Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Are We Doing Too Much?

This week I am finally beginning to feel like I know where I am and what lies ahead. I still feel a bit frantic, particularly trying to find time between kids-times to do my own things, like this blog, my writing pursuits, and the various web and graphic design jobs I'm working on (not that I mind; I'm extremely grateful for these small jobs, at the moment). But at least I don't feel so much like I'm scrambling, anymore.

Today we went for our first family swim at a rec centre in town.

Last spring both kids took lessons there, but Tal was totally unimpressed by the lessons, which required him to be out of the water after only 1/2 an hour, and in the end he felt badly that there was a skill he hadn't "passed" (assisted float), so he would have to repeat the session. More reasons I don't like grading my kids. Over the summer he more than mastered the assisted float (and nearly the unassisted float) all of his own volition, all by playing in our plastic pool, and at the beach.

Rhiannon would have liked to take swimming lessons again, because she likes to be with those other children. But I decided that the $150 I would spend on lessons (lots more to join them in the pool, after) was much better spent taking us all for a 2-hour-long swim, instead.

So today we went, spent only 10$ for all of us, and swam our hearts out for nearly two hours. Rhiannon even found 3 similarly-aged kids to play with (approaching them all with a big grin and "wiw you like to play wif me?" The children learned more in their swim today than in the entire set of 10 lessons, last time, and we left feeling happy.

I'm getting a little disenchanted with circus school, quite frankly. We got there just as the teacher was pulling everyone in for the beginning-of-class-circle (late because we got stuck behind an entire preschool class waiting to use the toilets, downstairs!), and Tal was afraid to walk up and sit down in the circle, alone. So I walked him. Now I must tell you: this is the same wonderful teacher he's had and loved for two classes, already. Today is actually technically the first day of the "real" homeschool circus class; the last two weeks were an introductory class, but other than one new child, the students, teachers, time, and class setup are the same. And so there we came to the circle, I just about to let go of Tal's hand for him to sit down, and the teacher said, "are you here for the parent and tot class"? Uh. No. Not really? Did he not remember us? I politely said that no, I was just bringing Taliesin to sit down, and he would continue the same class he'd been taking the previous two weeks. The teacher recovered and continued, but I felt a bit perturbed.

Tal said he enjoyed himself, but all of the kids seem to spend a lot of the 1.5 hours sitting around doing nothing. For insurance reasons, they can't do much other than juggle without direct teacher supervision, so while one teacher is (for example) helping one child on the trapeze, and another is helping a couple of kids on unicycles, three or four kids sit for 10 - 15 minutes at a time doing absolutely nothing. Waiting. Finally Tal asked to use the aerial silks while he waited out the remaining 30 minutes of the class (he was too small for the unicycles and didn't want to do any more trapeze, today), and for insurance reasons was allowed only to use the silk that was so low he touched the ground when he stood in it. He made the best of the situation, and entertained himself, while watching the kids with more permissions hang from the waist-level silks, beside him. I do understand the safety issues involved. But it was kind of unfortunate, and for the effort we expend getting to the course every week it would be nice to feel like we couldn't do better at home.

So that's what I'm thinking. When my studio is built and the giant paper cabinet is out of our hallway, I will hang up some silks, a trapeze, and the rings, and put all the kids' juggling gear in the corner, and we'll have our own little circus room, here. They both love it so much. And we can then join a different class where he actually might socialize with the other children and/or get some attention from the teachers.

Well, though... we must remember: This is a Pisces moon, and I'm bound to feel more critical and less certain about anything, right now. Pisces full moon in Libra. Wow. Probably not a good time for decision-making, hey?

Now off for my Mama's ballet class and late night at the bar with the rest of the "Tequilarinas".

10 pm Update
Of course, as Leah points out, it was actually technically already an Aries moon by the time I wrote this (as of 12:45, today)... but I find, for myself, anyway, that there is a bit of lag. I'm starting to feel the effects of Aries, by now, though. That means I'm still emotional, but now with great spontaneity and potential for rash decisions and knee-jerk solutions: I nearly cut my hair off, but have decided to get somebody professional to do it in town, since tomorrow I am going to have 2 hours to kill between doctors' appointments. Report to follow.

I didn't go to the bar with the rest of the ballet class, since I was, at the time, planning to go home and cut my hair. So now I think I'll compensate with some dark (dark dark) chocolate and some Jack Daniels with Markus. I get the chocolat to myself, because Markus says it has too much chocolate in it (how can that BE?!).

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More Burdock and Girls Gathering for Lunch

Burdock Tea Update
Today we tried the roasted burdock, both steeped as tea (left in photo) and ground and drip-filtered like coffee (right). The coffee version tasted like toasted dust, quite honestly; the steeped version was a rich and full-bodied tea that I must say I shall make again, for enjoyment reasons, alone. Plus it is apparently good for my skin and digestive system. I think we'll have to go dig some more! And the book is right: neither milk nor honey would improve the flavour.

First Day of Daycare for Rhiannon
Rhiannon is in gradual entry for daycare. That means that today after preschool, Tali and I met her briefly, then disappeared to work on Tali's journal while she spent nearly two hours with the daycare, next door.

She didn't seem involved at all with the other children, but none of her usual friends were there, today, which didn't help. However, after finishing her lunch, she was very upset to have to go home before playing, some more. I suppose that's a good sign!

When we got home she was really too exhausted to function normally. She spent the rest of the day playing various "party" and "visiting" games in the play fort Tali had constructed, with intermittent crying and whining, usually about nothing. Eventually she just simply fell asleep and was barely able to be roused for dinner. I am realizing this past week that although Rhiannon doesn't exhibit moderate amounts of social/emotional stress in the usual ways, she certainly does experience it. She appears to just go forth with gusto to join groups of children, or new experiences, but afterwards she is a bit of a nervous wreck. We will have to keep this in mind more than we've been accustomed to over the past few months. I don't want her learning to bury her feelings, until they are too severe to keep in.

Hm. Big parenting discoveries, this month, hey?

I've been asked by other parents why I would send my daughter to daycare (or even preschool), since those apparently contradict my unschooling philosophy. The answer is simple: no, they don't! And of course more complicated, too. Rhiannon is in daycare mostly because she wants to be. She would like more time to visit with her friends than the 2.5 hours, twice weekly that she gets at preschool. She thinks it's fun to play with friends in a big place with lots of toys. I don't really need her to be there, right now; she could stay home with her Pappa, while he's working -- she can entertain herself very well. She could even attend the Learning Centre with Mama and Tali. She has done both in the past few weeks, and neither is a problem. But neither also has the group of other nearly-three-year-old girls whom she would like to play with. And perhaps it will work out well for me, too: when Taliesin is comfortable enough at the Learning Centre for me to leave him there, Rhiannon's visit to daycare after preschool will mean that I have about 5 hours free, once a week. That's pretty amazing. I could maybe even get a paid job, develop my arts career (what? arts career? what's that?!). That would be a very big deal, to me. And this is not happening yet, and I'm not pushing it. But if it does, I will be happy.

And why preschool? Because my mother is the teacher. And the reason she's the best preschool teacher available is because she is the single most important source of all my educational values. That is to say, she does with her preschool program pretty much exactly what I hope to achieve for our children's (and our own) education, for the rest of our lives.

And Now Back to the Burdock
For Taliesin's Earth Walk he chose to go into the new alder forest behind the preschool. We saw a deer peeking at us, and talked about deciduous forests, and how the alders grow on disturbed ground, just like ... burdock! I didn't intend to make much mention of the burdock growing around the alders, but as I stopped to take a picture, Taliesin became very interested in the burs, which were largely absent from the plants we were digging up, yesterday. When I asked him if there was anything we were finding he'd like to learn more about, today, he said enthusiastically: "burdock!!"

We looked burdock up in Pojar & Mackinnon's "Plants of Coastal British Columbia". Tal was most interested in the fact that burdock was the inspiration for velcro (he drew the little hooks in great detail in his journal). Also he found it interesting that Cowichan healers use boiled burdock roots to help arthritis. Mostly, it turned out, he wanted to learn about totem poles, and, upon discussing them, was a little disappointed to learn that they were not originally Cowichan, which is too bad, since the Cowichan people live around Nanaimo, and he at least knew where that was, approximately. So goes the windy trail of homelearning. :--)

So back we wandered to wait for Rhiannon at daycare, and Taliesin drew some burdock in his journal. He said he was going to print "This is the beginning of burdock season." But he got a little too distracted by the preschool cleanup happening around him and by the dhall snacks he was eating, and only got half-way through the sentence. Oh well. No pressure. We had a good day.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mama All Mushy

I am just sitting here reveling in my new and wonderful life. I haven't decided yet how emotional this blog is going to be, and for that reason the post about today's events was pretty devoid of feeling. But somewhere the cold reporting has to give -- hey, I'm an emotional person, and we're just into a Pisces moon.

Last year I started writing again, not for money, but simply because I felt so empty in the daily routine of driving kids around to all their activities, trying to stay involved in various community groups, being a station-wagon-Mama with never the time to walk anywhere for all the engagements we had, and trying to keep the house going between it all. The list of what I was interested in learning just grew and grew, until things dropped off the end and the list was devoured by the timeless necroses that seemed to encroach all of my pursuits, those days. Note the past tense?

Yep. "Those days" are done. I haven't written poetry or fiction or made a serious piece of art in months, because I didn't have the time, and my "writing days" were eaten up by life and our too-crazy schedule. It was just starting to get to me, about the time the school-year began, and then... the nagging feeling vanished! I now have motivation to bring my kids with me on my adventures -- I now have motivation for adventures! The kids are getting old enough that we find many mutual interests, and hey, since so many of their friends are in school, there's no hectic play-date schedule to keep up with! Yes, we still have lots to do - more even than before - and I've lost touch with my dearest friends, for lack of time to visit. But on the weekdays, where the kids and I have freedom to do ANYTHING we feel inspired by, we have shared beautiful, happy times, more fulfilling than I could have dreamed. This is the good life! I feel so full -- so utterly inspired -- that although I've not been writing or making art, I am working out my artistic frustrations by documenting my family's journey. Wow, this life is beautiful!

The bright laughing muse is dancing, today. Happy full moon!

Personal Histories and Wild Food Day

Great Grandma's Box of Memories
We started the day with personal histories... that's a fancy way of saying we went through some old stuff of my grandmother's: Some letters from just after the turn of the (previous) century, written by my great grandfather to my great grandmother. They were very interesting, but the children bored of them after a while, of course. Then we looked at photos of the last 6 generations on my mother's side, including, of course, Tal and Rhiannon's own birth photos. Next week we'll be bringing these things in to the Learning Centre, to share with the older kids, there.

Wild Food Day: Burdock Root Tea
Later it was time for our Wild Food Day adventure. Apparently burdock root is best harvested in spring or autumn, so we thought it would be a good food to look for, today.

Taliesin first declared he didn't want to do wild food day, anymore, but since his preference was to hang out inside and do nothing, or just be inside doing.... well, nothing... Rhiannon and I trumped him and we went outside. By the time we reached the endless burdock field, his interest was revived, especially after I assured him we didn't have to dig them ALL up. The process is described best in photos:

Off to the field with a shovel, a bowl and a pinwheel!

Required: the weight of at least two on the shovel-handle.

Oof! There it is!

Washing the roots...

Peeling the roots...

Chopping up the roots...

Our friendly helpful kitchen-cow, dumping the roots...

The same kitchen cow, between milkings, pan-roasting the roots!

We did have some fresh burdock tea, but just can't show you every cup of tea we photograph; they're all so alike! The kids were quite disappointed, declaring that it tastes like nothing. "Just like water? We like water!" says Mama, trying to be optimistic. "No," they assured me, "not like water -- like nothing." Well it was a bit green, at least. The book we read claimed that burdock root tea is strong and robust, and needs no honey or milk. Well I tell you, if we had added honey or milk to this we would still have tasted nothing but honey and milk. I suspect that the roasting of the roots brings out that robust flavour; we'll try them, tomorrow. And why not, since we now have a nice little bowl of burdock root, roasted and toasted and waiting in the kitchen...

Friday, September 21, 2007

End of Another Endless Week

Today we had two children from Taliesin's class here to play (brother and sister), and they got along famously, as my mother-in-law would say. The three older kids ran pretty much all the way down the hill to their afternoon class, we picnicked in the meadow, flew paper airplanes in the wind, and generally frolicked until class begun. The class was great - Tali particularly likes the teacher he has these Fridays, and Rhiannon is welcome, and of course thoroughly enjoys herself, hanging around with the big kids.

In the evening we had a potluck, an Irish Music Session, and a late-night music-party to attend, all of which were wonderful, and had that sometimes elusive, warm, friendly atmosphere that we always hope for in a party. The kids were bagged by the end of it all, but we all left happily.

And then there was this -- a bombshell dropped on me by a shall-remain-nameless other unschooling parent: The Learning Centre tests the children. Standardized tests. That is NOT what we expected. Apparently Tali is free from this for the first while, but how long does that while last? How long before he has to measure up, to compare himself to the other children? To be good enough to earn the teachers' and his classmates' esteem (or disapproval)?

When Taliesin sounds out a word at school, adults (even teachers) often comment on how amazing it is; "Oh he's incredible!" "Oh he's so advanced!" And already he has something to live up to. I would rather he was able to grow in the manner and timeliness that is right for him personally, which none of us can judge or grade. I would rather that when he printed a word, the teachers said not "how incredible", but "great! are you enjoying this?" or something along those less awed-sounding lines...

It reminds me of Siddhartha who, after losing his best friend to the Buddha of all Buddhas, finds himself truly alone, without even the presence of his family in his heart. He has found himself. And as painful and as dreadful as his loneliness is, it is that moment (in my mind) that makes his existence meaningful. Himself is the meaning of life - for him. I doubt that I will ever reach this kind of ultimate realization, but I want my children to at least get a chance, and every expectation that is nudged at them is another barrier they will have to break before they can access that small kernel of self, within.

My son is not Siddhartha, and the self is indeed a lonely place -- duende, n'est-ce pas? But he deserves a crack at his own destiny, and there is nobody who can tell him what that is; no test that can tell him if he's on the right track, or far enough along.

Anyway... enough ranting. Why stress about it, after all? I think it will be easy enough to sidestep the testing, etc, when it's time.

The Critics: How I Respond...

From a friend:
"What makes you think that you can teach your children better than someone who's spent seven years training to be a real teacher?!"

First of all, it's not seven years' training. It's a degree (which many of us have, by now), plus an extra year or two of teacher-education to get certified. I am not minimizing the importance of this -- teachers are very important, and just as medical school can turn out some amazingly good and amazingly bad doctors, so can teacher-ed turn out some amazingly good and amazingly bad teachers. I don't think the program makes the teacher. I believe a good teacher is born of an inspired, passionate person, with a great desire to help and a great understanding of children. My own brother is one of those, and he's only a couple of weeks into his teacher-ed. The education is very important, but he's already a good teacher.

Secondly, I am not teaching my children. My (and my husband's) philosophy is that our children will learn all they need in life by becoming inspired about learning. It is not my job to "teach" them so much as to help them to find the sources of learning that inspire them. In our case that happens to include a small "school" setting, so that they can be sure to interact with other children of varied ages, as well as four "teachers" who, in my opinion, are of the amazing variety.

And last of all, I don't pretend to have an education in teaching. But I think I know my children and can guide them well.

"I survived high school, and I hated it. I never learned anything, but it made me strong. I think everyone needs the experience of surviving a 2000-kid high school, so they're prepared for life."

Well I don't. But if my children want to attend, I won't stop them.
Having said that, I don't recall ever seeing a social or political system like high school, anywhere else in my life. Whatever high school prepared me for is evidently yet to come.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Classroom day again!

Rhiannon, who neither of us worried about at all, is showing some signs of stress with her new busy schedule and "big girl" activities...

"Emotional Crisis"
Well that's the alert my mother apparently got as she was packing up to leave the preschool for the day. What happened was that Rhiannon had been too nervous to release all of her pee on the preschool toilet, just before being taken to ballet, downstairs, and had had an accident at ballet. In typical Rhiannon-fashion, she panicked before even having the accident, and started screaming "NO! Go away!", and when the teacher realized what was happening and tried to take her to the bathroom, she fought bitterly, punching and screaming. That's the dark side of our gentle girl: she cannot abide making mistakes.

And when they called her Pappa at home he wasn't there, so they called upstairs, and Rhiannon was rescued, to await her Pappa's return, five minutes later. She was so emotionally traumatized that when she got home she slept for hours, then sat still, pale, and nauseous for the next few, until a Sesame Street movie revived her, emotionally. When Big Bird got home again, Rhiannon perked up instantly and declared a vast hunger. She consumed all of her uneaten lunch from before, and then 1/2 a trout at dinner. It's possible her nausea was caused by a very short-lived bug, but it seems much more likely to us that it was a reaction to the "emotional crisis" during her first ballet class of the season.

She says she'd like to continue taking ballet, but unfortunely, due to low registration, her class was canceled and we're not sure there's another at a suitable time. Hopefully next term she can begin again!

For entertainment... here's Rhiannon by our outhouse at home. She's actually quite confident on the toilet, now... especially if it's the outhouse!

Tali at the Learning Centre
Despite Taliesin's promising act of allowing me to go get the mail during his class, the first week, he is not at all ready to have me go, yet. It isn't even until the afternoon that I am able to sit in a different room and he forgets me. Still, as with circus school, I see is strength increasing, and know that the need for my company isn't permanent. So while Markus dealt with Rhiannon, I attended school with Taliesin, today.

Tali participated in some of the kindergarten tasks and some of the older kids' assignments. He delighted very much in the art activity, where he had a chance to make a drawing of his teacher, Amy, as she sat in a poufy pink dress and shawl, having tea at "an impressionist cafe". At lunch he played wildly with the grade one and two boys in the yard, telling me later: "I was playing Pikachu! We had to run! Miles was the guy who pushes the guys over and I was Pikachu. Mama do you know who Pikachu is?"

"Not really. Do you?"

His face lost it's enthusiasm. "No." Apparently I've not developed his knowledge of pop-culture well enough.

But the day went well. In the end Tal decided to carry half of our luggage home. As we walked home together, hand in hand and still blissfully unaware of Rhiannon's traumatic day, I thought about how blessed I am to have the opportunities I have here, to be able to share my child's day with him, to be there when he needs me and to be wanted in his life. And when I got home I realized how lucky, too, that Markus is able to work from home and be there for Rhiannon when she needs somebody. If I didn't have him here, I would have had to take Tali out of school for the afternoon to be with Rhiannon. But I didn't. What a blissful life we lead!


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Circus School #2

The adventures of confidence-building continue...

Taliesin had his second day of circus school, today, and managed to do most activities on his own, as long as I stayed in the room. He even mustered the guts to ascend to the (approximately) 12-ft hight trapeze, pulled up in a harness by his teacher, and Rhiannon, by his request. At the end he lay cocooned in a yellow aerial silk, bouncing up and down like a little egg, and peeking out every once in a while to be sure I saw his enormous grin.

We'll get there... With every event I see Tali's confidence build a little, and that is very encouraging.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tuesday: Earth Walk, No Ballet

What on Earth is Tuesday All About?
The "official" name for what we're doing on Tuesdays is Earth Walk day... We drop Rhiannon off at preschool, then drive home and spend 2 hours walking the 2 or 3 km back to preschool to pick her up, all with journals, camera, writing/drawing materials, and identification books in tow. We then walk home with her, stopping along the way somewhere for lunch. At the end of the day, Taliesin and Rhiannon make a picture of something they learned on the walk, and we print out a sentence or two about it.

The reason this works so well is that the walk to preschool from our house is a nearly straight line, down through a cedar/fir/hemlock/swordfern forest, across a salmonberry/alder swamp, a fish-bearing stream and a meadow, past the salmon hatchery by another creek (and one of Tali's classrooms), then across one single road and up a slightly more open cedar/fir forest, past some waterfalls, and up an alder bank to the other side of the valley.

The goal of the Earth Walk is to visit the various places that lie on or near this route, throughout the seasons... to get acquainted with the life of the Earth and the seasons and natural cycles. We concentrate on researching whatever we feel like along the way, taking detours as our inspirations lead us, and generally getting to know the layout of the earth, and the ecosystems and individual plants and animals that make it so rich. This is, in my opinion, how all of us should have the pleasure of learning Math, Language, Sciences, Art, etc... as our fancy leads us. :--)

The Swamps
So today our fancy led us down away from the path, to where we galloped down the forested hill, and over some abandoned mountain-bike ramps. The last bike-ramp shoots out of the forest, across the "Dump Road" (the real name for the now pedestrian path that runs through Crippen Park, here - there hasn't been a dump in decades), and into the salmonberry-swamp on the other side.

The swamp is wet in summer, but not very muddy, and mostly explorable with reasonable footwear. So we found some frogs, some various types of woolly bear caterpillars, 5 types of ferns: licorice, sword, bracken, shield (which we plan to harvest the roots of soon for wild food day!) and deer ferns. We talked about the ferns' reproductive systems, and the sun-gathering mechanisms of some specialized (wider) leaves, on those ferns that specialize. This is the topic Taliesin chose to explore in his journal, later. We eventually came to the creek on the other side of the swamp, and picked our way along, Taliesin testing the mud-depth, in places that required it (photo).

No More Ballet for the King of Ballet
Taliesin has wanted to do ballet since he was barely two; he's been taking classes since before he turned three. He has danced in his seat at the Queen Elisabeth Theatre, to the dismay of the woman on the other side of him. He has out-paced many of his female friends in his enthusiasm for ballet over the years, but today it all came to a screeching halt. Taliesin has a hard time with unfamiliarity.

Today, after the Earth walk, and a good lunch and some drawing/writing in journals, we packed up for ballet, and on the way there Tali told me that his teacher isn't teaching him enough. "I do like her," he assured me, "but I want to do the big people's ballet."

Taliesin is registered in the boys' mixed-age ballet, which usually has mostly younger boys. The big people's ballet (kindergarten ballet) happens at the precise moment he's taking circus classes, in town. And he's been desperate to do circus for a long time, too. There is no possibility of switching to another class, at this point. So Tali said he'd try it.

But when we got there, there were 4 children he hadn't expected. Not totally foreign, he knew them all quite well, but they weren't the boys he'd expected. And he just couldn't participate. He hid in my coat as I sat beside his place on the floor. His chest tightened visibly at the suggestion of taking first position with the other boys, and he hid his face, trembling, spitting "no" at me, and grunting. It was all wrong. I got so frustrated, after sitting there for 25 minutes of a 30-minute class, that I got up and left, trailing a screaming boy behind me.

I was angry. I was so disproportionately angry that I had to put him to bed to keep myself from screaming at him (and I confess, I DID yell at him on the way home). Mama completely lost her cool. And it wasn't his fault. I was angry because I felt I'd failed: I couldn't make my son feel safe in a perfectly safe environment he's known for years. I was angry because I was embarrassed that my own son, the most experienced and gung-ho dancer of them all, was too scared to even stand up in the class he knows so well. I was mostly angry at myself, and I took it out on a little boy who didn't understand his fear anymore than I did.

After I had cooled off, I went to his room to make amends, and found him asleep. We spent at least an hour after that, cuddled up together. He explained that he didn't feel safe because the teacher had scary energy, that day. And I said, "what about Mama? My energy must have been awfully scary, too, when I yelled at you."

"Yes, but now it's just... it's just sorry."

Yep. That was me. Sorry. Very, very sorry. We talked about possibly finding a different ballet school that would have an older kids' class at a time that worked for us, but my research didn't turn up anything we thought we could handle, so, one week after buying Tali his third pair of ballet slippers, we decided to give ballet a break for this term. No ballet for the king of ballet -- and we'll see how we can sort it out in January.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Wild Food Day: Stink Currants and Licorice Root

Stink Currants:
Stink currants are one of the indigenous berries, here, apparently eaten still by many native peoples in various manners (dried in cakes, or with oil, or more recently as jam), but totally ignored by the rest of us. But as we play in and around them, I can't help noticing the lovely sappy smell of the plants, though the berries really aren't very tasty. So I thought it was about time we tried them.

This was our first harvest, today. The look on Taliesin's face here is his reaction to the berries' fresh flavour: pretty bitter, but powerful! Rhiannon worked hardest of all, harvesting berries and holding her bucket out for those berries only I could reach.

Unfortunately, stink currants are harvested by other animals, too, and the berries are few and far between. I estimate we traveled more than a kilometer over logs and brush, through ferns, hollow stumps and a few devil's club plants, to find as many as we did. And in the end, after scouring all the plants on the property, and the various patches we know about in the woods, we had enough to make about 1/4 cup of jam.

Recipe: cover the berries with water, bring to boil and stir with chopstick until the mixture is a deep, thick purple, and the berries begin to fall apart. Add a bit of sugar, a teeny tiny bit of gelatin to help it set, and a very small amount of lemon juice. Stir stir stir, and then cool. The jam was really wonderful; even the children and our guests agreed. It tastes very full and has a lot of character. It's different, but not in an off-putting sort of way! Too bad we didn't manage to make more!

Licorice Fern:
On our stink currant journey, we of course found plenty of licorice fern growing on the mossy trees, and decided we should bring some home for tea. The sword ferns are at the moment all loosing their spores in great clouds on the forest, and we walked through many a brown fertile-haze, today. If you click this licorice fern-closeup you will see the little sori in great detail. They're so very tidy! The licorice roots are all drying up for the winter, so we harvested a few teapots worth of roots, for storage. On the way home Taliesin and Rhiannon chewed licorice root, and became so entranced with it that they began drifting off into faery. At one point I turned around and Tali was gone. I called a bit nervously (we had just passed the bones of a deer and some bird remains, which to me appeared to have been crunched by a cougar...), and heard a faint reply from the ferns: "hmmmm...".

"What are you doing? Where are you?"

"Having a little licorice root..." Here in this photo is Taliesin, the way I found him, drifted off into faery with a little freshly harvested licorice root in his mouth and the rest of the harvest in his hand.

Wild Food Teatime:
When we finally made it home, (and after a good lunch, because after all, a kilometer-long bush-hike is hard work for 3-5 year olds), Taliesin cleaned the roots of their moss, then I gave them a good scrub, and we chopped them up for tea (sampling a little as we did...). Yes those are Tal's hands using the big sharp knife!

We had guests over, and they were very happy to join in our wild food day. Here's the spread: Homemade gluten-free toast with stink-currant jam and licorice-root tea! Lovely!!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Party at the Teacher's House!

By all other accounts we'd expected to be leaving early from this party: "tiny house, lots of people", "mini-rave", "kiddie-rave", wild disco dancing with "DJ Al" ... erm ... they all sounded happy but it didn't really seem like the family events we normally enjoy. Of course you know we were totally wrong.

There was a wonderful assortment of delicious foods for all palates and lifestyles (including gluten-free!), a joyful (shall we say, practically giddy) atmosphere, and of course a collection of like-minded people. And DJ Al managed indeed to make a mini-disco, with nearly no effort taken in involving literally 90% of the kids. They danced their hearts out in the free, happy, and respectful way that we've come to see is just part of Learning Centre life. There was no competition; no exclusion -- only joy. When our own kids were floppy in our arms (they were 1/2 of the 10% not dancing) we tried to take them home, but both refused to go, preferring instead to sit and watch the dancing. So we tried to teach them the seated Macarena.

Sometime I know this honeymoon has to end, but for now...
What other school has a party at the head-teacher's house to kick off every year!?

Second week of classroom experiences...

Thursday all day and Friday afternoon I (and sometimes Rhiannon) attended school with Taliesin. He did various academic exercises (including receiving a new math book, which he seemed excited about), and managed to have a few limited conversations with other children.

Thursday: Not a Morning Person
I realized this week that Taliesin spends Thursday mornings wide-eyed and cocooned whenever possible, and only does the required tasks if I sit right beside him, urging him on. His mind wanders and he frequently sits stone-still, thinking quietly. Tal has never really been very energetic in the mornings. It's still quite an effort to get him out of bed for 8am so that there's any chance of getting to school by 9. I think the sleepiness may have something to do with his quietness at school.

At lunch he begins to open up a little, especially after the free play time on the play-equipment. There, he even manages to spark conversations with other children. I never thought of Tal as a particularly physical person, before, but he very much enjoys his time practicing the things he thinks he will one day put to use in the circus: climbing, swinging, being strong, and generally monkeying around. In the classroom he is mostly silent, refusing to answer even simple questions asked directly and with plenty of warning. On the playground he becomes very energetic, and manages to join in conversations even to the point of shouting comments across the yard. And then... some of the outdoor exuberance follows him in for the afternoon.

The Thursday afternoon curriculum seems to consist mostly of journal-writing and art. I am not sure if his participation in those subjects is as enthusiastic as it is because he simply loves journaling and art, or because of the previous outdoor play. Or even, perhaps, because he's finally woken up from the long morning.

Badminton and Poetry
At the forest classroom Taliesin was very happy to do some poetry writing, even to the point where he postponed snack because he had become so inspired by the idea of "printing some words". This was not part of the prescribed activity, but I think after using so many words printed by other people, he wanted a chance to make his own. He tried out some various words, finally sounding out "it is" and "owl" very happily. Then he was ready for snack.

After snack was badminton, which he was predictably nervous about, and tried to get me to just play with him, separately. Luckily there was another boy waiting for a partner, and between the teacher, Rhiannon and myself we managed to get the two boys finally hitting the birdie around with us. I even managed to sit out and they did play for a few minutes before the game dissolved.

Socialization -- what is Mama doing there?!
Various people have mentioned to me that I should not have to attend school with my son, or that his sister shouldn't be there. Some have suggested that he'd behave differently there if I just left. But I'm trusting my gut on this, and some past experience. I've tried leaving him in various situations when he didn't want me to go, and none ever ended happily. He either stood crying at the window/door waiting for me to return, cold and hardened to the coaxing of his new caregivers, or he simply exploded in a raging fit of terror, so that I could not physically leave the room. Every time we both ended up extremely upset. I can't, in my heart, believe that that kind of upset is good for a child.

The biggest reason we are at the Learning Centre is because I CAN be involved. I do very much hope that I'll be able to stop attending with him very shortly. I am counting on getting Thursdays to start developing a career for myself. But until he is comfortable with me leaving, I am very glad that I am a welcome part of his classroom. I can be with him if he needs me, but at every opportunity I pull slightly away, and by my absence urge him to seek help and conversation elsewhere. The more he finds himself comfortable in Mama-less situations, the more he will begin to find his own path in the school, and that is what I want. Meanwhile, while he still needs to know I'm in the building, I can help as a duty-parent, tidying up, organizing projects, helping other children with their work, etc.

Little sisters, too!
And Rhiannon is as welcome as I am. She joins in with those group activities she's capable of, and when the older kids are doing something more concentrated like math work, she gets out a play-set and does her own activity in the corner, quite happily. Many of the older kids enjoy having her around. That's the beauty of the mixed-age setting. In addition there is a very elderly man who lives beside the school who apparently comes to sit, sometimes. In the middle of a story, there comes Harry, to sit quietly on a chair, eyes closed, listening. And eventually he leaves, again. I knew Harry when I was a child, and I absolutely love that he's a part of my children's childhood, too. This is exactly the sort of multi-generational experience I hoped for. I believe we learn infinitely more from sharing our education with people of all ages, and learning by watching them learn, than we do from being taught in groups of same-aged children, all struggling with the same issues, and with none of the perspective of older and younger people.

Parent-Teacher Conferences
This week we also went for our parent-teacher conference, which was basically a formal way of meeting the teachers and discussing our educational goals for the year. Tal was welcome to share his thoughts (though he didn't have very many), and we talked about our hopes and concerns. All three teachers listened with open minds and interesting responses. This is a school where teachers send out an end-of-week report, describing what the children did, and how this met the teacher's goals for the class, etc. This is a school where teachers not only welcome parents' comments, but WANT parent involvement.

So yes, we're still happy here...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Circus School

...was wonderful!!! Tali was enraptured by the aerial silks, and is greatly looking forward to using them more, next time!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Why we have a schedule...

Just to clarify: We keep a schedule mostly because we have so many activities that we'd never make it to any of them if we didn't. Every weekday has various registered classes, etc. for various members of the family, and around these I have "planned" to do various family activities, so that we can do some of the same things weekly, and thereby stay at least a wee bit focused on some of our interests. (It's so easy to get distracted, otherwise!) But there are still large, multiple-hour chunks of time each day for us to spend following our inspirations -- that's one of the cornerstones of our unschooling intention.

Tuesday school begins in earnest

Today we tried out everything Mama had planned for Tuesdays, except ballet, which begins next week... and perhaps Mama was a little overzealous. Rhiannon went to preschool (only 1/2 the class, this time), then Tali and I walked to preschool to get her, discovering on the way various seasonal things, the most interesting of which were mushrooms, a red-legged frog, and some easychairs which appear to have been dumped into the creek beside the works yard. Hmph. Then Rhiannon walked back with us, and we had lunch. After lunch we spent a couple of hours (!) looking up information on the frog and mushrooms, and working on the children's journal entries. Rhiannon's was 3 different depictions of Nana teaching preschool, one wearing lovely "orange underpants and a pink shirt and googly eyes"!. Tali's was a lovely drawing of a new home for poor Mr. Frog, who was obviously going to have to move, since there was garbage in his creek. He spent about an hour just working on sounding out the descriptions of his drawing, and the sentences "This is a pond with lilies." and "We saw a red-legged frog." He seems to have grasped the concept of spelling "th", now.

After all this we went out again for our Wild Food Day. We had hoped to gather cattail roots, the tops of which we hoped to boil and eat like potatoes, and the bottoms we planned to mash into flour for bread. WELL..... it seems we either have the wrong sort of cattails, or I wasn't digging deep enough. We never found the large, fleshy, potato-like balls at the top of the roots, and we found mostly rotten roots, other than one 3-inch piece, which I think would have yielded a teaspoon or so of flour, had I bothered to process it. We did, however, have a wonderful time in the mud, and finding the various stages of tadpole/frogs that still live there, as well as managing to discover a few new cattail shoots hiding in the water, which the children ate mostly on the spot (photo). We ate the rest fresh with zucchini and borage flowers for dinner.

In the end the children dug up potatoes from the garden, and rounded out the meal with beans, pod-peas and (store-bought) asparagus, accented by some store-bought milk, butter, and cheese. YUM!

However, by the end of the day the children were definitely feeling a little too tired. I think I will try to either make the journal time shorter next time, or move Wild Food Day to another day in the week. The latter is probably a better option, since foraging usually will take us on long adventures, and that will be too much after our morning 4km hike. We'll see how it goes.

Anyway, that wraps up the first experimental Tuesday!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

School vs. not school

A couple of parents today at the Learning Centre were discussing their dislike of the word school. One actually said it's a big reason she doesn't send her child to preschool. Because it's preschool. They likened it to institutionalizing our kids. Well obviously that doesn't fit my views, because I know my Mum's general philosophy and the way her preschool program works, and I think she's amazing (not good; AMAZING at giving children a strong start and a self-confidence in social groups that for some would not otherwise have come -- and I am far from the only parent who thinks that; I meet people all the time who confirm it). But besides that (and I am sure that there are lots of good preschools out there, besides my own mother's), I think we need to get away from rejecting things based on terminology. I don't feel at all that a preschool or homelearner's program, or even a traditional school or an Institute needs per se to institutionalize our children. I can tell you that at the time I attended (until 2001), the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design was by no means regimented or even adhering to very high academic standards. It was much more loose than I thought reasonable for a degree-granting Institution, actually. And in general a good school. School. Yes. And good. I felt my freedom there.

So if I talk about Tali going to school, it isn't diction-laziness, nor is it an acclamation of an institutionalized way of living - it's just language. Tal goes to school, now, and he's proud of himself, and I'm proud that we've found a school that makes school a good word.

Friday, September 7, 2007

School Days

Well the beginning is over, now. It was a long haul through the first two days of Learning Centre classes (plus more meetings and training/bug-fixing for the new websites we've developed recently). I learned a LOT about my son, about my goals and hopes for his education and our family life; about myself, even: what went wrong in my own education and how my participation in my children's education, combined with having such an excellent program can make my children's experience utterly different. I now know why my mother was so often involved in my classes: she was helping me. I suppose I always knew that, but I have now finally experienced teachers who are not only open to hearing my requests, comments, and particular hopes for Tal, but actively seek out my input. Wow. This is wonderful.

So here's the story:

Taliesin was excited, but paralyzed with fear, once we got there, both Thursday and Friday. Even after recovering a little from the initial paralysis, he refused to do the assignments, and I first attributed it to fear. First they were to go to stations, but since I was helping at the drawing station, Taliesin didn't want to do any others. Then I left it to take him to the calendar station with the other two (much younger) kindergartens, and they were shown a few numbers to copy. Tali knows his numbers quite reliably, and kept saying "I already know that" and refused even to draw a picture on his calendar. Then the teacher read a book aloud, and asked the children to draw a picture of something they liked and print the words "What I liked was ____". Then on the next page the same about something they didn't like. Taliesin refused again, and rudely, so I left the room. When the project was finished, he had drawn a tree, because he likes trees, although there weren't any in the story, and he had neatly printed: "I DID NOT LIKE THE STORY". Then he took it home to finish: "THE STORY WAS BORING".

I had two concerns: one, that the teacher had spelled and American "favorite" on the easel at the centre, and seemed to think that was acceptable as one of the correct spellings in Canada. I disagree, but didn't argue the point. Secondly, I spoke to her about the possibility that Taliesin feels patronized by being grouped with the younger Kindergartens, learning the basics of letters, when he already knows most of them. I guessed at this because I remember feeling that way myself as a child: it felt like the teachers just really didn't know that I already knew these things, and perhaps they thought I was stupid. I thought the assignments were boring and a waste of time. So I suggested that even though he is not able to sound out more than about 3 words before becoming tired or frustrated, he might prefer to be given the challenge, anyway. We went home to an evening of repeated meltdowns and angry rejections of anything and everything I tried to do (dinner, getting out of bath, etc.) I knew it was probably just the effects of a hugely-stressful day: his first ever day at school, but I was dreading what today might be like.

Today was only a half day. After some group games which Tali politely declined to participate in, while hiding in my skirt, the children were read to again, and he excitedly took a space beside Rhiannon, in the middle of the group. Then they were sent off for journal-writing. One teacher began to round up the Kindergartens for a "letter-rap" game (A is for apple, A, A, A... B is for banana, B, B, B...) and Tal went off to get his journal, not yet realizing he was on his way to the letter-rap. The teacher I had spoken to yesterday came and asked me if she should put Taliesin in with the journal-writers, instead, and I referred the question to Tal: "A is for apple, A, A, A... or printing in your journal?"

"My journal!" He smiled, puffed his chest out, and chose his own seat beside a girl we know from the Celtic Music Sessions we attend (he says it's coincidence that she's the same girl he's chosen to sit beside for lunch and pretty much every other table-task). Today he was allowed to make a picture of anything he liked or had experienced, so he drew the little space-bear he had brought with him. The teacher came over and gave him a little letter-card, which he used with great interest and care to help sound out the words he printed: "This is a spacebear." He was then SO proud of himself, that he spend the rest of the day exuberantly playing, talking to other children, and just generally being a delightful, happy boy. He saw someone taking a violin lesson, and decided he would like to start violin lessons. At home he took out his violin to practice before taking it down to the Celtic Session and fiddling there, too. He went to bed with his baby, Aslakay in his arms, and grinning sweetly at me. I am sure the road to becoming a big boy is not all smooth from here on, but I feel renewed!

I realized today how VERY similar Tali and I are at school, which is going to be hugely valuable in my understanding of him, and my ability to help him succeed. Basically he wants to be challenged far beyond his level, so that he feels respected. He deals much better with failure than with a perceived inability, or a fear of failure. When he's challenged he feels strong and confident. That's certainly a good thing to know!

As for my feelings about the classroom setting, it's still more regimented that I hoped, but certainly better than I've seen at our (what I consider to be very good) traditional public school, here. I can see how this has happened; it's a fast-growing program, and there are an increasing number of people involved who want a more traditional classroom-setting. We probably will phase out the classroom eventually if Taliesin and Rhiannon end up getting lots of social interaction through their other classes and the family events at the Learning Centre, but until then, and possibly even permanently, this arrangement is very good! The children really are, for the most part, incredibly considerate of each other's needs and feelings, which is something I've never seen at the big schools. Tali is as accepted within the older (grade 1,2,3's) groups as he is with his 4-year-old Kindergarten mates, and he finds equal ground somehow with all of them. An older boy today asked around for help peeling his banana, not to adults, but to the older children, and someone reached down from the top monkey bars to do it for him. He peeled about an inch: "There. Is that good?" "Yep. Thank you!" The children willingly left swings to give waiting children a turn after a few minutes. They encouraged each other at various activities, and helped each other in the classroom - all without being asked by adults. In a group of about 20 children aged 4 - 8, approximately, not once did I see someone teased or criticized. Not once did I hear a fight or see someone excluded. If I had had access to a program like this I would be a completely different person, today. And I think Tali will just shine, here. As far as the social structure goes, this centre is everything I hoped for.

Now for the dentist, tomorrow. :--) Goodnight!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The All-Parent Meeting, and more Enlightenment

In which... a bunch of parents get together and I discover how truly diverse the Learning Centre population really is. And I discover that I am much more radical than I realized.

There I sat at this meeting, seeing many people in attendance I had no idea had children, let alone were homelearning families. Well maybe they're not. It became apparent to me that some of the families at the Centre see it as a form of alternative school. Which it is. And probably the closest form of school possible to having no school at all.

So at the beginning of the meeting the amazing, thoughtful, warm and creative teachers handed out a pile of papers, and many lists and schedules and forms, both in the pile and on the back table, etc etc etc... and I was overwhelmed. I don't think I'm overwhelmed because the way they do it is wrong, or because I'm just not capable of handling so much organization; I think I was imagining the centre to be much more loosely organized than it is. I know in my heart that what my children need right now is a safe community in which to hone their social skills. I also know that after they've managed to feel safe in a broader community, and have a more permanent social network, we will likely get out of the system.

I don't like the word system. I am afraid to be criticized and terrified of doing wrong by my children - especially because there are so many people who have declared to me that I am failing them by denying them a "proper" education. This is because the systems we've tried out weren't right for us. But when Taliesin was born my mother gave me the best piece of parenting advice I've ever received: No matter what anybody says, even me, trust your feeling. Know that you know in your heart what is right for your own children. I don't like the word system. It is not right for us. I have turned in my declaration of conscientious objection to vaccination to the preschool, and although I've faced no criticism (after all it's my own mother teaching, and she understands our reasons for objecting), felt like an outcast. I don't like systems. I have never fit into systems. Systems create outcasts. Systems are boxes, holding neatly arranged components made of other boxes, and scared and frantic souls bouncing around inside of them trying, trying to follow the laws that are made for all people, when in fact there is no "all people" -- just people. People who generally don't fit the systems.

I was reading the BC School Act, and it made me feel trapped again. Now I have to figure out how much of it I can ignore. I don't think I am an anarchist, but I'm certainly not orderly. I hope after a few years on this journey my family begins to have an understanding of who we are. Does this mean I am a "radical unschooler"? I don't want to be. Yet another title with rules and stereotypes that aren't necessarily in line with my beliefs.

I feel like the floodwaters are starting to break free and the walls of my static-world imprisonment are just about to come crashing down. Then what will I do!? I can't just dance around in the forest ALL the time, can I? (Maybe I will.;-) There's plenty to learn in the forest, after all.

Second Day: First Absence

Well today was to be our first ever day with the Learning Centre: a field trip to the Vancouver Art Gallery! We boarded bus with the rest of the kids, then the bus boarded the ferry, the ramp went up, and Taliesin vomited. Since the ramp was up, we had to ride all the way to the other side, then wait an hour while the ferry did the no-passengers dangerous cargo trip, then return home, all the while carrying the sick boy, the useless lunch, and the jealous little girl (why doesn't SHE get carried, anyway?!). By the time we got home he had vomited 3 times, and now he is asleep on the couch. I will be very educational today and let them watch Pingu if indeed he feels like it, later. Our movie schedule is: approximately once a month, or when somebody's too sick to go out. And that is certainly today.

Tonight is the all-parents' meeting at the Learning Centre. Tomorrow is the first class for the Kindergarteners, there (a full day; we'll see how he lasts), and also Rhiannon will have her first official visit to the preschool (15 minutes intro and meet the teachers). For those who are new to our family, my mother is the preschool teacher, and Rhiannon has been visiting preschool and desperate to attend for 2 years, already. The Learning Centre will be a very big step for Taliesin; Preschool will not be such a change for Rhiannon. Still she's excited, of course!!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Day One: Kindergarten and Preschool at the Dining Room Table.

...of course, technically, according to our educational philosophy, day one was the day we burned a candle together and pleaded with the universe to bring us a baby...

But that was before we had heard of unschooling.

Today was very enlightening, and for me a great leap into the world of unschooling. It was supposed to be our first scheduled day of homelearning: I set a schedule so that we'd actually get specific things done, and not let every day dwindle away into lego-building and drawing. Tuesdays will begin at 9 with some loose math and reading activities, then a walk through the landscape to pick up Rhiannon from preschool, during which we will study the plants and animals as they traverse the seasons. Today, since Rhiannon doesn't start preschool until Thursday, we instead made covers for the journals I bought the kids, and were planning to then do our first "wild food day", where we would harvest something from the wilds (ocean, lake, meadow, forest, etc) and incorporate it into a family-cooked meal. And... well... to be honest, the day didn't go so very well.

There were actually only a few hiccoughs in the morning. Tali trudged through some math activities that were too simple and therefore boring, until I remembered hating the exact same exercises as a child, for the exact same reasons ("if they just want you to show that you know the number, then why can't you just tell the number, instead of drawing six of the stupid bananas!?")... and I told him so, and suggested he just tell me the numbers and be done with it. My children will not be forced to do pointless monotonous tasks in the name of education. Education will make them WANT to draw bananas. Or something. Lesson 1 for today: no pointless banana drawing. He flipped to the middle of the book and found a nice dot-to-dot to do, thereby practising the numbers 1-20. He was very pleased with himself when he was done. Next time I'll let him choose right away.

I think Taliesin and Rhiannon (who will be starting preschool this Thursday, at the same time as Taliesin begins his first Learning Centre day) are going through some pre-school jitters. Stress. Not to mention we're all recovering from a couple of nasty viruses. Today progressed into one grumpy grumpy 5-year-old tantrum, until he did not want to help harvest the mint, nor pick blackberries, nor even cook the mint jelly he had initially been so excited about, and decided to torment Rhiannon some more, simply because I had gone to the garden to get some beans and he thought I couldn't hear him. Do you see where this is going? I lost my patience quite a few times, and by the end of the day, after we'd made amends and he'd gone to bed, I collapsed on the kitchen floor, sobbing. Oh well, I thought. I'm a crazy-woman, now! And Markus sat calmly beside me, his arm draped over my head, as I watched the white rainbows on the ceiling and found my way, again.

Those rainbows have been here for me all of my life. I can't remember much from the time before we went up to Squamish to get this repossessed trailer and bring it home. Pappa covered it with home-milled cedar siding, and stuck a sign on it: the Phantom Rickshaw. And it's been my true home ever since. When it came for rent seven years ago, Markus and I came home immediately. The white pressboard ceiling hung over my childhood bed as it hangs over my bed again now. The pattern repeats in that infuriating way where you're never really sure which rainbow is the repeater; they're so almost alike.

And as I lay there on the kitchen floor, looking at my painted cupboards, thinking how my mother never would have painted the cupboards so garishly, there suddenly came visions of grass to my teared-up eyes, and I remembered running through the field on the other side of the road, where this trailer originally sat, with flowers in my hand for my mother. My mother wanted to see anything that was beautiful, and she was the most beautiful woman in the world and I wanted to be her favourite person, and I wanted to see her smile. Then I realized that the reason the field was grassy was because my Pappa made it that way, wandering around with a bag of seed like van Gogh's Sower in a purple sunset, he is still there in my mind, and I see him casting long trails of grass-seed again when I look at the ceiling in this house. The reason I was running to my Mama with a flower - it was a buttercup, I think - was because she was making my world beautiful. Images of clothing and food and gardens came flooding through my mind as I watched the white rainbows in the ceiling. My parents gave me the gift of inspiration long before unschooling was in vogue. They took me out of school and bore the reprimands of my teachers, so that I could visit quaint galleries with them in town, and sit on Granville Island to watch the weirdos with crazy hair -- never realizing that I would one day be one of those weirdos attending the exact same art school. My Dad had long hair and leather clogs (and skipped down the road to my absolute horror as a teenager)... because that is who he was and he wasn't hiding it. My parents did what they felt was right, and all of it got somehow stored away in my heart to be retrieved simply by looking at those endless white rainbows of the pressboard ceiling of the Phantom Rickshaw. One day we hope to replace this old and moldy house. But those ceiling panels are coming with me. And no this unschooling is not a mistake.

Welcome to Rickshaw Unschooling. :--)

Unschooling Philosophy

Unschooling, also known as free schooling, child-directed learning, and natural learning, is our educational philosophy and goal for our family. The word unschooling seems to spark quite a bit of controversy, which we feel is in part due to the radical sound of the word. The word isn't going away, however, so we have to live with it.

Basically what we are aiming for in our children's education is a loosely structured system of learning that is both exciting and flexible for all of us. That is: it's a lifestyle for the whole family. Learning doesn't happen at school; it happens everywhere, all the time, throughout our lives. Instead of being given assignments indended to "teach" concepts, the children (and we) will learn from those concepts coming into play in our daily activities and projects. We've always been aware of learning opportunities in everything we do. That doesn't mean we press the kids to read every word they see, or to help tally the groceries. But when they show any interest at all, we try to encourage it. And we have an unending trajectory of projects and adventures, some of which were conceived for their ability to educate/inspire the kids.

So why school at all? Because we believe that the most important aspect of group education is social skills, and that is something we cannot give our children here in the Rickshaw with only the immediate family around. We don't want the wild, often-violent and frightening social life of the public school playground, but a nurturing, supervised, mixed-age group where they can learn to celebrate individuality and togetherness. That is what we hope to get at our local Homelearner's Program (AKA The Learning Centre), where, starting this Thursday, Taliesin will be doing 1.5 days per week of learning with other children aged 5 to 8 approximately. He has the option to attend many other events at the centre, and the option to skip classes entirely without any reprimand from us or his teachers, as long as he is willing to discuss his decisions. We hope that the centre will also help us navigate the legalities of what we're choosing to do, as well as facilitate our homelearning.

I've found myself trying to explain our stance on education many times over the past few months, as we've navigated the procedure of signing Taliesin up for the Learning Centre. We've encountered a lot of genuine concern for our children's wellbeing, from people who, quite frankly, don't know what we're talking about... and that's our fault. It's hard to explain! Mostly that's because of our fear of criticism... Anything so radical as "unschooling" seems pretty scary, even to us, at times. It's partly uncharted territory, and requires a lot more from the parents than more traditional forms of schooling. But we believe in it wholeheartedly, and, since this is all about listening to the children, are ensuring that their options are left open. So if they decide to go to the local elementary school after a couple of months or a few years, they still can.