Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What about Truancy?

I've had great experiences with public schools, but I seem to be in the minority on this.  We're being pushed on by the system with no check or balance to push back with.  I think we should contact our representatives, and seek change.  

I read a post contemplating truancy laws and what we should do about them at redheadmom8.  It got me to thinking, and the following stream of consciousness came out.  I apologize, the post hiccups along as my thoughts get their feet under themselves.

In principle I agree with Shelly that the truancy laws should be repealed.  I have the luxury of living in a state where it requires a minimum of effort to setup, and maintain a home school, so the general need for repealing these laws isn't as urgent here.

On the other side of the coin, I've had experiences that run askance of the compulsory schooling stories I've heard lately.  First, as a kid I was public schooled.  I've been informed that my data points are old and rusty, and don't apply to today's world, but here they are anyway.  My parents routinely took me out of school for a week or so at a time to travel to work-related conferences with them.  It was a great experience to get to see the country, and learn about other regions.  My teachers simply sent the next week's worth of homework along with me, and off we went.  We did have attendance awards, and no, I never won any of those.  Heck, since I routinely became distracted by things on my walk to school, I never even won the not-tardy award.  Somehow my self esteem survived.

Having had this experience in school, I assumed that the same privileges would be attendant to my childrens' school lives.  Most of my friends and family informed me that such would not be the case.  They told me the entire gamut of "you have to follow the rules" tales.  So, it was with no small amount of trepidation that I approached my kid's teacher with a request to pull her out of school one Friday afternoon.  I explained that we had a writers' lunch we attended once a month on Friday afternoons, and that I thought it was a valuable experience for us both.  I was slightly amazed when the teacher mirrored my school experience rather than the stories I'd heard.  She smiled, said that that sounded great, and set about working with me to figure out the time of day that I could most easily collect the kid without distracting the rest of the class.

But what about all the counterexamples to my experience?
I think all the counterexamples I've heard are very important.  They need to be aired, and things need to be changed.  In our democratic society,  built on checks and balances, we've removed a key check: the consent of those being educated.  I've recently read Peter Gray's excellent book about democratic schools, as well as several blog posts on the rights of kids.  They all point out one key point that seems to have been forgotten.  What is it about being under 18 that puts you outside the constitutional protections enjoyed by the rest of society?

I believe we've had several generations of kids who were told they had to attend school or face legal consequences.  This flew under the radar, I think, because they were kids.  The issue we now face is that those kids are now adults, (we're them, they're us), and not too surprisingly the same system is now telling us that we face legal consequences if our kids don't attend school.  Also not surprisingly, having accepted the system throughout our childhood, we're not always immediately inclined to buck it.

So, getting back to checks and balances.  What better check for the education system could there be than the parents' ability to pull their kids out if it's not suitable?  I'm not even discussing homeschooling yet.  Referring back to the post on readheadmom8: if you feel a school isn't safe, of course you should be able to pull your kids out until such time as it is.

What now?
I've been very privileged.  I went to excellent schools that allowed my parents to take me out whenever we wanted.  My kid briefly attended a school that had the same policies.  Now, we homeschool.  However, there are several/many/a-whole-bunch of schools where this is not the case.  I think we should let our administrators know this isn't OK.

With all the political upheavals going on lately, I've heard that it's far more effective to call your representatives than to write them.  They have to hire staff to answer their phones which is a visible cost.  What if our local home schooling groups setup call lists to ring up their representatives on a weekly or even daily basis.  What if we included other families in our neighborhoods as well?  How much of a ruckus could we make?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Reading About Learning to Read: Homeschooling Bog Review

Blog reviews are one my favorite things to do because I get to talk about other peoples' cool stuff!  Learning to read was a common theme during the month of November.  There were suggestions of how to interest kids in reading without pushing reading; fears that society at large would never quit pushing reading; and 10 reasons why it's best to let kids learn to read at their own pace.

Kids learning to read at their own pace factored heavily in RedHeadedMom's post.  She suggests 10 reasons kids should be left alone to learn reading when, and how they'd like.  Many of the reasons focus on not causing undue stress and shame.

Unschooling the Kids provided a plethora of fun tips for enabling your kids to read at their own pace.  My favorite ideas were to ask your kid to read your emails to you, and to write things on the fridge that make them laugh.  Other ideas that have worked for us include frequent trips to the library, (our library has toys in addition to books) and leaving the subtitles on for all TV shows.

Finally, at Jitterberry, the author airs their unschooling fears with regards to the way reading is pushed not only in school, but in society at large.  What's at risk?  Among other things, a kid's right to the sense of accomplishment and discovery, as well as their sense of self-esteem.
“a child doesn’t grow into shame unless those they care about project it”

 All photos credited to their respective blogs, except that first one, that's all me :)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

We Made This: Roll Dough for Cinnamon Rolls/Christmas Tree!!!

My mom's cinnamon rolls have been a hit with my family and our friends for decades.  Every semester just before finals, my college dorm-mates and I eagerly awaited the arrival of a Banker's Box full of them.  Now, the kids and I have taken over the roll baking duties.  No. 1: 5 y.o., No. 2: 4 y.o., and No. 3: 1 y.o. all help with different steps of the baking process.  Today's post contains the steps for making the roll dough.  In future posts, I'll include instructions on how to use the dough to make cinnamon rolls and baked Christmas trees!

My payoff for writing this post:  As I outlined the baking steps below, I realized that the kids can almost completely take over this job!!!

1/2 cup of warm water
2 (1/4 ounce packet)s of yeast
1/2 cup of shortening cut into 1/4 inch cubes
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup of sugar
2 eggs (the larger the egg, the more moist and sticky the dough)
7 - 7 1/2 cups of flour

Things the kids help with:
Step 1:  Set the milk out to let it come to room temperature
If you get started late, you can always put the milk on top of a warm oven to help it reach room temperature more quickly.

Things the kids help with:
Step 2:  Grease the rising bowl
I know some people who use olive oil so the dough won't stick to the bowl it rises in.  I prefer butter.

Things the kids help with:
Step 3:  Place a half cup of warm water in the mixing bowl, and dump in the yeast.  Stir the mixture with a fork until all the yeast is dissolved.  It'll make a murky pool.  If you use Red Star yeast, it'll smell like beer.
Let the mixture sit for about five minutes to give the yeast time to perk up.
Yeast science from Good Eats!:

Things the kids help with:
Step 4:  chop up the shortening with butter knives
I like to cut the shortening into little cubes before I put it in the mixer.  I'm not sure if this helps at all, but there you have it.

Things the kids can help with:
Step 5:  Dump in the sugar, the shortening, the milk, the eggs, the salt, and half the flour
A few months ago, No. 1, and No. 2 got promoted to egg breaking duties.  They love it!

Things that I don't let the kids help with
Step 6: Mix until smooth, then gradually mix in the rest of the flour half a cup at a time, once again mixing until smooth.  I can usually get in 7 cups of flour.  Occasionally, I can mix in all 7.5 cups, (mostly when I use jumbo eggs).  When the dough is smooth and elastic, and additional flour doesn't mix into the dough, you're done.

I don't let the kids do this step yet, because I shortcut the processor by using a mixer with a dough hook.  I'm worried the mixer might injure them since I have to fight the dough at the end, so I don't let them do this.

However: The original recipe called for hand kneading the dough to add the rest of the flour.  If your kids have the patience, (it takes at least five minutes of strenuous kneading), then they can pull off the whole thing!

Things the kids help with:
Step 6: Set the dough in the rising bowl.  Then, if you live in a cool climate like we do, set the bowl either in or on a warmed up oven.  I prefer on.  The in part makes me nervous ever since my mom melted down a Tupperware bowl in the oven when I was a kid.  I started with our oven at about 155, and slowly worked my way up to 185.  The heat was enough to make the dough happy so it would rise, but at the same time not toast it.

Things the kids help with:
Step 7: Cover the dough, and wait for it to rise.  After an hour, punch the dough down, flip it over, and adjust your oven (just in case it was getting too warm on the bottom).  Our kids love the punching down part!  Wait another hour, and your dough should look like this

And now, we've arrived at the part where you can take two different paths.  You can make cinnamon rolls, the traditional crowd-pleaser, or you can make 'Christmas Tree', our once a year, 'eat it during the parades' Thanksgiving treat.  Christmas Tree is the easier of the two.  I'll cover both of them soon!

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Value of Shared Experiences

Then, there was silence except for No. 2's small singing voice pleasantly crooning along...

We made cinnamon rolls a few nights ago.  It's a fun time with the kids helping, but there's always a bit of a ruckus over taking turns.  They help roll out dough, or break the eggs, or mix up the cinnamon sugar.  Our youngest no. 3 has just become mobile enough to help.  She's also just reaching the age where it seems like throwing a fit might be the way to get things changed when they don't go her way.

No. 2 and 3 had just finished helping put cinnamon rolls in the pan.  No. 3, as I've mentioned before, takes in everything.  While placing rolls in the baking pan, she apparently also noticed that her brother No. 2 was mixing the cinnamon sugar.  I told them all that we were done helping, and it was time to go play again.  No. 3 pointed at the cinnamon sugar mix, and began to scream.  There were a dozen different ways I could have defused the moment.  I, for example,  could have just given her a turn while I supervised, (left unsupervised, she was going to woof all the sugar down).  I didn't though.  Chalk it up to a bad dad moment, but No. 3's fit continued.  She wandered from the kitchen to the living room screaming at the top of her lungs.  Wow, WOW! is No. 3 loud!

Then, out of nowhere, No. 2 walked up to No. 3, and started singing Itsy Bitsy Spider.  No. 3 slowed down her screams, sniffled for a bit, and then?  Then, there was silence except for No. 2's small singing voice pleasantly crooning along for no. 3!

I grinned from ear to ear!  The irony is that up until a few months ago, No. 2 was our premiere fit thrower.  He's slowly been winding down his fits, developing coping habits.  Now, instead of throwing a fit, he'll usually sigh heavily, walk to his room, and about five minutes later return.  Sometimes, he even wants to talk it out!  I was bracing for another few years of fits from No. 3, and I still expect we'll have them, but how awesome is it that No. 2, our biggest fit thrower to date is now our biggest helper in making them end?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Doom Patrol and Our Dada Adventures

Over the last few weeks I’ve experienced an uptick in the number of “Unschooling?  How does that work?” questions while out and about with the kids .  +Sue Elvis  posted a great example of how unschooling works for her family, and made a very apt rabbit hole analogy.  As a fun  example of exactly how homeschooling works for us, here’s one of our own rabbit holes annotated with the various school subjects that were covered as we pursued it.  You’ll find a topic or two, networking for example, that don’t fit into a traditional school curriculum at all.

No. 1 and I have been reading Doom Patrol.  Saturday night, we noticed a reference to Hannah Höch in the comic book.  Topics: Reading, Reading Comprehension, Art Appreciation

Turns out, Hannah Höch was a famous Dada artist.  Dada, an art movement founded in 1916, gave birth to the surrealists.  Doom Patrol is very surreal in both its story, and art.  For example, the story involves a door in the shape of a mouth.  To get through the door, the main character had to know a password.  Topics: Art History, Writing

San Francisco happened to be having a city-wide festival to celebrate the centennial of the birth of Dada.  No. 1 and I were aware of this because we hang out at a library where one of the events was hosted.  Topics: Networking

We missed the library's event.  No problem.  The Saturday we discovered Dada was day 12 of the 13 day festival.  We still had a day left to get in on the fun.  We chose two of the remaining events to attend.  The first was Dada@Sea where a large Dada barge was supposed to be sent out to sea.  No. 1 is very interested in boats and has wanted to ride on a boat for quite some time, so this one seemed like a natural.  The second event was a ‘secret’ closing party for the festival.  To get in, you had to go to a specific location, (a beat poetry book shop in town), and say a specific phrase, (a password!): "May I have a slip of paper please?"

On Sunday morning, No. 1 and I diligently made our way across town to Dada@Sea.  There wasn't a barge, but there was a rowboat made by one of the artist's high school classes.  There was also a fascinating old-school deep sea diving helmet. Topics: Geography, Science

 No. 1 was entranced by parts of the art presentation, (e.g. when the artist jumped into the bay wearing a business suit and the diving helmet), and bored by others, (e.g. the speeches).  She shouted a warning to the artist as he went into the water, “Make sure to shut the door on the diving helmet!”  After the artists made their outdoor speech, and headed indoors for more presentations, No. 1 wanted to stay outside to watch the waves.  We did.  Topics: Art appreciation, Nature

A conversation ensued about actually riding boats, and when that would ever happen.  This turned into a conversation about the importance of building a network of folks who actually had boats.    No. 1 decided we should go inside to watch the rest of the presentations.  Topics: Communication, Socialization

At the end of the presentations, one of the artists asked if anyone wanted to go for a ride in the rowboat.  No. 1's hand shot up!!!  10 minutes later, we were on a small wobbling, (thanks to us), rowboat in the bay!  Networking does work! :)  Topics: Networking, Physical Education

Next, we headed to the bookstore where we were to retrieve the location of the party.  We delivered the password, and after some confusion, were given the slips of paper revealing where the party was.  Oh, and we found our own surreal door!  Topics: Communication, Art Appreciation, Art Interpretation, Geography

After our heady boat ride, and undercover party location mission, lunch was in order.  No. 1 ordered for us, and had a brief conversation with our waitress who is new, but had noticed we’re kind of regulars there.  As we ate lunch, we agreed that we'd split the party duties.  No. 1 would deliver the slip of paper to the person at the door, and if we needed to pay to get in, I'd pay.  Topics: Communication, Socialization

With lunch under our belts, we headed out for the party, (which we knew nothing about but the location).  We missed our stop by about 3 blocks.  No. 1 reminded me that I'm always encouraging the kids to walk, and proposed that we run back to the correct stop.  Off we went.  Topics: Geography, Physical Education

Arriving at the location, we found an unmarked warehouse with an open door.  No. 1 presented the slip of paper.  I made the suggested donation.  We gained admittance!  Topics: Communication, Socialization

Annndddd... Robots!!!  Lots, and lots of robots!  The party was hosted by a local artist who does kinetic sculptures.  No. 1 was the first kid on the scene.  The artist quickly took her under his wing, and showed her every exhibit in the warehouse!  (more socialization and networking).  Topics: Art Appreciation, Engineering, Socialization, Communication

Finally, exhausted, and with the sun setting on us in an unfamiliar part of town, we headed home the back way through our park that we'd never taken before.  On the bus, No. 1 asked for the phone.  She used it to track our progress until we got to our park which she recognized both because of the dot on the map, and because of the forest surrounding us.  Topics: Geography

And that, in a not so small nutshell is what we do with unschooling.  We pursue interests that we come across in life.  These lead to a variety of school topics, some of which don’t exist in most schools.  Then, we do the whole thing all over again, accumulating bits of knowledge here and there as we go.