Monday, September 01, 2008

Shots from the Bow

For a non-traditional person, I'm pretty traditional where summer vacation is concerned. Since we homeschool, we decide when the new school year begins, and for us that is the day after Labor Day.

It's a good time to say good-bye to summer, which is in the process of saying good-bye to us. It's at this time of year that I always notice the subtle little signs that the seasons are changing - the difference in the afternoon light, the drawn-out mournful tone of the crickets' song, the appearance of cabbage butterflies and native morning glories. This year the temperatures are even corresponding with the changes, which is unusual. Coastal North Carolina seems to hold heat, and the dog days often drag into October. Tonight, though, it will drop down into the fifties here, which is almost an earlier cool snap than we're used to. 

But I like it.

We always make a big deal out of the final official weekend of summer, and this year was no different. On Sunday we went with my friend April to Raleigh for the Carolina Reptile Show. Larry and the kids picked up frogs - a red-eyed tree frog, some dumpies and a horned frog, as well as a Blue Tongue Skink and some really spastic water dragons. Afterwards, April and I escaped to an independent bookstore she's been dying for me to visit. I found an awesome book on frogs and toads of North Carolina, complete with a CD of their calls. Lucas and I listened to it three times after we got home and I think he would have listened to it more if I'd not told him it was time for bed.

Today Larry and the kids spent the morning setting up the new pets. The door opened and closed dozens of times as Larry came through carrying large aquariums while the kids followed with lids, bowls and any other essentials their new frogs and lizards might need. I was excused from helping due to a writing project which I later abandoned for the canoe trip.

We put in on Shelter Creek near a popular fish camp where I used to work before I was able to support myself as a writer. It was late afternoon, and the snakes and turtles we'd hoped to see and photograph were long past sunning. So I focused on light instead. I took the above shot of the bridge over Shaw Highway about an hour before sunset.

And this shot I took of a riverfront Hobbit House. The kids called out to the hobbits, but no one answered. Apparently they weren't home.

We couldn't shoot any family shots like I wanted given our lack of a Fifth for the outing, but Larry did shoot this one of me and the kids. So here it is.

After our outing we enjoyed a dinner of cajun catfish at the camp before heading home and I caught up with Steve, the owner, who told Larry and the kids embarrassing stories of the days when I worked for him. I told a few of my own about him on the way home.

So that was my weekend. Simple and good, just the way I like things. I'm sitting in the chair by the open window now, listening to the frogs outside and testing myself to see how many I can remember from the frog call CD. I hear spring peepers, I think, green tree frogs and squirrel frogs, too. And maybe a Southern toad, but I can't be sure.

Tomorrow we'll wake up to a busier schedule as another school year arrives to test our limits and capabilities. If it's anything like the last year, I'll always end it amazed that I learned as much as the kids did. That seems to just happen - a kid will get interested in astronomy and the next thing you know you're learning how to program a telescope to track the stars. Or another will take an interest in frogs and lizards and you end up with a menagerie in the sunroom. Schooling goes from being a chore to being a joint venture. It's just another nice thing about being part of an active family, and I'm looking forward to it.


thimscool said...

That first shot is flat out gorgeous.

Nicole is seriously considering homeschooling Atticus. She has done a lot of research into various curricula, and she has begun to construct one of her own.

Can you recommend any specific materials that we should look at for kindergarden?

I'm not sure what to think about all of this. We chose to live in Ch.Hill because of the quality of the public schools. But from what I hear, there is a general feeling that even kindergarden has become a bit of a forced march, to emphasize obedience and conformity. Perhaps that is an overreaction by some of my more zealous hippie friends. I'm just not sure what to think, except to say that if we are going to homeschool we're gonna move to a place with cheaper taxes and a bigger house for the money.

Morgan said...

Thanks, Luke. I love canoing Shelter Creek. The lighting is just always so beautiful; it looks ethereal late in the day. I'm fond of the top shot, too.

Per homeschooling, it is an individual choice. For some reason I thought you were in the around Greensboro, not near Chapel Hill. I love the Triangle. Just love it.

The good thing about areas like that is this: if there are good public schools there will be excellent homeschooling groups and resources because basically you're going to have educated, thoughtful parents in both places.

If I ever doubted my decision to home school, and I never have - that doubt would have been put to rest by what my oldest daughter Jessica has been telling me since she began her job a few weeks ago as a first grade teacher.

Luke, it is just so, so sad what some of those kids have to go through. No talking in the halls. No talking in the cafeteria. Kids made to inform on each other.

Jessi's assistant is a fifty-year-old harridan who mocked the Hispanic kids accents and called down the students for everything until Jessica basically hauled her up short and told her that she was NOT going to tolerate someone poisoning the early learning experience of her children. She's very passionate about reaching out to kids and giving them the best start -- that's why she wanted to be a teacher. She tells me daily now how lucky Lucas and Alex are because even as a teacher she knows that for every teacher/assistant who cares are plenty who don't.

Now, to put it in perspective the job she took is in a rural school in a poor area. She interned in a wealthier school with more resources and a more enlightened philosophy. But I think it's got to be nearly impossible for any school to meet every kids' learning style.

Alex and Lucas are so different. Alex is a self-starter with a long attention span. Lucas is a gnat who flits from one thing to the other. Alex needs little guidance and can focus on subject matter for an extended period of time. Lucas needs to be taught in little bites. He's also very hands on and active. He learns best by making things, by seeing things and sometimes it's necessary to let him out for a few laps around the yard to put him in the mood for more learning.

Alex would probably do great in public school; Lucas would be labeled a problem and force-fed Ritalin.

I don't know what Atticus is like, but his personality, your vision for him and the amount of patience Nicole would have for homeschooling would all need to be taken into account.

I don't agree with some of the comments that I used to read over at Vox's from people who said EVERYONE should home school. Sorry, but some people are NOT intellectually or emotionally equipped to teach their own kids. They just aren't. I'm sure you and Nicole are capable, which is why you should consider yourselves excellent candidates.

I also don't believe in running down public schools to kids, or making them paranoid about them. We tell the kids what we do is just an educational option, like Catholic school or private academies or public school. It's nice for kids to know they have choices.

Per curriculum, I like Susan Bauer's history books, Hooked on Phonics for early reading, and can't say enough good things about Saxon Math.

Per science, our kids learn so much by osmosis given our interest in nature that they know more than most adults without ever having been taught a formal lesson, although this year we are probably going to get a remedial chemistry course for Alex.

I hope this helps. As a long-time homeschooler, I really can't say enough about it. Through teaching my own kids, I've not only seen their horizons expand, but my own as well.

Oh, and another plus: Jessica said her professors at the university LOVED home schooled kids, who got loads of scholarship offers. Apparently the whole self-directed thing is very appealing.

Morgan said...

Oh, one more thing. Home schooled kids are required to take the same CAT tests as publicly educated kids. Alex's scores for the last three years have been 98, 96 and 99.

laughingwolf said...

super, alla dem pics, morg... and grats on a kick-back day :)

thimscool said...

Morgan, you are really an inspiration. Do you mind me asking how you initially decided to homeschool?

Sometimes it seems to me that it will be just that much more work added to an already over-tasked family. But when I think about the stories I hear, and when I think back to my own public school education, I know in my heart that Atticus and Rosemary could not hope to receive a better education than what Nicole would provide for them, with me as the backup.

Did you worry about the work load... or how you would look after your little ones while schooling the older ones? What tipped the scales and settled your mind?

thimscool said...

Jessica really sounds like her momma's daughter... fearless, and ready to push for what's right in spite of obstacles and opposition. You must be invigorated with pride.

I have talked to a number of young teachers, and the consensus is that they feel they are doing good, but that there are many institutional barriers and a general attitude of crank-turning that makes for an up-hill battle at their schools.

When I mention that we are considering home schooling, all of these teachers say that we should go for it, assuming that we can swing the logistics. I consider that to be the best possible endorsement for the idea. Here is a group of people that are committed to working in the system to make the most of it, but they council us to avoid it if we can. It's hard to ignore the advice of professionals who work in the system.

It makes me wonder how the system could be fixed, if at all.

Morgan said...

Thanks, Wuffie!

Morgan said...

Luke, I think my decision to homeschool was made when I was a student myself. I hated elementary school. Just hated it. I know this seems really weird, but I can remember sitting in class and being told I had to wait to go pee and thinking how unfair it was that someone would make a person wait to go to the bathroom.

And then there was all the other stuff - the favoritism shown by some teachers, the ignorance or apathy of others. That's not to say that I didn't have teachers I loved, I did. Mr. Piver gave me m love of history and if it weren't for Mr. Brown and his overhead projector I never would have figured out how much I loved algebra. But it was the luck of the draw, and I didn't want to roll the dice with my own children.

When Jessica and Wesley were still toddlers, I started dreading sending them off to school. And then one day I ran across this book in the public library called "Teach Your Own," by John Holt. I was thrilled. It basically said everything I'd been thinking and advanced the argument that institutional schooling actually stifled or even killed many kids' love of learning.

I determined then that I would homeschool, although at the time there was a shortage of hippie homeschooling where I lived. Most of the home schoolers were religious nuts, and thankfully that's changed. Today there are many groups from right-wing paranoid religious types to "un-schooling" hippies whose learning style is really no style at all.

We're really neither. We don't have some social agenda and homeschool purely for selfish reasons - because we want it and the kids want it.

Per the time aspect, don't worry that you'll get overtaxed. The really, really cool thing about homeschooling is that kids quickly become autodidactic. Even Lucas is self-directed on most days, although at the moment his attention span is a bit less than I like. But this past week he taught himself to count to 150 using my tape measure, and it came as a complete surprise to us to find he had done that.

Homeschool kids are like sponges. They don't see learning as a chore or something foisted on them so they do it all the time for fun. We tend to believe experience is the best teacher, so instead of spending a ton of money on a fancy biology curriculum, we spend a bit less for nets and collecting jar and head to the local pond and then come home to look at everything under the microscope Larry used when he was a child.

And learning leads to more learning. Alex and I read "Tamsin" over the summer and became fascinated with the Bloody Assizes of 1685 that ended the Monmouth Rebellion. Conventional wisdom would dictate that she wait until the topic was covered in some "unit" in high school history, but with homeschooling the rule for learning is that there's not one. Just follow your curiosity.

I have no idea if this helps. I hope it does.

As for Jessica, she is amazing and I am so proud of her. She really wants to make a difference in the lives of these kids, but I fear that the bureaucracy is going to make that difficult, at least the bureaucracy at the school she's at.

Andrea said...

Morg, that top shot is positively gorgeous. It's ethereal.

And what you've written about kids learning is most inspiring and helpful. Thank you.

Christopher said...

Morgan, you've really hit on something in speaking about the problems you had in school. It occurred to me that, while I had some good teachers, they never could make up for the lousy ones. Favoritism was a big problem. I had a math teacher who graded students based on whether she liked them or not. One kid's father caught her throwing away some students' homework. She'd been claiming they never turned it in. I think the only really useful thing I learned in school was a healthy lack of respect for authority. It sounds like your children are better-educated, and ultimately probably better prepared.
That's a distraction from the gorgeous photos, though. If you ever see a "For Sale" sign on that Hobbit hole let me know. I'd be prepared to make the owner a generous offer and then hold a balrog-sized housewarming party. Just watch your head coming in the door.