Monday, August 11, 2008

Our First Day

Last year on the night before Snapper started kindergarten I had a meltdown. My baby girl was starting school. I cried over how fast her first 5 years of life had gone, and felt justified in my tears. After all, wouldn't I be right to assume that most mothers of kindergarteners cry on that first day of school? Last night was the night before Whitney started 1st grade and I had a meltdown. This year, though, my tears were for an entirely different reason. On the eve of my first day of homeschooling, I wanted my mom.

My mother, Lotte, was quite possibly the perfect homeschool mom. Coming from a background of several years of teaching, she was well equipped for the task of home educating her two daughters. Add to that some incredible creative abilities and a zest for life. She was ideal for the job. On my first morning of 1st grade, my mom, knowing how much I wanted to go to "real school", dressed me up in a cute little jumper, packed me a lunch in my new lunch box, and headed out the door, my hand clasped firmly in her own. With Jenny in the stroller and our German Shepherd Tara on the leash, we walked around the block together. On arrival home, my mom became my teacher. She led me upstairs to the spare bedroom which had been transformed into a miniature school, complete with desk (with my nameplate on it), chalkboard, American flag, a shelf of curriculum, a shelf of new school supplies, and the ABC border around the ceiling. My little heart, still sore from watching the neighbor kids climb onto the bus that morning, thrilled at the sight of my own, little classroom.

Throughout the early years of my education, my mom kept a fair amount of structure. I did my work at my desk. We followed the same schedule every day. My lessons were beautifully organized, and rich with wondeful detail. By the end of first grade I had read the Little House on the Prairie series by myself. My mom was an amazing teacher. We moved to Scotts Valley when I was 7. When I was 9, my parents built an outbuilding--our schooroom. I did all my work there with my mom. At recess Mom played tag with Jenny and me. For P.E. we played basketball, jumped rope, did lots of stretches, rode our bikes, and played hard. For Science, we explored our property, went tidepooling, did projects with Daddy, and got very hands-on. Mom read to us every afternoon, which I am sure is the root of my ever-consuming desire for a good book.

When I started 4th grade, Jenny began kindergarten. Her learning disabilities required more intensive attention from my mom. By that point I was pretty motivated, so I took on more responsibility for my education. Each week Mom gave me a carefully prepared lesson plan, for which I was responsible. It didn't matter how I did the work, so long as it was all done by Friday. When I needed help, Mom was there for me. I was free to choose where I wanted to work. That often meant doing literature in the almond tree, history on the tire swing, or spelling in the barn. My favorite place to do schoolwork was on the floor in front of the wood burning stove in our living room. I spent many peaceful hours there with my books, free to study at my own pace.

And then there were the projects! My mom realized my creative potential and knack for writing, so whenever possible, she customized projects that would develop my skills. I still have a box of some of my work that my mom saved for me. Book reports, creative writing assignments, photos of dioramas and relief maps that I did, paintings, research papers, the list goes on.

When I hit high school and my level went beyond my mom's ability to teach, she found specialists to enrich my learning. I took most of my classes at a small private school my sophomore and junior years, and had a private tutor for those classes not offered by the school. I was able to begin college at age 16, fully equipped for the rigors of those courses. In fact, several of my teachers questioned me about where I had gone to school. When I told them I had been homeschooled, they asked me to esteem my mom for a job well done.

What huge footprints I have to try to follow in. My mom really was a homeschool rock star. Since my mom is my biggest hero and role model (apart from Jesus, of course), I quite naturally want to emulate her in the area of homeschooling. And last night I had a good cry because guess what? I don't have a perfect little schoolroom for Whitney. I didn't buy her a lunchbox. Everything in my homeschooling world is not in apple pie order. I want to be my mom but I can't. And I miss her, so very much. I felt so awful about it all, in fact, that I decided to put school off for one more week so that I could get some sort of schoolroom together. I went to bed feeling so let down. And SO cranky!

God and Snapper had other ideas. She bounced out of bed this morning and came in to wake me up for her first day of school. She was so bubbly and springy that she could have written the Tigger Song. Then I told her we wouldn't be starting school for another week. And her face crumpled. All the bounce drained right out of her little body, so disappointed was she. Then it occurred to me...

Is this whole have-to-be-perfect-and-ready-for-school thing about Snapper's education, or my personal fulfillment and ego? I didn't have to think long and hard about that one. And a sense of shame washed over me. It's great to want to be like my mom. But it isn't a necessary component of Snapper's education. I can work on decorating the extra room upstairs as time and money are available. And no one will think less of me for not being a copy of Lotte. Just to test my theory, I asked Snapper a question:

"Sweetie, do you want to wait for our schoolroom ro be all set up to start school, or would you rather just do some schoolwork today?"

Her humbling response:

"Mommy, we don't need a schoolroom to do school. Why don't we just do our work at the dining room table? I don't care if it's all set up! I just want to be a first grader."

Choke. Cough. Okay, Miss Priss. We'll start school today. I'll let go of my visions of grandeur and really focus on having a great first day. And so we did. Pepper's grumps forced us to wait until he was quietly asleep at naptime before we could begin. I'm seeing that flexibility will be in order this year. We spread out on the dining room table and began school. Like my mom in one major way, I was very prepared with Snapper's lessons. I knew exactly what to do and how to teach it. Today she learned that all words are made up of sounds. She learned that phonograms are sounds that make up the English language, and that phonograms can have 1, 2, 3, or 4 letters in them. Some single letter phonograms have more than one sound. She learned the importance of good penmanship, and began working on the correct formation of some of the letters that start at 2 o'clock (a, c, d, f).

Then it was recess. And here's what I love about homeschooling. Her recess activity of choice: to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book. Ah, she is her mother's daughter! I spent many hours on the couch with tea and a book!

After recess, we tackled math. We're using a wonderful math program called Math-U-See. Each lesson starts with a video, and incorporates as many of the senses as possible. Today Snapper learned about place value: units, tens, and hundreds. She built math problems using unit blocks. She wrote down her answers. And she created problems for me to solve, explaining the steps to me as I went. She really got it, and loved it in the process! By the end of this short lesson, Snapper is able to correctly name any number 0-999, and write any number 0-999!

She did a fun first day writing project, a fill-in-the-blank poem about herself, and drew a self portrait to go with it. Here's her Biopoem (complete with her 5-year-old spelling).

Playfull, silly, funy, prityy
Sister of Jackson
Lover of playing Star Wars, waching tv, and dress up
Who feels happy, exited, and glad
Who gives happynes, kisses, and hugs
Who fears darknes, blud, and tornaydos
Who would like to see Kung Fu Panda, dollfins, and Grandma
Resident of Little Rock

We concluded our school day by cuddling on the couch and reading another chapter in her Ramona book. She's excited about tomorrow, eager to learn, and joyful in the process.

And I am humbled. I think if my mom was here, she would tell me that the child is more important than the look of the classroom. Quality time spent teaching Whitney will mean far more to her than how organized my bookshelf was, and how far ahead I was in my lesson plans. So how do I feel going into tomorrow? No more tears, that's for sure! And I know my mom is proud of me, just the way I am.

At the bottom of this blog I have posted a slideshow of photos from Whitney's first day of 1st grade. I hope you enjoy!


My name is Stacie... said...

As you described your mom, my first thought was "That's Emily!" I know you must miss her terribly. I also know you will make her proud as a second generation homeschooling mom.

Matt said...

I am so proud of you! Every time I tell someone that you're home schooloing, I tell them how you are the best candidate to be a home school teacher: having been home schooled, all your teaching experience, a child development major, working with kids at church, AND a full time mom! They all agree - You go!

Jenn Kozak said...

Your mom was AMAZING!!!!!!!! And from what I have read in your blogs you are so much like her (of what I remember of her)! I'm so glad you had a great first day!

Trish said...

Em - I love the slideshow - she's such a cutie and I love the chalkboard format. Cute! You are such a creative person! I always liked that about you. You did have an excellent teacher yourself. :) I know your mom would be so proud of you and I am too as your friend! Love you - Trish

Trish said...

oh, and, what a great hubby you have! A strong cheering squad is always helpful! :) Go Matt!

John and Janel Breitenstein said...

Emily, it is so cool that you have these memories with your mom to look back on. And way to go on your poem, Whitney! Such big-girl words.