Thursday, May 16, 2013

Wonder and Growth

Spring is the time of year when kids in public schools have the opportunity to demonstrate their accomplishments for the year.  There are concerts, award ceremonies, banquets, diplomas issued and report cards shared.  

My family is loaded with high achieving kids.  I have a niece at Yale, another on a full scholarship to UCONN, another with a sports scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, nephews who excel in lacrosse and football and soccer.  I have attended their events and cheer and clap like the proud Aunt that I am.

This time of year is a bit different for my girls.  They have had their piano recital, but that is all.  No report cards, no banquets or award ceremonies.  No NCAA titles, no first, second or third place trophies.  They are doing what they do from week to week.....learning and living and loving and achieving.  

They rarely get asked what they are studying or enjoying or accomplishing.  If there is no award, title or money attached to their accomplishments they seem to pale in comparison to others.  So when they do get asked “what did you do today?” or “what did you do in school today?”  I get infuriated when the response is “not much.”  Not much?  Are you flippin kidding me?  I am not busting my butt, planning, driving, coordinating and working with my children every single day of my life for them to turn around and say “not much.”

This question was asked of them by their Grandparents this week.  Their response could have been, “Well Grandma, I spent over two hours working on my video for 7 Cool Homeschoolers.  It involved filming the care of our new rabbit and giving lots of information that we learned about how to properly care for him.”  Or it could have been “I am almost finished with my 7th book in my Life of Fred math series!  I started them in October and I only have three more before I finish the entire elementary school series!”  Or, “I worked on a new piece of writing that I started Friday in my writing group.”  Or, “I finished a page in our writing group’s shared journal that we pass around and all take turns writing in, sorta like they did in the book Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants which I just read.  By the way, it is a book intended for high schoolers and leveled a whole year ahead of where I am in “school”.” Or, “We learned about current events by watching CNN Student News like we do every day.”

But no......none of these answers came out of their mouths.  I know this is not much different than when I used to pick them up on the school yard playground and ask them how their day was and I would get “fine” or what they learned and I would get “not much”.  I had to get creative.  I had to ask my girls what the best part of their day was or what made them laugh or what made them frustrated, and always who they ate lunch with.  

When I spoke to my girls on the way home that night I asked why they default to “not much” and their reply was that when they get asked what they do in school they don’t know what to say because they don’t go to school.  You would think after three years, this would not be the first thing they default to.  I explained that as homeschoolers, we have a responsibility to present what we are doing in a way that shows how hard they are working and the very cool and awesome things they are doing because they don’t get the report cards and ceremonies and awards like their cousins do.  Pick one thing that you are doing right now and talk about it with the joy and excitement you do with our homeschooling friends.  Share a bit of yourself with others so they can understand and participate in your learning, even if it looks nothing like the learning that others are doing in a traditional school.  

I wrote about this before, but when speaking with a homeschooled child, they do get caught up on the “what did you do in school today?” question.  Ask them instead:
  • What books are you reading?
  • Are you working on any projects?
  • Is there something you are really excited about?
  • What is your favorite activity right now?  Has that changed this year?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • Is there something you are looking forward to learning soon?

Their accomplishments are not measured in GPAs or grades, class rank or standardized test placements.  Their accomplishments are measured in portfolios, blogs, the number of journals they have filled, the number of books they have read or listened to, the learning the have gained from internships, mentors, field trips and travel, the opportunities to help others and give their time and talents to others, the time they spend collaborating with friends, the hours they spend exploring the outdoors, the new creatures they encounter along the way and the experiences they have that make them grow.  

Their accomplishments are measured in the person they are, and the person they are becoming, and whether or not they are attaining the skills and the knowledge needed become a kind, compassionate, capable, and successful adult.  

I don’t ever want my children to feel that just because they do not receive the same kind of external rewards for their accomplishments, they are any less valid.  They have accomplished so many great things this year.

Grace completed her first internship at Western Connecticut State University and attended her first SPLASH at Yale University.  She  completed a 10 week US History course using an AP history text.  She also completed a 10 week government class and attended a tri-state weather conference held at WCSU as well as a severe weather preparation class and this week she will be certified by NOAA to be a certified severe weather spotter.

Lilah moved up several levels in piano and Grace began studying classical guitar. Lilah attended a special field trip to the company WestElm in Brooklyn to learn about textile design. LCC was established and baked goods were donated to The VFW, the firehouse, the senior center, the pet shelter, a bake sale for to raise money for Hole in the Wall Gang camp, and for a dinner for those in need.  She perfected a vegan chocolate cake recipe and baked 4 dozen cupcakes on her own for a community dinner.  She baked cupcakes for her cousin’s baptism and she designed and printed labels for her cupcake club.  She learned to knit and she wrote a picture book which was given to her younger cousin as a Christmas gift.  She singlehandedly planned and executed her fourth annual Valentine’s Day Party which was beautiful. She designed and sewed garments that are not only beautiful but functional, and hopefully will be made in my size one day!  

The girls have discovered a love of documentaries and have learned about French pastry chefs, ballet competitions, animals in Australia, the theater, and so much more.  They have learned geography through watching The Amazing Race which has become our family activity every night.  

They have attended a performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream, saw Mary Poppins, will be attending West Side Story soon as well as visiting Carnegie Hall for the first time two weeks from now.  They saw Winston Marsallis in concert at Fairfield University, attended an acclaimed performance of Handle’s Messiah, attended a stellar middle school orchestra performance, performed into two recitals, performed at an assisted care facility and performed at three masses and performed the music for our annual Christmas Pageant at church.  

They learned to sew, to bake vegan, to make green smoothies and to juice.  They learned to make meals such as Grace’s favorite keilbasa bake and Lilah can make a mighty fine mango kiwi smoothie.  They listened to an 8 hour audio book which taught them as much about nutrition and the fast food industry as a full course would.  They are learning to heal their bodies naturally and understand what it takes to stay healthy.

They traveled to Tennessee, visited Chattanooga for the first time, attended Fashion Night Out for the first time, traveled to Plimouth Plantation, performed their weekly dog walking job which they have held for the past two years, helped their elderly neighbor on a weekly basis and adopted a new rabbit to care for in addition to the care of their two dogs, two frogs and a fish.  

Academically they transitioned to pre-algebra, learned multiplication tables, wrote research reports and gave presentations.  They learned how to use imovie and upload their work to a youtube channel they collaborate on with 7 other homeschoooled children.  They read countless books, and listened to quality audiobooks such as Tuck Everlasting, The Midwife’s Apprentice and Catherine Called Birdy.  They completed Apologia Zoology 1 and are working on Zoology 2.  The participate in a weekly writing group.  They participate in an art journaling group.  They take weekly piano and guitar lessons.  They completed most of Story of the World book 2 and spent the first half of the year learning US History through American Pageant, Liberty Kids, The US Constitution, Where Do Presidents Come From? and the History Channel’s The Story of Us.  I could go on and on but these are what come to mind first.

This has been an incredible year filled with wonder and growth.  So please, please girls, next time someone asks you what you are learning, please do not say “Not much.”


Susan Getty said...

Jess, I SO hear you on this issue! My girls get asked what they are doing/learning often enough (not necessarily by family members, but by library patrons when they are at work with me), and they always stumble over the answer. It is frustrating, and I have also tried to talk with them about some possible responses.
I like the questions that you suggest for others to ask, instead of focusing on what they did in school.
Your girls have accomplished so many wonderful things...they should be so proud, I know you are :)

Jessica said...

I wish it was not so hard for them. Three years and they still stumble when someone asks them why they are not in school today. Lilah just looks at me for help. Our kids do so many unique wonderful things I wish they could talk as comfortably with people who do not homeschool about their accomplishments as they do with our friends who do homeschool.

Karen said...

This is such a beautiful post Jess. I think that it is just the idea of being 'quizzed' in a way. Keilee has always rambled on and on about what she is doing but if a stranger ask her 'What are you doing in school' she doesn't always have the perfect answer but neither would I on the spot like that. I love your summary of some of the things the girls have done this year. Pretty impressive huh? :)

Mary Prather said...

Can you see my nodding my head in agreement (vigorously!)? This time of year isn't loaded with much for us, either... just piano recital and children's chorus. I think it's a great idea to talk to your kids about how to articulate what they do on a day to day basis. I'm going to that this week, Jess.

Anna's closest friend goes to a very nice private school here. She wins all kinds of awards and has all kinds of school events. She is spending most of the weekend with us, and I am just so impressed that this little girl takes the time to ASK Anna what she does in school and support her in her music. They have such a respect for each other - which I think is rare amongst 11 year old girls.

I have a brother that delights in sending emails about all of the honor rolls, achievements, etc... his kids have earned. I can't send those emails. But you know what? I think it's ok - I tell my kids some of the most unassuming people achieve the most, and being motivated intrinsically is so much more important.

Thanks so much for giving me a lot to think about today.

Have a great weekend!

Jenn said...

My girls never know how to answer either, but I like your suggestions:) Your girls have accomplished a lot and they seem so well-rounded, industrious, articulate, and personable...that's just so much more important that grades, awards, and achievements in my opinion. Way to go (all of you)!

By the way, I am loving your progress on your homestead:) I continue to be inspired to take it one step at a time here!

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