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Two of my kids are participating in Somerville’s Open Air Circus this summer, a local circus produced by and for kids. My teenage stepson is taking a leadership intensive and teaching classes in everything from unicycling to juggling, while the five-year-old in my life has become an instant expert at balance beams, tumbling and running around like a maniac in “circus pants”.

This is all practically free for me (we paid a $20 membership fee at the beginning of the summer, for six weeks of classes). It’s gloriously disorganized and fun, and the kids are learning a lot. Not only about how to perform in a circus, but how to be in a class or teach one. We love it.

The Open Air Circus is the progeny of a grown-up circus called the ExtraTerrestrial Circus Experiment. They would love it if everyone came to their benefit show this weekend. Here’s their information about it:

ExtraTerrestrial Circus Experiment is putting on a benefit performance on July 10th at The Armory in Somerville. Advanced tickets are on sale now at http://www.openaircircus.org/benefit.asp at $8/child (5-18 years old), $15/adult, and $40/family (admits 2 adults and 2 children). Tickets at the door will be $12/child and $20/adult. Please let all your friends know about this opportunity to enjoy a spectacular performance while helping support the OPENAIR Circus.

Please consider coming in a green fashion (public transportation, walking, biking, skating, etc.). We have some directions on the above page of how to get there but are glad to help you figure out a your particular path if you email us with your starting location. If you do come by car, please remember to park in the lot behind the Armory to try to avoid street parking congestion.

Sitting at the table one day, about ten days ago, Rio and I were doing a math project. She seemed to have come to the end of her interest in it. It was a simple game with paper, pen and a box of smooth round stones.

(In spite of everything I am about to say, I remain steadfast in my belief that these three items can keep a person busy from age five to fifty. There was nothing wrong with the math stuff, nor with the method we were using.)

“Rio, you’re getting so grown-up,” I said. “Soon we will need to get a book of kindergarten math games, because you have learned this game so well.”

“Don’t worry about that, Mama,” she said in an off-hand way. “I’ll be going to kindergarten in a few months, and I can learn math there.”

Uh…no, we’ll be doing kindergarten here, I explained gently. That’s what homeschooling means.

No, Mama, I am Going To School, she informed me. We sat down to talk this over.

Turns out, Rio wants to go to school instead of homeschooling. She wants this because:

  • she wants more time away from me.
  • she wants to get away from her annoying toddler sister.
  • she wants to make a lot of new friends.
  • she wants to learn Math.

And finally, her bottom line reason, “Mama, remember last year, when I wanted to try homeschooling, and then I did try it, and I liked it? Well, now I want to try kindergarten. I like to try new things.”

Of course you do, kid.

My goal in life for the past five years has been to raise that child, and her siblings, to be creative, self-possessed and powerful. I want her to know what she wants and be able to get it for herself. If she’s using those tools now to tell me she wants to go to kindergarten, I don’t feel right thwarting her.

I know just about every homeschooling family goes through a little kindergarten envy, especially with the oldest child. There are a lot of strategies for working around this. But I don’t want to. I don’t feel like Rio is asking to go to school because some of her friends do or because she wants to ride a bus. She seems to deeply grok what school is about and want to do it.

There remained, however, the small matter of logistics.I explained to Rio that the time for kindergarten registration had passed and we had not signed up. “Can you call them and ask if they have a place for me?” she said, very matter-of-fact. How could I refuse? I called. They were full. Our public school district offers kindergarten, but they are not legally bound to provide it to every child the way they are with first grade. So the kindergartens get full and they just turn people away. We’ll put you on a waiting list, they said. People move. You could get lucky.

I talked to my beloved husband. He shares my feelings about public schools, which can be politely summed up as: “No, Thank You”. Like me, however, he wants to honor the Adult Inside our children when that voice speaks, and it’s pretty clear that the Adult Inside was speaking to us about Rio going to kindergarten.

“I’ll make some phone calls,” he says. “There was that school on campus…”

My husband, gentle readers may recall, works at Tufts University. They do in fact host a school for children. A school that is the oldest nursery school in North America. It is a competitive private school. The kind you have to apply to nine months before you hope your child will start school there. The kind that preps kids for prep schools. The kind that charges more in annual tuition than I have earned from my freelance work in the past three years.

I thought we had pretty much closed the door on that as an option for our kids after the whole Fayerweather Thing last year. But the Universe can’t give you anything if you don’t ask, so I told him to go ahead and call.

He called. They said, “Oh. Kindergarten? We’ll send you an application.”

We filled it out that night, and he dropped it off the next morning. They called an hour later. “When can you bring your daughter in for an interview?”

We brought her in a few days later. Right away, it was clear that this was the Right Place. The director came up, introduced herself to all three of us and then focused entirely on Rio – speaking directly to her, pointing out features of the school that might interest her (like the wooden chimes built into the staircase bannister). They broke their own stated rule about not allowing kids to do classroom observation because they saw how mature she is and correctly thought she could handle it and would enjoy it. When she asked a question – how do kids learn math here? – she got a clear, honest answer. An answer that involved divvying up buckets of dinosaurs and learning to read clocks and calendars.

The campus and program almost exactly match her old preschool, which I always thought was perfect for her in every way. It’s a very open program that allows children to direct nearly all their learning, but has a high ratio of adults to kids and a small amount of structured time each day. They’re on a beautiful corner of the Tufts campus, surrounded by green space and nature-themed playgrounds. Like the Family Coop, they go outdoors every day, something I have been less successful at than I’d hoped with my home program.

So it’s great, but almost certainly unavailable to us. Except…as we were wrapping up the tour, the director quietly let us know that the day Martin called, a family had notified them that they might have to pull out of the school because they were buying a house. The director mentioned to the front desk that there was a possible kindergarten opening, and they should encourage anyone who called to apply. Martin called an hour later.

The other family confirmed that they were definitely leaving two hours before Rio showed up to take her tour, and the opening was hers. There was no active waiting list because they had closed kindergarten registration nearly four months ago and stopped taking applications.

How are we going to pay for this? Funny you should ask. In seeking the answer to that question, we stumbled across an error on my husband’s pay stubs. They’ve been underpaying his for his research work for the past year. Tufts owes him back pay equal to approximately half the tuition, and will be increasing his weekly salary going forward by an amount that will about cover the other half.

I’ve had goosebumps all week thinking about how the Universe fell all over itself to create this unlikely opportunity for my little girl. I’m still ambivalent about school as a long-term prospect and certain I will miss her come fall.

Kindergarten, here we come.

I ran across this page of interesting alphabets the other day. It’s not exactly for kids. One of the alphabets was made by clothespinning flesh into letter shapes. I personally do not want to put that idea in my five-year-old’s head.

But a lot of the alphabets are charming, and very kid friendly. There are alphabets made from Google Earth images and alphabets formed from snippets of hair.

My favorite is pieces of sky:

If you’re at all like me, you don’t enjoy talking to kids about sex. I love talking to kids, and I love talking about sex, but the two together can get pretty awkward pretty fast.

With my little ones, this is mostly “funny” awkward. It’s my four-year-old asking every adult who sets foot in the house to read Mommy Laid an Egg to her. My one year old discovering she has genitals and wandering around the house excitedly showing them off. Having the “do not put rubber ducks in there” conversation, and the “your sister’s ‘booty’ is her private business” conversation and the “do not lift your dress over your head in public” conversation.

I’ve navigated these pretty well, I think. We have a small library of sex ed books for preschoolers. They understand the basics of growing and changing bodies. They know adults can get pregnant and have babies through some mysterious process that is outlined in all these books, but that process is much less interesting to them than the part where the mommies get fatter and fatter and fatter until a baby comes out.

With teenagers, things get harder. My stepson is 15 now, and I believe he could force the earth to open up and swallow him whole through the sheer force of his will were I to try a head-on discussion about healthy, safe sex. Happily for me, there are a lot of great resources out there to help him (and his parents) make sure he gets all the knowledge and support he needs. Hopefully without the earth swallowing anyone whole.

One of those resources is The Talk, written by my friend and health educator Jessica Mesick. Her blog explores topics that parents and teens need to know about sex and sex ed. Her approach is fun, accessible, and sane. Definitely worth checking out.

What resources have you used to talk with your kids about sex? What do you feel they need to know, and at what age should they know it?

So Rio and her dad went to the kindergarten open house at our neighborhood school. I would have gone, but the baby fell asleep at an inconvenient time, and we are strict followers of the “Never Wake A Sleeping Baby” school of parenting.

Rio came home from the open house literally vibrating with excitement. “Mama! You are going to change your mind about me not going to that school when you see what they have there! They have music! And Reading! AND FIRST GRADE!”

I hugged her on my lap and helped her off with her boots while her dad came in. He looked sort of gray and shook his head firmly “no” while Rio was not looking. When I asked him later, he said that he found the prominently displayed flags and pledge of allegiance off-putting, and that he really could not see Rio thriving in an environment where she was expected to stay indoors, follow directions and sit still most of the day.

I tend to concur, but Rio made any negotiation about it unnecessary by declaring that kindergarten looked boring and she wishes to go directly to first grade. I told her they won’t let go to first grade until she’s six (which I assume is true, since she’s not reading yet), and that we can talk about it next year. At which point she asked if she could keep homeschooling instead of doing kindergarten and I readily agreed.

I’ve also stepped up the focus on getting her social needs met, since I think that was the primary factor in her wanting to check out school. Arranging playdates is hard, but worthwhile, and I’ve been having a little more success networking with other homeschooling families in Somerville.

A little research proves that we live two blocks away from the best elementary school in Somerville. Everyone in the neighborhood raves about it, their test scores are on par with Arlington’s elementary schools, they go all the way up through 6th grade and their school theme is “Global Education”, which they say means organizing all their academic subjects around teaching children about the interconnectedness of all things and how to be the kind of ethical, planet-saving, social-justice-demanding, global citizens I’d want to hang out with.

If we are ever going to go the traditional schooling route, this appears not a bad school. Read the rest of this entry »

I called the city yesterday to let them know we were planning to homeschool Rio next year, when in the normal course of things she would attend kindergarten. As it turns out, they are required to offer kindergarten, but I am not required to take them up on the offer. There’s no paperwork or district curriculum requirements until 1st grade.

The funny thing was that Rio overheard this conversation. She asked me who I’d been talking to and what about. In explaining it, I said something like, “The man from the city schools says it’s our choice if we want to do kindergarten or not, so we don’t have to do any homeschooling paperwork.”

And Rio said, “Tell me about kindergarten. Maybe I would like to go.”

the ensuing discussion

As a follow up to my last post, and a response to some of the comments there. 🙂

The most basic answer to why I’m homeschooling my kids for the forseeable future is that they like homeschooling. I believe that kids with involved, educated parents will get a decent education no matter where they go to school, and that the real question for parents is “What do you want your child doing during the day?” Sitting in a classroom memorizing stuff is not my answer to that question.

A more complex and personal answer to the public school stuff behind the cut.
Read the rest of this entry »

Normally I don’t fret much about what the public schools are doing. It’s Not My Problem; I’m keeping my kids out of the public education system because our family values are a little (ok a lot) too far left of center for them to be well-served by a public school of any stripe, and because I believe its the best thing for them as individuals. I have a lot of resources and this is how I choose to spend them.

But this week TWO friends have been essentially forced by their children’s public school systems to pull their kids out and homeschool. These are bright, creative, good children with idiosyncratic learning styles or developmental arcs. In both cases, the schools were insisting that these kids be diagnosed with and medicated for serious psychiatric disorders and/or learning disabilities. In both cases, the school’s assembled teams to meet these children’s needs. They invited the parents’ in for meetings. They made plans to help these children succeed in a mainstream classroom. And then in both cases the schools failed, spectacularly. They did not follow through on their commitments, they criticized the parents and children, they broke laws and rules to cover their own asses and communicated horribly.

And finally said, “Look, we can’t educate your child.”

I’m not a detractor of mental health treatment in general, I just think its easy for it to slip its bounds, especially with children, as today’s NYT makes abundantly clear.

From where I’m sitting this looks like what the pundits are talking about when they say our school systems are failing. These kids were both lucky enough to have parents who are home during the day and can homeschool them. But they are going to have to do it on their own dimes and at the expense of their own careers.

What I’m really building up to here is that while I get the argument that school voucher systems are bad because they further impoverish the education system for those students left behind in public schools, I wish there was some way the state could help carry the resource burden for kids who are not being served by the public schools.

My mom just came by to drop off information about half a dozen local private and charter schools. Thanks Mom. I feel supported by you in my choice to homeschool.

My choice is not rock solid though; in fact its downright mushy and muddy. So I looked into the schools she brought info on, all of which I’d looked at before, and thought, “Maybe I should do another round of private school apps; we only applied to that one school last year. Another one might have more scholarship funds, or a lower tuition…” In particular there’s a progressive school near my house (walkable) that is affiliated with Tufts and is cheap by private school standards.

So I say to Rio, “Do you like homeschooling? Do you miss preschool?”

“I miss preschool,” she says. “I prefer to homeschool.” (yes, this is how my four-year-old talks)

“Oh,” I say. “Well, I like homeschooling now. But I know things might be different next year. Maybe you will want to go to school, and you can tell me anytime if you do.”

Rio, “I think I want to keep homeschooling until I get too big for it.”

Me, “What is too big for homeschooling?”

Rio screws up her face and thinks about this for awhile. “I think maybe when I’m…forty. Then I will be too big for homeschooling.”

Me, “What will you do then?”

Rio, “Start a new school.”

Flickr Photos

A little bird told me…

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