School is starting again. Okay, not for us, but I could tell even if I had never heard of a calender because EVERYONE is asking Smootch about what grade she is going into. I am trying to coax her into responding with, "I'm in Grade Awesome!" but even at her tender age she knows what an extremely dorky statement this is and so far refuses outright.
Still, a response is needed, and I usually jump in, after a pleading look from Smootch, informing our Nosey Nelson that we home school. Then Smootch, who refused to admit to being in Grade Awesome and was too shy to say she is home schooled, will positively screech at me, "No, mom, I'm unschooled!"
Now I get to explain to Great Auntie so-n-so's friend, or whoever, that unschooling means a child-interest led form of education where there is no set curriculum but follow her natural curiosity learning in a holistic blah blah blah blah blah...
And it gets seriously over detailed for a simple question, and if Lady Hoha's eyes do not glaze over she starts to give me a look I can only say is extremely old, meaning something like you kids and your freaky hippie ideas.
(I just erased a huge chunk of text explaining why Smootch is so adamant about being 'unschooled' versus 'home schooled' but I realized that this may be a story for another day. So, you'll just have to believe me when I say that Smootch isn't normally so rude as to yell corrections at me, at least in front of other people, but that she feels agressively protective about her relative independence and freedom to her mind her own thoughts and time. I can't say as I blame her.)
But the truth is even more complicated than this apologetic mini-lecture I end up giving twenty times during one wedding reception. We learn what Smootch wants to learn, and what Smootch wants to learn about is EVERYTHING. Our biggest challenge right now is to stay on track with one idea or activity long enough to see it through to it's natural conclusion. I have no problem with a broad range of seeminly non-related topics (because they really are connected) but how to make connections and deepen our explorations and understandings.
Smootch's education is interest led and what Smootch is very much interested in is books. Almost all of our ideas lately come from books, ideas and dramas taken in, thought about, expanded, questioned, and applied. We have a habit, started when Smootch was the tiniest of infants, of reading aloud at the breakfast table. Yes, this is bad manners with all the talking with food in our mouths and, yes, we have to be extra careful to keep books clean. But, oh my, the places we go just as we are starting our day. These morning books colour our moods, and influence our activities and thoughts. More often than not, they almost immediately led to some sort of post-breakfast craft or art project. That is why you so often see Smootch and Birdie in pajamas here when I take photos while they work. In my house, teeth brushing and getting dressed comes after art.
The other day we read Elbert's Bad Word. This book initially appealed to Smootch because she has an ongoing love affair with what she calls 'K-words,' meaning the type of language that makes a mother's hair curl. In the book, the bad word (I hate this particular label, but that's what author Audrey Wood called it) is a scruffy little beastie that jumped inside Elbert, and then popped out at inopportune moments. There was mouth washing and a consultation with a wizard. Really, your basic, every day fabulous picture book. What sparked our imaginations is the idea that words can be represented as a non-alphabetical image. Not what the word means, as in it's definition, but if the word was an entity all onto itself, what would it look like?
That morning we didn't leave the breakfast table until after mid morning snack. Smootch and I took turns coming up with verbs and pronouns to draw. Not unusual, knowing Smootch, most of her descriptive words ended up having people features.
It was a fairly natural step for us to begin to talk about the different types of words, nouns and verbs and so on, and to talk about our associations with the words. What colour is happy? Why do some words seem smooth while others are messy? Why does confused have glasses? (I tried not to take it personally.)
From there, we talked about how just saying some words made us feel good and others felt bad. Soon after, stories began to emerge as the word characters took on a life of their own.
(I have a particular love for 'nasty'. I also found it interesting that her unhappy words are all done in brown. Notice, also, that Happy still looks happy, despite his problems with the thieving, angular ugly - something to think about.)
This was a great activity, on many levels, and one that we've come back to several times since. Smootch has a heightened awareness of words right now. Sometimes she will stop her play or almost space out during a conversation as a particular word catches her fancy and she pauses to visualize the word and try to experience it. Drawing is only the beginning. Because how, really, does green taste? What does fast feel like? How does wet sound?
Right now, reading our books and following through with our little inspirations and playful ideas is school for us. And it's fun. Us kids and our freaky hippie ideas. Unschooling is so much fun it does feel like we're getting away with something. But Smootch is learning. It's not conventional, it's not usual, it's not concrete nor structured and certainly not easily explainable in the line at the drugstore. How can I explain this whenever a virtual stranger makes a casual inquiry into Smootch's school life? What I really want to say whenever someone tries to put a Grade on my girl, pigeon hole her intellectually by calling her a Grade Oner or Kindergartner and then walking away thinking they know every thing there is to know about her, is that it's really none of their k-word beeswax.
But that wouldn't make me a very good ambassador for home schoolers.
Perhaps I can invite them to ponder with me what irritation looks like?