Thursday, December 27, 2012

How to Unschool

This is inspired by Kathy Woodford's video, which I'll post at the end of this post. It's a gentle, supportive video intended specifically for Newtown parents who might consider homeschooling in the wake of the recent shooting, however, I think it's of benefit to the wider population. Like Kathy, I also have various relatives working in or retired from the school system, and despite my choice to radically unschool my own kids, have a great deal of respect for those who study, parent, and work within the system. This post is not intended to malign the people who have given their hearts and souls to the children who depend upon the system, but just to offer support to those who are considering or (as we are) constantly assessing their choice of unschooling.

Unschooling means no heirarchy: endlessly figuring things out with others.
The main premise: Let go of control.
If you are serious about unschooling, you've read about it, you know some other unschooling families, or you've just hit the end of your curriculum-knotted rope and you have to make the leap, then you know this already, but it's good to remind ourselves regularly - especially those of us who (like me!) were brought up in a coercive system or environment, and probably pass a good deal of that coercion on to our kids.

That's it. Let go. In every aspect of your parenting and relationships, just let go of control. We can advise our children, but we can't make them heed our advice. We can tell them what we hope for, but we can't dictate their hopes and intentions. I struggle with this every hour of every day. I want my kids to be polite; I want them to get inspired. I want them to feed the animals and be kind to me, and excel in the things they love to do. But it's not up to me. And every single time I get involved, they are not less but more likely, to make the same mistakes again.

Case in point: This evening I came home to red-faced angry children. It was clear they'd been in tears, and as it turned out, there had been an angry, heated argument over Minecraft (who gets a turn when), and they'd both come out of it feeling threatened and hurt. My initial desire was to shout at them for playing Minecraft when I'd expressly forbade it until January (my misguided punishment for the last few times this same argument happened), and to tell them how much they've hurt themselves and each other with this stupid argument. But for once I think I got it right. Well, maybe not right; I'm not sure there's ever an absolute right in these cases, but I did a whole lot better than previously. I stood up and silently went away to my room to think about what to do. Eventually my daughter came in and lay down on me, telling me the whole story, as accurately as she could. After a while my husband and son joined me, and somehow the situation was resolved without any threats, retribution, anger, or even feelings of unfairness. We just took ownership of our behaviour and we made things as right as they could be. And I apologized for having banned Minecraft. We can all learn from our mistakes, and I believe our children learn more from our mistakes than from their own.

Now what?

So... you get the letting go of control thing. You've left your kids alone for so long that they've become bored with video games, junkfood, and every other binge they tried when they realized they were truly free. Or maybe they didn't become bored, and you're now worried you've created monsters.

Let go some more.

Go get a book and read it. Do the baking you've been thinking about. Research something that's been on your mind lately. Do the mending. Your kids might come to see what you're doing, or they might continue with their own pursuits, but you are leading by example, and they are making subconscious notes that this is what a healthy productive parent does with a day. The unschooling parent doesn't hover over the kids; doesn't watch them with eyes-on-back-of-head; doesn't surreptitiously slip them grade-appropriate texts and expect them to get interested, and certainly doesn't research and study the things the kids are supposed to get interested in. The parent feeds the parent's own soul. And the children see this, and learn that this is what healthy productive adults do.

I'm not advocating neglect, here. Obviously, the younger the children are, the more attention they'll receive, but we can aim to make it supportive and positive instead of coercive and laden with expectation. We can invite them into our wonderful explorations and ask to be invited on their journeys, as well. We can watch and learn from their play as they do from ours. And when they're older they'll hopefully appreciate that our presence in their lives can be non-judgmental and supportive, and maybe we can have a closer relationship in the teen years. This is something I am not succeeding with, personally. I've been far too judgmental of my children over the years, and now my 10-year-old is beginning to show signs of pre-teen independence-seeking, closing himself into rooms, etc. But we're open with him about our desire for a close, loving family, and about the changes we're trying to make, within ourselves. I've asked both of my children to help me make my changes; to remind me that my coercion is getting me nowhere, etc. And they do. And it does help. We're all learning, together. I know it's a very good thing for them to see me climb my own mountain.

Because they're going to have their own mountains to climb, and it will be helpful for them to have seen somebody else make a similar effort. But still, when they try, they're going to fall down. Because we all do. And guess what you have to do then?

Let go some more!

It's time to step back and not fix our children's mistakes. We're going to want to pick up the pieces and cuddle them and make it right for them: phone the friend's parents and arrange to mend the friendship; help them find another job; rescue the plants they loved but forgot to water; tidy their rooms; drive them to events they're late for; etc. It's so easy to step in and take charge, but in doing so we strip them of both their independence, and their chance to learn.

Of course, when I say let go, I'm still talking about control. Let go of the control, but keep your arms outstretched because when your children need you, they need to know that you are there to offer love and support. That, after all, is our privilege to give.

I've written this before, and I'll share it many more times, I'm sure. When I became a mother, my own mother (a very experienced, educated, and well-respected professional in the field of child and infant development) gave me the greatest parenting advice I've ever received: "No matter what anybody tells you - including me - always trust your heart. You are a mother, and there is nobody who knows what is right for your baby better than you do." Well, my mother had grave concerns about our choice to radically unschool, but I took her advice and ignored her concerns... this blog in fact began as a way to communicate to our families what we and the children were doing - in part to dispel some of the concerns they had. Those concerns are no secret to unschoolers and homeschoolers; we hear them all the time, and they're definitely a part of the reason that so many of us waffle about on the fence between unschooling and homeschooling or homeschooling and schooling. We spend a lot of time researching, to find the answers we already know in our hearts, reassuring, to find the solace for concerned relatives and friends, and reassessing, to find the answers our hearts haven't quite settled on. But in the end it turns out that, as long as we truly support our children in their own desires and endeavours, and follow our hearts, most of the biggest concerns are unfounded. So let me dispel them for us, shall I?

Socialization: Children are not objects to be 'socialized'. They are humans born with a social nature, and it is important that, as they develop their social skills, they have wonderful role models to observe. So are you kind and generous? Do you love your friends and family? Then yes. They'll be fine. As long as we support them in this, and ensure that they have access to groups of like-minded people that they are interested in being with, our children will be just fine.

Broad vision: Access to a variety of socioeconomic groups, activities, belief-systems, etc. is in fact more available to those who have time and encouragement to study whatever their hearts desire.

Learning enough: Yes. They will. They may not learn the same things as their peers, but they will learn what they love, and eventually they will find people who know and care about those things, too. *Edit 10/22/15: In the two years since I wrote this article, both of my children have entered school. One entered a grade 7 program after doing grades 1-6 completely freely, at home, and had to complete an educational assessment when he began. The other entered a part-time homeschool support program this year in grade 6, but hopes to attend grade 7 full-time, next year, and has also done the assessment. Surprisingly (or not), both of my mostly free-range life-learning children were ranked average to far above average on the assessments, and have adjusted very well to the school systems they're trying out. I don't believe that my children are geniuses, and I can tell you with certainty that I have not trained them! I believe that the reason they developed the skills required by the school system to the extent that they did was purely because they were allowed to explore.
For what it's worth, this "school" chapter of their lives is also an exploration. They're still unschooling, as far as we're concerned, and are welcome to pull out of school whenever they'd like to.

Parents don't have the skills to teach: So what? Unschooling does not require parents to teach. It requires us to learn.

College/University entrance: Maybe, if they want to. There will be schools who welcome independent learners with open arms, but there is also a movement afoot of unschooling through higher learning. They may do more for themselves than a degree could offer them. And by the time they get there, who knows how wide their universe may be?

Financial concerns: Financially, anything requiring a parent to stay home and not work can be difficult; even impossible for some. But I do believe that when we work in community, and broaden our perspectives about how much money we need, and what kinds of work we can do, there is usually a way. Unschooling is a lifestyle for the whole family. I think it's best to go head-first, vowing to oneself that there will be no regrets.

Is it legal? Well... that's the sticky point. It's not legal everywhere. But in most areas of North America it seems to me that people make it work by shaping the rules to their advantage. This takes a bit of research, and often some guidance from experienced local home/unschoolers, but it is usually doable, given enough willpower. In our area we have a homeschooling support program that provides a weekly art group, as well as various other resources, and acts as a liaison between us and the school district. This means that we only are required to make a learning plan at the beginning of the year, and to report 3 times throughout the year, and have access to some funding for children's activities and supplies, etc. There's a bit of jumping through hoops for the reporting, but generally it serves our purposes well, and we meet with other homelearners outside of this time, too.

Friday, December 14, 2012

MAMA Manifesto

Just a week after the anniversary of the attacks at Ecole Polytechnique, today hits me with news of two more attacks on groups of helpless people, and this talk by Anita Sarkeesian, discussing the massive campaign of serious abuse she suffered after she spoke out about the ever-present mysogeny and sexualization of women and girls in video games.

The fact that there's a word for people like us - "feminist" - is just plain ridiculous. Deserving of equality is not an ideal of left-wing liberal nuts called feminists -- it is simply life. I had heard of this story, but had no idea of the horrific online abuse she had suffered, and unfortunately I know too much of this sort of thing pervades our world - even our children's world - and it causes me huge despair.

I need to work harder on this front; I've let it go for a while, but not anymore. We, as mothers, have the responsibility to teach by example, that we ourselves have value, and that our children do too, and that not EVER, for any reason would we stoop to the kind of harmful behaviour that our culture seems to accept. Children only learn by example.

Today two schools full of children were attacked. 20 children and 7 adults killed in Newtown, Connecticut, USA, and 22 children wounded by a knife attack in Chenpeng village in Henan province, China. I'm sad for the people who've lost their children and family members; their faith in safety and community, but I also can't help but think about these two men who so obviously needed help, and the weapons they used (guns and knife) which are so ubiquitous in our culture.

It isn't that I think we need tougher laws - I think we need to take responsibility for our children! I talked about this in the bullying post, a couple of weeks ago, but it's just SO important! As our children
soak up every word we say; every hand-gesture, every movement of eyes and facial expression, are we living the life we want them to emulate? How many of us just sit back and allow our kids to play games (online and otherwise) without engaging them in conversation about what they are playing, and the ramifications of it? If our children witnessed a bloody murder in the street, they'd have free counselling and support for years as they dealt with the ramifications. When they see it on a video-game, holding a plastic gun in their hand and watching their digital victims explode in a rain of red and black, we tell them to get on with their studies, or turn it off and join us for dinner. Or we send them off to bed without once considering that this too has lasting psychological consequences and that they should be talking about it. In fact they should have been talking about it long before they were old enough to have thought it was a good idea to buy themselves those games. I won't for a moment assume that conscious parents would buy those games for their children.

When my children asked me what rape was, I told them. And I watched this Anita Sarkeesian video with them. We talk about wars, and politics, and sex and drugs and mental illness. We pause movies and games when things need to be explained, and my kids soak up the explanations (and questions) sometimes with more enthusiasm than the film itself. I can't stop them from participating in what is now popular culture, and if I did, they'd only want it more. But I can lead by example, and so can you. We all can. We have to. It's our responsibility. We didn't have children to tend the farm or to look after us when we grow old; we had children because we love children. So it's our responsibility to raise them with integrity and awareness, that they go into the world full of questions and willing to look around, but also with a conviction to find their own truth and right path.

There is no time to waste. And the smallest things make a difference; the random comments from my children remind me of this. My daughter once said, "I can't wait until I grow up so I can have pimples and wear cover-up, too!" My son said "I hope my wife doesn't think I want her to shave herself. That wouldn't be nice of me." Once my daughter reprimanded her father for some grammatical mistake and then turned to me with pride in her eyes. Oh no - did I teach her that? Of course I did! And it will take a lifetime to undo. Not everything we pass on is what we hope for. My husband reads fantasy novels - when I read them I always discover that women are either helpless or brutally evil. Men are either affable or macho. My son has been trying to read some, lately, and I was happy when he told me that the people in the books aren't very nice to each other, and they're not so much scary as just upsetting. He's just not interested. My daughter can pick out obnoxious, unkind behaviour in the books she reads, too, and goes on to find better books when she encounters it. It matters very much not only that we lead by example, but also that we teach our children - from birth - that their own opinions and questions matter; that any question is valid, and that when we don't know the answers we will help them find them.* It's important that we reach for the best possible version of ourselves, because that will be the standard our children measure themselves against, and it will effect every single generation to come.

It is not OK for us to condemn violent video games but make jokes that put people down. It's not OK for us to practice attachment parenting but escape our children for a night at the bar. When they find us in the morning and discover that sour old booze smell on our breath they will learn that that is the smell of being with friends, and all the threats in the world won't take that lesson away from them when they're 14 and their friends are offering them cheap vodka under a bridge. It's not OK for us to tell them to be nice to each other, but to put our own community members down, to gossip, and to blame.

We are mothers, and our demonstrated values and behaviour are the greatest teacher our children will ever have. This goes doubly, of course, for those of us who stay home with our children; who homeschool or unschool.We are mothers! We must take the importance of this incredible occupation very seriously, because there is nobody who can make a bigger change than we can, in choosing how we raise each new generation.

I have been working on the MAMA Project for over 3 years, now. I've shown it at festivals and twice as indoor installations. It makes a huge difference to the awareness and thoughts of the people who visit it, and it matters to me to continue making that difference. I've financed it nearly alone (or rather I should say that my husband and his paid job have financed it nearly alone) and worked on it almost only late at night when the kids have gone to bed. But something's got to give, now. It needs to get further. It's way past time.

*I know many people who have a difficult time talking to their children about upsetting issues. This is a great piece I was forwarded today, which may be interesting to some who are struggling with this: Family Resource Center at Minneapolis Children's Hospital: Advice on talking to children about violence against children.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Why we don't have cellphones, cordless phones, or WIFI in our home.

Or: What do colony collapse disorder, melatonin, sleeping disorders, cancer and other diseases have to do with electromagnetic radiation?

It hasn't always been this way, I used to park my baby-monitor beside my sleeping child, carry the other piece of it clipped to my waist, and walk about the house with our cordless phone, checking email while basking in the aura of our wireless router. I was only mildly irritated as I walked past the humming microwave, as it disrupted my phone-calls - even from outside the house behind the kitchen. I didn't have a cell-phone, but only because I consider them obnoxious and irritating, and like the freedom of not being reachable at all times!

I bathed my infants in a wash of electromagnetic field, 24 hours a day. And we're OK!!

BUT... it takes many years for the effects of EMF to become apparent, and even then, we have few means or desire to find the root causes of the problems, when the frequencies, sensitivity levels, and physiological effects vary so vastly in our environment and population.

RESONANCE: Beings Of Frequency
I just watched this movie because my son was interested, and, as it turns out, so was I! It's a thorough look at much of the scientific research and discourse that's gone on about electromagnetic radiation, and postulates on some of the most solid theories regarding our culture's immersion in it. Here is what I took from it, in the tightest nutshell I can squash it into:

  • The space between the earth and the ionosphere has an electromagnetic pulse of approx. (can't remember exactly) 10 hertz. Experiments have shown that when our bodies are deprived of this particular radiation, we suffer various ill-effects.
  • Cancer and other diseases are caused by free radicals in our bodies, which are a natural byproduct of mitosis (cell-reproduction) which happens every night while we're asleep.
  • When it senses darkness, (while we sleep), our pineal gland produces melatonin, which is a powerful antioxidant, that prevents the damage otherwise caused by the free-radicals.
  • The pineal gland can be easily limited in function by lack of sleep, and the interference of abnormal wave frequencies, including light and electromagnetic radiation.
  • Consequently, the ongoing lack of melatonin means that our bodies are not able to naturally avoid disease, as they normally would.

So... Watch the film!! It's a full-length documentary, but I must say it was absolutely enthralling. I learned a lot, and I presume so did my son.

Watch Resonance on Vimeo

We have for some time now lived with relatively little EMR in our home, having long ago gotten rid of our microwave and cordless phones, baby monitor, and most recently wireless internet. We fought the installation of a Smart Meter until the electrical company seemed to give up (cross fingers; we know they may still show up one of these months). So why have all of our health problems not miraculously dissolved? Because, as it takes 10 years for the ill-effects to fully develop, it may take even longer for them to go away. And we are, after all, still using electricity, and living in the shadow of various cell-phone towers. And we visit the big city quite regularly. But for now it's the best we can do. And I suppose the passing decades will show if this lifestyle has helped our prospects at all. If nothing else, it has made us happier.
The day I removed all electrical equipment from our bedroom, including the alarm clock, (replacing it with a tiny, single-battery-powered alarm), my sleeping problems were all but resolved. Instantly.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Similar Feelings in the Sea of Cortez

I've been having a difficult time expressing myself these past couple of years. I'm still persevering - yes - in the hopes that the spark will return, but the things I try to express are just lacking, especially in emotion. So thankfully my friend Suki is not having this problem, and her blog posts are totally beautiful to read. Also thankfully, she managed to express the emotion behind the "Into the Wild Without Me" post far better than I did, and I'm linking to it here, so you can enjoy it!!

I'm so grateful to live in the world with the friends I have, all of whom are powerful, courageous and brilliantly beautiful people. I became friends with Suki when we were both pregnant with our first children due to be born on the same day. They didn't make it out on the same day, of course, but they've had a surprisingly tight bond ever since, and subsequently so do their little sisters, also born a month apart. It's funny how, as parents, we seem then also to go through the same twists and turns at similar times, too, even though we've spent very few of the 10.8 years we've been parents living on the same piece of earth.

For those who haven't already read Suki's blog, it relates the adventures of a livaboard homeschooling family, currently sailing, diving, and living the sea of Cortez.

The Wet Edge Adventure by Suki Kaiser

Monday, December 3, 2012

Into the Wild Without Me

This is the year my children have grown outside the sphere of my involvement.

It began with a trip to meet their friends in the meadow. Then they began biking there and other places just to play. Then, come autumn, they began taking themselves to activities, walking and biking together, and even returning sometimes alone. My daughter came home excited after her first solo journey home from dance class to exclaim that she'd helped some tourists find the lake, on her way!

And now this: they left for dance, today, and came back 5 minutes later. Why? Because the neighbours' nasty biting Rat Terrier was on our driveway, and they couldn't make it past him. So I intervened, and they escaped to dance unharmed. After dance, normally my son would hike up to his acting class and my daughter would return home. But today I heard the bumpety-bump of the garbage can coming back up the driveway, and there they were! They returned early -- both of them! I was a little worried, but soon got their explanation:  Dance class was cancelled; the teacher was sick, so they walked home, and stopped to play in the forest - with two of the other girls from their class. They visited those girls' fort, in the forest, and they just hung around and explored.

What this translated to in my mind was: Your children are not your children. In the hour and a half you thought they were dancing, they were actually in some unknown part of the woods, checking out the forts of other children! And here they are - returned safely. 

I cannot tell you how happy I was to hear this news!! My children have suddenly both moved on to a new stage of life, which I remember as the happiest time of my childhood: the meeting-friends-in-the-forest-building-forts stage! Oh joy!! I love my memories from this age, and I feel a bit like they've just picked up the torch! This is when I remember catching frogs; when I swam in the creeks and built rafts and dams, when I played Tarzan in and around my many forts with the invasive vines, and I argued over which of them belonged to me and which to my brother or the other kids who built forts in that part of the woods. This was when I went sliding down from the causeway with my friend's sister's jeans on! This was when I had a red and yellow BMX that could get me anywhere. I was free!!

And when I think of who I am inside - the authentic true Emily - I think of this time.

But that was me, and my children are very different from me. I want to imagine that they will do the same things I did in that wilderness, but I know they will have their own discoveries; their own beautiful memories and mountains to climb. I admit to being terrified of my absence in their world (who will pick them up when they fall? who will be with them to know when they need support?) but I am not sad to see my children grow up and out and into the wild without me. I am joyful!

And I cannot wait to see who they will become!

In this time of too much control; of children not allowed to walk home; not allowed to play without supervision or training or 'gear'; when we increasingly expect professionalism from kids with any kind of sporting interest, or we send our kids to "Nature Camp" instead of just letting them out to play, let us let go a little more. Let us let our children know that they are their own greatest protection; that we trust them; that they can speak to strangers and stick up for themselves; that they are strong and courageous. Let them help the tourists find the lakes! Let us let them go with joy, and be the dependable hearth they can return to with their stories of heartbreak and triumph and fear and intrigue, and let us share in the joy of their growing up!

This video went black and I don't have the software to edit it right now, but just play it for the sound. This is my Mum (with accompaniment!) singing Kahlil Gibran's On Children at her retirement party, followed by The Parting Glass.

On Children
       ~ Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but are not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Fear: How to Let Go!

As it happens, just shortly after I posted that post about fear, a friend brought this beautiful Alan Watts video to my attention. Exactly what I needed! Somebody far more wise and eloquent than myself to show the pathway towards a courageous and rewarding life! Thank you for the thousandth time, Alan Watts!


I cannot count the number of times people have expressed their fears to me about why they'd love to unschool their kids but can't, or why they fear for my children's happiness or future, because we are unschooling. There are so many reasons to be terrified.

This is going to be controversial, but I think everyone should let go of our enslavement to the goal of financial gain (because growth economy is not sustainable), and take on a goal of emotional gain. And by that I mean happiness! I'm not even there myself, but I'd sure like to be!

And I think the only reason we still live the way we do is fear.

I do realize that there are a number of people who truly believe in mass education; in conformity. But I think most of those beliefs also stem from a fear of non-conformity, or of somehow not succeeding in the current social/economical landscape. Because you know what? It was bloody scary when I was 7 and I dropped my wieners on the floor and a boy in my class made me crouch on my hands and knees and eat them off the floor while everybody watched and laughed. And he kicked me. I never want that to happen to my kids.

Honestly -- this has been a learning journey for me too (because we don't stop learning when we get out of school). That incident in elementary school is part of the reason I didn't send my kids to school! I was afraid for them! But that is not why I unschool. I unschool because once I made the decision to keep my kids out of school, I had to face the litany of new fears that provoked - and I overcame them. I don't want to live in fear, anymore. That incident did not make me stronger; it made me scared, and I'm still overcoming the many many fear-inducing incidents of my 37 years. Overcoming these things gives me strength to create a better world for my children.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
                   ~Nelson Mandela

I like to think of any difficult situation in terms of "Why is this happening?" What fear is fueling this person's anger towards me? Or what cultural fear is propelling the people's support of this law I don't agree with, or this social system that frustrates me? Or what personal fear is keeping me from telling this person my feelings; starting this project; etc.? The answer is often more interesting than the question! And this helps me to overcome a large number of my fears. 

I am afraid of plenty of things; here's a sampling, if I sit and consider this moment:
  • That my mother will read this blog post and discover some terrible problem with it and I'll delete it.
  • That there really is some gross flaw in my judgement and this post just makes that obvious.
  • That I'm deluded about my kids' happiness, and really they're just deprived of a happy childhood.
  • That my kids really are happy now, but will grow up deluded and incapable of functioning in "the real world".
  • That I'm condemning them to lives as social outcasts by giving them the life I have.
  • That I'm wrong.
  • That I'm harming my children.
  • That people will hate me for what I do and say.
  • That my children will hate me for what I do and say.
  • Inadequacy!!!
  • Unhappiness!!!
Notice how easy it is for this line of thought to inflate way out of control? How harmful it can be? So I think of these things, and I carry on. I'm here anyway. Why? Because I don't want to live in fear.

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free.
                    ~Jim Morrison

What are you afraid of? And how is it impeding your happiness?

Of course this isn't just about unschooling, it's about our community as a whole, and our country, continent, culture, and world. We make the changes that we can see ourselves making, and we have to let go of the fears to envision those changes happening.

When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.
                    ~Thomas Jefferson 

The solution is very simple, but also very difficult and complex in its realization:
Acknowledge the fear, and let it go.

Back to unschooling, somebody came to this blog this morning by Googling "Does homeschooling make kids weird?" Some of us might laugh, but this and similar searches are actually very common on my tracker. My answer to that question? "YES!" In the sense that weird means other than the norm, yes homeschooling makes my kids weird! It makes them have absolutely no reason to fear their uniqueness and be the people they dream of being! It enables them to feel belonging because of the acceptance of their own and others' uniqueness instead of because they have conformed! In the sense that they do not have to conform to the government's plan for their futures, nor the school district's rules and constraints about the way they should dress, eat, speak, learn, and direct their interests - they are WEIRD. And in the sense that they are happy just to be themselves, happy with their ever-changing desires and life-plans, happy with their bodies and spirits and selves? YES!! I embrace the word weird.

...and hopefully they are learning to live without being shackled by fear.

Question for my child:

What are you going to be when you grow up?

What are you going to do when you grow up?

What are you going to do right now?

Because your childhood; your smiling face now is what matters to me - and the choices you make in this moment have already defined your future. But I don't need to know, because you will define it again in another moment.

Bullying: Calling It What It Is

Local homelearners from toddlers to teens (and parents too!) on a farm tour.
Bullying is coming up a lot on our island, recently. Well it's been coming up a lot in general these past few years, as people try to name, recognize and slay the thing that is plaguing them. But I don't believe in "bullies". That's just a way to force an 'us-and-them' situation where there isn't one. I think we have to let go of the need to distance ourselves from this unfortunate reality of social interaction, and accept that we are all capable and culpable of behaviours that are anti-social.

Bullying in schools is where the discourse generally is centred. My opinion is that, while assault, harassment, bullying, and other social problems are a part of every society, they are more common when giant groups of children are lumped into enormous facilities where there cannot possibly be a balance of adults to children, or a truly encompassing celebration and inclusion of the natural uniqueness of individuals. Balance of adults to children: Children learn by watching. If 90% of their peers are their own age, then 90% (approx) of what they learn will come from those peers, and the small amount of observed adult behaviour they experience will not balance that out. In a truly mixed-age setting, kids get to see adults and older children learn to deal with difficult situations. Questions can be answered by people with more experience, instead of by similarly-aged peers trying to climb ahead on the same social ladder. While schools try to mitigate the problems that arise from the impossible situation they are presented with, it simply can't be resolved as long as the root cause (unbalanced ages and an atmosphere of competition) exists. Celebration and inclusion of individual uniqueness: How can we possibly celebrate uniqueness in a system where many kids are required to learn the same things, and those who fail to do so are given lower grades? This is the atmosphere of competition I'm referring to. Testing, grading, and PLO's are by nature pathways to competition; children feel inadequate if they don't make the grade. And consequently, when they feel inadequate, they flip this spectrum to their advantage, socially, and make those who do make the grade feel ashamed. And this is without all the rewards and punishments that are commonly placed on those same kids by teachers and parents with limited resources to coerce the children to comply.

But it's not the people who are flawed! It's the system they've chosen to work with! And yes, I say "chosen" because it IS a choice. And some of us have opted out.

I have two children. They learn together, in that they live in the same house. Sometimes they choose to learn or even study the same things, but often they don't. And because they are teaching themselves (seeking and accessing resources with decreasing help from me, as they grow), they have the option to learn what and how they want to. They really can be unique individuals, and because nobody is requiring them to learn from a pre-set curriculum, they can learn in their own individual ways. Of course they have many friends who attend schools (both large and small schools), but they arrange their activities and time with those friends as it fits their own needs, and often this includes medium-sized groups of multiple ages. From this lifestyle, they have learned not only that people of all ages and uniquenesses have something valuable to offer them, but also that they are valuable, themselves.

I think the notion of "public system" needs to go. There's a perception that it's up to the government to provide for us and for our children. When we give up the privilege of providing for ourselves, we commit ourselves to what the government can do within the means it allots to education. And that's not much. Providing for ourselves gives us both freedom and a feeling of self-worth.

When I graduated from University, I heard my Mum say to somebody else: "When she graduated from highschool that was meaningful to me because that was my work. She did this herself." I've never forgotten the depth of meaning in those words.

Myths that it took me a long time to come to terms with: A lot of people like the idea of getting out of the system, but they're afraid that they can't replicate it at home for their children. But Thinking that replicating the system is getting out of it is a problem! That's why a radical shift is needed. We were raised in the system so it's difficult to break our system-thinking and realize that learning is possible without coercion, curriculum, and pre-determined outcomes. But my experience by now has shown me that it's not only possible - it's better. And it's necessary.

Finances: Of course, financially it's hard for people with 9-5 jobs to stay home with their kids... but maybe if more of us were doing it, then more of us would be able to swap childcare when the kids are young, work fewer days, and adjust to a lower income. My husband and I have given up a lot of income to unschool our kids, because I have chosen to stay home with them, and he has insisted with any job, that his family comes first and he ALWAYS comes home for dinner. However, we've gained much more than we've sacrificed in that we've stayed true to our goals, and our kids are happy. I may never own a home, but my kids' happiness has always been most important to me. And this lifestyle has allowed me to relax, too. That's better for my health! So why, exactly, do we need schools or a 'system'?

Bullying is not (in my opinion) solvable by just being angry about it, "calling it what it is", or making a big deal of it -- all those things just lead to punishment, and we know how far that goes. "Bullying" is what happens when people try to make the best for themselves but are not privy to the social tools and feeling of community or self-worth that begets compassion. "Bullies" don't bully; everybody bullies, and until we recognize that people making harmful social choices are equal and equally deserving of compassion, then we will be nowhere.

I tell my children (even when it applies to my own not-so-stellar behaviour) that when someone says something unkind, it is likely that they are just upset with themselves. If we can't figure out how to help them with their upset, then at least we can feel compassion instead of hurt. This isn't always easy to do, especially when the hurtful words still sting, or a threat still looms, but in my experience it is the only path to freedom.

I think the only solution to 'bullying' is to start calling it what it is: humanity. And then we can move towards an actual systemic change. I also think that change is coming whether we as a society recognize it or not. Some of us are just making the leap earlier, with joy, instead of waiting until there's no choice.

Monday, November 5, 2012

What is Advertising Doing to Our Children?

Great film to watch with kids. Mine loved it!

And this one is not so amazing, but interesting, anyway. I'm so glad my kids are not Disney fans!!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why Unschooling is Great for Teenagers

... and why teenagers are great for our evolution.

David Suzuki has done it again! Although this fabulous episode of the Nature of Things never mentioned unschooling, it doesn't take much of a leap to get from the concepts in this documentary to the obvious conclusion that giving teens ample room to explore their passions (with a loving family to support and rescue them!) is a very very good thing both for the teens, as well as for humanity's evolution.

Surviving :) the Teenage Brain

Friday, October 26, 2012

Over-Parenting: Are we helping or harming our kids?

Documentary Recommendation: Hyper Parents and Coddled Kids
(Link at the end of this post.)
Markus and I watched this documentary this evening, and it brought up a lot of questions and considerations for us.

We try so hard to let our children know that (almost) anything they may choose to do with their lives is acceptable to us, but is that just another form of coddling? When my son tells us he wants to go to university early - and preferably MIT - we tell him that we can't afford to send him there, but that maybe he can look into UBC. Now, because he's 10 and we've never sent him to school at all, yet, we're looking for an assessment for him so he can prepare for his goal of getting into university early... are we allowing him to set his goals too high? Are we setting him up for failure? Should we encourage him to experience failure?

My daughter wrote a blog she called the "Economy of Joy" and actually did a huge amount of work on researching and developing her ideas. Then she just abandoned it and wanted to write about her life, instead, and stories for other kids to read. And I said - yes, I actually said - well you have subscribers on your Economy of Joy blog; don't you think you should continue that, too? Oh my goodness, Emily! She was a 7-year-old girl! Is her responsibility to her blog readers more important than her whim? Of course not!!

We feel we have to balance the risk of becoming "helicopter parents" with the risk of not helping enough. (These are my husband Markus' words.) Where are the answers? We want them to feel inspired and fulfilled, and therefore spend every penny we make trying to support their interests. Should we pull the kids out of their programs? They may not go to school, but they take dance, private music lessons, art, wilderness exploration, and theatre classes. Soon we'll add electronics mentoring to the mix for our son. And to make matters worse, there is now such a thing as a "standing play date" -- when did this come into existence?! This means that our kids have the blessed opportunity to be assured of visiting each other once a week! Well... that is... once a week except when that standing play date time gets usurped by a special meeting or performance from one of the paid-for weekly activities...

When I was a kid I just went home with somebody, after school, some days. And sometimes I even called my Mum to tell her where I was. Sometimes I just met somebody partway home from school, and we'd build forts in the woods or catch frogs or roll old tires around. I didn't have to have my parents plan it weeks ahead of time! I've tried to encourage my kids to phone friends for visits, but they are met with busy schedules and requests from the friends' parents to speak with me and organize something for a later date.

When I was 10 I was often home alone for a few hours while my mother was out, and really it was normal at the time. Last week I decided to leave my 10-year-old son home alone for 2 hours while I went to babysit the current show at the local gallery, and I left him these simple instructions: "Just please stay home and don't do anything dangerous." After his rather brutal Swiss Army Knife injury last spring, I suspected he'd learned his lesson and would keep safe while nobody was there to help him.

I went to the gallery, and I did not call him. Until my nerves got the better of me. Which, by the way, was a full 10 or so minutes into my sitting of the gallery. No answer. Could he be ignoring the phone? No! I called again. No answer. Could he have gone outside? It's OK, Emily. Don't worry. He'll be safe. Maybe if I just call many times in a row, then he'll know I'm worried and come answer the phone... No answer again. And again. I called at least every 20 minutes for the full two hours, and also tried calling my parents' house (which is beside ours), in case they had seen him and could just confirm that he was still safe and living. No answer there, either. Well... of course they might not be home. I called my sister in law to see if she might just pop by and check on him, but... no answer there either.

By the time my gallery shift was up I was in such a panic that I did not stop for the dinner groceries, but went directly home and into the door, calling his name. I nearly tripped over a very prominently set-up box, upon which he had written "I went out. To the medow." in very large letters. I ran to the meadow. I ran all over the nearby park, telling people I met on the way to please send home my sweet long-haired son if they saw him, calling him in every way he might hear, and checking the ground under likely climbing-trees for unconscious children. By the time I ran home again I was out of breath and clenching the worst knot of tears and dread, and just nauseous from fear. I passed my Pappa in his garden, and he called out nonchalantly, as if he knew exactly what I needed to hear, "Tal's at our house; we just had lunch."

I ran to "Opa and Nana's house", where the gently dramatic sounds of synthesized-pipe-organ were streaming from my son's little fingers, and my Mum met my stricken face with a confused smile: "Are you OK?"

"No!" No I wasn't OK at all, although my son clearly was, and I burst into the most terrible tears. The pipe-organ ceased and my son came to my rescue. He gave me a big hug and I apologized - through sobs - for crying. "It's not your fault. I'm so glad you're OK. Don't worry. I'm sorry..."

And once I'd calmed down he looked very plainly at me and said. "I'm sorry Mama. I left you a note but I guess I should have updated it after I got home again."

Oh no, Tal. It's not you who needs to be sorry. It's me.
But I'm working on it.
Here's the documentary, on CBC. I highly recommend it:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Desperate Times

Disclaimer: I am completely qualified to write about this in the same way that everybody is entitled to an opinion. I'm not claiming any moral, educational, or societal high-ground, here, but this matters to me so I'm saying it. I do welcome your comments and criticisms.

In her Huffington Post article, Fixing Our Schools, Not Drugging Our Kids, Lisa Belkin writes:

I left the room thinking, If the ways of a classroom don't work for more than 50 percent of the students, then the problem isn't with the kids, it's with the system.

In the same way, if the ways of the school system doesn't work for a subset of children that have to turn to medications to fit in, isn't the problem with that system, not with the children?

Of course it is. And that is the easy question. Next: what are we -- as parents, as educators and as society -- going to do about it?
This article is a reaction to Alan Schwarz' NY Times article, Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School. But while obviously the increasing prevalence of chronically medicated kids (I know quite a few myself) is an issue in our society, I think the problem, as Belkin states, is far deeper than that. So how can we solve it?

Tal and his friend Ethan at our weekly (F)unschool outing, where we go out in the world and learn about everything. This is due to the open conversation policy: We talk about everything that comes up. No holds barred. And we do it in the rich and fascinating wilderness where life's issues play out in real time.

My feeling is that although many of us turn to homeschooling and unschooling as a solution for our children, it simply isn't a good permanent fix for the problem. We're just removing them from the system and in many cases trying to replicate various parts of it at home, with far fewer resources. Yes, we manage to keep them safe from a lot of the societal flaws that are often accentuated when giant groups of kids are kept all day in institutions with little-to-no adult or real-world influence, but because of our culture's taboos and prudish (yet really quite raunchy in the back corners) way of life, we still can't include them in our life. Few people can practically bring their children to work. So many arts and culture events are serving alcohol (and therefore designated 19+) that the options for children are limited*. And let's face it. A lot of our 'adult' pastimes are so repugnant that we would never want our children to witness them. So why are we doing these things? Why? Why can't we feel fulfilled by creativity, social engagement, and any other activities that we would be proud to bring our children to?

I am not trying to malign the teachers and administrators who, for the most part, work tirelessly with often frustrating shackles and genuinely difficult problems to overcome. And yes, I am aware that various school boards across our continent are endlessly trying out new programs to administer something better to the children whose lives are in their hands. Oh -- did I say administer? Well fancy that. So I did.

But we have to do better. Much much much better. And it can't come within the current system.

What we really need is a complete societal change; a shift in the way we view our interactions with children. We need to see them not as vessels to be filled, nor as forms to be molded, nor less competent people to be 'cared for', but as valuable and essential contributors to what we generally consider our 'adult world'.

When we separate their world from ours, or give them objects, input, and experiences that are geared for children (or 'youth') then are we really giving them a foundation that enables them to be integral to our society? Are we giving them a way in or teaching them that they are not welcome? When we exclude kids from our world, then how can they learn the values we hope to pass on? Or is the truth that we are not living the life we hope they inherit? And if not, why not?

It really would take a massive change in the way we live for us to be able or willing to welcome our children as part of our society. But it's about bloody time we did.

*As an aside, my family is apparently featured in a new film which we would have loved to bring the children to. One of the producers called us and invited us to come see the film. He told me that my family, and especially my daughter, feature in one of the most heartwarming segments of the film, and he hopes we enjoy it. The Occupation premieres this weekend. But guess what? It's at the Rio Theatre. They're serving alcohol. And the kids can't go.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Man Who Planted Trees

Throughout my childhood, I assumed this was a true story. It's not. But it's so epic; so important; so fundamentally right, that maybe somehow in the mythos of our culture, it can still achieve something of truth in our hearts.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Are Homeschooled Kids Weird?

I currently host a weekly teen drawing group at my studio, which of course includes Tal, since drawing is one of his passions, and he's finally a bonafide pre-teen. They're not all homeschooled, but definitely a bunch of free-spirited and creative kids (no wonder, when you remember they love art enough to ask their parents to put them in this rather quirky and serious mentoring situation). This is what makes the group such a success - open-minded kids and a willingness to explore.

And mostly, they make me happy.

Here's a photo from yesterday's drawing group. I had the kids sitting opposite each other working with charcoal to explore the lines and shadows of each other's faces in their sketchbooks. I suggested they try drawing with their fingers instead of straight charcoal sticks.

The boy on the left is 13; Tal is the youngest, at 10 and there were 3 girls sitting around the table, as well. And I said "you don't necessarily need to be drawing a whole face; you could just play with it. Like only work with the nose, for example."

And the boy on the left said "Only draw with our nose?"

To which I of course smiled, and said "whatever you like!" And he did. And so did Tal. Great hilarity and smudging of charcoal ensued, and they made lovely portraits of each other, while some of the girls looked on, perplexed, and one created the blackest hands possible. The boys discovered that chins are a particularly useful drawing tool to get the texture of hair. This was only this group's second drawing session, but I can see we're going to do fabulous things!!

Then this morning I was sent this article from a fellow homeschooling parent: "Are Homeschooled Kids Weird?"

It's a great, simple article, and I do think it's an important subject. My son is no stranger to criticism, having chosen to wear his hair long and loose throughout his life. It's mostly adults who malign him for it; kids just mistake him for a girl and then apologize when they're corrected. Adults often tell him he should cut his hair or actually refuse to believe he's a boy (yes! multiple times!). So he's exceedingly careful how much of his weirdness he lets show. My daughter, on the other hand, is totally unbridled in her creativity, going shirtless in the city, taking giant flailing leaps in her Irish dancing class, while everyone else stands stiffly at attention, and flatly telling her friends about the various social conventions that just don't concern her. I love that she's proud of her uniqueness, but this isn't about self-esteem. This is about evolution.

Simply, how can we expect to evolve if we are just following the status quo? How can we dance with ingenuity if we are chasing pre-defined success or expectations? Nobody expects ingenuity; it just is. And I hope more of us are open to this crazy dance, to popping open these gifts of the unexpected and letting them mess up our plans!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Helium as microcosm for human civilization: WHEN WILL ENOUGH OF US CARE?

I bought helium balloons for Rhiannon's birthday, at $2+/ea, knowing full well that it wasn't a green option for a planet that is fast running out of helium, due in part to our wanton releasing of it into the atmosphere for party traditions. It actually has some important medical uses. But I didn't care. I knew it would make Rhiannon happy, so I bought it. $35 worth. I ignored my green conscience. One of the mothers at the party said "What? You can still get helium balloons?" I felt really embarrassed, but the kids were thrilled.

The kids lost 2 of the balloons at the party, and we all talked about where we've seen tree-stranded helium balloon pieces in the past, and found bits of them around the island and on the beaches. We know birds eat them, but... meh. The helium companies claim that they only cause a problem for wildlife if they eat them inflated, which they don't. I can tell you from our experience with our rubber-consuming cat that, no, they most certainly do cause problems for animals who eat just pieces of them. Her twisted, torn, and ruptured intestines were testament to that. And the $1800.00 in vet bills to save her life. Wildlife doesn't get medical coverage.

This is the point: I, who generally try to be thoughtful in my choices, still just ignored these issues to give my daughter the fun party she wished for. It is going to take some serious promotion from retailers to get earth's fun-hungry consumers to stop consuming helium for parties. Toy stores and party suppliers are going to have to promote some alternatives. But do they care? Do we? Will we run out of helium for emergency purposes before the wealthy suburban mothers like me start to give a shit?

I got this article, today:

What about the other things we're consuming? What about the devastating ruin that constitutes many of our social systems and culture, now? When will we care enough to stand and make the changes we know are necessary?

Although many people are supportive, and make similar choices to ours, some still laugh at me or twist their eyebrows for the small things I do, like eating whole grains, and GMO-free/medication-free, not vaccinating my kids, not giving or receiving gifts for Christmas and parties, unschooling my kids and spending lots of time in the wilderness. And yet I know, that for all these things seem crazy, they're puny. Any serious change is going to take a total cultural withdrawal from the consumerist lifestyle that is the backbone of most of our civilization. Are we ready? Do we care enough?

Back to small suburban changes... here are some ideas for helium balloon substitutes for decorating parties and sending home as favours*:
  • Slingers (Dutch for garlands) are fabulous: home-made flag-lines made by folding a diamond or other shape over a string or ribbon and painting colourfully. If you make them with wallpaper scraps or upholstery fabric they are very durable and can last for generations. Similarly, the expandable tissue-paper garlands commonly available from Chinese stores are less durable, but with some care can still last a generation or two. And with time and patience you can make these yourself, too!
  • Any gift of homemade sweets, decorations, bracelets, etc. that can be a gift from the birthday-child to his/her friends. 
*I edited this list - originally I had some other store-bought options for party-favours, until I realized that, if we're going to change our ways, we need to do a better job than that. Why give out consumable store-bought merchandise, or decorate with disposable paper products, when that is part of the problem. It's why we have a policy in our family of no gifts, but then we shouldn't be committing the crime in the other direction, ourselves. So I took them off the list. Only remaining are those things I feel are acceptable in a conscious world.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Epic Surprise Party

We pulled it off. It was so epic it was almost unbelievable. Here's what we did:

Firstly, some time ago Rhiannon confided in me that she really wanted a wizard party, but thought it was inappropriate, because she'd already had two, in her short lifetime. But still... it was what she wanted. And we left it at that.

Secondly, Rhiannon had been planning a "Welcome to Autumn Party" for over a month. She created the "Have Fun Palace" in a corner of the yard, complete with signs and various supplies for particular events at the party she planned. She made a treasure hunt and a box of "treasure" (candies), and a string of "prizes" selected from her less treasured possessions to give to her intended guests. And she made a guest list.

"Can I see that?" There were 14 children on the list. All of them were treasured friends. Not a single one had yet been invited, because a date had not been set. So of course I quickly contacted the parents to ensure that at least most of them could make a very short-notice surprise wizard party. They were to come dressed as wizards or witches, and were asked to bring a home-made card and a wizard-spell to cast on Rhiannon instead of a physical gift.

On Sunday morning I asked Rhiannon to set up her "Welcome to Autumn Party" so she could try it out with the family before inviting her friends. She did. And how many people did she set up for? Why, 12, of course! And why, I asked her, did she choose that number when there are only 4 in the family? She didn't know. Then Markus took Rhiannon out for an "impromptu" picnic...

Taliesin and Nana quickly made a party site out of a lovely area of the yard, set up some infrastructure, decorated, prepared balloons, etc. all while I hurriedly made a vibrantly blue wizard-hat cake. Yes really we managed this in 3 hours!

Then a flurry of magic folk (yes of course that's a technical term) were dropped off by their parents, and we hid ourselves in the bushes, trying various distractions to pass the time, and quiet the baby who seemed to have plenty to say...

Until Rhiannon arrived.

"What's Mama doing over there?" She says she was worried they shouldn't look, in case I was planning her party, but she never suspected there was anybody there. She came down to check it out and found a sign painted by her brother: "RHIANNON'S FANTASTIC WIZARDING CEREMONY". We waited for her to say "Huh?!", as we knew she would, and then...

Shock, excitement and a bit of disbelief...

Surrounded by wizards and witches. That blue thing in front of her is her wizard costume laid out for her to put on.

The kids each gave her magic spells as gifts, along with their home-made cards. Some of the spells were about friendship, some wishes for health and happiness, and some consisted purely of incomprehensible wizard-speak!!

But who is that strange wizard coming down the driveway? It's Weederman of the West!! He had been to a previous wizard party, two years ago, so some of the kids knew him, but some were mystified and a a little nervous...

Weederman of the West brought a special potion to demonstrate to the kids... it consisted of a tube of magical Mentos and a bottle of...

...OK Di.     Yes you read that right. That bottle says "OK Di". "But", the kids wanted to know, "you drink that stuff???" "No no of course not", Weederman replied. "Would you drink something that was labeled OK Die?" And besides, when he did his experiment it proved to be rather explosive. (I'll insert a video here when I get it uploaded.) But, after shooting most of the OK Di off in the experiment, Weederman took a (fake) swig...

...and died.  After some initial concern and magic revival spells, the younger wizards and witches took the oppotunity to jump all over him. Because really -- that is what uncles are for. Oh - did I say that? I mean that is what wizards are for.

Then the kids tried some potions of their own. We provided flasks and other receptacles, a book of potions (Thank you, Tanya!) and all the necessary ingredients to make them. They tried out a couple of the recipes, and then had a free-for-all with the ingredients, making all sorts of oozing and bubbling concoctions.

Cooperative games time!!! After potions we played musical mats. This is like musical chairs, except that in any type of musical chairs at our house, those who don't find a chair (or mat) must sit on the other participants! At the end they all pile on top of the musician (who awaits his fate with happy anticipation!)

Amoeba tag! Large amoebic multi-bodied life-forms chase each other around until they all merge!

Then I suggested we all go over to Rhiannon's treasure hunt, since she had it conveniently set up for... exactly the group of friends who happened to be there! Funny how that worked out, isn't it?!! She gleefully led them all over the property doing the treasure hunt she'd set up in the morning, and the final clue was...

This is the welcome sign at the Have Fun Palace.

Here they are ordering from the menu of invisible foods she created. I didn't quite understand this game, but that is the beauty of a (moderately) free-range childhood; the games are not scripted, parents seldom understand them, but the creativity is unbridled. And there is something really magical about friends. They understand and share the most eccentric activities, all growing and blossoming in the same universe, where parental input is entirely unnecessary.

And of course she even had a container of candies to share. It bothers me how desperate all the little hands look. But this is one of those times I really have to step back and remember my comments about the photo, above. It's none of my business, really.

And anyway... who am I to talk? While they were doing that, I was making appear a collection of helium balloons (see next post), a jug of Ribena, and...

...a frighteningly turquoise wizard-hat cake.

She competed with the wind to blow out her candle, and we sent the kids home with a potentially catastrophic amount of cake and icing in their tummies... at dinner time. Sorry about that, parents, but thank you for the gift of your children's joyful presence at a party that my own daughter will not soon forget!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Spontaneous Bird Dissection

As it happened, Opa showed up late one evening with a Steller's Jay that he had found caught in the rat-trap. Very unfortunate and sad, of course, but we decided not to let it go to waste. The kids each wanted a dried wing, so we cut them off to dry, and proceeded further to dissect the bird.

Tal pulling back connective tissue and membranes to find the brilliant pink lungs behind the heart.
No, we didn't take health-precautions; we didn't wear aprons or masks or even gloves. We did, at least, wash thoroughly afterwards, and sterilize the cutting board and tools we had used. Hopefully we're all fine. I'm not posting this as an example to other unschoolers, because I'm not sure at all that this was handled properly, but we all learned something, the kids found it fascinating (though Rhiannon found it very upsetting, she was glad she'd participated by the next morning), and I thought it was worth sharing. Here are the photos:

Tal cut open the gizzard to see what the jay had been eating and discovered it had been a regular in the chicken coop. Hence why it got caught in the rat-trap that was intended for the coop-invading rats, I suppose!

Tal for once was very pleased to record his finds on paper. He was especially pleased with this, because just earlier he'd been talking about the different parts of the brain, and was immediately able to find the 2 lobes of the cerebrum and the cerebellum of this bird. Click this photo to enlarge it if you want to see his diagram.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Mmmm... potions and experimental recipes...

Rhiannon has maintained for years that she wants to be a wizard when she grows up. In preparation, she is potion-maker extraordinaire. Often I lose sight of her, and find her tucked into a corner of the kitchen, the dining-room, or the porch with an assortment of ingredients and receptacles.

While Tal enjoys potion-making, too, his activities are more goal-oriented. Rhiannon has very little concern for the chemical theory behind what she does; it's all about having fun. Games. Oh yes.


Uncle Lee and Jenn are thankfully good sports, and were perfectly willing to participate in potion games with Rhiannon. Witness the bottle-squirt game, and blowing balls of dog-hair and water out of a bowl! Absolutely thrilling experiments, all of them!!!

Among the many experiments are also food experiments. Sometimes she makes them for all of us (like one particularly peculiar dessert of honey, nuts, and raisins... in a bowl of water), and sometimes she makes them just for herself. This one is from this morning's breakfast: cornflakes, pepperoni, snap peas and lemon-juice... in a bowl of milk.

She discovered that sometimes experimental cooking is best done in smaller quantities, in case the outcome is less appetizing than expected... But she followed through and ate it anyway.


Taliesin wanted pet rats for his birthday. He is certainly getting old enough to shoulder the responsibility of a pet, so we let him do the research and planning for his intended pets. But the litter he registered for wasn't due until after his birthday, so he had to make do with chocolate-cake rats!

...but we ate those rats. He served them to his friends at his birthday party. That crown on his head is his very special 10th-birthday crown. It is our family tradition that children receive a crown for their "crown year". Taliesin's is a golden circlet with fluorite beads worked into it.

Taliesin had registered for a litter of rats that were due on or about his birthday. When he hadn't heard anything by 2 days after his birthday, he emailed the breeder, and received the devastating reply that the doe had died in labour, along with all of her babies. He was so very sad; this is him replying to the breeder with his condolences.

The breeder he'd originally chosen didn't plan any new litters, so I got on the internet and looked for new breeders. As luck would have it, we did find a lovely person on the mainland who had a litter of rats almost ready to be adopted, and one male still unspoken for. She had another male that she'd intended to keep for herself, but after hearing Tal's disappointing story she offered to sell him both together. She had originally named these two brothers Harry and Ron, but Tal changed their names to Mercury and Star. Here they are at only a few weeks old.

And here they are as teenagers! There have been a few little bumps in the road as we get to know them (rat-lice, right off the bat, and then stress-induced respiratory illness, and potty-training woes), but Tal has so far overcome each hurdle with grace and dedication. He is a very responsible rat-owner, does all the care and cleaning himself, and luckily still smitten, as they are with him. A few months ago I knew next to nothing about keeping rats, and wasn't particularly excited about the idea, but they've definitely grown on me. They're incredibly personable, intelligent, and entertaining, and I think an excellent choice of pet for a dedicated 10-year-old boy.