homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Creative use for dining chairs

The sewing cards--designed for and purchased for this purpose--got ignored.


It's the cardboard box rule, I guess! Fun, my friends, is where you make it.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Totally, dude.

We watched FINDING NEMO again a few days ago. And this exchange (about children and new experiences) really caught my attention.

Marlin: How do you know if they're ready?
Crush: Well, you never really know...but when they know, you'll know, y'know?

Man, I could tell stories backing that up! All unschooly and AP, naturally. Suffice it to say, I'm finding more and more reasons to believe in letting the child lead. Sure, they'll learn/do things with guidance and/or pressure. But the results are so much easier, quicker, and joyful if it's done on their timetable.

Y'know?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Almost Heaven, West Virginia

Yesterday we went to visit my father. He lives on Cheat Lake in Morgantown, West Virginia.

First we went down to the lake to look at fish and ducks and throw rocks in the water.


It was a pretty day. And unseasonably warm...Cayden (2) quickly decided to shed his clothes.


And I got the Best. Picture. Evar. of Theo (5) and Pap-Pap. Completely candid, too. Yay me.


Then we went up to Cooper's Rock State Forest to hike. Here is the view from the overlook:


We climbed rocks


And trees


And explored caves looking for hibernating bats. (Alas, we didn't spot any.)


We had a great afternoon. Much needed outing for all of us.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wait your turn, Mom

About a week ago, Cayden finally got a handle on how to use a computer mouse. Now I can't get him away from PoissonRouge. The site is graphics-heavy, interactive, and designed for preschoolers and I admit, I was skeptical and a bit negative at first. But the results don't lie--the kid LOVES exploring the various activities. He has his favorites, and manages to navigate to some new and unexpected wonder every time.

Neat.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hunting

It always tickles me, how kids process and synthesize information to come up with unique perspectives. Such as...

Today Theo went hunting. The daddy next door is a deer hunter, so his buddy has been talking up hunting pretty heavily lately. Okay, I get that. We have also, in our discussions about insects and our discoveries of dead animals, talked about how some bugs' role in the life cycle is to help dead tissue decompose. Check.

So when Theo announced that he was going deer hunting today and I asked him what he planned to do if he got one, he said that he was going to feed it to the bugs.

He even happily suggested that maybe he would go hunting again tomorrow, to feed them again.

Here's the Great White Hunter, armed to the elbow (notice the ammo supply?):

Cayden came along, armed with his security blanket of choice. A front-end loader.
He's a builder, not a fighter.

Have I mentioned that he SLEEPS with his construction equipment? Have I mentioned that we co-sleep? I must sit down and draft a pattern for a fabric excavator...night times are getting far too painful.

Later, we made and tested a slingshot.
Acorns fly great. Sticks, not so much.

And Theo discovered how to make a cross-bow. Now THAT was a neat a-ha moment!

video

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Where is the green sheep?

This is such a favorite for us that I can't believe we haven't actually purchased a copy yet. Nope. We just check it out of the library every few months.

We love this book. It's simple and charming. I read a for-grownups book by Mem Fox once--Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever--in which she discussed some of her "secrets" for writing for young children. Repetition seemed to be a major key. As far as learning to decode the mechanics of reading goes, I suppose this is a good argument for the "whole language" camp. I'm not going to go there right now. It is an interesting debate (learning to read whole words vs. deconstructing and using phonics), and I probably will revisit it some other time.

For now, though, I appreciate the rhetorical device of repetition simply for the way it is allowing the children to follow a simple narrative and anticipate the next statement.
"Here is the blue sheep/And here is the red sheep/Here is the bath sheep/And here is the bed sheep/But where is the green sheep?"
Not only is it fun to read along together, but we have noticed Theo independently "reading" the book to Cayden, and Cayden "reading" the book out loud to himself.

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to see my children gain pleasure from books on their own. Oh, cuddled next to mom is great. But doing it on their own is the first step down a lifetime of self-guided experiences.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

You're doing what?

I asked Theo and Cayden last night if they'd like to join Daddy and me for a movie in the family room. They were watching a DVD in my bedroom, and declined. Theo said, "But Mom, we're learning about construction equipment!"

Not watching our movie, but learning.

Yeah, that's my boy. :)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Today's lesson: the water cycle

It's funny where conversations start...and where they lead.

We were playing in the side yard today when Theo noticed a flagman in the road. We went to the front yard expecting to see some sort of heavy equipment (Cayden's obsession. And I do mean OBSESSION. There will be more heavy equipment pictures soon, I assure you.) What we saw was a crew sealing the cracks in the road.

So we stood and watched, and waved at the workmen, and the crew chief came over and chatted with the boys for a minute. Unfortunately, they are both still painfully shy around strangers, so we didn't get the firsthand account of what's going on that we might have otherwise. (He was so open...I am sure he would have opened up if we asked for an explanation.) However, I did take the opportunity to explain to Theo the basics of water expanding during freezing, and how this can damage road surfaces.

Definitely a fact of life in Pennsylvania!

At any rate, it's moments like these that really illustrate the idea that opportunity for learning is often unexpected, and everywhere.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Our latest obsession...

Bats.

The kids are totally into bats. I have no idea where this started. A few weeks ago, Theo announced "bat" as his choice of Halloween costume. Not Batman...a bat. And when I got the costume box out of the attic this week, both he and Cayden found black capes and have been "flying" around the house ever since.

We checked out a bunch of books about bats from our local library. We've learned a few interesting things that way. However. I'm fixin' to write a letter to Usborne books, who included an erroneous statement about bats' eyesight (they do SO see well, but thanks for passing along an old wives' tale as fact. Sheesh.)

But the big payoff has been searching for bat videos online. Our favorite site by far is cavebiota.com, where among other things we learned that brown bats can live more than 30 years! Amazing, considering that analagous small mammals (mice, shrews, etc.) have an optimistic in-the-wild life expectancy of about a year. I also found myself literally in tears watching some of the rescue stories over at batworld.com

Homeschooling really is about families learning together. I love it.

Unfortunately, I have misplaced my camera and missed a GREAT photo tonight, of Theo sitting in front of the computer watching a bat video while at the same time looking through one of his library books. Now that's some serious interest!!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Calendar

The latest concept that I've introduced to Theo (at least intentionally!) is calendars. It's difficult for a child to wait for a future event. In the past I have used construction-paper chains to count down to special days. At the end of each day, we tear off a link and watch the "days to wait" grow fewer as the chain grows shorter.

This month has a nice double-whammy: Theo's birthday and Halloween. Unfortunately, they both fall at the end of the month. Long wait. This time I decided to suggest a calendar. He took to the idea quickly. He's still a little confused about the left-to-right sequence of days (when I ask him to look for the "2", he's just as likely to point out the twelfth or the twenty-somethingth rather than the second), but he is catching on. And he enjoys crossing off that box at the end of each day. That's something that has always appealed to my own organization fascination, and I'm finding more and more that he and I are "wired" similarly.

The neat and unexpected thing, though, was his "project". He asked me for a hole-punch. I was too busy to stop and ask why, and just got it for him. A few minutes later, he asked me to come see what he had done. He had punched a hole near the bottom of the page, tied a string through the hole, and taped a pencil to the other end of the string. He has never seen this type of arrangement before. I could care less if he reinvented the wheel. I'm thrilled to death that my four-year-old reinvented the wheel. And without assistance. He saw a problem, devised a solution, and carried it out.

I'm a proud, proud Momma.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Flowers!

We were in the grocery store checkout line and you know how it goes. The tight little aisle is packed with impulse-buy items. I braced myself for the "Mommy, can I get ______?" questions. Sure enough...

"Mommy, can I get these flowers?"

"Honey, we don't need flowers."

"But I want to give them to someone."

"Who?"

"YOU, Mommy!"

We got the flowers.

It was Theo's gift. Here's Cayden posing with them.

And, apparently, the remains of a chocolate snack. :p

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nature walk

A week or so ago (yeah, I'm a busy mom and it takes me forever to blog. We'll all get over it) we had some friends over for a playdate, and Theo hosted a nature walk. Totally his doing. The other kids wanted to be George of the Jungle on the rope swing and play with the Brio trains, but Theo insisted that we were going. So, we did. He led all of us (two Mommies and three kids) down to the woods and showed off all of his points of interest...where the tree fell and he and his buddy made a fort, where he and Daddy tapped the maple trees for sap in the spring, where we found a dead deer last fall and what's left of its bones, the swinging vines, and finally the main attraction...the Beech Tree.

He was SO excited to show his friends the giant beech tree in the woods below our property. It is a rather impressive and old tree. He showed them beech nuts in the litter beneath the tree, and showed them how to open them carefully to get the seed. He then told them the different ways to start their own beech tree...either by germinating the seed or by transplanting a sapling. He was so full of enthusiasm and joy, sharing his knowledge with others. I couldn't have been more proud.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My job

They say that having children grounds you. That it teaches you to live in the moment. And there is a lot of validity to that.

But.

Life, and the maintenance demands of such, still goes on. And I am finding that it is very easy to fall into a pattern of working so hard to keep the "work" done, that I end up resenting the kids' constant demands on my time. I feel like I fight a constant battle trying to decide, well, do I play with the kids, or cook dinner? Do I sit down and read with them, or do laundry? Sometimes the delicate balance of time just doesn't allow for everything I *want* to do AND everything I *need* to do. And I constantly feel like something is suffering. In this role of housewife/mother, I often feel despair, because I am killing myself to fill both roles completely, and end up feeling like I am always shortchanging something. Or everything. I am so busy trying to be a good mom that my house looks like an utter disaster. Or, I am so stubbornly committed to getting through my "to do" list that I feel like I am neglecting my children. Gah.

Finding that balance is hard.

I am reminded of something that many managers have told me throughout my working life. "Don't get annoyed because a customer interrupts some other task you may be doing. THEY ARE WHY YOU ARE HERE."

I need that kick in the butt sometimes. I need to stop feeling frustrated that the kids have interrupted me so many times that it has taken me 3 hours to unload the dishwasher. I need to remember that obvious little nugget. They are why I am here. They are the "who" that I am doing this for. It's funny how easy it is to get mired in the drudgery and lose sight of something that simple.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Note to Self

Just be thankful.

Do not complain that half of the clothes are stretched out of shape, and several items are twisted. Do not point out that more efficient use could have been made of both space and clothespins by using one pin for the corners of two side-by-side items.

Just think of the fact that you got to sit down for five minutes and make a mundane blog entry because someone else hung a load of clothes on the line.

Without being asked.

Because he loves you.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Socks

Cayden is playing with the vacuum cleaner. It makes him happy. The wand-and-hose attachment is easy for him to handle, and it keeps him out of my hair long enough to cook lunch. Or go to the bathroom. Or take a deep breath. A week or so ago, I encouraged this distraction by scattering Cheerios on the carpet and letting him suck them up. Big fun.

So, he's playing with it again now, and giggling hysterically. Good. Oh, wait. What is that funny whiiiine-muffle-pop sound?

Yeah. He is feeding it socks.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Out of touch

I wish I blogged more frequently.

Sometimes I mentally write these fabulous little essays as I go throughout my day. Last week, in fact, I worked on one most of the afternoon. A few unrelated events got me thinking on the same theme, and I had tons of Important Thoughts on the subject. Alas, as is usually the case, by the time I got an opportunity to actually sit down and try to record it, I had forgotten it all. Including even the basic theme. Darn memory!!

So...I had a ton of neat stuff to say, and now it's gone. That's part of it.

Another part is that I'm just too busy living my life to record it properly. I've had a bunch of content and possible content over the past weeks, but darn if I can find time to post it. It's like writing in a journal. When I have time, little is worth noting. When there are Big Events, I'm too busy to get to it.

Another part is that a bunch of just really awful stuff has been going on and I'm unhappy and angry and a bit depressed and I don't have the emotional energy on most days to discuss any of it...nor to try to focus on anything different. That part is really upsetting.

But I am still here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

of graves and digging...

I hadn't intended a theme for the day, but sometimes these things happen.

About a month or so ago, my paternal grandfather died. We attended the viewing with the children, and as part of the experience I had a lot of talks with Theodore about mortality and about the practical side of "what happens" (that is, to the remains. Didn't get in to discussions re: spirituality). Since then, he has had the occasional curious question and is especially interested in cemeteries, wanting to see and ask about the "statues" (headstones). After a few weeks, the questions died down (no pun intended). Then, a week or so ago, we were visiting my mother when he hit me with the double whammy. First, still feeling out the notion that his grandmother is my mother (Mommies have mommies? Neat!), he asked, "Whose tummy did Gram come out of?" So my mother showed him a photo of her parents, both deceased. Well, when he found out, he requested that he be taken "to see their statues where they are buried".

He did not let up on this. He would wake up every morning asking if I'd made the arrangements with Gram. So, we planned a trip. My mother, being the last of her 7-sibling clan still living locally, is the family Grave Tender, and she typically goes to trim weeds and plant geraniums on Memorial Day weekend. So, she pushed it up a bit and we went along. Theo chose the flowers himself (opting for pansies over the rather bedraggled-looking geraniums at the garden center), and brought his own little trowel.

He and Gram planted the flowers and talked a little about the family history.


While we were there, we took the kids to climb on The Monument.
This is the largest grave marker in the Centerville cemetery. All I have is my mother's legend to go on, so I'm not sure how accurate this is, but the story is that this man was a miser who commissioned this memorial
to use up the remainder of his savings, thus keeping his heirs from an inheritance. There used to be a large obelisk atop the main plinth, but it was destroyed in a tornado many years ago.

Later, since we were in the area, we went to the Steam Engine show. Hosted twice annually by the National Pike Steam, Gas, and Horse Association, this is a showcase of antique heavy equipment. Sadly, there seems to be less and less steam-powered equipment than I remember from when I was a child, and much of what was on display was not in working order. There were plenty of diesel and gasoline motors chugging away, though. With the price of gasoline at $3.80 that weekend, it surprised me just how many exhibitors were running! But I digress. They do still run the steam-powered sawmill near the park entrance, although I did not see if the thresher was still on display (way cool to watch). And there were a ton of farm tractors to climb on.

But coolest of all were the DIGGERS!

There were a LOT of them, mostly diesel. But there were two actual steam shovels working away (and keeping up quite nicely).


Cayden was instantly speechless (the boy LOVES excavating equipment) and then animated the rest of the afternoon, running back and forth and jabbering about the "ekkavadas". Theo, bless his bookish heart, immediately shouted, "It's Mary Anne!" That's my boy!

We watched the diggers for a long, long time. My mother was particularly thrilled to see that many of the diggers were being operated by teenage boys...most under the tutelage of older relatives, passing along the history. Awesome.

After some digging of our own

and a stop for ice cream,
we headed home. Just before the boys dozed off in the van, Theo asked, "How do they dig the holes to put the dead people under the statues?" And I answered, "Usually with a backhoe." What do you know, a joined theme. I hadn't even planned it. :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

We are crunchier than you


OMG we are such geeks. Despite the wet grass, we had to run out immediately and march around the front yard, trying out our new toy. The whole family was involved. Scratch that--the grownups and the little guys played. The adolescents, sensing a plan of conscripted labor, basically told us where to stick it and sulked in their room. Ah, it's going to be a long, long summer.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Busy, busy, busy!

The weather is warm. Need I say more? We are outside so much these days that what time I do spend inside is usually taken up with those necessary daily chores and oh, ya know, sleep. But there is so much to catch up on...so many things happening that deserve proper journaling. This week's "greatest hits" list:

Cayden's Second Birthday
It's such a cliche, but my baby is growing up far too fast. Not only in my own perspective, but he's hitting so many milestones at an earlier age than his brother. (Yeah, snark on myself in respect to the previous post, but now that I've noticed it, it's hard to NOT notice it.) He is just in such a hurry to keep up with Theo. The two of them are still friends more than rivals, which gives me so much joy. (Naturally, halfway through typing that previous sentence, they started screaming at each other. Alas.)

Theo's "Homework"
In response in part to his big brothers' nightly complaining, Theo announced "I have to do my homework." It was a big production. He sat himself down at the kitchen table with notebook, pencils, etc, and then proceeded to loudly scold me and Cayden for daring to make any sound, because "I can't think with all of your NOISE!" (Gee, wonder where he got that one.) Okay, so that was funny enough, but imagine my surprise when he showed me his "homework": a handwriting tablet with practice sheets for each letter, and samples completed on each page. Let's hear it for strewing! This thing has been in amongst the drawing tablets forever but never once suggested. He just picked it up on his own and decided to practice letters. This is also fun because once I'd taught him enough letters for T-H-E-O, he refused to entertain much more than that. He just didn't need it. Now all of a sudden he has a fire under him to learn the others. He has done his homework for the past three nights, and although he does it on his own, he will share it with me or ask for help on tricky letters. This is so, so cool.

Cayden Discovers Shadows
This was particularly fun. It was just the two of us, up with insomnia. The light from the living room cast a shadow on the carpet from his sippy cup. He touched it, looked puzzled, touched it again, and asked me about it. I moved the cup and showed him how the shadow moved with the cup. He giggled and giggled and giggled. And I sat back and watched his little wheels turn.

Friday, April 4, 2008

On Comparing

It occurred to me this morning that SecondKid has been speaking in intelligible, full sentences for quite a while now...and he's approaching his second birthday. FirstKid hit that milestone around the age of 2 1/2, in fact the same week that SecondKid was born, which is why I actually remember it ('cause Lord knows I haven't actually written in the baby books reliably!).

My first thought was, COOL. Go, SecondKid!

My second, immediate, thought was, COOL!! I didn't even make the connection until now. Go, Mom!

It's so hard NOT to compare your kids, once they're plural. Even if you try your darndest not to put any value judgment on those comparisons, it's still a very natural way for you to process your own observations. Ah, these are the ways in which my kids are the same: I wonder if all kids are like this? Ah, these are the ways in which my kids differ: I wonder what other configurations are out there? And in both cases: I wonder if I had any hand in this; e.g., the whole nature-vs.-nurture thing? Hm...

Okay, usually not that literal. But still. It's natural. I try not to hold any of the kids up as an example to be attained or avoided by the others, but I'm not going to lie and say I never compare them. It happens. I'm human.

So anyway.

The fact that it wasn't until well after the fact that I even mentally compared notes on that particular (and whoo-eee, exciting!) milestone makes me realize that I have been relaxed (okay, and busy) enough that I'm just enjoying SecondKid's development for its own merit. I didn't look at a calendar to see exactly how old he was on the exact day when he hit that milestone, nor did I intentionally dig back through my memory to see how my kids measured up against each other. I just smiled and got a kick out of the discourses he's been giving.

Cool.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Day in the Life

It was a busy day. Playground in the morning...


Library around lunchtime...


And game preserve in the afternoon. Where we fed ourselves instead of the ducks,
built bridges,

and big brother tried to get a closeup picture using his legs instead of the zoom feature. :p

It was a good day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What I meant. I think.

I recently posted an entry exploring why I feel a little uneasy about defining myself as a radical unschooler. A reader comment seemed to indicate at least mildly ruffled feathers out there, which gave me pause. Now, I hate the idea of having to justify my opinions when they were stated in a personal forum--where it is all about me exploring my thought processes, rather than perhaps a public discussion board where it might be construed more as a commentary on other members. All the same, I apologize for any offense that may have been taken, as it was not intentional.

I've been thinking about it a lot since then and while I still stand by my original thesis (I don't think that I am quite as radical as many others who have self-classified in this way) and am unapologetic about having said so (so, it's not right for me--I never said it wasn't right for anyone else)...I do feel a need, both for me and for any potential readers, to clarify a few things. And, I hope, to articulate my position a little better.

I have a lot fewer rules than most parents. To mainstreamers, I often appear positively laissez-faire. But I do have some (firm) rules and (looser) expectations. They are all clearly explained to my children any time they are called in to play, and they are always up for discussion, but the fact that they exist at all is quite forbidden in the minds of some who embrace the "radical" label. This is what I was trying to express when I used terms such as "universal permissiveness", which I *know* is judgmental (what was I thinking, and yes I am sorry). This, I feel, would make many in the community judge me unfavorably.

Next, I have been witness to a number of discussions within RU groups about boundaries and limits which reinforce the notion that they are to be avoided at all costs, lest you infringe on the freedom of the child. A nice notion, but I believe that if someone acting without boundaries/guidelines infringes upon the comfort or safety or wellbeing of another, then that is unfair to the Other.

I wholeheartedly agree that we should not arbitrarily consider the desires and preferences of an adult to naturally trump those of a child. But neither do I feel that embracing the reverse is a better solution. We do live in social groups, and harmony is easier if everyone gives at some point. It's my goal to learn, along with my children, how all of us can treat each other respectfully. I have read of many situations where people are frustrated with a certain behavior/action but practically martyr themselves, putting the child's needs above their own to such a degree that the parent (or sibling, or family) suffers. Situations in which someone is clearly deeply unhappy and yet is unwilling to consider other options out of a sense of guilt at abandoning an unyielding idea to which they have committed themselves--even if that idea is not working for them!

Perhaps the people who I've seen going through this are the ones who do not have a good understanding of radical unschooling, and I've gotten an unfair impression by taking them to represent the larger community. Perhaps it's just something with which I am not comfortable. At any rate, it was never my intention to suggest that anyone who does choose to do so is "wrong"; simply that it is not part of what our family is currently doing. And since that's another major area in which I seem to differ from the rest of the group, I again feel like I can't accurately define myself as a member.

I'll say it again; I think I'll stick with "eclectic". So much safer. Unfortunately vague, but at least honest. And it leaves plenty of wiggle room for changing my mind on the details as we gain perspective.

At the end of the day, I still see myself more aligned with radical unschooling than any other educational or parenting method I've come across. I'm sorry if I came off as critical of it simply because I don't agree with 100% of what I'm learning about it. All the same, I do hope that anyone reading this sees it for what it is intended to be--my own search for a group in which I fit, and not a negative blanket judgment of groups in which I don't.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

Labels

Labels are a tricky thing. They can help to identify similarities; to allow us to find like-minded groups within a larger community. This is good. Of course, once you identify yourself by one aspect, you often find that you're lumped in with a group (and prejudged) based on a whole range of aspects that you may or may not also share.

Case in point: what do I call what we're doing?

To the general public, I usually just say "homeschooling". Then they at least know that we don't plan to send our kids to school, and unless they feel like asking more detailed questions (in which case I elaborate), that's enough.

But within homeschooling groups, I feel a need to go a step further and specify "unschooling", since I do not plan to have a set curriculum or texts or evaluations beyond what is required by the state.

So...as I learn and read and learn and read (and read, and read, and read), I seek out other people along similar non-school paths: for perspective, advice, and understanding. At one point, I came across the idea of "radical unschooling", which in its simplest definition seemed to fit where my soul-searching was leading me. Aha! That must be us!

Now...I hate to make generalizations (read: stereotypes), but when you encounter a group of like-minded people it's fair to say that you often notice certain trends. And within many of the RU groups/boards that I've lurked thus far, it seems to me that I find this overriding attitude of countering one parenting extreme (control and rigidity) by espousing the complete opposite extreme (universal permissiveness). I have always felt very strongly about taking my kids seriously but it seems to me that many of the folks who wear the RU badge go to the far extreme of allowing the children's needs/wants/desires to completely dominate the lives and activities of the rest of the household.

I'm sorry, but this isn't The [insert child's name here] Show. We're still a FAMILY. We *all* have needs--both individually and collectively--and while I do try to be fair to what my kids want, I refuse to become a doormat by conceding to their desires if they conflict with my/our overriding principles, values, or needs as a family.

I prefer a constantly-adjusting-to-each-situation moderation and willingness to reasses/change, both in parenting and in learning. Heck, in everything. I believe that one of the most important things a person of any age should learn is reasonable limits and self-restraint. Always saying "yes", IMO, cripples a child's ability to think critically...and of course there's the old fashioned idea that something that is waited for, or worked for, or done without, is often valued more highly than something that comes without effort.

So, I don't think we're RU, either. I do consider us unschoolers. We're very AP, we respect our kids' opinions and needs, and we're anti-testing/curriculum. But the more I lurk in unschooling mailing lists, the less "radical" I feel about it.

What is a non-radical unschooler, then? Isn't that like saying you're a conservative liberal?

See, that's why labels are such a mess. Maybe I'll just start saying "eclectic autodidact"...

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Maple Sugaring Time!

The trees have been tapped.


The sap is running.

The pot is boiling.

May I present: our first bottle of 2008 Maple Syrup!!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Thinking Outside the Bag

runner-up titles for this post:
Bag Lady Rant
and
Paper or Cloth?



Plastic grocery/shopping bags are bad, bad, evil, contaminating enemies of the environment. I could explain why, but chances are that if you're visiting this page, you're a friend of mine and we probably think pretty closely on this issue already anyway. But if you'd like a little more background, here are a few well-written pieces on the subject. Go ahead, read up...I'll be here when you get done.
See? They're awful.

For some time now, I've used canvas totes at smaller shopping establishments and just went with the flow at larger chains. There are a number of places around my neighborhood to take plastic bags for recycling, so it just seemed a matter of annoyance and inconvenience. Okay, so they gave me the bags; but I gave them back! But the truth is that the problem isn't just where they're going after use; it's also the pollution involved in manufacturing them in the first place.

And I'm also becoming more and more jaded about this whole recycling thing.

I remember about 10 years ago, I worked late one night and saw the custodian emptying the office waste bins. Our company had clearly-marked bins, some for regular trash and some for paper to be recycled. The paper bins had signs with detailed instructions outlining exactly what was (and was not) to be placed in them, and procedures for doing so. I had spent months carefully removing staples and tearing out the plastic windows from envelopes, thinking all the while that the paper in the recycling bins would be, well, recycled. So when this guy dumped both bins into the same wheeled Dumpster, a little piece of my optimism and faith in humanity just shriveled up and died.

Flash forward to the recent articles about e-waste that isn't recycled but is shipped overseas (the carbon footprint, egads!) to pollute in someone else's backyard, and the suspiciously-similar trucks that pick up my trash and recycling (owned by the same contractor), and I am a bit less confident that my efforts are really making a difference.

So now I'm becoming more aggressive about reducing our plastic bag usage. And you know what? People are really pissing me off.

Case in point, tonight at the grocery store. I picked up only a few items...3 bags' worth. The clerk finished ringing my order, and as I dug around in my wallet for my debit card, he turned to bag my purchases. I said, "No thank you, I brought my own bags." He gave me a blank look. I grabbed my bags from the cart and tossed them up on the belt. As he ran the card and totaled my order, I filled the first bag. He turned, stared a little more, and asked, "So, um, you don't want any bags?" I said no and filled the second bag. He then gestured to my last two items and asked, "Do you want these in a bag?"

At this point, I'm dim enough that I thought he just wanted to help and was intending to use, oh, I don't know, one of the cloth bags from the stack between us. Nope. He cheerfully put the items in--you guessed it--a plastic bag, and wished me a good night.

Here's your sign.

I should mention that this is not the first incident exactly like this. It happens more often than not. I state my preference, or out-and-out object to the plastic...the employees stand there uselessly while I bag my own groceries...and finally help by finishing up with plastic. And I should also mention that this is at stores which now sell their own logo'd cloth bags! I guess when they were jumping on the good-PR bandwagon, they all forgot to hold staff meetings about cloth bag etiquette. So just for everyone's edification, I'll set forth a few simple rules.

1. No means no. (In fact, this pretty much applies to everything in life. A good rule to know.) If I've already told you twice that I do not wish to use plastic bags, chances are pretty good that I will not be changing my mind when you ask me a third time.

2. I have already stated my intent to use these bags for ferrying my purchases. You are allowed to touch them. And you are especially encouraged to help me when I have two cranky young children with me. Standing there staring while I do all the work is just going to make me...well...blog about you. ('Cause that'll show you. Snark, snark.)

Oh and just for the record, it's not just the chains. Last summer I had an argument at the farmer's market with a vendor who refused to put his produce into my canvas tote until he had pre-packaged it in a plastic bag. I swear, it's as if people have become so conditioned to that part of the transaction that they don't get closure without it!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Language explosion

Our 22-month old is going through a big language growth right now. Man, it's exciting. He delights me with words I didn't know he even understood, and is putting together fragmented (and a few complete) sentences like an old pro. He's also starting to identify colors (orange is his favorite; anything he's not sure of is--gleefully--"WHITE!!") and can apparently count to 10, although (here's one for the unschoolers in the audience) no one taught him. It's funny...First Kid gets all of the careful lessons and Second Kid just kind of picks things up and surprises you.

Oh, and for the first time since Second Kid was gestating, we finally got a snowman-worthy snow this week. Hooray!



Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Now here's an idea that excites me...

If you're blessed with the bandwidth, check out this talk on ted.com by engineering professor Richard Baraniuk. He discusses the philosophy behind the Connexions project, which is essentially open source learning...a free, universally-accessible, customizable, and editable repository of educational information. As a lover of libraries and the internet, and a growing believer in all of us having the potential to thrive as autodidacts, I am thrilled and excited by projects like this. Knowledge should not be restricted, data should not remain static. Learning is something that should be shared: freely, responsibly, and with enthusiasm and respect.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Thoughts on censorship

Life is just full of contradictions.

Because I'm a parent, I hope that my children will grow to have a similar value system to my own.

Because I'm a thinking person, I want my children to make informed choices. After all, I was neither pre-equipped with a value system, nor did I have it installed. It has been (and continues to be) an evolving process of assimilating information and adjusting my perspective.

I've always been against censorship. Dissension in thoughts and ideas is essential. And revisionist versions of history are fundamentally dishonest. In an academic sense, I realize that it's important to know about the past in order to understand the present and shape the future. I like to think that I have a comprehensive enough understanding of changing attitudes and social climates to frame a piece of written work in the mores of the day, blah blah blah.

But it's sometimes difficult to keep that in mind when I put on my Mommy hat and read to the kids.

There's always this moment of...hesitation...when I come across what I consider to be objectionable material in children's literature. I wonder for just a moment whether I should gloss over certain things, or eliminate them from our library. Because I do not want my kids to grow up with certain ideas and values...whether it be racism, sexism, ageism, colonialism, or any other number of unfortunate -isms.
A person shouldn't believe in an -ism; he should believe in himself.
--Ferris Bueller's Day Off

Frankly, it's uncomfortable to read certain things to my sons. In particular, classic children's literature seems to be filled with scenes with children being casually beaten, and often for unintentional transgressions. (Especially the poor children who lived in that shoe!)

But then I think of how much I have always frowned on sanitized, politically-correct versions of nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and the like. And I remember that most of these images did not register with me on the same level when I read them as a child.
"Sometimes an elephant in a green suit is just an elephant in a green suit"
--Should We Burn Babar?, Herbert Kohl
I also realize and appreciate that questionable material of any sort is a terrific opening for dialogue on difficult issues. What will help my child more: to pretend that certain attitudes don't exist, or to take the opportunity to have a discussion about why people might act a certain way, and what our feelings are on the subject? Not to mention, one of my primary objectives in learner-led education is to broaden my childrens' worldview, not to narrow it. You'll never learn anything by limiting your input to ideas with which you already agree.

So even though a few of the books on their shelves make me shudder, we are going to keep them.

But I still won't sing "Rock-a-Bye Baby" to any child. That just disturbs me.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The dog ate my blog

Yeah, I know. You don't want to hear my excuses. You just want new content. Me too.

But just for the record...
  • I've been crazy busy with the munchkins and rarely have more than 5 minutes at a time to sit down, let alone collect my thoughts.
  • On the other hand, I've been having rather a very thoughtful time recently. So much so that I'm so mired in mental exercise that I find it difficult to commit to writing. Even though--duh--part of the whole point of this blog was to work out my convictions through writing. Let's just say my head's been too full and I don't know where I want to start.
  • Oh yeah, my computer got hit by a nasty virus. And 299 of its friends. No kidding. I am SO glad I married a techie.
  • And finally, this is lame, but although the kids have continued to do a number of just darling and endearing things...my camera's flash stopped functioning sometime back in November and I've been rather pouty about going back to image-free posts. (Wah.)

Anyway.

I'm back. New content on the way. Soon. You just watch.