Since there was recent talk of homeschooling in the comment thread of Rodney's recent post, I thought I'd re-post the experience our family had when Youngest was homeschooled. Not sure we had a common experience, not sure there is a common experience with homeschooling, it's so individual, but it's the experience we had...

Shipwrecked ~ the End of the 3' x 4' Popsicle Stick Galleon




                                                             the completed ship

When I saw the ship’s prow sticking out of the top of the garbage can, my heart gave a lurch. My mind protested, “No!” yet I could see it was too late. My son had thrown out his 3' x 4' popsicle stick English Galleon — and not only thrown it out, he had smashed it to smithereens.

The ship’s pieces were strewn about not only in the garbage can but around it, tiny pieces of splintered wood everywhere as if it had been dashed and broken against hidden rocks in a dark and stormy sea. Okay…more like dashed and broken by the rising from the deep of teen-hood, the Kraken that acts with vengeance toward once treasured belongings now considered childish.

I loved that ship — and for years so had he. It was not only impressively built and quite large for an English Galleon handmade by a fourth grader, but for me, that ship symbolized one of my favorite phases of parenting my third, and youngest, son.

I never planned on homeschooling that child for years — I hadn’t homeschooled his older brothers — but the situation at his school had grown untenable. There were fearful sobbing sessions every single morning just outside the first grade door, these lasted for months. There were anxiety-filled nightmares, eventually followed by hives — full body hives — blooming like clockwork on most Sunday evenings.

Eventually, we, youngest son and I, decided to give homeschooling a try.

Within weeks I knew this was the answer — the answer for my son, anyway. I went along. He loved learning, when safely far away from thirty loud and chaotic children all in one room. For the next four years we homeschooled, half the time he led the way in his curriculum.

“I’d like to memorize the Periodic Table this week.” he would say, or “Did you know that rattlesnakes (mumble mumble mumble)?? I learned that in my nature book, can we go to the zoo and see one?”

My son rarely cried anymore, the hives had disappeared, his brain was absorbing knowledge like a sponge. He had become a happy child.

Then came the day when we walked past a store window downtown and my now 9 year-old son stopped in his tracks. “Look!” he said, pointing excitedly. It was a small replica of the ship USS Constitution. From that day on, he was obsessed, reading anything he could find about ships, begging for repeated walk-bys of the replica in the window. Once he realized the original USS Constitution was still around to be viewed in person, he endlessly fantasized a trip to go see it.

“Mmmm, someday,” was as far as I was willing to commit. Boston was very far away from Oregon for a family of five on a tight budget.

Then a fortuitous moment for my son: my sister called to tell us she was getting married. A trip to Boston was in the works. As far as Youngest was concerned, we were taking the trip to see the USS Constitution; the not-very-fun-sounding wedding was an afterthought to this child.


                                                the USS Constitution, docked in Boston



                          Youngest in center, with cousins — at the helm of the USS Constitution

(The wedding was fun. That nine year-old in suit and top hat, dancing at the reception with his early 20-something girl cousins was the talk of our family for months.)

Touring the USS Constitution was also a highlight, of course. We came home from our trip with many photos, many memories. Unbeknownst to me, my son also came home with a plan. He was going to build a replica of a ship.

He’d been impressed touring the oldest commissioned warship still afloat, but had also been reading about galleons. When he learned that the English Galleons had had a decisive win over the Spanish Armada, that was the deciding factor for him. Skip the frigate, a galleon would be built. A budding shipwright was born.

Building that English Galleon took weeks. We’d gone to the library and found the perfect book, one with illustrations of an old ship being built, step-by step. The hardest part for him was how to begin putting together this ship made of popsicle sticks (his choice of building material), so I assisted in making the skeleton of the hull — the keel and ribs — where the planks, or strakes, were attached. That was the extent of my design help.

My focused fourth grader built the rest of the hull himself, figuring out how to shape the squared-off stern and the captain’s quarters (that back end of a galleon that rises higher than the rest of the hull) by looking closely at illustrations of galleons online. He carefully layered popsicle stick after popsicle stick across the ship’s ribs with a hot glue gun, the glue oozing between each ‘strake.’ For the stern I helped cut each popsicle stick to the size he had marked while he controlled the placing and glueing.

By the time he had placed the masts and long bowsprit, then laid down the upper deck planks around them, he had been working for three weeks straight. I couldn’t believe he had stayed so focused, yet he just kept going. The ship was getting so big it took over the dining room table. A simple ship stand had been made by Dad: two 10" 2 x 4s on end with keel-shaped notches cut in them. The ship was almost done.


                                            the ship’s stern with rear anchor and captain’s quarters

As soon as the very last tiny piece of the ship’s railing had been placed and there was no more ‘wood’ to work with, my son’s interest in completing the ship waned. And all that was left were the sails!

With a small amount of coaxing, the only coaxing in the entire building experience, he drew out the shapes of the sails on an old white sheet, but could not manage to cut them to look how he wanted, so he re-drew and I cut out the sails. Once he glued the sails onto the ‘yards,’ the horizontal and diagonal beams across the top of each sail on these old ships, the building of the ship was done.

My son stood back and looked. “It’s cool.” he said, nonchalantly, while my husband and I gaped. The ship was beautiful — amazing, really.

“It needs flags,” the young shipwright added, soon cutting and placing little waving paper flags on top of the fore, main, mizzen, and jigger masts.


                                                                       flags waving merrily

For the next couple years, that popsicle stick ship voyaged through much of his imaginative play, whether it was pirates, sharks, Odysseus and the Sirens, or giant squid, denizens of the deep. Eventually, though, the bow got damaged and son beached the ship. Around the same time, homeschooling was beached as well.

The ship sat, listing, on my son’s dresser for another couple years, now surrounded by video games and his mountain bike helmet, sometimes holding a stray shirt aloft.

I’d walk by and feel myself foundering, too. My youngest was growing up.

Soon the Kraken would arrive.

Youngest is now twenty and paying his way through college.

Once he returned to public school, he was internally ready for it, excelled and became quite social in high school, although he still preferred the company of his teachers. He had originally chosen foreign service as his goal until the current political climate and practical dismantling of entrance to and mentorship within diplomatic service had son re-think his future. He is now studying to be an accountant, speaks French fluently, is also learning German.

He listens to Serge Gainsbourg and Charles Mingus, my elegant throwback child, and when last here for the weekend, we book swapped our latest books (we're both the readers of the family). He took away a couple mentioned in my Book Clubs post, Good Morning, Midnight, by Lilly Brooks-Dalton, and Euphoria, by Lily King, and left me Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro, and Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I didn't have the heart to say I'd last read it at his age and had decided that was enough Dostoyevsky for me!

(...and yes, homeschooling cost us - a huge financial sacrifice we still shudder to think about - and still wouldn't change a thing.)

Views: 173

Comment by Anna Herrington on February 27, 2018 at 10:22am

I hadn't looked at this post in a while....so long ago now, it seems.

Now I'm verklempt.

Comment by Safe Bet's Amy on February 27, 2018 at 1:02pm

I ALMOST went the home school route for my minions due to the periodical crap they caught from both teachers and fellow kids for "having two mommies" and Thing 3 being one of those evil "foster kids" at the time.  

I decided against it for two reasons:  1.)  I am a HORRIBLE teacher.  It isn't a good thing when the person who is "suppose" to keep them on track is constantly reminded by her "students" to pay freaking attention....  and 2.) I decided that being a "chicken shit", by avoiding issues, wasn't something I wanted to teach my kids. 

So we ended up going the other way.  My minions had NO problem with reading homophobic little brats OR sanctimonious asshat teachers the riot act for any out of line comments.  Thing 1, 2 OR 3 are individually a force to be reckoned with and if you get into something with one of them you might as well standby for all three of them to jump up. Needless to say, the Guidance Councilor and I have spent a LOT of face time together over their "conduct", but it only took a couple of "we are about ready to sue your ass silly" letters from my attorney to get his head right... LOL.  I also got and have stayed pretty involved with our PTA and frequently attend monthly School Board meetings. (Admittedly, that is partly because I dearly love to watch them cringe when they see me smiling back at them).

Comment by Anna Herrington on February 27, 2018 at 2:04pm

I hear you, Amy. I think regular ol' school is fine for most. It certainly was for me and my other kids... any issues and all.

I never thought I'd homeschool - and certainly didn't the older two. For them it was just as you say about your kids: deal. and then we dealt: for the oldest, it was endless trips to the school office and counselors, much involvement, volunteering, parent councils, on and on. Middle son was pretty easy, he did fine all along, my parent/volunteer involvement stayed the same.

With Youngest, it was different. It wasn't 'issues' as much as serious inability to tolerate the stimulus, the noise, the chaos of other children, like his nervous system at his age couldn't deal.

And he did go to a small private preschool (where I worked in another room) and did fine. Then, public school from Kindergarten half way through second grade, 25- 30 kids in each class, a very good school, actually that I wished my older two could have gone to (different state).... before we stopped torturing the kid. a full two and a half grades later of continuing major anxiety. But, finally, after months in second grade of partial then full body hives every Sunday?  Something ain't right in a serious way. Doctors agreed. They suggested taking him out, finally. We upended our lives and suddenly I stayed home and homeschooled.

I turned out to be a decent teacher for him but mostly, he was an excellent learner who thrived with just learning alone - and in small groups of kids in certain lessons and activities. (This town had an excellent 'homeschoolers' school, free, under public school umbrella, we used in 4th and 5th grade, with classes like physics with legos, drumming, theater, pottery wheel, and algebra for kids. 8 - 12 interested in learning type kids, tops... a couple days a week)

Homeschooling worked really well for him. Until 6th grade. (Can't say it did much for my own career arc...)

I make no pronouncements about homeschooling trends or the value for any other kid but my own. For this kid, it was a savior and seemed to give him what he needed to thrive. 

As it was discussed over at Rodney's a little last week, I just re-posted one of my favorite bits of that time.....

....and what, no comment about the cool ship??  ; )

Comment by Anna Herrington on February 27, 2018 at 2:11pm

We did meet a lot of parents during that time who seemed to homeschool for their own needs, almost....

I felt sorry for those kids a bit, but mostly it was the unschooler theory I thought a tragedy for kids. Absolute neglect unless that kid was a genius at finding his own way... but I couldn't ever reconcile 'what about what kids don't even know about to guide themselves in, yet?' Guidance and involvement seems to me to be crucial part of any child's education success.

We were lucky to live in an area with good educational resources and a very unusual source for kids groups/alternative education/homeschool kids that was funded under the public school umbrella. Crazy unusual, but really, shouldn't be.

Comment by Rosigami on February 27, 2018 at 2:58pm

Anna, the ship is impressive, on so many levels; for what it represented and what it was. 
It sounds like you made a good choice for your youngest, and followed through in ways that gave him what he needed to be successful. I shudder to think of what it would have been like if you had forced him to continue in "regular" school. 
Thanks for sharing this. I loved it. 

Comment by koshersalaami on February 27, 2018 at 4:50pm

I can’t imagine a fourth grader building a model essentially without plans, having to shape his own materials. That thing is damned near miraculous.

Comment by Anna Herrington on February 27, 2018 at 6:04pm

Thanks, Rosi, it was a really stressful time for those years before we made the decision to homeschool.... it was also really hard to say good bye to that ship! but it also was huge and our house is not. Photos work. So did homeschool for as long as it did.

kosh, he was an interesting child. This was a definite 'making things' highlight of his, in fact, this was by far the most elaborate 'thing' he ever focused on building.... but then he later found the piano keyboard and became gifted with playing, too, until he was just done, too. Same with learning French, dove in deep to master. But if it's not the subject/area of intense focus, then he gives little effort. Three of the family are like that, high peaks and lazy valleys, while the other two of us have the steady, marathon vision and discipline more naturally. 

As to the ship, as I wrote, the sort of keel along the bottom length of the ship and then I think three main ribs 4 or 5" each side I started the ship out with, just out of popsicle sticks, too, then this children's library book was a remarkable-in-timing-and-content find... but he just did it. Oh, I also cut sticks down if needed, but only when he brought them to me with length marked and I cut on his lines. He refused to do anything else for three weeks....it got rather intense and was very cool to observe this character of his coming out... the memories are so vivid. 

(This is also the son who liked to wear a tuxedo and begged to go to Shakespeare plays - we were in a new world! Especially after the first two boys who loved Nerf guns and stomped and shouted and dragged in mud and played soccer. Got knee scrapes. broke things. Youngest made his own breakfast every morning and arranged everything on the plate in perfect symmetry or mandala, mood depending, all cut to size.

("He was weird," his mom whispers...  and pretty delightful, too.  ; ) ))

Comment by Anna Herrington on March 1, 2018 at 9:27am

Aww, thank you, Monkey.

Having had my kids in public schools in various states, there isn't enough of a common curriculum across our whole country in the classes that are supposed to be regulated, a real issue for children who move between states with their families, much less how unregulated the homeschool side of things is....

I at first bought curriculums, and then another, and then another. I could not believe how vastly different they were - and how vastly different any child's knowledge would be about how to live in the world, much less how to do math, for instance. We ended up cobbling together Youngest's curriculums from the hippie-ish one, the Christian one (the *only* one with any history, and much more thorough history than the public schools offer - and all continents' histories, which I was impressed by, not just western cultures....) plus I sat in the grade classes at the local school and patched in what they were teaching, too, as I knew our situation was 'temporary.'

Turns out, my biggest struggle was a kid who literally wanted to memorize the Periodic Table and every country's flag and capital... or build a giant popsicle stick ship for weeks on end when he really needed to catch on to subtraction. (He did.)

And oh yes, the ones who homeschool for the parents' needs.... I really struggled with those parents, felt they were doing such a disservice... but then again, they were engaged, at least, if not too controlling maybe, while the subset who chose: unschooling?? really people?

...but after all the public schools in states across the country, I already knew there was no one set of learning all U.S. kids were learning.... far from it, and one of the country's bigger issues not much discussed when it comes to unity and why is our country so polarized??

...and.... previous comments I've made may make it seem I was a helicopter parent. Ha! I was not. Not even close. One very close friend called me a loving parent of benign neglect. and in certain ways, yes, I was. But schooling, I was thorough. That was my responsibility to make myself that way, but I also am a firm believer in letting a kid entertain themselves outside school without structured activity, sometimes, too. Self initiate, kid, use your imagination. Go outside. Invent.

One more thing, the public schools here including alternative programs as they do is one way I could see having homeschoolers better integrated in communities across the country.... wouldn't work for those who homeschool for conservative religious reasons, obviously, but those kids are so sheltered from the mainstream/mainstream knowledge there is a whole 'nother thing going on (yikes). There's an orthodox Jewish family in our neighborhood who homeschool their kids, who ride their scooters everywhere all day it sometimes seems wearing their little mennonite looking outfits, hair so long and with kerchiefs.... so cute and yet so 'outside' other kids' worlds.... protecting the kids or causing more future issues....??

Who knows with any child's education path, really.

*shrug*  

Thanks for the comments - and the silence from some others was palpable, too  ; )

Comment by Anna Herrington on March 1, 2018 at 9:30am

And I would have saved that ship!!! but it was smashed before I could. On purpose, no doubt.

I do still have the 100 or so tiny little clay disc/bowl/ashtray looking things he made in pottery class....  eyeroll  ; )

Comment by greenheron on March 2, 2018 at 8:40am

I remember this post and the incredible wooden ship! 

A fair number of home schooled seem to end up in art school, not surprisingly I guess. I've never met a home schooled student who was an ignorant pot smoking slacker. Well, maybe pot smoking, but this is de riguer in art school. 

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