MC Escher and tessellations: Where math meets art

In our ongoing quest to keep L engaged with math without necessarily pushing her through more and more abstract concepts. I still harbor fantasies of her going back to school at some point, and I worry that the growing disconnect between her age and her abilities is only going to make finding a fit harder. However, I want her to continue to push past the zone where things are easy and have to persist on some difficult tasks, too. She already struggles with shutting down if things don’t come instantly to her (or if she doesn’t do them “correctly”) so one of my goals for her educationally is to grapple with that which is just out of reach.

We recently completed a lesson in Beast Academy related to using polyominos to fill defined spaces. We’ve also been using pattern blocks in relation to our study of fractions, so it occurred to me that we could use pattern blocks to begin to explore tessellations.

A tessellation is a repeating pattern that has no overlap or gaps between the pieces. You can tessellate lots of shapes, but if you want to see how cool tessellations can be, you’ve got to check out the artwork of M.C. Escher.

I found a really cool link that shows how to make your own tessellating shape, but I knew that opening with that level of open-endedness was likely to freak L out. Instead, we started with our pattern blocks.

I took a cookie sheet and used washi tape to define a small (about 4″) square on the cookie sheet. We defined this as our field. We then sorted the pattern blocks by shape. L chose a shape to begin with and we began seeing how we could cover the entire field with that single shape with no overlap and no gap.

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Tessellating squares is easy!

We then moved onto hexagons, which were also simple to tessellate.

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We had a nice connection to the honeycomb in nature when we did this one

We then moved onto a shape which I’m not sure they had “when I was a kid” – or if they did, I certainly didn’t know anything about it… rhombuses! L loves the shape and the word – and I love the way she says the word (a mildly trilled “r” and like rum-busses). She first arranged the small rhombuses in a non-standard pattern, which we decided also looked like nature.

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Like the wing of a bald eagle!

When we moved onto the larger rhombuses, I asked her to arrange them differently than the previous set of rhombuses. One of my strategies with her is always to ask her to reflect on what she’s just done and find a slightly different take on the task. Here’s what she came up with for the larger rhombuses.

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A different arrangement of rhombuses

I decided at this point that she clearly understood the basics of the task. I asked her to remove most of the blue rhombuses from the field and instead, use a few rhombuses to make a different shape. Instead of tessellating rhombuses, we would tessellate this new shape she created.

L put together three blue rhombuses to create a hexagon. She was concerned that they didn’t fit together perfectly, but I told her that we could pretend there were tiny white rhombuses filling in the gaps because the gaps themselves were regular. She then began tessellating the sets of three rhombuses and came up with quite a cool pattern.

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Hexagons made of rhombuses

As we were admiring the work, L decided that we could now add some of those whole yellow hexagons to the field. I asked her to think about how to add them in a pattern, like she might find on a floor or a wall. She came up with stripes.

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Yellow and blue striped hexagon tessellation

And then, of course, she decided to input the red half-hexagons in sets of two to complete the stripes.

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Full on hexagon stripes

Very cool!!

Building off the idea of altering patterns, we then picked up the final shape we hadn’t yet used: the humble equilateral triangle. She designed a tessellation in which the vertex of one triangle rested at the midway point of a side in each line.

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Each line is the same with the triangles in the same places

She then pushed over lines two and four to line up the lengths of opposing triangles with one another to form a slightly different pattern – and in it, she found hexagons! We had a conversation about how we could re-create the three-lined hexagon tessellation above with additional green lines or how we could use three triangles in the place of any one of the red half-hexagons to complicate it further.

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Look, mom! Hexagons!

I was feeling pretty good about the open-ended result we’d experienced so far on this day, and I stepped away to take part in a quick phone conversation. When I returned, she’d created this tessellation. The green triangles are the wingspan and the single triangle above them serves as the head of one bird and the tail of the next bird.

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The birds in mid-flight

She also used this time to find tessellations on the floors and walls of our bathrooms. Since she was still really into it, I pulled out a recent supply I’d ordered from Nasco, anticipating both her enjoyment of this concept and her love of animals.

Animal. Tessellation. Templates.

I kid you not.

I mean, what in the what? Right?!

Anyway. They were a hit!

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Look at how fun these are!!

Let me be clear: I am jealous that we didn’t have these.

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She tessellated fish

The fish was the end of it for the day for her – I mean, she had been at it for a solid few hours. However, a few days later, we revisited the templates again. This time, I urged L to think about coloring in a pattern to enhance her tessellation. She picked up the dog and came up with this.

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Red and black tessellated dogs.

We’ll get to the self-made templates in the coming weeks. Overall, I feel relatively certain that she engaged her pattern-making brain, build some fine-motor skills, and also had a pretty darn good time, too.




How do we spend our days?

Almost everyone who I consult about homeschooling argues that there’s a significant period of time right after you leave formalized schooling in which the job of everyone in the family is to relax and find their rhythm. Almost everyone says that this can take months and that there’s really no point in doing “lessons” in this time frame. Instead, time is best spent at the library, museum, and zoo; curled up reading books together; and baking yummy treats. This time is known as deschooling and is the transition between formalized schooling and whatever form your homeschooling takes.

Um, sign me up. It turns out that I’d like my career to be deschooling!

At least, it felt that way for the first few weeks. We pulled L from first grade at the end of October. I knew that through the holidays, we would be doing minimal formalized schooling. I also know me, though.

I do very well in life when I am achieving something. When I have a goal, a metric or two by which to measure my progress toward that goal, and then I achieve that goal. Without a framework like that, I get a bit adrift.


I really like to have a goal

Most of our homeschooling routine is about L and her needs and preferences. The reality, though, is that when I try to totally let go an approximate an unschooler, I get a little… itchy.

I’m trying to not pass that trait onto L. I recognize how it limits me. I work hard on messaging and behavior that reinforces the inherent worth of everyone regardless of their actions or achievement.

But I get a little itchy.

So, even though we were technically deschooling through the holidays, we did some lessons, too. Not a lot. And not the first few weeks. But when I felt myself getting short-tempered and knew that had more to do with my comfort with the environment than anything L did or didn’t do, we did a few lessons. And now that we’re post-holidays, we’re into our homeschooling “routine”. Which isn’t really a routine at all, of course!

We have a schedule: a self-directed, democratic homeschool co-op one day a week, an in-home nature-based play school two days a week (so I can have my meetings and office hours), and then four days a week at home. We host a weekly brunch on Sunday mornings at our place, which is an additional opportunity for that all-important socialization that so many are concerned about. L has Girl Scouts twice a month and is usually in one weekly class (right now it’s basketball – which is HILARIOUS). Add all that together with the one aspect of her dabble into formal schooling this year that she loved: Fun Fridays. The idea of celebrating on Friday afternoons seems really appropriate for us all.

So, how do we arrange our time?

First of all, we don’t homeschool any earlier than 11 AM, sometimes later. L is not a morning person. I have no idea where she could have gotten that from! She does best when she has time to wake up slowly, eat breakfast, watch a Wild Kratts, and do some free play.

After a snack (or sometimes after lunch), she’s ready. I’ve usually asked her what she thinks she might want to work on today and if she wants to work on a few ideas or really work on one idea.

I typically have an idea of 3-5 lessons that explore big ideas we could spring into on any given day. I have the materials and have outlined it in my head. We typically start with an independent activity or two, because L really likes to be able to do it herself.

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In the past few weeks, we’ve had homeschool days that included:

  • find 10 verbs in any book that you choose and write them down
  • work a number puzzle and find the rule to predict which numbers can go in the corner
  • complete two experiments from chemistry kit
  • play chess online
  • do a half hour of math apps
  • tessellate to our hearts’ content
  • read for an hour and a half on the couch
  • finger knit
  • watch Nature episodes on Netflix, stopping to write down animal facts
  • write a book about kingdoms in biology


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I think we’ve found a framework that works for us, at least for now. One of the things that it helps me to keep in mind is that she has learned the vast majority of what she knows and is able to do organically. Really, my intervention simply gets in the way much of the time (there’s a blog post brewing on that, too!).

Time on task is not the goal for us. Plowing through isn’t the goal, either. Helping her choose. Helping her see the value in being engaged in learning. Helping her stretch herself into areas she’s not as confident or strong in to build stamina and perseverance. These are our goals.

So, while it is most natural for me to recreate an elementary school classroom in my own home and schedule accordingly, I know that structure doesn’t work for her. While it might be most natural for her to throw away all structure entirely, I know that doesn’t work for me. And this is the compromise that we’ve reached that seems to work. At least for now.

A note on our curriculum choices

As a teacher by training, I like curricula. I like pacing charts and a spiraling curriculum. I like scaffolding big ideas. I like anchor charts. However, I already know that when I’ve tried to use curricular resources, we do a big lesson and then skip the next 10% because L’s already figured out and applied the pattern. Have I mentioned that she excels at patterns? It doesn’t help that she’s got massive gaps between what she can write and what she can express, or that she focuses on subjects of interest to the exclusion of everything else. These traits make it hard to find an “all in one” curriculum. Instead, we would be best described as eclectic (a word my husband hates), relaxed, thematic, and passion-based homeschoolers. Here’s what we’re using now (age 5).

Language Arts 

I could care less if she can spell words right now. She’s 5. Spelling will come. It may be an area of strength for her (as it was for me) or an area of frustration. Just as she learned to read when she was ready and using her own method, so too will spelling come. I could care less if her handwriting is legible right now. A huge part of that is that she’s 5. I want her to focus on the idea that she has important things to say and recording them allows them to be shared with others who aren’t with you right now. So we jot things down all the time and I scribe for her when she requests it. Our house is littered with notes.

Th closest we come to spelling practice is pointing out word parts like prefixes, suffixes, and word roots as we decode complex texts. We also read Grammar Island  on the couch as if it’s a read-aloud. We have a moveable alphabet and stamps. We don’t use them often. We play Wordsearch and Pathwords Jr.

L reads. Beautifully. Narrowly. And far above grade level. She hates most fiction. She doesn’t like reading for strangers. And she absorbs everything she reads, so working on non-fiction graphic organizers is a waste of time right now. We just read. A lot. Vociferously, in fact. And I often curl up and read my own books while she reads hers. (The link at the beginning of this paragraph is her reading a page from Almost Gone: The World’s Rarest Animals – Lexile AD1020L, DRA 34).

We also do a ton of stuff that strengthens her hands. Sewing. Play doh. Drawing. Snap circuits. Lego. Her handwriting will come along as her hands grow. So I call all of that hand-strengthening stuff “language arts” too!


We don’t go more than a few hours ever without doing science. She reads science books. Plays science apps. Watches documentaries and other science shows. Is known by name at both our zoo and natural history museum. Her pretend play with animal figures is based in actual appropriate behaviors for the species represented.

Oh, and we make stuff. Snap circuits. Building with “garbage”. Tinkercrate. Chemistry kit. Marble run. I think we’re good on science.


I have really struggled with math for L. One issue we consistently have is that she gets bored (habituates) quickly. This manifests itself in a number of ways.

First, she is not interested in repetition, especially if the repetition is intended to do things like teach math facts. Exploring addition? A-ok. Practicing number pairs which compose 10? Only in context, my friend.

And how does she manifest said habituation? Well, through stubborn shutting down, of course! I will not be moved, her behavior says. One thing we work on is helping her learn to tolerate (and it is literally that – tolerate) that which she doesn’t find engaging. However, I feel pretty strongly that my 5 year olds world shouldn’t be primarily or even a lot about learning to tolerate disengagement!

Where that lands us, then, is in a land where what we find that appeals to her get used manically for some period of time and then discarded, never to be touched again.

Good times. Expensive times.

Some of you may recall how L was obsessed with dinosaurs for almost 2 years. She now won’t look at them. Literally. She keeps her eyes down at that part of the museum. Because she’s done with them.

In the past, she worked through all of Todo Math which contains PreK-2nd grade concepts aligned with several domains of the Common Core (which, to be clear, I’m not opposed to as a set of standards). She has outgrown that app. She tried the Redbird mathematics curriculum and didn’t respond well to the format. That was very quickly a struggle. She responds really well to the Dreambox Learning app (aligned pretty broadly to Common Core), but she powers through it in pretty big chunks. A few months ago, she walked through a review of kindergarten, all of first grade, and most of second grade in about 6 weeks. She then got stuck on a particular concept the app had her working through (perhaps it was at the edge of what she could do?) and started fighting about it.

We use a variety of approaches right now, mostly low-cost ones! As I mentioned in an earlier post, we have some mad love for manipulatives right now. We also continue to use Beast Academy on a very casual basis. I also surf pinterest and grab ideas that look interesting. Anytime we come across a math app that looks interesting and seems reasonably priced, we grab it. Right now, we’re playing with Slice Fractions, Quick Math, Jr., and Attributes.

We also play lots of logic games. We love Rush Hour, Blokus, Kanoodle, Pattern Play, Set, and chess.

Social Studies

L was interested in enslavement earlier this year, so we spent an intense 6 weeks learning a bit about US history and specifically those who didn’t escape on the Underground Railroad (she told me that since so few people ever escaped, it was better to really focus on those who didn’t escape). Luckily we live very close to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, so we were able to visit several times and obtain lots of information.

Very quickly, that interest passed.

This will shock you, but we listen to NPR. I’ll give you a second to recover from your shock. In any case, we were listening in the car and I attempted to talk with L about one of the stories. She cut me off and said, “Mom. I only care about the people I already love and nature. Not anyone else.” Ok. We’ll come back to social studies another time.

So overall…

Follow her passions. Watch closely. Be prepared with lots of high-quality, open-ended, inquiry tools. Drink a lot of coffee. These are the things that make our homeschool work.

At least, it works sometimes.

Exploring equivalent fractions: I’m 5 1/2 now!

This is the first in a series of posts about the mad love we have in our home for math manipulatives.

I’ve spent some quality time thinking obsessing about how to deal with L’s math brain. She doesn’t deal well with repetition and likes to think “big picture” things. I have had to deal with the idea that her automaticity will come through repeated use of facts rather than memorization simply because she shuts down if we attempt to do anything resembling math facts. There’s another blog post brewing in my head right now about the approaches we’ve tried…

In any case, our idea right now is that we are exploring in-depth topics that she seems ready to absorb.We’ve been playing with fractions already, especially as we cook and bake pretty frequently so she’s used to seeing them in recipes and on cooking tools.

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A previous day’s work: Find 10 different ways to make 1 using halves, thirds, quarters, and sixths

Recently, L turned 5 1/2. When I was a kid, we celebrated my summer birthday at the 6-month mark at school. L is also a summer birthday, and at the awesome play-based nature school she attends two days a week, they celebrate half birthdays.

In the car, we began discussing how L was 5 1/2 and how there were other ways to express that same idea. I didn’t delve into the conversation at that moment, but knew what the next day’s lesson would be.

I started by layout out for her the conversation we’d had the day before, telling her that there were lots of fractions that would express the same amount. I wrote out for her a variety of fractions with 5 as a whole number and 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, and 12 as denominators (with no numerators). I then asked her to use her fraction circles to figure out which of those denominators could be made into a fraction that showed the same amount as 1/2. I very specifically wanted to include denominators that wouldn’t work to help her think about what fractions mean, not just how to work with them.

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Playing with the fraction circles

She used a few really interesting approaches, including laying pieces on top of the 1/2 piece (so putting the 2 1/4 pieces on top of the 1/2 piece to show they were the same) as well as using the additional pieces to complete a circle along with the 1/2 piece.

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Completing the circle with tenths

She was pretty quickly able to record 2/4, 3/6, 4/8, 5/10, and 6/12 as representing the same amount as 1/2. I told her she’d discovered a really cool idea called “equivalency” and asked her what word she could find in the beginning of “equivalent”. She found “equal” and we discussed how equivalent fractions represent the same amount as one another.

L showed me how the 1/3 pieces couldn’t be made to be the same amount as 1/2. She showed me how one 1/3 piece was too small to fill up the same amount of space as a 1/2 piece while two 1/3 pieces filled up too much space. We set those aside. She repeated the same reasoning with two 1/5 pieces and three 1/5 pieces. We put those in a pile we called the “crying, sad fractions” and crossed them out on the paper =)

We then looked for a pattern that emerged between which fractions could be made equivalent to 1/2 and which couldn’t. I introduced the words “numerator” and “denominator” so we could talk. We looked at the denominators and noticed that each of the denominators in fractions that could be made equivalent to 1/2 were even. We decided to test this theory by taking all of the pieces of each type of fraction and putting even amounts of them on each side of a dotted line.

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Checking our theory

After getting the even fractions divided into twos, we then considered the third and fifth fraction pieces again. L put one 1/3 on one side of the line and another 1/3 on the other side of the line. She sat there holding the third 1/3.

I wrote out for her 1/2 = 6/12 = 5/10 = 4/8 = 3/6 = 2/4 and we discussed again the pattern. This time she noticed that if you added the numerator to itself, you would get the denominator. I told her again what a cool discovery this was, and then directed her to this question:

If you notice that all of the denominators in the fractions equivalent to 1/2 are even, why can’t thirds or fifths be equivalent to 1/2?

It was a big question. She sat there. She put the final 1/3 underneath the dotted line. I worried that I’d pushed too far.

“Their denominators are odd!! They aren’t equivalent to 1/2 because they are odd!”

Right, kiddo.

“And you can’t divide 3 or 5 by half and get even groups!”


“And you can’t add any numerator to itself and get the denominator!!”

Amen, sister.

As we were high-fiving, I decided to double check her understanding of the underlying concept, so I wrote up a quick challenge sheet: Can you make an equivalent fraction to 1/2 out of sevenths? fourteenths? ninths? twentieths? What’s another denominator that you can make an equivalent fraction to 1/2 of?

She spent a minute puzzling over the first four, figuring them out correctly. Then, I heard it in relation to that open-ended question: “Well, I’ll just start in the thirties. 30, 32, 34, 36, 38, 40… any even number would do it.” Eureka!

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A hard day’s work

In true form, though, we got to discuss one more great math term. L said, “So I could say that I am 5 6/12, but I never would.” I asked her why, and she told me, “It’s too hard to understand that one. 5 1/2 is easy.” I reminded her about the word simple, which she told me meant the same thing as easy. It was a quick hop over to writing down “simplification” and defining that as a fraction in the form of the smallest numerator and denominator that represents the same amount.

All in all, a solid day’s work.

A sensitive plant

We moved this past spring, so we spent the summer exploring the parks our new neighborhood had to offer. The closest one to us has two beautiful ponds, home to some turtles and fish, visiting place to many birds, and with enough squirrels to delight my little naturalist. We have spent some quality time at this park.

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Picturesque little girl

Incidentally, the park also has a great playground. Multilevel play structures, swings, a digger, a spinner, a tire swing. Heaven, right? See, I sometimes still don’t anticipate my own kid.

We spent the summer bringing plastic grocery bags to the park. Why? Why, so L could clean up garbage, of course. The first time, I thought it was cute. Really, really cute.

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Her loot the first time

I thought it was charming that she spent her own time retrieving garbage. She got as close to the ponds as she could. She scoured the grass. She used a long stick to retrieve stuff from the middle of the pond. She decided after cleaning up for an hour and a half, she was ready to go home. After all, cleaning up garbage was fun. Wow. What an empathetic child I’m raising. I self-righteously thought. I must be a great mom.

Well, I am a great mom. But that’s not what was happening here.

L has a deep sense of concern about the planet. She worries about pollution and habitat destruction and extinction. She wonders aloud about the best way to get to the museum – to drive more slowly and thus use less fuel per minute but more fuel overall, or to drive more quickly and thus decrease the number of minutes on the road while increasingly the amount of fuel per minute.

She wonders aloud about why more people don’t recycle. Why people throw so many things away. Why more people don’t compost. Why more people don’t drive an electric car. And let’s be clear: I am not a shining star here. I recycle and compost. I drive a Chevy Volt. But I am definitely also a member of the consumeristic, thing-driven culture!

And more worrisome to me that her myriad of questions, none of which have real answers (Um, because they’re too busy worrying about paying their bills? Because compost can be stinky??) is the sentiment underlying them: judgment.

After that first day of garbage pick-up, she refused to play at the playground. Instead, she brought a plastic grocery bag or two with her and picked up garbage. And stared at the kids on the playground, asking me accusingly, “Why are they just over there playing? Don’t they see there’s pollution over here? Don’t they care about planet Earth?”

It’s great that she cares so deeply. I love that she wants to devote herself to helping. But she can’t decide that everyone who DOESN’T make the same choices is somehow negligent!

I stumbled through that conversation, mumbling something about most 5 year olds doing some to help but also enjoying just being 5. She clearly didn’t buy it. And the questions continued.

One day, it dawned on me.

A sensitive plant.

I asked L if she remembered what a sensitive plant was. She said she did. I asked her if she remembered what happened when something bumped up against it. She said she did; that it reacted strongly to whatever bumped up against it. I asked her if other plants reacted the same way. She said they did not.

That’s the analogy!

The next time she asked me about “other people,” I reminded her of the sensitive plant.

“L. Your brain is like a sensitive plant. When an idea bumps up against it, it reacts very strongly. That’s just the way your brain works. It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just is. You are like a sensitive plant. Most people’s brains are like other plants. When ideas bump up against them, they notice them, but their brains do not react very strongly. They don’t ‘move out of the way.’ Their brains are not good. Their brains are not bad. They are just not sensitive plants. Sensitive plants are not better than other plants and other plants are not better than sensitive plants. They’re just different types of plants.”

She looked at me for a minute. I was concerned. It made sense in my head, but maybe out loud, it was crazy.

Then she grinned her goofy grin. With her bouncy little body and still-babyish voice, she told me, “Yeah! And planet Earth needs all different types of plants on it! We can’t only have sensitive plants! And we can’t have no sensitive plants, either!”

Away she went, happy with the analogy.

It’s been about six months. We still circle back to that one. “Mommy, why do other people not… ?” I breathe deeply and ask, “What do we know about sensitive plants?” Almost instantly, the tension melts away and we are able to move on with our day.

We still clean up at the park, though.

Nothing about L without L; or, Back to Home(School) We Go!

Well, it’s been a pretty long time since I last blogged. Between moving in winter and preparing L to go to public school in August, we unschooled pretty much through August. Enter August when she was whole-grade accelerated as a young 5 into an excellent teacher’s first-grade classroom in an excellent school. After her initial excitement wore off, it became clear that school wasn’t working for her. She was frustrated and shutting down related to writing and bored in math and reading. By mid-September, we had a sad child on our hands, one who didn’t want to go to school. By late September we had a child who cried at night that she had school the next day. By October we had a child who entered into control struggles (even more so than usual!). We had a child who took an hour or more of active fighting to get through a few sheets of homework (but who knew the content perfectly). We had a child who asked, over and over again, to be homeschooled again.

“Nothing about us without us” is a battle cry of the disability rights movement – it’s the idea that no matter how good any proposed solution is, it’s not a good solution if it’s developed, decided upon, and/or implemented without the inclusion of those whose lives it would affect.

We asked lots of questions of people we trust. We tried to remember that no decision is permanent.

We met with the school. A wonderful interdisciplinary team proposed a solution: Put her in kindergarten in the mornings for writing and social stuff with subject-area acceleration for reading and math in the afternoon. But, there were no places in kindergarten in the school she was already at, so this would all be at a different school in the same district. My child, who was already overwhelmed and stressed out, would need to ride a different bus to a different school to have a different set of peers in the morning with a different teacher and then have another different set of peers in the afternoon with another different teacher… so while the paper looked good on paper, we simply felt it was too much transition and stress for her at this point. Maybe if that’s what we’d tried since August, but not for a mid-year change.

We also joke (not a joke) that another way that L takes after me is that things are “dead to her”. Once I perceive someone has wronged me, they are “dead to me”. When I’m done obsessively eating pickles for a month, they are “dead to me”. It’s not my most endearing trait, but there it is. Anyway, L has picked that up. Things become dead to her. We were pretty sure that the school she was attending was going to be dead to her if we tried to re-enroll her at it next year. Another consideration was that if we tried this other school in district, it too would be dead to her. At least if we held it in reserve, we could try it in the future and she might not immediately turn off to it.

We listened to our guts. We listened to voices on the internet of other parents who had been in similar situations. The blog post Hard Won Truths helped immensely. But most importantly, we listened to L.

She was telling us that the situation wasn’t working for her. She was telling us with words and behaviors. She proposed a solution that would work better for her. While it requires sacrifice on our parts to logistically make it happen, who are we to ignore her words? We can’t always do what’s ideal for our children, but in this case, we could.

So we did.

Welcome back to home(schooling).

“How does this work?” Hands-on science explorations

We’ve entered into a busy few weeks at work and home, which translate into less time to prepare “formal” lessons for L. That’s ok, though, because she’s in a really nice period of engaging in open-ended inquiry with interesting things!

She’s been pulling out and exploring this music box from Educational Innovations – you can put the pins in yourself and create songs. That’s been a big go-to.

We’ve also given her some new materials to explore. We’ve had a broken clock for… two years? You know, it’s been on the wall but not actually keeping time? Clearly I’m the only one with such an artifact in my house… =)

Anyway, it’s a good thing I didn’t throw it away (see! I had a plan!) because the other day, I asked L to put on her safety goggles, gave her a flat head screwdriver and butter knife, and asked her to take it apart.

She definitely looked at me like I was nuts! I explained that it was broken and our choices now were either to just throw it away or see how it worked. She decided that exploration was the way to go!

Clock, meet your end

Clock, meet your end

She began reluctantly at first. She was still worried about breaking it – even though it was already broken! I explained to her that when she was done exploring it, it would be in about 15 different pieces, AND THAT WOULD BE OK! Having gotten the permission she needed, she proceeded like a medical examiner with an interesting case…

First, disassembling the plastic cover, hands, and motor

First, disassembling the plastic cover, hands, and motor

Then, all the parts were taken apart

Then, all the parts were taken apart

She was very interested in the copper wire and tiny gears. We talked a little bit about them.

We then moved into Snap Circuits. We have a kit on loan (as we decide whether or not to purchase one for Christmas). We pulled it out and talked our way through the first two builds in the project book: Batteries in Series (two LED lights) and Ticking Screeched (a simple speaker).

Experimenting with Snap Circuits

Experimenting with Snap Circuits

While working on the first project, we got to experience what happens if you put the LEDs in the wrong direction (the circuit won’t complete). This was a nice opportunity to talk about energy as a wave. During the second build, we followed the book’s lead and substituted in different capacitors. L noticed that the larger the capacitor, the smaller the sound. We talked about the role of a capacitor in restricting the energy flow. We noticed just as we were finishing up that there’s a light-reactive element to this build. We’re going to have to build it again to experiment more with that element! We’re also ready to explore our World’s Simplest Motor!

Finally, we worked on an art project. Art projects aren’t really my forte. I struggle with how much of what I find out there seems to have a predetermined final product. I know that I feel bad when my final product doesn’t look like it’s “supposed to”, so I shy away from them. We do a lot of markers/colored pencils/crayons and blank paper, but that’s kind of where my push ends.

In any case, I decided to make fizzy art with her. See! An art project! (Ok, it’s science. I know)…

I asked L to put food coloring and vinegar into small containers while I covered the surface of a cookie sheet (with sides) in a thick layer of baking soda.

prepping the project

prepping the project

I then explained to that she could use an eyedropper (fine motor skills!) to drop the solution onto the baking soda.




So cool!

In process

In process

She pretty quickly found out that you could drop two colors at once, or even a second color on top of a previously-fizzed spot, and create new colors

Making new colors

Making new colors

About 45 minutes later, the sheet was covered in brownish-black liquid. We got a chance to revisit the idea that black is all the colors. As we were cleaning up, she asked to do it again. That evening, we repeated the entire thing with my husband. Good times!

What I loved about all of these experiences were the grins that flashed across her face. She was probably learning. But she was definitely having fun! My goal right now is to keep her invested in the idea that learning is fun, so for us both, these experiences were absolute successes.