OUT OF PINK CRAYONS

from A Patchwork of Days

These two articles appeared as chapters in the books Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days and its follow-up, Homeschool Open House. My parts were written in October 21, 1994 and the five years later in the winter of 1999/2000, between Holly's birthday and Marty's (so sometime in November, December or early January).

The book was organized by and consisted mostly of Christian homeschoolers who practiced formal school at home. A large number of the other families seemed to be conservative, had Bible studies and raised goats.

At the time of the first writing, we lived at 8116 Princess Jeanne NE, between Winrock and Wyoming Blvd. We moved when Holly was five, nearly six, to 2905 Tahiti Ct., near Juan Tabo and Candelaria, about four miles northeast, toward the mountains.

Because the cover art of the first book was a photo of a quilt made of the squares sent by the authors, it took a while for it to be published. By the time it came out in 1996, I was no longer using the word "teach," as I had twice in this writing. There had been a list of topics we were asked to cover in our writing, and some of what might seem contrived was me answering those particular questions.


Keith and Sandra
Kirby, age 8
Marty, age 5
Holly, nearly 3

Sandra wrote about their day on October 21, which was sunny and still (as usual) at their home between the freeway and the mall in Albuquerque, New Mexico.


OUT OF PINK CRAYONS

5:45 AM:

I woke up and wasn't tired, so I got up to make bread. (I have a bread machine that I use for first kneading and rising, and then I bake it in the oven, because it rises better—a problem of higher elevation I believe.) I cleaned the kitchen, and then messed it up again looking for a container for wheat germ.
7:30 AM:
My husband, Keith, left for work. He usually leaves earlier, but had stayed up until 11:30 with Holly who Wasn't Sleepy. Keith works about ten miles from our house as a systems software engineer, doing graphic displays for avionic systems. He helps helicopter pilots see maps inside their helmets and for him it's math problems and a job with good vacation and insurance.

I turned up the furnace and took a shower. We don't have a certain bedtime, nor do we awaken by the clock.

8:00 AM:
I heard Marty and Holly, who sleep together in the bottom bed (a double under a single top bunk), discussing whether to get up. I went and got them so Kirby could continue to sleep. Marty wanted to play tic-tac-toe. I got paper and crayons but he wanted to play it in a wipe-off travel book they have. Holly played "O" and Marty played "X" and I helped them just enough to teach them a little strategy and to keep one of them from winning all the time.

The bread was ready to take out, and I put a chair up so Marty and Holly could see it. It had risen extra high and was puffing out the top—I'd had to open the top of the machine. It was whole-wheat sesame-seed bread and I put in extra gluten and yeast (that high elevation thing, y'know...), so it was way up there, and I turned the machine back to "knead" and they watched it be sucked down into a small lump again. I told them a little bit about yeast, got two round pans oiled and they helped put flour on the dough as I finished kneading and formed balls. They cleaned up the table and floor.

9:00 AM:
Kirby woke up. A little girl who is a little older than Kirby comes to our house on many Fridays. The kids colored and played games for a while, while I was finishing the bread and getting them dressed in disorganized stages. I wanted to take a loaf of warm bread to a friend of mine whose first baby is nearly due. Also, it had been reported to me that we were out of pink crayons which meant the kids couldn't color Miss Piggy, Babs Bunny or Kimberly, the Pink Ranger. I figured we'd go to an educational supply store and get pink crayons. On the way, we went to deliver the bread and the kids brought some pictures they'd colored and cut out (made with the Brøderbund computer game Playroom). How much should a pink crayon cost? The store sells individual crayons for 10˘ each. I wasn't really too surprised to learn that pink wasn't one of my choices. No problem; I got a pack of 64. Oh, and a set of 16 "Gem Tones." And a set of 16 regulars, because they could use two pinks and they always use up black and red, too. And I got one 10˘ crayon, metallic gold. So fine; 97 crayons, and at least two or three are pink. They won't go to waste.

It was nearly Halloween, so I picked up a pack each of black and orange construction paper, and an extra pair of kid-scissors. Meanwhile, the three older kids were playing with puppets and a puppet theater the store had set up, and Holly was playing in the area actually intended for play, where the nice wooden kitchen set is, the baby doll, and the chair and footstool. She was having a great time.

Before I got out of the store, I had picked up an Usborne book called What Makes you Ill?, a deck of cards called Explorers Card Game, another called Greek Myths and Legends, and a couple of art books in the Children's Press series: Getting to know the Worlds Greatest Artists: Boticelli and Michelangelo. I already own a copy of their Bruegel book, which I bought because it had a copy of "Children's Games," a great painting with all kinds of toys and activities of medieval children. So that crayon ended up costing about $56 but think of all the things that came with it!

We had been at Colborn's School Supply on Lomas, which isn't there anymore. Then we went to Mac's Steak-in-the-Rough.
I stopped at a local fast food place that has a drive-through and takes checks. While we waited in the shade for food to be carried out, I read the first four pages of What Makes You Ill? and made a comedy routine of it as much as I could. The kids were cracking up.

12:00 noon:
When we got home I set the kids up with their food and put on the Schoolhouse Rock multiplication videotape. I was eating my burrito in the kitchen, reading a couple of pamphlets a friend had sent on "Michigan's Little Bavaria," and the biggest Christmas store in the world. I overheard Marty and his friend discussing infinity during a song about multiplying by nine. In a discussion like this, if they seem to know what they're talking about and they're happy with the outcome then I will stay out of it. If they ask me to mediate or confirm, I will. If I were actually at the table with them I might've led the conversation a little further, but since they were watching something with music, it would've been more distracting than helpful. If there had been more chicken strips in those lunches, they would have watched more Schoolhouse Rock. Just as the parts of speech section started, they were down to the French fries and, one by one, they wandered off to do other things, except for Holly who fell asleep on the couch.
1:00 PM:
Kirby and his friend were playing Ninja Turtles, the Arcade Game (a two-player game) on Nintendo. Marty was out front on his roller blades (which he had actually had on since we left the house at 11:00), playing with an old toy that mixes different colors of plastic film to teach color mixing. He came in and declared that purple wasn't a very good color. I suggested maybe he needed more light for it, but he said he had been outside in the sunshine and it still wasn't very good.
1:30 PM:
Marty and our visitor were playing on swings in the back yard. [Lilly Hankins was the visitor.}
1:45 PM:
I read most of the rest of the Usborne book aloud until attention was flagging and skimmed the last few pages in a humorous fashion. We'll catch it later. Kirby had started off playing Gameboy, and I asked him to turn the sound down. A couple of pages later, he was over looking at pictures. Marty was coloring and would skate over and look at the pictures and skate back and color until I turned the page again.
2:00 PM:
Marty started cutting up the black and orange paper to make chains. Kirby wanted to play the Greek Myths card game but I was typing this and the table was full of half-cut-up construction paper.
2:30 PM:
Kirby and his friend wanted to put wood glue on the floor in the front part of the garage to catch prowlers. I talked them out of it. They went to finish the Ninja Turtle game. Holly was still asleep. Our young visitor's mom will be here soon to pick her up and Kirby will miss her company, though we have lots of neighbors their age.

We live on a residential street of three-bedroom, single-family houses built in 1952, flat-roofed smaller than quarter-acre plots. My husband's family bought this one in the 60's 1959. We have kids next door on each side, and in three of the four houses across from those. Six houses in one small area, with a total of eleven kids from two to nine years old, five boys and six girls. That's quite a deal, and covers the socialization concern pretty well all by itself. My fear that our kids would be the odd ones out was taken care of by the fact that there were two different public elementary schools and two different private schools attended within that small sampling. Each family was unique so our kids weren't outnumbered. The neighborhood is what we all have in common, and for that I'm grateful. Kirby has been writing down the high scores on their Turtle games, and he and his friend are discussing scores—thousands and hundreds of thousands, and dreaming of higher and higher scores. We started to play the Greek Myths game, but Kirby thought the directions were too complicated and he was afraid he wouldn't be able to read well enough to play it. (I was afraid I wouldn't be able to pronounce all the names myself.) My husband called from work and while I was out of the room they voted to watch Tiny Toons instead. It was a parody of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I kind of got into it myself. Holly woke up and one of the neighbors came over.

Our house is the hangout because we don't have carpet and we own our home, which makes me less uptight than some of the other moms need to be about who does what where. We have more toys, less order and fewer rules, so kids can play harder and get along better over here. Here's an example: When I bought a discount pack of cheap Power Rangers coloring books, I bought an extra pack and hid it in my office closet. Just a while ago the kids started arguing over two workbooks (which they got out to make use of the 97 new crayons!). I figured it was a good time to pull out the extra Power Rangers books.

3:40 PM:
My husband Keith came home from work. He said, "Kirby, did you tell Mom?"

"Tell me what?" I asked, popping out of the office.

"Your friends are coming early."

"When?"

"This afternoon!"

I thought they were coming tomorrow night. We met them through the Society for Creative Anachronism, which is a medieval and Renaissance studies and re-creation club in which Keith and I met almost twenty years ago. We and the kids all have enough medieval clothing to last us several days, dishes, toys, musical instruments, calligraphy and arts supplies, medieval cookbooks—it's two dozen hobbies in one. The best thing about it is that we have friends all over the United States, several in Canada, we've hosted visitors from Australia twice, and if we get to Europe we'll have places to stay there. It will be interesting to get to know them better.

4:00 PM:
Holly was wandering around the house with a sucker in her mouth (she found the Halloween candy) and my older two and their visitor were coloring Power Rangers pictures and watching Animaniacs.
4:00 to 5:00 PM:
Keith watched Star Trek in the kids' room, since they were watching the big TV and coloring. Holly came and cuddled. I went in a few times to lie down and to see whether I'd been writing enough to cover this day.
5:30 PM:
Our young visitor left with her mom. Kirby went to take a shower. Keith helped him wash his hair. Marty and I worked on a black and orange paper chain for a Halloween decoration and watched Full House while we glued. Holly wanted to glue too, but wanted to use the bottle instead of wiping it on with her finger from the common "puddle" of glue. I wouldn't let her. I gave her some tape to make a decoration with a scrap of orange paper and she was happy.

Marty found two little pieces of construction paper Holly had glued to the wall in the hallway. If she hadn't already colored all over the wall and it needed to be repainted really badly, I might've cared.

Kirby went over to the home of a neighbor to play video games. He took his Nintendo cleaning kit. Marty and Keith went to the grocery store and the bank. When Holly found out she had been left home with me she wasn't too happy and I told her she could go to the store tomorrow with Dad. She and I were having snacks of melted Muenster cheese on the homemade bread. I don't think Kirby or Marty ate anything but they drank some milk. I supposed when they came back home I'd need to feed them.

8:15 PM:
My friends still haven't shown up. What a bad food day we had! Not a bad kid-stimulation day, though. And it's not quite over. Marty came home and ate peanut butter and jelly.
9:00 PM:
My friends showed up. We sat and talked and joked and my husband and I got to know them, while Holly and Marty colored and read books and climbed in and out of my lap and Keith's. Kirby came home from playing video games at a neighbor's house at 10:00 PM. Marty was playing on the
computer—Playroom or Treehouse, I think, or maybe Ishido. The kids asked to get on the computer and play games. We have about a dozen good kids' games—Treehouse, Back Yard, Treasure Mountain, Math Rabbit,, etc. We took Miracle Piano off a while back for a system upgrade and haven't put it back in yet (I want a stand for the keyboard so I can hide it under the desk) and when we do it will seem brand new and get a lot of use again.

One by one the kids said they were tired, and I set them up to go to sleep. I put a tape on for Marty (a story tape we got at a thrift store which is supposed to go with a book but we never had the book), and for Holly (after Marty was asleep) I put on the soundtrack of The Lion King.

11:00 PM:
Keith turned in.
11:30 PM:
I stayed up talking and then went to bed.
END NOTES:
Our daily plans are nebulous, and although we might schedule a trip to the zoo or a papier-mâché day (something that takes a clean table and a lot of setup and no big interruptions), we don't have something scheduled on most days, and we don't "educationalize" trips to zoos and museums and such. We just go, and what we read or see is discussed, but not in a scheduled, checklist way.

There are several ways that I get ideas and resources. I have e-mail friends. I have a few local friends who homeschool but the homeschool scene is too structured for my tastes. I'm a member of the state organization and I get some good ideas from their newsletters. When I was beginning to homeschool, I got reassurance from a friend who has four older children. Her philosophy is that as long as they know things by the time they go on dates or get married, it doesn't matter how soon or in what order they learn them. Family Fun Magazine has some good ideas and I have some books on arts and science projects. Nothing has helped as much as reading Growing Without Schooling.

Keith might go several days without any particular homeschool-looking interaction with the kids, but he's good at playing games with them and letting them help him work around the house. When he reads to them he ad libs and the kids think it's fine. When he reads them a book and when I read them the same book, it can be like two different books!


This isn't the same photo that appeared in the book at this point, but it's near to the same time, within a year, I think.

UPDATE:

Since our October day was documented, I've gotten an unschoolers' group going in Albuquerque. It's not so much a support group as a playgroup for the kids and a place where we can hang out with adults and not have to explain why our kids are home during the day, or why we don't use a curriculum. It's refreshing and relaxing.

Except that the kids are older now, everything is the same even to this amazing coincidence: Today our kids are working on paper-chain advent count-down projects for our house and a friend's house, and our Friday visitor is here again. Things are definitely still the same at my house!


The article above was 1994; the update above, 1995; the article below, sometime around Christmas or New Year's, 1999/2000.
Keith, age 43
Sandra, age 46
Kirby, age 13
Marty, age 10
Holly, age 8

Five-year follow-up interview with Sandra in Albuquerque, New Mexico


We were the "pink crayons" chapter in the last book, and still my kids need pink crayons for all sorts of projects.

Kirby's thirteen now, and he's been taking Shorin-Ryu karate for nearly three years. He taught his first classes a few weeks ago when the sensei was sick.

Marty is ten and just started writing and spelling lately. He went from nothing to a lot in that area, for a few unconventional reasons. First, he saved enough money to buy his own video game. I bought him the manual, and he came to read that and the screen messages and directions. Then he got an e-mail account and started answering instant messages and e-mail from friends. Now he can write. Not many families are willing to wait until children are nine or ten, but I'm interested in having them develop other ways of taking in information (aural, visual, experiential) before they begin to read, because it seems to me that early reading can somewhat limit one's willingess and ability to take other avenues to knowledge.

Holly is eight and I overheard her brothers bragging to their friends the other day about what a good artist she is. We have a big old light table and the kids have done composite tracings for years and then moved on to their own designs with the advantages of light tables. Holly can whip out a drawing in no time now, from memory, anywhere. She's also really good at keeping a fire going in the fireplace, at taming cats, and at asking profound philosophical questions with sweet humor.

Our biggest change is that we moved to a bigger house. Now the kids have their own rooms and there is an enclosed porch for their games, art supplies, and commonly owned toys. They have a view of the back yard which is edged in Arizona cypress trees and seems a little more like a rural yard than the Albuquerque neighborhood it really is. Our back gate opens to a big vacant lot, and we can walk to the grocery store, copy shop, the credit union, and two video rental places from here. Unschooling families come over on Thursdays in the winter, and in warmer times we meet in a park.

My husband Keith has been working in Minneapolis on a defense contract which just keeps being extended, but he's home about a week per month and we get to go and visit him there. We've been to Duluth, to the iron mines, and to play in some snow that's very different from New Mexico's snow. In New Mexico, when you sled you get dirty. The sleds pull up grass and weeds and dirt. Snowmen often have dirt or dead grass embedded in them. In Minneapolis I took four days' worth of clothes for the kids to sled for four days. They could have used the same clothes every day—there was no dirt or dead grass. Our snow melts in a couple of days. We nearly never see week-old snow. In Minneapolis there's four-month-old snow.

We have a housemate who knows biology, chemistry and physics as well as I know grammar, literature and music. That helps a whole lot when the kids come upon those learning-rich opportunities without any warning. I'm learning lots of science myself from hearing the explanations. Keith does geography and math easily and with enthusiasm, so as a team we have things pretty well covered, but it never seems like school, just like joyous inquiry.

What I'm proudest of about my kids is that they are sensitive to other people's feelings, they're helpful with younger kids they don't even know, they make friends easily, and they're funny and bright. They have lots of adult friends, too.

Now that the children are older, we've become more active again in The Society for Creative Anachronism, in which my husband and I have been participating since the late 70's. The SCA is a sort of medieval and Renaissance studies co-op with costumes, sword fighting, and lots of crafts and research. This causes lots of brilliant, artistic people to be in and out of the house, and the kids can't help but benefit from that. My husband's squires and my apprentices and protegés are a wonderful resource for our children. Also, we have traveled to feasts and tournaments in other areas, and the kids gain friends they wouldn't have met otherwise.

Homeschooling gives me a really flexible schedule, and I've made friends in other states from online discussions and from speaking at and attending homeschooling conferences. I have lots of adult friends (and six adult students) in the SCA already (plus my husband's two squires), and now I'm more available to do things with them. They sometimes babysit for me in exchange for things I do with and for them. Sometimes they take my kids to movies or to do something interesting. And some of the homeschooling moms have become my close friends.

As far as their higher education is concerned, there are all kinds of classes available in Albuquerque through continuing education, the vocational school, and the university. When the kids are older I'm sure their interests and contacts will lead them to interesting opportunities and situations. I've never been sorry we chose to homeschool.

I'm glad Nancy has given us an opportunity to share our lives with other homeschooling families. If you're just starting to homeschool I have a few words of advice: Breathe. Smile. Your kids will be sharing your stress and fear, so move quickly to get over them. Meet experienced homeschoolers and model your practice on families you like and respect. Deschool yourselves, and the kids will follow easily.

1998 Interview with photos The Dodd Kids Halloween Costumes of Record (Dodd Kids)