Well, a few reasons. First of all, I AM TERRIBLE AT THIS. It’s a good thing I haven’t needed to actually report to anyone in charge of anything yet because I am really, really bad at keeping track of Margot’s “educational” activities. I think in future weekly reports I will break our activities down into categories instead of just a daily report? I don’t know… anyway, reason one is that I am bad at this.
Reason two is that when Margot was taking photos at the concert last weekend she dropped my camera and busted it and now all my photos look like this:
Reason three is that we leave in less than 12 hrs for our 8-night Halloween on the High Seas Disney Cruise, so, this week has mostly been me freaking out (from anxiety), Margot freaking out (from excitement) and not much else has been accomplished in light of all the freaking out.
Margot did go to the monthly Lego mini-build at the mall, so… STEM? That’s the early childhood education buzzword, yeah?
Anyhow, that’s why you’re not getting a weekly update… but stay tuned for a recap of our AMAZING DISNEY VACATION!!
(If I scream it loud enough on the internet it will come true, right??)
Monday really seems to be our lazy(est) day. We didn’t do much during the day, but Margot did have a piano lesson and dinner out with Grampa for his birthday.
Gymnastics is just working out so well for Margot. I pulled out a unitard that we had for a Halloween costume that never came to be, plus some cupcake shorts that we bought last week at the used clothes sale at the gym, so now she really looks the part. She just loves gymnastics so much. I am so glad we found this class and these coaches, who she really seems to love. No Spanish Club this week since they are away on vacation, so we spent the afternoon with BaLaLa instead. Went to the library, returned 30 books, brought 30 books back home with us…
Today we went shopping for donations to send to Puerto Rico. As we were checking out at the first store the workers asked where all of the stuff was going. When they found out we were buying donations for Puerto Rico they gave us 20% off of our entire purchase and promised they would come drop some stuff off themselves. We also stopped at the mall, which is Margot’s favorite spot for taking photos.
First day of the Puerto Rico donation drive. We came to drop off our purchases and ended up staying for hours helping out. Margot was wearing her Wonder Woman outfit and was amazing people as she ran up to every car to carry out boxes of diapers and even an occasional case of water. Before we left the house in the morning, Margot decided to make a sign for everyone to sign.
After spending our morning on the farm we piled into the car and drove out to Philadelphia to see Todd’s cousin Brian and his band, Spafford. The drive wasn’t too terribly long. Margot drew picture the whole time. At the concert, Margot loved the light show and grabbed my camera to take photos. She also took this photo of the three of us. We skipped out after a few songs but I think Margot’s first concert was a success.
Photo by Margot
We spent a lovely day with Margot’s Fairy Godmother in PA, we went to the farmer’s market and to a vegan food festival and then to an outdoor movie in the park.
This was the final day of the donation drive and we spent almost the entire day volunteering. Margot was such a super star running around helping wherever she could. The turn out for this donation drive was so inspiring and some of the stories from the people bringing in donations were heartbreaking and lovely. I am so glad that Margot got to see how many people came out to support our beloved island. She was so proud to see all the messages written by volunteers on her poster.
This was a very hard week for us. On Wednesday we were devastated to watch the destruction that Hurricane Maria set down upon Puerto Rico, where much of my father’s side of the family lives. Before I get to the fun things we did this week, please please please consider making a donation to help Puerto Rico.
Spent most of the day in our pajamas building legos and reading books. But, the highlight of the day was Margot’s first piano lesson with her new teacher (who is also my mom’s cousin). They got along great and she did so well and she had so much fun and we are all very excited about this. Margot said she wants to start making her own songs on the piano so she can make a CD for her friends.
Tuesday is turning out to be our big “school-y” day on the calendar. Margot tried out a homeschool gymnastics class that is in the same town as Spanish Club, and her friend from Spanish Club is in class with her, which is a treat! (She is the daughter of our Spanish Club Leader) Margot was very nervous being in a new place and parents are not allowed to go into the gym, so it was a rough start, but after watching two other little girls from the class hop around like bunnies for approximately 30 seconds without her, Margot sprinted off into the gym with hardly a look back to me. She had so much fun and we signed up for the next 8 weeks! After class we had a quick lunch and headed to Spanish Club to learn all about Familia! When we got home we had to take two out of three of our “mascotas” to the vet. It was a busy, busy day! But, they don’t let you take photos in gymnastics, so all I have to show for it is Margot making a standard grump face and working on a picture in Spanish Club.
Margot and I worked together on some Spanish Club homework. Margot kind of loves doing dittos* and I could not be more thrilled. As much as I love unschooling, I also LOVE DOING DITTOS!! So, I am pleased that Margot is with me on this. It was also my birthday, so we went to one of our favorite all-vegan restaurants and ate vegan sushi and (OF COURSE) cake.
We stayed home all day today. Did some work in her Spanish notebook, played a few more games on the iPad than I would have liked, and canned a few more jars of tomato jam. We are up to 127 jars put up this summer… If you asked GoGo what the highlight of her day was, she would probably say it was getting to hold Jack. She has been working so hard to gain his trust (Pizza just runs away, but she’s GoGo’s next target…).
Friday was the Autumnal Equinox and we totally missed it. I wish I had planned ahead with some nice activity, but I hadn’t! And Margot woke up feeling a bit under the weather, so we opted to have a laid back day. We worked on a 100 piece puzzle that Margot had been wanting to do for a while. Margot also decided that it was finally time for her to call Guy Raz and Mindy Thomas to share the wow in her world. We actually called twice because in spite of practicing a dozen or so times, once she was on the phone things fell apart a little bit. Anyway! We will be listening to the new season to see if her message makes it on there.
Margot picked some pumpkins that grew out of our compost bin. Then, we tried to go to some art event happening the next town over, but… we had the day wrong. Oops! Anyway, we went to the park with Papi and Balala and when we got back home there was a package waiting for us, and when Margot saw what was inside… well… check it out below.
Busy day setting up for and then helping out at the open house for Creative Circles and Schuyler Road Farm and then a little impromptu pool party at a friend’s house. Margot spent the day running around with her friends, making art and playing with farm animals. So, a very good day indeed.
What we read this week:
Kindness is Cooler, Mrs. Ruler – We put a bunch of books on hold about kindness and respect, and this is one that came up on some list somewhere. It’s about a classroom of students doing random acts of kindness. They try to do 100 acts of kindness at home, school and in their community, putting up a heart for each act. Margot asked if we could do our own kindness board at home, so I think we need to make that happen.
Brick Shakespeare: The Tragedies – Margot loves comic books and Legos. I love Shakespeare. This seemed like it would be a hit, and it WAS! She has been “reading” this book before bed every night.
What does it mean to be successful at homeschooling?
So often when we tout the benefits of any style of education (be it conventional schools, alternative schools, home schooling or unschooling) we rattle off the ways that the children educated in that way are exceptional. For schools they might boast their college acceptance rate, or for home educators the fact that their child started reading at age 3. Unschoolers might boast about their child starting a successful business while their peers were stuck in a brick building all day. But, it’s not very often that someone says the education model they chose resulted in a totally average and unexceptional child.
I mean “Unschooling: Make your children ordinary” would be a terrible slogan, but… chances are unschooling Margot isn’t going to turn her into a child genius. That’s not at all the point of it. But… it feels like a lot of pressure to say it will turn her into a child genius, or to say that she already is a genius and that public/private school would never be able to meet her needs.
If we sent Margot to school, she would very likely do well there. She might be an average student or slightly above average. But, it’s not likely that she would be at the top of her class. I think that if she followed the prescribed educational track she might go to a middle of the road university and continue to be an average student there. Then she might graduate and find a job working in a cubicle somewhere, peaking as middle management.
I like to think that by unschooling Margot, she will be able to tap into some deep cleverness that would have otherwise been stifled by the public education system and she will follow her own path, possibly go to college, and then end up in some fascinating career where she will be interviewed for the NY Times and will credit her awesome success to her mother’s devotion to student-led home education.
But, the much more likely scenario is that she will end up in that same cubicle in that same boring middle management job.
She hasn’t begun to read at any early age. She always skips straight to “fourteen” when she counts past ten. She loves science and music and art but has yet to discover a new species of bug, write a concerto or draw a person without a giant bubble body. She might be behind her schooled peers in certain areas and ahead of them in others. We think she’s very clever and exceptional, but we are her parents and we are supposed to think so. The truth is that she is a neuro-typical kindergarten-aged child who is really pretty average. (Oh, it pains me to even write that! Future Margot, if you’re reading this, whenever it is you learn how to read, I THINK YOU ARE SO SPECIAL!!!!)
And yet, when we talk to our families and friends about our decision to home educate we say things like “You know Margot, she’s so clever! She’s so smart already! She’s so wonderfully exceptional in every imaginable way!! Did you know that many unschooled children actually start college EARLY?? AND THEY ALL GO ON TO BE INCREDIBLE HUMANS!!!?!?!?!” We scream into the void, “WE ARE GOOD PARENTS!! WE ARE MAKING GOOD CHOICES!!!”
All this pressure to “prove” that unschooling is better and my child the better for it makes me incredibly anxious*. By what metrics can we ever prove such a thing? Will people be convinced that we made the right choice only if she is a wildly successful adult? And what even is success? What if she has an interesting job but doesn’t make much money? What if she makes loads of money but works in a boring field? What if she falls somewhere between those extremes? What of her happiness?? What if she is unhappy with her life? What if she is a kind person? What if she is the kind of person who honks their horn when the light has just turned green? When will we know that we made the right choice? When will we know that “unschooling” was a success? When will others see that?
I have no answers for these questions. But, I think it’s important to ask them. I think it’s important to examine what we consider “success” and to remind ourselves that the point of life (for schooled and unschooled humans) isn’t test scores and college placement at all.
Oh God, Monday was only a few days ago and I have no memory of what we did… I’m already bad at this.
Todd stayed home today to do some work around the house, including taking some bags of construction debris to the dump. When I asked Margot what she learned at the dump she said “It’s really smelly” and “People were throwing away perfectly good stuff! There was a bike in there that maybe someone wanted!” It was also our 1st day of Homeschool Spanish Club! We learned how to introduce ourselves in Spanish and names for body parts. We have not stopped singing “Mi Cuerpo” all week long!
Margot asked to start practicing reading again (we started about 6 months ago, but she wanted to take a break), so we got out the Bob books and started over again. She was struggling a bit, but when I told her we didn’t have to do it she said “no, I need to learn how to read so I can read my own books.” So… we are going to go with it… but I’m feeling really uneasy about it.
Adventure day with Papi and Balala!! We went to the Museum of Natural History.
Margot’s favorite thing was the dinosaur bones, of course. She wants to go back again soon because we didn’t get to see any of the rocks and gems. We are already planning our return trip.
We are so excited that Circle has moved into our neighborhood! We walked up to Schuyler Farm for Mornings on the Farm with Rachael and, honestly, I could not be more excited about this. Margot and her friends made some wood slice art, fed the animals, played in the mud and ran around in an open field. Heaven.
We had such an awesome day on Saturday. It was the first (of hopefully MANY) Great Nyack Get Together and what an incredible event. It was all local organizations set up with fun activities for families, there was a (slightly terrifying) Ferris Wheel which everyone got to ride for free, live music and just… it was so great, I can’t stop talking about it. Margot’s favorite things were “the ferris wheel” “getting a free book” and “everything, I liked everything.” The highlight for me was the “Flash Poetry” booth where Margot asked for a poem written about monsters. THEN, as if that wasn’t enough excitement for one day, we went to a BBQ at Titi Tasha’s house and played with Maddie Moo (and crawfish) and ate cupcakes. Just. What a great day.
Listening to her Flash Poetry poem “Twelve Questions for a Monster”
We took things pretty easy after such a busy (and hot!!) day yesterday. Margot helped me snacked on cantaloupe while I made cantaloupe jam and helped Todd made a video of Todd while he cleaned some stuff out of the basement. There was also a fair amount of laying around reading books and a little bit of iPad time (playing Todo Math and Endless Learning Academy)
What we read this week:
The Disney Scary Storybook Collection (this is the free book she got at The Get Together…)
I Just Forgot by Mercer Mayer – We have been talking a lot about responsibilities and what happens when Margot “just forgets” to feed Sadie/pick up her things…
Wow in the World – Only the greatest podcast ever. The first season is over (bummer), but Margot wants to re-listen to all her favorite episodes, so… all of them. All of the episodes.
Ay Caramba! Ay ay ay!: Cuentos y Canciones by Leeny del Seamonds – CD we picked up at the library and have now listened to a dozen times. Stories told in English with some Spanish words thrown in. Margot got so excited when they said “boca” because that is one of the words she learned in Spanish this week.
What we watched this week:
Enchanted. Todd was working on Friday night, so Margot and I had a “girl’s night” and watched this movie. We both really liked it. Some problematic things, but it gave us a lot to talk about and even challenged some of the Disney Princess tropes (all while being a Disney Princess movie…)
If you scroll back down, you’ll see that I am terrible at blogging. Sorry. I’ve been slowly rejecting all forms of technology and blogging is the baby that got thrown out with the bath water, I suppose.
We have known that Margot would be unschooled since pretty much the day that she was born, which means we have been at this for about five years now. But, those first years weren’t really home “schooling”, we were just… home.
This year is starting to feel a little different, because even though Kindergarten is non-compulsory in NY State, we are starting to answer more and more questions about school. People ask how old Margot is and then the question is followed by “are you going to go to Kindergarten this year?” and then the “no, no, we’re homeschooling” and usually people’s responses are incredibly positive and supportive (which is lovely and maybe a product of the fact that we live in a liberal, neo-hippie town…).
Anyway, even though I don’t have to report to anyone, I thought it would be nice to keep a little record of what we do week by week in our UNschool…
Sometimes I think that 90% of my “blogging career” has been spent writing blog posts that say “I know I haven’t blogged in a while… but I’m back!” See the last post I wrote, in September, about how I was going to try to write on here more often. That didn’t go very well, clearly.
I’ve been on sort of a journey with my digital life. A few years ago I gave up Facebook, then I took an Instagram hiatus last year and never fully returned. But, the most recent development has been that my smart phone stopped working and I just never replaced it. Also, around the same time that my cell phone abandoned me there was an election that happened (maybe you heard?) and I sort of spent a few weeks/months holed up in my house feeling sad.
All of this has sort of lead to me not really being online a lot. I miss out on a lot of stuff, I think, not having my smart phone. I’m not in the group chat we have going with other homeschoolers, so I miss some of our meet ups. Sometimes I get super lost because I don’t have a GPS. And I miss out on a lot of cute photos of my kid not having a camera constantly in my pocket. But, I kind of love it. I do not miss the feeling that I need to capture every adorable thing Margot does. I do not miss the bad feelings of comparing my life to other people’s lives. I do not miss worrying that my child is falling behind because my friend’s kid is learning to do something that Margot doesn’t know how to do yet. I don’t miss the feeling that I need to be constantly available.
I do actually miss things, though. I miss having connections with people around the world on Instagram. I miss seeing other people’s journeys with unschooling and sharing our journey. I miss the inspiration I get from seeing what other families are doing. Which leads me to NOW.
Now, there is about a foot of snow outside, but I’m itching for spring to come and am feeling like getting back to this whole “documenting our life as unschoolers” thing.
Also, the dishes are done, and Margot is playing a game by herself and I was sitting here on my computer with a mug of tea and once I was done checking my e-mails and catching up on the news I thought “what else can I do on this machine?”
So, here I am. I have a few big topics in mind to talk about, but for now, a little update:
Things That Have Happened Since I Last Updated This Thing
Today I was looking back through old blog posts and realized it has been exactly three months since I declared I would be taking a three month summer hiatus. So, officially, my hiatus is over. I did not intend to take the summer off from blogging, although I barely blogged over the summer. My only intention was to step away from Instagram and to try to spend more time “in the moment” as they say.
It was an experiment, and a successful one. So successful, in fact, that I don’t plan to get back on Instagram. So many people have told me how much they miss seeing Margot’s photos on Instagram and it means a lot to me that people say so. But, I think it was just really taking away from my experiences to add the filter of “Instagram worthiness” to all the moments in my life. I still took plenty of photos over the past 3 months, some of which you will see below in a little summer hiatus slide-show. And I still shared a lot of these photos. The difference was that when I took a photo I thought someone particular in my life would appreciate, I sent it to them directly and they would often write back and we would connect with one another over this photo. So often I felt like I was posting things and my photos would get some comments and likes but it didn’t really foster any connection with the person on the other side of the little red heart.
I will try (really hard!) to be better at updating things on here once in a while, because I know that our friends and family who we are not fortunate enough to live closer to do still like seeing these little glimpses of our lives. Hopefully by writing on here, I can satisfy some of those curiosities while also making a meaningful record of our lives as an unschooling family. So, without further ado… a glimpse through the lens of my cell phone camera into our summer filled with hikes and friendship and sunshine and fresh tomatoes from our garden and only one trip to the emergency room:
At the beginning of the summer Margot was afraid to put her face in the water. She wasn’t afraid OF the water, she loved to go in the pool. But, she would only do so while holding on to an adult. Usually me. And usually pulling down my bikini top in the process.
So, we enrolled her in swim classes. We looked around a bit for classes in the area. I had read a lot about Infant Self Rescue classes and had almost enrolled her in one of those classes two summers ago. Unfortunately, they didn’t have enough families signing up and cancelled the class, so that was a bust. Now, the closest ISR class is about an hour away.
With a little research and very little debate we settled on swim lessons at the Y in Nyack. The Y is less than 5 minutes away driving and is walkable from our house. And they offer the most affordable classes in town. We had heard a few mixed reviews, but we enrolled Margot in a two week intensive and decided if she wasn’t into it, we would stop the lessons and it wouldn’t be a big loss.
Now, before I start blabbing on about how much Margot loves swimming and how much she has improved, I’d like to talk about the problems with the class first. The biggest problem we have with these lessons is that they schedule one lesson to end at the same time that the next lesson begins. So, on the half hour it’s a mad dash to get one set of children out of the pool and the next set of children in to the pool. This also means that we do not get any face time at all with Margot’s swim instructors. Which is a problem only because I’d appreciate a little snippet like “She is really improving at x, maybe you can practice y with her a little bit.” Or just, “Your child is a special, special snowflake and I have never had a student as lovely or as intelligent as her. You have clearly done a stellar job at parenting this unique creature!” This also leads into my other big complaint. I don’t know her teachers’ names. AND! The teachers kept changing from day to day. So, one teacher would see Margot succeed at something and then the next day a new teacher would be there and then would start from square one, not knowing that Margot had already mastered a certain skill.
Those are my complaints. And they are not insignificant, except that they kind of are because this past week Margot swam across a pool by herself. She LOVES swim class. And she LOVES swimming. And she has improved so dramatically we are constantly amazed by her skills. She no longer clings to us in the pool and, in fact, if we try to hold her she scolds us and asks to be left to her own devices.
After her first class was a success, we signed her up for the next two week session, so that she was in swim class 5 days a week for an entire month. It made it really hard for us to do anything else since we had to be at the pool everyday by 3pm for an entire month, but she never once said she was tired of going and so, we went. Now she is in swim class once a week and at least three times between classes she asks “is it a swim class day today?”
We really could not be more thrilled and we intend to keep up with lessons as long as she keeps wanting to do them. We especially want her to continue lessons through the colder months so that next summer she is ready and raring to go. Since Todd’s parents have an in-ground pool I have been so anxious for Margot to learn how to swim. She is never out there unattended, but it’s a skill that I have really been nervous about her acquiring. Todd and I both tried to teach her, but she would get frustrated with us (and, admittedly, we with her) when we asked her to do things. We realized that this was something that we couldn’t teach Margot on our own. So, we found someone (or in the case of the Y, multiple someones) to teach her instead.
Now maybe you can see how this all ties in with unschooling. We are dedicated to unschooling. I believe now more than ever that we made the best choice for our child when we chose unschooling. Seeing how well Margot responded to a teacher in a small class with me nowhere in sight (the adults watch the children on a CCTV in the waiting room) showed me that this is a model that works for Margot. It did not for a moment make me think “oh, crap, maybe I should enroll her in school after all.” Being dedicated to unschooling does not mean that we are anti-schooling. I think (some) schools are wonderful and I am very grateful that they are available if my child ever wants to make use of them. I am grateful, also, that there are so many opportunities for Margot to learn skills from people who are not me. I intend to accompany Margot for as much of her educational journey as is appropriate for us both, but I have no intention of being her only teacher along the way. We are so thrilled that Margot has had so much success in swim class, and maybe someday she will break her Daddy’s backstroke record!!
Recently we went on a beach vacation with my family and I decided to spend the weekend cellphone free. I posted one last photo on Instagram then used my phone for GPS to get us to our destination (of Solomons Island, MD) and once we arrived I turned my phone off and put it away for four whole days. I wandered around without even bothering to bring my pocketbook with me. It felt really wonderful.
I was at a bit of an advantage in this scenario because Todd was always with me and he had his cell phone in case anyone needed to reach us, and his camera in case Margot did anything noteworthy and adorable. Also, my parents and sister were usually with us, along with my brother in law and my neice. So, most of the people who I would be worried about missing an emergency call from were with me.
Still, I felt really great not carrying my cell phone around with me. I liked not having that familiar weight in my bag as well as not having that familiar itching feeling to check what was happening on Instagram.
A few years ago I realized the Facebook was taking up too much of my time. I was a new mother and a new vegan and I was desperate for community and Facebook was my connection to hundreds of like-minded people in similar stages of life. It is perhaps hyperbolic to say that I would not have survived that time of my life without the familiar blue glow of Facebook on my cell phone, but it was, indeed, an important part of my life. I have made friends on Facebook who I now call my best friends, I used it to educate myself and expand my world. But then I started to feel bad when I went on. It was an addiction and I needed to break it. So, I decided to take a 3 month hiatus and after a few weeks of no Facebook, I never went back. I decided life on the other side was much clearer and happier. And, in some ways, I replaced my Facebook addiction with an Instagram addiction.
I have always felt like Instagram was less insidious than Facebook. I still, for the most part, believe this is true. But, I was noticing the same pattern of obsessive checking and I decided, rather on a whim, to take a 3 month summer hiatus from Instagram. I have had mixed feelings about taking this break because I have, again, met some wonderful people on Instagram, most of whom live very far away. So, it feels a little like I shut down a bridge and have no way of crossing the river anymore. But, also, it feels kind of amazing. I feel like I am present in my life in a way that I wasn’t always being present when I was looking at events through the lens of “Instagram worthiness.” I like to think that I was not curating my life so that it was worthy, but still, looking at all of the things that I do together with Margot and thinking “oooh, I have to post this.” It added a step between experiencing something and enjoying it for myself. I also began to realize how strange it must be for Margot when everyone around her knows about all of the things that she does. It was not uncommon for me to post about something that Margot did and then run into someone the next day who said “Oh! Margot, I saw that thing you did yesterday!!” Margot never made any comments about this or seemed distressed, but… it started to seem odd to me.
A few days after I began my hiatus I decided to finally do something with Margot that she had been asking to do for a while. We dyed her hair purple and pink. And I went through the process of thinking “OMG, if I don’t post this to Instagram, NO ONE WILL KNOW HER HAIR IS PURPLE.”
And then I realized how absurd it was that I was worried about that. Was I dying her hair purple so that I could show the internet or because it was something fun that Margot wanted to do? And… what happens if we do something and DON’T post about it online. (I realize, also, the absurdity of positing that question ON MY BLOG, but… bear with me…)
So, I’m taking a hiatus. I think I will still post on this blog when the mood strikes me, but I’m trying really hard to be more present in my life. I think it’s important for my health and well-being and also for Margot’s. I know that there have been times in her life that she has had to share my attention with my cell-phone screen and I feel bad about that. I still have my phone, and I still find myself looking at it more times per day than I “should,” to check the weather, to look up an answer to some random question, to zone out for a few minutes reading news blogs. But, I am absolutely feeling more present in my life. Instead of watching Margot play in the frog pond and thinking of the perfect Instagram caption for what she’s doing, I’m just… enjoying watching her do it. I mean, I still did snap a photo and send it to some of my best friends… the ones I met on Facebook… but, come on, I am still a millenial!