Wednesday, November 11, 2009


"It's not that some people have willpower and some don't. It's that some people are ready to change and others are not." James Gordon, M.D.

After all the drama we've been through, you might not be able to imagine the peace, warmth, and serenity of our little household this week. Grace has responded to our decision to keep her home for school in the most impressive way I could have imagined. I'm assuming that right now she is just incredibly happy not to be going daily to a place she finds intolerable. Out of sheer gratitude, she would probably spend her days standing on her head if I asked her to do so. So spending her day doing math, reading, speaking French and even doing the dishes seems like a joy and a half. I realize that this will not last, but it's a start.

But my main aim is to get her out of the passive role that was becoming her norm, and reignite her affection for learning. I'm glad that she's been willing to do nearly anything I have asked her the last two days, but I am even more excited to see the moments when she has started to develop her own interests, her own approaches, and show a remarkable level of persistence.

I've also been pleasantly surprised to watch the change in Abigail. We had worried that changing things up for Grace would make Abigail want to stay home, but as it turns out, she's pretty happy with the concept of different kids needing different approaches. She knows that she's actually learning, and she's proud of her efforts. She can do her homework lickety split, and likes the challenge of whetting her claws on any bullies she comes into contact with. And to tell the truth, I think she's pretty happy to walk to school and home with just her mom or dad, not with her crying sister.

So what have we been doing all day, I am sure you will ask? Great question. During either the morning or the afternoon, we speak only French in the house. During that half of the day, Grace spends an hour or so on Rosetta Stone, an online language program that requires her to speak, to perfect her pronunciations, to read, and to write. She has also spent an hour or so reading the two books in the house that we have that are written both English and in French.

Once she's done with those books (and when we get a few additional ones, or find some sort of treasure trove online) we'll move on to fiction and poetry in French, but she's still working on basic grammar and vocabulary, so the books in English and French are perfect. Bill is using his Rassias program textbook and methods to teach her the conjugations of the verbs etre (to be) and avoir (to have.) Getting these right goes a long way in terms of reading, writing, and speaking French, and one-on-one with an attentive teacher, she learns so darn fast.

As the year progresses, we will also work on French history and art, probably using the books that are right on the shelves of our incredibly cool home library, with trips to relevant museums. These were Grace's idea, perhaps inspired by her trip to the Louvre.

According to Grace, (who is generally a fairly accurate reporter) she speaks a lot more French here at homeschool than she did at her regular school, since the kids and the teacher had apparently given up on speaking to her, and she to them. As long as the school authorities allow it, we'll still take her to her French classes on Friday mornings, as they seem to be quite useful and wholly pleasant. All of that French adds up to over 12 hours per week of intensive French instruction, presumably more than enough to get her speaking and writing confidently.

For the other half of each school day, we work on the rest of her academics. An hour of online math, an hour of reading in English, an hour of writing in English. Grace writes all the time anyway, and is working on a few short stories simultaneously. I give her some revision and editing suggestions, but let her take the lead. The other day she wrote a five paragraph essay, and we worked together on the clarity of her organization, and tackled relatively sophisticated questions of punctuation and sentence structure. I counted how much she's already written this year, and it's over 30 pages of really cool, super strange fiction.

For math, a logical and step-wise computer program is putting her through the paces of Grade-five-level math. The program keeps track of the topics she has worked on, and how long she has actually worked on them (the program stops counting when she doesn't respond for awhile, so the twenty hours or so that it has tracked since August is probably more like 40 hours of stop-and-start math, the way kids really work.)

As long as I sit next to her, or nearby, I can intervene in the rare times when she has a question, or help her figure out a particularly tough problem. Just so you know what she's wrangling with, here's one of yesterday's problems for you to work on back home; what is the area of a trapezoid with a height of 16.5 inches, one side is 5 2/3 inches, and the other side is 8 3/4 inches? You can get back to me on this one, but don't forget to check and label your work.

At the end of the day, Grace plays her guitar. We sometimes sing in the house. Twice a week, and also on Wednesdays, Grace plays soccer Abigail and her Dad. Bill has joked that as the P.E. teacher, he's going to need to get a whistle and a clipboard, and pull his tube socks way up. So here's a nifty Christmas gift idea: a slippery jacket with "Coach Bill" embroidered in script letters on the back.

Yesterday, she asked to paint, so we did. I asked her to help me clean up from lunch, and make the marinade for the magrets de canard, so she did. If we're going to go to school at home, she might as well learn how actually to live in a house, not just treat it as a convenient hotel.

Today, Bill plans to take the girls hiking. But I have some lesson planning to do. Tomorrow we meet with the school principal, and while I'm not sure of the layers of official authority that will either allow or intervene in our project, I'm going in fully prepared and clear on our intentions.

On the advice of two homeschool mothers I know, I'm going to put together some amazing-looking lesson plans and notebooks, and be ready to demonstrate my understanding of national requirements. I will write down all of our visits to Museums and concerts and cities, to illustrate how we're already on track to give her what she needs for France and what she needs to stay on top of her American education. I will get out my spiffy Head of Lower School wool jacket and put on real pants and shoes for once.

A toast to the great gods of change.

So far so good. And off we go.


  1. Super duper yeas for all involved!!! Do let us know how all the academic wrangling goes. You will look and sound quite official in your Head of Lower School Garb, speaking your Head of Lower School language.

    Again, YEA!!!

  2. keep track of the NYS requirements for when you return. I have a friend who home schooled all six of her kids and was very pivitol in getting the NYS ed department to be more homeschool friendly.