Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I had a bit of an epiphany this morning and needed to write it out in order to organize my thoughts around it.

Unschooling is about parenting the child in front of you instead of the adult they may become. I've had to let go of a lot of "what ifs" in order to unschool and it has made me a more present parent. I recently wrote that motherhood should come with a crystal ball because I was frustrated about how I could know I was doing the right thing. Now I realize that I don't need to see the future to know this; I just need to look at my kids RIGHT NOW to know if their PRESENT needs are being met. The future is made in the present and if the present is peaceful, intriguing, fun, loving, and mindful then the future will be as well.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The most difficult part of letting go of a traditional schooling model is the loss of "measureable results". We don't take tests, the kids choose to do some worksheets but it is random and rare, and at the end of the day it is sometimes difficult for me to put our day into "educationese" for my log book. I have to constanlty remind myself that getting all of the right answers on a test or worksheet does not guarantee that information has truly been learned. How can something be so true and so difficult at the same time?

ETA- of course Patrick Farenga explains the paradox of educationese much better than I; and with the catchy title "Schools are from Mars- Homeschoolers are from Earth" LOL!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

We've had such a busy week that I haven't really had time to record it all!

Tuesday was awesome because both of the kids finally got to start taking some lessons in areas of interest. We have wanted to do this and are finally finacially able to so it was an exciting day. Jace is taking guitar lessons and he really likes it so far. He woke up Wednesday morning and the first thing he did was practice. He also figured out for himself how to replace a broken string. Kya is taking dance lessons, she is also very excited and wears her dance outfit as often as possible practicing what she has learned. I am just so happy that they both have these opportunities right now. :)

Wednesday was Earth Day and loads of fun. The activities at the nearby university were so kid friendly and I got to hang out and listen to some great live music and chat with my friends. Kya loved the face painting and the free flower. I can't honestly say what she learned because we already know the importance of the three environmental R's (reduce/reuse/recycle) but it was a fun day to celebrate with like minded people, reinforcing those ideals.

After the festivities I headed to work, cooking a large meal at our church before the Wednesday evening activities held there. Kya tagged along since we were already in town for the Earth Day activities. The woman helping out in the kitchen, a retired teacher, was using the brownies to ask her about some simple multiplication involving arrays. It was nice of her to do but Kya balked at the idea that there is one "right" way to multiply. There were five rows of brownies so the woman was trying to get Kya to count by fives, a reasonable request. HOWEVER, Kya has learned that doubling numbers is a better strategy for her, 8x2=16 16x2=32 32+8=40. The same answer, almost as fast as counting by fives and it works for her. The woman did eventually acknowledge that there was nothing wrong with Kya's way of doing things but only after she'd told her she was doing it wrong several times. It made me glad that she isn't in school being told to do things "right" instead of using her creativity to figure things out for herself.

Today a trip to the national forest near us for a hike started out shaky but ended up being fun. It was hotter than the weather man said it would be and I was doubting if the trip was a good idea. But once again water proved to be our saving grace. My kids have fun wherever there is water to play in and the shallow creek proved to be perfect. They kicked off their shoes, rolled up their shorts and started collecting rocks. We had a great discussion about erosion by wind and water and how rocks and sand are formed. It only took a few minutes but they understood it more than an entire lesson from a textbook.

All in all a good few days, I'm starting to understand my role as facilitator. I'm not passively sitting back and waiting for them to become interested in things to study. Instead I'm making sure that we have interesting opportunities that create teachable moments. These may or may not lead to further study but something is learned none-the-less. Still feeling our way through this journey into unschooling but feeling more equipped all the time. :)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hollywood, here we come! LOL

I am listening to my kids in the next room. They are making a movie with our Flip video camera. The pause it so Jace can direct and adjust the script, he's actually very good at this. Kya is the actress of the family. The first time they put a play on for us my heart skipped a beat to realize how naturally gifted she is at performing. They make a great team and I fully expect to be thanked in their acceptance speech for best picture some day. ;)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

We had a pretty busy day today. I headed off to church, followed by the grocery store, alone; Robbie didn't want to go so the kids opted to stay home with him. I got home in time for lunch then back to town to see the Hannah Montana movie as promised... Kya's friend met us there and then came home to play after. When we took her home I chatted with her mom for a while so it was late by the time we got home. Aside from a little computer time not much went on today that most would consider "educational" (although there are always snippets of conversation that amaze me). Then as I was thinking there wouldn't be much to record for the day Jace was going to bed and he turned back and picked up a book that has been laying around for a few months. He's ready to read it now. Kya came in after I'd tucked her in to show me the picture she'd been drawing. After we looked at it together she then spotted her journal and decided to write before going to sleep. What a blessing that they do these things on their own. :)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Jace was having behavior problems directly linked to the computer. Too much time in front of the computer was the actual CAUSE of the problem; he was easily frustrated, tempermental, and unable to control his emotions. Some kids process time spent in front of a screen differently. Some don't agree with me but that's okay; if I'd only experienced a child, like Kya for example, who can handle unlimited screen time without obsessive compulsive or adverse behavioral effects I would probably not understand limitations either. But I KNOW the screen time is the cause of these issues and I'm intervening. This is what seperates me from the radical unschoolers I suppose but I'm okay with that too. I'm not really in this for the label of unschooler, I'm in it because I'm trying to help my kids be their best selves, sometimes that means choices and following their lead, sometimes it means stepping in when they aren't able to make good choices due to maturity, lack of information, etc. So, Jace is taking a nice long break from the computer.

An unintended result of this break is that just one day into it is already easing my previous panic. I was worried before that his focus was too narrow and now he has no choice but to broaden his ideas of fun and learning.

Earlier in the week Jace bought a DS game that is a generic version of Guitar Hero or Rock Band. He really loves these types of games and has been playing a lot, though not obsessively. This morning when he was tired of playing the game he asked me to bring him the globe. He stretched out in the living room floor with the game, the globe, a dry erase board, markers, paper, and pencil. Out of curiosity I would walk through the living room occasionally so I could observe without hovering. He was planning a world tour. :)

He was using the dry erase board to plan his route; drawing the continents and putting x's and numbers on the cities he would be visiting. On the paper he was listing the cities and their country in order, designing concert t-shirts, and planning his playlist from the list of songs on his game. I asked him how he was choosing the order of the songs and he had an elaborate system that involved fast songs to get the crowd worked up mixed with slow songs to bring them back down.

Honestly, I am always so much more impressed by what my kids are learning when no one is teaching them anything.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I discovered where my doubts were coming from. It was the rut of the routine. The kids are doing valuable things but it is a lot of the same. I think it somehow loses some of its value when you do something every day. But this is something I can work with. I just need to be more proactive in following up with things that they express interest in, make myself more available when they feel inspired. It's just too easy to settle into doing the same things and then we all get bored, uninspired, and somewhat lazy about life. The method isn't the problem, its keeping ourselves motivated within ANY method that is the problem.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I have been wavering, second guessing myself in this decision to unschool. I look at what the kids have done and I don't feel like it is enough and I have doubts.

They are spending a lot of time on the computer, doing lots of interesting and amazing things, figuring things out that I don't know how to do.

They are also spending a lot of time with creative play... they make up games and stories and act those stories out with each other and with their toys.

I read to them, usually they also read to themselves.

Kya likes playing hangman right now. Jace is winding down from a Lego frenzy.

I can't help but wonder, is this enough? Am I doing the right thing? But everytime I consider going back to the old ways, even really relaxed things, my stomach clenches, I feel like I'm throwing in the towel too quickly. I will continue down this path and see where it leads because I know I can retrace my steps later if I really need to.

Motherhood should come with a crystal ball.

Monday, April 13, 2009

When I taught fourth grade in a ps there was a big push that year for kids to focus on "reading for information". This always seemed strange to me because even when reading for pleasure information is absorbed. But, in the interest of complying with state standards, lessons were taught on this subject. Worksheets were made to ask questions were asked both from the main text and the captions and graphs in an article/story. Even the kids who like to read did not enjoy these types of reading assignments because they detracted from the pure joy of reading. And, once again, my unschooling experience has shown me what a silly concept this is.

Jace got a new Lego kit for Easter, a friction propelled car that he was very excited about. He got out his Lego catalog and looked to see if they had more of these types of kits and how much he would have to save to buy some. As he was looking through this catalog he informed me that Lego's have been around since at least 1977. I asked him how he knew that, to which he replied, "They have vintage Lego kits in here and the oldest one is from 1977; I bet they had Legos before that but maybe that was the first kit."

Here I thought he was just looking at a toy catalog and it turns out he was reading for information, lol. :D

Friday, April 10, 2009

Yesterday Kya and I made a quick stop at the grocery store and the cashier asked the inevitable question, "Why aren't you at school/"

Kya can be a bit shy with new people so she looked to me and I answered for her. The cashier was very nice and continued asking me questions. She then turned back to Kya and asked her, "Do you study hard?" To which Kya responded, "No."

I got a bit of a withering look from the cashier at this point but I was beaming. My daughter is bright, creative, articulate, loves reading, is a wonderful dancer, and so much more. She achieved all of this without "studying hard" but instead by living a life where she has the time and freedom to do the things she loves. At eight years old this is what life should be. Heck, I think its a pretty good goal for 33. :)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Today is the kind of day that led me to start the blog. Kya slept until nearly 11 am, Jace has been watching tv and videos on youtube and not much else has been going on today. I am still in my pajamas in fact. It seems indulgent and semi-neglectful to have a day like this on a Tuesday. But then I look back at my log book and what I have posted here and I know that a morning of bumming around is okay. Lots of people probably did that on Saturday when my kids were doing other things.

I guess the Monday through Friday, 8 to 4 mindset is just really hard to shake. My mantra for today (and all the days like this) is going to be "Learning and relaxing are both at their best when they happen naturally, not according to a clock or calendar."

ETA: More evidence I should just RELAX... after posting this the kids spent some time at Grandpa's and then headed home. Once they were home they were so busy! Kya made a five minute movie with her Barbies that she wrote herself, Jace continued to make complex Lego creations, and they both spent some time online playing games on their favorite sites tht just happen to be traditionally educational. The big shocker came when Kya showed me how to change her user picture on the desktop in a much simpler way than I'd been doing it. She just figured it out all on her own. :)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Today was all about email! Yesterday I showed Jace how to copy and paste a link into an email and send it to me because he was constantly wanting to show me YouTube videos. I was constantly running into the computer to see the latest Lego video he liked and wasn't getting anything accomplished around the house, lol. The copy and paste method has been great; he knows I'm interested in what is important to him because we discuss the things he sends me but I'm not driven to distraction by having to stop what I'm working on all the time, the best of both worlds.

I told Jace that I could also send him links to things I thought he might find interesting so I sent him a couple of things I've had languising in my favorites for a while. Then I thought Kya would probably really like getting email from me as well. We set up an account for her a while back that she never used and we had long forgotten her username much less the password. No problem, in less than ten minutes I had figured it out and she was logged in. I showed her how to send me things as well but she didn't really seem interested. She did like the idea of me sending her things.

This has been a great, no pressure way for me to share things that I think they'll enjoy without expectation that they must do something with it. They both liked the solar oven idea and we are going to build one very soon. The mentos and diet coke was intriguing but I don't really think its going to pan out. Kya informed me that she'd already been to one of the sites I sent her. So, some were great successes, others fell short but all were valuable learning tools. :)
We got new car insurance yesterday. This probably seems like an odd thing to post on a blog about unschooling but in reality it is the most natural thing to post. In an unschooling family everything is a learning opportunity. We discussed with the kids how we shopped around, compared rates based on our current plan, raised deductibles and dropped frivolous things from the plan. We discussed how much the new plan saved us each month and Jace mentally calculated what that savings would be each year (he broke it down by multiplying by ten, then by two, and adding those products). Well, an annual savings of over $400 had everyone thinking about what they would do with that money and exactly what would be the smartest financial decision but would also allow for some fun. I think its important to point out that didn't plan in advance that we would have this discussion or that it would be a math "lesson." It just flowed naturally because I talk to my kids about what I'm doing all the time; we are interested in each other's lives and it opens up the entire world to learning.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

We have been in a full blown Lego frenzy for a few days. Jace is really enjoying making things with moving parts that have special functions. He has made several versions of a soda machine, an Oreo dispenser, and a chocolate Easter egg dispenser. All include loading something at the top and moving pieces to release one object at the bottom, gumball machine style. There have been Legos everywhere but it has been so much fun to watch him create, test, tweak, and ultimately share his efforts.

He has also been reading a few biographies of Tony Hawk. First he read the one geared at kids and has since moved on to the more in depth version. He is so fascinated and has started riding his skateboard again. I love the information he is sharing with me... the books really put an emphasis on following your dreams and being willing to do the hard work it takes to acheive them. He shared with me that Tony had to give up the violin when he was young because there wasn't time for school, skateboarding, and violin. Since retiring from professional skateboarding he has taken up the violin again. Jace thought it was really cool that you could keep learning, "even when you're old." I think it is such a great thing to learn at ten that you don't have to be just one thing, there are stages in life and even if you can't do it all at the same time, it doesn't mean you won't have other opportunities to pursue those dreams.

Special Talents

Kya was helping my mom in the garden yesterday and mentioned that I wasn't as good at this particular skill as Grandma. My mother is well aware of my black thumb so she had to chuckle. She told Kya that it isn't really all that unusual for daughters and moms to be good at different things; her own mom was a talented seamstress and she can't sew at all. Kya was thoughtful for a few moments and then said she knew what my special talent was, "Being a good mom." Well, of course I melted at this story. But even better was what she declared her own special talent to be- being herself. :)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Kya finally felt comfortable skating on the main floor of the skating rink today! She was so excited and proud of herself, so was I. She really has to move at her own pace with these things and was feeling nervous and scared about it before. I worried that she was missing out by staying on the carpeted areas, after all we were there to visit with her friends and they were out on the rink! I have offered to walk out there in my socks with her (I am NOT getting on skates, lol) but she wanted to do this on her own. Today she did! What a victory. :)

Jace chose not to go to playgroup today, he stayed with Grandpa and had his own fun. His Lego creations are astounding! He is so innovative with the limited number of moving parts (mostly hinges) in his collection. In the past he made some very cool transformers with them and today he made a soda machine that actually releases a cylindrical Lego piece when a piece is moved. I found a Lego website where he can upload pictures of his creations and will link it as soon as we get them up.

Part of today's success was because Jace was able to stay home when he felt he needed to and Kya was able to stay at playgroup as long as she needed to since Jace wasn't there, ready to go early. Grandpa will be going back to work soon and Jace will have to come with us. Playgroup isn't really an option because it would be fair for Kya (and me!!!) to miss out on seeing her friends and if Grandpa is working there is nowhere else for him to go. We have discussed this and reached a compromise. I agreed to let him bring his Nintendo DS, BUT if the car is in sight of our play area then he has to stay in the car with it, if not then we will find a suitable place where he will be safe but can have his space. We had success with this last week, and he eventually got out of the car and played for a bit. So, even though I don't like the idea of him sitting alone in the car with video games it seemed like the best compromise.