Walking Away: My Unschooling Journey

Today would be the last day I walked my eight year old daughter to her school and walked away. I live directly across the street from her elementary school, the same school my son, now thirteen, attended when he was just six years old. As I walked away today, it occurred to me that not only have my children been a constant fixture at the school, but so have I. For the past eight years I have volunteered almost every school week in either of their classrooms. In addition I dedicated several weeks each year as chairperson of their MLK Day of Service, Co-facilitator of parenting workshops and for several years held positions on their PTG (Parent Teacher Group) Board. I am a staunch supporter of the public school system and I adore the children that I have had the fortune to cross paths over the years, yet it is time for me to walk away and take my daughter with me. I am walking away from the beautiful, dedicated

++teachers, parents and administrators I’ve met over the years as well as the snobby suburban self-righteous and often underlying racist ones. I am walking away from seven hours of free child care each day of the week as well as the teachers who sometimes send my child home in tears because they just “don’t have time to ” help her understand a concept in the way that she needs to learn it. I’m walking away from the convenience of sending her walking to school as well as the anxiety-driven nausea and headaches she is sent home with like stale lunch in her backpack. No one cares about the quiet trauma that is brewing in the psyche of these young children when they are pressured with more homework and testing than I’ve seen in eight years.

I never thought I could do this. As a single parent with no parents or grandparents to lean on, I didn’t think I had an option. I didn’t see any way I could have her learn at home when I had to work at least part time outside of the home and maybe even more if I was to afford the child care and/or alternative school that she would now need. I felt selfish because I didn’t want to give up my free time during the day when I had no clients and could pamper myself. I couldn’t afford to send her to an alternative school because they were expensive and seemingly out of reach for someone self-employed and a full time mom. And then the day came that my daughter came home and asked me the question “Mom, do you think I’m stupid?”. And I knew that it didn’t matter what I thought I could or couldn’t do, I had to. To be continued….

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New FB page listing FREE programs for families in Philly

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We Love the idea of having a central place to access cultural and educational programs in Philadelphia for children and families that are FREE! Please visit https://m.facebook.com/freeinphilly ,  “like” the page and select notifications to stay updated on new content. You can also follow them on Twitter @Free_In_Philly. The website is coming soon! Thank you Barbara Lanell for creating and updating this wonderful resource for parents!

Check out @AfrAmParenting’s Tweet: https://twitter.com/AfrAmParenting/status/701035052331888641?s=09

900AM WURD MOJO SHOW 2.12.16 – Homeschooling Feature

Listen in to this important roundtable discussion held this past Friday on homeschooling and how different families are meeting their children’s educational needs.

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https://m.soundcloud.com/900amwurd/mojo-21216-homeschooling-feature-pt-2

The Psychology Behind Your Mess: Why Creative Geniuses Often Flourish in Clutter

It’s funny I had just posted yesterday about not wanting someone to film me in my day to day life because of the clutter in my home and  this article by Anna Bashedly pops into my Facebook news feed. I grew up in a home where children were seen and not heard and we each had chores that had to do with keeping the house clean. As the only girl I spent more hours that I’d like to remember doing dishes for a house of six people, dusting as well as keeping my room clean as my assigned chores. Today I despise doing dishes (unless I’m at someone else’s house) to the extent that I would rather go to the store to purchase dish washer detergent before I’d tackle a sink full of dishes by hand. Yes, I am not ashamed to admit that ten years as the household dishwasher has brought me to this point! The ironic thing about being the “duster” of the family is that twenty years ago I found out that dust and mold are my major allergens and being around a large quantity of either can give me a full blown allergic reaction. I have to wear a contractor’s dust mask to clean my house. I say this all to say that I am not a neat freak, I usually hire someone to clean my home and I was afraid I had passed my disdain for cleaning to my children. I felt guilty until I learned about the connection between gifted and talented minds and what others see as clutter.

I once attended a conference sponsored by S.E.N.G. Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted to get insight into my son who at the age of four figured out how to count to 400 in Mandarin. One of the speakers spoke to us parents about not shaming our children because their rooms appeared to be “messy” all of the time. He told us that creative minds cannot start with a blank canvas and that what seems like clutter to us is inspiration and organization to them. I specifically remember him saying “unless there’s an old moldy slice of pizza under the bed, shut the door and leave his room alone!”. It’s a struggle but I do exactly that. Every few weeks I survey his room when he’s not there for moldy food and so far so good. I don’t invade his room, I ask him to collect his dirty clothes and bring them down to be washed, and I ask that he leave a path to the closet so I can use it for storage. I remember trying to “tidy up” his room and he would get so frustrated because although it looked like piles to me, he had his own method of organization and if I asked him to get something out of his room, he knew exactly where to go to put his fingers on it. I used to worry that I was creating a nightmare for his future wife but now I realize that allowing creative space for him to discover the cure for cancer is a better use of my concerns for his future.

Source: The Psychology Behind Your Mess: Why Creative Geniuses Often Flourish in Clutter

Food Issues:Supporting My Pescatarian Child

wp-1452777408745.jpgSo, my eight year old daughter decided she didn’t want to eat meat. She came into my bedroom one morning and announced it unexpectedly, and I listened and placed it into that small area in my brain to review later. It was by the way, the day before Thanksgiving and I just knew that she would reserve her stance for after the day of gluttony. Or so I thought.

My daughter is such a sensitive and loving child and has a very nurturing and innate connection to all of life’s creatures. She once brought what she thought was a caterpillar into the house to help it’s transformation, and we soon found out that it was a silkworm, not a caterpillar! Nevertheless she wanted to care for it I and found myself going to the local Arboretum to purchase a bug house for the tiny thing. I remember as a toddler the look on my daughter’s face when she realized I was cooking a small chicken in the oven that was once alive. “Mommy, are you cooking a baby chicken?” she asked me. I knew from then we would one day have this conversation. I had to laugh at first at the irony because I had nausea every single day she was in my womb and the only food that I could keep down was red meat, which I had stopped eating years prior to my pregnancy for other reasons.

Nevertheless the day progressed and we traveled to my Aunt Daisy’s home for Thanksgiving dinner. My aunt is a fabulous cook and laid a spread of food that spanned two rooms with every meat and side dish that you could imagine. I watched partly surprised yet proud that with all of the choices in front of her, my daughter packed her plate with salad, macaroni and cheese and sweet potatoes. When I saw her plate, forgetting about her proclamation a few days ago, I asked her if she wanted turkey. She was not tempted, and with a smile said “no Mommy” and walked to the table to sit down. I was speechless. I was surprised. I was proud. I was honestly a bit worried about how she could support her growing body without meat. It was then that she told me that she would eat seafood, but no other meat and I told her that I would completely support her. She gave me a big hug, said “you are the best Mommy ever” which she says often unless she’s not getting her way, and went to play with the other children.

I had no clue what to do from there. My son loves any kind of meat, and he’s a growing thirteen year old playing sports so I respect his choices. I eat fish and chicken but both baked and she eats only fish. All I could think about was how challenging it will be to stock the refrigerator and cook meals when both kids eat different things. It has been a learning experience for me and other than one bite of a turkey meatball, she has kept to her pledge since November 25th and I applaud her. I pack salads topped with strawberries, whole grain or protein bars, yogurt, hummus and chips, macaroni and cheese, tuna sandwiches and spinach quiche for lunch. She loves vegetables, hummus, fruit and yogurt so my only concern is getting enough protein in her diet. She loves cheese and scrambled eggs so she’s not willing to omit that at this time but it’s her journey and her choices to make today and change in the future as she would like. I’m thankful for friends who are vegetarians for sending me great ideas and recipes and I love that there are options for Tofurkey and other “meatless” chicken fingers and meatballs with great flavoring that even fool my son! I am learning about more healthy options for dinner and lunch and even snacks for her and she is feeling supported and learning about making good choices as well.

Isn’t it something how we think we are supporting and teaching and one day we realize that our children are truly the teachers?

What are some of your kid’s favorite meatless dishes?

150 Ways to Show Kids You Care: #104

wpid-img_103493663980444.jpegThis is the second post in a series based on the pamphlet “150 Ways to Show Kids You Care” (see previous post for link). I choose one of the items and share how I apply it with my children. Today as my son walked out the door to catch his bus my eyes fell on #104; Visit their school. This seems like a simple, no-brainer, but in this economy where many parents are working long days and sometimes two or three jobs, it’s very difficult to take the time off to visit their child’s school. I fortunately am self-employed and can schedule my clients around important meetings and/or events at my childrens’ school. I can’t stress enough the importance of showing up occasionally at your child’s school. Both administrators and teachers (not just your child’s teacher but the teachers who may have your child in their class in the future) are paying attention and notice the parents that walk the halls occasionally, volunteer at school events and reach out to the teacher if there is an issue at school. The idiom “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” is actually true. When you have a presence at your child’s school the teachers see you as a partner and supporter of not just your child but of the teacher and the school as a whole. Your presence also allows the school to become familiar with you as a positive contribution to the school and not just a parent who complains or shows up only when there is an issue with your child.

It doesn’t mean you have to volunteer to be the President of the PTG or the Classroom mom, but let the teacher know that you can make yourself available to help out with advanced notice a few times a year. Show up to a few PTG meetings in the evening, send email or notes to your child’s teacher once a month just to check in and give a compliment or suggestion. Buy an extra family-sized pack of snacks or a box of pencils at the beginning of the school year (or mid-year) and send them in with your student. Volunteer to chair or co-chair one of the school’s fundraisers, or at least sign up to support the event. If you are unable to visit your child’s school ask a sibling, parent or even grandparent to stand in your place. Maintain a presence in some manner and believe me when there is an issue at school, everyone involved will be more supportive, more inclined to hear you when they see you as an involved parent. They will also keep your child in mind when other educational and/or extra-curricular opportunities are available because they know that you will support them in their endeavors. The most important reason to show up is because your child is watching. They may not say it but it makes them feel loved and protected and more motivated when they know you care enough to take the time to support them at school.

Believe me, it works! Let me know how it works for you.

150 Ways To Show Kids You Care: #62

wpid-20150905_151221.jpgOne of the best tools that I took away from my training as a Parenting Partners Workshop Facilitator was the pamphlet “150 Ways To Show Kids You Care” (c) distributed by The Search Institute. The brochure lists 150 ways to interact with your children or other children in the community that would cause them to believe that you genuinely care about their well-being. I have it posted right next to my door as a reminder for me, amidst the daily rush in and out of the house, to make a conscious effort to connect with my kids. Again this list also applies to family members, your children’s friends, mentees or other children you nurture or spend time with. Sometimes I ask my children to pick one, sometimes I ask them to choose a number in between one and one hundred fifty and sometimes I close my eyes and choose whatever number my finger lands on. I will try each day to post the item that was chosen and write a little about how I applied it.

Today it landed on #62 “Encourage Win-Win Situations“.

Sometimes I’m not sure about how I will apply the item of the day but by the end of the day, the opportunity presents itself (or I get creative 🙂 . My thirteen year old son loves football. If he’s not playing himself, he’s playing it on Madden, watching College Football on television or videos about the science of football on You Tube. I’m not saying he’s the next Heisman Trophy winner but he is aggressive on defense, easily teachable and the coaches love him. I say all that not to brag but it helps you to understand the dilemma. His Quaker high school does not have a football team so I registered him with the local area football league. Several weeks into practice his coach reveals to me that the league was unable to recruit enough kids for the Senior 130 pound varsity team. This meant there was a strong possibility that my would not be able to play on the 120 varsity team at his current age and weight combination but he assured me the coaches were working on “trying to get him in”. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant but he somehow made weight for the first three home games and I didn’t think more about it. Last week was an away game and he didn’t make weight. The officials said he was 13 pounds over and would have to lose at least 6 or 7 to continue playing. I looked at my slim, still growing thirteen year old son (he’s about 5’3, 120 pounds) and knew that he did not have six pounds to lose! I knew he would be heartbroken, so I thought about item #62 and tried to figure out how to break it to him that may have to give up playing football with it being too late in the season to join another league. How could this situation end up as a win-win? I talked to my brothers, his father and a college friend who trains college athletes and they all concurred that he should be gaining weight, specifically via muscle rather than losing. I realized that his coaches didn’t have my son’s best interest in mind and were more concerned about winning games. It was slightly flattering, but I knew that I needed to talk to him and support him in making the right choice for him. I decided to approach him at his favorite place, on the trampoline in our yard, and we had the conversation. We talked first about his feelings on the matter and I shared mine. Though he would rather play, he understood the importance of gaining muscle especially in such an intense sport and agreed that if he was unable to play out the rest of the season he was okay with taking a weight training class at the local YMCA. He also knows that his parents have is best interest in mind and care about his happiness. I gave him choices and feedback and he learned how to look at his options and make the best choice for him. He’s content and I’m a happy parent. Win. Win.

Please feel free to share how you’ve applied this successfully. Thank you for reading and keep coming back!