Monday, November 14, 2016

Super Mommy Pancakes

There is an episode of The Middle where Sue is touring colleges with Mike and then run into a father/daughter duo.  The father is over the top, super involved, emotional, and proud.  They dub him "super Daddy pancakes".  This term has been used lately in my house to describe me, in a tongue and cheek kind of way.  With Grace looking at schools lately, I have to wonder if she were in school, if I would be a "super Mommy pancakes" kind of mom: super involved in her after high school choices, crazy emotional over whatever her choice was, and sentimental over the prospect of "losing her" to college.  Part of me thinks I would.

As I walk through this with Grace, I realize how my senior year at a high achieving suburban high school left its mark on my psyche.  I still feel the angst of sitting in my senior seminar class listening to the college acceptance announcement read over the microphone broadcasting to the 400 seniors who was going where.  I was accepted into several schools, but never submitted mine for broadcast because I felt less than.  My schools were less than theirs.  My scores were less than theirs.  My rank was less than theirs.  My accomplishments were less than theirs.

Driving through Waterbury at sunset

It is silly that I still can recall this angst with such clarity.  It is silly that I never realized my own worth and that it had nothing to do with college or school at all.  I thought that if I just did it all "right" everything would be okay.  Right classes, right extracurricular, right career choice, right life goals.  It's such a naive approach to the world and yet for the most part the choices I made, some "right" and some not so right, led me to where I am now, which is perfectly right.

All these feelings come up when I am visiting schools with Grace.  I could so easily be that "super Mommy pancakes" mom, who is really just my 18 year old self, following around the tour guide like a puppy, asking all kinds of questions, wanting to prove I was good enough for their school.  Grace is not like me.  She is so centered in herself.  She knows who she is and what she wants.  She already sees herself as a photographer, school is just an extra.  She sees school as an opportunity to mature with photography, have experiences with other college age kids, and develop her vision.  She wants to join the ski club, the Bible club and perhaps take pictures for the newspaper.  She wants to hang out in the student lounge and was super excited that there is both a Starbucks and a Moe's the exit before the school.  She has no sense of comparison.  Her friends are looking at schools like Vanderbilt, Penn State main campus, RIT, and more and she is genuinely happy for them.  It is just not what she wants.  When I ask her why this is not what she wants she replies:

  • I want to sleep in my own bedroom.
  • I want to be able to attend my own church.
  • I want to be with my dog.
  • I want to have my instruments.  A piano is hard to bring to college!
  • I want to keep my lessons with Rob (her piano teacher).
  • I want to keep my Saturdays with Dad.
  • I want my life to be my life, just with a few more classes.

After the holidays we will go back to this school to visit during the day, when he quad is busy with students and the classrooms are humming with activity. She wants to see the photography lab and the equipment.  Ask questions about the program, what kind of photography the professors specialize in, the goal of the program, and what students go on to do.  She needs to know about technology requirements, if she can use her own equipment, and if equipment is available through the school.  What happens at graduation?  Is there a portfolio review?  A chance to meet professionals?  Mentorship/apprentice/assistant opportunities?

This is an exciting time.  I am grateful that she can make these choices independently, without the confusing aspect of peer pressure.  When she was young, just a toddler, I vividly remember wanting to pull my hair out in frustration over not knowing how to parent this strong willed, independent child.  I told myself over and over that the qualities that made her a challenging little person, would make her a pretty incredible big person.  Whatever she decides, wherever she goes, she will go forth with confidence and determination to conquer her goals and achieve her dreams.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Defending Homeschooling

Yesterday I was called to defend my homeschooling to someone who did not know me well and does not understand the concept of homeschooling well.  Some of the questions that were asked included:

  • How do I grade?
  • How do I know they are on track?
  • How do I teach what I do not know?
  • How do I have patience?
  • How will they go to college?

These are fairly typical questions and I should have been able to answer them with ease and confidence but I sensed judgment and it shook me a bit.  After all these years, I thought I was beyond being shaken up by questions, especially when asked respectfully.  To be fair, the questioner has a very traditional outlook on education and has two children younger than mine, who already know which Ivy League schools they wish to attend.

So how did I respond?

First school visit!  Lilah hung out with her grandmother while Grace took a tour.

Outside the International Center of Photography, New York, NY

Steinway Flagship store is across the street from the International Center of Photography

Grades - we don't grade.  I have gone back and forth over 
the years about grading but I wrote a post a few days ago that sums up my thinking on grades.  It took Grace a year and a half to make it thought algebra and she carried an A average.  She took the end of the chapter tests and she did well.  If she were in school she would have received an F or an Incomplete because she would not have had the opportunity to switch curriculum and find something that better suited her learning style.  Perhaps she would have connected with the teacher and the text and passed with an A but if she did not, it would have meant summer school for her.  Instead she learned at her own pace and did well.  I told my friend that if the girls decide to attend a school that requires grades and GPAs I will consult Lee Binz on doing this correctly and effectively.  As of now, this is not the case and I don't give it much thought.

Tracking -  It is almost impossible to explain that you just know.  I know that Lilah would test advanced in language arts.  I know that Grace would be on level.  I know that both would be behind in math.  I also know that tests do not track things like the science of photography, marine biology, drawing, musical ability and fluency, and foreign language.  So they may not test well in comparison to their peers but they excel in areas that their peers do not have time to indulge.

Teaching -  This year the girls have outside classes in ASL, Photography, History, Language Arts, Drawing, Guitar, Pottery, Cello, Music Theory, Piano.  I could go on and on about all the classes they have taken at Yale, at Soundwaters, with Gail Carson Levine, at The Peabody Museum, with professional archaeologists, and the experiences they have had like traveling the Civil Rights Trail in Alabama, visiting the site of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, and visiting the historical sites on the east coast of Florida and Georgia.  This blog is filled with how we have approached "teaching" but how do you convey that in a quick conversation?  How do you convince someone that some of the best teachers are not teaching in a classroom but inspiring you to reach for more than you ever thought was possible in the world outside of school?

How do I have patience?  Some days I don't.  Other days I seek God.

College - Simple. Meet the requirements.  Most homeschoolers do.  I explained that Grace was philosophically opposed to standardized tests (a common sentiment among unschoolers) and that she wants to be judged on her capabilities in the field she has chosen rather than on a test score.  However, if she chooses a school that requires testing, she will have to test.  To get around standardized testing, she can attend the one year immersion program at International Center of Photography in Manhattan, which we visited last week.  This is a professional program interested in developing the photographer and his/her vision.  They are not interested in test scores.  They are interesting in who you are as a photographer. 

 She can also attend community college for 2 years earning an associate degree in either music or fine arts with a concentration in photography or both.   We have two schools that are commutable (another one of her requirements) that have both these programs and they are excellent schools.  There is a stigma surrounding community college.  I see it in the reactions of those who are preparing their children for the Ivy's.  The competitive mama in me wants to say, my child is just as smart as your child, maybe smarter because she can get herself from point a to point b with no debt, staying true to herself, following her chosen career (she has one), and doing so with the support and guidance of those who love her and want to see her succeed.  But I don't.  I tuck this away in my mama's heart and know that "kids" at Yale were given the option of not taking a test because the Tuesday night election was so traumatic to them that they may not be prepared.  Yale.  Yeah, that's preparation for real life.  I can't imagine what Greg would say to his employees if they told him they were not prepared for a meeting because of the emotional implications of a presidential election outcome. 

 I do not give the same value to the tiered college system.  I do not place value in if you get into your reach schools.  I do not think it is wise to incur school debt.  I do not think it is advisable for teens to be taught by adults who have a dangerous world view.

So where does that leave my two high school daughters?  In a pretty good place, I think.  They are free to collaborate on the design of their education.  They are free to explore areas of interest.  They are able to take risks knowing that if they fail it will not affect the rest of their educational journey.  In fact, we encourage failure sometimes.  I do not subscribe to the everyone gets a trophy view of education/life.  I know Grace will do well because she already is.  She is already working as a photographer, just not a paid one.  She has photographed town events.  She has been asked to work with a local non profit photographing students.  She has been asked back to photograph families at church during the baby dedication ceremony.  She has won awards.  She has joined clubs.  She is a photographer.  Now she must become the best photographer she can be.   

Lilah is 14. Once upon a time she thought she would be a baker.  Last week she mentioned writing a book.  Both are possible for her.  Fine arts is also an area she should explore.  Her art teacher told me that she is very talented (something we already knew but still loved to hear).  Right now education is about exploration.  She likes French after a rocky start.  She is reading books she never thought she would read.  She loves history and has an interest in the political process.  She will find her way and Greg and I will support her and help her take advantage of every opportunity available to her.

I wish I could go back to yesterday and answer these questions without feeling defensive.  We are blessed to be able to freely homeschool in a state which has no legal requirements.  While some do not understand that because they have never stepped away from the confines of mass education, it is vital that we homeschoolers can defend how we educate and how we know it is working.  Homeschooling has doubled in recent years.  It has come under scrutiny, just read HSLDA's website.  I am grateful that President Elect Trump is a huge proponent not only of homeschooling, but school choice in general because the previous administration was not.  Homeschooling is hard.  There are days I do not like it.  There are times I wish my house was bigger so we could all just escape one another.  Thankfully those days are few and far between.  Homeschooling has been a huge blessing for my family and one I never take for granted or fail to appreciate.

Friday, November 4, 2016

New Hampshire Getaway

Even though October was filled with many, many fun events (Switchfoot, Carnegie Hall, fall retreat, mens' retreat), it was also filled with many, many obligations to fulfill like driver's ed, homework, band practice, and late work nights.  Many days passed in a blur.  The miles driven added up.  My energy level dropped.  A break was definitely needed.  Back in August, Greg's vacation to the Cape was cut short due to work obligations and we said we would make up for it in the fall.  If we are not intentional about stepping away, we won't.  We could do a staycation but the house, the dog, errands, chores all keep us from enjoying a state of true relaxation so I booked a winterized cabin in Moultonborough, New Hampshire on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee.

Our only goal was to relax.  If that meant wandering around, so be it.  If that meant watching four days of movies, so be it.  We had no plans, no agenda, no obligations, no itinerary.  It was glorious.  Wednesday we wandered up through Keene, NH and then cut across the state.  We shopped in Keene, visited tack stores with adorable puppies, chuckled at all the Trump signs in a state knows for being solidly blue, and ate at a fantastic sandwich shop themed around superheroes.

Thursday called for rain so after breakfast we took a ride north to Littleton, New Hampshire, the cutest town ever.  Candy shop, book store, coffee shops, music stores, the library, cool artwork and friendly people.  From there we wandered to the base of Mt. Washington.  Grace's heart was a bit broken over the fact that the auto road is closed for the season due to snow but this mama's heart was happy because there is no way I would/could ever make it up winding, narrow roads with no guard rails and steep ravines.  Nope.  Nor could I do the train, or the tram.  No way, no how.  Since it was off the table, it was a non-issue.  Instead we marveled at the incredible sights to see.

Wandering for us = photography.  Grace rented herself an Olympus 7-14mm f2.8 pro lens from  They offer weekly rentals shipped to your home.  She loved this lens and it allowed her to capture images that the rest of us were not able to with our cameras.  For the record, I am now taking most of my own pictures again.  Fed up with asking my girls for their pictures for my Instagram account, my family gave me an early birthday present, a Sony camera with 18 megapixels that is smaller than my phone.  It goes everywhere with me and I can download pictures to my phone on the go using built in wireless.  So cool!

Friday rained and we rested.  We ate at a great homestyle turkey restaurant, went to bed early then packed up and left early Saturday morning.  Short.  Sweet.  Special.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Pumpkin Festival

It is very hard for me to maintain balance between academics and interests.  Interest led learning has always been a priority in our home, whether it was baking, crafting, music, pet care, photography.  In each area that the girls discover there are all the elements of academics, from research, to writing, to collaboration, experimentation, and ultimately their success and demonstration of leaning comes when the go out into the "real world" and get the pet and care for it, or bake a batch of cupcakes for someone who pays them for their time and talent, or when they win a contest, or when they do something successfully which affords them a second opportunity.

This is where I get a bit overwhelmed because if you are truly life learners, then grades are arbitrary.  You "pass" when you succeed, when you receive accolades from mentors, when you are given a payment, when you are given a second opportunity.  You "fail" when you don't meet the assignment, you cannot do the job, your work is shoddy or you are simply told by your mentor that you did not meet the assignment.  Both these scenarios have happened.  Last year in photography Grace was told directly that she failed an assignment.  It happens.  She also won a people's choice award where she competed against adults and professionals.  Lilah has baked cupcakes for a party and was paid for her work.  The cupcakes were beautiful and allergy friendly.  She has also thrown away batches because they fell flat.  How do you grade this?  She researched the heck out of allergy friendly, vegan recipes.  She measured.  She used care.  Sometimes the results are better than any cupcake you would spend $5 on at Whole Foods, but sometimes the results are not good.  Life dictates the "grade".  

In October Grace was given the opportunity to fill in for our neighbor who is a photographer who does most of the work for our town.  His photos fill the town calendar, are featured on the town website and any print brochures the town produces to advertise events.  Her assignment was open ended, just photograph an event, the annual Pumpkin Festival.  We went, we walked around, we looked for photo opportunities and then she met with Roger and went over her work.  He had great feedback for her.  He pointed out where she did well, and he pointed out where she could have done better.  It was a great opportunity and one that is impossible to grade.  How do you give a grade to this?  She has some great pictures.  An A?  She has some not so great pictures, a C?  She got the historical buildings in the pictures.  An A?  She did not know that kids need release forms, despite having parental permission.  An F?  See the dilemma?  

Life is not really gradable and when your homeschooling style and philosophy is life learning, the grade is the outcome.  I have two wonderful daughters, both with their own interests and talents.  They both love God and love their family.  They are kind, caring, compassionate girls.  They volunteer.  They look to serve.  They are honest, genuine, and authentic.  Parenting is hard and for Greg and me, the measure of success is who you have become throughout your education, not what letter you are, what number you are, what rank you are. 

Don't You Just Stay Home All Day?

It’s funny because last night at youth group some of the kids friends were discussing homeschooling and really truly felt that we stay home...