castles in the air

my bioregional swap partner (who also happens to be the creator of the bioregional swap) mary, sent me an amazing deck of cards. it is a set of 28 cards (number of days in a moon cycle) with photos that she took, and then passages written on the back of each one. she suggested bringing something to mind before drawing a card, not a yes or no question as if the deck is a magic 8 ball, but more of a topic or an area of your life you are pondering. the first one i drew was on the day i went and visited quinn’s teacher a week or so ago, to regroup and update each other and discuss my darling son. i held his education in my mind, and drew this:


castles in the sky. image by mary good. (this is a photo of her photo- apologies for diminishing its quality)

then, one evening a few days later, the same day i had met with quinn’s counselor to regroup and update each other and discuss my darling son, i was reading an excerpt from walden, and this quote caught my attention:

“i learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours…. if you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. now put the foundations under them.”

~henry david thoreau, walden

so, quinn’s education is my castle in the air. i wrote my educational priorities for quinn at a time when i was newly open to the idea of quinn attending school. i have been an unschooler at heart throughout my parenting journey, but this school was an option because it would support my unschooling approach to quinn’s education, which can be said of very few schools. then once school began, we had some indications that quinn might not be ready for being at school full time, and we went back to kindergarten as usual- at home.

we also attempted to get him evaluated for asperger’s, though that evaluation has not been deemed necessary by the professionals currently at the helm of the evaluation ship. this past week, i have let go of needing to get him back to school in order to prove anything- about him, about myself. while i take very seriously what happened during his short school experience, i have finally decided it does not have to define our lives. we are unschoolers, and this was a stepping stone on the path back to ourselves.


unschool=building ewok log launching devices. we have a book on catapults on request from the library. kindergarten physics, baby.

being at home with quinn feels right. unschooling feels right.

discussing things with his teacher highlighted a few things for me… thoughts i’d already had, but have gained some clarity on after having them reflected back to me.

  1. going to school full time, without me, may not be the best thing for quinn, at least at this stage.
  2. going to school full time last fall may have happened too abruptly for quinn, who is known to be sensitive to all of life’s transitions. he hadn’t been in preschool like many kids have by the time they go into full-day kindergarten. his unease at this major transition time could have contributed in large part to his struggles.

my discussion with the teacher also held a pleasant surprise, when she shared her thoughts on welcoming the local homeschooling community at her school. she mentioned wanting to establish a program where on certain days homeschoolers and their parents could come and hang out at our living school. she talked about establishing such a program as soon as this coming school year (when, according to plan, she will also be adding 4th grade to her school as it grows and expands to ultimately include k-12). she referred to patchwork school in boulder, and their homeschool partnership, which she said is essentially half of their school, and what a cool set-up she thinks they have. you will see what i mean when you go click on that link, where you will find many thought-provoking ideas if you are like me and always thinking about this stuff. like this quote:

Why is freedom important? Because without it we are unable to develop an inner compass.  When we are allowed to be free, we are afforded the opportunity to look closely at ourselves and to self-actualize (be who we truly are).  When we create a free environment like the one at Patchwork, we are saying that we trust children.  We offer them freedom because we want them to practice choosing how to spend time and think about the world in a safe, supportive environment.  In essence, we want them to practice being free as a child before they are free as an adult.  As adults, we often don’t know what to do with our freedom, because for the first 18 years of our lives, it wasn’t a regular part of our reality.  Learning how to navigate one’s life early and often sets the groundwork for a confident and centered adulthood, reducing the likelihood that one will spend  early adulthood trying to “find themselves.”

the conversations with teacher and then counselor unlocked something for me, in terms of freeing me up to explore my long cherished notions of homeschooling quinn, while still addressing his potential needs for social experiences beyond what happens at home.

i’ve been stuck between the rock of money and the hard place of time, that so many parents are familiar with, trying to figure out either:

  1. how to come up with time to be at school with quinn to help him navigate what may be a tougher world for him to exist in than it might be for other kids, while working full time in order to pay for his tuition, or
  2. how to come up with the money to pay for this school, while not working full time so that i can have enough time to be there to help him navigate.

meanwhile, in my working life, there is nothing on the horizon requiring a master’s degree in marine science- and when i say horizon, speaking on a gut level here, i am talking a 3+ year drought in the funding for government/academic research. as in, the whole pile of people i know here in town who recently got laid off are going to be doing some branching out career-wise in the next few years if they are staying local. between teaching yoga, selling cloth diapers, and a potential nanny gig a few days a week (where quinn is welcome, and can easily bring along any projects he is working on) i think i can make ends meet while still waking up on weekday mornings and being mama, first and foremost. for the most part, i can do my various jobs with my sidekick along for the ride. all except yoga, which is mostly during times he is with his dad, and he spends the occasional hour and a half now and then with friends brushing up on his social graces while i teach. (we did attempt one evening yoga class where quinn sat on the sidelines listening to sparkle stories on headphones and coloring. i think his idea of being really really quiet and mine might converge a little more after another year or so. the best moment of the class was during savasana when he joined in the relaxation, lying on his own mat, and let out the biggest, noisiest yawn ever, which was of course met with giggles from other students in the class, a lot of whom are parents.)

if i am perfectly honest with myself, this is exactly the castle in the air i have been building all along. look, there it is. right where it should be. time to put the foundations under it, advancing confidently forward.


the remainder of the kindergarten year, we will be working on building up our social network (even more than it already is.) we will continue to attend the happy river homeschool group that we already frequent. we will look into other homeschool groups in the area. we will sign up to be at our living school as homeschool partners whenever that program launches. we will be spending time at the pool so quinn can learn to swim. quinn has also expressed interest repeatedly in taking dance lessons, so we may look into starting that sometime in the next year or so.


i am looking into getting some math and reading curriculum, so any suggestions are welcome. it may sound counter-intuitive to have curriculum for unschooling, but i am an unschooler in the sense of we have choice in what we study- ruling out perfectly useful tools takes away some of the choices. i am generally not a big fan of out-of-context learning, so it will always be the kind of thing we use to supplement where our natural interests take us. take for example our bird “unit” that we are currently immersed in, thanks to a few really nice bird books passed our way- one with a nice section on paleo-ornithology (he likes to inform everyone that birds are dinosaurs), which led into practicing lowercase b’s and then writing b words on the bathroom sink with soap crayons. (bird burp. he had been having a little confusion among lowercase b and h.) soon we plan to head to my old lab to look at feathers under a microscope.

quinn is now officially reading, i used my mama intuition and a tip from another mama whose daughter needed a confidence boost when learning to read, and got some bob books. he read me the first and second books (out of the set of 20) without any help other than my hand putting his finger on each word and when he asked me what sound it made, i asked him back. really all i did was provide a warm body to read next to, which is why i think homeschooling is our thing- it’s much more side by side than face to face or lecturer to class. one of the things he struggled with in school was being able to hear someone who is speaking to him face to face, and his teacher had the sensitivity to notice that he tends to hear her if she talks to him from the side or behind his ear. some brand new not-yet-memorized material of a simple nature has proven to be just what he needed to boost his confidence.


and really, the bedrock underneath the foundation here is the mama-son trust  we have been building and nurturing all along. and we have been learning-all-the-time, well, all the time.

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