The Life and Times of Monkey, Buster, and Yessa

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Choosing the Battles November 24, 2009

Filed under: Buster,Homeschooling,Monkey,Yessa — mommie2zs @ 1:43 pm

Many of the choices we’ve made about parenting are becoming more accepted in the main-stream.

  • Extended nursing
  • Child-led potty training
  • Cloth diapers
  • Home birth (Okay, this one not becoming more accepted, but it SHOULD be!)
  • Homeschooling

Ahh, homeschooling, that last one.  I believe it is becoming more accepted, but, and this is a big but, it’s becoming more accepted in people’s perception of it, not necessarily the actuality of it.  People who have a vision of “school-at-home,” where the children are gathered around the table, with Mom or Dad spouting forth wisdom–that feels comfortable to people.  It’s wierd that you want to not send children to school, but as long as you are doing the same thing to them as school would be doing, it’s probably okay.

What if we accepted the idea that children’s hearts and minds and bodies lead them on the correct path–assuming the “correct path” is one that offers them healthy, safe, age-appropriate options.  In other words, why is it that our then-two-year-old is praised and encouraged for being an “early potty-trainer,” but our seven-year-old is a concern because she isn’t reading like a second grader?  Isn’t it possible that she understands her path just as well as the two year-old?  And that both of them, given support, and love, and time, will both achieve all that they are capable of–and choose?

My acquaintance, Stephanie, has a fantastic blog here:  The title comes from this quote, which has always resonated with me:

“Learning can only happen when a child is interested. If he’s not interested, it’s like throwing marshmallows at his head and calling it eating.”

~ Barbara Lamping

It has fascinated me to watch the things the children have chosen to learn:  Zoe’s desire to whistle, which she now does really well, although I’m not sure why the “wolf whistle” is part of her repertoire.  The Buster’s drive to be adept at both Wii games and legos.  To think of him as a three-year-old, focused on getting those little pieces to attach together.  And Yessa.  She has been the first/earliest to potty-train, but she also has been the first to learn to dress herself, including shoes.

True, these are all “physical things,” but why should the mental exercises they are each engaging in, but that cannot be seen, be any less determined and fruit-bearing.  I’ll stay this course–seeing them each as wonderfully capable of whatever they would choose to learn.  Ready to assist, but not to force.

Oh, and the title of this post:  Choosing the Battles.  It has nothing to do with battling the children…



Exciting Opportunities

Filed under: Buster,Homeschooling,Monkey,Yessa — mommie2zs @ 1:25 pm

The Reston Community Center catalog came in the mail a couple days ago.  It’s always exciting when it arrives because–especially now that Yessa is 3–there are so many great opportunities for young and old.  (How funny that I, who balk at any sort of direction or intervention by outsiders, allow my children’s schedules to be at least partially dictated by the person who sets the time for classes at the Reston Community Center?!  Hmmm, best not to think about that too hard.)

I sit down and read through the catalog, ear-marking the classes I think the children would enjoy, and that fit into our schedule.  Then, I present the options to the offspring, and they choose what interests them.  It’s a lotto system for the most popular classes, so we never know what we’ll get to take until the magic email shows up, telling us what we’ve “won.”

The Buster and Yessa were simple.  Both were adamant about taking swimming lessons.  Luckily, their ages line up so nicely for classes right after the other, on the same days of the week.  They also both were semi-interested in a tumbling class.  Yessa not so interested because of having to leave me, until she learned the Buster would be in the class, too.  That made her smile and agree.

Monkey was tougher.  The only swimming classes for her age were on Saturday mornings or at 5:30 on weeknights.  I try to hold weekends sacred for Buddie time, and I don’t like to be out in traffic at 5:30 p.m. during the winter, so I told her that swimming lessons weren’t really an option this session.  She’s also been interested in Tae Kwon Do–also only on Saturdays–and there was an art class I thought she’d enjoy.

The art class was easy for both of us to pick.  Right at the Community Center we can walk to, during the week.

The swimming and tae kwon do I had to process through.  I am laying stock of camping supplies so that come Spring we can get right back out there.  (Thank you freecycle for the fantastic cooler yesterday!)  But these classes only run till March, and once we return from Costa Rica, there are no weekend plans for awhile.  Plus, with the UUCF Auction barreling toward me, there are plenty of weekends when I’m at church for several hours on Sunday morning, so obviously I haven’t held the weekends completely sacred.

So, we compromised.  She picked one of the Saturday commitments–TKD won out, and we’ll give it a shot.  It’s a really inexpensive way to see if she actually enjoys it.  If she does, we can switch to a class at a studio during the week.

For now I’m enjoying the anticipation of learning what classes they get to take.  Once we are settled into the new schedule, I’m sure I’ll start grousing about how, “We’re too busy.”

The excitement is fun for now.


Sesame Street November 17, 2009

Filed under: Homeschooling — mommie2zs @ 3:18 pm

Buds passed along a fascinating essay to me.  Here’s the original email he sent me:

From 1971, a critique of Sesame Street from The Atlantic.

Nonetheless, and in spite of all its successes, I feel very strongly that Sesame Street has aimed too low, has misunderstood the problem it is trying to cure, and will be a disappointment in the long run. I also feel that it has misunderstood the nature and underestimated the opportunities of its chief subject, the three R’s, and its medium, television; and therefore, that even what it sets out to do in the short run it does not do nearly as well as it might.

I came across this post in one of my regular blogs, and I guess we are supposed to think on this 40th anniversary; “Isn’t it funny that at one time people thought Sesame Street was a disappointment”.

But when you read it you’ll see that the critique is really on-point and raises lots of interesting questions that I think Sesame Street never really figured out.
Here’s another link to the article:  Sesame Street.
This article brought up something that fascinates me:  I read the article, recognizing the name of the author.  Buds read it, thought it was well written, and specifically searched out more information about the author, not recognizing the name, to learn more about him.   That questing spirit, and innate spirit of curiosity are one of the many wonderful things about Buds.


Getting Out Of The Way November 13, 2009

Filed under: Buster,Homeschooling,Monkey,Yessa — mommie2zs @ 12:01 am

Choosing to homeschool has changed so many of my pre-conception ideas about children.  Truly, back when I was teaching K-8 Special Education, I thought I had it all figured out.  I knew I would have been a better parent to some of these children than the parents they had.  That might still be true, but in general, I think I had it mostly backwards.  Those parents were doing the exact best they could and the best they knew, with what they had.

There was one 3rd grader girl I remember in particular:  She could write amazing, beautiful, intricate stories.  Her handwriting was atrocious, and she couldn’t spell.  Here’s the interesting thing.  She had moved to my school from a different school, and it wasn’t until mid-way through the year that anyone realized she had an IEP and a “diagnosis.”  She’d been doing just fine, until her teacher started feeling like her writing was just too messy, and she just didn’t understand spelling.  She was a joy to work with, but spending time in my room, out of class, was more of a hindrance than a help.  The school just needed to adapt to her strengths, and get out of her way.

Which brings me back on topic:  Getting out of the way of my own children.  These kids have these fantastic, creative, amazing ideas.  And the path to creating these adventures and stories and plays they develop is often messy and involved.  They drag out costumes and bags, and tape, and paint, and books, and games, and legos–sometimes all at once–and they use these things to populate a world I’ve never conceived of.  And sometimes all I can think when I see these elaborate story universes is:  What a freakin’ mess!

I, who love order and organization and knowing where things are.  I, who have worked so hard to get everyone to put their shoes in the bin in the closet.  I, who ask them to put their dirty clothes in the basket, not on the floor.  I, who have trouble sitting down to read with the kids if the house is messy–this is very difficult for me–to get out of their way.

I’m unschooly, in many ways.  And it has served us well.  These kids are engaged and interested in learning and dreaming and planning.  They are also independent of thought.  They balk at being ordered around (God bless them for that.), and they do not follow rules blindly.  If it doesn’t make sense, they want to understand, and if you have a valid, explainable reason, they will value that as well.  They are learning lots–on their own schedule, and it is a pleasure to watch.  They can engage with people of all ages, and they are kind and respectful of each other and people outside our family.

But, my goodness, they can be so messy!  And I’m not sure where the balance is.  What if Picasso’s Mom made him put away all those paints every night and throw out any scraps of paper he had drawn ideas on.  What if Marie Curie’s mom told her to stop messing around in the lab…you get the idea.  But maybe their moms did tell them those things, and that just made them more determined to keep doing what they loved.  (I don’t really think it was like that.)

I read about an artist or a chef once who created a huge elaborate meal for his mother.  He made a horrible mess, and when his mom walked in, she saw only the love and joy of creation.  The cleaning up of the mess came later, first came the thrill of the gift.

I try to remember that when I see that Monkey has brought down the laundry basket from my closet yet again.  It makes such a perfect “walker” when she has injured herself and needs to limp around the house for a few hours.  Or, last night, it was the ideal nose to a rocket ship that was crafted in the living room.  And all I could think was, “Now my closet floor is covered with stinky, dirty clothes.”  Bless the child, she tries to reassure me, “I piled them into the corner.”  But all I want is for her to leave my laundry basket alone.  And isn’t that petty to write.

Yessa just came upstairs with three containers of playdough she wanted me to open.  And Zoe has stuck a label on Yessa’s chest which said, “Noa Moxie Gemignani.”  Yessa has been very enthralled by practicing reading of late, but that’s a story for another post…

So, I’m going downstairs now, to see what they’ve been up to.  The playdough is out, and stories are being told.  The dining room table is covered with plastic bags from the fashion designing that went on yesterday.  Markers and label maker are out.  Monkey has rearranged the living room so that each child has a separate “private space” in which to withdraw when needed.

And me, I got to vaccum today, and maybe, for today, that’s enough.


Satellites November 5, 2009

Filed under: Buster,Homeschooling,Monkey — mommie2zs @ 7:08 pm

Monkey and Buster had a class at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy museum this morning.  Led by Mrs. Keller, not only did the children have a great time, we all learned lots of information, plus each child created a unique satellite.  After the class, we went up in the tower to watch for planes landing and departing from Dulles Airport (no luck).  Then, we went out in to the Museum to see the Space Shuttle and to look at the many different satellites they have on display.

Just as an aside, this is one of the things I love about homeschooling.  The class only had 12 children or so in it.  The museum was virtually empty, and we could talk and sing and dance (all of which the children did), and have no concerns about disturbing anyone else.  There are so many amazing resources for us out there.


The kids sat right up front, and they were all so incredibly enthusiastic about the class.  The instructor went over her time, and was feeling really anxious about it.  All the moms reassured her we didn’t mind at all, she could keep on going, and she was happy to.  She was saying how often kids get restless by the end, but “These kids are all so engaged.”  It was a nice compliment.

In the above picture on the right, Zoe got to be one of the first volunteers for the class, demonstrating the difference between rotation and revolution.  Here’s the difference, in case you don’t know:  A planet rotates on its axis, and it revolves around the sun.

IMG_0436This shows one of the experiments Mrs. Keller had the kids do.  The goal was to help them understand why it is useful for a satellite to be up so high.  The kids had to try and tell what the pictures on the table were, and what number was up on the die in front of them.  Simple, yet effective.


After class was over, we wandered in the museum.  There are computers all over that allow you to pick a type of aircraft, and then it gives you a chance to pretend like you are sitting in the cockpit.

The picture on the right shows an exhibit the kids were very excited to discover:  An R2-D2 painted mail box, which they were tickled by.  I was excited by the I Dream of Jeannie phone box, but it meant nothing to the children.

Finally, we were also very excited to see one of the movies being shown at the IMAX theater:

IMG_0428Yup, that’s right–Super Good Guy, er… robot…um…transformer…Optimus Prime!  The Buster was tickled.

Then, one last silly shot, and back home:IMG_0440


A “Typical” Week October 25, 2009

Filed under: Buster,Homeschooling,Monkey,Yessa — mommie2zs @ 1:20 am

Though people might not actually care, I tend to imagine that people wonder what we do with our time, so I thought I’d post our schedule for a pretty typical week.  These are the things we do outside of our home.

Monday: Monkey has piano lessons.  From October through February, I generally have a meeting with Christine, my co-chair for the UUCF Auction.

Tuesday:  We have playgroup at church.  Monkey has Odyssey of the Mind.  We eat lunch at Costco, then zip over to Monkey’s  swimming lesson.  Depending on the week, I have a meeting at church.

Wednesday:  Spanish Class, then, in the afternoon, depending on the week, we have Girl Scouts or we sing at a nursing home.

Thursday:  Monkey has swimming lessons.

Friday:  I have a meeting with my boss about the HR happenings at Juice, and the homeschool group we love has a park day, but we seldom make it to that.

In a typical week there will also be several hours of playing with Lucia, a couple play dates with various beloved friends, Buds is working all day, I try to have at least two nights a week where I go out with a friend or work in the home office, and finally, we arrive at the weekend.  We love Fridays because we know Buds will be arriving home and we get to spend the next two days with him.  We all love that.

At home the kids spend time playing legos, playing on the Wii, playing on the computer, studying on the computer, reading with me, looking at books on their own, watching me do laundry or clean, watching or helping with cooking, and making up and acting out stories.  Really an amazing variety of things, and the days just fly by.

What do I hope we all gain from this, these weeks of lots of activities, and then long stretches of time at home together:  I hope the children keep their love of learning, and their love of our family.  Simple wishes, but so powerful, and worth all the time we have to give.


What the heck are you doing? October 18, 2009

Filed under: Homeschooling — mommie2zs @ 4:26 pm

Inspired by my friend, Erin, who blogs about her crew here: Bonnie and Clyde, Buds helped me set up this blog to talk about the kids and the adventures we have as a homeschooling family.

First, the title to the blog refers to each of the children:  Zoe’s nickname is “Monkey,” Zachary is often called, “Buster,” and my sister-in-law, Kathy, once remarked that Noa might say “yes” more often if we had named her, “Yessa,” instead of Noa, and the rest is history.

Second, the title of this first post refers to the reaction people would have more often if they were being completely honestly when told we are homeschooling.  But, because most people won’t ask that question (Except for my brother, George, who likes to shock people), I wanted to make sure those we care about, and who care about our children, have a way of checking up on us without having to feel like they are asking too many questions.

And finally, another friend, Jennifer, has made the amazing opportunity to move with her family to Croatia to delve into her family’s roots.  Reading about that process has inspired me to try and live the big life I so crave, while also being present and mentally with these people right here with me.  Read about Willy’s journey at:  Touching Up My Roots.

Phew, that’s a lot to ask of one little blog.

So come share in our journey and see what the days and weeks and months bring us as we grow and learn from these small beings we are blessed to call our children.

Our first family camping adventure

Our First Family Camping Adventure to Cunningham Falls State Park.  Post about that adventure upcoming.