August 1, 2009

Looking Back Looking Forward

The summer is an excellent time for reflection for me. Having just spent a week on the beach always seems to put me in a pensive reflective mood. As I type this I am sitting in our family/school room. I look at the "school" side of our room and I think back to the evolutions it has gone through and this next year I think we will be going through yet another evolution.

When we started the one request I had was for really great kid type bookshelves. We looked at them in catalogs and could not believe the pricetags in the several hundreds of dollars and Serona agreed he could make them. Working off a picture and dimensions from a catalog he proceeded to make three wonderful bookshelves just like you would see in an elementary or preschool classroom. He bought really good wood to build childrens bookshelves and people thought he was crazy but truthfully it was the wisest decision he made. He took many many hours in the garage cutting, sanding and staining the wood and then assembling the shelves. He was trying to finish before our youngest was born and he did so that would have been 6 years ago when we were just starting our homeschool journey. Those bookshelves are still and always have been the center and heart of our school room through two homes and many other changes. They are 4 ft long and 31 inches tall, just two shelves each, plus the top which has nearly always been used as a shelf, it is amazing all the things that have fit on these 3 special bookshelves through the years.

When we started the kids were 4, 2 and a newborn, those shelves were filled with toys and Montessori type materials. Maybe one or two of the 9 shelves was covered with good kids books. We had playsilks, blocks, legos, many wooden puzzles, various wooden toys, puppets, various musical instruments, trains, coloring books and crayons, sandbox (in a rubbermaid tub), our soundbox (a cardboard box we would fill each week with items that started with a different letter of the week, huge plastic dinosaurs and various lifelike plastic animals, wooden food and kitchen, toy cars, balls, etc.

Through the years what has been on those shelves has ebbed and flowed, replacing some of the toys with more and more "school" like materials. If you looked at my shelves today you would discover that 4 of them are covered with books from edge to edge (our school books and kids books to read) 2 more of them are filled with board and educational games and only the tops still hold the toys of earlier years. We still have and use the play silks, musical instruments, lifelike animals, puzzles, trains, blocks, and legos. Some of the other toys have moved to the kids room or to storage for young children when they visit and some of it has been given away.

In addition we now have 3 several drawer high plastic storage containers filled to the brim with arts and craft type supplies. I am not a crafty person at all and I hate glue, paint, sparkles, spangles, etc but my youngest seems to live to craft and we learned long ago to go with the flow. I knew I had grown or given up the day I realized my 4 year old had put on a smock, set up her paints, painted, cleaned up her paints and the mess she left behind, all kids paint is easily reached in our house and if I am not involved I find I don't mind it so much. We can always replace the carpet and sink (stained with paint and nailpolish) when they grow up and move out right?

We have an entire wall in that room painted with chalkboard paint and the kids still use it. Sometimes still for drawing but as I look at it today I see a half erased multiplication table and spelling lists that were never completely erased or cleaned from back in April I am guessing. Guess they haven't felt the need to use it recently. There are big cardboard cut out letters that hang from the wall that have been painted and various images have been glued on as the youngest learned her sounds and alphabet. Big maps cover the wall, artwork is scattered about, and various oversized books and items seem to be stuffed or falling out of various corners of the room.

We have a big kidney shaped table and chairs (the kind you might find in a pod styled classroom) and exercise balls lie under the table as they often replace the chairs for the kids. This table replaced individual flip style desks we once had. I can't say we do a ton of school work here but it is nice to have this table and it is definitely our craft table and board game table. Every once in awhile when I get serious about routine or schedules we try to sit there more often but I find it never lasts as the kids prefer to be on the floor, at the kitchen table, on a couch, the deck or in our home library, still it looks well intentioned.

The other side of this room (separated artificially by our couch) is our family room where we have our monitor for movies, video games and the computer (a big screen TV that does not get any television channels). We decorate that room entirely with Target book shelves that are filled with Wii Games, XBox 360 games, board games, dvds and the like. All the walls in that room are decorated with various Star Wars Movie Posters and Puzzles we have done as a family. Pictures of our family in Star Wars Costumes from Conventions, Disney and the Science Museum round out the decor. Video game rocker chairs are nearly always in the middle of the floor and a punching bag hangs from the ceiling during the winter and a mini trampoline gets pulled out of the closet. Creates a wonderful enriching learning environment right? Well it suits our family personality at this phase of our lives just fine.

As I look around the room I realize this is the time of year where I need to clear out last years lesson books and piles of paper and find homes for them and throw the rest in the trash. I need to think through how we will use this room this year and try as best I can to prepare it ahead of time. I have no idea. I know have a 5th, 3rd and 1st grader and no little ones to keep occupied through the day. Yet they are not quite out of toys completely and I don't want to be overly serious. Then other days I look around and I want to rent a dumpster and just purge it all (except the books)and make that room have a clean feel. Then I realize our learning environment is not sterile, it is not clean, it is full of life, chaos and all the things we want to surrond ourselves with. Learning is not neat and tidy all the time and as much as I try to put things away, really where am I going to store that solar system they built? Have I left it out long enough, taken enough pictures, can I pitch it away in the darkness while no one is looking the night before the trash is picked up? Or will I regret it the moment I do, will I even be able to lift it off the table to do so?

Do I miss the toys of earlier years? Not really one bit. They were wonderful while they were there but the books and board games are wonderful now. They are growing up and I am comfortable with that. I will miss the snuggling and the sweetness of small children, but not the toys and the clutter. Yet somehow when I look around at what is here today these are the things I think I will miss. The board games piled high, the Wii games no one can seem to put in the right case, the picture books we have so few years left of, yes even the endless arts and crafts supplies. These are just as much clutter I know but somehow it feels different. Perhaps because that is just where I am right now.

Looking forward I have no idea what this room will look like this year, next year or in 5 years. I know that it will always be filled with love, learning and a desire to to have fun as a family. It will grow and change just as we do as a family and as my kids do as individuals and maybe that is what makes this room such a special room in our house, clutter, chaos and all.

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