Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mo science

Here's Morgan having a grand old time with her new "chemistry" set. Most of the "experiments" involved polymers that expanded in some fashion with the addition of water, some quickly, some slowly. The results looked like snow, jello, and less describable goos.

There was also an intriguing sand that had been treated with a water resistant coating. Rayan was interested in that one, and commented that it reminded him of the way water doesn't seem to "stick" to leaves. He probably learned more science wandering in and out of the kitchen that morning than he has all year in school.

Once we'd gone through the basic mixtures, Morgan wanted to explore some on her own. We had some of everything left over, so she had a good time making mixes of mixes and squishing everything together with her fingers. The last pic shows her trying to mold the resultant goo into shapes with an old block-sorter toy. That didn't work so well, but maybe she'd like to try it again with the new clay.

The Farm School at Home

Since we are in the process of getting registered with the Farm I thought I'd post some information about homeschooling in TN in general and The Farm in particular. TN has three different ways to register as a homeschooler. The first is with the local education agency and is really the simplest. Its free if you do it on time, and there's a minimum of requirements - attendance records, not exactly a stretch. That's been the plan for Mo, but there are complications with Rayan - those being that George has no high-school diploma, and he and I aren't married, so I'm not a "legal" guardian.

Option 2 is an "umbrella school" where basically a church provides the curriculum and we would follow it. Not for us, for obvious reasons. There are no Unitarian umbrella schools in TN, about the only "acceptable" option for us.

Option 3 is a variation on the umbrella school idea, where we would sign up with a "Private Church Related School" as a "satellite campus" - basically the school agrees to "hire" us as teachers and we become part of a private school. There are two of these that don't regulate what kind of curriculum we use, one requires a statement of Faith, the other a statement of Ethics, and we would, under other circumstances, go with that for conveniece. But now we don't have to!

The Farm in Summertown has been recognized by the state of TN as a bona-fide church related (option 3) school:

TheFarm School is operated by The Church of the Farm Religious Community andaccredited by the National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools(

and has set up a satellite campus program. No statement of anything, just send money. Very American of them, but don't tell them I said so ;) We were a little concerned when we saw the first-draft registration form, since it asked about the education of the parents and all that stuff we were trying to get away from! I contacted the person who is handling the satellite campus stuff and she assured me that they would sort it all out in the name of providing support for alternative families and, oh, what was the expression she used, something about alternative education, or maybe anti-authoritarian education....whatever. What happened was the board realized they wanted to do less paperwork and dropped all the educational and marital requirements for "parents" and are re-doing the form. As I said, Very American - just send money!

Anyway, here's their high-fallutin' mission statement an' all:

Vision & Mission

We envision a world where all people live in peace and harmony with each other and our planet. We are committed to helping our students become leaders towards a peaceful, just and ecologically sustainable world. We seek to help our students manifest a peaceful and harmonious world.

Educational Philosophy

At The Farm School students learn as they apply basic skills and content to real-world problems with a focus on peace, equality and sustainability. We use responsive curriculum to connect what our students learn to their and our community's needs, interests, experiences and values.

The Farm School @ Home services

The Farm School is a community school and homeschool resource center. We are very excited to be able to offer an alternative for homeschool families that, for whatever reason, are not comfortable registering with their Local Educational Agency (LEA) or with a denominational Church Related School(CRS). We require no statement of faith and are not interested in mandating curriculum or any other decisions. We believe in responsive education matched to the needs, interests and experiences of individual children. And we believe that the adults best able to negotiate curriculum with children are the adults spending time with those children on a daily basis.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It looks like this

Here's a pic of Rayan carving - he added in the lettering. Lots of fun. I have set up a separate blog just for him, but I still think of this as the "family blog", so it needed a shot of Rayan doing his new thing.
Things are going well, for the most part. He's cheerful and friendly and offers to help out.... I'm hoping that as long as we can keep following his lead in terms of interests, etc, that will continue, too. I'm encouraged, in that regard, by my reading on the unschooling forums - lots of stories of teens who aren't angry and rebellious. What a concept!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

First days of deschooling

Monday went famously well - it can't all be this good! Rayan was thrilled to be home, slept in, hung out, ate some chocolate-chip muffins I'd made - he's missed a lot of my baked breakfasts since he was having to leave so early. I found this big box that we'd been saving to make a playhouse with Morgan, and offered to let him spray-paint it, if he wanted. Well, he was just over the moon! Emptied his can of black paint in minutes, so after lunch we made a run to the store for more. He's still so shocked when I tell him I'll pay for things (buget willing). We also picked up some poster board for stencils.

Once we got back he added some red and blue details to the box - must get a pic of this for y'all - and then decided it was time to paint his skateboard. That's what he wanted stencils for. I'm used to making stencils for quilt stuff, so I showed him how I do it and how I use the copier to make things different sizes. What do they teach in these schools? I helped him cut the stencils and tape them to the board. Loads of fun.

It was so exciting to see him motivated - he's usually so passive. It gave me a great big surge of hope. He really can do things when he wants to - its just that school has left him wanting to do so little. He kept talking about all sorts of other things he could paint - clothes, the old fridge in the barn. He wants to paint the fence around the garden, but I think I'd like to see a design for that first. With the fence, the garden felt like an extra room to the house this year, so I'm leary of having it spray-painted just yet.

One of the things that made Monday work out so smoothly was Morgan. She watched movies in bed all morning and then got really involved in a project of her own as soon as we got home from the store, so I could give Rayan all the attention he needed. He's still pretty needy and uncertain in alot of ways. Morgan's much more autonomous.

Tuesday she came downstairs pretty early, so I had to do more "juggling" of kid needs and energy. Tricky stuff - the differences in the two kids make it easy to sort of overlook her, and I don't want to do that, for sure. At the same time, I don't want Rayan to feel like he's the "second best" kid, since he's the "step". Good thing I've been practicing juggling all summer.

Wednesday I worked at Barb's so George got to take the kids to the park and hang out with the homeschoolers. Everyone had fun - and Rayan learned to carve! That's a skateboarding term, folks! Its when you go around the sides of the bowl - okay, darnit, I'm going to have to figure out how to make hyperlinks so y'all can read about it in wikipedia or something, I'm not defining all these words for y'all!

I've set up another blog just for stuff about Rayan - mostly to provide some kind of documentation for his mom at this point, but if she mellows out, maybe it will even be interesting. We'll see about that.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Up to date at last!

Sorry for the string of copied posts from the message boards, folks! It's just been too overwhelming to try to keep track of things in more than one place at a time.

Good news! Amy said we could go ahead and homeschool and she would "step back from that". She did offer transportation to the Y, etc. So today (Monday) was our first official day of homeschooling. There are still some paperwork details to take care of - The Farm has its homeschool program set up, but haven't got their forms sorted out yet (dang hippies!). Jacki, who's coordinating the middle TN area says not to worry, we can always back-date the darn things. So that's fine.

Today was fabulous all 'round. I have a kind of long description of it, hand written, but I'm too tired, I'll post it tomorrow.

I'm planning on putting the blog address "out there" more in the unschooling community, since they've all been letting me cry on their shoulders, as it were, and now seem to want to keep up with details.

Nov 30

Re: Blended families - adding a step child to your family
--- In, "Melynda Laurent" wrote:
>> Has anyone added a step child who comes from a rigid, authoritarian
> home to their unschooing family? Or does anyone have any thoughts on
> how do do it?

Well, my stepson (13) started living with its all a haze...three weeks ago? We're in the position of negotiating with mom about homeschooling *still*. Rayan's mom doesn't so much support him being here as "can't control him anymore" - so, yes, I guess you could say he's been in "an overly controlling family". We don't have the option of diving head-first into unschooling, but the current plan is to "take a break from school" the moment mom gives the go signal, and hopefully just stay on vacation. In the meantime we're trying to unschool everything but school, iykwim.

Since we already are unschooling Morgan, part of the way we're explaining things to Ray is to say "well, she gets to do it,why not you?" which seems to be blowing his mind a little, but he can totally see the logic there. We haven't sat him down and explained unschooling, though. We're just trying to say "Yes" as often as possible, and make the same kinds of friendly offers we do with Mo.

> I am wondering if we should
> throw him staight into the unschooling life style or should we keep
> him in school and let him norm to our family first?

We kind of thought that Ray being in school *might* make the transition easier. Now we're not so sure about that. Its not just that dealing with school is such a major hassle, its that Ray's not*here* so he's not really learning how our family really *is*. Last week was T'giving and before that he was suspended - so he was home for ten days straight. It was really great. Okay, sure, there were ups and downs, but with him here all day long it was sooooomuch easier for him to get a feel for the rhythem of the day. He started figuring out how to move in and out of Mo's very busy lifestyle. I started figuring out what he ate and how much and when to offer him things. We had some good conversations and I felt likeI was just starting to have some vague idea of what kinds of things he might be into. Then BLAMMO back to school again, and we never see him except when he's tired and PO'd.

How old is your dss? Does he want to stay in school or come homeright away? Does his mom support y'all's home/unschooling?
> he lives with his
> mom and step dad who do not even allow him to make his own toast

Expect to have to do a lot of offerring and reassuring as though for a much younger child: "do you want to get your own or would you rather I did it?" "would you like some help with that?" "Oh, yes,I'm happy to get that - you know you can get your own, if you want,too, you don't *have* to ask". I have to keep reminding myself that Ray doesn't necessarily have the skills Mo has (boiling water, using the microwave) and also that it may be overwhelming to expect him to learn those things right away.

Consider letting him have a "stash" of treats just for him - Ray really likes this, especially since he "gets" to keep it in his room (ooooooh aaaaaaah! food in the bedroom! next she'll say its okay to eat in front of the tv...) and/or doing some other nice, friendly,unschooly things to "welcome him to the family".Congratulations!

And later:

> having him with all the needs he will
> bring, beginning unschooling and a new baby seem really overwhelming
> and honestly, unfair to OUR family

One of the things I've been working on, personally, is thinking about Rayan as a member of my family. He's been a visitor for so long. This goes much deeper than remembering to make twice as much spaghetti or strew opportunities for an older, very different personality. I'm having to *learn* to think of my whole family differently - as Ray's family.

I can hear an earlier part of my process in your post - what's this going to do to *us*? I realized that Rayan moving in wasn't just a matter of giving him bedspace, I had to stop thinking of an Us that didn't include Him. That's hard. But its essential. If this *isn't* Rayan's family as much as Mo's then he is a second-class citizen in this house. He'll know that and it will create resentment.

OTOH, once I started working on thinking of Rayan as a part of "us",a big load of resentment fell away - on my part. He's not an interloper or a visitor. His wants and needs are just as much a part of my consideration as mine, Mo's, George's. I don't know how to *meet* them all, yet! but I can at least acknowledge, validate, and be open to possibilities.

> Thanks Meredith. You have some good insights into this.

I don't know how good they are, but they're fresh!

just a little snapshot of our lives - Nov 29

Re: Need Help -Principles/Rules and Sibling Rivalry
--- In, Amanda wrote:
>> Most days I realize that if I'd have said less, the day would've
>been better.

Sigh. I know what you mean. Last night, lying in bed sick, I had the chance to listen to my family and close friends interracting from the *outside* as it were. It was interesting to have that different perspective, completely separate from the emotional hoo-haa of five people trying to get along in a Very small space, four of them tired and hungry, one in the middle of her daily "energy spike". From the outside, it was easy to predict what was going to happen -uh oh, here it comes - ow! hey! no hitting! But I've been in the middle of that scene before and know how hard it is to be there and be concious of what's going on with Mo and help her negotiate the complexities of the moment when I'm tired and hungry and just as overwhelmed by the crowd in the kitchen as she is.

I'm proud of my family (friends included) though. No-one over-reacted, yelled, or tried to lecture Mo. George managed to coax her into the far corner of the living room to cool down (without turning it into a time-out) and then helped her get a snack and choose a computer game to play while the big people had dinner. It wasn't the "perfect" unschooling/ consensual-living scenario where everything gets worked out *before* someone is too overwhelmed - but it did get worked out and smoothed over.

I think one of the things that helped Alot was George treating the hitting as Mo's attempt to communicate her needs and responding to those needs, rather than focussing on the hitting itself. Once those needs were being recognized (even if not all of them were being met) she was able to start using her other tools to communicate.


Sunday, Nov 5

Well, he's here. I have two kids.There's still lots of, um, stuff to work through with his mom, so right now, unfortunately, he's staying in school. On the up side, he's happy to be here and we're happy to have him. He has also given me permission to mention him by name [on message boards]- he says he trusts me "not to say anything bad" about him. Poor guy. So welcome to my home: Rayan age 13. Loves skateboarding, computer games and heavy metal music.---Meredith (Mo 5, Rayan 13)

Nov 11
Re: arrival
--- In, Danielle Conger wrote:>
>>> How are things adjusting?

Well, the Good News is I've caught snippets of his phone conversations with his girlfriend where he's saying how much "better" it is to be at his dad's house - no yelling is the big selling point. Hooray! The less good news relates to his mom - she's out of town for a few weeks so we can't really communicate with her, but for now she wants him in school and his grades "kept up" or "she won't let us keep him". Nice. So we've been hassling with the darn school, which has included scrambling to find clothes, since his mom refused to send any with him. This could turn into a rant pretty quickly, so that's all I'll say on the subject.

On the unschooling side, I've been reminding George to "say yes" at every opportunity and suggesting that maybe we don't really need rules about the phone and computer. We have dial-up and just one line, so the two are directly related. There was one night of confusion with George saying "five more minutes on the phone!" and me asking "why?"but he quickly agreed that as long as we were all communicating our needs we could juggle in one more "user" without making arbitrary rules.

At the moment that means *we* are communicating *our* needs*to* him and trying to remember to ask him what his needs are. He's not used to have his needs be a factor in decision making.We're also trying to work him into the family logistics. Its pretty confusing at the moment - he's used to having no control at all, so we're discovering that (for now, at least) we have to be more proactive with him than we do with Morgan - asking him well in advance what his needs are in terms of food, clothing, supplies, personal hygeine.... I didn't realize teenage boys had such a love of hygeine products :0 I guess I've always hung out with a different kind of guy.

I guess the main thing for now is figuring out how to communicate with someone who has been dictated to - and is still being dictated to eight hours a day. Yuk. I told Jane (Powell) in a private email that I feel like the inverse of an "academic unschooler" - instead of unschooling*only* academics we're trying to unschool everything but.But he says he's happier. And really, its not like there have been any disasters. Just regular snafus, which I'm confident will smooth out with time.

I'm posting more over at CL about specific issues, since they aren't really unschooling related. If anyone knows of a board they think would be a "good fit" for someone with my quirky situation I'll be grateful - or if anyone wants to email me off-list on this topic,that's fine, too.In the meantime, Y'all are my lifeline for the moments when I go into full-scale Catastrophic Thinking Mode - blaaaaahhhh his mom's going to abduct him and we'll never see him again and he'll turn into a serial killer and ufo's will land on our barn and steal the sawmill!!!!Okay, I feel better now.

---Meredith (they would have to be small ufos to land on our barn, so they couldn't fit the sawmill in their cargo area - the drill press,sure....)

Same day, another list:
A sort of ticklish subject has come up with my dss and I'm wondering if anyone has experience or input to offer. Dss injured his knee recently- not badly, but he's been limping. This evening when he came home from school he mentioned that a friend of his had kicked him in his hurt knee. I asked if they had been "horsing around" - Rayan's a pretty active guy and rough trade is pretty normal for him.
"Sort of. I'm N's personal punching bag." I wasn't quite sure how to take that.
"Are you okay with that?"
"Its okay, he's a big guy."
"Well, okay, but are you okay with it - you don't have to get hit if you don't want to."
He started explaining just "how big" the other guy was and I got the impression he was "excusing" the behavior. I didn't really push (I don't think) just reiterated that it was okay to play rough and even hit, as long as it was consensual. I was really trying not to over-react. His mom has a history of abusive relationships and has always "excused" abusive behavior right up to the point when she feels her life is actively threatened. So I'm concerned, but I don't know how to talk about this in a way that is respectful all around. Any thoughts?---Meredith (Mo 5, dss Ray 13)


Re: talking about abuse
> Some schools are very good about looking for (workable) solutions to

> bullying,
> and some just make the problem worse.

Oops, I should have been clearer about this. Its not happening at school, but at the other kid's house. This is why I'm expecially concerned - they are friends and I'm afraid that from Ray's perspective this is "normal behavior" between friends, to excuse non-consensual violence. As far as school is concerned, Ray is a "problem kid". I'm not sure they'd believe he was being victimized even if it happened on school property. We're planning on negotiating with his mom to remove him from school, but right now she still has custody so its her decision.

> If your son seems frightened about it you can even let him know
>that in the 'adult' world what is being done to him is illegal and
>that you can help him make it stop if he wants you to. Knowing he
>has backup might go a long way towards helping him feel it is
>something he can handle.

More fear from me, here. The father of his mom's second son hit him a couple times in ways that left bruises. Mom always blamed Ray -blamed him to the point that he believed it and describe the incident to *us* as though he was totally at fault. We offered to call the police on his behalf and he panicked - he's been told over and over that the police are Evil and will Take Him Away and force him to live with "Nasty Christians" (sorry, that's his mom's language).

> So I would ask my son "If you asked him to stop __fill in the
>blank__, would he stop?"

I like this phrasing. Its basically what I'm trying to find out. My impression at this point is that he's putting up with the behavior in order to retain the friend. I don't know what to do about that. I'm soooooo glad he's out of his mom's house and is getting a chance to see people who don't hit each other, scream at each other, verbally abuse each other as a matter of course.

I know Ican't "fix" Ray - that makes me sad sometimes, but I try to keep in mind that just seeing the way George and Mo and I all interact gives him another view of the world.He's feeling the difference already - I've overheard snippits in his evening phone-conversations with his girlfriend and he's telling her its *much* better at his dad's house. No yelling - that's a big deal to him. No fault-finding. He hasn't mentioned the lack of insults, but I'm sure that helps, too.---Meredith (Mo 5, dss Ray 13)

Big changes here!

Well, everything is topsy-turvey, here, for now. Rayan moved in with us the first week in November, which has meant a ton of shifts and adjustments. Rather than simply write about it here, I'm going to copy some of my posts from my favorite email lists. They give a pretty good idea of what has been going on. Note that these posts are all to unschooling boards, so there's going to be a particular "slant" to the them.

Here's the first post I wrote, way back when:

My stepson is coming to live with us. He's 13 and has been living with his mom for the past five years,visiting us alternate weekends, going to public school. Before that he lived and homeschooled with us four days a week - we weren't unschoolers, then. His mom is pretty controlling, and has decided she can't control him any longer, so he's "our problem". We've asked her to let him stay at her house for another week so we can get ready, but he may come as soon as Monday, if that's what she decides. We haven't even started talking about school/homeschool/unschooling. Its a big transition, and I'm more than a little nervous, to say the least! Its a big change for my family. My biggest fear is that his mom may decide to "involve herself" in our family to a much greater extent and/or demand that we provide some sort of ongoing proof of dss's "education".

Okay, I'm not going to go into "what if" mode.... I'm going to breathe and make yet another list of things that we really want to get done before our itty-bitty house suddenly has a teenager living in it full time. Just to complicate everything further, I have a quilt-show this weekend, in my studio, so our emergency backup plan(move him into my studio) can't be put in motion until After the show.Still breathing.Send me lots of calm energy, y'all. I'm needing it!