Saying “Yes” to Unschooling

Plunging into the Unexpected

This past week I did something I did not expect to do until June.  I sent a letter to our local school superintendent with my intent to home-school my child – in the middle of the school year!  We had been home-schooling together from grades 1 through 6, but I enrolled her in middle-school in September of 2017.  The guidance counselor decided that it was best for her to start from the ground up, so she entered school as a sixth grader.

From that time until the present, I heard earfuls of grief about how miserable she was at school.  Some children have made the transition from home-schooling to public school learning with relative ease, but my child was not one of those.  She had supportive teachers, but that was not enough to keep her going.  On top of that, last month she fell and has since been recovering from a concussion.  That caused her to miss an extra week of school and to fall behind in her schoolwork.  I wasn’t sure if she would ever recover.  I was also done with the constant worry about her emotional well-being.  I missed home-schooling as much as she did and was ready to return.

Socialization

It wasn’t the schoolwork that she found hard, except for math.  Math has been her most challenging subject, but that can change with time.  She was doing well in all of her other subjects.  It was the social scene she didn’t like or trust.  She couldn’t figure out who was a potential friend because everybody was mean to everybody else and put each other down constantly, with few exceptions. They were also fickle.  They changed their allegiances at the drop of a pencil.  She was so bothered by the culture on the school bus that she asked me to drive her home every day instead of making her take the bus.

The one argument most people make in favor of formal schooling has been around socialization.  But, are our children learning things we may not want them to?  Are they emotionally and physically safe there?  Is the predominant culture all that healthy?  Unless there is an extreme case of bullying, I don’t think teachers or administrators notice if a child is feeling unsafe.  This type of thing builds up quietly until it is too late.  There is tremendous peer pressure to go along with the norm of what classmates think is funny, cool, etc., or be harmed by rumors, teasing, practical jokes, or worse.  If my daughter did not want to learn in the environment that she encountered at school every day, she wasn’t going to.  If a child is under tremendous stress, her receptivity to learning new things is diminished significantly by that stress.  A sense of safety is important to learning new things.  My daughter will learn more with her fellow home-schooling friends, travel, and random gatherings with other youth than if she kept attending public school.

The environment of most public schools is not one conducive to inspiring all children to become lifelong learners.  Sitting at desks does not engage their imaginations.  Their curiosity and wonder are crushed by long days with limited movement.  Perhaps not all children experience this because they somehow thrive in the academic environment and succeed, but that experience does not serve all students.  We have read many stories about what happens to the students who cannot fit in.

 

Cosette's Ivy.jpg
The bottom 3 sets of ivy around the right side our doorway was painted by my daughter.

Curiosity, Wonder and Unschooling

My philosophy about life is that we only have the chance to live ours once.  We need to do it right.  Why not make it the happiest life there is, and generate the fondest of memories to warm us on cold, dark, wintry nights?  I wanted to give my daughter back her happiness and to lighten her spirit.  I wanted her to love both life and learning again.

During our former years of home-schooling, I sat beside my daughter and worked with her to develop skills in observation, experimentation, and recording what she saw.  She learned how to draw what she observed, think about how two substances interacted together and wrote down questions she wanted to find answers to.  This time around, I know that she is old enough to take responsibility for her own education.  She will start by reading some books in each of the subjects that we already have at home, and then supplement those resources with library books, field trips and other fun activities.  She will use our local library’s web site as a free portal into the world of learning new languages, such as Spanish.  I will need to work while she reads, writes and explores, but will make time to listen to her share what she has learned.  She will also be responsible for keeping up-to-date records of her learning experiences – just enough information for me to write the progress report in June.

My daughter’s spirit and energy are returning to her, more quickly than she expected.  She has expressed curiosity about the content she is reading  and wonder about what she notices happening in the world around her.  That is because she is given the room to demonstrate agency when choosing her own curriculum at the highest level she is capable of learning.  She knows herself best.  She takes lots of initiative in beginning and completing projects, such as painting ivy around our back doorway (above).  She is also given time to exercise her body, because physical activity also feeds the brain.  I am excited to see how she works through the learning activities she sets up for herself, and  look forward to working with her on projects such as painting wall murals now and then.

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One Epic in April

National Poetry Writing Month

Happy NaPoWriMo everyone! It’s been at least 5 years since I’ve participated in NaPoWriMo, so I am due to return to the side of my muse and rekindle the bonds of friendship between us.  She has taken her love to more attentive mortal humans, but I am sure that I will win back her affections as I take time to spend in nature and still my voice and thoughts. I am all ears for listening to her whispers.   I have my notebook ready to write down the inspirations she will bless me with.

 

Yellow notebook
Notebook ready to be filled with poems

 

Calliope

One of my favorite legendary muses is Calliope.  She is the the oldest among sisters and is the mother of Orpheus and Linus. Calliope is the chief among muses.  She played the lyre like her son Orpheus, and enjoyed writing poetry.  She is usually portrayed with a quill and scroll in her hands.

Epic Poetry

Some of my favorite examples of epic poetry are Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Odyssey by Homer, and Beowulf.   I am also intrigued by the Kyrgyz epics around the hero Manas, who unites Kyrgyzstan against their enemies. I must confess that I have not read an epic poem written by a woman, so I will close that gap by April 30th, beginning with Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh.

For many years, one of my dreams has been to write an epic poem.  I have decided to take this month to write one.  On April 30th I will publish a companion post to share with you the results of my efforts. I will write a stanza each day for the next 28 days.  I have written two shorter poems so far, but I am now ready take the plunge into the world of storytelling with a long chain of lyrical verses.

Epic Form

There is a classic structure to writing an epic poem.  Among the elements to include are:

  1. Opens in the midst of dramatic action taking place in the world.
  2.  Setting is vast, including many countries or planets.
  3.  Invokes the aid of a muse, one of the 9 daughters of Zeus.
  4.  States the theme, or cause of the story’s action.
  5.  Uses descriptive epithets for characters, e.g. Alexander the Great, Achilles the Brave, Hercules the Strong, etc.
  6.  Employs long lists of objects, places or people, e.g. the list of demons in Paradise Lost, by John Milton, the genealogy of the featured hero.
  7.  Weaves in long formal speeches.
  8.  Divine intervention in human affairs is prevalent.
  9.  Tragic hero descends into the Underworld, or hell.
  10.  Use of repetition, such as stock phrases, such as “rosy-fingered dawn.”
  11.  Heroes embody the values of the civilization where the epic originated.

The Hero’s Journey

The hero of the story embarks upon a journey or quest in which s/he is besieged by adversaries who want to detain her and cause her to fail in completing her quest.  She returns home transformed when she succeeds.  She exemplifies virtues valued by the people where the story is set and performs mighty deeds.

Invitation

How many of you will try to write an epic poem with me?  Let me know how you fare in your endeavor.

 

 

A Garden of Poetry

On May 2, 2016, my family and I attended the 45th anniversary of Stone Soup Poetry at the Out of the Blue art gallery in Cambridge, MA.  This poetry open mic was founded in 1971 by the late Jack Powers. who encouraged writers to share their work in a supportive atmosphere.

We are grateful for all or our poet friends and were happy we could enjoy the transformational power of poetry as expressed in the spirit of community.  The last time we were there was in July of 2009.  Our daughter was small.  She is now a little older and was given the chance to stand up and read 2 of her papa’s poems.

Below is the reflection I have written about my time in the company of fellow poets at last Monday’s poetry open mic.

Butterfly on a flower

Lyrical words washed over me this evening, as gentle waves lap a sun-toasted shoreline.

Sirens screamed above hums of acknowledgement and the clapping hands of appreciation.

The chalice of my heart filled up, my soul was nourished.

Moments of beauty tumbled after each other as poets read the works of their hearts, written with pens and other tools. They gifted me with fresh ideas to feast upon.  Their words lighted the lamp of my imagination.

My brain floated through the night sky filled with stars and moons that were painted on the podium they stood behind.

From the Alaskan tundra to an urban laundromat, from navy yards to salty shorelines,  I traveled.

Kissing, welding, flying, falling, I have done, thinking about tossing together a bowl full of words to throw into the soup of my life.

Porcupines, cats, fluffy puppies and sing-along songs saluted the memory of Jack Powers, the founder of Stone Soup Poetry.

We were all dreamers of a world we love that night, healers of broken-hearts with words that let them know we are there to walk their journey with them.

The balm of understanding we applied to fellow wayfarers near and far, giving our own voices to the concerns of creatures whose voices are seldom heeded.  Our sharing brought us closer to the possibilities in all of us.

JackPowersphoto
Photo of a young Jack Powers

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Maiden Voyage

Welcome to The Gardener Dragon’s blog.  Step aboard to join me on my maiden voyage.  Sail with me to find fresh adventures, both in my home gardens and in gardens tended by fellow wayfarers.  Discover fresh ideas, recipes to use with your own garden harvests, and reflections on the way my family engages in home-schooling.  Exchange thoughts and information with me.  I am looking forward to having your company on my journey.  Welcome aboard!

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