But it was never about the weather.

So here we sit where the weather here is warmer than Tampa this week (oddly enough it is the weekend that Jason is back to visit).

Since we’ve been back for three weeks, the question that I was asked over and over again is, “Are you happy?”

The answer is complex. But so far can be truthfully summed up as, “I’m not unhappy,”

And when we return this fall, and I continue to be regaled with comments on the weather, I will tell them my new practiced come back, “I’m far more captivated with the proximity to the ocean and the native plants,” while I quietly think, I never did much mind the weather.

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I am on my way back to Madison for a week long visit. I am looking forward to catching up once again with friends and experiencing some more of Madison’s summer.

I am surprised how fast these last three weeks have already gone. I have gottne some things off my to do list but so many more remain. Our pool fence is in. I cut back some bushes. I hung a couple more things and mounted a hat rack. So much more to do though!I think that one of Charlotte’s plants isn’t going to make it unfortunately. That will be a black mark for me.

Last night I saw some of Emma and Charlotte’s neighborhood friends in Tampa. It made me realize that in the short time we have been here there are some things that normalize.

More thoughts after the trip back to Mad City.

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It’s just different

How are we doing in Florida? Do we like it more than Wisconsin? Less?

When trying to comprehend something new, or just trying to absorb something new from someone else’s perspective, it’s challenging not to compare between better or worse. Most of us go to some type of rating system to relate the new to the old. In any dedicated yoga practice, you will come upon the concept of refraining from judgment. Seeing as though yogic philosophy is ancient, this human hard-wiring to a personal rating system can’t be blamed on Facebook’s “Like” option.

It’s so much easier said than done. And yet on most days, that’s how I’ve been able to process every second of my day looking different, feeling different and taking on different routines. Here, I set the pool to vacuum each day instead of scraping my windshield this winter. I water the flowers almost every day instead of shoveling. We’ve visited the beach and amusement parks in Orlando on the weekends a number of times instead of gathering together with friends and eating Sunday dinner at my parents’ home. I buy my produce at a roadside shack where the fruit is so sweet and ripe and perfect (and inexpensive), we shake our heads in amazement a few times a week as we sit down to eat. Our house is large and on one level, as opposed to small and split between four stories. There are no hills to speak of, and the seasons are terribly subtle — though the locals swear they exist. The list goes on and on.

On harder days, we confide that we miss things from home (mostly people and general cultural quirks). The kids see their friends’ milestones on Facebook, knowing that if we’d taken a different path, they’d be there with them. Birthdays, school celebrations, sporting events. I miss my friends and our routines — drinks and book discussion once a month, coffee on Fridays, chatting about our children’s triumphs and obstacles. I miss being knowledgable about school events, routines and culture. I really miss keeping tabs on the continual growth of my friends’ children. I’ve been watching them grow–even as I’ve watched my own kids–and I miss keeping up with their progress from close distance.

We’ve had a few glimpses of events that remind of what we value. We attended an organic farm festival at the end of the growing season here (yep, that’s May, here) and danced with several others under the stars as a local band entertained us. This past weekend, we attended a celebration at the school on the eve of a 5 K run. The celebration provided an opportunity for me to have meaningful talks with many of my neighbors that I’ve not had before and in one weekend, my knowledge of the schools in the area and extracurricular activities doubled compared to what I’ve gained in the past 4 months. While I wasn’t one of them yet, it did my heart good to see many folks from my neighborhood greet each other, embrace, and catch each other up on their household’s going ons. I think there is a community here that I will grow into, but I had 14 years in Madison and that enables a lot of shared history, trust and friendship. And so as many wise friends advised before the move: it will take time.

It’s really just too soon to say how well we will settle. It is like the name I’ve chosen for this blog: comparing apples to oranges. They are both sweet, both fruits, both different. If you absolutely crave an apple, an orange simply won’t do. But it doesn’t make the orange any less sweet.

It was my intention to start this blog as we moved so that we could journal our transition, but it was put on the back burner, with so many other things, while we put out the series of fires that are created when you move a family 1000 miles away, particularly when one of the family members is a young baby. But just as our transition has taken time, this blog has taken its time as well. I hope Jason, Emma & Charlotte will contribute often to share the good and the bad and keep you posted on our progress. I will try to do the same.

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