Friday, December 31, 2010


It is Markus' tradition to make gingerbread houses. We didn't quite have time for houses, this year, but he and the kids make plenty of gingerbread cookies, and decorated them with peppermint icing. Some will go to friends, but we are still well-stocked!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Hanging Out with Auntie Bree, Hannah, and Grandpa

Auntie Bree invited us to the house she was house-sitting and hang out for the day. It was so lovely to just relax, shed all the responsibilities of being at home, and enjoy a quiet (cold and sunny!) winter day. At some point in the afternoon the kids played xylophone (loudly!) until both Auntie Bree and Grandpa fell asleep. Then mayhem ensued as they and Hannah took the living room apart and built a super-fort. Then, after and during this mayhem, I went to get Markus from work and Bree made us a wonderful risotto with beef and kale for dinner. We dined like royalty. I am grateful for my family, this year. Grateful for the time to spend with all of them and grateful for their openness, too.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Our Unschooling Schedule

So often people seem to come here looking for unschooling schedules. So I thought I'd just post up my thoughts about it. As annoying as this might be to some parents seeking a quick solution: I think it's really up to those involved to know what will work best for them. Isn't that the point of unschooling?

I think it's pretty much the same as baby sleep schedules: different for every family and for every baby, and it might change at any time, without notice!

Late Nights
Our family's sleep schedule was determined by our first baby... but it took me until he was about 5 to fully accept that. I used to be an early riser. Most of my life I've awakened with the sun, and gone to bed around 9 or 10. My son is a night owl. Tant pis pour moi. Since he was a very little baby he's refused to sleep until at least 10 PM; usually 11. Despite and because of this, I or Markus spent every evening rocking, singing, reading, and trying all sorts of guaranteed-to-work-or-destroy-you-baby-sleep-methods... to no avail. Taliesin went to sleep at about 11, and woke up around 9 or 10 the next morning. He enjoys breakfast about an hour later.

When Tal began preschool (the 3-year-old class started at 9AM), I would lovingly wake him at 8, dress him, and desperately try to nourish him with whatever few bites I could encourage him to eat before we left at 8:45. On non-preschool mornings I would wake him at 8 and feed him breakfast around 9. The next year, the preschool coordinator tried to convince me to put him in the afternoon class. But why? All his friends are in the morning class! "Well," she said, "I've been watching him for a whole year now. He doesn't really wake up until about 10:30, and the class is finished at 11:30. I think he'd get more out of the afternoon class. You could just let him sleep in in the mornings."

On to year two of preschool. The afternoon class went wonderfully (also partly because then his own Nana was teaching him!), and Taliesin got to sleep as late as he wanted.

And so things have continued. He has attended other early-morning things in the past few years, and for the most part they've gone all right. He just manages on less sleep, those days (but rarely falls asleep any earlier on those subsequent evenings). Rhiannon has always gone to sleep at more typical times: 7, and now 8 or 9. She wakes up at about 8. She has learned to get herself a piece of fruit or some cereal if she's up before anybody else is, and she's quite considerate of Tal, who sleeps in the top bunk. Mostly she uses her mornings for reading, crafts, or snuggling and talking in bed with us. Bedtime is technically still 8PM, but we only really push that if it's been a long exhausting day. Mostly they go to bed at about 10.

The huge benefit of this sleeping arrangement is that we are able to attend pretty much whatever late-night events we want, as a family. My kids are out until midnight or later at least once a month for music events, theatre, field-trips, or other such highly-valued and cherished homelearning experiences. We usually take it easy the next morning, but there's no serious repercussion.

The downside to this is less grown-up time. And it can be a bit rough on Markus, who gets up at 5:40AM, 3 mornings a week, to commute in to work. But he's always been a night-owl, himself, so he never complains. And it means he gets to spend more quality time with his kids, since they're up for a good 4 hours after he gets home. He makes up for it by sleeping until 9 or 10 on most of the mornings he is home.

Weekday Activity Schedules
Since we use our schoolboard-granted homeschooling allotment for various extra-curricular activities (ironic term, because in our case they are the closest thing to curriculum we have), we do have a fairly rigid weekday schedule, which just means a list of activities we need to be at, at certain times: Annie's theatre school, Tal's theatre school, gym games, our adult ballet class that the kids join for the barre segment, Tal's violin mentoring, a couple of weekly pre-arranged visits with friends, etc. That leaves most days before 3 wide open, and we use these for whatever activities strike our fancy. And that's the point:

Whatever Activities Strike our Fancy!
I think that's the joy and purpose of unschooling. Sometimes we might have to create a temporary schedule just to make sure that we have time to do the things which our fancy has been struck with, but that schedule is transient, and flexible, and prey to the whims of the moments it tries to define. A common plan for meeting with other unschooling families is: "Sure -- we'll be there sometime before lunch and I'll bring something to eat. We can go for a nature hike." We may get distracted at home with some exciting project or activity, finally arrive at the friends' house at noon to find that they've already eaten, and are highly engaged in, say, comic-making. Then my kids sit down and eat on their own, and spend the rest of the day in an intense comic-making frenzy, learning reading, writing, story-telling, layout and sequencing, and probably countless mathematical, social or scientific concepts that come up with their comic-making. No nature hike. But a wonderful, typical day of unschooling. Unscheduled.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Boxing Day Christmas Train

 Auntie Mischa invited us all out to join them on the Stanley Park Christmas train, which we did quite happily! Then we went for dinner at Mischa & Mitch's house, and had a little extra Christmas time.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas photos...

This year Nana put a few things in the stockings, as well as Santa Claus. One was this charming mole puppet who plays violin. He's been a popular addition to the constant dramatics put on by Tal.

And in Rhiannon's stocking was this beautiful little Mme Alexandre doll who used to belong to Nana, complete with a little note asking Rhiannon to please look after her well. She was instantly loved, and has now been named Rose.

Christmas dinner: artichokes and duck. Yum! Thank you, Mum!

Hazel got to spend lots of time with her best friend, Tiel. Both were a little startled by the flash, though!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Giving and Receiving

We received little colour-in cards in the mail this year, with 3 crayons and pre-stamped, addressed envelopes to get them back to the children who will be spending this year at the Vancouver Children's Hospital. Because we have a far away friend who has spent more than half of the past year regularly staying in a Children's Hospital (leukemia), this idea really touched Taliesin and Rhiannon, (they also remember me sending a box of art supplies to our friends, to entertain them and the other patients at their Children's Hospital) and they worked hard to create something truly lovely for the unknown children who might receive their cards, in Vancouver, this week. After creating the things they'd thought of (the coloured card, a maze for entertainment, and some silly Christmas song lyrics), we were packing everything up and Tali noticed the enclosed paper, suggesting that any cheques would, of course, be appreciated. I explained that the Children's hospital was always in need of money to help the children, but that this year we had given money to other causes, and that the cards, love and happiness for the children might be all we could send. Tali said without hesitation "but I mean my money. I can send mine!" And I said, "Oh no - that's not necessary. They'll be so happy already with the things you've made for them." He looked totally downtrodden, and said bitterly "I can't anyway, because I don't have any cheques. I wish I had cheques." His concern and desire was so genuine I was moved to tears, and told him that I was sure it would be OK, in this case, to enclose a piece of his treasured paper money in a little envelope within the card. I found some little envelopes, and he pulled a 5 dollar bill out of his piggy bank and happily folded it into the envelope. He had one 5 dollar bill leftover. Then Rhiannon wanted to follow suit with her card! But alas, she had no paper money, so Tali gallantly agreed to trade her his remaining bill for $5 in change, and she included it with her card. Both children were so proud of their gift, and of course, so were we grownups.

Then it became time to celebrate friends. We've had some of the children's closest friends to visit this week, including Kai and Hunter, whom they haven't seen for about 6 months. It's been a wonderful few days, full of love and gratefulness. A bit of crankiness developing in the evenings since they've totally worn themselves out with all this visiting, but SO very worthwhile. This is the first year that both children have continued to behave beautifully throughout December. I, too, am blessed. Merry Christmas!

Making Christmas presents.

Tali's collection of things for an unknown child at the Children's Hospital. (Zoom in to read the song he made up; we thought it would be just fine to send some 8-year-old humour to entertain a like-minded soul at the hospital.)

Rhiannon packs up her newly-acquired paper money. The note she wrote on the card says '123 blast to home!' It was her way of wishing whichever child receives this what she imagines they most want: to go home from the hospital.

Showing Uncle her creations.

6 months away, and within a few minutes of being here, Kai drifted over the cupboard where, since he was very very little, this set of Zoomorphs has lived. "Um... do you still have that game of dinosaurs?" Well of course we do!! It's here for you!! I've asked Tal numerous times to just give it to you, and each time he refuses, claiming that he loves it... but he only plays with it when you're here. We're glad to have something here that you feel so at home with, dear Kai.

Hunter, on the other hand, seems always at home being crazy with Annie.

Speaking of being at home... Ethan was so comfortable at our house that he refused to eat the ham I'd made and said that he doesn't eat meat. Tali was rather disappointed that one of his dearest friends was choosing vegetarianism when he regularly declares himself a carnivore or 'meat-a-tarian', but Ethan did not waver in his conviction. Apparently he's been heading this direction for quite a while. I was honoured and pleased with the whole event.

Here, Rhiannon, Samantha and Katherine play babies, and dancing party...

...while Ryan and Tal create some inventions.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tal playing recorder during midwinter eclipse

Hunting the Wild Tree (s)

Some people call our beautiful wild Christmas trees 'Charlie Brown Trees". We think they're the opposite: totally beautiful, naturally-formed, healthy trees -- just the way healthy natural trees really look. And plus... because they are not pruned and shaped like farmed trees, they have room between the branches for ornaments, gifts, and candles. :-) This is how we always have it.

For the second year in a row our whole Bowen family got our trees from the neighbours' field, which seems to have sprouted its own little fir-forest. They're planning to clear this tiny forest again, so we're happy to take the loveliest fated trees off their hands. This year the kids suddenly took the notion to cut themselves mini-trees... and they did! They're both cedars, and Tali's is the naturally-deformed 'Dr. Suess' tree. They even completed them with self-made paper ornaments, and are extremely proud.

Then, after having decorated, we had a little eclipse party with Uncle Adrian, lit the big tree, and sung some carols together. This year was the first in over 500 when a full lunar eclipse happened on the winter solstice -- the concurrence of two returning-of-light events was too much not to celebrate! Our new-to-us (free) telescope unfortunately has a few broken parts, and was useless anyway with the heavy cloud-cover. (One day it will be great!!) This was also the first year that Rhiannon could read along in a carol book. It was hard to get her to stop! She was still loudly singing songs from the book at 1am when we gave up trying to see the eclipse through the clouds and headed back in to bed!

As usual, click to enlarge any of these you want to, and press back to return here.
(PS: That beautiful braided crown on Rhiannon was made Auntie Ginger!)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


We're head-first-ploughing through the busiest month of the year, trying to find moments to consider the year(s) past and where we are, today; trying to feel hope for the future, too. Somehow the following four things came along, and have fed into that consideration of our lives, so I'm sharing them, here, knowing that many of you who read this blog are on a similar journey to ours, trying to find a meaningful, authentic way to live and raise children in a world that sometimes seems so contrary. Hopefully some of these are enlightening, interesting, or at least reassuring to you, too!

Article: Neuroscience Supports Natural Parenting:

Article: Infant TV Exposure Lowers Cognitive and Language Development:

And some videos, too! Each of these two gems we've watched repeatedly; especially the second. The more you watch them, the more you see and learn and feel. Independently and together they say a lot about why we're unschooling, and the values we hold. They give us hope.

Alan Watts speaking about life as music:

Narayanan Krishnan's mission to feed and to love the ill and destitute:

Happy Midwinter, everybody. In the year's dark season we pull close to ourselves, our thoughts, our hopes and our fears; we remember the importance of light. It is the light we cherish in our hearths, the light we bring out into the world, but also that small beacon from within our own selves that keeps us going and burns through life's twists and turns; we take time to nurture that light, this month. We sit with that light in reverence or conversation or silence. In this place of compassion and awareness, may we hold dear the company of those we love as well as the gift of solitude, the reasons we've made the choices we have in our lives, and the beauty that is dancing the ups and downs of our lives, together.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Place-Based Imaginative and Ecological Education in Maple Ridge, BC

This is so close to us I can almost taste the cool of wholistic outdoor learning on my face! What WONDERFUL NEWS!!! (Too bad we don't live in Maple Ridge...)

Grouse Mountain Family Field Trip

Our learning community (the primary years) went on a field trip up Grouse Mountain. Markus lamented the fact that in all the years he's now lived near Grouse, he's never been up. So at the last minute he took the day off work and joined us! We were very in need of a family outing, and this was just the thing. It was beautiful. Here's our proof:

Grouse Mountain keeps three 'rescued' wolves. They were bred and raised for the movie industry, but proved unsuitable for whatever reason, and were moved to Grouse Mtn, where they now live in a 2-acre enclosure just above the main parking lot.
Snowshoeing across the groomed hillside to see the grizzly bears' enclosure, where they are currently not visible, since they're hibernating! You can, however, watch them on Grouse's live bear webcam.
Stop for snack...
The kids all seemed to enjoy the hands-on bear workshop put on by Grouse Mtn. There were bear-skins, a stuffed cub (very sad; Grouse was given it by a person who found it at a garage sale; nobody knows how it died), a powerpoint presentation on how to identify different types of bears, their habitats, food, etc., and identification activities with paw-prints and skulls from different animals. It was a great break from the snow activities!

...not that we'd had enough playing in the snow, of course...
We and our friends stayed later for a visit with Santa Claus and some skating on the little outdoor ice-rink.

And we also visited these caribou... also known as two of Santa's reindeer who were visiting from the game farm, awaiting their jobs of pulling Santa's sled on Christmas Eve.
Markus and the kids gathered some lichen from nearby trees, and the reindeer approved.

It was a wonderful day. By the time we got home, we were exhausted, but happy, and somehow reconnected as a family. (Click this photo to see it larger, and then you'll see our view of Vancouver.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sinterklaas op Bezoek!

Sinterklaas came to see us this year! He first went up to Opa and Nana's house to retrieve his staf, (and mentioned to us that he plans to leave it there every year, because it was rather handy, after all), then Opa brought him down to our house.

He didn't bring any Zwarte Piet, this year, so Opa helped out with his visit!

He was very friendly! He stayed and talked to each of the 7 children present, and seemed to know quite a lot about them all! He was a little too hot, and couldn't keep his tall hat on in our low-ceilinged house, though.

He wrote gedichtjes for each child. Some were very extravagant; others were a bit silly!

And Taliesin was finally brave enough to go up and talk to the good Sint, this year! Sinterklaas called him a girland for just a moment Taliesin said it made him wonder if this was the real Sinterklaas... then Sinterklaas said he was teasing, and Tali was reassured. We know that not all Santa Clauses in malls, etc. are the real Santas; they're good men who choose to do the work of Santa Claus for him: to bring joy to children... so it doesn't really matter that sometimes they are just men in costumes; they are still Santa in their hearts. However... as far as we know, Sinterklaas is still de enige echte.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The first monthly Kids' Junket!!!

Once a month our community has a Kitchen Junket, which basically is a gathering of musicians, poets, writers, and performers/revelers of every ilk, who gather to make musical merry. We love it. It is usually the most highly anticipated event of the month for our kids. The music begins at about 9PM, at the earliest! For our kids this is no big problem; being homelearners has given us the freedom to be late-risers, and therefore the kids generally stay up until 9 or 10. It's not much of a stretch to have a nap in the afternoon and stay up until 1AM, enjoying a junket. So we do this once a month! We treasure our flexible bedtimes, and the cultural and familial opportunities they create for us.

Unfortunately, our many young friends who'd also like to attend the junkets do not have such flexible sleeping schedules, and are rarely able to join us. No Problem!! Taliesin, Rhiannon and CJ have solved the problem! From now on, every time a junket happens, they'll hold their own "Kids' Junket" on the afternoon of the same day! Here is evidence of the first junket: November 19th, 2010.

Left to right: a violin being played leaning-cello-style with one hair from the bow, a mountain dulcimer being played the traditional way, and a ukulele being strummed like a lap dulcimer with a folder piece of paper. Our junkets are necessarily creative!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Why a good preschool is a perfectly natural part of Unschooling.

I am certainly not unbiased. This is about my mother, and I think my mother is just excellent. She has devoted her life to children's development and welfare, has been a preschool teacher, a music therapist, and an infant development consultant, just to name her major careers. Now she teaches preschool once again on our Island, at our local (Reggio Emilia) Bowen Children's Centre. She brings not only great passion, dedication and concern to her work, but also the knowledge of an educated woman who has spent nearly 40 years learning about how children grow and thrive. And she cares.

Most parents do not have the background to know why our children behave and develop the way they do. There are doctors and therapists to help us with their bodies and specific issues, but even then, we often don't know when it's time to pay them a visit. My mother pointed out very early on that my daughter was having difficulty standing, and, because physical development is not her specialty, suggested we take her to an OT or Physiotherapist who specialized in infants. We did, and a few months down the road she was well on her way to having her hips facing the right direction. She's fine, now, thanks to an early intervention that I myself would never have known was needed.

So it's a treasure to have a teacher (and grandmother, in our case!) whose insights into our children can help us to help them more. Her explanations, especially about their intellectual, social and emotional development, have made clear many confounding situations we've faced.

Many parents have been surprised to hear that my children attended preschool, when I consider us to be unschoolers. Unschooling isn't about shunning the rest of the world; it's about giving our children the gift of freedom to follow their own paths and to nurture their own authentic selves. There is no better place to do that than in a preschool where they can engage in all sorts of various types of play with various different children, where their thoughts and experiences will be celebrated, encouraged and shared, and where they can learn to do all of this opening up to the world in a safe, supported way. Once upon a time, when my mother first taught here, the Bowen Preschool was called the Bowen Island Child Enrichment Centre. Doesn't that just sound so much like what we want for our children? Times change, and apparently the name did too, but that beautiful child-centred name still expresses the core of what the place is: A place to enrich our children's lives.

Not despite, but BECAUSE of being a wholehearted radical unschooler, I wish that all parents had the option of bringing their children to a preschool like ours (where, yes, parents are welcome and encouraged to stay), to engage their children in thoughtful, social activities with dedicated caring professionals and other children, and to learn as much as I have from these dedicated professionals. My mother is certainly not the only preschool teacher out there with a good education, a lot of experience, and an honest loving dedication to what she does. But too many people are unable to give their children the experience of a good preschool. I hope that, as our species matures, we will value infant development and the knowledge that could make us wiser parents and caregivers, enough that one day the excellent preschool teachers of the world will be lauded and supported for their truly essential gift to our future generations.

Understanding Play and Its Value: An article by Lyn van Lidth de Jeude

Every month during the school year, the Bowen Children's Centre puts out a newsletter, into which my mother, Lyn, pours her time, and considerable knowledge and experience, and usually this newsletter carries extremely valuable information for parents just learning how our children work. So I've decided that, once in a while, when it relates to things we're dealing with in our lives, I'll post her monthly article on this blog. You can view the original newsletter, here: (link to .pdf)

Understanding Play and Its Value
Lyn van Lidth de Jeude

As adults, we like to say that “Play is a Childs Work”, but what do children say? Generally, regardless of the activity, children say that “If they choose to do it… its play and if they are asked to do it… its work”.

Quality play time” is play that is rich in child-initiated activity. These activities may be guided or enhanced by parents and educators, but the essential learning component is that they are the product of the childs interests.
  • Child initiated play pays attention to the process of the play. It is not a means to an end.
  • Adult initiated play reduces a childs opportunity to make rules and define the process.

Curiosity is driven by authentic questions and hands on learning. Authentic experience allows the child opportunity to predict, experience and evaluate. Childrens play grows and matures in a predictable way.

There are four play styles that early childhood educators use to define different styles of play among children. Play styles progress from one form to the next and all styles of play overlap with each other.

1) The first independent play of children is Solitary Play.
Solitary play (such as object play) allows the child to investigate, make discoveries and builds a cognitive structure of understanding which supports other styles of play.
Once a child is able to play alone he/she will begin to watch the play of other children, especially those of a similar age or developmental level.

2) Observational Play (i.e. one child watching another play) builds a social understanding on which a child may begin interaction with others.

3) Parallel Play (two children playing the same game, side by side with little interaction except to exchange toys) allows a child to use the skills gathered in solitary and observational play to prepare for social integration. Parallel play scaffolds children into socially co-operative play.

4) Complex Socio-Dramatic Play (interactive role play between children) allows children to rehearse social activities and refine social skills such as how to join a group and how to accept a delay in personal gratification. This style of play is the type of play that most adults remember from their own childhood.

Although Physical Play is not generally considered a play style it has a unique and important role. Physical play enhances childrens understanding of their bodies as they work to master skills (such as hanging on the overhead ladder and kicking a ball). They watch others engaged in similar physical activities to help them understand technique and work together with other children toward organized physical games (such as catch and tag). For many children the kinaesthetic nature of their play makes this the most effective avenue for learning.

In Early Childhood centres that offer daycare and preschool, children learn from their natural activities in an adult organized environment. Children in this environment develop a social understanding of their role, their abilities and their power as they begin to understand what is in the minds of others.

What is the Adults Role?
  • To be a listener and documenter
  • To provide appropriate materials at the right time
  • To allow that all ideas are improvable and unfinished
  • To give voice to the childs experience and learning

Authentic play is an indicator of a childs health and well-being. Play and learning are one and the same thing and cannot be separated as play is truly how children learn.

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!!! :-)