Friday, April 29, 2011

Wild Food for (F)unschool

Only three families, this week, but we went foraging in the meadow and surrounding woods & marsh for wild food. On the menu this week were licorice fern root, salmonberry shoots and petals, dandelion blossoms and young leaves, new cedar and fir needles for tea... We looked for maple blossoms, but none were low enough to reach. Then we got distracted with holding some baby and adult snakes.

Wild food is rather behind, with all the chilly weather, this year. We'll try again in a couple of weeks and see what else we can gather.

...and we went home with flowers in our hair...
(which appeared there while climbing around in a wild plum)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Witness Excellent Teaching

I've talked about Brian, before, here. But last week Tal had his last violin day of the year with Brian, and I want to celebrate that, as well as give you all the opportunity to see really excellent non-coercive teaching in practice.

Brian Hoover is a virtuoso teacher. Not because he 'trains' people to be virtuosos, but precisely because he doesn't. Brian listens.

What you will witness in the 1/2 hour video below is Brian's extraordinary patience, flexibility, openness, and compassion. This is the definition, to me, of a good teacher. He acknowledges that teaching is not a one-way flow of information, but that it is a conversation, with acceptance and response being key to learning. In just 20 or 30 weeks (45 minutes/week), Brian has taught Tali many fundamental (conventional and unconventional) music skills, but above all he has become his friend.

Each class is a compassionate conversation between two people, through music. Beyond conventional musical theory, my son has learned to express himself, to hear music, to be open to ideas presented, that he has a valuable voice, and that the universe is available to him to create, to love, and to celebrate. And all of this happened while Brian honoured Tali's desire to hold his violin upright on his feet, and to never 'practice'!

Taliesin plays when he wants to, how he wants to, and he goes to his excellent teacher for inspiration, to learn about life, and for friendship.

Tali is very quiet. He prefers not to talk, if possible, until he has known somebody for quite a while. During the first few sessions with Brian, he was pretty quiet; he lightly fluttered the bow across the strings and mumbled a few words when absolutely required. He did the bare minimum. Then one day he played with volume. Volume! 

Exclaimed Brian, "Well - that's a different sound than usual!"

"Yes," Tali replied, through lowered lashes and a screen of long hair. "My violin found his voice again." 

Thank you, Brian, for your beautiful gift to us and to the world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Music Party on Ile Kerguelen

I heard music coming from somewhere deep in the woods beside our property. Harmonica and accordion.

This morning the kids decided to go on an adventure around the world, and checked on their inflatable globe-beachball where exactly the other side of the world is... Turns out to be Ile Kerguelen, where they tell me a French music party is happening! So they planned their route over land via Alaska, Russia, the middle East, and Africa, made plans for rafting across the aqueous parts of that route, packed up both winter clothes and sunhats, first aid supplies, a French dictionary, a camera, a harmonica and an accordion, and they left.

They said I can call them in if their friends come over.

One beautiful part of this is that it the following were the only input from me:

"Mama, Where's the exact other side of the world?"
"I don't know; maybe Australia. You'll have to check your globe."

"Mama, can we bring the big first aid kit?"
"No; please don't."

Monday, April 11, 2011


On Friday 3 things converged upon my sense of place:
  • read a post at Radio Free School called Staying Local
  • finally replied with my feelings about our learning centre taking a family field-trip to Mexico
  • went on another (f)Unschool adventure close to home

The Radio Free School post inspired me to chime in on the issue, too. So here it is.

I've always felt very strongly that the beginning of any exploration (including life) needs to begin with the self. When a baby is born she first discovers the feeling of touch on dry skin; of air in her lungs, and the sound of her own voice. As she nurses, the simple act of living is her connection with her mother and her experience of the world around her. As she grows and her eyes become able to focus; her ears to differentiate voices, intonations, pressure changes, etc. she begins her relationship with the wider world. She moves into this relationship from a place of security, knowing that the strong connection she has with her mother will be her safety net; her 'home'. At first she will watch the world from her mother's breast: the changing texture of skin, the rolling of her mother's hair, the smell of milk and sweat; the feelings she's experiencing, and her own breath. Eventually she will take interest in movement and light, in her parents' faces and clothing, and also in others. She will look out from the safety of the arms whose smell and touch she knows as 'home' to explore the world around her with her eyes and ears, with her nose, and eventually with her skin and mouth. As she ventures into that world, she will return to 'home' for security and reassurance, at first dozens of times during the day, then perhaps one dozen, then just a few, as the safety net she's developed in her firm rooting of 'home' becomes less and less necessary. Eventually she'll move out of her parents' house and return perhaps once every few days with a phonecall to her parents or siblings, to talk.

It is the knowledge that that 'home' exists that gives her courage to explore beyond it.

I think most of us accept this scenario as normal. So isn't it normal, too, then, to expect all learning to follow a similar course? When our learning community was pondering having a family fieldtrip to Mexico, I responded that although I understand that those who can afford to travel find educational benefit in seeing other countries, I think it's very important, especially for younger kids, to learn and become inspired about our own home community, first. Although our kids do projects and field-trips and vacations to learn about other countries, cultures, and ecosystems, when do they learn about their own homes? How much time do most of us really spend getting to know our immediate surroundings? Every week I take families out to explore our island - the richness of history, ecology, biology, and sociology on this island is the same as everywhere else in the world, and it's free for us to explore. Every week, most if not all of the kids make discoveries that to them are 'amazing': things in our own 'home' that they never knew existed; things which inspire them to be interested in learning of all sorts, that inspire them to be curious learners, in general. We're developing a close bond with our home, so that the complex sciences of life have a grounding in that safe place the children know; so that we can grow our interest in these sciences from our deep understanding and concern for how those sciences apply to our 'home'.

We know home matters, so it matters to us to learn about it. Our learning community's director answered my email with these words: "One thing I really notice is that young kids especially are very present and mostly noticing the little things right in front of their noses. If you take them on some far away trip, what they remember the most is the flower they picked, or the water in the pool, or the dog that played with them, or the big hole they saw - which leaves you wondering why you paid so much money to go that far anyways!"

A couple of years ago I led a folk-song series with kids from our learning community, and did what I felt was natural: I started them off with a map of our island, and encouraged them to find their homes. From there, we began by singing songs about our island. It was that simple. Yes, we covered topics such as folk music, mining (there are mines on the island, marked on the map), driving (we pretended to drive around the map) and island life, but the root of it all was the children's understanding of their connection to the bit of land we call 'home'.

This past week for our usual (f)Unschool exploration we went up the bluffs on Mt. Collins. We got to know a piece of our home. Here are some visuals, photographed by myself, Rhiannon, and Beata:

smell, touch, texture, physical connection, and tiny tiny things to see and hear
being here

Our smallness on the big island that sometimes seems small, itself. Our insignificance on a steep mossy slope; trees and rocks and animals whose existence supports ours, and whose fate is our responsibility.
Being Here.


Friday, April 1, 2011

(f)Unschool Discoveries, Today

Today we went exploring Killarney Creek.

Sarra found a Red-Legged Frog (blue-listed, but abundant in this area)

Tal still puzzling over the placement of fawn-vertebrae; Sarra learning how to hold a frog.

We found a little sinkhole near the creek, and measured its depth (with varying results, depending how far the kids stuck the stick into the mud at the bottom).

One of the earth's greatest puzzles: scattered bones! These are the bones of a young deer.

We accidentally frightened a wren from its nest-building.