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Reason Five: Different Levels and Styles

There are so many reasons we choose to homeschool. Here we are on the fifth one. I was thinking about this today as I hunted around on the internet for a worksheet for Brother-Bug. I was thinking about this yesterday as I worked with Sister-Bug as she read a BOB Book.

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Reason Five: Different Levels and Styles

Brother-Bug was a precocious reader. He came to me at 3 1/2 and said “Mama, I’m not really reading my books.” I asked him what he meant. “Well, I am only looking at the pictures. Not reading the words.” I asked him if he wanted to read the words. He said no. Two months later he was back. “Mama, I am ready to read the words now.” And he did. We got some easy readers, we played on Starfall. I expected him to lose interest in a couple of days. But everyday the first thing out of his mouth was “When is my reading time today?” He drove the project and read Hop On Pop independently before he turned four. By his fifth birthday he was reading things like Magic Treehouse to himself. Sister-Bug is almost five. She wants to be a reader, but it’s not her main priority. So we play sight word games and read some BOB books and use our felt alphabet to spell easy words. She has some reading games on the iPad and also enjoys Starfall. But it’s not easy for her like it was for Brother-Bug. She needs me to keep it fresh and engaging and fun. Brother-Bug needed me to reach the easy readers off the shelf.

As I write this, Toddler-Bug is sitting on my lap. He’s singing Mamma-Mia (ABBA…yes, I know…). He’s very musical and has crazy fine-motor skills. Eventually he is also going to learn to read and he will also learn in a different way. And that’s part of why we are here, homeschooling. Sister-Bug loves working systematically thorough a math workbook. Brother-Bug needs more challenge – he get’s math concepts very quickly and needs those concepts to change and grow and diversify. He gets so bored with a linear book.
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Because these are my kids, because I have watched them grow and learn and change from babies, I can make that distinction. Because they are the only 3 kids in my “class”, I can teach each one a different way and follow their lead on what they need and how they learn. And because of this, I believe they are learning deeply and well. They are not struggling to learn in a format that is unnatural for them, which would make that subject doubly challenging.

Additionally, we are not locked into a single grade level. Brother-Bug does 2-3rd grade math, but reads like a 4-5th grader. His writing is around 1st grade (that’s his hardest thing). Sister-Bug is just about on track for K-1st, but she’s still mostly playing in her school work and we don’t pay too much attention to her grade levels. No one is bored in an too easy class or frustrated in a too hard subject because I can adjust our lessons and experiences to fit in that niche of just challenging enough. I can pull us down a level if we are getting so frustrated we can’t learn or add complexity if we are feeling bored. I can add tactile elements for my SPD kid, or do all StarWars writing all the time to engage my StarWars obsessed child. It’s my choice, and their education, and I am so glad that we have the time and flexibility to reach each child in their time, and on their level.

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Want to see our other reasons to homeschool?

Reason One: A Hot Cup of Tea

Reason Two: School Scheduled Around Life

Reason Three: Play Happens

Reason Four: Getting Out or Staying In

Choosing Scouts

It all started with Sister-Bug. She’s super social. She’s very much “all girls- all the time”. Papa-Bug and I realized that she would do really well in Girl Scouts. We looked into the organization and felt like it was good, forward thinking, very accepting, and something we could support. In a wonderful coincidence, a friend of Brother-Bug’s needed some younger Scout members in her troop. We explained the concepts of Scouts to Sister-Bug. She was all in. We bought the tunic and patches.

She had a great investiture (that’s a big word for a kid to say…and I love hearing her try to say it) and was so proud of herself. Brother-Bug looked on. And later told us he wanted to do some scouts. The uniform…the patches… It was all so alluring.

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But… … Boy Scouts? Cub Scouts?

Now, my dad was an Eagle, so I had heard good things about scouts while I was growing up. But the politics. The anti-gay, “morally straight” yuckiness of it all. We explained to Brother-Bug that the Boy Scouts had some politics we really, really didn’t agree with. He was on the fence. He knows that our politics are important to us and of course he wants to please us. But he also was really interested in Scouts. What to do?

I started calling around, asking people I knew about Scouts in the area and what they would do with my quirky son and his outspoken, justice-oriented parents. I couldn’t find any alternative scouting groups like Campfire Kids or Spiral Scouts. The nature schools were all really expensive. I kept coming back to Cub Scouts as the only viable option at the present time.

This spurred a number of great discussions in our family. We’ve talked about how my politics, and Papa-Bug’s politics, and Brother-Bugs politics aren’t all the same – and they shouldn’t be. We should question and explore and disagree and discuss. If he’s okay with Scouts, then that is ultimately his choice. We’ve talked about the power of the boycott and why boycotting Boy Scouts until they change their ways might be one choice to make, but also how we can sometimes change organizations because we are a part of them and that kind of internal shifting that also can happen. Both are good options.

Ultimately what we want to do as parents is help our kids follow their dreams and desires with awareness. Shutting down something our child is interested in, simply because it makes us uncomfortable isn’t fair to that child. Our job is to keep them safe and thriving. And what they learn from us and our responses to events and decisions in their lives…that’s going to matter much more than many other details that touch their days.

So we kept looking.

Brother-Bug and I visited one area group. It wasn’t a good fit. The leader looked at me like I was turning plaid when I asked how her group felt about bullying, queer kids, and gender creative kids (and I hadn’t even mentioned queer Scout leaders or cultural appropriation yet!). I left worried about both meeting Brother-Bug’s desires and also finding him a safe space. He left happy that there had been ice cream, and still on the fence.

While I was at that meeting, Papa-Bug opened up a discussion about Scouts on his Facebook wall. It was interesting, and I was able to connect with some adult Scouts from the area who know our family well enough to know what kind of a group we need. They put me in touch with other leaders who are open minded and accepting of the quirky people. I spent a lot of time on the phone, talking with many pack leaders. I was moved by the number of good and kind people who reached out to my family to help us and to make sure we felt supported. The larger group politics may be out of sync with my reality, but the local groups I talked to are very open, and many of them are working hard to change those politics.

Finally we found a pack. We bought the shirt and the patches (and let me tell you – with two kids in scouts it is so good I am handy with a needle). It’s not a perfect pack. Boy Scouts still has a long way to go and a lot of challenges to face. But I am confident that my child will be safe and treated with respect. And the look on Brother-Bug’s face when he called my dad to tell him he had found a Cub Scout Pack made it all worth it. He felt so good, so proud of himself.

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Of all the “moms” on the list, I never thought I would find myself a “scout mom”. It’s been an interesting journey to start, and I’m sure it will keep on challenging me in ways that I don’t expect. But here we are with two kids in scouts, and I’d better stop writing and go finish sewing on their patches.

Random Reads: Hard, but Good

I spend a lot of time roaming the children’s section at the library. I come home with piles of picture books to try out. I did this even before I had kids to read to. Random Reads is a weekly feature of something I found at the library and loved.

I won’t give you too much of a description of synopsis, and no spoilers! Age recommendations are only approximate. Every book I put in Random Reads is one that I have read and highly recommend. Enjoy!

A Shelter in Our Car by Monica Gunning and illustrated by Elaine Pedlar is amazing. It is hard to read. Neither parent in our home could get through this book with dry eyes. The painful and difficult issues of a homeless child are presented compassionately and honestly. This is a great book to start that conversation with your kids. I would read this book to anyone four or older.

Brother-Bug gave it 3 stars.

Sister-Bug gave it 5 stars and has desired repeated readings.

Toddler-Bug was napping, probably dreaming of Zebras.

If you get a chance to read this one let me know: What did you think?

Dr. King Cakes

The recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is important to us. But how to convey his message to little ones? In our earnest desire to convey they importance of Dr. King's work, we have turned Brother-Bug off from this holiday. He noticed that MLK day was on the calendar and he rolled his eyes. We might have over done it.

In a conversation with a friend, she mentioned that they always bake cupcakes for Dr. King because it is a celebration of his birthday. A cupcake gets a place at an ancestor's plate at their table for him. Her kid looks forward to MLK day. I took her idea and realized that a lot of teaching could be done with a cupcake.

So, to the kitchen!

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I made a basic cupcake. Just plain yellow cake with a little orange. But then…

Some of the cakes are filled with marmalade. Some have chocolate icing and some have vanilla. Some have sprinkles and some are not sprinkled. And you can't tell if it is filled cupcake just by looking! Can you see where I am going with this?

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We all have a body – that's the cupcake. We all have skin – frosting! We all have different attributes – rich/poor, fancy/plain, etc./whatever – those are the sprinkles. But you can't judge a cupcake by its sprinkles. You don't know what the inside is like until you look inside. Not all cupcakes are the same.

Not all people are the same.

But we can enjoy them, with or without sprinkles.

Happy Martin Luther King Day.

 

Children & Cultural Appropriation

A friend of Brother-Bug recently had a birthday party. The friend loves Aikido and Asian food; Japanese culture fascinates him. So he chose an Asian theme for his party, dress-up encouraged.

Papa-Bug's concerns about cultural appropriation started to make themselves known. The Mama had tried to explain cultural appropriation to her eight-year old, but he didn't really get it. And something wasn't sitting right for me, but it wasn't the idea of Asian costumes on Caucasian children.

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Here's the thing. Kids play. It's their job. It's how they learn. It's how they take information they encounter and make sense of it. It's how they process their feelings, fascinations, and experiences. This play is usually imaginative in nature; involving role play, story creation and/or re-telling, and dress up. This is really important work that they do to understand the world around them. I did it. You probably did it too.

We “enlightened” parents carefully and thoughtfully expose our children to other cultures. We enroll them in Aikido. They learn Spanish. We attend local cultural festivals. We eat different foods and read world folk tales. We want our children to grow up knowing that there are other ideas and ways and faces out there. This is called cultural literacy. It's one reason Brother-Bug has his pen pal in Uganda.

If kids are going to be introduced to other cultures and new cultural information…well, they're going to play with it. They will work that story, experience, or interaction into their games. It might involve dress up. It might involve mimicry actions which we (adults with years of context) might see as “cultural appropriation”.

But never fear. Our kids aren't doing anything wrong or disrespectful. They are doing what kids all over the world have always done. Playing. Making sense of their world and the puzzle pieces in it. This is good. This means they are paying attention to all our efforts to show them other peoples and that they care about understanding those different cultures. If they didn't care, if they weren't interested, they wouldn't play.

What can parents do here though? We want the play to be genuine, but we also don't want to end up with hurt feelings from our friends in other cultures,and we certainly don't want our children to learn that actions which trivialize other cultures are okay. We have to do what we are doing anyway – engage in enthusiastic exploration with our kids.

Out to Chinese food? An excellent time to figure out what is eaten regularly in China. Is the food we eat at our local restaurant similar? When would a Chinese family eat Sweet & Sour Pork? Wanting to dress up in cultural costumes? A time to find out when these costumes are usually worn. Find someone from that culture to learn about the costume and make sure it is worn correctly.

I believe when we try to explain the vast and unwieldy concepts of cultural appropriation to our young children, we run a real risk of teaching them something else. A young child – someone for whom imaginative play is still a daily activity – doesn't have the context to understand what we valiantly try to explain. I fear that children will possibly interpret the attempted explanation as “exploring other cultures is fraught with peril, stressful to your parents, and something you might seriously mess up.” I suspect that Brother-Bug (who hates to do things if he might mess up) might hear that kind of message as “Don't Do It” and send him away from his healthy, playful exploration of different people, scared of messing up learning about people. And that's scary to me.

There is plenty of time in my kids' lives to explain and grapple with what people their color have done to people of other colors. We will keep talking about why we, as grown ups, don't like the Indians in Peter Pan or the many depictions of non-white people in Tin-Tin. I'm not dropping the efforts we make to talk about race and awareness with my kids. These things are real and I want to lay the foundation now for deeper understanding in the future.

But I'm going to fight against the idea that a child dressing up in Chinese pajamas is doing anything other than having fun and trying to see what it might feel like in a Chinese child's clothes. I'm going to see these as Yes! Moments; a chance to explore and learn and bring people different from us into our circle and awareness.

I'm going to fight rascism and cultural appropriation in my family by continuing to encourage my children's knowledge of other peoples. And that might mean going to a Native American friend to ask about the appropriate time to wear a feather in our hair, or asking our Japanese step-grandpa what coming of age traditions we can borrow for a birthday party. Because I believe it is by knowing other people, by seeing their lives and learning their ways, understanding where we are different and where we are the same, that my children can grow up willing to be friends and allies to people of other cultures when needed.

 

An Easter Tale

In December I wrote about how we tell The Christmas Story in our family. These are important stories that shape our culture. We want our kids to know them; to know the story, what we think of the story, and that this is a pivot ol story for many people out there. I believe that this kind of religious education is the basis for my kids having a sense of respect for all the many paths toward The Divine.

 

We've started out with Christmas and Easter because they are visible; those fill the stores with much desired candy and gimcracks. Also they are the traditions that are familiar to Papa-Bug and me. I'm looking forward to exploration and deepening understanding of other cultural and religious traditions as we get older. I'm not really looking forward to explains religious wars, but hopefully we can do so with grace and respect…

 

The challenge is to tell these stories in ways that are respectful, but also true for our family. We have great respect for the teachings of Jesus (among others) and celebrate the hard work he did toward a more peaceful planet. We don't believe that Jesus is the only path to The Divine, but honor people who do believe that. It's a tricky balancing act, and we might be screwing it up. But my hope is that what they see and learn is not so much the story, but parents who want to teach a message of Love and respect.

 

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When Jesus was a grown man he became a great teacher. He travelled and taught people about being close to God and The Divine. He taught that everyone deserves love and respect; that everyone is a child of The Divine. He taught that we should not judge and that we should Love each other no matter what. This message was really scary to some of the powerful people of the time.

 

The powerful people took Jesus and tried him in a court and decided that they were too scared of his message and that Jesus should die. All of the people who loved Jesus and believed the message of Love were very, very sad. Jesus told them not to be too sad, that this was all a part of the Love and was a chance for everyone to learn something new. He told them not to be angry at the powerful people, but to take this opportunity to show all the people how to always act in a loving way, no matter what.

 

Jesus died on a Friday, and magic started to happen. On Sunday morning his family and friends went to where his body had been laid, but his body was not there. They were scared and confused, but Jesus came to them looking like a living person, like he had never been killed. He told his friends and family that The Divine had brought him back for a short time so that all the people could learn that death would not stop Love. Love lives on and on as long a we believe in it and send it out into the world.

 

No matter what happens, it's all about the Love.

 

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We will have Easter baskets, and egg hunts, and enjoy the day. We will also teach our story, and hope that seeds of Love take root and keep growing and growing in our kids.

Happy Easter. May Love reign.

 

Gender Neutral?

Posted on

Shoes for any gender?

I read this article today.

Five Ways Parents Can Reduce Gender Steryotyping Children

All five ideas are familiar to me. I remember having serious conversations with Papa-Bug while we waited on our first baby's arrival. We didn't know the gender. We committed to non-steryoptyed toys. We discussed that so much of gender expression is taught, not just the way a kid is born. We were so inspired. We still are, but I know I've learened a lot about gender from my kids in the past 6 1/2 years.

It's true. A lot of gender is taught. But…

Articles like the one I linked feel as though they assume that it is simple to teach. That we aren't born with a basic set of gender ideas for ourselves. That a human infant is a blank slate for culture to write gender preconceptions on.

I had a boy, then a girl. My boy played with blocks and we read him books with all varieties of heroes. He loved trucks for a young age. He read every book he could get his hands on (still does). If you're a regular reader, you know he wears pants or dresses. We refer to him as gender flexible. The most gendered thing about him was his love of all things vehicular. When Sister-Bug was born, the fleet of toy trucks in this house was impressive.

I assumed that she would play with trucks because those were the toys around her play space. She had similar access to toys and books of many varieties. She read mostly truck books in her first year because that's what we were reading to Brother-Bug. And she did play with trucks. Just before she turned one she picked out a toy dump truck, wrapped it in a washcloth, and put it to bed. She is “all girl”, in many of the most stereotypical ways. And she didn't learn a lot of that from here. She has always been this way, just as her Big Brother has always been his way…whatever that is.

It's the classic nature vs. nurture question. I won't claim any answers at all.

What I know is that all my kids are individuals, no matter how many gender neutral books I read them, and I think we overlook that a lot. They were individuals when they were newborns, not blank slates on which I could paint my ideal child. We can do a lot to help kids love who they are; we can support who and what they love; we can show them different ideas by reading them things like “The Paper Bag Princess”.

We can carefully monitor our childrens media and friends and the gender messages a child is receiving. But they are their own people. It just might happen that the thing that brings your daughter the most joy in the world – that thing that brings her biggest smile out – is a Disney Princess. So, regardless of your best intentions and efforts, your child still might tell you point blank that she won't play the “Burly Princess” game because she wants to only be a “Nice Princess”.

And that's great. Because this stuff isn't clear cut, so I'm focusing on the real goal. Ultimately what I want is children who believe in themselves and follow their dreams.