Monday, December 6, 2010

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!!! :-)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wild Salmon Rally

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

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

The Raging Grannies were there, too!

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

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Potion-making with our friends!!!

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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wild Art!

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

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

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

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

Recent Activities

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

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

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

Sunday, October 17, 2010


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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Self-Directed Art & Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Anderson: Art Education for Life

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

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

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

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

Benefits of Unschooling

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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Trials and Tribulations: Proud to be Homelearners!!!

Oh these past few weeks have been difficult, and I promised myself I wouldn't make this blog all about how great it is to be homelearners. I promised myself I'd be real about it, no matter how much criticism may come my way for the choices we've made.

My kids are being ostracized because we're homelearners.

Yes. It's true. It's the number one concern most people have when they find out we're homelearners: "Well how will they develop any social skills?" Some say it with alarm in their faces; others say it with a tone of gentle warning, others imply a deep emotional concern. All of them mean well. And I always assure people that my kids are doing just fine; that they participate in a weekly class for homelearners on the island, and also a few classes with their peers. And of course they have many play dates. Some people tell me they spend too much time together; it's not natural, or they'll grow to hate each other, or they'll resent me for it, etc.

So now, here we are, feeling like the last ones picked for the team. The team is running away and we don't qualify.

Our local homelearning support program has two options: the half-time program (2.5 days per week of classroom activity, to be supplemented at home), or the distance-education program, which offers us enough money to cover a couple of class-registrations for the year, if we're careful about what we choose, and 2 hours of classroom (art and play) experience with their distance-ed peers. This would be great, except that my two kids happen to have no peers in the distance-ed group. My oldest is 1.5 years younger than the youngest of the other distance-ed kids, and the gap just increases from there. What that means is that my kids have little contact with the other distance-ed kids. They visit mostly with the kids in the classroom program, because those kids are of similar ages. And in small groups, some of these kids are very close and friendly with mine. They've maintained some precious relationships with kids in both the regular public school, here, and with the classroom homelearners.

But it's with groups that the problems begin. These days, the play with groups of those kids seems to be becoming more and more adversarial. It's natural that those children will adhere to their school-group when it's available, but I would have liked for my kids to be included. Instead, they seem to be a separate little 2-person unit that cannot mix with the others. Even if they understand the game that's being played, the other kids often behave as if they're not there. At worst, we have experiences like yesterday, when my two kids were taken to the centre of a labyrinth by the others, labeled "the bad team", and shot at with "invisible arrows", while they were encouraged to defend themselves by throwing sticks back. My kids played along, came home totally wound up and ready to fight (they fought each other viciously and angrily all evening, which is extremely unusual). My kids had never experienced anything like this before, and it was a pretty difficult issue for us to deal with, partly because they don't understand that it was wrong. They told me they felt OK about being "the bad team"... but the emotional consequences of it were impossible to miss. It's just not OK with me, as a parent, to see any children villianized or victimized in that way.

Of course, we can't really expect 6-8-year-olds to understand about inclusion, so it's up to us parents to help out. I have been trying to find a way for my kids to join for an hour or two of the classroom kids' program, so that they can have that shared experience and take it with them into the rest of their lives, hopefully helping them to mesh with the group a little better. Unfortunately, some parents (I emphasize the some because I am aware that it is only a small number of the whole) would rather we didn't join. The biggest reason, as I understand it, is that parents do not want a class-size increase. It seems unfortunate, to me, since it's not a big deal to have two friends there for an hour or two, but I can understand how some might fear it's a slippery slope to having more homelearners want to join, if one day there were more homelearners of this age.

But this is what really irks me: Suddenly people go out of their way to remind me on a regular basis that we are not part of the group. Shortly after the labyrinth incident, yesterday, I stood with some friends (parents from our centre) watching our children at gym class. Most of the kids in the class are from the classroom program. And one parent - a friend and mother of kids who attend the classroom program - mentioned that the kids in the gym class were mostly kids from our centre, but there were also a few kids from the regular school, and a couple of homelearners. Are my kids not part of that centre, too? They think they are! I felt the way I think my kids might have felt in the middle of that labyrinth, and I stood frozen to the spot, unwilling to pick up sticks and throw them back. Then I just walked away into the forest.

In my heart I know that these comments come from a different perception about what our learning centre is: I think it's a resource and support centre for homeschoolers; others seem to increasingly see it as a sort of part-time alternative school. The word school would never describe what I see as the benefit of the centre. These people don't mean to be hurtful, but the ostracizing, as well as my perceived loss of what once was an ideal social support centre for our unschooled children does hurt.

I decided to look for mushrooms. I walked and walked and walked through the forest behind the mainstream public school that I attended as a child, remembering my childhood, and allowing myself to just feel. Feel without fighting. At last I came to the Alder grove, where I found a Jones bottle cap on the ground. I picked it up. It said "solutions will come to you while you are walking". Since no solution presented itself, I continued walking.

Through the Alder grove there is a little path onto a secluded bluff. This is where I spent most of my grade 5 and 6 lunch hours, hiding. I hid on this bluff, and nobody ever came. I often wondered if I just wandered away and never went back to school, would anybody think to look here? I picked huckleberries and salal, there, and considered them my private garden. I wrote poems in my head, and made sculptures out of sticks, rocks, and moss. The bluff is hardly changed, today. As I explored it, I found a few bits of lunch garbage, and a structure built of logs. Kids are still using this special place - maybe in groups or maybe alone; I don't know and it doesn't matter. No solutions came to me, but somehow the pieces of my feelings fell into place.

I've been agonizing over this for a long time, now. Teachers and some other parents have worked very hard to help me find ways to include my kids. I've thought of endless possible solutions, but all of them have flaws. It wasn't until tonight, when I emailed the message from the bottle cap to a friend, that I found my solution. In reply to my bottle cap story, she sent me this:

11-year-old Birke Baehr talks about "What's Wrong with our Food System" (just over 5 minutes long):

Thank you, Birke, for your wonderful speech. Thank you for having the guts to present it, and to decide to be a farmer - yes, we need farmers, but mostly we need children who have been allowed to follow their passions. Thank you for the person who cheered when Birke said he was homeschooled. Thank you for reminding me that sometimes parents follow our hearts because we just have to. And sometimes it is right for our children. What I realized when I watched this video was that I have forgotten to listen to my children. They are not telling me they're unhappy! It's me who's afraid that they'll end up on the bluff. I'm not afraid for them; I'm afraid for 10-year-old me. And sometime, I have to let that go.

This is not a me vs. the other parents situation. It's just part of my journey. We all do what's right for our kids. My friend has her kids in the classroom program, and I have mine in the distance ed program, and we both know that, for now, we're doing what's right for our families.

We came back today from an adults' ballet class, (which my kids are allowed to join for the barre segment), and from Tali's first private music mentoring session with our local violin-maker. We felt wonderful! Yesterday was really very difficult. Today was redeeming. This is where we are meant to be. Oh, of course we'll continue to try integrating the kids, more; I still think it's important. And hopefully in November the kids will be able to do a little bit of classroom activity with the program's excellent science teacher and some of their friends. That will be nice, if it works out. These difficulties with my kids being ostracized are not great, but I know they'll sort themselves out, over time. That's just what happens.

And if my kids do end up on the proverbial bluff? OK! It's part of who I am, and better for being acknowledged. We'll cross that bridge if we get to it. And solutions will come with walking. :--) (See previous post: Wandering Learning.)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Wandering Learning

You can click these photos to enlarge them!
My kids are like every other kid: infinitely amazing, if you just look at them with loving-parent eyes. :--)  They have their difficulties and their passions, though, and some things that they manage to totally impress people with.

Both kids are pretty passionate little scientists. They know more about how stuff works, local plant and animal species/habitat/ecosystems/reproduction, and the details of environmental concerns than many adults I know. This also encourages a rather advanced understanding of compassion, community and relationships, and, even more importantly, a sense of their importance in the world, and a feeling that there is an infinity of exciting universe to discover. In short: a passion for learning.

Guess why they have this? Because at least once a week for most of their lives (sometimes much more often) we walk in the forests. It's usually the same forest, even: the park beside our home. We just walk around, there, sometimes build forts, sometimes climb trees, sometimes look for wild food, sometimes are just on our way from one place to another... but always, always, we look at everything around us. And yes, I do know a bit about the forest ecology, myself... but not really enough. We make up names for the things we don't know, and look them up in our books, at home. We look at what various plants and animals, as well as earth, air, and watersystems are doing. We talk about what's happening, and sometimes get so inspired about our ideas that we go home and Google them for more information. We notice the year passing, not in distinct seasons, but in an endless parade of activity, and this is how we learn about the world.

Yesterday we went out mushrooming. We were on a quest for more of the delicious Chicken of the Woods we'd harvested the day before, but found none. So around and around the forest we tromped, scouring rotten logs for the delicious mushrooms, and instead finding centipedes, squirrels, frogs, birds (& vulture feathers!), tiny fish and skeeters in the now barely-flowing creek, another creek that is not yet flowing, again, but which we know is a wide, untraversable stream, all winter. We checked out the trees that have fallen this summer: two big ones. And talked about the different sounds they made (we heard them fall from our house), and talked about the interesting geometry of the other trees they took out in their falls, and how that could have happened. We also found mushrooms; far too many to look up and name, since there are apparently 2 or 3 times as many fungi as vascular plant species, in BC. But these are the few that took our fancy: yellow jelly fungus, artists' bracket and parchment fungi, all sorts of polypores, black-eyed parasols, toothed jellies (we think), acres of some unidentified parasol-like mushrooms, some tiny dark brown unidentified blobby life-form, and finally a bright pink bubblegum-like blob with milky droplets on it. It rather reminded us of a sea-slug! These photos are just from the few mushrooms we took home to identify (I didn't have my act together enough to bring the books or the camera with me, this time). Some other things we noticed on our walk were that most leaves really haven't turned, yet, but the licorice root is starting to be revived from all the rain (it dries out over the summer), spruce cones all over the ground, suddenly, some mushy poop (Was it deer poop? Why did the deer have diarrhea?), banana slugs are out in force right now, and seem to prefer certain types of mushrooms, most of which turned out to be edible, when we checked, and the interesting fact that the Run For the Ferry markers had been forgotten on the trail we followed, home. Oh -- and all that garbage! The dump road, which is the trail that runs through the park, used to be the road to the dump, and naturally is littered on either side (deep into the woods) with garbage of every description, but including a lot of broken glass and old rusty home equipment from 50 to 100 years ago. Interesting to explore, from a historical perspective (we thought the museum should have some of those things), but also we wondered at length why the GVRD didn't clean it up, when they made the park.

Is this going on a bit too long? That is how it is! Endless exploration! How can I possibly distill the learning and exploration we shared in 2 or 3 hours of walking down into one paragraph? I can't! Learning Happens. (I want us all to have t-shirts that say that...) In that one walk the four of us (Mama, Pappa, and 2 kids) made deep journeys in the areas of (to name just the major ones) geology, biology, geometry, physics, math, history, social studies, politics, ecology, and psychology (Why does this walk in the rain make us all so happy? What is it about being out here that is so good for our family? Are all people like this?)

Today I was talking about making our required annual learning plans with our homelearners' support teacher at Island Discovery. We so don't fit the forms!! She knows this. This is pretty much routine frustration for unschooling families (and for our poor teacher, trying to work within a system that doesn't fit the families she's working with), but nevertheless it's a frustration I thought I'd write a bit about, here. Those forms make it seem as though all of our learning can be done by planning! No way! I want the school boards to understand what we're doing; I want them to know that today, while I discussed their ridiculous requirements for homelearners, my 8-year-old son who can't spell to save his life and flat-out refuses to accept traditional education, left the room where his sister was participating in a group activity for grade 1-4's, and stood upstairs near me, pressed between a door and a wall, listening to the class he dearly wanted to join: the older kids learning about the molecules that form DNA. Why does he know and care about DNA? From our walks in the forest.

This isn't really all that new or different; it's the way my mother has always taught preschool to 3 and 4 year olds; it's the way we all learn when we have forgotten our obligations, and are just following our hearts. But somehow we forget that we learn this way. In the rigid social and political systems we've created for ourselves, we forget that we love to learn. We think that learning is about acquiring a set of skills or knowledge; we think it's about being able to conform to accepted norms and becoming acceptable, contributing members of society. Then we spend our lives escaping from our jobs at nightclubs, movies, bars, on mountaintops, in books, dreams, and in front of televisions. We forget that, once, before we went to school, we were learning every day; everything was interesting, and we didn't even want to go to sleep at night, because there was so much to experience, still.

Unschooling certainly has its pitfalls. We live on one income, we are hopelessly ignorant about the trends and fads that other families are spending their energy on, the kids are sometimes ostracized from their school friends' lives when they cease to fit in, we're not used to crowds (though this is partly a rural thing, too), my kids' knowledge-base is definitely different than that of their peers, sometimes we're lonely... and most of all, we spend every day questioning ourselves and our choices -- wondering if we're doing the right thing; wondering if our kids will resent us for this choice; wondering if the government will pull the rug out from under us and we'll fall hard on our beloved forest floor, flailing on our backs like flipped beetles. But this, like most things, turns out to be about trust. We are trusting that this path will lead somewhere beautiful, and so far it has.

Tomorrow we are going to bake cinnamon buns and have a play with some other homelearning kids.

Thank you, universe, for that.

What doo-nin'?

...that phrase was how 2-year old Taliesin used to ask us what we were (or would be) doing.

This is basically just this year's laundry list of planned activities. I find it really hard to make this fit the intended curriculum areas of the school board, partly because there is SO much we all learn from our usual activities, not the least of which is just simply walking through the woods. Anyway. Here goes. The plan, so far:

  • Weekends: home with the family.Firewood, yard-work, music sessions, hikes, housework, etc.
  • Mondays: art/cooking/fun class with other homelearners; Annie's theatre school.
  • Tuesdays: Tali's theatre school; gym games with other kids.
  • Wednesdays: Mama's adult ballet (kids join for barre segment); music mentoring for Tali.
  • Thursdays: free day! town trips, forest walks, playing with friends, etc.
  • Fridays: activity with classroom homelearners (November/December), and once in a while kitchen junkets at night.
Somewhere in there we're going to start a weekly wild play group, open to other families to join us. Just for fun.

    That's the plan!!

    the eating slugs blog

    ...or so I obviously should have named it. Looking at the tracker, today, I see that by far the most common reason for coming to this blog is as a result of searching for info on eating slugs. Second? Other slug-related searches. Third? It's a toss up between no-TV, consumerism, and unschooling. In all my time, I've made only the following slug-related posts:
    Roasted Dusky Arion Slugs on my Feral Food blog
    Fried Banana Slugs on this blog (read the comment section, too)

    Really. That's it.

    Hey! Slugs are important! They are even an important food source for snakes, birds, and some other animals... and we happen to have LOTS of them. But really I wasn't trying to create a slug website, here.

    This begs the question: what do slugs have to do with unschooling?


    Post on this, shortly.

    Thursday, September 9, 2010

    Back-To-School Time!

    On our first year we went for a not-back-to-school beach party with other homelearners. This year no such party was organized... and we're edging a bit more into classroom life.

    I have decided that it will be helpful for the kids to have some more class-like time with their peers. Last year was great, with circus school, and a few local classes, too. But they didn't really manage to keep as tight with their friends as I would have liked them to. So this year they're going to join a couple of year-long programs: the local theatre school, and also (hopefully!) a once-per-week planned visit (maybe an hour or two) with the classroom kids at the program (who attend the homelearners' classroom program 2.5 days per week). Many of the classroom kids are also attending the theatre school, and both are really excellent programs. Tali will also (also hopefully, depending on whether we find the right teacher) begin mentoring with a violin player.

    I'm also joining our learning program's planning council, to help sort out some more inclusive options for full-time homelearners, like ourselves. I guess I want a bit more community around it all. We'll see how it all goes. Going to be a lot of work, I know, but obviously it's worth it.

    A friend just mentioned something about "authentic selves". I feel good knowing that for all the sacrifices we make, financially, and sometimes even socially, we are nurturing our own and our children's authenticity. I know we waffle, change course, redirect and waffle again, and I know this will probably continue on throughout our lives. But it's about following our needs and dreams with conscience and care. It is indeed worth it.

    Friday, June 4, 2010

    Sir Ken Robinson

    Two-time speaker at Ted Talks.

    See what he has to say:


    takes joy out of giving
    gift out of life
    life out of joy
    gives in to loss .losing
    loses dancing from moving
    movement from song
    song out of living
    gives value to 'wrong' .winning
    steals meaning from passion
    passion from love
    love from the losers
    gives in to loss
    my poetry sucks

    so I can't share it .afraid
    it's not good enough
    for wanting
    wanting is not enough .losing
    is all it's about
    when there's no need for gain .pain
    when there's no need for doubt .love
    in sharing our souls
    I lose the value of loss
    wanting to feel you
    sharing my failures
    my laugh
    my story
    my pain
    my losing
    wanting to hear you

    there is strength in giving without pride
    there is giving in loving without judgment
    there is love in witnessing frailty
    there is pride in knowing we love

    This week I had to check off my kids' abilities from the list of grade-appropriate learning outcomes, just to ensure they keep getting their homelearners' money - but this list of where they measure up doesn't say anything about who they are, their strengths or passions or abilities. Just places them somewhere on somebody's list. I just want them to sing because they want to, to learn what interests them, and to do what they feel is right instead of what they need to do to win. Winning doesn't feel very good when you have to turn and see the losers, behind you.

    This isn't about not valuing strengths, but celebrating them individually, as opposed to competing to be better than others. If we were all just working towards our own individual goals -- because we wanted to, and not because we were expected to, or because we wanted to be 'the best' -- then we would get there, I think, with a true feeling of accomplishment and gratitude for where we are. And community. 

    All people will always have aptitudes or difficulties in various things and I think it's important to celebrate our uniquenesses. But competition of any sort creates losers, where an atmosphere of sharing and support creates desire and confidence.

    Usually, when the topic of non-competitiveness or non-coercive learning, or even my choice not to test and grade my children comes up, I am warned that my children will need to learn to function in the "real world". My answer to this is that we already live in the real world, because the real world is the one we are creating every day. As more and more of us turn away from competition and judgment, towards support and celebration, I am more and more pleased to be a part of the real world.

    blog resurrection

    OK -- two years after supposedly ending this blog, I am still having people comment on it quite frequently (5 times this week!) and still get the gentle messages of disappointment from some people who wish it was still happening. Meanwhile I post random things about our progress on our other blog (, and on our local community forum, etc. So here it is... I'll put those thoughts here, again.

    (Well -- that was easy.)

    Sunday, July 20, 2008

    Blog shifts

    I'm debating what to do with this blog. Since deciding to pull out of the Learning Centre, we've really fallen into a lovely peaceful life, around here. It seems natural that everything our family does now belongs on one blog, and that this one was really the process of discovery of our year in public education.

    Sooo... at the moment all the posting is happening at our regular blog, and I think we'll just keep it that way. Eventually I hope we set it up to be able to receive comments, etc. and for easier posting (at the moment I have to do it all in html).

    I'll keep this blog here for a while; maybe I'll even use it as a place to post something else, eventually, or for a community blog. But definitely the action for now is going over to Dragonfly: Tales from the Phantom Rickshaw.

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Learning Happens!!!

    We're pulling out of the part-time program Tali's been attending. We're now officially full-time homelearners.


    I feel so free! This was a hard decision to make, but we've finally accepted the fact that we are, after all, radical unschoolers. And I guess we can stop denying it, now. Of course there's a huge variety of us radical people, but I don't think we're alone in our intentions. And somehow, just accepting the title gives us an enormous freedom.

    At the beginning of the year I had a very clear idea of how the year would work for us. I thought that the learning centre we joined would make our homelearning easy, we wouldn't have to report on our learning activities, and all the legalities would be handled for us -- that part was true. However, I also thought the 2ce/week learning group would be great for Tal's extreme shyness, and maybe he'd get over it. Oops.

    So I've learned that my son doesn't have a problem with shyness; he just doesn't like to be in groups of people unless he's known them for at least a few years! Funny that -- neither do I! It's not really a problem unless we try to make it go away. We realized in September that the classroom setting wasn't right for him, but we didn't want to drag him about from one program to another, or in and out of school. So we committed for the year, stuck it out, and are now completely certain that the program isn't right for him. Oh well -- it's an experience. And it's a good program; just for other people. And now we have much less reason to question our decision to be, as we seem to be called now, "full-time homelearners".

    Basically, as far as I understand it right now, this decision means that we'll be free to learn as a family however we'd like, but we'll keep in contact with (and take a weekly art class with !!) one of the teachers from the Learning Centre. Because of that connection, we'll not have to fully report on each activity we do; we can just report on the general progress of our children's learning, with guidance from the Learning Centre's teachers. Now that I've officially announced our intentions to the teachers, they've explained this much to me, and I'm quite relieved there won't be any of the weekly logs or record-keeping that seem to be the bane of so many other homelearners I've encountered!

    Rhiannon will still be in my Mum's preschool next year, but basically this frees us up to be happily involved with the preschool and also to fully pursue our own interests. We're already excited about having the opportunity to go in to town for a swim every week! It's things like that that I've really longed for, this year.

    So here we go, into the summer, finally free and easy, and learning wherever we go. :--)

    We've started a weekly art gathering, too. Once a week we get together with other people (all ages) and make art. So far we've done a rock balancing day at the beach and a huge plastic-bag kite/parachute project on the community school field (photo right). Next week will be tie-dying, and after that a full two months of mask-making, earth art, body-painting, papier-mache sculptures, lanterns, even field trips to the mines and meadows.

    It's all so wonderful. I feel like we're opening a new and beautiful chapter of an endless book. Since this is a bit of a personal blog, I'll be personal--also because it will explain the absence of posts, here. In the past couple of months I lost a very close friend over an odd misunderstanding, and experienced some awful backflashes while totally out of my element and while away from my husband. So... depression kicked in and the blog suffered. But out of the loss of my friend, especially, I've found a new feeling of detachment. It's not bad. I think it's a kind of zen. And I'm quite sure it's a very important change for our whole family. I do get way too emotional about things, and this calm I've found has tempered that quite a bit. So, while riding this current little flow, I'm very happy to open up to our lives and let the universe take us where it will.

    So here, as a bit of a photographic update, are various random images from the past month or so (top to bottom): Tal and Annie at Trout Lake, Tal rock-climbing by the grotto in Apodaca park, the lovely four-leafed-clover we found, Tal building Quadrilla with Grandpa (we LOVE Quadrilla!!), me with the plastic-bag-kite at the art gathering, Rhiannon at her ballet recital, Tal on our swing, and Rhiannon painting her papier-mache "water dragon".

    This is happiness!
    Learning happens!!
    Happy summer!!!