Sunday, April 18, 2010

History, lists, moods, and breakfast

Friday morning I decided I wanted to take George out to breakfast--we have so little time left where it's just the two of us! And I knew Brad and Lindsey (my stepkids) were coming Saturday for several days because it's their spring break, and soon after that my mom is coming because the baby is due super soon, and then of course the baby will be born and chaos will reign for who-knows-how-long, so I really wanted to spend a little special time with George. It almost didn't happen because I had a terrible night's sleep the night before and was trying to sleep in; I had given George the strictest instructions not to wake me up for ANYthing.

Well, about an hour later he came in to wake me up because he had hit his head "really hard". Did I jump into mommy action to help him feel better? No! I told him to get out because I was sound asleep and wanted to try to stay asleep! (Mom of the year, I know.) Well, once awake I realized I was parched, so I had to go get some water, and then I realized I was starving, and it was clear I wasn't going to fall right back to sleep. I was in the foulest of moods.

But then the coolest thing happened. It just popped into my head that I could really decide how the rest of the morning was going to go, that it was pretty much up to me at that point. And I decided that it was going to go great. I went into George's room, and he immediately began apologizing profusely--poor thing! He's a little too familiar with what a foul mood I can be in when I've been awakened prematurely.... Anyway, I stopped him, and apologized myself for not sympathizing with him before, and asked him if he was ready for breakfast. Off we went to our favorite neighborhood diner (which used to be an Arby's; what it lacks in atmosphere it more than makes up for with rock-bottom prices, very decent food, and great service).

We had a wonderful breakfast. He's such delightful company! We talked quite a bit about his homeschooling, and about what our plans are or should be for the rest of the year. I know I'm not going to have the energy or time to supervise much, and there are only a couple of months left anyway. And right now he's *really* busy with the play he's in on campus (plus the Shakespeare play, plus recorder, plus a course called Computer Gaming Academy through Northwestern's CTD that he's recently started...). But I wanted to feel like we had a plan for after the play is over and the baby is born, a couple of weeks from now. I do feel that he has been floundering a bit lately with his schoolwork and I wanted to come up with a workable plan that he'd be excited about and that would be very easy to follow.

What we came up with was a sort of "unit" on American history. I've gotten him several books on American history lately that he's excited about reading, but he keeps not getting around to it. So we decided that once the play is over, he will read these books for an hour and a half a day, and then he can explore some history websites for another half hour or so a day. And he'll watch three American-history-themed documentaries each week. While he's working on all of this, he'll be noticing what aspects of American history he wants to study more in-depth next year.

It's a pretty simple plan (especially considering he usually spends several hours a day reading anyway, and loves to watch the History Channel), but on the heels of our experiment with radical unschooling I have been feeling like he is needing a little more structure. He seems a bit adrift--he keeps busy, but it's sort of all-over-the-place and almost kind of chaotic. He's not quite as grounded as he usually is, and I've been feeling that the blame lies with me, for being rather distracted and scattered myself. I also have been feeling like he's not doing quite enough, or like maybe he's not learning enough. I'm hoping that having a plan like this will help.

Anyway, while we were on the topic of history, we had a great conversation about WWI and WWII and various other wars, and about Machiavelli, and politics and human nature, and it struck me that this kid is learning all kinds of things, actually. I couldn't possibly have had a conversation like that at his age. Maybe not even until I was in grad school. I mean, if someone had talked to me the way that I talk to him on a regular basis when I was his age, I'm pretty sure I could've handled it, but no one ever did talk to me that way about such things. So then we talked about that, and about the kind of uncritical approach to history that I was being fed in school when I was his age, and for the next several years after that. It struck me once again that he really is always learning, that he is growing up in a pretty stimulating environment, that he's always paying attention and that he's learning *plenty* (despite the fact that, for example, I've abandoned our 5th-grade math curriculum at least for now!). It was pretty reassuring. What a journey of doubt and discovery I'm on as a homeschooling parent.

So, getting back to John Taylor Gatto, as I promised in my last post.... The other thing we did at breakfast was to make a list (as suggested by Gatto) of what George wants to be when he grows up, and then make a list of the activities he is doing on a regular basis to prepare himself for those professions. He came up with four things he'd like to be: actor, author, cartoonist, and video game designer. We made the list of activities only for the first thing, actor--but he had so many items to list! Here they are:

--Acting in plays
--Reading plays
--Watching plays
--Acting workshop/class
--Role playing/imaginative play
--Public speaking/reading (at church)
--Singing (church choir)

I'm looking forward to making the other lists with him. Who knows what he'll really end up doing when he grows up, but regardless it was so much fun to think about all of the ways he spends his time and how all of the things he does are furthering his development as a person, in ways that we both value.

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