Friday, September 30, 2011

Exhausting.

Overall, this week was incredibly exhausting. There certainly were some amazing parts, but even those can be just as exhausting as the rough parts.

One thing that is a big source of stress around these parts is wondering if the Waldorf program we have Iris in is a good fit for her (and our family), as well as worrying if we are a good fit for the rest of the program. Iris had a really difficult day on Tuesday. So difficult, in fact, that I got a call to come and get her because her behavior was so out of hand and the teacher couldn't handle it. I have to say that I find it sort of interesting that in all of Iris's schooling, this is the first time I was ever asked to take her home because of her behavior. Long story short, that tells me two things: one, that something about the program is making Iris act so out of control (above and beyond her usual level of acting out) and two, that this program might not be one that can deal with Iris.

Not only is it extremely clear that Iris is going to be the "problem child" in the class, but our family's lack of being Waldorf-minded might quickly become an issue, as well. But we'll see, we haven't flown the coop yet, though it feels very much that our days might be numbered.

On the other hand, we've had a pretty good week of learning together at home, though we did less this week than we usually do because of other things going on. Iris started using a math website called DreamBox and she is really loving it!

Moving along . . .

Iris and I ended up volunteering two afternoons in Eloise's class this week. I was concerned that there were not volunteers on the schedule for Friday so I asked the teacher if she wanted us to come back in, which she agreed would be helpful. In just the small amount of time that we have been in the class many of the other children are really taking to me, which I think is pretty groovy. The one boy I was the buddy for on Monday gave me a big hug when he saw me again on Thursday, which was so sweet. Eloise's teacher is so full of joy and so grateful for all of the support she gets, she gave me a big hug today too. It was like a giant love-fest over there!

Being so intertwined with the flow of the day in the kindergarten room made me well aware of how difficult the large class sizes are in public school. I thought Eloise's class had 25 kids, but they got two new ones this week, so I am not sure if they replaced kids or are added to the bunch. At any rate, it's a lot of kids. The whole thing is set up so differently from the days Iris used to have in the small multi-age private school classroom she was in for K and 1st! Eloise does seem to really be thriving, though. Whew! She is so involved, so excited, so creative, so ready to listen and learn. Yes, she has her moments and issues like every other kid, but she is just doing so wonderfully in the class overall.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lapbooking with my Homeschooler (and Public Schooler!)




Today Iris and I finished her first lapbook about mostly gems and a little bit about crystals. (Side note, I just quickly googled and found that link. So far I don't have a favorite lapbook link.) Lapbooks are a folder that a child fills with information on a specific topic. One fun point about lapbooks is that they are full of little mini books to explore which make reading a lapbook interactive.



Iris decided on our first day of homeschooling that she was going to learn about gems and crystals for her science class. We proceeded to check out books from the library and read all about how gems and crystals are formed and took notes about Iris's favorite things. Since Iris absolutely loves writing and drawing I decided using a lapbook to help her utilize her talents.



The lapbook was a hit! Iris does have a tendency to fly through projects as fast as she can-- quantity far outweighs quality in her mind-- so this lapbook has lots of misspellings and scribbles as well as parts where Iris got bored with the selection process of finding the right mini books so she just wrote right on the folder. Ah, well! She already has decided her next one will be a little more "fancy". We watched a YouTube video about a really elaborate lapbook (which relied heavily on the use of a computer) and Iris was a little befuddled that hers didn't resemble the one in the video.


The information she chose to include in her lapbook were facts about pearls, amber, amethyst, birthstones, where gems are found around the world, how gems are formed from plants and animals and how gems are formed from rocks. It was pretty clear that this lapbook skewed heavily towards gems, but Iris really wanted to include amethyst and didn't want to make a separate lapbook for crystals like we had originally planned.

Here is what the inside of her lapbook looks like:






I don't know if you can tell, but both sides fold in and meet in the middle. For some reason this is how they make lapbooks, instead of leaving the manilla folder folded in half. Perhaps to be extra fancy?



Of course, when Eloise got home and saw Iris's lapbook her eyes grew giant and she insisted that she make a lapbook, too. I decided to give her a topic to speed the process along during my busy afternoon rush of a million things to do. She set right to work creating a lapbook on the colors of the rainbow. Since Eloise is five, her lapbook is, well, clearly made by a five year old. It is all hers, though!



My favorite part was when she was coloring her map (she wanted one simply because Iris had one) she colored Africa and then said "Africa!". I looked at her and said, "did you just label Africa?" and, well, it turned out it was a very lucky guess. Or I suppose I can just choose to think of Eloise as a genius!



I have another photo of the mini books opened up, but my netbook is being weird, so I can't get to upload correctly. If I can fix it later I will post it.


As soon as Eloise started working on her lapbook I immediately thought "look at this bridge between school outside and inside the home!" and then realized, duh, all kids who attend school outside the home are also learning inside the home (or more specifically, outside of school).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Volunteering in the Classroom

Today I was able to volunteer in Eloise's classroom for the first time and I was just thrilled about the opportunity. Her teacher was okay with me bringing Iris along so it's going to work out nicely for us to be there once a week for a few hours. It's a big chunk out of our schooling time at home, but I think Iris will gain some valuable experience helping out the kindergartners, so I am okay with the change in her schedule.

The biggest thing that struck me today was how many activities the kids are moving through every day! I do realize that these are five year olds with a more limited attention span, but we were on the move all afternoon. When Iris and I arrived in the class half way through their day the kids were finishing up what was their recess time by playing in the classroom. It was a pretty rainy afternoon, which doesn't mean skipping all outside recess time, but it does limit it a bit.

After free time we went to Chinese class. Oh, my. This Chinese teacher (who is here from China) is what I have in my mind as a stereotypical Chinese teacher-- very firm. She wants kids to sit still and in a line and no talking. She even told the kids that if they were talking or moving about they would have to come and stand up by her for five minutes, which was very shameful. Eeek! Interestingly, despite kids not really listening that well (they are all five, after all!), she never shamed anyone by having them stand by her. She did "good job" many kids and put stickers on their sticker chart kind of randomly. Luckily this isn't how the kindy teacher operates.

There is one little boy in the class who needs a lot of support, so I stuck close by him for class. After Chinese the kindy teacher asked me if he had fallen asleep in class, which he is prone to doing (!). He hadn't, but I spent a lot of my time keeping him focused. When we were leaving the Chinese teacher thanked me for helping and I assured her I would be back every Monday to help, which she was thrilled about. I still can't figure out how the teachers maneuver so many kids through their day and actually get anything done.

After Chinese we went in the class for carpet time/teacher reading aloud. After read aloud was math games. After math games was outside recess and snack. After recess was library time. After library time was free choice, then another circle before heading home.

Iris and I really enjoyed the times when we could directly interact with kids and help out. We both disliked the times when Iris had to be quiet (turns out it is just as hard for her as it for the five year olds) and I had to help the kids stay quiet. Iris also reported that she didn't like the Chinese class, but I didn't really blame her. It wasn't very fun.

I kept thinking about the post I read that Teacher Tom wrote about the importance of volunteering in your child's class and that parental involvement was the number one predictor of a child's success in school. Today, surrounded by 20-some kids, I couldn't help but think that one of the biggest reasons this was true was simply because more help in the classroom means more kids are learning and not just being "handled" by their teacher. Go here, sit there, be quiet, stay in line. There is a clear reason why teachers need to organize their students so well, it would be chaos otherwise, but more adult hands mean less managing by the teacher. Less time managing means more time teaching and learning.

In closing, I have to say, I just don't know how teachers do it. It is so very difficult teaching such large classrooms of such small children. It takes a very special soul to be able to do it with so much love and joy.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog. I very much appreciate you stopping by to get a glimpse in to our world!

I wanted to start this blog because my family is in a very unique situation in terms of how we are educating our daughters. My older daughter Iris is being homeschooled this year for second grade after being in a private school for two years. My younger daughter Eloise is in public school for kindergarten.

In my time spent perusing the blogs of homeschool families I have yet to run across one that embraces other forms on schooling, either philosophically or in reality-- not that they aren't out there, just that I haven't found one. It's been a bit, well, annoying to me to mostly face a homeschooling attitude of superiority over other forms of schooling. Of course, homeschooling may be a superior choice for one child in particular, but not as an overall philosophy for every child or every family. At least not in my opinion. I decided to write about bridging the gap between two opposing schooling worlds.

My husband and I came to our decision to school our daughters in two very different ways over many, many discussions, an insane amount of thought and research, and by just asking the girls themselves.

Our school journey started when Iris was just over a year old. I enrolled her in a preschool co-op that she and I attended one day per week for a couple of hours. The next year her co-op was two days a week, but I didn't last too long as I had an infant to care for and co-op was too much to juggle. Iris began a very small Reggio Emilia style preschool when she turned three. She stayed at that school until she turned five, when I went insane with worry over where to send her for kindergarten. At the time that Iris was going to start kindy the Seattle Public School system was offering parents a "choice" of where to send their children. No child was guaranteed a spot at their neighborhood school and all parents had to submit a school choice form and then cross their fingers. I toured many schools and my husband and I decided our favorite was a school with an arts focus, which she got assigned to.

The summer before kindy began, however, we bought our first house and our family relocated to the other side of the city. I set to work trying to get Iris transferred to a public school in our new area and was told by SPS that we were on a waiting list for a local school, but that Iris would stay assigned to the school with the arts focus. It was easily a thirty minute drive each way, in good traffic, to the school, so we decided we needed another option. A small private school in our new neighborhood had an opening for Eloise in their preschool as well as an opening in their elementary grades classroom for Iris. We were thrilled to have found such a perfect solution to our school issue!

Iris's kindergarten year was extremely traumatic for her as well as me. Every single day of drop off Iris screamed and clung to me and most days did not want to go to school while complaining of stomach aches. It took a lot of work, but by her first grade year (in the same classroom with the same teacher) she was less anxious overall about school. Unfortunately, her anxiety shifted and began manifesting itself in behavioral issues and poor social skills.

In those two years Eloise completely flourished in her preschool classroom. We had some behavior problems with her, but they were more the "run of the mill" kind and improved with some firm and kind direction from her teachers. Eloise was social and happy and LOVED school.

By the time Spring was rolling around in Iris's first grade year I decided that we needed to pull Iris out of school and give her a break from the constant anxiety. Since her school ran year-round, she ended up leaving three months before the scheduled end of the year. At that time my husband and I decided that Iris would be homeschooled for second grade in hopes of getting a handle on her anxiety and working on her social skills.

In the Spring we also enrolled Eloise in the Seattle Public School system for her kindergarten year. The rules had changed since Iris was originally enrolled and now all children had a guaranteed spot at their neighborhood school. Since I did not like our neighborhood school (it is a good school, but not my cup of tea) I requested that she be enrolled at our area's "option school". It was a long, nerve-wracking wait to find out where Eloise would be assigned. I decided that if she didn't get in to the school I wanted her to that she would go to the private school that she had been to preschool at (in the same classroom Iris had been in). Eloise repeatedly reported that she did not want to be homeschooled and also did want to go to the private school. She wanted to go to a BIG school (her words). My husband and I thought, you know, what the heck. We will send her to a public school if she gets in to the one we want her to. And she did.

We spent the summer doing a huge amount of relaxing, playing and traveling and come the beginning of September, we dove head first in to our new routine.

My daughters are as different as could be. One is anxious, introverted, artistic and enjoys being absorbed in imaginative play on her own. The other is extroverted, extremely physical, loves playing with other kids and has not a fear in the world. I love that we could find a school solution that fits each of their very unique needs. There is no one situation that would have fit both of their needs as perfectly as what we have have chosen for each of them separately.