Monday, June 18, 2012

A lovely day for a ride...

a lovely day for a ride 

We are so fortunate to have a lovely place to ride bikes right across the street, and before the summer season hits we have the place mostly to ourselves. We do occasionally share the trails with neighbors and people running or walking their dogs, but until the gates open in mid-late June this is a great safe place for bike riding and slowly moseying about.


And running.

 And in she goes! 

Every puddle must be explored.

Puddle Jumping 

And every puddle must be jumped.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Random Bits from May

Um yeah, I'm just a little bit behind on photos and updates...


There was lots of t-ball, Lyle coaching and Josh playing.

 Josh at third base

Josh running to third base.

how Lucy watches t-ball games

This is how Lucy watches t-ball.


Though sometimes she prefers to watch it (or not watch it) by climbing fences.

sorting legos

We sorted legos.

 always legos

And then we unsorted them.

 everyone's favorite device

Lucy on everyone's favorite device, though this month I think Josh may have favored minecraft and skype over playing on the ipad.


Tangrams (from a book called, Anno's Math Games)

 a moth napping in our lilacs 

We found lots of little nature surprises around our yard. One of our favorite finds (aside from this moth napping in the lilacs) was a complete cicada shell, stuck to the side of our chicken coop after molting.

 petting baby angoras 

There were animals, of course, and not just our own rabbit and chickens, but a little trip to a local farm.

And of course, a healthy dose of monkeying around!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Nest in Nature

Marcia shares her box turtle find with everyone 

One of our favorite almost weekly treks is to A Nest in Nature. We are so lucky to have this group of parents and children in our lives, and blessed to have Marcia open up her home and her farm to all of us.


Each week Marcia provides the materials and ideas for some type of craft as just one of many options. Our time at NEST is relaxed and open-ended, and yes, sometimes chaotic (often depending on how many people show up!).


There is plenty of time for dress-up play, legos, or just about anything else you can imagine.


Of course there is lots of time spent outside, and the outside of Marcia's home is just as wonderful as the inside. One of Lucy's favorite things to do at Nest is rock hopping on these boulders out front. I have to admit, it makes me a little nervous to watch Lucy scramble and hop from boulder to boulder. I'm usually a few feet away just in case, but this girl is pretty sure on her feet!

 rock hunting 

There is also rock-finding...


...and rock painting.

 box turtle 

And when Miss Marcia (as Josh likes to call her) finds a special treasure, she loves to share it with the children. Whether it is a box turtle, or baby chicks, or tadpoles, or feeding horses (and passing out fistfuls of horse hair to each child), or a walk down to the pond, there is always something to explore and touch at Nest.

 box turtle 

Marcia's gentle and patient hands are sharing this box turtle with everyone. She is a long-time unschooling mama and I am so glad to have her in my life. When I have questions or doubts or frustrations, she is the person to talk to! Her experience and knowledge is so valuable to me.

 the remains of play 

The remains of play.

Thank you Marcia!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Unschooling Tools: For Reading

books books books

There are books everywhere in our house, even piled on the changing table.


There are empty books for writing. Josh used to fill pages and pages with these writing squiggles.

 books books books

The majority of our picture books fill this small shelf.


What started with pages of writing squiggles, eventually became pages of letters and numbers.

 books books books

Our book basket is in our main living space and has current favorite reads and library books in it.


Then came real words here and there, copied from the story he asked me to write out for him. Though, looking at the photo now I see at least a couple of words (water and down) that don't appear on my side. I am guessing that he asked me to spell those out for him, but I honestly can't remember how it all happened (this sample is from months and months ago, maybe close to a year--maybe I need to start dating these things!).

 books books books

Yes, piles and piles of books in our too crowded and disorganized bookshelves.


Then there are word games. Sometimes Josh will ask me how to write or spell something. Sometimes he wants to know if certain words rhyme. Words like fox, stop, north, and login were some of the first words he could read on his own. As you can probably guess, soon after login came things like play, cancel, game, monkeyquest, minecraft, etc.--many computer related words.

 books books books

More books stacked up in our windowsill.

 word games

And more words games after we read several of the Ramona books and tried turning the letter "Q" into a cat just like Ramona does in the book. From there we played around with more Q words and other letters we could turn into pictures. The writing is mine but the ideas were all Joshua's.

Watching Josh go through the process of learning to read over the last few years has been fascinating (at least to me!). Even now, I am not sure how much he can really read. I know it all started with him asking questions about words and letters as we read together. Somewhere along the way we learned the ABC song, and I remember him making the shape of different letters out of toy cars or drawing them in the sand at the beach. Eventually, seemingly out of nowhere, he started pointing out whole words to us. "Why does that sign say north?" Or when we were recently in Boston and looking for a place to eat, he pointed out a pizza joint. I looked over expecting to see a sign with a picture of a pizza, but no--it was just a big sign that said, "PIZZA." And there he is, reading.

He doesn't seem to sound words out (for the most part) but he seems to be incredibly good at figuring out what a word is based on the first few letters, or sometimes using the last few letters as well. He seems to learn words whole, not letter by letter and not by phonics. This is his way, and it is working for him.

When someone asks me if he is reading yet, I'm not always sure how to answer. Well, yes, he does read. I'm not sure how much he can actually read because I have a feeling there is a lot he can do and understand that he isn't quite putting out there for us (and that's okay!). But he's not quite ready (it seems) to sit down and read a book on his own. How many words does someone have to know in order to consider it reading? And is being able to sound out unfamiliar words a part of it? What about comprehension? What about memorizing books we've read dozens of times? How can I know that he is reading independantly?

I don't know, and personally I don't think it matters. I do think it is interesting though, and I am glad that he gets to take this journey in his own way, at his own pace. It is amazing to watch, to be there to answer his questions, to cuddle with him and happily read to him as often as he likes with no pressure for him to perform.

It reminds me of this:
I cnduo't bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aaznmig, huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghhuot slelinpg was ipmorantt! See if yuor fdreins can raed tihs too.

Check out Stephanie's post on Unschooling Tools: For Reading.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Unschooling Tools: For Creativity

art supplies

I try to keep many of our supplies easily accessible, even to the littlest one in our house. Markers, colored pencils, crayons, scissors, and lots and lots of paper of different kinds are always available. Things like glue, tape, paint, and string (and yarn, of course there is plenty of yarn to go around in the home of this knitter) are easy to find as well. My biggest issue with the arts and crafts supplies is our very small house and limited storage space. I find myself tucking things away in odd corners (and trying to keep them out of the basement where they aren't likely to see much use). There are some supplies jammed into spaces on the bookshelf, and all the glitter, sequins, and plastic jewels are in one of my kitchen cupboards. There is a small rolltop desk in the playroom that holds most of the basic supplies, and it gets to be quite a mess with everyone digging through it. Someday I would like to have a bigger space with more closets or drawers or room for some kind of cabinet/armoire/dresser dedicated to supplies. But for now I am often hunting around and trying to remember where I last stashed the glue gun.


The thing about keeping these supplies accessible is that occasionally I have to go to the bathroom. This was not the first time I walked in to find a lovely wall mural, though it was the first to be made with a dry erase marker. No, it did not come off. I think we will be repainting this room before we move. And honestly, if we were in this house to stay, I'd say go for it--here is some paint, make a mural, draw on the walls! But there is part of me that is always thinking ahead to putting the house on the market and trying to make as little cleanup/repainting/repair work as possible. Then something like this happens and I think now that it is there, she might as well keep at it. We're going to have to repaint the room anyway, right? I think Lucy really likes having a big canvas before her, and a pad of paper or an easel just isn't enough. She's got something bigger in mind (once she did a very nice floor mural for me on the hardwood floors with a sharpie).

 watercolor and salt

We love watercolors, and we have played around with wet on wet watercolors with the traditional Waldorf style primary colors. We also like the typical watercolor dry paint pots, and I highly recommend the Pelikan brand (used in the photo above) if you want dark saturated watercolors. They are much easier for little ones to use than the typical watercolor sets you might pick up at the grocery store. White crayons are fun for drawing a design before painting with the watercolors, and Joshua really likes making secret messages for each other that way. Also, if you sprinkle salt over the wet paint, the salt crystals suck up the paint around them and it makes for an interesting effect (you can see it best in the painting on the right).

 painting with feet

A basement is a good place to experiment with other kinds of painting. We had fun making a family mural with all of our footprints to decorate our door for the Life Rocks conference a month ago (I neglected to get a photo of the finished product). The basement is also a good place for the last two adirondack chairs I need to paint and that dresser I need to refinish (you can see the back of it on the right, it is pretty old but looks much nicer from the front). Yep, I always have a couple of projects that need to be finished up.

 art display

Our fridge has a stainless steel front that is not magnetic, so most of the artwork gets hung up on the door to the garage or the back of our front door. I love our ever-changing and ever-cluttered display.

a doggie apartment

Joshua put together this little apartment for his stuffed doggie in one of the sections of his bookshelf.  The rugs on the floor are potholders we made with one of those cotton loop looms. There is a palm tree in the corner (from a Chicka Chicka Boom Boom themed project at the local children's museum) and a few paintings on the wall. He loves making presents and other things for his stuffed animals. He tends to claim various cardboard boxes from the mail and often tells me not to throw something away because we can use it to make something else.

 kiddo projects

One of our favorite places for creative inspiration is NEST. Marcia's home is beautiful and it is inspiring just to be in that space. She also provides the space and supplies for some kind of craft each week, like the leaf collections above. Sometimes the craft she has available inspires new crafts at home. Last fall we made owls out of toilet paper tubes (similar to these) and a few days later at home we made a whole string of bats based on that idea, just in time for Halloween.

 Lucy's button string

Sometimes our crafts are old-fashioned, like this Little House on the Prairie inspired button string. Lucy very carefully strung buttons with a tapestry needle and yarn and wears it around as a necklace. She made this last December (and Joshua made button ornaments), and then a week or so ago she came across a stash of buttons and asked if we could make a button string for Joshua as well. And of course, we did!

 magic wands

Here we have a few magic wands in progress. All you need is some rolled up paper, lots of hot glue, paint and maybe a jewel or marble or two for embellishments.

 the aftermath

Two of our neighbor friends came over while we were in the middle of this project and the kids quickly got to work on it together. They used up an entire bag of glitter hot glue sticks and had big plans to sell the wands on the street lemonade stand style. They didn't stay out long with the drizzly day and low demand for magic wands (come on people!), but I really enjoyed watching them take over this project together. Since Joshua and Lucy are so young (6 and 2), most of the crafts that take place around here have a lot of mama-involvement and direction (not that we have directions for how a project must be completed, but there is lots of me helping with the glue gun and that sort of thing). But when the 9 and 11 year old neighbor are over I get the chance to sit back and watch them go for it on their own, a group of kids creating together.

I could go on and on, especially if I stretch further back into my archive of photos. We certainly don't take pictures of every creative endeavor, but even so just as I was writing this post I kept thinking of more things and adding another picture here and another there. A lot of people wouldn't know this about me, but prior to having kids I would not have considered myself to be a crafty or artistic person at all. I always wanted to take art classes in school, but I was on the academic track and my high school counselor told me it wouldn't look good to take pottery instead of calculus so I didn't. I dabbled in photography a bit in high school, and I finally took my first photography class in college (and I loved the darkroom!). But it wasn't until Josh was around 2 years old that I got a sewing machine and really started to make things. Soon after that I started knitting and that was it, I fell down the rabbit hole of fibery crafts. I had found my thing, wool! Now I want to try everything (still want to try pottery), but wool is my constant.

As a family, I think creativity is as simple as making stuff available. I've slowly been building up supplies for various projects so we can get right to the making of a thing when something comes up, whether it is based off something I saw on Pinterest, or something we saw in a craft book, or something Josh came up with on his own (like a few days ago when he asked if we could make boats out of popsicle sticks, I was glad I had been stashing popsicle sticks away in an old oatmeal container under the kitchen sink--see what I mean about stashing craft supplies away in weird places!).

In a way this has been hard for me because I am not much of a hoarder. I like to get rid of things. I don't like to keep stuff around. I don't like clutter and I would like to be organized, but the reality of my life right now is that I'm not, and I'm just not going to be. I have two little ones with lots of ideas and a small home with not much storage space, so for now I've had to let go of my desire for order and organization and just run with it. I am choosing to be okay with the popsicle sticks under the sink and the glitter in the cupboard and the paper bag full of toilet paper tubes in my bedroom. Someday I may have a big closet full of organized and labelled supplies, but even then I suspect it won't take long for them to morph into some other configuration of stuff. Still, a centralized location would be nice.

I am getting is the thing, have stuff available. You make stuff out of stuff. You don't need expensive stuff or even lots of stuff, and not necessarily the same stuff I have. But you do need something. Then, have space available, a table, a floor, a wall, a basement floor, outside--whatever. You need a space to make stuff. Then go and make stuff. The more stuff you make, the more ideas you'll have for other stuff to make.

And don't listen when someone else tells you calculus is more important than pottery.

Stephanie's original post, Unschooling Tools: For Creativity

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Unschooling Tools: Television

A cozy nest 

A little over a year ago we didn't watch television or movies except for the occasional family movie night maybe once a month. Lyle would bring the tv up from the basement and we'd hook it up for the night, and afterward it would go back in the basement. At the time Josh was in preschool at the local Waldorf school, and we'd never been much for tv in the first place so it seemed like a good idea at the time. And honestly, we were quite happy that way at the time.

We had planned on unschooling from an academic perspective from the time Josh was very young. Preschool was not part of our plans (just a temporary detour, never meant to be more than that) and we had no intention of him continuing at the Waldorf school or any other school (this is all a long story for another time), but for us at the time unschooling was about education and not about parenting or the way we lived together as a family. Now that seems nonsensical, but that was where we were at one year ago. Then last April we went to a radical unschooling conference and started shifting toward this different way of living and partnering with our children. With that came the relaxations of limits we had placed on many things, including food, computers, video games, and television/movies.

So here we are a year later and the kids watch as much tv (or videos) as they like. We don't actually have a television subscription right now, but we have found we can pretty much find any show we want online somewhere or through our library. We rent newer movies through Redbox. Most of the time our kids prefer to watch the same things over and over so DVDs and youtube seem to be the primary way we view television these days.

 Chillin' in a hotel room 

For us it looks like this:
  • Winnie the Pooh -- The new one that came out in 2011 was the first movie Lucy ever saw in the theater and it cracked her up.
  • Lego movies like Ninjago and Clutch Powers
  • The Muppets (old and new movies)
  • Spirit (a dreamworks animated movie about a wild mustang)
  • Curious George (the movie and episodes online)
  • Wild Kratts
  • My Little Pony -- This is a huge huge HUGE favorite around here. We have watched every episode from their two Friendship is Magic seasons multiple times. At first I was kinda eh about it, but honestly after watching a few episodes Lyle and I found that we really enjoyed it as well. Seriously!
  • Ruby Gloom -- If you haven't seen this, try it! It is a cartoon from a few years ago and it is entertaining for us adults as well as the kids. I love the intro song and the kids love doing the different character dances along with it. 
  • Looney Tunes and other old cartoon clips -- Recently we've started watching a few old cartoon clips like Animaniacs, Chip and Dale, and Looney tunes on youtube and the kids love them.
  • The "Buddies" movies (Treasure Buddies, Space Buddies, etc.) -- What can I say, these movie people know what they are doing. My kids love talking puppies. Lyle and I laugh at these movies because honestly, they are pretty ridiculous. But the kids love them and it is fun to see them smile and laugh and get so excited over them. 
  • Up -- We all love this movie. It makes me cry. Love it.
  • Tangled -- This is another big favorite of both of the kids. We have watched this more times than you would think possible, and I really don't mind it at all.
There are lots of other movies and videos they have seen, but these seems to be the long-standing favorites along with some of their newer favorites that we've watched recently. Right now we have the Disney animated Robin Hood and Cheaper by the Dozen (the new one) checked out from the library, but we haven't watched either one. That seems to happen a lot. We'll check out a stack of movies from the library and only wind up watching one or two of them before we have to take them back.

I have to laugh a little looking at the two photos above, both of which I took specifically to have a photo to go along with this post. My kids rarely look like this while watching movies. For us, television doesn't seem to be a very sedentary experience. For the first photo, I actually asked them to sit still for a minute so I could snap the photo. I kept trying to get a photo but at least one of them was always a blur, which is a familiar sight around here. Most of the time they are jumping up and down and running around the room, playing with others things as they watch, jumping from the couch to the beanbag or spinning around on the floor. Honestly, I think reading tends to be a far more sedentary activity around here (though even then, Josh tends to hop around as I read to him).  We often snuggle up on the couch together to watch, and more often than not Lyle and I find ourselves having trouble hearing or paying attention to the movie because there is too much other activity and noise in the room (they don't seem to stay snuggled up for long!). Anyway, that is just a little observation from our personal experience. I know a lot of people talk about tv like it turns kids into zombies who can't drag their eyes away from the screen, and that just hasn't been our experience since we stopped placing limits on television.

Check out Stephanie's post on Unschooling Tools: Television.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Unschooling Tools: Math

Math is everywhere, and it is so much more than problems and equations and fractions. It is every day real life stuff, and not just when it comes baking and money. Sure we have conversations about fractions over poached eggs (gotta make sure everyone gets enough eggs!). And we sort and count money (gotta buy legos!). And we measure ingredients and check to see how tall we are or how much we weigh and we count to make sure that all the children are accounted for (just kidding, not too hard to keep track of the two of them...most of the time!). And. And. And.

Math is everywhere, every day stuff. Most of the time we don't even have to think about it in order to "do" it.

patterns and things

There is math in patterns and shapes and designs.

 at play 

There is math in blocks and measuring and in scribbling (don't believe me? check out this video by Vi Hart).


There is math in diagrams and instructions and lego bumps.


There is sorting and spatial awareness and lots of counting when we play with legos (ahem, math again).

 hanging out with the chickens 

There is math in chickens too! Are they all in the coop? "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, twelve, fourteen, three, four, nineteen." For the record, we have six chickens but maybe Lucy wants a few more. There is math in counting their eggs (and in dropping them on occasion, subtraction happens!).

 Everything is OUT of the bucket 

There is math in music. And I just had to post a picture of Joshua as a baby, so there ya go.

 Abstract Art 

There is math in patterns and colors and sorting and matching and there is math in playing. 

 helping daddy 

There is math in turning wrenches. There is lots of math in the garage. I know because I am always tripping over it (just poking at Lyle a bit!).

 marble run fun 

There is math in marble runs, in their angles and speeds and in marble races.

nature exchange 

There is math in nature. It is in the sorting and collecting of it, in the shape of it, in the spirals and ridges and the texture of  it all.

stashbusting dishcloth cotton

There is a LOT of math in knitting, and I'm not just talking about counting stitches either. Patterns and charts and making everything line up and fit together and produce something wearable and usable. Taking a single strand of string and somehow making a series of loops and knots in order to create a flat piece of fabric. Or taking that flat fabric and somehow twisting and turning things about, combining stitches or adding stitches or picking up stitches in order to make that flat piece of fabric become a shape that wraps around a body or foot or head.  It is order. It is chaos. It is math, always math. This is a kind of math I actually know something about, and I know it best in my hands, without even thinking about it most of the time. But my hands remember it, and they use it whenever they get the chance.

 spin #2

There is math in spinning too. It is in the treadles and the wheel and the drive band and the whorl and the flyer and the bobbin and the break band. It is in the drafting and the plying and in the whirring of the wheel.

And when I start to think of math this way, it isn't a problem or an equation anymore. It is a meditation. It is connectedness. It is everything, in everything. Math.

Check out Stephanie's Post on  Unschooling Tools: Math Play.