Category: Educational play

Where we are and what we have been doing

  • As you already know if you have been reading at all, my mother passed away on July 31 so that has colored our days a lot recently (especially as conflict arose with certain family members due to some emotional issues.)  The amazing thing is watching how the kids have dealt with all of this.  We were blessed to find that they were not at all about the stuff, are mourning naturally, and are, in general dealing with things in a wonderfully healthy manner.
  • Essie playing DS at the funeral home with cousins.
    Essie playing DS at the funeral home with cousins looking on.
  • We have been spending lots of time with family and friends and now that we have a minivan are doing a lot more going and doing.  The kids are thrilled that this includes the library, some small trips to local national parks, and trips to IKEA.  It is exciting to see how their interests have developed since we last were at the library and their excitement about going to the parks and IKEA.
  • The kids have been on a fossil kick (lots of limestone around here), set up a stage in the basement and are planning a talent show of sorts for this Saturday at noon for whoever shows up, have been reading a ton, still programming on Scratch, playing the new Bookworm adventures and Boom Blox, hanging out at the pond with Pappap and Uncle James, and Essie is tweeting regularly.

    James and Issac
    James and Issac down at the pond.
  • Because I picked up a pile of “educational” workbooks, games, and books at the Target $1 bin today they have been working on those and quizzing each other on Wonders of the World.
  • I now have my mother’s sewing machine so the girls are clamouring to be allowed to sew again.  I will have to teach them how to use this machine first but I suspect much sewing will occur in the next few months.
  • Yesterday we discovered a cicada that had just left its nymph form.  It was awesome and the kids immediately had to research so they could remember which type of cicada and what each stage was called.
  • cicadacicada
  • I updated to the new version of Ubuntu yesterday.  It was the simplest upgrade I have ever done–took me less than an hour start to finish and most of that was copying my Home folder over from the backup drive.  The new version is AWESOME.  Just saying.
  • I finished a random painting that has been floating around in my head for a while.  This may be the beginning of a flower series since I am in the middle of one of a butterfly bush now.

    Queen Anne's Lace
    Queen Anne's Lace
  • Issac finally lost the tooth that has spent the last month hanging by a strand.  That same tooth got broken when Essie kicked him while swimming, bled everywhere and STILL didn’t come out.  The next day Rach bumped him in the mouth with a swivel chair and out it came–no blood, nothing.
James and Issac
Issac and James and the missing tooth.

Unschooling snapshots: Issac borrows the camera

While waiting for food during our weekly trip to my gandmothers (she likes taking us to what is known locally as “The Deli” where Issac always orders French toast, Rachel gets a burger, and Essie always orders a hoagie and fries, where the waitresses all know us and seem to enjoy the kids, and where grandma never can decide what she is hungry for) Issac was bored.  I handed him my camera and here are the results (they just NEEDED  to be black and white.)

Unschooling Snapshots: Growing up

This is one of the reasons I have cut back on the work I am doing. Tree house
Our oldest is in a place where she needs her mom more and more often.
Tree house
We are spending a great deal of time talking about where she is, where she has been, and where she wants to go.
Tree house
She is growing up quickly. She knows her struggles and is trying to rectify those areas.
Tree house
She is seeking wisdom, learning to be quiet and wait (a hard lesson for this child who was born talking constantly).
Tree house
She is slowly gaining it and constantly struggling with herself, trying to get where she is going, trying to grow closer to God.
Tree house
It is a two steps forward one step back process and it is time consuming and a joy.
Tree house

Transmographacation or is it just growing up?

My kids are changing.  It is amazing to see.

At around 2 or 3 I remember recognizing that they were suddenly toddlers.  Their mannerisms suddenly changed, their abilities changed, everything changed.  Even their proportions changed  They went from sweet little baby things to miniature kids.

Issac heading to Grandma's to go hunting.
Issac heading to Grandma’s to go hunting.

At around 5 or 6 and then 7 they suddenly lengthened out and lost some baby fat and I noticed the change.  They were choosing to do things that I thought of as more grown-up.  They were choosing to read a book or watch a movie about volcanoes instead of playing cars.  They were choosing to discuss things and ask how things work instead of just playing.  They suddenly knew things and did things they had never been capable of before.  Issac is now reading to me in the evenings, from books of his choosing.  He now spontaneously does thgns for his sisters–like making their beds for them in stead of just jumping on them.

The girls wading in the pond, in APRIL!
The girls wading in the pond, in APRIL!

At around 9 I noticed a huge change.  There was more thinking and less acting out. There was more individual thought, less reliance on me.  Suddenly Mom wasn’t the highest authority on absolutely everything. More time was spent alone  reading or drawing or thinking.  More questions were being asked about how people think, act, do, about relationships.  Essie now spends a great deal of time reading and was devastated yesterday when we couldn’t fnd the next book in the series she is reading.  Being an introvert she is longing for more time to herself, to think, to dream, to read.  And when we get together she climbs up in my (or her daddy’s) lap to chat or just cuddle.

And now we are 11 (well, at least Rachel is) and things are changing again.  Where once a temper tantrum would have been par for the course (Rach is a bit high strung) she may begin to lose it and then stop and think.  She might walk away or calm herself down.  When she is frustrated she recognizes it and says so instead of flipping her lid.  Walks no longer spawn chats about how sidewalk cracks are formed but instead we talk about people and relationships and what makes a good friend, about hormones and how hard it is to be real friends when your moods change every ten seconds.  I see Rach learning acceptance of who she is as God designed her, acceptance of the health issues she has, acceptance, recognition, and frustration at being the only extrovert in a house full of introverts.  Now she takes over when I need a break, happily making meals for her siblings for fun, finding her niche in this awkward time between being grown up and a little girl.

All three are at new stages and it is a joy to see, to watch, to be with them, and to help them develop into the people God created them to be.   I am so grateful that I am able to spend time with them, know who they are as each enters this new place in life, and at this time I am choosing to spend more time rather than less with them as they ar a joy to know and be with (well, most of the time.;))

It’s Very Edumacational

Every once in a while we have a day that can be described as nothing short of educational, which we usually call “edumactaional” to make it more fun.  These are the sorts of days that I dreamed of when my children were still babies and I thought about homeschooling them as they were older; fun and spontaneous learning–reading books together , doing experiments, talking about science, reading, math in the course of the day, and lots of other very traditional types of learning going on without fuss and with joy.

The sad thing is that, back then, my young mommy brain was kind of confused about how those sort of days would happen.  In fact , you may even say that I was brainwashed by all the teacher training I had (most of which had the goal of good classroom management rather than good learning–regardless of what we are told, but that is another story).  I thought that the fun , spontaneous, pain free learning would come with lots and lots spontaneous (on my part) “school” things.  For instance I would wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, lets work on this and this and this and this today!” which would then lead to lots of tears of frustration on all of our parts because the kids were so overwhelmed by the stuff I had planned.

And so I listened to the homeschooling gurus who told me that learning would only take place if it was planned.  So I set about using all that teacher training and planned our school days.  Which, may I add, led to even more tears of frustration, refusal to work, and anger.   Where was this beautiful, peaceful, happily learning together family life I longed for?  When I asked others the answer was the same–the peaceful, happy learning is a myth, all kids have days where they refuse to work, complain, HATE math, science, history, language arts.

That didn’t make sense to me either. As a kid I LOVED science and art–except in the classroom where they never answered the questions I wanted answered.  The science books were too dumbed down about anything I was really interested in using only “suitable” language for each year, covering the same information every year but adding a little more vocabulary, a little more depth, but never what I was really interested in WHEN I was interested and the teacher was in too much of a hurry to “get through the book” to stop and answer questions for one child when most of the class didn’t care. The same went for art.  Our art classes were designed to expose us to a wide array of media and art history but most of it was busy work.  Glue this leg here, glue that arm there.  Later it was “lets paint a happy little snow scene” or make a pointillism bird.  There was never the opportunity to really explore the medium or one’s own interests, because most of the kids would just mess around and didn’t really care.  It was all done in the name of classroom management and “getting through” the curriculum.

And then it occurred to me.  Why was I using classroom management techniques designed to deal with large classes to train my kids at home. Growing up  I spent all summer exploring my interest in science and art and later in reading.  I spent all summer running around, playing, experimenting, discovering.  One summer I spent everyday out on the pond on the paddle boat.  My cousin and I sent our Barbies diving into the depths of the pond, created a lagoon for them, a beach, a resort.  Another summer I spent everyday out in the woods with my green backpack full of lunch, homemade lemonade which I figured out how to make on my own),drawing materials, notebooks, reading books, field guides, and my Cabbage Patch Kid, Sharon Renae, as my fellow adventurer.  Yet another summer I helped my dad build us a tree house, and another I helped dig a trench for a pipe and pump to draw water from the pond up to our house so we could water our garden with pond water.  During those summers I read tons, learned all about rocks and plants, learned to draw, got tons of exercise, and learned to enjoy my own company.  For my birthday (at the end of summer) my mom always planned a birthday party which I looked forward but barely remember (loved the idea of it but HATE parties as a rule) and my dad always planned a trip to whatever museum/zoo/state park I wanted (usually within an hour drive).  I almost always chose the art museum but sometimes the children’s museum or the zoo or better yet the science center or a bike trip at the state park.  And those trips I remember.  It wasn’t an educational trip, it was fun, it was a gift.

We also, when I was young, often went camping, and usually did so someplace with educational value (most homeschoolers would call them field trips–we called them vacation.)  We went to Washington DC, Niagara Falls, Gettysburg, Hershey,  Lancaster.  Only occasionally did such trips include an amusement park and if so then it was most likely Idlewild–a park not far from us which has a wonderful history and isn’t all show, in fact it has one of the oldest merry-go-rounds in the US as well as one of the oldest wooden roller coasters.  These activities were mostly spontaneous (unless my mom and grandma took us-then it was well planned and included lots of bus tours, because my grandma likes bus tours).   We, my brother and I, preferred the spontaneous day trips or the sudden camping, canoeing, biking trips.  They were fun, satisfied our curiosity, and we didn’t have too much fuss about them.

And that is what I wanted our home to be like.  I didn’t want our home  to be divided between school and life.  I wanted life to be educational, spontaneous, fun.  I was tired of the fighting (especially with our high strung and very determined oldest).  If homeschooling was God’s plan for us then it should, as part of our life, help us develop the fruits of the spirit , not hinder them.  It should help our children learn contentment and a longing for growth, not promote whining and complaining.  As God changed my heart about what school should look like our lifestyle became our learning style.  No longer did we daily get out a pile of books (though occasionally we do–a pile of books to read or books ful of potential activities to do).  No longer did we sit at the kitchen table with pencils at the ready or in the basement school room.  The basement school room became a playroom where the kids “played” school and later where laundry got stored as it was ready to sort.  The kitchen table became the place where we ate and where the kids did various crafts and activities they found in the piles of books strewn around the house.  Shamus and I became facilitators and question answerers, mentors if you like.  Our focus changed from making sure the kids “knew what they needed to know by a certain age” to dealing with heart issues, character development, and encouraging the kids in the areas they showed interest and making sure they had on hand what they needed to grow that interest.

And sure, some days the kids spend the day playing a video game (though may I mention that video games are an excellent place to learn economics–especially RPG or Sim style games like Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing) and some days they spend all day watching old movies.  Other days they spend all day playing pirates, dolls, practicing a play they have created themselves, baking, building, reading, playing board games, whatever captures their interest on that particular day.

And on Monday Issac and I spent much of the day together, cleaning up, doing laundry, reading a very boring and not nearly informational to suit his tastes science text book and then jumping up and doing all sorts of experiments that weren’t in the book to answer the questions he asked like: What is erosion and how does it work?  What is sedimentary rock and how does it form?  How did our area form? (the book didn’t use those words, deeming them too hard to read for a 2nd grader–Issac asked the questions because he likes studying volcanoes and knows that volcanoes form islands and wanted to know how our area was formed and shaped and what sort of rock we have–the answer is glaciers and sedimentary rock so I him showed him using  flour and water) .  A section in the book on plants got us talking abut how plants soak up water and nutrients from the soil so we got out the celery and dye and made bright blue and green celery.  In one day we went through an entire science text book only reading the bits he was interested in–he knew most of the stuff anyway and wasn’t interested in the other stuff–in fact he had already done most of the experiments they had on his own.  Issac later explained all about both experiments to his sisters who enjoyed seeing them (though Rachel was upset that we had used much of the celery as she was planning on using it in some soup for dinner.:)) For dinner the kids and I made curry and Chapatti from  an Indian cuisine cookbook we had picked up at the library sale.   Later, after our Bible reading  during which all three read aloud Psalms of David)  we read a beautiful picture book  about Washinton crossing the Delaware river.   It was a rather dry factual account with gorgeous oil paintings for images so the kids enjoyed it and Rachel added to the information by enthusiastically sharing all she knows about George Washington (one of her favorite people about which to read .)

And when I looked back over the day  I realized that this was the sort of day I had dreamed of, and the sort of day that homeschool gurus had insisted would never happen without careful planning, and yet, there had been no tears, the children really loved learning these things for their own sake, their natural curiosity and love of being together made all of it possible.  There was no need for any classroom management because there was no classroom.  We were living life together and loving each other and spending time together and it was very good.

Those are some crazy straws

Yesterday my son got his order from (which by the way he ordered 2 days before–how’s that for quick turnaround?)  He had carefully and deliberately spent all his Easter money there and was eager for his items so good on Thinkgeek for making it quick.

One of the items he ordered were some DIY straws: hard plastic straws with rubber connector pieces so you can make all sorts of crazy straws.  This was a good plan since lately he has been using and reusing one particular crazy straw (which has kind of been driving me insane).

These straws are awesome, and definitely worth the money he spent on them. Good job, little man.:)

What I didn’t expect was just how much  learning AND entertainment all three kids would get from such a simple toy.  They spent over 2/3 of the day mixing drinks, figuring out air and liquid flow, syphoning, playing guessing games, and so on.  They now have a very good understanding about how household plumbing works as well as air pressure and water flow.  On the other hand I now have a very good understanding about just HOW sticky ones floor can become and how WET one’s chair can become when one’s children have free access to lots of liquids and crazy straws.

*And no, I am not getting a kickback from