While in Seattle a couple months ago, I had the opportunity to tour Chrysalis, an independent school that in essence brings a homeschooling bent to school. From their website: “Chrysalis builds a personalized program for your child that is centered around their interests, encourages their strengths, and provides the support of a larger community of learners.” There are group classes, but there are also one-on-one mentoring sessions, and the staff work with each student to figure out what combination will work best for that student.

At the high school level this reminded me a bit of community college — just a really caring, personal community college where every student has an adviser deeply invested in their well-being. I loved the flexibility, the lack of testing, and the emphasis on personal connection with the students. The woman who talked to me exuded a profound confidence in the capacity of her students and staff, a confidence that went beyond academic matters and had more to do with (for lack of a better word) their personhood.

Interestingly, at the grade school level I had more trouble getting an intuitive handle on things, although the system was essentially the same. I suspect it’s simply that I can entirely picture high school kids actively shaping their education, but I have trouble imagining that at a younger age — my own experience of grade school is too deeply ingrained. But when I look at Nathan and Ryan, of some of the other kids at Village Free School, I can certainly imagine it… I suppose this is a case of my conscious, rational beliefs running headlong into the unspoken beliefs I formulated as a child, and the two grinding against each other.

Also, if I’m honest, I had to fight some anxiety at the grade school facility. While at the high school campus I could mentally place the school as “like a community college,” at the grade school campus it looked like a school to me — not completely, but enough to trigger my old school anxiety. I know that impacted my ability to step back and think clearly.

But it was still a pleasure to talk with people who were passionate about individualized education, and familiar with concepts like autonomy and mastery (two of the primary human needs — see Drive if that sounds unfamiliar). And the biggest idea I took away with me, that I’ve been turning over in my head every since, is this focus on one-on-one mentoring. How could that fit in at Village Free School? How does it fit into our homeschooling? For that matter, how can I use it for myself?


Further Adventures In Camping

Recently we did a group camp with some other parents from around the Salem area. This was a great opportunity for me, because while tent camping doesn’t worry me per se — much — the truth is I still don’t have all that much experience with it, and I’m always worried I’ll forget something crucial. Like matches (which I once forgot). And small children are not exactly stoic in the face of deprivation. Having other people around just feels like a good safety net.

Plus it gives the boys other kids to play with. There were three other kids in their age range (the rest were toddlers), and just like the Back-To-School campout last year, the boys would disappear for hours at a time with them. In fact I suspect that the entire trip, from their perspective, was a long saga of outdoor play, punctuated occasionally by turns on the swing (one of the fathers is a professional arborist, and hung an awesome swing from a 25-foot-high branch) and pesky needs to eat.

For me things were slightly more complicated. There was the tent, which wasn’t too much trouble, although I suspect I was the only person there who had to actually look at the directions when setting up my tent. (One of the other parents saw me doing that and promptly volunteered to help.) There was the food, which I kept simple by letting us eat mostly hot dogs and nutella. (One of the other parents noticed this and spotted me some extra BBQ chicken and corn-on-the-cob.)

And there was keeping track of the baby. The one hitch in the trip came just an hour after we’d arrived. The tent was set up, Nathan and Mica were hanging out in it, and I told Nathan I would get some more things from the car (thirty feet and six tents away). The trouble is that I didn’t explicitly tell him he was in charge of Mica, and I took a little longer than I expected… and when I got back, probably seven minutes later, she was gone. Entirely gone. I scanned the visible campground — nothing.

Naturally I started going up to other campers, asking them, in a totally not-panicking way, whether they’d seen a red-headed baby wandering around. And one of them had. It turned out she’d gone out of the campground, turned onto the (fortunately little-used) road next to it, crossed a bridge and was heading off to find her fortune, a water bottle in one hand and a graham cracker in the other.

So it was fine, and the experience only took a few years off my life, and reminded me that 1) no matter how capable and helpful Nathan is (and he really is), he’s still only eight, and 2) Holy Moses but that girl is quick.

But otherwise we had a great time. There was a creek flanking the campground, cold and shallow and ideal for splashing around in — which was great, because the temperatures midday were sweltering. The older kids would wander off just far enough to be pseudo-unsupervised but still within earshot, while the parents hung out, cooled our feet, and chatted. Mica, displaying a typical lack of fear, wanted to plunge straight into the creek and explore all its interesting features, especially the little waterfalls, which I helped her with until my feet got numb. (“It’s great that she’s so exploratory,” one of the other parents, whose daughter is considerably more cautious, said to me. “Yes, if we can just get her to survive to adulthood, she’ll be a really interesting person,” I answered.)

And I am almost — not quite, mind you — ready to consider the concept of taking the kids camping solo. Maybe in a year or two, when Mica’s concept of boundaries are more evolved…

Painting With Babies

Recently I saw a project idea that I loved — painting small wooden blocks, which could then be used for stacking and playing. (And of course all the other kind of block play, like throwing and whacking. But we like to gloss over those bits.) Mica loves blocks right now, and routinely tries to win the World Championship Cuteness Award by stacking up a tower, and then clapping her hands and saying “I did it!” So within three days I sat down with Mica and Nathan and their grandma (Ryan abstained) for some painting.



It may surprise you to know that some of the paint got on the blocks, too.


Mica is obsessed with bugs.

“Bug? Bug?” she’ll ask me incessantly if she finds me working in the garden. She wants to play the game where I root through the soil for an earthworm, sow bug, or some other small critter, and put it in her hand. Sometimes, if we’re very lucky, we find a ladybug or a roly-poly. She’ll stand there for long minutes as the creature crawls (or wiggles, for earthworms) about her hand, watching it with rapt attention.

This, to her, is one of the only two interesting things about gardening. The other is that occasionally she gets to pour water on things; but that is less fun than one would hope, because I’m surprisingly picky about where I want the water to go. She tends to lose interest in the process quickly. “Bug?” she’ll say hopefully, as a hint that we should go back to a better activity.

And I have to admit that, especially when the bug is happy to keep wandering her hands for a while, I find her preoccupation with them both endearing and useful.

There is a potential downside, though. The other day I heard her exclaiming over a bug on the patio, so I came over to see — and found a spider the size of a nickel backed into a corner, front legs raised menacingly to show its bright green palps. “Back off!” its stance said. “Back off now! I’ll get you!” Mica smiled up at me with the same delighted smile she’d worn when Hobbes would hiss at her. “Bug!” she said happily, and reached down to make it move again.

I do my best not to pass my own fear of spiders on to my children, so I caught her hand, explained carefully to her that the spider was afraid, and that some bugs could bite her, especially if they were afraid. “Bite?” she said, pointing at her arm (which is where she now thinks bites happen, apparently). “Hobbes?” Yes, I told her, just like Hobbes.

She looked down at the spider again, which had not relaxed, and one hand crept tentatively toward it, either from force of habit or a deep-seated need to verify information.

It was clearly time to go inside for a bit.