Saturday, April 08, 2006

Baby Bottles, Mammary Memories and Sleep Deprivation

Good god, it's easy to forget what sleepless nights with newborns are like, and thank goodness I never had to sterilize bottles for my wee ones. This past week, we became surrogate mamas to five newborn kitties, and I can honestly confess to having delirious visions of multiple mammaries as all five clambor at the cage, mewing their voracious appetites. Feeding one kitten at a time not only seems unkind but it also rouses my maternal angst as the babies left behind bawl their indignance at fate's cruel twist.

MY babies, however, are having the time of their lives, having five brand new kitties in the house. They don't begrudge too much sharing their mama's time in such a big way. We've been able to read books while I feed the kittens, which is intensively hands-on, as long as the child's willing to hold the book and turn the pages for me, and we've had some lovely conversation time one-on-one as one child or another joins me to sit and chat and admire the lovely little creatures. We've enjoyed our busy role as surrogate mothers, and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if we ended up with five barn cats, as it will be so hard to let them go! Between the five of us, we've managed to settle on four favorites. Such is mother love.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Gender-bias inherent in Unschooler's Activities

How's that for a headline? This past weekend, the girls all headed into New York City for a lunch excursion at The American Girl Place while the boys went for a hiking adventure in the South Mountain Reservation. Let's face it, sometimes divisions down gender lines are really in the best interest of all, with the fact that everyone actively chooses their preferred activity making all the difference.

As part of Julia's birthday celebration, which comes right after Christmas, we scheduled a trip into American Girl Place for early Spring. My sister-in-law works just down the street from AG, so she's easily able to get us reservations, train and subway tickets and lead us into the city without a moment's thought or stress on my part, and let me just tell you how wonderful this is! Our trip into the city was a girls' outing with Aunt Kim and Gramma, and Aunt Kim came over the night before to do a girls' spa night that included manicures, which went over big! Julia even got a quick makeover while waiting for the commuter train to arrive. We had a wonderful morning of shopping and finished our day with a lovely lunch in the AG restaurant with our new and old dolls! If you ever have a chance to go, I highly recommend restaurant reservations. The food is quite good and reasonbly priced, considering you're smack-dab in the middle of Manhattan.

Emily decided that she, too, would like her birthday celebration at AG, so we did a combined birthday for the girls, complete with shopping and lunch in the restaurant. Jules had been saving her money for this trip since her birthday in January, and both girls got all their birthday presents from myself, their aunt and cousin, and their grandparents. Let's just say, we had a few packages by the time we left! It really was the quintessential Manhattan shopping excursion, topped off by a white-knuckle cab ride back to Penn Station to catch the commuter train back into Jersey--way too many packages to deal with the subway on the way home!

Now, don't the boys look much happier out in the wild, moving and building things? Okay, so the camoflage was a bit over the top, but the boys couldn't have been happier. Sam got to spend the day with his best friends in the whole world--his papa, his cousin and his grampa, while his cousin got to play hookey from school and hang outside. Honestly, I can't imagine a single one of these boys enjoying one moment of the Manhattan shopping trip, though the older two are magnanimous enough to handle it very once in a while for the women they love.

The boys had new hats and shirts for their hike, new insect jammies to wear while the girls did their spa night, and new water bottles and carabiner clips complete with compass and non-working flashlight, which was apparantly a feature. But, what did I expect for a couple bucks in the Target camping section? The guys were thrilled, and that was the real goal. They spent their day crossing streams, creating dams and rock climbing. Ah, bliss!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

MHEA Conference

This Saturday, I spoke on two panels at the MHEA Conference, Maryland's state-wide homeschool conference. Probably the best part was connecting with other unschoolers and seeing some old friends from Southern Maryland.

Attendance this year was down, probably due to the keynote speaker. Last year was John Taylor Gatto, obviously a huge draw in the homeschool community. The year before that was Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation that drew some really interesting and encouraging conclusions about homeschooling in the new economy. The year previous to that was Susan Wise Bauer, co-author of The Well-Trained Mind, not my cup of tea but a viable homeschooling speaker, nonetheless.

This year, it was a relatively unknown private tutor turned academy head from California who insisted upon referring to herself as a "homeschooler" because she schooled other people's children in her own home under California's homeschooling law. Just not the same. Moreover, her "hierarchy of knowledge" method was downright offensive from my perspective in it's claim that children should not be allowed access to information or opinions without the appropriate historical building blocks. That, of course, doesn't even get into the western cultural bias of her approach that was hugely ignorant of the world at large. Well, maybe the approach itself was not hugely ignorant, but it apparently insists that children remain ignorant of the larger world until they have mastered all of Western history, literature, etc. in order. Only then, perhaps, would students be able to understand contextually and hierarchically speaking the world and all its complexity.

Argh! Enough tirade.

The unschooling panels went well, I thought, and those who attended seemed genuinely interested in exploring unschooling. Parents, especially, seemed glad to have the chance to talk with grown unschoolers on the second panel about their reflections on unschooling and the doors it opened or closed in life after home. The three unschoolers on the panel made some really great points while honestly and objectively reflecting on their experiences. I was able to offer some of my observations teaching literature and writing at Penn State, and suggested parents check out Wes Beach's website, Beach High School--Freedom for Self-Direction for some really great information on a creative approach to highschool transcripts, college and the use of a high school education.