Thursday, September 30, 2010

Well, it's not a day at the park...

Zhara masters the monkey bars.

Actually, it is...

Today was Park Fun Day. Winnie picked it. We had so much fun.

Wednesday and Angus and I spent the morning watching They Might Be Giants music videos on YouTube, and playing board games. They have so much fun with those videos. We have the cds, but they adore watching them on the computer.

Now, I knew TMBG back in the day. Like smashed under the stage in Columbia, MO as a screaming freshman in college, circa 1994, back in the day. Wow, that makes me feel really f-ing old. But anyway, now TMBG have aged, as have we all, and reproduced, check here, too, and so now they are a totally awesome kick-ass kid's band. My post-funky punky self finds it wonderful that my little punks now listen to the same band that I rocked out to in college.

Zhara slept in, and when we were all ready to go, we packed a picnic lunch and headed off to the big park in the middle of Lehi for Park Fun Day. We ate, swung, climbed -- it was fun. The kids must have climbed over the top of the tube slide 100 times each. I think we strike fear into the hearts of the reserved Mormon mothers at the park, but my children are just daring free spirits, not to be constrained by piddly park guidelines. I even got to knit some in the shade of a tree.

It really was one of those magical days with kids when you think, "oh, yay, I knew there was a reason that I had procreated, but I couldn't remember why, and there it is." It was lovely. Warm, my kids running and playing together happily, swinging in and out of the dappled sunlight. We probably looked like the picture of the happy, contented homeschooling family with all the other moms thinking, "my kids would never act like that if I homeschooled." And, of course, 98% of the time, neither do mine. In fact, they are downstairs now fighting over who gets to sit where on the sofa, but I'm still in my moment of delight at the park.

Cool, it really looks like poop when they aerate the soil!

This afternoon, the high even lasted long enough for Zhara to teach Angus how to use the computer some. She worked with him on using the mouse, and set him up a StarDoll account like hers, so that he can play dress up on line with a guy he designs, and then can interact with her online. Of course, somehow my cursor is now a sparkling bunch of purple grapes, but you have to be thankful for small blessings.

Sometimes, somedays, it works. You understand why you do it. It all comes together and there you are, in the park, answering your kids questions about aerating the soil, pine needles, and dappled sunlight. And for one brief moment in time, you really, truly appreciate what you have, in the moment that you have it. You are completely present and grateful. It doesn't happen often, especially not as parents. So often someone has spilled something, or eaten something, or scraped something, or peed on something, and you're too busy cleaning it up, or patching the boo boo to be present. But every now and again, I get it. And then, I am very thankfully that we found this way of life.

She's a cheese head -- get it?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Science, Legos, and the Moon Landing

Well, the past few days we have been trying to at least touch on our special day status each day.

Monday was Lego Day. We built Legos in the basement. The kids want to build a replica of Bridal Veil Falls here in Utah out of Legos. Turns out that despite the massive amount of Legos that we do have, we don't have near enough browns and grays to construct the Falls.

Then around lunchtime, the kids got to talking about the moon and whether we, as a people, had ever been to the moon. So I got out the book that Gretchen gave me called The American Story, and we read the chapter on the moon landing. Then we pulled up the images of the landing on the internet and the kids watched Neil Armstrong on the moon for a few minutes. Angus thought that the saying, "One small step for man, one small leap for mankind," was hilarious. We talked about what it meant, but it apparently it was still really fun. We read about how many people worldwide watched the landing on TV, and then looked up the population of the US at that time. Zhara was amazed that 300 million more people watched the moon landing than even lived in the US at that time. We also talked about the space race, and John F. Kennedy's role in it, and after that they had had enough history for the day.

Tuesday was our activities day, so we spent a lot of time running between tumbling, piano, and karate, and tidying the house.

Today is Science Day. This morning Angus and Wednesday and I did a rainforest animal puzzle, and Winnie helped me bake a carrot cake from scratch. My kids are wild for carrot cake, and there is nothing to me as scientific as baking, so there you go. Then we all went on a nature walk to the pond. We found tons of wooly worm caterpillars, and brought one back with us for our bug habitat. We will set him free in a day or two, but for now, he is happily munching on leaves. There is much controversy about whether he should be named Spike, Bob, or Fuzzy. I'm staying out of it, frankly.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Day at the Zoo & Potatoes

Yesterday we were busy, and productive, so today, we went to the zoo. Sunday is a wonderful day to do kid-friendly activities in Utah when one is not religious. Everything clears out remarkably.

Snuggling with dad.

The kids and I have been to the zoo a couple of times since we've been here. We bought a pass a few weeks after moving. Adam, however, due to the fact that he is always at work during the week, had never been. So the kids got to introduce him to the zoo. I will say, that Utah's Hogle Zoo is not particularly impressive, but the kids have fun, so it doesn't really matter how awesome of a zoo it really is, actually.

Prairie dogs

My family acting like prairie dogs.

Cougar, being a cougar on a warm day

Their favorite part, is generally the beginning, where there is a giant marble ball water fountain that they can lay up against and touch, and the end, when we go to the very expansive playground. The animals are pleasant distractions in the middle. My kids tend to end up acting like monkeys the most of the time anyway, so it works.

We're home now, and the kids are helping Adam put together the Ikea toy chest we bought last night to store our potatoes in for the winter. We got an entire hour-long date last night, as the kids finally decided that the Ikea playplace would be fun, and agreed to stay without us for an hour. It was delightful.

It is time to dig up the potatoes, and get them in from the garden before it gets too cold. Zhara drew a lovely pattern on the side of the toy chest, and Winnie is helping Adam drill holes over the pattern to ventilate the spuds. I'm excited to get them up. We planted red and blue potatoes this year, so it should be a fun winter of red, blue, and purple mash and roasted potatoes.

Fun with power tools.

It was hot, dirty work, but we got it done -- our potato crop. We did lose quite a few to snails, but I think that we'll still be well fed this winter, regardless.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Crazy Hair Day

Ended up not to be too crazy, actually. No one wanted to do my hair, so mine was just in a bun part of the day and down the rest. Boo!

Winnie went crazy by actually allowing me to touch her hair. Normally she wears it in a lovely furry fro on the sides, matted dreds in the back look, but today she relented and agreed to let me actually touch it. I managed to even get a couple swipes of a brush in. She wore these piggies in her hair until almost 2 pm, which is like a world record, I think.

How could this face ever be destructive? Behind it lies an evil genius ready to strike!

Angus did the traditional very spiked, very wet look that he favors. It's kind of The Fonz meets Keith Richards, but it works for him.

Complete with rock star meets monster face.

Zhara originally wanted to me to braid 9 braids in her hair, then braid those into three braids, then those into one. I told her if she ever hoped to leave the house today, that she might want to simplify the plan. So we went with the princess side french braid into a pony tail at the back, and then for a while, into a side ponytail. It also made it until about 2pm, so overall the hair was successful.
This shot says, "mom, get the hell out of my face with the camera!"

While we ran errands, the kids watched Aliens in the Attic in the car, which they had checked out from the library yesterday, and for the past two hours there has been a very involved game of Aliens in the Attic occurring on my main floor. Complete with homemade (during dinner) PVC pipe guns filled with marbles and things being flung from the balcony. We will be prepared in case of alien attack apparently. I feel so much more secure now.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

An Unschooler's Schedule

The kids and I sat down yesterday, and made up a schedule for October. They love having special days -- pj day, science project day, games day. So I printed out a blank calendar page for September and October and we filled the last few days of September, and the whole month of October up with fun days. I had previously put all of the kids' activities -- tumbling, piano, and karate -- on Tuesdays, except for the second evening of karate a week, so that I always know that day is out for extra activities. It works well with the schedule, too.

Today when we went to the library, we checked out books for each of next week's days -- Lego Day, Funny Hairstyle Day, Park Activity Day, and Halloween decorating day. Then each week when we go to the library we'll do the same. The kids are really excited. And actually, so am I. They came up with some really good ideas. We even have a Chinese Culture Day. We put that one on payday, the day we normally go grocery shopping, etc. so that we can go out to a Chinese restaurant for lunch. So, if this experiment works, then we will keep it going for the whole year.

Tomorrow is Crazy Hairstyle Day, and also payday, so I am very much looking forward to us all going grocery shopping with some very inventive new 'dos. :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Seasons, Playing, & Nature Deficiency Disorder

Zhara and Angus exploring the beauty of the Uinta National Forest just south of us.

One of the wonderful things about living in Utah is the beautiful landscape. I mean, honestly, we can see mountains from every window in our house, and we don't have pricey real estate. We live a block from a wetland preserve, and a couple of miles from the 22 mile long (and still pretty polluted -- thank you US Steel) Utah Lake.

A family bike ride, & stop for exploration, along Utah Lake.

Thankfully, my kids like being outside, and so do I. So we spend a lot of time playing in the woods at the edge of the wetland preserve or hiking in the mountains. My children have even talked me into camping three times this year. I hate camping. Having had back surgery a few years ago and being a notoriously bad sleeper, I am not, in the verbiage, a happy camper. After last weekend, I did extract a promise that from now on I will not be required to actually sleep out in a tent. We can hike, we can roast marshmallows, and then we can go home and I can sleep in my bed. The children have agreed to this concession, but I digress...

The toasted marshmallows are the best part anyway.

The thing that I have noticed though about my kids, and actually about many of the unschooled kids that I have met, is that they seem to have a really good sense of the turn of the seasons, and the natural world and Earth around them. For unschooled kids, Fall doesn't start at the beginning of August when school starts again. And neither does it for the Earth. These kids still swim in September. They run barefoot in the sprinklers and make mud pies in the backyard with friends, several weeks into other kids sitting dutifully at desks. When the first nip in the air starts, they go exploring in the woods to see what is changing.

Angus and Winnie swimming in leaves last Fall in Kansas.

When it snows, they don't watch it out the window, they bundle up, go outside, and spend the day sledding.

Last year's snow people exhibit in our old front yard.

When it gets especially warm one April, they aren't stuck wishing they could go outside and play, they pull out the slip-n-slide and learn about gravity and water flow, and how much fun it is to be outside on a warm spring day.They bury their hands in dirt and plant things -- outside -- not in little styrofoam cups on classroom windowsills, come spring. On a warm summer day, they grab their best friend and go roller skating around the bike path for an hour, coming back hot and sweaty and seeking water, but never so happy.

Whether children are urban or suburban or rural, it shouldn't matter. Nature is there. The outside is waiting. Sure, it may look different to explore nature in a city, but that doesn't mean kids don't learn just as much. They just learn about a different outside -- the one they actually live in!

That is not to say that my kids don't watch their share of TV, or play on the computer. They do. They are not big videogame kids -- that is their own doing, nothing imposed by me, but they also love to get outside. When they want to... not in 20 minute scheduled increments, after a rushed lunch, and a morning spent sitting stark still. Not as a blip in the day, but as a big chunk of it somedays and a smaller bit others. And of their own volition.

Painting with another homeschooled friend in the front driveway.

An art installation.

"Oh, look, a rolly polly, let's make it a house."

"Wonder what paint AND bubbles would make..."

I feel more and more like the nature deficiency disorder we hear so much about these days has a lot more to do with how we raise our children, than with our children themselves. If left to their own devises, I don't think we'd have a problem at all. Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods, noted that children are spending less time outdoors, and are therefore less connected to the natural world and the seasons. I have to posit that this is at least partially a product of the school structure that we have set up. Many kids are in school year round. They aren't even getting a summer to run around and just be kids. Or if not in school year round, then in afterschool care, or numerous after school activities. They are ALWAYS inside, in a forced learning environment. They are never just left to play and explore on their own. How could they not become cut off from nature? How could they not become cut off from natural exploration and learning on their own terms? How could they not forget how to just play?

For some reason, in the Western world, we have come to view play as a bad thing. As "just playing." As not having an actual purpose. As not being as good as say, reading, or studying, or learning to "play" an instrument, or doing a worksheet on something "useful." Now, don't get me wrong, my kids take activities -- some take karate, some piano, and another tumbling, but it's not their main source of recreation.

Angus, Zhara, and Olly playing in a river bed during the dry season.

Cultures that are more tied to nature, and those of years past, recognized play for what it is, incredibly useful at imprinting a culture's values, learning, and history on the next generation. Children in these cultures are, and were, absolutely encouraged to play. By playing, they learned. They learned what was important to the culture. They prepared themselves for their adult roles, and they made community... without ever being "taught" about it. Today our children have become absolutely cut off from community, and their traditions and culture. They leave college with no sense of themselves, and no idea how to actually live in community with others, if they can even find a community to be a part of. Look around at the home foreclosures, the massive debt, the huge antidepressant use, overstressed young parents with no outlet and no one to turn to for help. As a people we are in crisis. A crisis of stress, overwork, and a complete inability to relax and enjoy our lives.

Young adults graduate college or post-graduate work, finishing 17-20 years of education without even a clue of how to live life. In the great name of technology and living not "as" their parents, but always "better" than their parents, we have chipped away at living. We have chipped away at play, at learning to live, at being happy, at feeling secure and satisfied that we have, are, and can be enough. We have given up community, and relaxing, and being in nature and just enjoying life.

Unschooled kids can play. I mean, I have watched my children literally meet a kid, and then throw down in an imaginary game of whatever within seconds. And mine are not the most social kids on the planet, so there you go.

Hiking across a log in the mountains.

There's just something about getting back to being encouraged to play, to let go, and be themselves, to be imaginative, to use their brains for things other than Learning with a capital L. We spend so much time cramming our children full of numbers and letters and facts, that we forget they are kids. We worry what colleges they will get into, before they are old enough to walk. We worry whether they will get a good job, before they are old enough to know what college is.

We need to spend more time worrying about giving our children license to truly enjoy life. To enjoy each other. To roll down a hill with reckless abandon. To invent another world, and then people it with their friends dressed in amazing and outlandish costumes. Unschooled kids are primal in the absolute best sense of the world.

A tea party with friends.

And they are prepared for their future. Armed not just with facts, but with the ability to interact with the world around them. With the ability to meet new people, and team build on site. With the ability to real world problem solve. These qualities, the qualities we are told are so sought after in today's marketplace, they aren't taught in a classroom. They can't be! They come from creativity and imagination. Those things that are absolutely beat out of children in traditional school. They come from running outside, jumping on one's bike and taking off for the woods to explore alone, or meeting up with friends and spending the day directing an off-the-cuff imaginary world.

Zhara picking wildflowers.

Those qualities... they come from playing. They come from being outside, and exploring the world through play. The very thing that our society tells us our children are doing too much of -- just playing.

I can bet you that there is not a homeschooling family, particularly an unschooling family, reading this, that has not heard the comment, "but it seems like all your kids ever do is play." Well, hallelujah! Maybe we should start taking this as the supreme compliment that it is. How much happier will our children be in twenty years when, instead of having to pop an antidepressant to deal with stress and anxiety, they can recognize that they need a day off and take a hike in the woods? Holy Cow, I would be ecstatic! And honestly, so would they.

Zhara checking the water depth of the freezing cold mountain snow runoff.

Angus back at the same river in the Fall when it's an almost dry river bed after the dry season.

Olly and Winnie checking things out.

A hike with dad.

Last child left in the woods? Not in this family.