Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring Break

Spring hit NYC big time this week. So with the outdoors calling and the time change making us a bunch of laggards, it seemed like a good idea to take the week off from our kindergarten routine. Isn't part of homeschooling's appeal, after all, that it allows you the flexibility to make -- and change -- your schedule at will?

We'd just had ten incredible consecutive weeks. Something shifted over the winter holidays and with the advent of the New Year, it was clear that Nini and Desmond were eager to tackle new challenges. Having learned how to write the upper-case alphabet properly over the course of the fall, they wanted to master the lower-case alphabet in much less time. They were curious about math in a new way, more interested in drawing, and just generally itchy to learn.

The amount of time we spent on formal kindergarten didn't change much -- it was still only about an hour -- but they were much more focused than they had been in the fall. It blew me away to watch them enthusiastically puzzling out how to spell a list of three-letter words, the gears in their little brains turning almost visibly. Their foreheads would wrinkle as they worked out new problems, and you could see their sense of pride when they suddenly understood something that had stumped them before. They'd get all excited when I pulled out a new game to play -- say, using cards to make silly sentences once they knew what nouns, verbs, and adjectives were -- and having learned something one week, would happily pronounce it easy the next. We covered an enormous amount of ground in a very short time.

Then, this Monday, it was as if a switch had been tripped. Our schedule was thrown off by the time shift and they were all foot-draggy and bleary, so we skipped kindergarten on Monday for the first time in months. A spell of gorgeous weather began on Tuesday, and they began spending their mornings in the back yard, making "bunny cakes" for our pet rabbits and digging in the dirt. We tried doing outdoor kindergarten on Tuesday, but I could tell their hearts weren't really in it.

I'd like to report that we went on to have a blissful week playing in the sunshine, reveling in the lazy and structureless days. But I can't. There were some lovely moments in the week: making milk carton boats and sailing them in an enormous puddle, encountering crocuses and basking pond turtles and other harbingers of spring, meeting up with friends to explore and play.

But this week was also awfully bumpy, with more conflict than we've had in a while. It wasn't at all like a proper vacation, when Andrew is with us and either the four of us are adventuring together or I'm getting some actual time off. It was just a kind of kicking-around week -- not terrible, but not really satisfying either.

I'm not entirely sure what went wrong this week, but I suspect the sudden lack of routine had a fair amount to do with it. The time the kids and I spend together around the kindergarten table each weekday morning anchors our day; it's highly focused togetherness that seems to fill up their tanks emotionally, often making them more resilient and independent throughout the later parts of the day. So maybe this week should have been Game Week, where we spent that daily hour playing games together, or Do Art Projects in the Sunshine Week, or some other something that respected their need for a break but retained enough of our routine to keep us all from feeling off-kilter.

It's supposed to be gloomy and rainy on Monday, and I've told the kids that the puppets miss them and we'll resume kindergarten then. I don't know if they'll be as gung-ho as they were in the dead of winter, and if not, I'm prepared to shift our kindergarten activities accordingly. And the next time we take a spontaneous break, I'll just need to, well, plan it better.


  1. I'm sure they'll be itching to get back into their routine on Monday. But routineless times are probably a good thing too, at least sometimes. After all, life it about getting used to the unexpected as well as the expected.

  2. One of the reasons why our current K-12 school system (public & private) is a mess is that it doesn't account for the draining experience of "teaching" on a continuous basis. Day in and day out. Good teaching is like writing a good book. It requires complete immersion in the process. You can't mail it in.

    People who haven't done this have no idea how exhausting it can be.

    One of the first things I did when I started homeschooling was ditch the "moving train" and "cover" principles that define most school pedagogy. The moving train principle says to the teacher, teach the material, test and then move on, even if students don't understand it. The cover principle says teach this "amount" of something.

    You are not following this path and I can tell you from experience, this will help you and your children succeed.

    But teaching is still exhausting, sometimes; but those were also some of my (and I think my son's) best times.

    Frustration. Now that's a different post.