Monthly Archives: November 2013

“Hack your clothes” – Pin cushions

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Our first project for new sewers will be to create a tool we’ll need for the rest of class: a pin cushion. Each student has the option of making a free standing or wristlet pin cushion.  This project is fast, easy and useful.  We will each have the chance to machine sew, hand sew and apply a button. These are some of the basic skills will need to get started hacking our clothes!

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A new way of representing the world.

Something has shifted. D has, in a very short period of time, developed a new way of drawing. It is much more representational and has a lot more detail then I have ever seen. In the slide show, the drawings on the whiteboard are a chicken, a cherry pie and a bottle of water. He also has started to really replicate environments– in the images below you’ll see he has created a grocery store and added price tags to everything.

Parenting fail: Feedback loops

We all bomb sometimes. In the last post  I tried to give my brain some slack by not over thinking things but also being forgiving of my choices. Less than 24 hours after that, my little dude and I hit a wall and I was thrown eye-ball deep in the muck of parental self-criticism.

See, D and I fall into parent-child feedback loops very often. We push each others buttons and often reflect each others subpar behavior back at one another. Its hard to see it when you are in the midst of it. But every once in a while one of us does something to make that loop visible. And this week, D showed me the loop. It was hard. I knew I was behaving badly and it was effecting him is ways that are so challenging. I am still feeling sad, discourages and even ashamed at my own behavior.

So here is my first time sharing the bad along with the good. And its a rough one.

News flash: sometimes I yell. And lately, D has a favorite activity: irritating and interrupting his little sister who has the capacity to entertain herself, in the very best of ways. He just can’t seem to resist. She’ll be happily chattering away playing with her baby or “cooking” in the kitchen and within minutes D is all up in her jam. He’s in her physical space and mental space. And while that sounds all very normal, it triggers something pretty foundational for me.  I was the youngest of four kids and as the youngest I was an easy target for teasing by my older siblings. It’s not uncommon, nor did it ruin me. But when I see D treat his sister that way, it’s like I am 4 years old again and my brother is squishing my stuffed bears head down into its body. I’m too little to know how to fix it, I assumed he’s wrecked it and he’s laughing his head off. Arg. It is infuriating.

So when D harasses his little sister, I respond with the emotion of my 4 year old self. I start the day by trying to gently redirect them. But after of a whole day of nothing but this battle, I am cooked. I finally break. I yell. Loudly. And send him to his room.

At the end of the day, while laying in bed chatting, he almost always expressed remorse for this behavior. I remind him to forgive himself and let him know that tomorrow is a new day and he can try harder then. I also express my remorse for yelling and tell him I’ll try harder tomorrow too. But lately, neither of us can keep our promises. He bugs, I yell, he bugs, I yell and around and around we go.

But then it peaked this week. We had just sat down for dinner and D was working on setting up a grocery store. It was a new and pretty cool activity. I gently asked him to come to the table when he was done. I wanted him to feel like he could finish up what he was doing. He got really angry immediately. J decided to insist he come to the table. He blatantly said, “I am not going to do what you tell me.” I felt pretty proud of him at that moment. He stood up to us. But J and I got our parental wires crossed and one of us, I am can’t remember who, told him to go  to his room. He stomped up stairs.

When he returned a few minutes later he told us he was dumb. He was sad that he couldn’t learn how to listen and that, he felt, meant he was dumb. I was, am, so upset about this. There was nothing J and I could say in the following hours to convince him otherwise. Even at bedtime, where we discuss our day, he was still feeling really down on himself.

J and I talked it out that night. It felt like it was all my fault. I felt like my digression into yelling as a tactic for dealing with sibling squabbles had caught up with us in a way that really frightened me. It was time to stop with the yelling and try some new things. But what? I feel like I’ve already tried every trick in the book and nothing seemed to work.

In the days since then I’ve stopped yelling completely.  I’ve tried to set expectations with both kids in the morning. I’ve been trying to listen to both of them. I’ve been posing questions back to them like, “How do you think your sister feels when you hit her?” So instead of telling them what to do, I am trying to support them to think about their actions.

I’ve also just been trying to really listen to D. Yesterday he was really upset about going to TS. I offered to stay with him for as long as I could– which was and hour and a half. When I needed to go, he was still upset. He didn’t want to stay. So I took him with me. He was great. We took the train downtown and he played nicely while I was in a lunch meeting. It felt great to let him make some choices for himself. I am not sure if any of this is making a difference, but he has definitely been having to try out some new “tactics” on me– seeking my old reaction, trying to suck me back into the loop. So far, I’ve been able to resist.

Can you build a community of care?

This article really shifted the ground beneath me – Raising the Awesome Child. Its not that I am convinced of my kids awesomeness, their gifted nature, or their general superiority. I love my kids, but I think all kids have the capacity for their own kind of greatness and I get pretty exhausted listening to people talk about the superiority of their brood. This part of the article I can easily work through. But this writing jolted me in other way– so much so that I stopped questioning absolutely everything I was doing as a parent. It’s exhausting really– the constant search for the “right” way to deal with sibling squabbles, or fits or all out shenanigans. Was I a peaceful parent? Did I yell too much? Did I allow too much tv? Did I not read to them enough? Umm, yes. All of that. But like my own mother told me– we make the best choices we can with the information we have right in the moment. Each day I am making the best choices I can for this day, for what I know now, for what my kids tell me they need and want.

This article flip-flopped so many familiar parenting theories I’ve read. In the peaceful parenting paradigm, one works hard to support a child to grow their emotional intelligence and learn how to self-regulate. Parents are always supposed to keep their cool during this process. Hoffman writes, “Helping kids develop self-control is also about parents being in control. The lesson here is that parents can’t teach kids how to handle emotions unless they model strategies for self-control: “Even though your son tore your pricey shawl while playing Batman, maintain a calm demeanor. Calmly ask him, ‘how did this happen?’”4 In other words, don’t let your child know that you have powerful negative emotions, ever. ” What? I’m not saying that keeping your cool isn’t a good thing, but how liberating it feels to realize that under the right circumstances, I can express my emotions– even anger?!? And that not being authentic about my emotions is me asserting more control. Whoa. Its inside out, then outside in.  I am still trying to work this all out.

Hoffman also spends a considerable amount of time unearthing the solitary nature of modern parenting. She writes, “Modern parenting has also put an unusually heavy burden on mothers and fathers by making them into something close to the sole caretakers of children. This is a decisive break with most pre-modern societies, where that responsibility was—and in many societies still is—shared by a variety of surrogate parents, particularly siblings. “

The loneliness, the burden of modern parenting seems to suggest the possibility for a generative moment where we work to build a community of care for our kids. We have some wonderful resources around us– human resources. There are lots of parents and kids at MAHC and TS that we could rally, no? Could this be a starter network for a community of care? Or can we formalize the care, just enough, to allow parents more access to support through childcare swaps and other informal but equitable arrangements? If I offered art classes in my home for teens, would those teens be a network of childcare support for me? I am really intrigued by this idea. I’d like for my children to have meaningful relationships with other adults and kids– ones based on bonds and trust over time. I’d also love a support network of trusted people who can step in for me when I need help. And, of course, I’d love to be that support for others. Its the getting started part that I am not so sure about. And I do fear, that even within the homeschooling community, there are ideologies of parenting that might work to undermine the building of this kind of community of care.

Hoffman goes on to say:
“The decline of truly shared and communal responsibilities for childrearing is a key component of our cultural predicament. Because of deep concerns about privacy and the limits and rights of social authority and responsibility, one of the unquestioned presuppositions governing adult-child relations in society as a whole is the notion that only parents have the right to tell their children what to do, as long as the parents are not engaging in abuse or neglect or breaking a law. Norms of parenting in many communities in the United States have moved away from what were commonly accepted and valued practices of diffuse authority and communal discipline—the expectation that other mothers, for instance, would make sure everyone’s kids behaved well at the bus stop. Many mothers’ emphasis on their differences from other moms—even within the same community—is part of this problem. By seeing themselves and their offspring as so different from others, parents undermine any capacity for shared responsibility and for any sense of self that is more realistically connected to the concerns and perceptions of others. 

Obviously this may not be true for all parents at every time and place, but beyond limited arenas highly regulated by law (such as schools or childcare facilities) our culture at large does not provide the supports for authentic engagement with other people’s children. Social pressures, legal liabilities, cultural consensus on individual differences, and ideologies of parenting itself work together to undermine the important role of those other than parents in raising children. And so, in the absence of valid sources of self-critique from others outside our own limited worlds, we are left wanting in ways to connect our ideals to practice. “

I think I’ve thus far been assuming this was a barrier to building a community of care amongst some of the folks I know. But I can’t really know anything till I try… So that, I shall do.

So back to my kids awesomeness.
This blog is meant to capture our unschooled life. The window we give into this world, if you hadn’t already noticed, is highly curated. You see our rad projects, our magical walks in the woods and our idyllic trips to the beach. That stuff is all as lovely as it seems, but in between those moments it ranges from boredom to chaos. So for every magically captured moment in this blog, I would like to share a misstep, a failure, because for sure, there are many. I don’t want to idealize our family or our choices. There are days when I question everything. Can I do this? Will I destroy them? Will I be able to stop myself from “teaching” to them? But some of the moments are more mundane. Did I really need to argue with you  for five minutes about why you should wear socks with your sneakers? Or might I just loose the battle, let your feet get cold, and assume the next time you’ll decide you might like some socks? But like ever other day, I make the best choices I can with the knowledge and resources I have in the moment. Sometimes I am right on. Others, well, I am way off.

Birthday practice

In preparation for the onslaught of 3 birthday in the next 3 weeks, we decided to do a test run on some gluten free cupcakes. Both kids are really interested in cooking and baking. Sometimes I fret too much about how much time it will take to include them in the kitchen. On an average day, getting dinner made is just a race to the finish line. But this day I really took my time with it and I learned so much! I learned that if I slow down it is really fun for all of us. I also learned that baking is just full of so many practical lessons! (Yes, I know that is obvious, but practicing it is totally different than making that assumption.) Measuring was a talk about fractions. Setting the timer and the oven was a lesson in sequence, time and numbers in general. Recipes themselves offer lessons in measuring but also in improvisation. Both kids just loved baking and decorating their cupcakes. Surely the best part was testing them out.

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Robots!

We recently checked out a great book from the library that was all about drawing robots. Its served as great inspiration for 2 weeks worth of robot projects. We started out just drawing robots and giving them names. Then we did a project with cut shapes– building up our robots piece by piece.  But by far the most loved project was building robots from our recycle bin. Oh man this was fun. D and I had a great idea to attach our robots to monster trucks so they could roll. Genius! It totally worked.

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If I had and orchard…

We love growing our own food. The one thing we don’t have is fruit trees. We were fortunate this fall to find a great deal on apple trees and spent a blustery fall morning planting our orchard up at my parents farm in Bucks County. Thank goodness for Pop’s tractor. It would have been a very long day if we would have had to dig all of those holes ourselves. Now, we’ll just have to wait for our first crop!

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Get your kicks No wonder adolescents jump off cliffs and fall in crazy love – they are constantly stifled by school and society alike

“We should not impose on all young people a high-church framework of scholastic values that is, for many of them, deadening and uninspiring. Instead, we should stretch our own values, so that we can help them along on their own journeys of discovery. We need to get better at honouring and channelling these impulses, not condemning them, so that we do not strand adolescents in a world where they are constantly told that what feels good is ‘bad’, and what is ‘good’ involves being studious, sensible and contained. It is true that the ability to ‘self-regulate’ — to concentrate, delay gratification and control our impulses — is a key asset for all of us. It predicts everything from happiness to financial probity. Yet too much of a good thing turns sour. Being able to check your tears or your tantrums once in a while is useful, but when self-control becomes a chronic straitjacket, the person rebels. It is as important to know when and how to let the brakes off as when to apply them.”