Wednesday, August 20, 2008

a cool cloak of bracing air

“This was one of those perfect …days in late summer where the spirit of autumn takes a first stealing flight, like a spy,…. and, with feigned sympathy for those who droop with August heat, puts her cool cloak of bracing air about leaf and flower and human shoulders.”Sarah Orne Jewett

So yes, it was cool today; I actually had to get a fire going because we were all shivering. And only last week it was 107 degrees down in the valley, and humid. Brendan, who notices these things, noticed that the barometer was almost flooding its receptacle, so once again its prophetic talent is affirmed.

The coolness was good for Sean’s sake, since this was the first week practicing in full gear, and he said he scored a touchdown in practice.

It also has made it easy for me to bake — pizza, oatmeal bread, peanut butter muffins and ginger cookies in the last few days.

Sean was up late last night working on his first language arts paper. He was supposed to take one of the life events on his “Life Map” that he had done the previous week, and write a five-paragraph passage about it using lots of sensory details. He didn’t get home till six, and by the time he finished dinner it was after seven. Then he watched a movie with his family (”Meet the Robinsons”). Then he sat down to work. Then he kept sitting there, agonizing, for about the next hour. He had decided to write about a memorable football game from his Pop Warner season, so he went and got the local newspaper article to refresh his memory about the scores and plays. But the “sensory description” part boggled his imagination, and he couldn’t make himself start.

Finally, Kevin managed to sort of half-joke him into the first sentence. I had already given him the standard advice “just start writing and fix later”, etc. Kevin started reading Sean old bios from his high school reunion booklet and making up life events for Sean based on them “I got my PhD at Wisconsin and then taught for ten years….” and Sean started laughing and some of his stress diminished. Pretty soon he was typing away. At these times I am glad the kid has two parents. In our family, it seems, laughter is the way out of a lot of difficulties.

The final product didn’t have many sensory details, but was a nice clear well-paced little account in football-speak. He noticed the jargon on the second draft and rephrased it to make it more audience-friendly, of his own volition. It had a couple of spelling errors — I am trying to be a mom not a teacher, so I stayed way on the sidelines and didn’t point them out– interesting balance. I expect he’ll get marked down by the rubric chart because he didn’t quite comply with the requirements but I don’t know by how much. I figured these first weeks were going to be a learning time in several ways — they always are with new teachers and new expectations and a new level of school but of course, he has to transition in more ways than that.

In general though, this schooling experience seems to be confirming that a relaxed, unschooly approach can work just fine and save So. Much. Time. I don’t think he ever worked at assigned academics for more than 2 hours a day in his whole homeschool career, but this work he is bringing home is well within his zone. Obviously, personal narratives for composition are going to be on the challenging side of the zone, particularly since we don’t do those much in the homeschool, but it wasn’t like it was beyond his ability.

I remember once talking to a Dad who was unschooling his son. He said that when he was a kid at a rigorous Catholic school, he got to go for a month trip to Ireland with a few people in his class. A monk tutored them for something like 3 hours a week while they were on the trip — when the group got back to the US and resumed normal academics, they were *ahead* of their class.

The days are starting to fall into our new routine — I love these changing times of year. Really, I hate realizing that changes are going to happen, but when the new things do start falling into place, it’s invigorating.