Daybook: mid-October

Out my window: our maple tree is in its full glory. I love this tree.

A red maple tree against the blue sky.

In the kitchen: Mo made me this fantastic birthday cake topped with maple leaves. We were watching Little Women (2019) yesterday, and I requested Marmee’s cake. (I don’t know what flavor hers was, but mine was carrot.)

Marmee’s cake
My cake

Also, Sam made these amazing beef satay skewers from one of Martha Stewart’s cookbooks. The rest of the week I’m planning red lentil dahl with naan, brown butter and butternut squash pasta with sage, sheet pan chicken thighs with cauliflower and purple potatoes, and frozen pizza.

In the garden: Last week there was a freeze alert. The clouds moved in, six snowflakes swirled around without actually touching the ground, and Phoebe and I ran outside to bring in the last of the tomatoes and herbs. The kitchen was covered in rosemary, sage, chives and thyme. Bunches of rosemary are hanging in Phoebe’s room to dry, and I had trays of them in the oven. Then Sam turned on the oven to make the satay. Three minutes later the whole house smelled of rosemary. Anyway, today I have to crush all the dried herbs into jars to reclaim the counters.

Beets, rosemary and a random medical journal I should have moved before taking the photo.

Pro tip: fresh herbs in flower bouquets smell amazing.

Fresh bouquet of zinnias, oregano, rosemary and basil.

In the school room: Mo is putting the finishing touches on her essays for the Common App. Colorado has a free day (this year, it’s been extended to three days) for applying to the state colleges. It’s a good nudge to get the application done early. We are reading Annie Dillard for English and have moved into the 19th Century in US History.

This week’s topic in 8th grade Economics is inflation. Yesterday we tried to find the exact items included in the Consumer Basket of Goods, which is surprisingly hard to find. Phoebe’s going to make her own basket of “essentials” and compare prices from three months ago. We will use this same basket later when we talk about purchasing power parity.

This week’s Chemistry includes Nova’s Beyond the Elements, hosted by David Pogue. We’ve also been reading Sharon Creech’s lovely One Time together.

We also have lots of volleyball on the schedule this week.

Phoebe on her knees, receiving a serve.

On my reading table: In addition to the above school books, I’m reading two (as yet) unpublished novels for fellow writers and Elizabeth Hoyt’s Not the Duke’s Darling. I just finished Margaret Mizushima’s seventh Maddie Cobb novel, Striking Range. So good.

On my mind: I’ve been working hard on an essay about the idea of “American freedom” and its effect on the pandemic.

Grateful for: friends loving on my kids who are far away. So many birthday messages (thank you!) Miles on my feet. Snuggles with my kids at home. Sam (a million times, Sam.) Our mental health team. All the folks at church who are putting our youth space together.

We went to Wonderbound’s October ballet, Penny’s Dreadful, last Friday. Wonderbound is a local dance company known for their collaboration with other artists and their contemporary choreography. We love their shows. They bought a new performance space last year, and it was set up as a café in Paris. The ballet was a vampire story. I don’t even like vampires, but I loved the show, and we had a great night.

Two masked girls waiting for the show to start.

Praying for: friends with big decisions on their plates. That my kids would know how much they are loved. My aunt. Those who work, or watch, or weep this night.

Ten Tips to Help your Homeschooled Student Apply for College

September has been the month of college. We moved Owen into their dorm in Chicago, and Sam and I have been working with Mo on applications.

We look significantly older than the last time we sat on this quadrangle.

Thirty years ago my parents steered me toward a small liberal arts college, but what did they know? I thought I knew everything at 18 and chose a state school across the country because a) it was really far away and b) it offered me a full scholarship. I never considered the similarities between that school and the university down the road I had soundly rejected, though I could articulate clearly the reasons why University Down the Block was not right for me. I’m not sure if visiting State School Across the Country would have made alarm bells ring for me, but certainly a semester of classes did the trick. During my freshman year there, I applied to five completely different schools, abandoned my scholarship, and ended up at a much smaller liberal arts college that was a great fit for me.

So you can imagine my great apprehension about my kids’ applying to college as homeschoolers. This seems silly to me in retrospect, since I applied to nine colleges myself and then to medical schools three years later. I should be an ace application coach. But this felt different, because we didn’t have the high school application machine behind us.

Mo is my third college applicant, and I have a few suggestions for how you as a parent can make your child’s application process smoother.

One: Keep good records all the way through high school, including book lists.

Not every school requires this, but some colleges want a detailed list of the classes you offered at home and the books you studied. This blog was my secret weapon, but if you don’t have years of curriculum blogging to turn to, you can look back to your school planner/calendar. Our library keeps a running list of all the books we’ve checked out over the years (happily without an asterisk on every book that we turned in late.) If you haven’t kept good records so far, be kind to your future self and start now.

A screen capture of our list of library books from last November.

Your child should be keeping a list of their volunteer engagements, awards,
speaking opportunities, honor societies, quiz bowl championships, etc. This list 
will be helpful for several purposes:

·      The adults who have agreed to write your student’s recommendation letters will need the details in order to highlight your child’s strengths.

·      This will be invaluable to your student in writing down all their accomplishments for school and scholarship applications.

Two: Location, location location.

Our one rule for our kids’ college search has been to choose a school where we have someone we we can call to sit with them in the emergency room until we can get there.

This rule led Jonah to an excellent school that has been a great fit and is 10 minutes from his godmother.

This rule led Owen to an excellent school in Chicago where we have both family and dear friends.

This rule helped Mo’s list of zero schools expand to eight colleges in five cities. The amount of mail my kids get from colleges is overwhelming. Mo didn’t have any idea where to start looking, but Google did the work for her when she put “college in _______ with dance and math majors” into the search bar.

Three: Don’t let finances determine where you apply.

Finances come later, after your student has been accepted.

I had the misconception that we would only be able to afford a public state college. I’m not convinced that piecing together twenty small scholarships to cover a big bill is worth it, but the extra financial resources of private colleges/universities changed the financial equation for us.

Jonah got into several liberal arts colleges we considered more or less equivalent in quality, cost and prestige, but using the same data, they calculated our financial aid completely differently. I have no doubt that he ended up at the right school, but we almost didn’t apply there because I thought the cost would be prohibitive.

Four: As much as possible, use the Common App.

Remember when every college had its own application? Me too. The good news is that many colleges have come together to streamline the application process. The Common App allows your student to fill in all the demographic and school information once online, and send later it to as many colleges as they desire. The Common App includes a common essay, with a variety of prompts to choose from. Alas, individual colleges still have individual fees for applying. That part didn’t change.

Five: Consider using supplemental classes or test scores to help standardize your child’s application.

While a huge benefit of homeschooling is the individuality of our kids’ educations, this must be hard for colleges to interpret. Does “Alternative linguistic structure in creative writing” mean my child taught themselves full Elfin grammar from the Silmarillion and wrote a 300-page epic fantasy fan fic novel in Elfin, or does it mean they made captions for four memes that were popular on Twitter? I say, put it all on the transcript, but prepared to include in some detail what that meant for your kid. (See #1 above.)

If your kid has a strong traditional academic background as well, be sure to highlight it. Community college coursework, summer classes at your local college, and nationally standardized exams are helpful to schools trying to understand where your child fits academically. I’m not talking about just the ACT and SAT. AP exams and the National Latin Exam would work for this, too.

Six: Start thinking early about the application essay(s).

The Common App essay prompts are released in late summer and are good topics for early fall writing. The application essay is your child’s opportunity to show off their special interest in medieval armor, African dance, or matrices. Of course the essay should be well written and comply with the word-count guidelines.

We’ve gotten mixed feedback from friends/teachers my kids asked to read their essays. Advice leaned toward writing a generic, self-aggrandizing essay that highlighted the child’s academic strengths. But the schools my kids were most excited about asked questions that encouraged creativity. The schools that accepted them quickly and gave them the most scholarships were the schools for which my kids took risks in their essays. If I were reading thousands of college application essays, I would certainly notice the ones that demonstrated an unusual interest or sense of humor about a universal experience.

Many schools have essay requirements above and beyond the Common App essay. One is often some variation of, “Tell what aspects of our school make us your ideal college.” Rather than rolling your eyes at this one, use it to prod your kid to look beyond the shiny brochure that came in the mail to consider the school’s unique strengths or weaknesses. As we did the research for this with Owen, it became abundantly clear that a school high on their list would be a terrible fit.

If you’re looking at schools early enough, you may find essay prompts that work for multiple schools. These are the supplemental essays about the applicant. “Tell us something you are passionate about and that your application would be incomplete without mentioning.” Save time and choose to write these essays instead of ones that might work for only one school.

Seven: Get help with essay mentoring if you need it.

If coaching is writing is not your strength as a parent, or your parent/child relationship is too strained right now to do this, I encourage you to outsource your essay coaching. While putting themselves on paper for strangers to read may seem like the biggest hurdle, in reality our kids might have a harder time putting themselves into writing for us. The dance of self-revelation is a delicate one, and you might not be the best coach at this time for your kid.

Bravewriter.com offers college essay writing, as does the Lighthouse Writers’ Workshop. Perhaps there is a writers’ collective near you that offers in-person or online coaching, or a friend your child sees as an ally.

Eight: Early Decision and Early Action are different beasts. Early Decision allows a student to apply to only one college early (usually around November 1,) and if they are accepted, they are committed to that school even before seeing the financial aid package.

Early Action, which is not offered at many schools, allows a student early consideration of their application. They may apply to multiple other schools for Early or Regular Decision, and they do not have to commit to a school until the regular deadline in the spring (after financial aid has been awarded.)

We had good luck with Early Action for Owen. I think it made their application stand out in a year with record college admissions. Being admitted early also meant that the school began considering them for merit-based aid early, while there was still money to be spent.

 

Nine: Consider visiting a few schools at some point, but don’t make this the pinnacle of your process.

With Jonah, we visited a few schools in the fall of senior year. This backfired, as those became the only schools where he could imagine himself. Then, when those weren’t the schools he got into or we could afford, he felt disappointed and stuck. We finally visited his most affordable choice at the end of April, and he found his people within ten minutes of arriving on campus. It all worked out, but I wished we had been more strategic in visiting categories of schools instead of particular favorites.

Owen had a chance to visit two large state schools, Jonah’s small college, and a mid-sized urban private school before applying. We talked about these as prototypes rather than specific college options. We had plans to visit Owen’s top two or three choices before making a decision, but COVID made all college visits virtual which wasn’t helpful.

For Mo, we made a list based on location and her unusual choice of major (see #2.) We plan to wait and see where she gets in, what her financial aid looks like, and the state of the pandemic before visiting her top choice(s).

Ten: Most importantly, keep college in perspective.

College is not the end point of education. College does not define a person’s worth. Having a college degree does not make someone educated. It does not guarantee kindness, happiness, or meaningful work.

Our kids have internalized pressure that Sam and I never intended them to feel, and it has caused them a world of hurt. Make sure your teenager has no opportunity to misinterpret your enthusiasm for the next step of their schooling for a statement about their worth as a human.

A windy day in the windy city.

Daybook: Week 3 of School

Out my window: It’s harvest time. The peach tree has been heavy laden, and we’ve been harvesting and freezing peaches as quickly as we can. The days are still hot, but the nights are fresh enough to make the house cool again.

In the garden: uh, peaches. And my tomatoes are slowly coming in. Our fruit trees all managed to bloom between the terrible snowstorms last spring, so we also had a bounty crop of pears, which were delicious. We ate pear upside down cake four times and ate pears for days.

In the kitchen: Sam pulled a bunch of long-frozen meat out of the freezer to make room for the aforementioned fruit, and we had a highly successful brisket he made in the Instant Pot. Tonight will be red lentil dal and naan, just to balance out all the meat.

Schooling very hard.

In the school room: School has been a mixed bag thus far. Calculus at the community college is good, except for the parking situation which is disastrous. Volleyball starts this week, and anxiety is high- but we have been playing volleyball almost daily, which is fantastic. My cousin (who is an actual volleyball player) and her BF came to play with us. They even brought their own net. We can’t wait to do it again.

Literature has been good: 8th grade is reading Shakespeare this month, and we’re watching lots of adaptations for comparison. (Two thumbs up for 10 Things I Hate About You; She’s the Man didn’t have enough soccer and was pretty cringe-worthy. And why wasn’t Title IX a thing in 2006? Next up: The Lion King.)

We finished Garlic & Sapphires (Reichl) for senior English- so good. It has inspired lots of exploratory college essays (i.e., describe an event/place you participated in from two different perspectives. How was your experience different in each case? How were you different during the two experiences?)

I completely miscalculated 8th grade Chemistry and chose a textbook that requires tons of high school math. So this weekend I scrapped it and redid my curriculum. While that was a pain, I loved going through all the archived episodes of Science Friday to find ones that would supplement my lessons. (Next up, World-Class Tips for the Home Fermenter!)

We are gathering college dorm supplies. Had I been thinking clearly, I would have bought a used bike when we were in Chicago in the spring and figured out how to store it. Instead, I will be looking for a used bike 3 weeks AFTER every other college student in Chicago just bought one.

In my shoes: No running. I’m still walking, riding my bike to work and playing lots of volleyball. One of our favorite races is back- the Mac N Cheese 5K– and it’s supporting our favorite charity, Foster Source, so come join us!

From a previous Mac n Cheese 5K

Grateful for: Sam and I just celebrated our 25th anniversary. He is such a gift to me. Also: we played croquet in fabulous hats at youth group on Sunday, and on Saturday some of us put carpet in the new youth room. (It’s coming together!)

That’s a lot of glasses. Apparently we were very thirsty.

Praying for: Haiti. Afghanistan. Refugees everywhere. Those affected by Ida. Those who mourn. The isolated. The lonely. The sick. Health care workers (I see you, lab techs and chaplains and respiratory techs!) caring for those with COVID-19 and all the other viruses going around right now. Jen. Mandy. Judy. My kids.

Seven Quick Takes: not quite back-to-school

ONE: Are your friends/family sending you lots of first day of school photos? We have been getting them, and the traffic patterns around the neighborhood have definitely changed. I rode my bike to the clinic this week, and the traffic to the campus (it hosts both a middle and a high school) was backed up a full mile. Two cars almost hit me as they crossed the bike lane to get to the drop off lane. Everyone is a little out of practice.

We don’t start school again until next week. Jonah will head back for his senior year of college (!) and we’ll do a family road trip (first one in 3 years, since the Year of too Many Road Trips) to take Owen to college next month. I’m elbow-deep in school prep.

TWO: We went back to the beach this month, for the first time in years. It was wonderful. Sam didn’t open his computer all week. I barely cooked at all (remember this gem from the Onion?) and came back refreshed to try some new recipes. Which is good, because it’s peach and tomato season.

Last beach trip:

This beach trip:

THREE: Peach season! I think the easiest way to preserve peaches is to wash them, slice them in half, remove the pits and freeze them like this on a tray. Then, once frozen, they are easy to pop into bags. I like them in halves for lots of recipes, but for smoothies I will often quarter them. I don’t take the skins off. They add fiber and make everything pretty.

For lunch today, I’m planning to make this Tomato, Peach and Burrata Salad from Half-Baked Harvest. Our herb garden is in its prime, and I have lots of fresh herbs to go with all the heirloom tomatoes and peaches.

Also, I’m planning to make this Peach Salsa from Natasha’s Kitchen. And Peach Upside Down Cake from Taste of Home.

FOUR: This is the time of year that we rearrange desks. Our rule is that kids can’t have screens (phones, computers, TVs, DSes, etc.) in their bedrooms. This requires lots of desks on our main floor, and we shuffled people around and cleaned spaces up.

Before:

After:

FIVE: This year, I’m going back to using BraveWriter‘s Arrow curriculum for my eighth grader. It’s a literature-based writing curriculum that has everything I need (grammar, mechanics, good books, great discussion questions.) They choose great books, and it’s flexible enough to adjust it for each student’s unique needs.

SIX: Turns out I don’t have seven takes today. But I have this awesome photo of the beach to leave with you. Happy end of summer, friends. May there be fresh peaches and tomatoes in your day.

Go check out Kelly for more Quick Takes.

Daybook: Peak Summer

Outside my window: we had a weirdly rainy June, and July has been an oven, so everything is very green and extra enormous, even the weeds. Somehow the fruit trees managed a huge bloom between the late spring snowstorms, so the fruit trees are heavy with tiny pears and peaches. The roses finished blooming just as the Japanese beetles were arriving, so the beetles have thus far been thwarted. It’s like everything and everyone spent the entire last year of quarantine planning how to make up for lost time.

In the kitchen: the saga of the Seven (actually we’re down to five) Silly Eaters continues. Do you know that book? It’s my favorite Mary Ann Hoberman book, and Martha Frazee’s illustrations are perfect. One of our therapists recommended eating out more as a form of exposure therapy, and so instead of my cooking weird, crazy meals to meet multiple people’s dietary needs, we spend hours each week arguing over which restaurant to go to. Will it be too crowded? Do they use paper or cloth napkins? Are they paying a living wage to their workers? It’s fun, I tell you.

The Seven Silly Eaters

In the school room: It is summer, so I’m not actually teaching anything formally. However, Moriah is doing the Colorado Governor’s school but over Zoom, just so that every postponed fun thing we were looking forward to would be dead by the time we do it. It’s been full of lessons in “independent time management” with her family peering in the French doors to make sure she’s not playing computer games on the side and wasting this beautiful opportunity.

Somehow Jonah’s postponed summer research program managed to assemble twenty vaccinated college students who are all obsessed with biology, and he has had an amazing summer doing ornithology research, hiking in the Great Smokey Mountains, watching Planet Earth and applying for graduate school.

Owen has been working long hours lifeguarding at a very sunny, very crowded outdoor pool, or as I like to think about it, “reflecting on the benefits of higher education.” It will also make them grateful to go on vacation with us, so there’s that.

Phoebe’s summer has been a hodgepodge of pet sitting, speaking at environmental rallies, volunteering at the botanic gardens, diving, and complaining.  She won her age group’s regional diving meet last week after a very controversial, late protest lodged by the East German judge that will go down in history. Today we’re headed to the country club for the state meet. The riffraff is reminded to bring their own towels and that the use of cell phones and the wearing of denim is not allowed.

On my reading pile: Ostensibly I’m prepping for our fall classes, including Moriah’s senior English literature class and a middle school course on the economics of the Green New Deal. (Teach to their interests, right?) In reality, it means I’ve been rereading all my favorite memoirs (including Tina Fey’s Bossypants on audio) and wondering how the planet is going to survive capitalism.

In my shoes: This has been the Summer of the Hike for me. It’s not the once a week I fantasized about, but it’s certainly more hiking than I’ve done in recent memory.

Grateful: We have continued our dinnertime practice of gratitude, and it works! It works! There is far too much to list here, but I am grateful for the chance to celebrate my dad’s birthday with him, some vacation on the horizon, being back at church in person, Moriah’s dance company’s fantastic production of Giselle, and an army of tiny origami pigs.

Praying: to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

Peace to you today, friends.

Daybook: mid-October

Outside my window: our maple tree is gorgeous. The crabapple already turned crimson and shed its leaves, and the maple is molting. But its color is still fantastic. Unfortunately, the warm, dry weather has been working on the side of the wildfires. I’ll trade my fall color for wet cold if it will put out the fires.

In the kitchen: this is birthday week, so the kitchen is full of treats. I’m trying to decide if cake with Spring Fling cake counts only as dessert or also as breakfast since it has zucchini and strawberries.


Yep, that’s a lot of candles.

After traveling, my body is protesting a lack of fiber. Today I made oatmeal bread and Greek Lentil and Spinach Soup with Lemon. Even if the kids don’t like it, it will be just what my body needs.

In the garden: the roses have revived now that the heat has passed. Also, the Japanese beetles seem to have died in that shockingly early snow/light freeze, so nothing is currently eating the roses. They’re gorgeous. I still have green tomatoes and butternut squash I’ll have to bring in before the temperature drops to the 20’s this weekend. Also, my spinach isn’t going to plant itself.

In the school room: Next week we start The Merchant of Venice. (And yes, Moriah, they do stand around in the street and argue a lot.) There was confusion over some concepts in AP Calc, so I hired a tutor. How lucky I am to have a college student/math tutor living in our basement!


Art from Zoom school.

In my shoes: I’m dealing with some foot pain that I think is going to need an X-ray and some extended rest, so the running miles are paused. I am walking, though, including a beautiful walk this weekend at the Lincoln Marsh outside Chicago. It was breathtakingly gorgeous.

Grateful: for a masked, socially distant birthday gathering with Sam’s family this weekend.


Only two of us in this photo are 50.

I had the opportunity to join a book club this week as they discussed one of my books, Lost Things. It is such a joy to connect with readers.

Colorado has universal vote-by-mail, for which I am so grateful. We have an enormous ballot that encompasses everything from President to local initiatives (should we reintroduce gray wolves? anyone?) and I can’t imagine trying to manage all of the issues and people in a ballot box with a line of people waiting behind me.

On my mind: Our Bible study just finished discussing Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. I highly recommend this book for a group discussion. He presents the concepts of racism in its many, varied forms and triangulates them with academic vocabulary, historical context and Kendi’s own personal journey. It’s not an easy book by any means, but easy books on systemic racism aren’t going to get us where we need to go as a nation.

Praying for: Mandy. Judy. Heidi. Justine & Aaron. Lori. Families. People who are lonely. The sick and those in quarantine, waiting to know if they will get sick. Teachers and parents who don’t want to be teachers. Students. Firefighters and those whose homes have been lost or threatened. Essential workers. People without work. Health care providers and public health officials. Justice. The end of systemic racism. The election.

7QT: Beginning of School Edition

One: We’ve had two weeks of school so far. Week one, grades 7 and 12 started. (So far, 12th grade has consisted of my asking, “You good, bro?” several times a day in the 12th grader’s general direction.)

Two: This week, 11th grade began. I needed that extra week to pull together the final details of her AP Lit and (non-AP) economics classes. In order to prepare for Lit, I had about 834 hundred books spread out on the kitchen table. 11th grader came, picked up The Merchant of Venice, and announced, “I think I’ve read this one. Don’t they stand in the street and yell at each other?”

The next day, she said, “This can’t be the one I’m thinking of.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Duh, Mom,” she said, “it’s Venice. They don’t have streets.”

Three: Today’s economics discussion was on Specialization and Trade. We played Settlers of Catan as our class activity. Also: anyone who says economics is purely a descriptive science and is inherently amoral is full of it. I’ll go the mat on this one.

Four: Yesterday’s AP Literature discussion was on my all-time favorite essay, Expedition to the Pole by Annie Dillard. (Seriously. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s in The Annie Dillard Reader and in Teaching a Stone to Talk. Go ahead. I’ll wait…)

Oh, you’re back. Did you love it? My 11th grader did, and we spent an hour talking about the extended metaphors and how the structure of the essay led to the meaning. I think this is going to be my favorite class.

Five: 7th grade is doing “advanced botany” this year, which includes vermiculture (a.k.a, composting with worms.) I have been waking up in the wee hours of the morning imagining red wigglers taking over the house, which seems a little premature since the worms are still in a FedEx truck somewhere between here and Pennsylvania.

One of our dearest, earliest homeschool mentors told us a story eighteen years ago about a homeschooling talk they’d heard at a convention. The details have become somewhat apocryphal, but the gist was that one strategy for learning is to say, “Why not?” every time your kid wants to explore something new. We started with gardening, then added a cold frame, and now worms. I’ll keep you posted on where it lands us next.


preparing the worm bin

Six: The Denver Art Museum continues to be one of my favorite places. Their exhibits are so thoughtful, so thought provoking. The latest is Norman Rockwell: Imagining Freedom, and the curation of the exhibit taught me so much I didn’t know about WW2 and Rockwell as an artist. If there’s any way you can make it there (they’re doing timed entries and requiring masks), do.

Seven: Earlier this month, we visited one of our favorite local bookstores that had just reconfigured and reopened to make more distance in the store. I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to browse bookshelves. We spent more than an hour seeing old [printed] friends and discovering future reads. All of us were so deeply happy to be there.

My job was to help them find the sections where books they’d been wanting were located. After I done that twice for my own kids, another random customer came over to me to ask if I could help her find a book, and I had to admit that I didn’t work there, I was just a mom.

Thanks for reading! I hope your adventures- be they homeschooling or with extreme botany or Adam Smith (that jerk)- are wonderful. Check out This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes.

Making mistakes

Hey, friends. I’m still here.

I’ve been thinking a lot about white privilege and how it works inexorably in my favor, and against my neighbor. It’s hard to talk and think about, and I’ve been silent on this platform, because I’m uncomfortable with the conversation… so I’m listening and learning. This is work I have to do. Being uncomfortable is good for me, and I hope in the long run it will make the world a better place.

Also, I’ve been thinking about our home school- you know, looking back at this year and our successes and failures and all the meh moments in between. I’ve been thinking specifically about failure, and how important it is for learning. Julie Bogart of Bravewriter talks about how homeschooled kids never get a math problem wrong because their parents won’t let them. It’s funny here, but that was exactly how we worked in our house until I read that statement. Now after I mark their math work, I look for the patterns and decide which problems (if any) I want them to correct. Recently, it’s never more than one or two.

Likewise, I used to correct every little thing they did “wrong,” even when most of them were purely style. I did this in their reading aloud, in their writing, in the way they set the table, in the way they made their beds… all in the spirit of “learning to do it right.” How exhausting for them.

You know what? With most things, there are lots of ways to do it right. And who’s to say that my way of making the bed is better than theirs? Really, it’s just my preference.  My kids learn so much better from making real mistakes, whether it’s getting lost on their bikes, or not having enough money for something they want to buy because they spent some last week on candy.

But then I got to thinking about how my black friends don’t have the luxury of letting their children make mistakes.

If one of my kids talks back to a teacher in a classroom, I’m going to get a phone call. If my black friend’s kid talks back to a teacher, they’re much more likely to get embroiled in the criminal justice system, because we put police in schools.

If one of my kids is driving our car with a broken tail light, they’re going to get a warning or a ticket. If my neighbor’s black teenager gets stopped for driving with a broken tail light, who’s to say he will make it home alive?

This plays out in a million ways, most of which I’ve had the privilege never to consider.

Making mistakes is part of childhood.  It’s a necessary part of learning, and it’s an opportunity we’ve stolen from our brothers and sisters of color, and their children.  I don’t know how to change it, but I want to be part of the culture of change that will give everyone’s children the opportunities I’ve had.

Daybook: Mid-May, 2020

Outside my window: gray and green. The temperature today is supposed to top out at 41 degrees (F). I brought the fuchsia plants in so they wouldn’t go into shock. The trees are recovering from the late freeze and finally have some leaves.



I splurged on some hanging flowers for the porch. Normally I don’t,
because when we travel they all die, but… this summer we’re not traveling.

In the kitchen: Last night Phoebe’s first harvest of butter lettuce inspired me to make hoisin tofu lettuce cups and hot & sour soup, but my broth didn’t turn out right. It was a disappointment. However, not all was lost.

While I was trying to finish the final steps to put everything on the table, I had six hungry people chatting all around me and getting in my way. Once all the hungry people are fed, they want to disappear immediately into their own pursuits, though I would love for them to linger. I’m thinking a platter of hors d’oeuvres before dinner might prolong the pre-dinner linger. Please send me your favorite appetizer recipes in the comments!



My favorite part of Zoom school: Bob Ross-like
watercolor paint-alongs with the art teacher.

In the schoolroom: This week is the end of college finals for Jonah, and AP exam week (1/2) for Owen and Moriah. Phoebe had her first committee meeting (via Zoom) for an environmental action group she joined. It all sounds great on paper, but we are exhausted. According to the numbers we should continue school through May 29, but I going to call an audible (Omaha!) and wipe the final week of school off calendar. I figure we had less disruption to our school than, well, most of America, and we can just be done.

In my shoes: While all our lives are better when we move, we’re still struggling to do it.

On my mind: white privilege. It greases so many wheels in my life. I am beginning to see how systemic racism is much of the ground underneath my feet. I don’t know how to pull it up, but I am learning to look where I am walking. It’s not enough, but it’s a beginning.

Also: how health care system pays for procedures, not for thinking. For treatment but not prevention. We are seeing the effects of this in so many ways right now, from the failure to follow through on pandemic planning to the financial crisis in many health care entities.

Grateful:

  • for my neighbors’ creativity
  • for a weekend that managed to be both fun and restful
  • the technology that has made it possible to stay connected with friends and colleagues far (and near)
  • Sam’s hard work
  • my nephew’s college and MBA graduation
  • policy makers trying to thread the needle of economic survival in the face of loss of lives

Praying for:

  • clear answers and compassionate care for a hospitalized friend
  • family members who have to be advocates from afar
  • the lonely
  • safe spaces to grieve whatever we have lost, even if it’s smaller than what our friends/neighbors/communities have lost
  • students trying to show what they’ve learned during this much-interrupted year of learning
  • Mandy, Judy, Joanie, Eric & family, Jennifer, Clare

My child finished all their work. Now what?

Did we make it through week one?

By now you will have noticed the surprising truth about homeschooling: it doesn’t take the whole day.

2006. vinegar + baking soda + food coloring = happy child

When I started homeschooling, I thought that because traditional school occupied the child from 8:30-3, my home education was supposed to take the same amount of time. My effort to occupy my child for six and a half hours was excruciating. When he whizzed through his math worksheet, I added another. When he grasped the science lesson after ten minutes, I added three extra examples of the same principle. I heaped on assignments, thinking this was how it had to work. And still, we had hours each day where he looked at me, waiting for the next thing, and I had nothing. I felt like a failure.

As I read more and learned through experience, I discovered that less was more, especially during the younger years.

homemade Senet (ancient Egyptian funerary game), circa 2008

First grade “work” takes an hour. First grade learning takes all day.

You may have discovered the same thing this week by watching your own child.

So what do you do with the rest of the day, after your child has blown through the worksheets their teacher sent home? Please don’t buy more workbooks.

some sort of engineering project, 2009

What’s missing from your child’s “school day” is all of the negotiation between the teacher and the other twenty (or thirty) students in the room: classroom management. You’re not spending any time on roll call, handing in assignments, hearing the excuses for missed work, putting boots in cubbies, people asking to go to the bathroom, discussing the announcements, lining up to go to P.E.—or rather you are, but only for one child (or four). Multiply the transition time for your one by thirty, and now you have the other five and a half hours of first grade.

So what are you supposed to do with your child all day?

May I suggest boredom?

Boredom is the secret sauce of learning. Boredom is what makes a child look for the answers to their questions. It’s what makes practicing the piano interesting. An occupied child isn’t going to practice piano for two hours because you told them to, but a child who has “nothing better to do” might go try to figure out the theme song from their favorite anime even after their half hour of obligatory practicing. A bored child is going to be the one to follow the rabbit trail from their question of “how do I make slime?” to cooking and making their own cleaning supplies and actually testing those in your bathroom. (Or not.) They might build the BIGGEST LEGO WORLD EVER. They might figure out how to program their own computer game. They might practice their pirouettes until they can finally do a triple on their left foot.

playing Ode to the Bored Child, 3rd movement

So embrace the boredom. Let your kids plow through the assignments their teachers send home next week and then let them sit and wonder what they’re supposed to do next. It might be a new experience for them. It might open up a whole new world.