Friday, February 20, 2015

On pajamas and social norms

Afternoon snack with D in a jedi costume and Q in his footy pjs.

I just saw facebook thread among parents over whether or not it's ok for kids to want to wear pajamas during the day, like to school. The original poster was venting about having a huge fight with her kid over wearing pjs, and the kid ended up getting dropped off at school in her pjs after all, with "the most boring clothes I could find" for her to change into once she decided to do so. Today my 4yo went to preschool wearing his fleece footy pjs for the second time this week-- unconventional, sure, but he's 4 and he's comfortable, and what does it really matter, anyway? But people felt like it's really important to abide by these rules and conventions about what sorts of clothing is appropriate.

It got me thinking about the question of socialization that so often gets thrown at homeschoolers. People mean a whole range of things by "socialization" but at least one of the meanings is learning the established rules of polite society and abiding by them. Many worry that by homeschooling, kids don't learn these rules, which makes them socially awkward and unable to navigate the world like they're supposed to.

But the thing is, I don't think homeschoolers don't learn these rules. I think they get the chance to really examine and question these rules and realize that most of them are completely arbitrary, and that they have the freedom not to follow them if they don't want to.

Maybe we lose something by refusing to follow norms that don't make sense to us. But we gain something, too. This morning I could have demanded that Q change into daytime clothes. It would have undoubtedly turned into a fight, an unnecessary power struggle that ruined both our mornings. Why? Surely by the time he is a grown-up he will learn about the unwritten rules of dress codes, even if I don't force him to abide by them at this young age. Why waste that energy and damage our relationship clothes?

[Aside: one of the things I'm loving about growing older is realizing that I don't have to care what other people think, I can do what feels good and right to me regardless of judgement. That, in short, I don't have to follow social conventions that don't make sense to me, in favor of ones that do. How liberating it is to realize this, now in my 30s. How sad that it took this long, that I wasted so many years fretting and feeling insecure. How amazing it would have been to have felt this freedom all along.]

Every parent has to choose the battles they are willing to fight with their kids, and I don't mean to make value judgements on others' choices though I'm sure that's what it sounds like. Life with a 4yo is tumultuous and rocky enough as it is, and I'm happy to let go of stuff that doesn't really matter in order to help us have happier days.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cool Things This Week

  • D & Q have gotten back into liking The Magic Schoolbus, and discovered Octonauts on netflix, so that's been fun. I don't mind them loving Avengers and other superhero shows, but it does make me feel a little better when they take a break from the more violent shows. And, we've been learning about things like "sea snot" and the humuhumunukunukuapua'a fish long the way. ; )
  • The lemonade stand project this week was awesome. D is planning to walk down to the toy store today to pick out a new toy with the cash he made.
  • We took another short road trip to visit our friend Sasha. She has an off schedule (her "weekends" are thurs & fridays) and I do love that we can take off to hang out with her during the weekday. 
  • The weather has been gorgeous lately, uncharacteristically warm (even for our warm California winters). Yesterday we took advantage and drove to the beach for the day. The boys loved playing in the waves, and found a few baby sand crabs while digging in the sand with a couple other kids they met there. 

Strewing on the walls

At the last homeschool park day we went to last week, one of the moms mentioned that she has all these posters with maps and diagrams, etc, up in her bathroom because she realized her kids spend a lot of time, er, "sitting on the throne" and are thus still enough to notice and become interested in things that they otherwise might not notice in other parts of the house.

I thought this was genius. And so true. It feels like often my kids don't notice things I've tried to strew around the houser because they are already so caught up in what they're doing, they just don't see it or pay much attention to it.

I came home from that park day and found a poster about the history of the earth that I had forgotten we had, and put it up in the bathroom. That night during bath time, both boys started asking questions about it and having me read parts of it to them. Squeewoot!

I've been thinking of where else I can utilize this idea, where else they tend to sit still long enough to let their minds and eyes wander and notice things they may otherwise look over... and the kitchen is another good spot, so I'm trying to take advantage of that. Scrolling through pinterest the other day I came across these "math garden" stones and for once thought a pinterest idea was both 1) awesome and 2) doable by me, so I grabbed some construction paper and scissors and made a few visual representations of common fractions and posted them around the kitchen (where we tend to use fractions most, when we do bake, and also where I hoped they'd catch their eye while sitting at the table eating.

I'm kinda excited about all the possibilities here... =)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Lemonade Stand

Earlier this week I invited D to make lemon muffins with me, using lemons from a bush next to our house. Once the muffins were in the oven he asked about making lemonade, so he ran out to get a few more lemons and we got to working on some lemonade. In the middle of that, he got the idea to make even more lemonade, and sell it for cash. I wondered if this would be one of those things that he thought of fleetingly, then quickly lost interest in, but nope-- he ran out to get more lemons and spent much of the morning and squeezing the juice out of them. I helped him make some simple syrup and mix in water, then he wrote up a sign and set up his little shop on the front yard. I wondered how long he would sit out there before getting bored... Welp, he was out there for a good hour and a half, with enough customers straggling through that he stayed encouraged. He at first set his price a bit high, but after a customer complaint adjusted it down (from $3 to $1 per cup) and sold 9 cups.

That was on tuesday. He talked about selling more lemonade on wednesday but he kinda got distracted with other stuff, but then yesterday (saturday) he got himself all set up again and sold more lemonade. I'm curious to see how long he'll keep it up, but I am so proud of him for following through on this idea of his.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

On Grades and Hierarchies

I've been reading John Holt's book, Instead of Education, slowly over the past couple of months. There are some parts that I've found very intriguing, others that seem kinda... meh. But one section really made me sit up and underline half the chapter-- when he spoke about grades, and "why Schools need to fail."
Schools say, and many School people believe, that they really want all children to succeed, to learn all that the Schools are trying to teach them. But if someday, somewhere, a Teacher ever did the job he was paid to do, and got all his kids to learn all the stuff he was teaching, he would have to give them all As. (p160)
He goes on to explain how if a teacher did give all his or her students As, everyone-- from the school faculty to the parents-- would complain, demanding why the teacher was giving everyone such good grades, demanding that the material be harder so that the grades "mean something." Demanding that the material be difficult enough that some percentage of the class, by necessity, will fail at it. We claim we want all kids to succeed, that we want "no child left behind," yet we have no real expectation of all kids actually succeeding, and if they do we start griping about grade inflation and how clearly those high grades can't have been earned-- that's inconceivable.
The first thing any new Teacher had better learn is that nobody wants all the kids to win. From the university down to the elementary school, giving all high grades is a sure way to get in serious trouble, even to be fired. One teacher is a large state university sent me a copy of a letter from a dean, telling him that by giving all his students high grades he was undermining the process of selection which was one of the chief functions of the university. 
As long as Schools are allowed to give grades, they cannot afford not to [eg use pass/fail instead of letter grades], for to give no grades is to give the worst grade of all. By the same token, they cannot afford to give all good grades, to say that all of the students are winners. They are, after all, selling tickets to jobs and careers. The more good grades they give, the less their tickets are worth. The "best" colleges and universities are those that can say that their standards are so high that almost no students are good enough to meet them. (p161)
I remember a few teachers in high school and many professors in college grading tests on a "curve", where regardless of how well or poorly the class as a whole did on the test, there would be a certain number of As, Bs, and Cs given, determined by the distribution of test scores along a bell curve. Everyone accepted this as "fair" or maybe just the way you did it. Something always struck me as so strange about that grading system.

There certainly were times when I was glad for the curve. One of the last courses I took in college was a class on evolution. I found the class fascinating, but it was incredibly difficult as well (it was a mixed under/graduate class). I was super nervous about taking the final, as my grade for the class would be determined by my score and I needed to pass the class in order to graduate that semester (I needed the credits to fulfill my biology minor). I went in to see the professor a day or two after the exam, to speak to him directly to ask if I had passed or failed. It turned out I got a 64 on the final... which, thanks to the curve, turned out to be an A, because most of the other people in the class got scores in the 30s and 40s. I was thrilled to have "aced" the test despite the "failing" grade, and thus pass the class. And yet, if most of the class got 30s and 40s on the final exam, doesn't that mean there's something seriously flawed? With the test, or the course as a whole?

Back then I couldn't put my finger on why I disliked grading on a curve, maybe because it was just so accepted that it felt like I was the odd one to question it. But after reading Holt's words it seems obvious...

By grading on a curve, you strip away all pretense of using grades as a measure of retention of information learned by each student, admitting that really those grades are purely a way to rank students against each other. The students are not graded based on what they learned, but on whether they can perform better than the others in their class. I guess this is part of what's "accepted" about schools, especially up into college-- that teachers are there to "weed out" students and purposefully flunk a certain percentage of each class. But how can we even try to claim that we want all students to succeed, if this is the system we have set up?