Monday, January 25, 2010

Interview With Angela

I've added a new feature to this baby blog: interviews! Here I've begun by asking Angela specifically about marriage equality before moving on to homeschooling in general. Angela is in her first year of homeschooling. Many thanks, Angela, for sharing your story:)

Why is marriage equality important to you?

I have been an active proponent of gay rights in general since college. Why? Not sure. I've certainly had many dear friends over the years who just happen to be gay, but mostly I think it just seems like the right thing to do. My parents did a good job of raising my sisters and me to believe that bigotry in any form is wrong, and discriminating against someone because of their sexual orientation is no different than discriminating against someone for the color of their skin, their religion, their gender ...

I consider marriage equality to be a matter of both civil rights and separation of Church and State, and as such I believe firmly that this isn't a "gay issue," it affects us all. We are denying one group of citizens rights which are extended to another based on the beliefs of one religion over another. And once I heard a state senator say "I am Catholic, so I vote no" (paraphrased, but that's the gist) during the NJ Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, I became even more concerned that a dangerous precedent was being set. If we allow religion into our laws in this instance, what's to keep it out in another? It's also dangerous to allow the majority to vote on the rights of the minority.

Is it important for you that your children be involved?

Hmmm ... It's not so important to me the they "be involved" as it is that they see that I think it's important and valuable to stand up for what I believe in. Even when it's inconvenient, uncomfortable, or unpopular.

I get more than a little uncomfortable with the idea of "indoctrinating" my children. I am careful not to make sweeping statements about party affiliation or that may make it seem like I think people with different ideas are ignorant or mean-spirited ... I'm sure they will one day have ideas and beliefs that I disagree with ... but at the same time I talk about my values and beliefs very openly with my children, and I answer any questions they have honestly.

With this issue in particular, because of where we live and the synagogue to which we belong, my kids are surrounded by families headed up by same-sex couples. There is nothing remarkable about it to them. So when I told them that I wanted to go to Trenton to rally in support of our friends' rights to get married the same way their father and I are, they were mostly just surprised that they weren't already married and that anyone would think it reasonable to try and stop them.

Were they in school, I don't know that I would have pulled them out to go. But they are home with me, and part of my educational philosophy is that learning comes from life, so off we went to Trenton.

What brought you to homeschooling? 

I never planned to homeschool. My oldest two kids started preschool at 2 1/2 and I had just done the happy dance as I signed Miriam up for the "Two-Day Twos" program to start in the Fall ... and just days later I started thinking the homeschooling might be the way to go for Joseph, my oldest, in particular. He was absolutely miserable at school, and this was in a "good" school and with a teacher to whom he was very attached.

In all he missed 25 days of school, was late 19 (with most of those being days that he was dragging his feet getting out the door because he didn't want to go) and I wasn't even given an accounting of the number of days the nurse called me to pick him up early because he'd bounced into her office enough times that she knew he just needed to go home. If you look at his first grade report card, there was a steady decline in both behavior and attitude over the course of the year. And he was so miserable at school that it spilled over into life at home: homework was a nightmare; he fought with his sister; he flew into an angry rage at the slightest redirection ...

I detailed the whole, torturous "should we, shouldn't we?" decision-making process here:

What do you like about homeschooling?

For starters, I have my boy back. I once again have a little boy who is enthusiastic and excited about learning new things. That's not the little boy I had by the middle of last year, and certainly not by the end. And I think the kids' relationship with each other is stronger for it. It's hard to know what to attribute to another year of maturity, but they play better and laugh harder now than they ever have. And because Joseph is happier, we are all happier.

I also like the freedom we have to do what we want, when we want, and on our own schedule. We live right around the corner from the school, and there's something extra cozy about being tucked warmly inside, letting the kids wake up and get going at their own paces ... and hearing the cars pulling in and out as parents make that mad morning dash to get their kids to school before the bell rings.

And I keep laughing at myself for thinking that Hannah's current ear infection is an example of what makes homeschooling so great. She had croup last week and started complaining that her ear hurt Wednesday morning. It's a secondary infection, so she's no danger to anyone. But were she in school and I was called to come get her, that likely would have set the "no miracle recoveries rule" into effect -- i.e. "If you're too sick to go to school, you're too sick too ______. -- and all afternoon activities would have been canceled.

This sounds sort of ridiculous to me, even as I say it: but because we're homeschooling I didn't have to worry about what "message" I was giving her, and instead just focused on working to keep her comfortable and letting her try to do what she felt able to do. And wouldn't you know that she managed to rally for both the nature walk at the Great Swamp, as well as for gymnastics class!

What challenges have you faced?

Bouts of self doubt and low energy, here and there, but they have thankfully been short lived. Finding a community -- both online and in real life -- has certainly helped both. Though, boy, I tell you, it sometimes feels like dating, and that can be an energy drain in and of itself! (-;

Any surprises?

It has been much easier to spend so much time with my kids than I thought it would be!

What was your own school experience like?

I loved kindergarten, third grade, and the three years I spent at a tiny private school (5th-7th grades), but outside of that I spent most of my energy doing just enough to get the grades I thought would keep me out of trouble with my parents. There were teachers here and there that I really liked and classes or subjects that I enjoyed, but as an overall experience, I mostly was getting in trouble for daydreaming and socializing when I should have been paying attention and felt like school was a boring intrusion into my life. I sometimes wonder why the desire to homeschool did not come more naturally.

How would you describe your homeschooling style?

Loosey-goosey? I knew from the start that, with Joseph in particular (and, quite frankly, me!), doing "school at home" was not the way to go. It would have brought the torture he was feeling in the classroom and the battles we were having over homework to our whole day. And while I agree with "unschooling" as an educational philosophy, I'm not sure that I fit in with the "radical unschoolers" as they seem to self-define. Though I don't think "eclectic" fits either because I'm not pulling a little from here and a little from there, and there are no mandates about working on multiplication tables or handwriting.

I guess I'm just striving to do what seems to work best at the moment and trying not to worry about labels and getting caught up in what a "true" ______ homeschooler would do, while always being open to learning from others and adapting as our needs and desires change.

What is the homeschooling community like in your area?

This is our first year homeschooling, so I'm still learning about the community in our area, but so far it's been a great group to meet and get to know. There is a great state-wide unschooling e-mail list, and I've connected with many of the families there in real life. There's also a local outings list that, if I so desired, could keep me hopping all day every day. We have monthly homeschool days at the local libraries in both adjacent towns, and I've connected with several families there -- unschooling, eclectic, and school-at-homers -- for park days and play dates.

Describe your day.

Every day is different. I made a conscious decision when we started homeschooling not to over schedule. I wanted to take it slowly and get to know my kids and their natural rhythms and predilections. I feared we could all burn out before we started if I had us running here and there for one activity after another. I decided to take our homeschooling a few months at a time and reevaluate and adjust as I felt necessary and made a pact with myself not to beat myself up over worries about what we have accomplished or not.

Up until now there has been absolutely no structure outside of our weekly get together with friends and one class for each child. I have recently decided that, with my personality and lack of internal clock, we would all benefit from a little bit of gentle structure to our weeks, so that is what I'm working on now. Our classes (gymnastics for both Joseph and Hannah, and dancing for Hannah) fall in the evenings, so it really gives us the whole week to parse out. I want to have a weekly library day and a weekly "adventure" day for museums and other outings. I've just purchased the Handbook of a Nature Study and want to use it as a jump off for exploring nature a little more. In my head it feels both good and stifling to think about setting out the materials for one art project and one science project each week, but I'm going to give it a try and will be open to the idea that that might need to be dialed back a bit! I have a few other ideas. It will be a work in progress, I'm sure. I just feel like it might help in the "strewing" department.

What are your aspirations for homeschooling?

To listen to my kids, to remain open and flexible, and to keep at it as long as it's working for us.

Do you have any tips, tricks or resources that you would like to share?

Just to do what feels right for you and your kids, to trust them to show you how they want to learn things, and to not be afraid to make the jump to homeschooling if you are on the fence.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Speaking Out

In early December, a bill supporting same-sex marriage worked its way through the New Jersey legislature. There was hope it would pass before the newly elected governor Christopher Christie, who promised a veto, took office. It was when the bill cleared the senate committee and seemed headed for a vote that I first noticed the flurry of activity in my own homeschooling community. Facebook proved an amazing tool, as many friends kept each other up to date of the bill's progress and of their volunteer effort to support the cause. One friend organized a get-together to make signs, to write letters, and to learn the ins and outs of phoning senators. Another spent hours at a local Garden State Equality office. Rally dates were posted, photos, and links. I was impressed with the drive of these amazing mamas and especially awed with the ones traveliing down to the state house in Trenton with young children. This was surely a part of homeschooling life calling out to be documented! When the next rally day approached, I shot an email to a few families asking if I might tag along with one. Angela promptly responded with enthusiasm. Many thanks to this amazing woman and her three children, Joseph (age 7), Hanna (age 5), and Miriam (age 2). Here is their story.

Getting 3 kids out the door, 2 dogs prepped for a day on their own -- no easy task. So when I show up on Angela's doorstep one fine December morning I feel 1) a sense of relief that for once I'm not the mama in charge and 2) a wonderful happiness that I can lend a helping hand.

Yeppie, the new puppy, wants so strongly to come along on our adventure! Miriam looks on with a smile:

A laughing Joseph on our ride to the state house:

Fierce and highly charming mama with babe on back prepared to fight the fight! Not only did she make it to Trenton once but she and her three made the over-an-hour trip four times.

We've arrived at the state house, where Angela meets homeschool friends as well as her friend, Cantor Meredith Greenberg (one of the 120 clergy members from 19 different faiths that signed letters in support of marriage equality). While a school bus passes in the background, Hannah takes a real-life lesson in the art of civics:

What we thought was going to be a rally day turns into a lobby day. Rallying with a bunch of young kids? -- definitely, no problem! Lobbying quietly through the state house? Hmmm... This might be difficult. The kids do really well as their mama's ears stay tuned-in to the instructions/advice laid out by the marriage equality volunteers:

Angela receives her instructions. After much meandering around the state house (while the young ones increasingly lose stamina), she finds a senator, approaches and speaks to him! Wow, this moment puts me in pure awe. Would I have the bravery to approach a politician and tell him what I thought? Not so sure. And here she is doing just that with a 5 yr old in arms!

Back on the road again, the youngest falls into into a quick sleep. Angelic, yes?

What a a great, educational experience this was for me! It was wonderful getting to know Angela's kids and following them around on an adventure. Back at their house, they show me their room before I head home to my own crew. Hannah, at home:

Although marriage equality was voted down, the fight continues.

More photos, more story:
A Day in Trenton

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Cozy Sunday

What a joy it was, when I first put forth my idea for this photo project, to have Melody respond with enthusiasm and an eagerness to particpate. At the time, she and her boys were on an unschooling cruise where she was a featured speaker. I sat there so impressed with her willingness and how, new to this area, she leapt right in to her East Coast life, finding her way around in the various groups and classes and the community that this area has to offer. She herself was raised in three different countries and carries with her that sense of adventure. Until now, her boys have grown and been nurtured in the warmth of LA so it was a real pleasure for me to visit them on a cozy Sunday early in December, the day after our first snow (a small snowfall but, still, SNOW!). We laughed that I, who have grown up the East coast, have never been skiing but that she and her boys are quite familiar with the joys of it. I thought Mason’s skiing goggles were so cute and I want a pair for myself! So, please meet Melody and her three boys.

When I arrived at their house, the relaxed atmosphere of their household spoke for itself. The warmth invited me right in and Melody, in her slippers, made me the best cup of coffee ever. Her middle child, Mason, promptly fetched a bunch of artwork. It's obvious that he spends hours with his pencils and crayons, drawing inspiration from Pokemon, Star Wars, Avatar, mythology, and ancient animals. I paged through his notebooks and reveled in his pride of achievement and the pleasure he took in sharing it with me. In fact, we spent much of the day touching the surface of his various interests, his enthusiasm bubbling.

The eldest, Gabriel, dealt so patiently and generously with his youngest brother, sharing his snack and Nintendo. In his quiet way he invited me to see his room and, wow, what a great room! I observed him in his own space as he flipped through his bionicle/lego pamphelts and as he sat at his computer. He was showing me a piece of himself and the young, self-assured man he is to be.

The youngest, Ryker, peeked at me from time to time as he snuggled with his mama, played trains, or investigated and eventually went off for a nap. I love how his mama fell asleep with him while the boys and I spent some time in the snow.

More photos

Melody's blog

Friday, January 1, 2010


Welcome to my new photo blog!! I’m very excited to get started on this project. My goal is to share with you the many faces of homeschoolers. Cheers.
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