Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Doing Kindergarten"

One cheesy "Welcome to Kindergarten" banner, two yellow streamers, and my grandmother's old school chairs: Voila! The official start of kindergarten!

It was pretty minimal folderol, but the kids were truly excited, eager to make this new beginning.

We "did kindergarten" for about an hour each day this week: some music, a drawing exercise or two, some quick handwriting practice, that sort of thing.

I had spent an inordinate amount of time over the summer researching what resources to use, and the ones I chose for this first week were mostly well-received. They particularly liked Mind Benders, a collection of deductive logic puzzles which I got even though it promotes itself as a standardized test-prep resource (barf). The teddy bear manipulatives were a bit problematic, on the other hand, because Nini liked them so much: From the moment she saw them, she pretty much wanted to drop everything else and play with them nonstop. And not in any use-the-cute-bears-as-a-sneaky-way-to-teach-math way, either, thank you very much.

A major part of me -- the unschooly, anarchist part, the part that is homeschooling so Nini and Desmond aren't subjected to the dreary academicism of contemporary kindergarten -- says, so what? They're five -- why shouldn't Nini just want to play with the bright plastic bears? But then there are competing voices in my head, the ones that remind me that I'm also homeschooling so my kids can be challenged in a way that neither Andrew or I ever was in school, and also do want them to learn to stick with a task even when they're distracted.

My mistake, I think, was to refer to the time we now spend together in the morning, sitting at that little red table or otherwise engaged in focused activities, as "doing kindergarten." For while I think they will be learning important things, both tangible and intangible, during that time, they're arguably learning so much more through the many other things that we and they do.

For outside of those few organized hours this week, we had many other splendid adventures and experiences. We're learning about Hinduism at the moment; we spent hours reading tales of Shiva and Parvati, Rama and Sita, and especially Ganesh. We visited the Met twice to search for images of these deities in the South Asian wing; we paid a visit to Little India in Queens, where the kids admired saris and ate ladoos. The kids even assembled a puzzle map of Asia (which then became a playground first for their toy vehicles and then, somewhat mysteriously, for their Egyptian god and goddess figurines).

We read piles of other books, too: sight-word readers that Nini will read out loud to me; somewhat harder books that Desmond now sails through; Beatrix Potter tales and stories about trains and classic fairy tales that I read out loud to the kids. We spent a long, lovely afternoon at a Central Park picnic with dozens of other homeschooled kids, who chased each other around in the sunshine, made forts in the woods, and dug in the dirt of chunks of mica. We went to the beach at Coney Island with their best friend, played with our new pet rabbits, visited the library. Oh yeah, and Nini and Desmond both played, a lot, with those little plastic bears.

The kids begged me not to take down the "Welcome to Kindergarten" sign yet, so it will stay up another week. We'll keep spending about an hour most days doing schooly sorts of things -- but I think I'll be searching for a new phrase to describe that part of our day.


  1. I'm excited to find your blog and thankful to your husband for the wonderful article in Salon. I can refer to that article to answer some people's questions. You are in NYC and interestingly enough, I just had some friends from NYC visit us here in New Mexico and I thought it must just be the most foreign concept to them - homeschooling. Nice to see it happening in Brooklyn too!

  2. NYC must be a great place to homeschool-visiting the Met twice in a week to look for Ganesh--fantastic!

    Your teddy bear manipulative tension made me laugh with recognition--I remember the days with my 11 and 9 year olds-and I have more coming with my 4 year old. Saxon Math, which is fairly dull and repetitive, always gives kids a day or two of just playing with any new manipulative.

    It is so nice to hear that there are homeschool park days in Central Park, too.

  3. I too came by this blog through your husband's article. I homeschooled my son for two years (and my daughter through a sort of pre-homeschool), and if you think men don't understand what it's like to be a woman, try to be a dad homeschooling while his wife goes to work. Sometimes I felt like I was on an island all alone.

  4. Leslie, I just read Andrew's fantastic article in (we don't answer "truthfully" most of the time, either) and was able to find my way here. Welcome to Kindergarten, indeed!

    We are beginning our 5th official home learning year with our 9-year-old son - it has certainly been the best choice for our family. It's only gotten better each year. We dance a fine line between total child-directed learning and some mom-agenda'ed learning (mostly math -- we have those plastic bears, too, although they have rarely been used for math, I hate to tell you).

    I plan to keep checking in to your blog to see how things are going on your journey.

    Thanks to both you and Andrew, and your friend Joanne, for being reasonable, moderate voices for those of us who homeschool for non-religious reasons.

  5. Just found your blog through the horrendously-titled article on Jezebel ( which I just spent the better part of two hours commenting on. Oh dear.

    I am a former homeschooler, and a current college senior. I just wanted to write to you and say that it sounds like you're doing a great job and your kids will thank you for it for years to come.

  6. It sounds like you're off to a wonderful start! We've been homeschooling for a little over a year now, and we're having a blast (an educational blast, of course.) Good luck & very best wishes to your family for a fun, memorable, adventurous year of homeschooling!

  7. We've shared this path for 16 years now. My 2 are 21 (at The New School and living in Brooklyn) and almost 18 (currently at Not Back To School Camp).

    When we first started, a friend told me she was surprised because we were "so normal." She had thought that home schooled people were all either religious fanatics or hippies living in buses at the side of the road.

    This path has worked well for us. My daughters are independent thinkers who can interact well with people of all ages. They know how to find out what they need to know and to generate alternative solutions to problems they encounter. They are kind-hearted and compassionate human beings, and conscientious world citizens. I love them and I like them a lot. It doens't get much better than this.


  8. Thanks for all these lovely comments -- it's wonderful to hear from you. (Yeah, and clearly I made a total newbie mistake with those darn lil bears ...)

  9. I struggle constantly with my two sides - the academic vs they are only 5 debate. My twins will be 6 in December. How old are your 5 yr olds? It will be nice to follow your journey with twins close to mine in age. I blog about our schooling (along w/ everything else) at

  10. My kids have an April birthday, so they're almost exactly 5 1/2 right now. Although raising twins can be mighty challenging, I think homeschooling twins might be a bit easier than homeschooling kids of different ages or just one child. Well, except when Nini is on the verge of tears about those blasted bears .... Your thoughts?

  11. I'm a newbie about to start with the "blasted bears" and hoping for a positive experience! My husband and I approach things from a different place; he needs structure...I need an underlying structure but then I'm more likely to just refer to it periodically than follow it word for word. I hope we can make this work!