Teaching the ABCs to my Highly Sensitive Child

Aha moment: I noticed that  Sisi (my sensitive 6 yo) and Matteo (my less sensitive 2 yo)  each responded to their favorite ABC book, ABC T-Rex,  differently.  Matteo noticed and repeated the letters, memorizing all the alliterations.  Sisi studied the pictures, especially the facial expressions, intently.  She had many queries. “Is the T-Rex so excited about all that ice cream? Is he worried about burning his food on the grill?”  To Sisi, this was a book about a character that she wanted to know deeply- his joys, his fears, all of it.  These weird symbols on the page called ABCs?  Barely noticed them. That’s not how her brain works. She is incredibly empathic, and characters are primarily what grab her attention in ALL books.  HSPs tend to be super emotionally aware.  They are also creative and look for subtleties in pictures.  Matteo seems to be more interested in the actual letters and numbers than in faces at this point, which is why he’s learning them so quickly on his own.

I’m glad that we kept homeschooling so non-academic for the first 6 years of Sisi’s life, despite peer and cultural pressure to introduce academics at a young age.  She had time and space to develop her creativity and emotional intelligence.  I definitely see the fruits! I hoped that the ABCs, and even writing her own name, would come to her naturally, as spoken language, colors, and social skills did.  But the ABCs didn’t. They haven’t.  Six years of ABC songs, puzzles and books, and she still wasn’t grasping them.

The unschooling philosophy says that Sisi she’ll learn her ABCs when she wants to learn them.  Once the intrinsic motivation is there, she’ll learn them in a snap. The Waldorf method doesn’t introduce any academics until 7 years old, when the child leaves the “dream state” and enters reality.  I respect and incorporate ideas from both unschooling and the Waldorf method, but I’m finding it really hard to be a “purist”.   I guess I couldn’t wait until 7 or 8 or 9 to see if she’d grasp the ABCs on her own.   I do respect the parents who do! It takes so much faith and confidence to just wait (and wait and wait).

There are still many things I choose not to teach. As Jean Piaget said, Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself.” However, I’m not opposed to bringing in a few programs, workbooks, and classes that I think would fill in a gap or spur my  kids on.   Why not tap into some of the great resources out there, even if my kid is not asking for them specifically?

So here’s what we chose: Handwriting Without Tears was recommended  by an Occupational Therapist friend who used it in her job as well as her own homeschooling. We’re taking it slowly, about 3 letters per week, just 10 minutes a day.  She’s now learned to neatly write and recognize all her capital letters, and is starting on her numbers.   Everything about HWT makes sense to me- the order of the letters they teach (not in ABC order!), the learning manipulatives, the workbooks, even the teeny tiny pencils to encourage correct positioning of the fingers.  She enjoys it.  Maybe not as much as she enjoys costumes and play dough, but she enjoys it nonetheless. She also knows that after she learns her lower case letters, we can move on to reading, which she’s pretty stoked about!  I was humbled and relieved when I decided that I CAN utilize an expert’s method to teach something I have no idea how to teach.  In fact, it was freeing to decide that I’m allowed to teach at all.

How did your kids learn their ABCs?  On their own?  With a program?  Would love to hear what worked for you!

Why Am I Homeschooling?

Hello again!   It’s been many moons since I checked in on HSM.  I’ve been busy gardening, propagating succulents, reading all I can about investing (I have truly entered my 30’s), and homeschooling my Kindergartner.  We are “unschooling”, so that basically means just continuing to be curious and do life together.  I’ll share more about unschooling in the future.

why-im-homeschooling

So why am I homeschooling?  I think my reasons aren’t the typical ones.  I am a devoted Christian, but I’m not homeschooling for moral or religious reasons.  I’m not homeschooling to shelter my children from bad cultural influences, either.  I’m not homeschooling because the public schools around me suck (they don’t- they are very highly rated.)

For me the decision was easy. My education priorities can best be accomplished outside of the traditional school setting.

  1. Sunshine, fresh air, immersion in nature on a daily basis.
  2. Preservation of sleep cycles and slow daily rhythms.  I want my kids to sleep in, nap, enjoy a healthy, leisurely lunch without rushing. The go-go-go lifestyle just doesn’t suit HSP parents or children very well.
  3. No busy work.  My kids have more important things to do, like play.
  4. Cultivating a natural love of learning!  This means let learning be the reward, instead of sticker charts, grades, pizza parties, etc.
  5. More hands-on learning. Internships, field trips, classes in the community with people of all ages, starting their own small businesses from a young age.
  6. Travel-schooling/world-schooling. Our dream is to spend large chunks of time in other places, and a regular school schedule would only hold us back.
  7. Permaculture education. In 3 years, we will be designing and building our own straw bale home and permaculture garden!!! What could be more educational that building your own home?
  8. Risk-taking, free-thinking, even failure, will be encouraged.  I’ve read a lot of inspirational autobiographies and they all say the same thing:  take risks, learn from your failures, don’t play it safe.  The typical school tells you what to do, how to do it, and expects you to do it well, if not perfectly.  This is too much pressure for conscientious HSPs who already veer toward perfectionism.
  9. Steering clear of the rat race.  I will not be teaching my kids that the key to a happy life is to study hard, get good grades, go to a good (expensive) college, get a good job, buy lots of nice things, and work forever to keep buying nice things.  I believe that’s the path most schools train you for.  The rat race begins in Kindergarten.  I hope my kids aspire to more than that.
  10. I just want to.

I’m not gonna lie- there are some things about homeschooling that make me nervous.  I wish I could say I’m 100% confident in my choice, but I’m not yet.  We’re just starting out, and figuring things out as we go. Sometimes I wonder…

  1. Could homeschooling cultivate laziness and lack of discipline?
  2. What about socialization? Social capital?
  3.  If my kids decide to go to college, will they be ready and qualified for it?
  4. Will my kids be isolated from other races, religions, and socio-economic classes?
  5. Will I get worn out and wish I could have a break?
  6. Will outsiders judge me if my kids are not learning the same things on the same timetable as everyone else?
  7. Will my own interests and passions bias my children toward my passions instead of their own?

I believe there are solutions to each of these worries.  I hope that as I find my groove, they will no longer be an issue.  But right now I have to process them.  I welcome any thoughts!

 

Why I Love Forest Kindergarten

why i love forest kindergartenImagine a classroom without walls where it’s ok to get muddy or run barefoot.  Where you can play with sticks and no one will yell the dreaded, “You’ll poke an eye out!”  No whiteboards, just drawing the ABCs with sticks in the dirt.  No books, just old fashioned story telling. No flourescent lights, just dappled sunlight beaming through the trees.  This classroom exists, and it’s called Forest Kindergarten.  The concept started in Germany- Waldkindergartens.  I’m blessed to have one just miles from my house. It’s like preschool, summer camp, and girl/boy scouts rolled into one.  And it makes my highly sensitive hippie heart sing!

Sisi is enrolled in this magical program, and Matteo and I get to come along for the ride.  For 5 hours on Tuesday, rain or shine, we sing, hike, study animal tracks and play.  The kids play and play while the parents sit on blankets under a canopy of trees and chat about the book assigned to us: Simplicity Parenting, which just so happens to be on my list of life changing books.  Our teachers are gentle and cheerful, always greeting us with a warm, genuine hello.  They have clear boundaries (this is no Lord of the Flies anarchy situation) but allow much freedom within those boundaries.  For example, “You may get muddy but please do not splash the mud on others.”  “You may play with sticks, but not during circle time.”thanks for your support!

I found this program googling “homeschool supplement programs”. I intend on homeschooling next year, but don’t want to do it all myself. I want to provide my kids with some sort of classroom experience.  I was looking into half and half charter school/homeschool programs, but they clashed with my unschooling approach.  I came upon a local Forest Kindergarten program and got the chills, it was exactly what I didn’t even know I needed.  It meshes with my parenting and educational style, and it gets my child out into nature doing what kids do best- play!

I love almost everything about Forest Kindergarten, but here are the main virtues:

  • Slow and calm pace.  Just a few structured activities, but mostly time to explore and play and be free.
  • Group snack.  Everyone brings a diced piece of organic fruit to mix together into a giant fruit salad we all get to share.  Every week Sisi gets to try new and interesting fruits (and it’s a snack that work with our paleo diet, hooray!)
  • Respectful speech.  There is no talking down, or baby talk, or sarcasm, or yelling.  The teachers speak to the children in the same respectful tone they speak to the parents.  This is so refreshing. And rare for preschools.
  • Rituals.  There are lots of little routines that give the day a nice predictable rhythm.  There is circle time, the hand-washing ritual, before meal blessing,  story time, quiet sit time, mystery bag, and the day ends with the goodbye song where the children walk under a silk rainbow bridge.
  • Positive Discipline.  No time outs, punishments, shame.  If a child is not able to participate in the activities in a calm and respectful way, the teachers may suggest that the child take a rest on their blanket until he or she is ready.  Since most kids have a parent with them, it’s up to the parents to guide the children and be positive role models.
  • NOT academic.  I know, maybe I’m weird for thinking this is a virtue, but I am happy that they are not forcing the ABCs or reading or numbers.  Each week, we “journal” (draw the moon phase and attempt to write the date and season),  learn one letter in sign language and try to make that letter with sticks, but this academic portion is not forced or stressful.  Trust me, Sisi is learning a TON at Forest Kindergarten, but it’s happening so naturally and organically that she doesn’t even realize it. That is the essence of unschooling!
  • Respect for nature.  They are exploring nature while being careful not to destroy it.  They compost their leftovers, use reusable containers, and try not to waste anything.
  • Trust.  Even the littlest students are trusted with breakable ceramic bowls and teacups, and trusted to help wash them.  We trust the kids to navigate the freedom that is given to them without abusing it. We trust they can handle a little heat, some scrapes, some rain.  Handle new tastes (pine needle tea, acorn pancakes, fruits and vegetables they have never tasted before.) I’m even learning to trust Matteo, that he can handle 5 hours out in the wilderness and be just fine most of the time.  We also trust that if our kids are showing signs of wear and overtiredness, it’s ok to leave early.  No one will judge.
  • Did I mention quiet sit time?  It’s 10-15 minutes where we just choose a little nook and sit there.  Quietly.  It’s an introvert HSP dream come true 😉
  • Cell phone free zone.  We are all present.  We give each other eye contact.  We are hands free parents for at least 5 hours of our week.  I hate my cell phone so this isn’t a challenge for me, but it may be the only time some parents are disconnected from their phones.

I encourage you to check and see if there is a Forest Kindergarten near you!

nature is the antidote