Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Favorite Subjects

A few days ago someone asked Josh about his favorite subject. It isn't a word we really use at home so he didn't know what she was asking. I wasn't sure if I should step in and explain what she meant, or if I should mention something I know he enjoys (reading is always a safe answer, Josh loves reading/books/stories and nothing reassures a person about your child's educational future like telling them your kid loves to read). There was a short pause in the conversation, and she rephrased the question (something along the lines of, "What do you like learning about?"). Josh thought for a minute, smiled, and answered with something about video games. I smiled, we all laughed, and the conversation moved on.

We are definitely encountering these kinds of questions more and more now that Josh is officially "school age," and I'm sure it is something we'll figure out how to handle better with time. I really don't feel the need to explain our way of life (and learning) to strangers or acquaintances. I actually really enjoy talking about unschooling, and if I begin to open my mouth it may be hard to get me to shut up about it. But for the most part, I'm okay with letting the homeschooling equals school-at-home assumptions slide. I save my unschooling blathering for other unschoolers (or my facebook wall) and in person we are homeschoolers who have awkward pauses in conversation when you ask about curriculum. It is not a perfect solution, but it works out okay for us right now. It reminds me of a blog post I read a few days ago, which said this: 
"...how does one convey an entire philosophy of living, parenting and being present in a few sentences or minutes? It's not easy, and the risk is always there for misunderstanding and misrepresentation. It takes an entire paradigm shift, in one's thinking, understanding and living, and it's a shift that is required just about every waking moment of unschoolers and unschooling parents..."
On Bradstreet: Speaking of Unschooling
Yeah, you really don't want to ask me unless you want to hear me process my seventeen years of experience in schools and work through my whole thought process out loud, using you to further understand myself (don't worry, you probably don't have to participate all that much, I'll just keep talking).

So tonight when I was going through photos from the last week I thought it would be sort of fun and silly to list some of the "subjects" we've been "studying" around here.

marble run fun

Science (gravity, motion, momentum, acceleration, resistance, forces, direction, speed, kinetic energy, velocity, etc.)

marble run fun



Science, biology, entomology

baktus-ing on the deck

Knitting (one of the most important subjects known to humanity)

at the mud kitchen

Culinary Arts

dis big wock

Dis big wock, heeeavy! (ummm...weighing things, let's file this under mathematics)

to catch a chicken

Animal Husbandry

they are so serious

Art, Career Preparation (tattoo artist)

Trust me, my kids (and me!) are learning stuff. I'll just have to get back to you on the curriculum thing some other time.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Last Days of Summer

the last days of summer 

In these last days of summer, as the weather begins to cool and some kids are headed back to school, I was glad to see Josh and the neighbor kids take advantage of one more warm day. As I mentioned at the end of my last post, we recognize the importance of Josh having the opportunity to play with other kids unsupervised as much as possible. At the end of summer when the gates are closed, the road down to the pond across the street is a great place for them to ride bikes without traffic.

the last days of summer 

When Lucy saw all the older kids getting their bikes and helmets on, she was not going to be left behind!

the last days of summer 

I tried to hang back a bit so the kids could have some time to themselves.

the last days of summer 

Lucy and played on the slide and I admired the beautiful light of the late afternoon.

the last days of summer 

Sure enough, I looked over at one point and saw the kids stripping of clothes and heading for the water. Lucy saw them too, and again, she was not about to be left out of the play. We hadn't planned on swimming so no one had suits or towels, but that didn't stop any of them.

the last days of summer 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

NEUC '11

A few weeks ago we went to the Northeast Unschooling Conference.

jumping on the bed 

There was lots of jumping on hotel beds (and jumping from bed to bed for that matter),

running with the pack 

and lots of running with the pack (homemade duct tape weapons in hand),

secrets of nature 

and the Secrets of Nature funshop (and many other funshops and speakers).

the littles loved the trampoline in the toy room 

The mini-trampoline was a big hit.

something you might see at an unschooling conference 

One thing you might see at an unschooling conference is a lot of bumper stickers! There are more photos over on my flickr.

One thing we have been thinking about a lot since the conference is a presentation on The Decline of Play by Peter Gray.  Lyle is the one who attended that talk, so I can't speak to the specifics (this article touches on the subject) but we have been thinking about the importance of free (and as unsupervised as possible) play with other children of mixed ages. It brings back my own memories of running around our neighborhood (and in the woods) with a group of children. We've seen how much Josh loves running around with a pack of kids and it is something we would love for him to have on a more regular basis.

Unfortunately, it seems like it is difficult to find places and kids where this is possible these days. Even in the summer when kids are out of school, we've found that they often aren't home (because parents are working so they are in someone else's care) or that kids aren't outside or don't have the freedom to run around without adult supervision (and honestly this is something I am still becoming more comfortable with as Josh gets a little older). Sometimes even at the playground it seems like kids aren't allowed to run around and play (how many times have I heard,  "don't run/climb/do that" at the playground, often followed by a comment about it being too dangerous). Also, when we do go to playgrounds (or when we drive by) around here they are usually empty, which seems to be a peculiarity of this area because we did not experience this back in Oregon.

Now, I'm not trying to say that things are all bad. We've been fortunate to go to several unschooling gatherings in the last few months where there is a lot of free play. We have a pretty wide group of local-ish unschooling friends. We've also found that the beach is a great place to find other kids even if the playgrounds are empty, and we are lucky enough to live across the street from a very nice pond with a sandy beach. We also have two great 8 and 10 year old neighbors who love to play with Josh. In fact, it was these two neighbors who gave Josh his first experiences running around without any adults. When we moved in last summer they were so excited to have a kid next door and they have been wonderful friends for Josh. We are really fortunate to have them right next door.

We love going places and particpating in some programs and activities, but we would really love to have places and kids to play with on a regular basis without a structured plan or adult-directed activity. I wish it was as easy as walking down the street to see if friends are home at any time of the day, but between kids in school, after school care (or someone else's care during the summer months), and homework it isn't that easy even when you do have kids nearby. We are going to have to be a little more creative than that!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

A Quest

on a quest 

Over the last few months Josh has been really into a game called MonkeyQuest. Your monkey character romps through all these different worlds, fighting beasts and completing quests to gain new items and work your way through the game. He loves it, and I have to admit that the game is fun. In the beginning Josh needed a little help figuring out how the game worked and defeating some of the beasts, but once he got the basics down he was able to play on his own even though he can't read yet (well, that is up for debate, I'm pretty sure he can read more than he lets on and lately he has been surprising me with the words he knows).

One thing I love about this game is that it is not overtly educational. I get a little tired of all the games geared toward 5 year olds that seem to be more about teaching reading than about being an interesting game. If I thought he needed a phonics lesson I'd send him to school or buy a curriculum. Whatever happened to games (or cartoons for that matter) that are made just because they are fun? This is a game that a 5 year old like Josh can play on his own (again, after an initial period of figuring out the game with help and occasional help later on), but it is also a game that we as parents enjoy playing with him. Of course he is learning things by playing the game anyway, but it's not like sitting him down for a computerized lesson in spelling. I'm not saying those kinds of computer games are bad, but I think he is learning some very interesting things from a game like this, though the "lessons" are harder to quantify or explain in words.

on a quest

In any case, when a kid loves a game as much as Josh loves this one, it becomes part of his play. He wants to play MonkeyQuest around the house or with friends. I often overhear him asking kids he has just met if they want to play MonkeyQuest. They have no idea what he is talking about, but it doesn't take them long to figure out that running around pretending to be a monkey is a lot of fun. They shoot at imaginary beasts with imaginary weapons (or weapons constructed out of toys, sticks, or duct tape), make monkey noises, and do a lot of jumping.

quest complete!

Lyle seems to have a gift for taking something like this and extending the interest into other parts of our lives. Or to put it another way, he is great at making up games. It started one night when Josh was asking to play at MonkeyQuest (not on the computer) and Lyle started giving him quests to do around the house. He cleaned up the entire living room that night, all for some imaginary bananas and experiences points and a few exclamations of "Quest complete!" Josh had so much fun doing this and it was kind of amazing to watch him bounce around the house so happy to have real-life quests that he could complete.

the fam

Then Lyle took it a step further with the gift of a compass, a list of compass headings and distances, and a quest in our backyard. He walked through the entire process with Josh (while Lucy and I communed with the chickens and the dirt) and at the end Josh found a prize for completing a quest--a squirt gun. It wasn't even a new squirt gun, just something we've had around for a while, but he was delighted nonetheless. Quest complete!

my boy