Saturday, May 30, 2009

Staying out of their way

A couple years back when I was publishing a lot of stuff, I wrote this article that compared raising children to growing a garden.

While in the garden today, I had another thought about gardening and how it relates to raising children...

These are the very beginning of the acorn squash plants that are currently growing in my garden. Aren't they lovely? Coming up so green and strong? Far more healthy and robust in their quest for growth than most anything else I planted thus far.

Here’s the thing. By all rights, they should NOT have even sprouted. I don’t know how they had the strength to push their lovely greenness up through the dirt. The hills were thrown in at the last minute. Where they ended up was much shadier than I had wanted. And as far as watering, they are just out of reach of the sprinkler’s spray. So if my brain isn't fully attentive to the garden, they go a bit thirsty.

But they grew. They are healthy. Strong. Just going about, doing what seeds do.

I didn't do anything but plant the seeds. I haven't watered them nearly enough, and any expert would say that where I planted them was terrrible planning.

But they grew.

And so it goes with kids. And school. I'm not saying that we shouldn't ever do anything. I've come to find out that is totally NOT what unschooling is. Sandra Dodd says, "When a mom thinks unschooling is doing nothing, she's not doing nearly enough." And this is totally true. So please don't think I'm suggesting don't ever water the garden or care in the least where you put the hill of squash to grow. That would be the equivalent of saying "The kids are unschooled. I'm watching Oprah and eating cheesecake. All day. They will be fine."

What I am saying is I think sometimes (or most times)we try way too hard. We put our nose and cheeks and entire face into places where we aren't necessarily needed. We interrupt things that might otherwise happen naturally if we'd stop interfering all the time. Seeds sprout up sometimes, regardless of what we did or didn't do. They grow because its their purpose.

I'd venture to guess that with kids and learning, its much the same.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Freaky Friday: We are freaky because...

…we have an unnatural fascination with woodticks.

Apparently they are gross or creepy or give people the heeby jeebies. At a homeschool park day recently, another mom told me having one stuck to her actually made her queasy. Another mom told me not too long ago that she had saved every woodtick the kids ever had and brought it to the doctor’s office for testing…in case the kids developed lymes disease. (Lymes, by the way, is carried by some – not all - deer ticks. Not woodticks.)

My family and I are certainly strange. I personally think the danger/gross factor of woodticks is highly overrated. Woodticks have provided us with many hours of learning. We have experimented with the best way to kill a tick…we have done everything from sticking them in the freezer to letting them swim in honey. Or ketchup. Every time we find a tick, either on us or one of the five dogs who live here, its an opportunity to learn. Humane? I don’t know. But quite a learning experience. Woodticks are tough. Kind of indestructible. And seeing how every mama lays about 2,000 eggs, I think with 13 acres of woods, we’re well supplied.

Woodticks are also fast. One day we pulled six woodticks off one of the dogs. It was then suggested that we have woodtick races. So we got out a piece of tagboard, drew a big circle on it, set the ticks in the middle, and watched to see which tick made it out of the circle first.

Genuinely good fun. And probably a little (or a lot) redneck.

So now you know. Our Freaky Friday contribution is we hang out with woodticks.

How is your family freaky?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Learning. Without Any Help From Me.

Iggy (6) has an Eyeball Animation drawing book – creature edition. A little gem he found at the Goodwill one day a couple years ago. Its a neat book with two giant googly eyes permanently fixed to the last page of the book and then sheets of blank paper that fit over and around the eyes…so the stuff you draw has googly eyes. He filled up all the pages with his own lovely creations and then the book was forgotten about. He recently found the book again and discovered that in the margins, there are little facts written by the author…mostly about greek mythology. Medusa, Centaur, etc.

Well, Iggy has suddenly decided that Greek Mythology is the coolest thing ever. He keeps going back to that book and plugging away at the reading (because he wants to know the facts, no one told him to know the facts) and then coming out and saying “Hey, did you know…”

This morning was the best though. He sits down to watch “Scooby Doo, Where Are You”, and apparently the mystery machine gang was dressed up for some party. And Iggy is in the living room and starts talking to whoever is within earshot, telling them who all the Scooby Doo people are dressed up as. They happen to be characters from Greek Mythology. Iggy identified them as: Daphne is Medusa, Shaggy was Cyclops, and Scooby was Cerberus “the three headed dog who guards the gates of the underworld, Mom.”

I had to smile. He’s all into exploring this subject. He wants to go to the library and get some books and he heard of an old movie that has lots of greek mythology characters in it.

The best thing about it though, is it has nothing to do with me. He’s all into it, and its his own thing. Which just goes to prove they are perfectly capable of learning billions of things without me having to hover over or make up lessons on certain things. Can you imagine someone saying they were actively teaching their kids Greek Mythology in kindergarten? They’d put you in the nuthouse.

It’s amazing what kids can come up with. All by themselves.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Unschooling...and record keeping?

When people ask me what I use for curriculum, I shrug and say “Whatever presents itself during the day.”

When people ask when we will be finishing up our school/learning for the year, I jokingly ask them when they plan on being done breathing for the day.

Unschooling makes me giddy. Excited. And never ceases to amaze
me. I’m finding that the most beautiful things happen when I toss a bunch of opportunities out there…and just watch. The boys find something delicious to lose themselves in and want to soak up everything they can possibly know about that thing. I’m ecstatic to be join them in the adventure. Its good to be free!

Then again…

There’s that pesky issue of record keeping (and norm referenced standardized testing) that comes with living in certain states. Mine included. So as awesome as it is to have come to a completely different definition of what learning is, and to know that every second my kids are learning millions of things….as far as the state is concerned, if I don’t document that learning, it never happened.

I remember being at the Minnesota Homeschoolers’ Alliance conference last year and hearing the keynote speaker talk about the lovliness of unschooling…and yet she was from out of state - a state that didn’t require record keeping or annual testing. So while the whole premise of unschooling was absolutely enthralling to me, I didn’t really see how it could work in a state that was regulated or monitored like ours.

So…how does one unschool…and keep the state happy?

My first idea:
What I first came up with was since there are only five required areas of teaching in our state (per the MHA handbook and several other sources), I figured I would just record the things we did in our daily life that fit into those areas: Communications, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Health/Phy Ed. (All other areas of education are optional, or so it says.) So I made up something on Publisher that was basically a chart of those five things which I intended to keep notes for the week on various things we did…and plug them in where they fit. Great, right?

Amazingly enough, there was an issue. And it wasn’t necessarily a bad issue to have.

There wasn’t enough room.

After one day of using this system, really looking at what the boys were doing in a day, and how it could be written down to appease the state…the chart that was intended to hold a weeks worth of learning “stuff”, couldn’t even handle what we’d done in a day.

So, back to the computer. I did a little research about other unschoolers who need to keep records and was brought to Leaping From The Box. Her method of recordkeeping is a great idea, and is something we have put into practice here (with a few tweaks for our own usage). Its been working well. The front of our page has Communications, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Health/Phy Ed. The back has Art/Music, Foreign Language, Religion/Philosophy, Independent Living Skills, Out and About, and Misc.

We've been using this system for the past week now and it seems to be a good fit for us. It should work fine for the state, and other inquiring minds (relatives)who want to know what we could possibly be learning. Its also a nice reminder for me, should I (when I) fall into a funk of thinking somehow we just aren't doing it right/doing enough/etc. It amazes me to see how much learning you can pull out of one day of just "being". Its a completely different way of seeing the world.

Monday, May 25, 2009

What we already have

People are funny. We have this nasty habit of forgetting the things that are right in front of us. Those really awesome special beautiful things we have, but tend to overlook them because we have always had them.

I thought of this a few weeks ago after we had attended a workshop/class type thing at a local nature center. Its a beautiful place full of wildlife.

Yep. Beautiful. And full of wildlife. Not unlike our own backyard. But for some reason in my mind, the scenery and the wildlife at the nature center is somehow more...valid? important? worthy? real?...than what's in our backyard. I didn't come right out and say this, obviously. And I'm not even sure I was giving that impression. I just woke up and realized one day that we have exactly the same stuff in our backyard as what I'm paying money for my kids to experience at the nature center.

Can you say "dumb?"

Maybe it was that we were with kids who had never seen a painted turtle up close. Or a bullsnake. Or thought it was amazingly awesome that a downy woodpecker was at the feeder right there. It was a kick in the pants to me. We have this at home.

Now I'm not knocking nature centers. And I'm not rippin' on kids who haven't had the pleasure to experience nature like this themselves up close. What I'm talking about is me, and possibly my kids, who sometimes don't have a clue about all the awesome stuff that is right outside their backdoor. You know, the stuff we forget about and take for granted, because its right outside the backdoor.

I feel like I've had a revelation. Like I need to open my eyes just a little wider and see what we have around here that I've stopped seeing.

How about you? What have you stopped seeing? What have you forgotten is right outside your backdoor? Or downstairs? Or in the living room? Or down the street?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A little bit "off"

I've been described (affectionately) as being a bit of a whackjob. I don't take offense. Our family operates in a system of living that is a bit, well...."off".

That's why when our recent library trip found us the Everything Kid's Gross cookbook, we knew it was for us.

The boys devoured the book, looking for some gross recipies they could try out on the family. Their favorite thus far is "Spitwad Sandwiches" (a peanut butter and mini-marshmallow sandiwch).

Another favorite is called "Poop in a Scoop" (a toasted hot dog bun with a banana inside, slathered with peanut butter and topped with chocolate chips or raisins).

This whackjob mama thinks its a funny book, and the boys love it, too. There's even some non-cooking activities in there, like crosswords, mazes, and rhyming games. Its neat because while my boys have always liked to cook and have a lot of experience in the kitchen, there is something way boyishly cool about making spaghetti and meatballs, but calling it "Tapeworms and Hairballs".

Of course, now everything we cook or bake has to have an alias. Last night we cut up tomatoes for the hamburgers we were making over the campfire, and the boys entertained us with the millions of other gross things the tomatoes could be known as.

Ah, boys.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Spoken like a true homeschooler

In a couple weeks I was tenatively supposed to be helping out with a weeklong sort of camp/class type thing, approximately 45 minutes from my house. The boys were coming with, and I was teaching. However, we started to rethink things after the price of gas started going up. So my husband and I started discussing whether I should or shouldn't go through with the committment. We sat there tossing ideas back and forth, shooting out "but what about the price of gas" and "but it would be fun to do"...etc.

And then, there was this.

MamaTea: You know, now that I think about it, I just can't see getting the kids up so early to be out the door at 7:30 am. Everyday. For a whole week.
Hubster: (Stares, and then smirks.)

Yep, that's right. We homeschool. :)

Friday, May 22, 2009

So what. Big deal.

What exactly is a big deal to MamaTea?

1. When you find your six year old sitting in the doorway of the barn with book he found and just can't put down. And he's reading you facts from it. Just cuz' he wants to. How did this happen?

2. When your family can stop on the arch bridge in the backyard to watch a fearless painted turtle for as long as you want...just because you can. That the kids can ask as many questions as they want about that turtle. Because you have nothing else you absolutely have to be doing at that time.

3. When your husband, in a maybe sort of heated phone conversation with his mom, in response to her ramblings about how MamaTea should probably go out and get a job that would allow her to be home with the kids when they get off the bus when we get around to putting them in public school...Hubster flat out says to his Mama "But we don't plan on putting them in public school."

I should clarify #3. I have a sneaking suspicion that those who appear to be tolerant of our choice to homeschool on the Hubster's side of the family were doing so because they figured when we are able to move back to the area we once lived in, we'd plop the kids "back in school". As in, our decision to homeschool was only a quick fix bandaid way to deal with temporaraily being out of the district we had always intended to live in. Which wasn't the case. And I know that. And I figured he felt that too. But just to hear the Love of My Life say it out loud. To his Mom. Um, wow.

Yep, that's a big deal.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Real Life Math (Fenced in, Part 2)

Remember the chicken wire issue from a couple posts ago? Here's a word problem:

MamaTea needs 75 feet of chicken wire for her bottom garden, so as to deter the geese from sneaking in. It needs to be at least 14 inches high so it can be attached to the first rail of the fence. And it needs to not take every last bit of her pocketbook, since groceries are always nice to have before the garden starts earning its keep.

In the absence of free/reuseable chicken wire, MamaTea finds the store that sells it cheapest. 24 inch tall x 25 feet long sections for $14.99. Iggy and Ookster point out the 36 inch tall x 50 foot sections that are $24.99.

Here is the question. How does MamaTea get more than 75 feet of fencing for $25?

Give up?

You buy the 36 inch tall x 50 foot section. You cut it in half at 25 feet, and you cut both 25 feet sections in half the long way (at 18 inches tall) we are demonstrating in the picture above. And there you have it: 100 feet of 18 inch high fencing for $25. Thanks to Dad for assisting me (who happened to walk through the yard at the wrong time) with the tangly mess.

And there you have it. Another example of real life math :) Hubster says the fence looks even more redneck now. Aww...ain't that sweet?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Change is (usually) good

Wait! Don't go! You're at the right place. It wasn't a broken link or a computer glitch. This is Wake Up Start Learning. Change is (usually) good. A little color does wonders. You know how some people change the colors in their living room or kitchen every couple years, so as to fit in with the latest trend in the magazines? I'm not quite that ambitious. Or rich. I just change the colors in my blog :)

Change is also sometimes not so good, though. I'm referring to the change when your sweet darlings, now ages 5 and 6, are old enough and smart enough and...well, conniving enough, to realize that any amount of time spent out of mom's sight is time to try out something that in most cases will probably result in death or dismemberment. Iggy and Ooky have always been fine to hang out in the backyard without me watching their every move. I could throw a couple loaves of bread together knowing they were sweetly playing outside. (Ok. They might tussle, they might terrorize a bug they find, but all in all it was pretty ok.)

Alas, things are different now. The change has happened. The boys are growing up.

Yesterday, while I ran in to the house for something, I look out the back window and find the sweetums scaling the dog kennel. A dog kennel that probably shouldn't be scaled. Not long after that, while left unattended, they find a three foot rusty metal tube (with tetnus shot written all over it...) and are trying to pound it into the ground with croquet mallet. They lost a ball they were kicking and just decided to "step" into the creek to get it.

Um, hi. I'm the mom. Who exactly are you, and what have you done with my kids?

Maybe its the sun. Maybe its being outside now 97 hours a day. Maybe its a summery need for more boysish independence. I don't know. My mother did ever-so-sweetly remind me, however, that I said boys would be easier to raise than girls.

Thanks, mom.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

One of the few times I like to be fenced in... when we're talking vegetable garden time. We put in a second garden this year (which we fondly refer to as the "bottom garden" because it sits lower in the yard than the other one) and before we could plant it, we needed to fence it.

However, I'm cheap. Frugal. Thrifty. Iggy says we are "good for the earth". Whatever you want to call it, I was not spending (alot of) money on this project.

So, my gem of a Hubster reminds me of all the deadfall in the back 13, meets me in the yard with his chainsaw, and beckons me to the woods. Sweeter words were never spoken.

We decide to locate the right chunks of dead logs, cut them into fence length pieces, and haul them back (over two arch bridges) to the yard. Who needs a gym??

Ooky and Iggy showing off their mad skills:

Some logs become fence posts, some are rails. A few special pieces are reserved for a fancy gate. Here is the work in progress:

Here is the awesome gate my husband built. (Barn hinges found in the garage, so we didn't even have to buy those!)

Ain't she lovely?

So at first we sort of kind of crossed our fingers and thought it was going to work. I mean, dang...its a lovely fence. And free! But the next night...

One of the several families of geese (babies, mom and dad)that hang out here were frolicking in the garden. I had to laugh. Ok, so somewhere in the back of my mind, we knew we'd have to find some chickenwire and tack it along the bottom of the rail fence, so as not to let the little critters just walk on in. I had just really crossed my fingers that the little critters would behave more and stay out.

Then again, if they would just behave, we wouldn't have needed the fence in the first place :)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Of eggs and lucky charms

Every so often, someone ends up asking "So. Why did you decide to homeschool."

It could be a fellow homeschooler trying to figure out if we're on the same path. It could be a distant relative wondering just how far down the road of freakiness I'm planning to go. Or it could be someone else with a totally different motive. Anyhow, I got around to thinking I should have an answer for the question. Here's what I came up with.

Simple answer: Because. We did.

Unfortunately that doesn't usually work. People think I'm overtired or crabby or anti-social and don't want to talk about it. But really, for me, at this point, that's the simple answer.

I know. You're waiting for the more involved answer. Something heady. Something really amazing.

Here's my best shot:

There are homeschoolers who will answer because God told me to. There are homeschoolers who will say I'm tired of the government interfering in everything. There are even a few homeschoolers who will say my children are far too genius to bother themselves with public school nonsense. But for me, (and I think a whole bunch of us), we really aren't that sure. Or maybe we started with a specific reason, got into it, and broadened our reasons. Or changed them completely. Or maybe we don't even know why. We just wanted to. It worked for our family, and that was enough. To some people, it was as simple as having made the decision to have eggs for breakfast. It was an option that looked good. So I chose it.

I realize I will get blasted and slammed for that. As if I didn't put any thought into my children's educational future. (I obviously did. Ask my gem of a husband.)What I mean to say is I didn't stand in the breakfast nook freaking out about whether to have lucky charms, toast, oatmeal, or eggs. I like eggs. For a whole bunch of reasons which probably aren't important to anyone but me. So I chose eggs. If you like lucky charms better, good for you! I am not going to try and convince you that you should have chosen eggs. Let's face it. Lucky Charms are tasty - especially on top of ice cream. But I chose eggs. I find them tasty.

Perhaps we can make a deal? If you promise not to tell me that I'm killing my kids by choosing eggs with their supposed high cholesterol, I promise that I won't bug you about the sugar content in Lucky Charms. :)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A fantastic life lesson Subway vs. Walmart

Money can be such a funny thing.

Ok, perhaps not a funny thing, but a pesky annoying thing nonetheless. Like when your kids are done with swimming lessons and are sure they are going to die from lack of food. So they ask you fifteen times to go to Subway and although you appreciate their more healthful choice of Subway than its many less healthful counterparts (take your pick), eating out simply isn't an economical therfore, simply shutup.

That doesn't calm the beasts (who are overtired from swimming) and you're kicking yourself for not packing them a you do some quick thinking. Stopping at Subway would kill about $25 (enter $5 footlong song) for all of you to eat. One meal. Which is so un-awesome, you want to spit. And you feel like you need to teach the kids a lesson about this (the money, not the spit) so you come up with a grand idea.

"Kids", you say, pulling into the Walmart parking lot. "We're going to play a game. Ready?"

You divide the family into teams. Hubster and Iggy on one team, MamaTea and the Ookster on the other team. Each team gets $25 (the amount you would spend at Subway for one meal) and has to buy groceries for the family. The team with the most stuff (best use of money) wins...consellation prize to the team with the most creative find.

"We can buy whatever we want?" the children ask.
"Yep. Have fun."

Now I realize I was opening myself up for a cartload of ice cream and candy bars. But I took that chance.

Here were the carts...

Looks like some decent choices to me!Can't complain about green beans, turkey, bananas, or tunafish!!

"Gee," said MamaTea. "Look at all the food you can buy for the same amount as one meal at Subway? How long do you think these carts of food will last us?" (Answered by happy smiles from boys who are wicked excited to get home and figure out what they get to make for lunch from the groceries they picked out.)

What a fantastical life lesson we learned at Walmart. We're still working out of those walmart bags from a week ago....

Friday, May 1, 2009

Bad Guys and Chemicals

It was one of those days when I felt really very, well...not smart.

While leaving a building with a sign posted for handgun conceal/carry:
Ooky (age 5): What does that sign say?
MamaTea: It says "this place bans guns on its premises".
Ooky: What about cops?
MT: Well, I guess they could have them.
Ooky: So who are they talking about?
MT: Well, adults can go take a class and get a piece of paper that tells everyone they have a license to carry a gun with them.
Ooky: And?
MT: So that sign is saying even if you have that piece of paper, you can't bring a gun into that building.
Ooky: Why?
MT: Well, they don't want people having guns in certain places because...well, you know. They don't want anything bad to happen. Any accidents.
Ooky: But mom, the bad guys wouldn't pay attention to that sign anyway. Because they are bad guys. So the guns will still be in there anyway.
MT: Um. Well, yes. You're probably right.

And here is my equally as unintelligent moment with Iggy, age 6.

Iggy: (screaming in the door from outside) Mom! Isn't everything in the world from nature?
MT: What do you mean?
Iggy: Like, stuff. You would have to get the parts to make stuff from nature.
MT: Well, not always. What about the chemicals and things that scientists create? What about all those new and different things they come up with everyday?
Iggy: (looking at me like I'm stupid): Mom. They had to start with something. And things start in the earth. Even if it turns into something unnatural and bad for the earth, it had to start with something. I mean, you can't just make something from nothing. (He exits quite annoyed with his mother.)

Its a good thing my kids are comfortable with the knowledge that I actually don't know a whole heck of a lot about anything they apparently need to know. Google is my friend. Excuse me, I have some research to do. :)