Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Preteens: How to Play

We seem to have an idea in our culture that we need manufactured objects for play. Even when we do play outside, we tend to stick to manufactured spaces like parks, sports fields, trails, etc. It seems so bewildering to imagine what we would do without these things. But kids don't have that problem.

The things the kids in my world get up to with a bit of wilderness and no rules are really quite beautiful. They develop the most complex socio/economic systems which basically mimic those of their parents. They take whatever the wilderness offers them and weave it into their play, taking on various jobs, trading for services, objects and 'money' (this week it was alder catkins), hiring each other and volunteering, maintaining the spaces they create and filling in their world with creativity, philosophical/moral conversations, and a whole lot of laughter.

These aren't 6-year-olds. These are 9 to 13-year-olds. They are squatting bare- and boot-footed in a creek (above), diverting clean water for a handwashing station, and creating moss-on-bark sponges to scrub their handmade wooden planter pots which they plan to sell at the pet (slug) and variety store over to the right, on a log. On the surface, to those of us accustomed to the commercially-available expectations of preteens, it looks like their play is childish. But if you really pay attention you see that the things they're working through here are in fact very mature. I heard conversations ranging from impacts of climate change to fair wages to questions of morality in petting zoos and circuses and ethics of catching wild animals, to gender equality, particle physics and nutritional values of wild foods. Really. With 0 adult input, these are just a few of the conversations that came up in 4 hours of wilderness play, yesterday.

I could not dream up these things. I can only give them space to do it themselves.

This is what happens when you leave the manufactured toys, spaces and rules behind and leave kids to play with nothing but time and lack of constraints. Oh -- and some wilderness at their disposal. Some trees to climb. Creeks to get muddy in. Nobody standing around injecting teachable moments or safety concerns.

Kids don't need us to tell them how to play and learn. They need us to get out of their way.

Book Review: The Golden Spruce

I think this may be my favourite book of all time. I'm currently reading it to the kids -- and to my husband! I read it a few years ago, and while it completely captivated me, I thought the kids were a bit young for it. But not any more!

This book will give you a deep narrative-based understanding of BC's history, forestry, resource-based economy and west coast ecology... all while being a truly gripping read. I think that's enough! It's wonderful. I am thoroughly enjoying this second read - maybe even more than the first one, as the kids interrupt frequently with questions and philosophical explorations. In addition to being an amazing read, The Golden Spruce is an amazing thing to share.

Catch up with author John Vaillant here:

Monday, March 31, 2014

Save the World! Stop Raising Tadpoles!

Raising Tadpoles: Maybe I was wrong.

It's such a tricky issue!! YES, it's possible, and if everything goes to plan, and you look after them really well, then you may be doing them a favour, and certainly, if you couch the whole experiment in conservation, then you can educate children and adults so that they care about the frogs in the ponds, and the ecology (on a broader scale) of our whole community and planet.

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing!
My mother used to raise tadpoles at the preschool, now I do it with the kids I teach, and I have, in the past, advised teachers of other programs on how to do it well. Eventually I became aware that people were trying it at home, and egg-clusters were dying en masse, as people didn't know how. I recognise that these people were trying to do something very good: give some tadpoles a head start and raise ecologically conscious kids. So, to help this problem, I published instructions on how to do it properly with Red Legged Frogs, including notes on conservation, because Red Legged frogs, while abundant in our neighbourhood, are blue-listed. In fact most frogs are threatened, to some degree, because of the ecological devastation and habitat loss that our rampant human population growth and over-consumption is causing.

Now it seems that my instructions are spreading all over the place. People are trying to raise tadpoles across this whole island, and on the mainland, too. People are tromping through wetlands and ponds and lakes in search of frog and salamander eggs, and disturbing the very areas we'd like to protect.

I was wrong. 

Although I think that raising tadpoles is still very beneficial for education, and even conservation, when done properly, I do not in any way think that every family should have an aquarium full of tadpoles at home.

Everything in moderation seems to apply to... well... everything! It's probably just fine - even healthy - to drink a beer once in a while, but 10 beers maybe not so much. Plastic was a miracle invention for various reasons, until we started using it for everything, and now our beaches, oceans, soil, and air are full of microscopic plastic particles, wreaking havoc for every species on earth, including humans. For thousands of years humans lived in symbiosis with the rest of the flora and fauna; now there are too many of us, and we're causing devastation. Everything in moderation. A tank of hatching frog eggs - maintained carefully - in most schools was a beautiful thing, and the kids who examined the wetland they came from learned to care for their own ecosystem. That was a good thing. But a tank of eggs (or a few tanks) in every home... some leaching plastic chemicals into the tadpoles' water (which causes reproductive issues) and some just simply dying due to a simple mistake or lack of understanding... that's too much. And it's not good.

We need to know the wilderness not as other, but as part of us. We need to understand it so deeply that the rain doesn't keep us from living in it, that the forest is a better playground than a gym, that we recognise the changes that happen all year long and see when something's off, and that when something's off we do something about it, because we know that our lives depend on it.

Something is off with this raising tadpoles thing.
Save the world. Stop raising tadpoles and get out in the wilderness.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Neverland Tea Salon

Gluten Free has become normal for us - except that we don't go out. We don't go, not because we don't like going out, but because it's so incredibly hard to get good food, especially good food that's gluten free. This isn't a dietary fad for us, as some people seem to think. Three of us suffer quite seriously (to varying degrees) if we eat gluten, and the risk of accidentally ingesting gluten at a restaurant is not at all worth the pleasure of dining out.

But Rhiannon and I decided to risk it - because she wanted to experience high tea. Honestly, I wasn't expecting much. I've gone out for high tea a few times, and it was always a little disappointing - even when it was full gluten and ridiculously expensive.

This time was different. Rhiannon invited her dear friend along... and, well...  
Neverland Tea Salon in Vancouver completely blew our minds.

$15 for a 3-tier 1/2-size gluten- and dairy-free high tea service (plenty for one hungry kid), plus endless selection from the very long tea list. $30 for a full service, which was way too much for this hungry adult. I'm picky about my food. It takes a lot to impress me. The food was by far the best high tea I've EVER had, and the teas were wonderful; steeped to perfection. The service was understated and thoughtful; the food was quick, and they tipped us as we left, with a tiny bag of their Neverland Tea blend to take home.

And they have style. 

beautiful steeping teas

1 tea service: 5 different amazingly delicious sandwiches, 5 different desserts, and one scone - definitely the best I've ever eaten - served with cream and homemade jam. And gluten and dairy free. Why is it so good? Because they make everything in-house. It's fresh. It's real. It's AWESOME. And the girls were completely delighted. O.K. So was I!


So... you know... after high tea, and while wearing the fanciest gowns and fairy wings and grandmother's Russian fur hat... the proper thing for ladies to do is...


Oooh! Let's jump off this bank!!

Oh oh -- lost something!

My shoe!!!

Never mind. Might as well go sockfoot!

Or barefoot.



Monday, March 17, 2014

We have a new singer in our family...

She's not really ours -- so not residing in the Phantom Rickshaw house -- but she is Nana and Opa's, and we visit with her every day, much to our delight. Today she demonstrated her singing skills!
Kalea is a gentle, cuddly golden retriever, only 6.5 weeks old, having been weaned early because her mother had mastitis. And Nana is clearly overjoyed. :-)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Three Days of Igloo

Remember that igloo I posted about 2 days ago? 

Well here's an update.

Now it has three rooms.

This is what happens when you just let go...

Spend three days building with family and friends and get all exhausted and soaked and frozen ... get vehicles snowed in and have to have whole-family sleepovers (much to our mutual delight), and come out of it all totally pooped with chores undone but...

And when mothers roll in snow!


Whoosh! Bye bye, plans and intentions. 

Hello, adventure!

Squirt paint at snow!

Bliss out in cathedral-like stained-ice and snow-muted peace:

And have coloured snowball fights:





Rock on, beautiful people!

Cherish this beautiful world,

the time we have

and the joy we make, here.

Water Kefir!

Thanks to Lisa Marie Bhattacharya, I now know how to make water kefir!
I've been using raw unrefined sugar, homegrown raspberries (from my mother in law!), and some lovely kefir grains from Lisa Marie. :-)) YUM!!!!

Raspberries, sugar and kefir grains been sitting in water for 2 days.
It's bottling day!!

Put the kefir grains to rest and feed in their little jar of yum.

Strain out the used-up raspberries.

Bottle for a day to develop CO2.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

How to Get an A: Create It!

Just when you think you've got it all figured out, everything turns on its head and you have to start figuring again...

Background on Our System
Unschooling homelearners in our area have two legal options: Register as homeschoolers under section 12 and receive no support or funding, or register as distance learners, get $600 per child allotment to use towards registered courses and/or supplies, receive the support of a program or advisor/teacher, and submit regular reports and grades to the ministry. We have so far gone with the latter option, because it's nice to use that extra money for the kids' activities, and also I like the accountability of being at least a little bit tied to the system. (Did I say that?!) I guess it's true. I dream of cutting loose onto section 12, but I'm afraid I'll mess up and not even notice it's happening...

So, anyway... about that grading. After grade 4 we have to start grading our children 3 times/year, in consultation with our teacher. And the grades have to have something to do with provincial learning outcomes (PLO's)! Truly! As you can imagine that leads to quite the creative workaround for us unschooling types, when trying to figure out how our big mish-mash of activities fits into the PLO's!

So... I painfully dig through the PLO listing, and make sure my kids are capable of most of the outcomes, and all of the suggested comments the teacher provides. I try not to involve my kids in this, unless they're interested, because I don't want them to start feeling competitive or inadequate. Then I show them the list of outcomes I've written in their reports and ask them if they think they deserve an A for each topic, or something lower.

In order to get an A, they need to do the following:
  • Be proficient in the suggested learning outcomes for their grade.
  • Get inspired and engaged about something that relates to each subject matter.
  • Have a little something to show for at least some of their efforts.

Something to Show
And that's where we're at right now. We're trying to get "something to show" on paper for their files at the school they're registered with... and it turned out we had one single whole day free before the end-of-term deadline, in which to accomplish this. We had big plans for this day: spend all day inside, reading about Haida Gwaii (because we're going there this summer!!!) and creating a giant map of it, with some kind of written work, as well. We had our supplies ready, and a bunch of resources, too. Markus had plans for work on the house. I had plans to organize part of the house. It was going to be a productive day.

And then it snowed!
Cancel all plans. There are priorities in life. And when snow is as rare as it is here, snow is one of them.

Rhiannon baked us some muffins (yet another exciting and delicious new recipe recorded only in her mind!), and then we went out to play! We had a minor panic when Markus lost his glasses during a snowball fight and we spent about 1/2 an hour sifting snow to find them. Then we decided to start work on a big igloo. We built, rolled, shoveled, packed and scraped all day (though I packed it in earlier than everybody else did), and ended up with an awesome two-room snow-block igloo.

And then we took our quiche down and ate dinner inside the cosy little second room. You can see Markus, here, peeking out from inside that second room, but this is a posed photo because there's just no room to take a photo in there.

While sitting just snugly with our empty bowls in there, not really wanting to go in, but having nothing else to do anymore, either, we agreed that this kind of an amazing day could not be had simply by spending money or going someplace exotic. It's really more about a state of mind: an appreciation of the presence of those we love and a willingness to drop everything and adventure.

But -- Those Grades!!!
What am I going to do with no paperwork done and two exhausted unschoolers frolicking gleefully in the snow, so pleased that we've all dropped our responsibilities!! I decided that Rhiannon could write down her recipe (so I can use it too!) and that would do for at least part of her file, and Tali could (with a bit of convincing, I admit) solve an argument we were having about the rate of increase of snowball size by simply measuring it and recording the data. He did!

There. Most of the day spent playing in the snow, written work done for files in just about an hour or so of that awesome day, and a late night piece of pie to finish. Last year's peaches from our own tree, and 8 rosy cheeks around the table.

That was an awesome day. Totally worth an A.

It's true that life is full of situations where we just have to accept somebody else's requirements. But a little creativity about fulfilling such requirements, and some effort made to fulfill them in a way that is both inspiring and engaging is both worth the A grade and worth the effort and time spent. We strive for opportunities to create A's in our lives. The A is the measure of fulfillment of our own expectations of ourselves, and of our spirit's fulfillment.

This is how I want to live. This is why we unschool.