Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Civil War comes to California...

No, David & I haven't been fighting - I'm talking about the REAL Civil War, c. 1861-1865.

We don't have an official battle site or anything like those of you eastward and southward get to experience, but it's the largest Civil War encampment / re-enactment on the west coast...

Loud, too!

David, unaware of the Southern belles sneaking up on him...

David, friend Jeff, & Miles getting a very detailed lesson on the Gatling gun:

Have you ever seen a boy happier to hold a real (not replica) 1841 Civil War rifle? This one was called the Mississippian, if I recall correctly (the gun, not the rebel).

After gathering information on the weapons used by the rebels, he took it right over to the Yankee side, the little spy.

Ok, so maybe he didn't *quite* fit in, with his skateboarding attire and all...

I didn't get a whole lotta photos of Lilli - she and friend J were more interested in climbing trees & feeding ducks than aiding the war effort. They did wait patiently for President Lincoln's field report, but the sign said come back at 4:00pm...

Monday, April 12, 2010

In mid-March we decided to bring Miles home for the remainder of the school year. He's in 7th grade and was failing 4 out of 6 of his classes. He just had constant struggles with organization, focus, communication with teachers. School was consuming 8 hours a day of his life, and he was still failing it. The plan is to keep him home through next year and give him a chance to improve his grades, gain self-confidence, decide what he wants to do about high school.

Things have been going surprisingly smoothly... my usually tired, cranky, argumentative Miles has been delightful and calm and easy to have around. He sleeps later and we give each other our space, but we also spend a good part of the day working together. He has time to sit on his bedroom floor & play with Godzilla figures, hang out on the computer, read, and even started writing a short story. He very quickly let down his posturing and attitude after leaving the social pressure of school. I'm not saying he won't get bored, or miss his friends... but this past month already there have been plenty of opportunities to meet up with friends - they go skateboarding, they text & talk online, a friend is having a birthday party next weekend, he even takes my Friday class at Lilli's school (ancient Egypt and, starting this next week, a novel-writing course), and plays ping pong & board games, etc. with some of the 5th/6th graders there when we're there on Fridays. And he plays with his sister, of course ;) One of his best friends, who he sees regularly, goes to a different school anyway, so they weren't school friends. It's a real lesson for ME not to try to micromanage his social life - to help facilitate things he wants to do - but to let him take the lead. He is the kind of kid who was enjoying the social life of school, but is also happy with a lot of down time and stay-at-home time. Always has been.

One day we went downtown to the bookstores together and he collected a few more in the series he's reading, plus he bought his first Stephen King book, The Mist. He's always loved horror and the macabre and has graduated from Goosebumps to Cirque du Freak, to now he's currently reading a series called Demonata (by the same Cirque du Freak author), and now King. yikes. He's already written his own horror short story. Another day he spent an afternoon at his dad's office at the skateboard R&D shop & warehouse (where dad's office-mates were positive about homeschooling and gave him a reject skateboard deck to use for wall art).

As for formal curricululm, he asked if he could continue with his Science program (still have textbook & workbook from school, which I'll just keep until the end of the year unless they ask for it back) and I suggested we do a chapter or unit of science per week and alternate two days of science with two days of History (don't worry - I've got that covered ;).
He does Math and his Chinese language program on a daily basis. We search out a lot of online resources for Geography, Science, educational games, the NYTimes lesson plans & vocabulary word of the day, a billion library books... he also started a family tree project, contacting relatives by phone or email to fill in gaps. So much to do, so little time.

At one of the last meetings of my ancient Egypt class at Lilli's school, we talked about Egyptian toys and games (dolls, stone toss, variations on jacks, chess, and mancala), and then I sent the kids out to forage for natural objects to create their own games - it didn't have to be an Egyptian game, that was just our inspiration. It could be a physical activity, a game for two or for many, items to create dolls or instruments, or a board or strategy game.

I broke them up into groups of 2 or 3 so they could work together as a team, and so that everyone would have a part. Here's Lilli (orange shirt, looking at camera), with a couple of friends and the many items they collected - sandstone, large pieces of bark, foxtails, etc. They created an obstacle course of sorts ;)

At first Miles resisted going to my class - wanted to stay home alone - but I bribed him with the offer to take him to do some things afterwards (go to the skate shop, sushi for lunch, etc. ;)

Well, as is often the case with Miles, he had a great time *in spite of* himself. He decided to participate and he paired himself up with one of the older boys in the class (age 10 or so). They know each other already, since Lilli's school is a very family-oriented family-involved school and we have spent a lot of time there. And I think the other boy was glad to have Miles there! They created their own intricate Stratego-inspired board game using found objects:

The class is only an hour long, but they didn't want to leave their game -so Miles and I stayed for hot lunch (Mexican food day) and then the boys went back to their game through lunch recess. We've been doing that every Friday now. Over spring break, some of these friends also visited the Egyptian museum again with us.

I'm just so glad to have this community and for Miles to nurture these friendships. When you're in junior high, the difference between 5th or 6th grade & 7th grade seems like a generation. But when you're just enjoying yourself and making friends, the difference between age 10 and age 12 is not so great.

During the foraging for game pieces and objects, Lilli found this.....

An emu egg! Yes, they have an emu at school, so it's not a mystery to find an eggshell, but it's rare.
Can you see the pretty blue tint at all?

I was happy to overhear Miles on the phone the other night telling his uncle, "Yeah, I decided to homeschool for a while."
I'm glad he is taking ownership of the decision. His attitude continues to be great. He seems very happy and relaxed and positive about his schoolwork.

I'm feeling that it was the right decision for him. Not every child will learn best in (or succeed according to the expectations of) the traditional school environment. School is just one way to learn and I'm feeling empowered that he can get a better academic education at home. I always knew that, but if he was going with the program and succeeding according to school's terms, we would have stayed on that path. For now, there is NO reason for him to fail in school when he's an interested and engaged and capable student who just needs a different environment and needs a lot more time to explore and benefits from more individual attention. Others will disagree with us - that he should be learning to get by in school - but we've always believed that "school" is less important than learning, and wanting to learn, and succeeding on your own terms.

So this is our time to learn together. It's a good feeling.