Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Pumpkin Patch

Our friends Genevieve and Lorne supplement their regular careers as massage therapist and singer/songwriter by working at Richmond Country Farms' pumpkin patch every October, so this year we finally went out to see. Obviously the kids had a fabulous time. I think definitely the tent full of straw for building forts and just throwing at each other was the biggest hit! As usual, though... Rhiannon was most captivated by the mascots. She hugged them with abandon, and even got up to dance with them! Those musicians on the wagon are Lorne (left) and also Gary Comeau, who we've seen performing on a few occasions with his Voodoo Allstars.

My one piece of advice? Go dressed for MUD!!! :-)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wild Salmon Rally

On October 25th, the day the Cohen Commission began proceedings in Vancouver, Alexandra Morton led a heartful delegation of wild salmon supporters into Vanier Park by canoe, ending their Fraser River journey from Hope to Vancouver. Then they and others walked up to the Vancouver Art Gallery, where we joined them to walk down Georgia to honour the Cohen Commission's work at its offices... then back to the Art Gallery for the many speeches and songs. It was a wonderful, spirited gathering, in the pouring rain, and wonderful to know there is so much support for wild salmon.

A couple of other homeschool families from Bowen were there, too, as well as a bunch of other Bowen people! How nice for us to feel so in community!

The Raging Grannies were there, too!

The snippets in the following video are just a very little bit of what went on; unfortunately we were inside the Art Gallery for a kids' hand-warming and toilet break when Alexandra Morton actually spoke, so I didn't get any footage. Also terrible quality is the footage I did get... but that's testament to the great crowd that was there. :--)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Potion-making with our friends!!!

Thanks to Heather, who initiated, planned, and made happen this fabulous day. We had fun. Definitely check out the video of the bubbling potions. The kids (and mothers) followed some recipes for specific reactions, but then just freely experimented with the ingredients, to create their own magical solutions. Seeing the effects of chemical interaction, and pouring, feeling, mixing, and tasting(!) with their own hands is the best learning available!!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wild Art!

What can we get from art?
When we experience art as an open-ended, non-coercive, self-directed joy - as play and experimentation with idea and material - we open ourselves to create from our souls outward. In this creation we open our minds to deep understanding of art, of humanity, of process, and of every "subject area" in the world. When we leave behind the boundaries of our expectations for an undefined end-result; when we abandon learning "art skills" and embrace the process of exploration, we learn more. And happily, the products that come in the end will not fit the molds we've come to recognize. Instead we'll find our own, new forms, and their uniqueness and beauty will embody all that is wonderful in our souls. The paths we forge in our creative freedom will lead our journeys for creative learning in all areas of our lives.

Great artists do not come from great training; they come from inspired creative souls who dare not to follow directions. This is passionate self-directed learning! This is life!

Today, take a handful of random materials and see how creative you can be! There is no wrong way to express yourself!

(This is sort of an addendum to my previous post: Self-Directed Art and Learning.)

Recent Activities

Watching a demonstration of broom-making at the fabulous broom shop on Granville Island.

Harvesting horse chestnuts to keep the spiders out of our house! This is an annual tradition, for us. We have discovered that older chestnuts are less effective than fresh, so in chestnut season we get rid of all the little stashes of old chestnuts and gather a massive heap of new, to nestle into the corners and woodbox, etc. We have a lot of hobo spiders in our house, due to the firewood we bring in nearly every day, so this chestnut thing is an important part of our lives!

Playing with the beautiful metallic sculpture in Vanier Park. We saw this sculpture when it was partly finished, last year. The transformation from lumpy rod with what looked like tied-on garbage ... to shiny watery-looking beauty was amazing!
Ethan, Taliesin and Rhiannon hard at work with one of their favourite activities: "mining"! This particular "mine shaft" is now about 3 feet deep! There is an equally deep one into the side of the bank, behind Rhiannon!
This tiny salamander is one of the exciting finds from the mine. Taliesin made it a little hole in the bank with some vegetation and an exit, in case it might like to hibernate, there.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Just added Banskyfilm to the links. So excellent. :-)

I'm still debating (yes, after all these years) whether the links should be sorted, or whether they should even be there at all. I sorted them because I thought it made it easier to look through, but it seems to defy our theory -- that all learning is cross-pollination-learning, and you can't really learn just one subject area at a time. I don't believe in subject areas. It seems so contrary to the way we learn, and the way our brains work. But then how to make the long list of links more easily traversable? Then when I think of it, I begin to wonder if they should be there at all. If you've ever found that list useful, add a quick note here. If a few months go by and nobody mentions it, I might dispense of it.

It also implies that these things should be learned online. I do a lot online with my kids (OK... a few hours/week), but certainly don't think it can take the place of in-person experience.

I sure spend a lot of time debating on this blog, don't I? Oh well... a healthy debate (even with oneself) is useful, right?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Self-Directed Art & Learning

About 17 years ago, now, I nervously went in to teach my very first class. I had been hired by a couple of parents to teach their young children art. I was 17. I was terrified. I don't remember what I asked the first girl I spoke to, but I will never forget her answer: "I can only draw angels." She pulled out a pen and paper and drew some patterned "angels" -- a whole row of them! I was heartbroken to hear her limit herself that way, and wanted nothing more than to show her that she could be free from her angels. It was at that moment that I became an art teacher. Thank you, Sarah.

I came to my views on open-ended art naturally. My mother is a music therapist and Reggio Emilia preschool teacher at Bowen Island Preschool and my father owns BC Playthings toy store, where he promotes child-centred activity and natural toys. In both this preschool and this toy store, colouring books are not allowed. And furthermore, every person I have taught or worked with has driven the idea that open-ended learning is essential deeper into my being.

Not only is open-endedness essential for creativity, but the ability to creatively explore is essential for learning anything! A teacher-directed activity implies that the teacher knows best, while self-directed learning implies that the learner's thoughts and actions are most valuable. As soon as those thoughts or actions lose perceived value, the learner loses interest, and the desire to explore and learn begins to slip away. Some people are very attached to following instructions, but I feel this is a result of lack of confidence, or even of failure to measure up. Then we have to remind ourselves: if we are only looking to measure up, then how can we ever reach our true potential, which may very well be higher than up, or simply in a different direction? We have to give ourselves the freedom to go in any direction, to go where our authentic selves will naturally go.

The importance of self-direction in learning also has little to do with age. This is why I often choose to use the term self-directed over child-directed or child-centred; I believe this applies to people of all ages. People of any age will learn more when they are inspired to explore; the only change that comes with age is that many of us have our independence squashed as we grow up. That doesn't mean it's gone. It's just in need of some nourishment. Give a born-and-raised Canadian adult a handful of mosaic squares, some glue and a piece of paper, and she will likely begin gluing the squares into some recognizable shape or pattern. Give them to my unschooled six-year-old, and she might fold them into tiny "origamis" and decorate herself with them. She would make a potion with the glue, and use the paper to wrap up her sorted stacks of coins, in case she might one day want to take them to the store, and then it might be handy to have them sorted (this happened, today). Maybe she'd just glue the squares one on top of the other, on the back of her own hand, and call it a wart. It's not a project; it's just what she's doing: exploring. I feel that one of my most important responsibilities as a parent and teacher is to avoid squashing that creativity with my own ideas and expectations.

So what if people ask for help to reach a specific end-result? With some things like origami I've created an example, following directions, and then experimented with it, to see how I could create my own unique product, thereby giving students the freedom to be unique, as well. I'm just like they are: experimenting with somebody else's technique. Often the outcomes of my experiments aren't what I've hoped for, and this is part of the journey. Other times I supply a range of alternatives, and suggest that perhaps a combination of these methods or materials might yield interesting results. Then we all get to experimenting, together.

It isn't ever up to me, as the teacher (or parent) to know the answers, because how could I possibly know everything? Then the best thing students could strive for is to know what I know, and really, that would be unfortunate. I'm just not that knowledgeable. I sincerely hope that every person I teach reaches his/her own personal goals that have nothing to do with me. My 8-year-old son already understands much more than I do about physics -- thank goodness! But that doesn't stop me from taking his journey with him. What I know is how to say "wow -- show me how that pneumatic thingy you designed works!" My role as a teacher (as I see it) is to help people find their own creativity and desire to learn. That's it! Sometimes it seems there will never be an end to the adults who come to my classes, wanting me to impart my artist-skills to them, and to whom I hope I have instead opened a door to finding their own skills. (Not to mention the many skills and much wisdom that I glean from them...)

Unschooling Outtake: Or what if, in her free reign of art-making, my 6-year-old decides to cut up my precious handmade clothing, paint books with jam, or decorate my furniture and dishes with acrylic paint or glued on "fairy-paintings"? Well, then... I cry. Oh well. Lesson in guarding/respecting personal property -- check!

More reading (because really, everybody should):
Robert Schirrmacher, Ph.D: Child-Centered Art vs. Teacher-Directed Projects

Susan Striker's book, Young at Art (I haven't read this, but it looks good)

Tom Anderson: Art Education for Life

Crosspost from our regular family blog: What the kids are up to, these days:

Rhiannon is busy being her usual inspired self, getting ready for her birthday party (it was postponed, due to her parents' flu, and bad weather) and otherwise entertaining herself with heaps of little useful tidbits: plans, drawings, stickers to sell for money, songs and dances to perform, worksheets of wizard-making, math practice and dot-to-dots for grownups to complete, and her latest greatest pastime: handwritten stories. I shall transcribe one for you:

a sdoree abowt bers
hie I'm a ber I liv in the forist and I liv in the laks
I sdoMP arouwnd in the forist and I SPlash and swiM in the woter
I [heart] Too sdoMP and swiM the mowst
and this is Mee dwing wan av mie favrit things
[drawing of bear stomping in water]

Tal is also up to his usual business: lots of digging in his 'mine', which now has a large vertical shaft at the entrance about 4 feet deep, which is ostensibly in order to find precious stones, but actually turns up wildlife, instead (beetles, frogs, and a salamander). He's re-interested in his violin, since beginning some mentoring with our local violin-maker, and he's constantly exploring physics, biology, and chemistry, again. It seems amazing to me that, without my coercion, the kids follow their own desires quite naturally, and end up in the right places, mostly of their own devices. I help Tal with his internet searches, and to put some search results together into understanding, but mostly his scientific journeys are already beyond my scope of knowledge, so I just follow him on his way. Today we found a little scrap of paper with some detailed technical drawings on it (not at all unusual), and asked him what it was. Well... of course! It was different types of hydraulic systems he had invented! Nothing is more natural, of course. We have hundreds of scraps of paper like this.

Benefits of Unschooling

Every time I see something like this, I delight in the fact that, although our adventures haven't taken us this far, yet, we have allowed ourselves the possibility to be wild, in our choice to unschool the kids. Check out this father and son team who sent a video camera into space. So inspiring!