Thursday, March 15, 2018

A host of worries that ended up turning out ok. For now

I was looking for all the posts where I stressed out about Aharon's socialization.  I can't find them.  I guess I didn't write about them.  (Or my memory is bad and my search engine keywords inadequate.)

Sometimes I have a kid who I think would do okay in school, but I homeschool because it's our philosophy and lifestyle.  And sometimes I have kids for which I am grateful every day that we are homeschooling. 

At first I thought Aharon would be a good candidate for school.  He's bright, he has the capacity to sit, he likes people and is not shy.  Not that I was particularly looking to send him to school. 

It turns out that despite being an extremely amenable two-year-old, he had a turbulent years 3 and 4.  He tantrumed numerous times a day, frequently hitting, biting, kicking, pulling hair, etc.

I was greatly concerned that part of the problem was his home environment.  I was concerned that he didn't have a strong social group.  There were always a lot of kids around--but he was the youngest boy.  Always downtrodden, always left behind, never keeping up, never taken seriously.  His life was a series of frustrations.  No wonder he was a ball of anger.  I hesitated to send him to preschool (exorbitant price tag aside) because he was so physically aggressive and so quick to shriek in frustration.  I had trouble managing it; I imagined him being placed in timeout all day long or the teachers having a lot of trouble with him.

I tried looking for a playgroup.  He was so close in age to his brother (17mo apart) that there was just too much social overlap in the community.

So I sent him to camp.  Which he loved, and it seemed like the answer.  But then the second month of camp came, and he started getting stomachaches.  I spoke to the Rebbe and all he could say is that the amount of children tripled.  As it ended up, Aharon resisted going to camp so much that he didn't go the second month.

What is interesting is how Aharon's personality matured and how our neighbor kids' personalities shifted and matured.  The little girl that is a year younger than he is that he used to push (and therefore get kicked out of her house and come home crying) grew up and matured and became a good companion for him.  The little girl Jack's age became inclined to play with him more because he matured and could play older games.  The boy Elazar's age got a new baby and found that Aharon was the perfect, hardy age to wrestle with.  So for a few years I was so worried about his unhappiness, so worried that I was causing him misery by not sending him to school (except for the issues school would cause), so worried he would be angry and unhappy forever.  And he's pretty happy now socially.  If I could have told myself, "Don't worry, things shift, relationships shift, he'll be okay." 

I think anytime a child is in a phase, it's worrisome.   What if they don't outgrow this?  What if it gets worse?  What if it's just the beginning of a long downward spiral of unhappiness?  And having been through some of those, too, I can tell you that we drag ourselves through those times, too, as best as we can.  But it's useful to note that many times, what's happening IS a temporary phase and things do shift.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

testing accommodations for homeschooling

I never imagined homeschooling high school would be this way.  I thought it would be more hands-on and I'd be more involved.  I had no idea how learning would work, how so much time would be spent "cocooning" and being nocturnal, how things would seem to be moving in slow motion and then would suddenly start moving at warp speed, with astounding bursts of intellectual growth and emotional maturity.

Six months ago, Chen wasn't sure she even wanted to go to college or not.  I was trying to figure out how much time, money, and energy to devote to getting testing accommodations.

Chen has always had a "processing issue," meaning she reads things 4 times before she understands them.  I noticed when she first started reading that she would read, understand some of it, read it again, understand more, read it again, understand more, and read it again.  She liked and likes to read the same things over and over.  She also has always had some trouble with fine motor things like buttoning, zipping, spreading cream cheese, putting hair into a ponytail, etc.  None of these things were a major issue because in homeschool, we could take the time for her to do things at her pace.

When I asked her about college plans last year, thinking about the SAT/ACT, Chen didn't know what she wanted to do.  She wasn't enthused about classroom learning, had about a 15-20 minute attention span when we studied Bio, could hardly tolerate lectures.  She wasn't sure college was suited to her style of learning and I tended to agree with her.  She's always been a kinesthetic learner who likes to choose what to learn, which is why unschooling worked out so well for her.  As much as I think college is still the gold standard for getting a job (though not essential), it seemed like there was a good chance she'd be miserable and would not thrive.  I talked myself down, telling myself that my goal is for her to be emotionally capable of supporting herself.  And if her idea of supporting herself is living in a tiny apartment and making barely enough money so she can travel the world, well, that's a life and it's a rich one.

She has a 504 from taking a couple of classes in the school I work at, where they quickly realized she's unusually slow and gave her extra time to complete her tests.  I had her tested by the district, and here's the frustrating part about homeschool and special ed: since she was working on grade level, she didn't qualify for an IEP.  But.  Since she's homeschooled, I've been giving her the accommodations she needs in order to do grade level work!  So we don't have years of documentation that she needs extra time or other accommodations, like typing essays.

So we can do psychoeducational testing.  Six months ago, I didn't want to invest in that (it's very pricey) if she might take the SAT/ACT and she might want to go to college and it might or might not be worthwhile.  So we didn't.

Fast forward a few months later, and finished with one college course  (Russian) and halfway through another (Psych), and it's like she has a fire lit under her.  She spends time doing math problems every day.  She took out some ACT books from the library.  She feels sure she will do very well on the test--if she has the time to actually process the questions so she can understand them.   I'm not sure if she can get the extra time she needs for the ACTs.  They also have an option to spread the test out over more than one day, and since she does reach saturation with stimulation, that would help a lot, too. 

It turns out you can't have testing done less than 6 (4?) months before taking the test.  It's March now, and she registered to take it in June.  That means the June test won't take into account any recommendations.

So for now we try to see if the 504 is sufficient.  But I'm also trying to get her tested.  An official diagnosis would give her the accommodations she needs.  And if that's the case, then she probably won't take the ACT in June, but later.  And that might affect applying to colleges.  But in homeschooling we are nothing if not flexible.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

What would you have done differently?

I came across this post today.  Seasoned unschoolers were asked what they would have done differently. 

The whole thing is worth a read.

  • I would have responded more kindly and with less blame to my kids
  • tell myself to relax, that the influence that matters most in those early years is mine and Doug's generous and open support of Ethan's wonder at the world around him,
  • I'd tell myself to calm down and worry less, not pander to anyone else's ideals and I'd trust my kid a lot more.
  • I'd have worried less when the kids were younger (like 3-5) about "introducing" things like music or art or going to museums
  • relax and accept the moment more. I'd use my calm voice more, rather than my frustrated-and-fed-up voice, especially when *I* was the tensest one in the room
  • While I did let my son learn to read in his own time, I stressed for years about whether I was doing the right thing...So I'm glad I forged through, but the stress was a waste...
  • I wish I could have enjoyed the moment...I would have made my choices based on love not worry or guilt.

Math & Middos

Jack has no money left in his "bank account," the spreadsheet I use to keep track of their money. 

On Friday, we were driving.  He was angry and shaking my seat.  I said if he doesn't stop shaking it, he'll have to move to the back back of the van.  He didn't stop.  I told him to move.  He started screaming about moving.  I said that I'm counting to 5 and then I'm taking a dollar away from him.  He started moving.  I stopped counting.  He stopped moving and started screaming again about how he hadn't heard me warn him he'd have to move.  I finished counting and said he has to give me a dollar.  He started screaming that he didn't know I was counting.  I said I'm starting to count again, and then it's another dollar.

He moved.  He spent the next half hour screaming about how it isn't fair, he hadn't heard the first warning, he hadn't heard the counting.

He said that he was never going to give me any more money to put into his account, because right now it has negative one.  And if he puts money in, then I'll get a dollar from him.  But if he never puts money in again, it will always stay negative one and never get his dollar taken away.

I thought that demonstrated a pretty decent handle on how negative numbers work and I'll put that on the quarterly report.

On a side note, I may have mentioned (I looked for some posts but couldn't find--wait, I vaguely remembered something and searched "succos lollipops" and found this post) that Jack has a particular middah that I personally find challenging and end up getting into conflict with him about. 

My most recent attempt to deal with this was for us to talk in whispers when we begin to argue.  It's been pretty helpful because no matter how heated, it's difficult to escalate too much while whispering.

He gets into a mentality sometimes where everything is bad, or unfair.  He wallows, has a hard time getting out of being unhappy (he's always had trouble self-soothing from the time he was a baby and small toddler), and eventually he turns to grandiose solutions that are impractical or absurd, and gets even more furious when we won't implement them.  Or he focuses a lot of mental energy on the aspects of unfairness and how he is logically correct.

Because it triggers things in me, it's been difficult to parent this well.  I've tried valiantly and failed spectacularly on numerous occasions, often ending with me becoming verbally abusive.  My sister and I have gotten into more than one fight when she asked my why I was allowing him to carry on so aggressively and publicly.  (Note: she was right.  I got very defensive and we had more than one argument, but ultimately she stuck to her guns and I tried to open myself to what she was saying and she helped me process some of my conflicts and helped me focus on what types of boundaries were important to hold with him as he tantrummed and it was extremely helpful.  Having someone close to you watch you parent and give input, while painful, can be very helpful.)  Staylistening has been useful but has not addressed the basic middah.  I figured it's the kind of thing that hopefully if I don't make it worse, he'll eventually get the time and maturity to work through it. 

I've noticed an irony in parenting.  Lots of times as parents, we see a trait in our children that we think is negative.  So we try to "parent" it out of them.  But it's possible that if we just give them space and don't make it worse, then they'll end up being mature enough and emotionally healthy enough to manage it and navigate it as they grow.  (This I probably learned from radical unschooling.)  Shyness, for example.  Or "selfishness," I've seen, can be something that might need to be addressed, but it's also possible that selfishness is developed through a scarcity mentality and that being in a home with kindness and generosity will eventually lead to being kind and generous.  Or anger, which I used to think with my oldest that I needed to train her in self control, but it turns out that parenting with firm but kind boundaries and giving them space to have and feel the fullness of their feelings sort of ends up with them being able to manage their anger (well, the jury's still out on this one as my youngest seems to have an extra dose of my FOO's temper, and he's still young, so we'll see in ten years or so).

So I realized with Jack that it's important for me to be there as a loving presence while he goes through this complex wave of emotions.  And it's important for me not to "fix" it, and it's important for me to maintain the "no" while still being kind.  (That's where I often fail/ed.)  And it's important for him to have the experience of being so upset and grieving all the things that come up for him each time (life is unfair, his brother gets things and experiences he doesn't, he has no friends, his life is miserable, etc.) and to really have it be okay for him to be sad about all these things in a profound way, and for him to have the experience of it ebbing and him climbing his way out. 

I don't think it's useful for me to cajole him out of it, or coax him, or distract him, or try to fix it.  Those are all futile things we do in life with our own pain.  The best thing I can do for him is to be there for him as a loving presence that has confidence that these feelings will not destroy him and that he can and will feel them without the world ending.  And let him see that it does ebb and it is okay.

I had a recent epiphany.  I realized I was buying in to Jack's narrative.  I identify with him.  I agreed with him that it is a tragedy that his brother has more friends, has more fun, goes on more playdates, and gets more invites, more presents, more shalach manos.

It occurred to me that maybe it's not a tragedy.  Maybe it's just his chelek, his situation, and that learning to navigate his feelings and be able to tolerate the pain and pick himself up afterwards is actually a good thing.  Maybe even a better thing than having more playdates and more shalach manos.   

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Eternal Competition of Two Ideals

Wherein I lament, yet again, about Wanting Kids to Be Kids and have room for their art projects and infinite legos, and Wanting To Walk A Path to the Fridge.  Two competing ideals.  I cannot have both.

I want to be Charming and Loving Earth Mother.  I end up being Cranky Monster Mama.

I asked them to clean up the basement because I couldn't walk down the stairs anymore without climbing over boxes.  I couldn't open the door to the fridge.  They did.  I then spent another 20 minutes throwing out all the little pieces of garbage they missed.  (And they had vacuumed, too.)

I threw out a kite.  Every 5-10 years, some Well Meaning friend or relative buys us a kite.  I don't know how to fly a kite.  This large, delicate monstrosity sits around and mocks me until it mercifully is broken.  I threw out this kite incarnation and it isn't broken yetI lost track of how long it's been living with us.  I feel better.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

unschooling spelling

3rd and 5th grader figuring out together "transparent" and "template."

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Unschooling Math

Jack, 3rd grade, was making chocolate milk.  I was standing next to him making cappuccino.  He noted that the suggested serving is 2 spoonfuls, and there are 38 servings in the container.  But said that he uses more than that, so the amount of servings it says is not the amount for how he makes chocolate milk.  I asked him how many servings it would be for him.  I thought it wouldn't be too tough for him to divide 38 by 2.  But he didn't want to. 

I did the math and told him it was 19.  This is something that I learned about unschooling.  As a homeschooler/educator, I was always trying to get the kids to be independent and figure things out.  But in unschooling, they always read to the kids and do the math (showing them how they do it if the kid wants to know).  And how will they learn if you always do it for them?

But the way it works is that the child sees that you know how to do it.  And they can't do it themselves, but they see you can do it.  And eventually they want to do it and are motivated to learn it.  But in the meantime, until they want to, you read things to them and do their math for them.  It's a bit of an attitude adjustment.

Back to our 38/19 servings, it turned out that I was assuming he was using double, and Jack said the math was harder because he uses about 5 spoonfuls.  So he was explaining to me about how using more gives you fewer servings.  This is one of the things I remember being SO confused about in math class.  The fractions are always going in the opposite directions.  Cutting things in half makes more; using double ends up giving you half the amount of portions, on and on until it used to make my head spin.  But here Jack and I were just chilling, and he was explaining to me how he was thinking about it.

He wasn't interested in "learning" or "doing" math.  It just came up and we were just talking about it.  Back when I was homeschooling, I would have taken the opportunity to do some actual math problems with him.  I would have tried to get him to do them or tried to get him to understand some of the concepts.  But in unschooling we were just chatting. 

It was something that came up organically and naturally, and these types of mathematical situations come up frequently.  (Something that I found hard to believe before I unschooled math; math was the very last secular subject I let go of.)   The kids actually enjoy pondering these things, thinking about these issues, playing around with them mentally.  It seems like they kind of carry these math "problems" (i.e. real world situations) around with them as they go about their day, and they think about them a bit, then do whatever, play, think about it some more, etc. 

It's a lovely relationship to math.