Back to School, Baby!

Last Monday, we began our family’s sixth year of home education.  Things have changed since our rookie season.  Back then, one child was homeschooling (second grade).  One child was attending a local pre-k program, and our baby girl was one year old, happily coming along for the ride.  I jumped into the classical method because I had friends using it.  It also made a lot of sense to me, a former doctoral student in education.  The classical philosophy meshed well with what I believed about learning, so we dove right in.  We belonged to a small but inspiring little co-op that met in a fabulous botanical garden.  It was positively dreamy.

Now, our home life–and thus, our educational atmosphere–looks quite different.  We have four homeschooling students.  This “school house” of ours contains a seventh grader, a fourth grader, a first grader, and a 3-year-old preschooler.  We have a one-year-old daughter who complicates things while also helping us to keep a light, cheerful spirit and a humble perspective.  While I still value many elements of a classical education, we have shifted into a Charlotte Mason style of learning and living.  We live in a different state with a very different climate.  We belong to a far larger co-op inside a lovely church.

So much change.  But our love for learning at home remains strong.  Some of our motivations are the same, and new ones have come.

Now we begin 2017-2018.  I love planning a new year of books, activities, and exploration.  I love that Charlotte Mason folks think of education as a “feast” with many tantalizing offerings to taste and enjoy.  Isn’t that a terrific image as we approach education as a joy and an adventure?

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I’m excited to have a preschooler again.  His natural curiosity is delightful, and his growing hunger for books warms my heart.  In week one, we read and played with Blueberries for Sal.  This week, I’m offering him Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.  I’m planning simply, low-preparation activity boxes to help keep him engaged while I attend to other kids, but I also hope to maintain the sense of fun as we dig into new stories.

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Whether you are simply exploring homeschooling, continuing a year long schedule, or returning “back to school” as I am, I wish you peace, growth, and happiness on your journey.

~*~Erica~*~

 

New and Hard

New things are fun!  Over the weekend, we went ice skating for the first time in two years.  Two years ago, we had a 9 year old, a 6 year old, a 3 year old, and a one year old.  Only the older two truly skated.  The 3 year old held on to a bucket most of the time.  What a difference.  Now, we have five children, and four of them skated!  The buckets (shown in the picture) were still helpful, but everyone tried skating freely.  Most of the time we were smiling.  Most of the time we were laughing.

But new things are also hard–skating included  Ankles were tired.  Knees were sore.  Patience grew thin, and confidence was bruised.  We had to cheer for each other and encourage one another to get up again and again.  We paused to warm our hands by the fire and hopped back on the ice.  Some of us had a little more fun than others.  But you know how I know that this was a good experience?  Even the boy who had the hardest time was already asking when we will go again.  That, my friends, is learning at its finest.

Whether you are eight or 108, learning new things is hard.  You feel clumsy.  You feel worn.  But how dull would life be if you didn’t throw yourself out on the ice and glide?  ~*Erica*~

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Market Street

This blog began because a friend of mine and fellow homeschool mom said, “Hey, where are the urban homeschool blogs?”  She was right.  The story of urban homeschooling can be hard to find on the big internet.  The same can be true in children’s books.  Many stories written for children depict the quaint county side, the lively farmyard, or an odyssey through the wilderness.   Of course, the world of busy streets and brick row houses isn’t completely absent from children’s lit, but it seems more difficult to find than horses, log cabins, and woodland creatures.  I get excited when I find a great depiction of city life.

This week we are reading Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña (illustrated by Christian Robinson.)  This Newberry Winner depicts a tender relationship between a boy and his grandmother, a woman who “always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.”  The book takes a gentle look at poverty and gains its real meat from the themes of gratitude and perspective.  Along the way, messages of appreciation, beauty, and selflessness come through.

The illustrations are charming and meaningful in their own right, and the writing borders on poetry, making Last Stop on Market Street a delightful read-aloud selection.

In our homeschool, we used the story as a place to jump into some city artwork. I love that my kids ignored the restrictions of paper size (notice the pages taped together) and of time limits; at 3pm I quit teaching, but the kids were at the table much longer.  I call that a successful activity!  ~*~Erica

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To Market

Oh happy day!  Our farmers market is back.

Every year I imagine that I’ll be really devoted to shopping the market, buying all of our produce from friendly, local farmers.  Instead, each trip looks a little more like a visit to the carnival than an actual agricultural haul.  My children spend the time asking for popcorn, snow cones, and lemonade.  No one gets excited about the basil or the beautiful asparagus.  Well, except me.

But it’s still really fun.  I like farmers markets in much the same way that I like many other romanticized iconic ideas–like pen pals and tree houses and my record player.  They represent things that characters in storybooks do.  The farmers market is simple in a way that the big grocery store never can be.  Surprises pop up now and then, like the aqua colored chicken eggs and the dried apple slices with cayenne pepper!  Neighbors really do convene at the farmers market, and we happily chat with friends while our kids examine a cool (yet creepy) cicada.  Someone plays guitar and sings familiar songs behind us.  We go home with warm kettle corn (couldn’t resist), a big cup of lemonade, asparagus, and kale.

No, we don’t gather a family’s worth of local produce each Thursday, but we mark our calendars for another week and relish the simple fun that is always found at our farmers market.

~*~Erica

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May Days

The month of May has its own vibe.  Summer is close.  We can almost reach out and touch it.  Word is spreading of farmers’ markets, plant sales, and park playdates.  The weather, in this area, can be unpredictable (nearly 80 degrees yesterday, calling for frost on Sunday), but the promise of warm days in a nice long stretch is out there, and the possibility makes concentration on the sit-down work a little hard to come by.  My children are very aware of the warm joy (and a little extra freedom) building as we close out our official academic year, but they aren’t the only ones.  I feel that tingle, too, and I find myself cutting lessons short in order to embrace the equally (if not more) enriching experience that the outdoors provide.

But I have something else drawing my enthusiasm.  Planning!

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I love planning for our new homeschool year.  When I plan our subjects and the experiences that will accompany them, I have the opportunity to dwell in the blissful possibilities.  I allow myself to imagine my ideal weeks without the interruptions of dirty diapers, pet dramas, dental and medical appointments, ill-timed broken pencils, apparent math aversion (Is that genetic?), irritation with irregular verbs, and the other realities of home education.  I like to just dream, make lists, wish, read inspiring books  and blogs, and roll around in the happiness of it all.  Of course, I eventually have to explore the realities of our homeschool, our budget, and the needs of four (soon to be FIVE) children.

But these May days are set aside for dreaming, for gathering, for living in the certainty of the magic that will come when my dreams and my real plans converge in another homeschool year.  I’ll get to the nitty gritty in June and allow those days to take on an excitement of their own.

What does planning look like for you?  ~*~Erica

Along for the Ride

My husband and I are “city people”. We both grew up in a rural environment, and while we have fond memories of games of hide-and-seek in nearby cornfields and knowing trees by their ease to climb, we can both also recall a sense of isolation from an age long before we knew what ‘isolation’ meant. We yearned for more connection – to friends and places and the opportunity for adventure. Now don’t get me wrong… There is SO much adventure to be found in the great outdoors, not to mention freedom. We had so much freedom! Freedom that isn’t afforded to my city kids. But we still felt like something was missing.

The first chance we had, we both ran fast and far to big cities, hundreds of miles from home. We have since settled in this midsize city, still hundreds of miles from our childhood homes. And we absolutely love it.

One thing that we keep coming back to, again and again, are the opportunities to be exposed to…so much. To museums and science and art and history. To food from all over the world. To a library system so comprehensive it blows my mind and has yet to disappoint (and I search for A LOT of books). And, as we grew our family and then decided on homeschooling, on how easy it is to utilize all our city has to offer as a living classroom.

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Our middle child, Linus, is an intense, sensitive kid who loves with a passion that burns bright and hot. He lands on a topic of interest and consumes every morsel of information he can get his hands on. But as he’s only four, he is dependent on us to feed it to him. In the past six months, we have all learned a huge amount about snakes, dinosaurs, and Star Wars. (The amount of knowledge available to be learned about the last topic has proven particularly impressive, as my husband is a huge nerd and knows the series inside out. Alas, he has found he had pockets of missing knowledge. Linus has ensured that that has been corrected.)

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The love of all things reptilian, past and present, has led to many trips to just one of our amazing local museums, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (affectionately referred to as ‘the dino museum’ by our two-year-old, Rupert). Once inside the massive doors, our children lead the way, knowing the exact turns and hallways to go down that will navigate us to their sweet spot, the Dinosaur Hall. At this point, Linus will find a docent to start asking his extremely detailed questions, while our oldest, Calliope (6), will begin to sketch some of the exhibits. I’m not exactly sure where this habit comes from, but she has a special notebook just for that museum, and it is filled with lovely observations. And this is such a huge part of why we love having this opportunity to homeschool – we get to watch each child react to a new topic, a new setting, a new love in his or her own unique way. And as the three kids are fairly close in age (6, 4, 2), what one loves often becomes what they all love, and they each take turns dictating what this day’s or week’s or month’s new passion is going to be.

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My husband and I often joke that we don’t have a plan, per se, as to how we are going to do this homeschooling thing, that we’re just winging it. In reality, we love learning, and know that perhaps our biggest goal will be to instill a love of learning in our children. If they leave our nest with a thirst for knowledge, we will have done right by them. And in these early years, we are following their lead. Their passion is the driver, we’re just along for the ride.

-Becky

Up and Down the Alley

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We don’t own any sheep.

We don’t arise at dawn to shuffle off to the pasture to feed and water our miniature flock of friendly fluffy animals. We don’t lovingly shave off their wool, hand card it, spin it ourselves, and dye it using all-natural concoctions that we have made out of flowers we picked on our last forest walk around our property.

No, we haven’t got any of that around here.

Sometimes I ask myself, “Why is it that I know so many homeschooling families that live in the city, and I have the hardest time finding any city homeschooling blogs?” Sometimes I would like to kick back and read some stories from another mom or dad whose kids spend their days riding scooters up and down the sidewalk and take weekly trips to the museum, because while it might be nice to have acres of land on which to turn my kids loose, that’s not my family’s reality. It’s not my family’s goal or desire. We like having a rec center down the block and around the corner. We like having a dozen friends within walking distance. We like having pools and spray parks in our neighborhood. We like sharing a fence.

So, here we are, a handful of families who have also made the decision to educate their children, not removed from the hustle and bustle of city living, but right in the heart of it. It’s exciting, exhausting, and LOUD. It’s frustrating, annoying, and entertaining. It’s dirty, smelly, and friendly. There’s a lot of broken glass. It’s home.  ~Foster

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Welcome to Neighborhood Homeschool, a collaborative blog established by a group of homeschooling friends who love educating their children in urban settings.  Together we imagined an online space where we could tell our stories in our own unique voices.  We wished to showcase the exciting and ever-changing locations where homeschooling can take place in urban communities.  Our families are different; our reasons for homeschooling are different, but we share the desire to narrate our families’ lives and celebrate the urban setting.

This is the inaugural post!

I’m Erica, and I’m going to kick off this new blog with an introduction of my family and a look into our week.

I was not the parent who brought up the issue of homeschooling.  Nope.  My husband was drawn to the idea first.  We were both educators at the time, and we were in love with our first child, a little son.  Contemplating the big kindergarten questions–when ,where–my husband brought up home education.  I hesitated.  I admit I carried some negative stereotypes about homeschooling and homeschoolers, and I’ve never been one to go too far outside of the norm.  I didn’t think I could face the questions, the stares, the potential criticism.

But then something kind of magical happened.  After moving 1000 miles away, I kept meeting families who were educating their children at home, and I saw that they weren’t actually home much at all.  I was reminded of an article that I read years before–a piece that really stuck with me and probably represented the true beginning of my homeschool journey.  It appeared in the May-June 2008 issue of Mothering magazine when I had one almost-three-year-old at home and a baby on the way.  “The Never-At-Home Homeschoolers” by Patricia Zaballos sparked my interest and allowed me to contemplate what learning could look like with many of the traditional boundaries taken down.  (You can read a pdf version here.)  I pulled out that article again during the big kindergarten contemplation, and even though we ultimately found a good kindergarten class for our son at a small Christian school, homeschooling stuck in the back of my imagination.

We finally made the choice to educate our children at home in the winter of 2012, and we officially began homeschooling in the fall of that year.  I was the parent-teacher of a second grader, a preschooler (who still attended a preschool a few days per week), and a one-year-old.  That was our beginning.

Today, our school holds a fifth grade boy, a second grade boy, a preschool girl, a two-year-old boy, and a baby due this summer.  We’ve moved, created a new home in a new city, and transitioned through several homeschooling methods and styles.  Yet, through all that change, the exciting possibility of learning at any time and in any place still holds a joyful appeal.

This week, the beautiful weather drew us outside more and more.  We explored a local art sculpture that inspired a fun, rather math-y discussion about polygons and division and colors and motion. As a homeschool mom who worries a lot (far too much) about math and lack-of-math, I was totally thrilled!  The sculptor Guy J. Bellaver created this piece called “1970.” This is the beginning of a little project that we are doing as we explore outdoor art.  ~*~Erica

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