"I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world." -Richard Dawkins

Monday, January 17, 2011

That School Dilemma II


What a loaded-ass word that is around here. The arguments abound, resound, and bounce off of one another like angry ferrets on methamphetamines. If it wasn't one thing, it was another. My opinions are different from my husband's, and those are different from my mother's, which are different from Nana's- the list goes on. I have always found it difficult to listen to my own voice, especially because it's always changing.

First it was Waldorf, but that was too exclusive, too cultish, too spiritual, too expensive. Then it was Montessori, but if I thought Waldorf was expensive, I was clearly dreaming. Then it was Homeschooling, but no one was down for that and frankly, I wasn't exactly exhibiting the dedication needed to pull it off. Anyway I was running out of time. She was four. It was almost September. I needed to figure out what I was going to do and I needed to figure it out then and there.

So we enrolled her at a nearby preschool at the suggestion of Christina, as her son had gone there and enjoyed it immensely. It sounded like a good idea. The campus was sprawling, dear little white buildings with bright red doors, rolling hills, white picket fences and a beautiful pond with turtles and koi to feed. It was tremendously affordable for us, on our unemployment check budget, and it seemed like an intimate, okay fit. Okay enough, anyway, for my terrors of the public school curriculum.

Ro attended. She enjoyed it. No, she loved it. I was happy for her, if a little disenchanted at their snacktime choices, (Fritos!? HAMBURGER HELPER!? Come on, isn't everyone feeding their kids organic carrot sticks these days? ...No? They're not? Oh.) Anyway, she was happy, so we did it. We went with it. Until Zack got a job.

You see, we're kind of a one-car family, and his job is a 30-45 minute commute daily. For me to take him to work, just to drive back north, to take Ro to school, to pick her up, to pick him up, would waste so much gas and exhaust me so much as to make it just not worth it. Sadly, I made the decision to pull her from school after Christmas break.

I know she misses it- probably not the school itself so much as her little friends that she made there- but she's still thriving at home. She sings the songs she learned at school with me, without asking "When do I get to go back?" I explained to her from day one in no uncertain terms ('cause I'm really not one to cushion a blow with children- not really-) "You can't go back to school, anymore, sweetie, because no one has a car to get you there." And she pouted a little, but she did not cry, and, she has not mentioned it again.

We have made the decision to enroll her for Kindergarten at a local Free School, farther south and much closer both to Zack's work, and where we'll be living in the next few months. However, the idea of a democratic education posed a whole new set of problems for Zack, who wants his daughter (and with good reason) to be well rounded and well educated in all fields. I don't disagree, but my experience with public education has me curled up in the fetal position weeping things in my mother tongue. (Which is, yes, English, but definitely not my point.)

And the whole time, my guts are whining, my heart is whining, 'BUT I WANNA HOMESCHOOL! Everyone else is doing it! Let me be cool like the other moms!'

So Zack and I talked. And we talked. And we bartered and discussed and at last compromised. Ro may attend the Free School to appease my need for loose, radical, liberal learning- if we keep up with her at home, making sure she's learning the things she doesn't take to at school, and using standardized testing outlines to make sure she's "on track" for someone of "her age" whatever that means.

And for a moment, I reeled. I was like, "Back up. Back up. I get to send her to the weird hippie school and homeschool her at the same time?" SIGN. ME. UP.

So we went to Borders, picked out a couple of workbooks just to see how she takes to worksheets. She's reading a bit right now, so I didn't think it was necessary to push that, but math, math has always been my weak point and I don't suspect I can teach it to her in ways that she would pick up, so I thought workbooks would be wise for math. We got one that was a bit more general, and one that pertains to reading analog timepieces. You know- clocks? The kind with hands.

In addition, she is still using Starfall.com daily and learning more and more about reading as a result. The other day we were at Moe's, and she was reading the wall and pointed to the logo and said, "What does that word say?" And I asked her to sound it out. "Mmm-ah-eh-sss." (Damn English and it's short O's and short E's...)

"Okay," I said. "Do you remember? When two vowels go a-walkin'..."
"The first vowel does the talkin'!" She exclaimed. (This is something Starfall has taught her.)
"So we're going to ignore the E."
"I pretend it's not there?"
"Right, and in this word, the O says O. Can you sound it out again?"
"Mm-OH-Ss. MOE'S!"

I high fived her so fast. So fast. Even Zack was totally impressed.

In addition to Starfall, another tool we have to work with is the V.Reader that she got from my Mom for Christmas. She spends a lot of time with it before bed. Tonight I let her stay up two hours past her bedtime to listen to/read through Olivia Takes Ballet again. In the photo below you can see her curled up at the foot of our bed, working on her V.Reader tan.

I'm glad to have these tools at my dispense. I'm really not sure if I could ever wing it without them. I could set her up with an art lesson or a storywriting lesson at the drop of a hat, but I'm not exactly the top of my class when it comes to nailing out lesson plans for things with less of a fluid composition.

This week starts the first serious attempt at a daily rhythm of learning for us. We'll see how it goes, I have my fingers crossed, and nothing but optimism. There's nowhere to go from here but up.


  1. Fritos and Hamburger Helper? Really? Ugh. My program provides snack, but it's always semi-healthy things. Well... okay, not terribly unhealthy things. Sometimes there's chocolate chip elf grahams or animal cookies, and often apple juice (which everyone knows is nature's sugar coma). But usually there's pretzels or graham crackers or cheese crackers, and sometimes even fruit or yogurt or carrots. The preschools in most of the schools I've worked at have children bring their own snacks from home. So yeah, hamburger helper and fritos is pretty absurd.

    Hopefully things go well at Ro's new school next year. I don't start my early childhood math class until the second half of this semester, but when I do, I'll let you know what I'm learning!

  2. To be fair, they absolutely typically did like goldfish crackers and applesauce, but they did weekly letter themes, working their way through the alphabet, and they ate Fritos on F-week, and Hamburger Helper on H-week, etc. I was not thrilled so much.