Monday, April 26, 2010

Weave, Weave, Weave Us Together

As much as I regret at moments having to pull our kids from a public school filled with wonderful and caring teachers, there are some advantages that just can't be beat. Today was a perfect example and a strong reminder of one of the reasons we have elected to homeschool, among many.

When Dominick and I seriously got down to business about discussing homeschooling, one strong theme kept rising to the top...we wanted more experiential, real life learning for our kids. We wanted them to have the opportunity to do many different things that a traditional school schedule does not allow for. We wanted learning to be more hands on in addition to the more hard core "book learnin'". With the girls, we could hit burn out really fast with them if we only hit the books, as it is so hard right now for them to remain focused on language for an entire school day. Also there are at least a million and one things they have yet to see or do because of their very narrowed orphanage upbringing.

Today we started out with their English tutoring class, then it was on to horsemanship and a hands on science class for all 3 of them. While the girls were with their tutor, Matthew was working "in the cloud", typing up in Google Docs his final essay outlining what he learned about the Cold War. Then we had a picnic lunch in the car as we ran across the local farmland to have our introduction to weaving course and learn about looms. Then it was on to soccer practice while Joshua read to me about bugs and we discovered the differences between butterflies and moths (antenna different, wings at rest are held differently), then on to bed. So let's see, that was 1 trip to Delta, 5 trips to Olathe, one trip to the other side of Montrose...all in one day. Whew! No wonder I sit here very tired!

Did we do any traditional workbook learning today? No, but homeschooling provides a flexibility and efficiency I am learning to love. Not sure how long it will take us to get back to efficiency once the boys come home and there are 5, but we will eventually hit our stride, I am sure. Angela is doing 2 math assignments each day we work on math, Matt is reading all the the car, in his bed, to his brothers and sisters...and just picked up "PT109" to read this week. I have noticed a marked improvement in his spelling and punctuation skills since reading so much more these days. Olesya is gobbling up vocabulary like it was goldfish crackers, and they are both making incredible advances in their language development, so much so that at this stage many people are pretty surprised to discover they have only been here since mid-February.

But it is days like today when we can see the huge advantages of homeschooling, and the gift it is to our kids. The horsemanship class is a laid back introduction to horses. Nothing all that intense, but enough to get them up on a horse, learning a few basics, and gaining an understanding of an animal up close and personal that we will never have. They all really enjoy it and now can mount easily and are learning how to control with the reins. It has been a great low key activity for the girls to give their brains a break from too much language and yet still be engaged in learning something new and watching for non-verbal cues from the horse. For Matthew it is a way of him feeling he is connecting more to his Kazakh self, as he knows that his countrymen were some of the greatest horsemen ever.:

But the highlight of the day, without a doubt, was meeting our new friend Elinor for lessons on how to weave. What a lovely woman she is, and SO gifted at working with kids. Volunteering her time to share her passion with 3 kids is not something everyone would do, and we were all pretty excited to see what this was all about. She and others in her weaving guild had arranged for us to borrow a loom, and even supplied us with enough weaving yarn to make Matt's rug! When we arrived, she had 2 looms set up, rightfully anticipating that the girls might want to try it out too. She had everything all ready to go, and had prepared a vocabulary sheet with a diagram of the loom, had samples of various yarns available to explain to us the difference, had the portable loom all set up with a starter practice piece, and then proceeded to very patiently explain every step of the process and showed us all about the loom.

Matthew was so interested, not only in the mechanics of how the loom works but in the weaving process itself. It is so sad to me that he was uncomfortable admitting to a couple of his school friends what he was doing for fear of being teased. Dominick and I shared with him the story of Rosie Greer, the football player who loved to do needlework and was not at all embarrassed or ashamed of it. That seemed to help a little. It is a shame that gender stereotypes are such that our young people are afraid of even trying something that is deemed "too girlie" or "too boyish". It makes you wonder how many people have missed out on activities that would have brought them great pleasure simply so they would not feel out of the norm. I am so glad Matthew put that aside, as it was clear today how much he was getting a kick out of this. Hopefully we can help all the kids do and be whatever they want to do or be, regardless of what others think. If the girls want to learn mechanics, go for it! If the boys want to learn needlework or cooking, right on!

Both the girls got the hang of it quickly, and I am betting they want to make something once Matthew is done.

It was fun watching all of them learning something new, something they might never have had the chance to without homeschooling and taking advantage of the freedom that comes with it. I realized today I need to get my brain turning more, and look for many more such situations so the kids can all explore and discover new interests. We have a friend who has offered to teach them real pottery in the fall, with a pottery wheel and everything. I am thinking of some great field trips for our science study of the human body next year and am going to see if we can see the backside of a dentist office, visit a denture manufacturer, see if we would be allowed to watch a prosthetic crafter, and we have another friend who is an optometrist who has offered to give them a mini-one day course. For geography we will visit our local Bureau of Land Management office to talk about local maps, etc., and I have a cool book of hands on activities as well to teach about land forms, etc.

It is this sort of learning you can't replicate in a classroom, it is just impossible. With English language learners, this kind of learning is even more effective as they can use the hands on experiences to fill in the gaps that spoken or written language might not be able to fill for a long time. Plus, I guess I just don't find learning to be boring, and want our kids to be sparked up as well. I don't care if they cram tons of facts into their heads, or if they memorize speeches or poems. I am not saying there might not be a place for that, but in the grand scheme of things, if they walk away from homeschooling having been ignited to continue learning about whatever interests them over the course of their lifetime, and if they learn how to learn and have confidence that they can teach themselves anything they need to know, then Dominick and I will have been successful. Kenny keeps walking around repeating to me "Remember Mom, you promised me that by the time I graduate high school I will be reading and writing well." I sure did, Kenny, that and a whole lot more.

I personally love seeing these pictures. I love that Matthew's interests are so diverse, that he digs in and learns whatever he is interested in. The girls are starting to stretch a little as well, and hopefully over the next year or two they will begin to express interests and passions in things. Baby steps are happening as they are finally asking for particular books at the library...books on animals, books on drawing. It took us 9 weeks to get to this stage, where the "dullness" is gradually lifting and the light is beginning to glow. Wait until it is like a bonfire...I wonder what it will be that they want to learn more about!!

Rock on, Matthew...our own little Renaissance Man!


Anonymous said...

Such wonderful experiences! Good for you. Isn't it exciting to see the spark in their eyes?

I am sending you some links (same blog but different entries) that I thought you all would love.

Teresa F.

Barbara said...


I can truly relate to the "boy" and "girl" sterotypes. Our youngest Kordell has had to overcome many of those as he loves to cook and has been dancing for almost 10 years. He has even ventured into making cheesecakes and cake decorating now. He does not tell many he cooks, but at this point most know he dances but he has had to endure a lot of teasing throughout the years. I hope Matthew just lets it roll by and keeps going with his interests so he does not miss out on so many opportunities. We are so glad Kordell has been his individual self and not let others words stop him.


Hilary Marquis said...

I want to take a field trip to Ms. Cindy's class!!!

Lenore said...

The things you are giving your kids absolutely are not gained in school!! You are doing such an awesome job and I'm more than alittle jealous that we can't join you on the path you're traveling! I can see so many benefits to what you're doing! I'm so proud of you and thrilled for your children that you've decided to go this route for their education....they can ONLY benefit!!!

Anonymous said...

It takes a village...this village has invested in helping each of you fulfill your dream. Isn't it a shame that all communities don't do the same for all children.

Barbara, comment 2, my son Josh cooked from the time he was 5 (first dish, brains). When he was in college, his roommates made a deal with him. If he would cook four nights a week, they would do all the housecleaning AND clean up after all the cooking and eating. Non-traditional roles can be parlayed into surprising rewards.

Love to each of you,

Lori said...

John is a "Tough" Marine and one of the best cooks I know!! "His" kitchen would make many famous chefs proud, I bet!

Plus..he totally knows how to hem pants where I just take them to someone who does.

And he has a pretty good decorator eye.

If I could only get him to scrub the shower or toilets....

Lindsay said...

I am so jealous of your homeschooling. What a wonderful experience you are giving your children. Is it coincidence that Matthew is weaving in the colors of the Kazakh flag, or is that inspiring his project?

I really do have a whole bunch of books (finally) ready to ship to you next week. I'm so embarassed at how long it has taken me to get the packaging sorted (though it is not as simple as you might expect, over here!) Could you email me the shipping address again and I will be happy to send it all off to you.

Karen said...

Seeing the kids at looms made me remember sitting at the feet of a Navajo grandmother who was weaving. I hope you get to make a long-distance field trip to enjoy a similar experience.

I have a super-special weaving book called "Halo of the Sun" that's about a lot more than Navajo weaving; if I can find it, I'll share it. It's in my top four favorite books of all time!

Weave away!


Maureen said...

What a wonderful teacher you have found in Elinor! Good for Matthew for trying something new and breaking stereotypes! My son has recently started telling me that certain things are "just for girls" and it kills me. I keep telling him that girls and boys can do or play with anything they want.