Homeschooling Takeaways from The Importance of Being Little

(NB: This is one I listened to as an audiobook so I couldn’t mark it up or copy down passages quickly enough. So quotations here were either hunted down online or are from excerpts and interviews that jive with the book.)

In Erika Christakis’s The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups, I was reassured to find many of my hunches are supported (while sometimes being called into question as the purview of overeducated financially stable white people). Her book tackles the problem of quality in American preschool programs as a social justice issue while highlighting the many points of mismatch between preschoolers’ needs and what educators, policy makers and parents believe they need. She very rarely even broaches the possibility of keeping kids at home during the preschool years, and never mentions homeschooling kindergarteners at all, even though the book’s scope includes that age range. Nevertheless, I found it fascinating. Here were some of the most striking takeaways for me:

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Homeschooling Manifesto, Take 1

Recently I was reading through a loaned copy of Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons by Christie Purifoy and it was all I could do not to break out the highlighters and marginalia as I read:

“It is especially strange that we burden children with this question of what they will one day do when so much of our lives is already prescribed. What will my children do? I can already see most of it. They will sleep. They will eat. They will live in relationship with others. They will celebrate special days and live ordinary days that tick with repetitive tasks. The truly important question seems not to be what they will do but how they will do it.

There — in a book not about homeschooling, in a beautiful book by a mother who doesn’t homeschool — is why I want to homeschool.

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Consumerist Shortcuts

Haven’t we all been there? We decide to get fit and get bogged down somewhere along the line, choosing a fitness plan, reading Amazon reviews of medicine balls, finding space in the spare room for the stationary bike, and we never really get started. Or this is going to be the year we are going to grow a real vegetable garden, so we get all the catalogs and three books from the library, or even order a dozen seed packets, but nothing ever really gets off the ground, much less in the ground.Read More »

Dorothy Day’s Little Way of Motherhood

So, last month I finished On Pilgrimagethe first book I’ve read by Dorothy Day. If you’ve read it, you know it’s a weird experience — like if I printed out a year’s worth of blog posts, interspersed them with my diary entries, stapled it together, and called it a book. But only if I was as insanely interesting as Day, even at her most scattered.

One page struck me especially. We have a new tradition of mother’s blessings here, where we gather to pray for and encourage a friend as her pregnancy comes to its end, and maybe that’s why this passage struck me particularly.

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Papa’s Police Preschool

This month, J returned to work after a full two months home with us as a new family of five. It’s been such a gift for us for him to have a long parental leave — and a perk for taking what amounts to a six-year low-pay apprenticeship.

We all recovered quickly from the whirlwind birth of our Elizabeth Ann, since I didn’t have any injuries this time and we are slowly figuring out how to handle this newborn thing, three kids deep. So we returned to Police Preschool sooner than I would have expected, and it was such fun to see how different homeschool looked with the papa on the premises.

Although we’d talked often about why we might homeschool and what we’d like it to look like, when J was actually home, it became clear he didn’t actually know what our day-to-day looked like. He hadn’t realized where our co-op was held, for instance, or what I do with Scout while I’m trying to knock out lessons.

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Christmas Eve Under the Arches 

(I wrote this for a newspaper contest when I was 14 and won, and now I’m making you read it, suckers, because I just rediscovered it in my basement excursions.)

Our family doesn’t have strict or ornate Christmas traditions. I’m not going to tell you about some fascinating cultured experience. After all, the Grimms are pretty much your average bunch of Americans. But one family ritual stands out above the rest in a quirky example of an unconventional Christmas.

That famed night sneaks up and we head for the Christmas vigil Mass as the stars prick the dark sky. After the Mass has ended and frazzled parents are chasing their giddy offspring in all directions, we have one destination that is set in stone: McDonald’s. Our car pulls up by the kiddie play place and the four of us emerge into the brisk night air, headed for the Golden Arches. Dressed in our Christmas finest, we slide into a vinyl seat and eat our meals from paper gags.

The Grimm clan has chosen Mickey D’s for Christmas Eve dinner ever since we moved to Tallahassee about seven years ago.

I think it was my father who suggested it as a joke, but the slightly insane tradition stuck. While many families are devouring beautifully prepared dinners in their dining rooms, we sit in a plastic booth and unwrap our Big Macs.

There are slight variations on the routine, because time alters traditions slowly. When we were younger, we insisted on playing on the slides and ball pits after popping off our little patent leather shoes.

Only forfeited when the weather was bitterly cold, we had the little plastic playground to ourselves and played to our hearts’ content. As tastes change, the meal we choose from the menu also changes. And alas! We kiddies are no longer devastated by not getting the toy we hoped for in our Happy Meals.

But many customs still withstand. Dad always teases us with the threat to take us back to church for Midnight Mass if we don’t behave. Mom always insists that we order whatever we want and top it off with big gooey sundaes, providing we clear our plates (so to speak). It’s quite an experience to munch calorie-laden food and shoot straw papers at your family while enjoying the fast-food restaurant that is so uncannily devoid of anyone else, much less a very cheery family like ourselves. The roads are always nearly deserted at 8 o’clock on Christmas Eve, and as the four of us coast home we absorb the vibrant holiday spirit bedecked on all the houses, and think of the morning to come.

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(Just a couple years after writing this contest entry, I met a boy I eventually married, a boy whose Christmas Eve birthday changed my traditions forever. These days, our family is divided between three states. My sister is vegetarian and doesn’t eat much McDonald’s; I have three children who already eat too much McDonald’s. But our family still manages to get ourselves to Mass, somehow, and we are still a very cheery family. Merry Christmas.)

In Favor of Lying In

Lying in view

Last month, J and my parents gave me the gift of a lying in week. For a whole week, I mostly stayed in bed with little Elizabeth Ann.

I read The Awakening of Miss Prim and half of An Inqusitor’s Tale and a third of another novel I abandoned. I watched the first season of The Durrells in Corfu on my phone. I nursed and texted when I needed a snack. I wafted downstairs once a day like Mary Crawley to greet the older kids before retreating back to my life of luxury. I took the maddening advice of old ladies everywhere and slept when the baby slept. It was glorious.

When Pippin was born five years ago, I felt banished to the bedroom. Like I was too messy and immodest for human company as I tried to figure out nursing. Like I’d be pinned down by this baby forever and unable to accomplish anything ever again.
Fast forward five years and I know this season is fleeting, and a luxury — if still messy and tired and tender. Soon enough I reentered the swing of things, but Elizabeth and I were both strengthened and relaxed by our snuggle time getting to know each other and recover.

Have you been able to take a lying in before easing back into real life?