Thursday, February 23, 2012

Free U: Just let it happen

For a few weeks, I'd been taking a more structured approach with the kids in anticipation of formally starting homeschool next fall with Danny. I'd instituted two structured times a day. One in the morning, which Danny deemed blanket time, centered around some music and movement, a kids devotion book and any other book they brought to me. A typical blanket time usually lasted as long as the kids were interested. Table time occurred after I put Owen down for his nap and usually lasted about a half hour. The kids would play with some sort of manipulative or work on handwriting and drawing.  It seemed to work well when it was cold and rainy or just plain cold. It kept the kids from tearing up the house and it gave us a rhythm to the day.

 Lately, this has not been working so well. Danny won't sit still for blanket time any more. It's devolved into endless begging to play "Red Light, Green Light." Meanwhile, Owen is running laps around the room, tearing through our spread-out blanket, and the dog is trying to sit in my lap, as she does every time I read to the kids. What can I say, the dog likes story time. And lately, I've been so exhausted by lunchtime that I corral all the kids upstairs for a nap and forego table time all together. Then I collapse on my own bed for a nap.

The best thing to come out of those weeks was developing the habit of after-breakfast chores. Owen, it turns out, is an excellent dishwasher emptier. Fiona is good at putting away the silverware, in the proper slots, too. Danny is my compost runner. He takes the veggie scraps out to the compost bin.

I also set out to start unit studies. We checked out a bunch of books about butterflies and caterpillars for our first attempt at this. No day seemed right to start this, however. One kid or another was in a bad mood or sick. I just didn't have the energy to carry through on reading the books that the kids weren't too interested in or crafts that I would just end up doing myself or trips the museum butterfly pavilion that just were not a good fit for that particular week.

By now, I'm feeling like a pretty crappy homeschool mom-in-training. One of the things I like best about homeschooling, though, is the ability to change tactics when you see that something is clearly not working. Since I know my kids best, I can do what works best for them on any given day. And they let me know what works best for them by rebelling against the order of the day.  So I backed off and just decided to let the days unfold again.

This week, we went to the museum and saw the daily butterfly release. The kids got to hold butterflies and one landed on Danny's face. He is now terrified of butterflies. Fiona kept crying on the way home that she wanted a butterfly. Apparently, she thought the butterfly would come home with her. The kids even got to see a butterfly with it's proboscis (it's tongue) out eating an orange rind. That afternoon, I hustled the kids up for quiet time as usual. Danny wanted me to read one of our library books on butterflies. It was a fairly long book and he wanted me to read all the words. Since he's reading now, I can't get away with skipping words or pages anymore. I couldn't believe this was the same kid who wouldn't sit still for blanket time.

This week, we're also talking about Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Lent. We went to the pancake dinner at church Tuesday. On Sunday, we received a Lenten calendar and rice bowl to fill with coins for Catholic Relief Services. The calendar provides a different story for each week of Lent about a person/family from a country that CRS is helping, plus there is a recipe for each week. Each day, there is information about the country. Some days there are questions such as "How many faucets do you have in your home?" and it instructs you to put 24 cents the rice bowl in for each faucet you have. I basically have six weeks of unit studies to do with the kids that cover geography, culture, charity, cooking and math (money, counting) among other things.

I've been pondering how to introduce the whole concept to Danny and Fiona. Blanket time or any kind of formal sit down lesson is out of the question. So I just hung the calendar in the kitchen, put the rice bowl on top of the microwave and waited.

Around 4:30 p.m. today, Danny strolled into the kitchen, looked at the calendar and started asking questions. I got down the rice bowl and explained that we would put money in it to help Catholic Relief Services. He darted off to get his little safe full of birthday money and coins that he's collected over the years.

We got the safe open, he counted out a few coins and put them in the bowl. He continued taking coins out and I started twitching a bit because it just seemed like the wrong time to dump coins and bills all over the table. Supper was simmering on the stove, after all. But I decided to relax and go with it. He began counting out his bills. Then he wanted to start counting the coins. So I directed him to pick out and stack up all the quarters. When he was done with that, I told him to make piles of four quarters each. I explained that four quarters make up one dollar, so I had him count all the piles. We came up with $7 in quarters and $16 in bills.

I could not have planned that. I could not have directed that. He would have squirmed so much his little butt would have caught on fire.

Sometimes I try too hard. Today, I just had to let it happen. Whatever it happens to be.

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