Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Official Room of Learning

Many homeschoolers have their own "classroom" set aside at home, others have desks in a corner, or the ubiquitous kitchen table. Here at Chez BlueSkies, we have the bathroom. Yep, apparently, that's our official room of learning. I find the darndest things in there. Of course, there has always been DH's magazine rack and lately stacks of books, my daughter's plastic horses with their brushes and accoutrements, occasionally a tupperware bowl full of water with some bits of nature, sponges, shells, tinfoil boats, or other flotsam in it, and a Spiderman comic book or two. But this week, I've been finding ever-more-interesting items every time I use the bathroom. A globe, propped in front of the toilet after my daughter disappeared in there for half an hour or so ("I was bored while I was going potty and just wanted to look at some places"); a metronome and a kitchen timer; a stack of grid paper, filled in with numbers and strange symbols, obviously some coded device of my son's; and a large magnifying glass (I won't ask exactly what it was being used to examine, perhaps I don't want to know).

So in our household, you won't find children sitting neatly at the dining room table filling in their workbooks. But if the bathroom door is closed, that's where the real learning action is apparently to be found.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Six Acres of Books, Five Waterfalls, Four Rainstorms, Three Monuments, Two Trips to the Science Museum, One Sick Dog and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

My husband was in a wedding this weekend at a fancy place in the Columbia River Gorge, so the kids and I took the opportunity to hang out in Portland and the Gorge area for a couple of days. When in Portland, it's hard to pass up Powell's City of Books . You just can't beat a bookstore so large that you get a map for when you walk in the door, especially as a homeschooler. I did emphasize that the budget was only there for a couple of books each, so the kids enjoyed agonizing over the many choices for an hour or so, plus they each bought a blank journal to write in on our travels. I got a book on training for the Ironman, that I am alternately thrilled and terrified to start reading (5.5 months and counting until race day).

OMSI now has a robotics exhibit open, and that was great fun, especially for my robotically-fascinated 9 y.o., but going to OMSI on a Saturday and Sunday reminded us of why Homeschooling Is Awesome! We've never been there before when it was so crowded, and after an hour or so in the zoo-like atmosphere, we were ready to bail.

So we took a drive up the old Columbia Gorge highway, to many fabulous waterfalls both big and small. With all of the rain this week, Multnomah Falls was in full roar and looking very impressive at 620 feet tall. We oohed and aahed appropriately. But some of the smaller ones, like Wahkeena Falls were beautiful in their lush greenness and swirling white water, much different from the warmer months later in the year when they are reduced to more of a trickle. Along the way, our dog got sick (repeatedly) from the hotel food scraps we gave him as a breakfast treat, and it alternately poured rain on us and broke out in lovely bursts of sun.

We got lost in the terrible signage of the old Highway, but not before a visit to the recently restored Vista House treated us to its lovely views out over the Gorge. An hour late in picking up DH, we finally staggered into our favorite Portland cheap eats, the Old Spaghetti Factory at around 8:30 pm. Home by 11:00 and the kids and I were all snoozing nicely with poor DH left to drive all by himself.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Run Away When They Say Learning Is Fun

The kids and I and a friend of theirs went to a local amusement park on a homeschooling "field trip" set up by someone who got a group discount for us. When we arrived, the amusement park had provided us with the standard things they hand out to school groups, complete with an activity book titled, in bold capital letters, "LEARNING IS FUN".

The reactions of my kids and their friend was priceless. As the lady handed us the book and they saw the cover, they recoiled in mock pseudo-horror. "Acccck! Run Away!"

"What is it?" the lady asked.

"Well," my son answered, "we've discovered that any time someone tells you that learning is fun, they're trying to get you to learn something you really didn't want to know in the first place."

"But this book is full of facts and information about the rides and fairy tales," the lady replied.

"Yes, I'm sure it is," my son went on. "And I might be interested in that stuff. But then again, I might not be. If I was interested in it, and I had a guidebook as a resource, that would be great. But if I'm not interested in it and someone was trying to make me be interested, then they would tell me that "Learning is Fun" to get me to try to be interested. If someone is trying hard to sell you something, it's probably because you wouldn't want it or don't need it in the first place. The thing is, I know that learning is fun already, because I like to learn things."

"Oh, okay," the lady said, with a somewhat bewildered expression on her face. I'm sure she had never received this sort of discourse on the "Learning is Fun" packet before. After the kids had run off to the gift shop, she said "Well, your son certainly is articulate about what he does and doesn't like. I'm sure you want to take this packet anyways so the kids can learn this stuff."

I had to LOL because even after such a great explanation, most people still don't get that kids don't have to be forced to learn. I did take the packets, because it had lots of coloring pages which my youngest has enjoyed. And after going on all the fairy-tale themed rides, the kids did ask me to check out a copy of Grimm's from the library so we could catch up on the fairy tales we haven't read yet. And they wanted to look up the history of some of the more bizarre rhymes like "Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater" on the internet when we got home. Unfortunately, none of that was covered in the packet, which focused more on things like finding which ride started with the letter "A".

But even without the informative packet, we had a great time on the rides, in the bumper cars and wild west shooting gallery, the mazes and the fairy tale land. Yep. LEARNING IS FUN.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Teacher, Can You Help Me?

We had a blast the other day. Forty-two of us homeschoolers from our local group took the train to Portland and enjoyed a day there (BTW, Amtrak gives discounts for school groups that are quite substantial, and homeschooling groups can qualify). My kids and I went to the science center, OMSI, with a bunch of our friends. At one point, all of the older kids were in one of the big experiment rooms and I took my youngest (6) up to the "Science Playground" for littler kids. It reminded me a lot of the days I took my oldest (now 9.5) before his little sister was born and he played with the water and sand rooms and the playdough and such.

They have one room in the Science Playground that is used for arts, crafts, and messy stuff, and they had a whole slime table with bunches of that Borax goo and all kinds of things to chop, squeeze, roll, and cut it. We sat at the table for quite a while and made snakes, pizzas, and "cookies" out of slime. I stood up and tried to see how long I could stretch it (about 6 feet) before it would break. All of the other kids at the table were joining in and we had a great time.

A funny thing happened though. The other kids at the table started calling me "teacher". I guess it was because I was sitting at the table and interacting with them. The other moms were sitting around various benches at the edge of the room. One on a cell phone, one with a book, one with some knitting, another nursing a baby. Other than the one with the baby (understandably not interacting with her oldest at the moment), none of the other moms were engaging with their kids. I found it monumentally sad that the kids would make the immediate assumption that anyone interacting with them was hired to do so.

After one little boy said "Teacher, can you help me make a snake?" and I did, I told him that I wasn't a teacher. "Well, what are you then?" he asked. "I'm her mom", I said, pointing to my daughter. His face lit up and he ran over and tugged on his mom's arm. "Mom, can you come sit with me and make snakes?". "After I make these phone calls," was the answer. When we left a half hour later, I was still helping him with his snakes and pancakes.

I think one of the dangers of the early childhood push into preschools (don't let me get started on my rant about how many of the parents call them "schools" as in "Johnny did so well at school today!" when little Johnny is 3 years old) is this phenomenon. When one pays professionals to interact with their children, it can lead to a detachment and inability to connect and interact during the times that the parents are with their children. Children start to assume that an adult sitting with them and interacting with them is a paid professional. And before anyone comes shouting at me, I know that every mom has her moments where she is not 1-1 with the kids. I've been the mom at the playground with my cel phone out, pushing the swing with one hand. But it's when it becomes prevalent to the point where the kids don't even expect their parents to take an interest in what they're doing that it makes me sad.

I was sorry to walk away from that table of kids who were having so much fun with me. I was sorry that their parents had more important things to do (seemingly on a regular basis) than to get down and make slime pizzas with their kids. I think that our society would benefit from anything that encourages parents and children to interact more, not less.

I used to not understand why people would say they were "homeschooling" when their kids were only 3 or 4 years old. Now with the overwhelming numbers of kids this age going to "school", I get why it can be necessary.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Forget the Carnival, Come to the Country Fair!

The Homeschool Country Fair that is, a new spot for a homeschooling "carnival" that isn't linked to support of the right-wing Christian agenda (including pro-spanking sites) like HomeschoolBlogger has been.

Here's some more information about why many homeschoolers are refusing to use or link to HomeschoolBlogger.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Beam Me Up, Beowulf

One of the things that I love most about unschooling is all the cool and wonderful connections that are made in the interactions of daily life, the way one thing leads to another until you've followed a path of interesting things to some new and exciting place.

This week, it was an episode of Star Trek that led us to Beowulf, which led us to the linguistic studies of J.R.R. Tolkien, which led to a discussion of how languages form, which led to looking up the story of the Tower of Babel, which led us to research whether or not the Tower of Babel actually existed someplace, which led to a discussion of ziggurats vs. pyramids, which will lead who knows where...

It all started with an episode of Star Trek Voyager in which some of the characters are trapped in the Holodeck in a reinactment of Beowulf in which Grendel actually turns out to be an incarnation of a life form made of photonic energy (someone with a good imagination or some really good drugs thinks up these plots.) In any case, we are now reading Beowulf as a bedtime story. We might not be taking the linear path: Little Red Riding Hood leads to Frog and Toad, which leads to Harry Potter, and sometime when you hit college you might get to Beowulf (unless you encounter it in a high school AP English class, at which point you may or may not be interested in what it has to offer). But the path we're taking is always engaging and fascinating, always relevant, and always feels like an exciting adventure through the accumulated knowledge of the universe. Who knows where we'll go tomorrow?

Monday, May 01, 2006

305,251,200 Seconds of Unschooling

Give or take a few... It also could be expressed as 5087520 minutes, 84792 hours, or 3533 days since my son was born 9 3/4 years ago until today. Unschooling doesn't really stop or start at any given time, like the date a child would've gone to preschool or kindergarten or 1st grade, or the first day they would've been compelled by law to go to school (2nd grade in our state). It's an unbroken stream of life and learning, going back to that first amazing moment of birth. More likely, it starts before that as each of my kids clearly came out knowing some things. M., whose favorite song in utero was always "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad", loves that song to this day, and had an amazing run of years of being a total railroad nut (even going so far at age 2 and 3 as to call himself Casey Jones and only allow people to refer to him as such). A. turned to her brother's voice as soon as he spoke after her birth. She clearly related so much more to his voice than to anyone else's, probably because his head was about belly-level while I was pregnant with her, and he used to talk to her, calling her "my little strawberry".

From some moment of cognitive spark in utero until today, they've been learning all the time. Today is yet another sunny wonder in a string of unbroken lovely days. I even had to water my nascent vegetable garden today, which is unusual for April in the often-wet Pacific Northwest. We had A.'s theatre group this morning, then home for a brief lunch and off to M.'s homeschool writer's group (which he started almost 4 years ago now!). M. read the latest installment in the SciFi chapter book he's been writing, and A. read a short piece about how much she loves Canada Geese. Too cute. After that to the park with our friends, then home with a few more friends. They've been playing outside and I've been gardening.

Another day of joy. Another day of learning, friends, life, fun, excitement, accomplishment. Another 24 hours, or 1440 minutes, or 86400 seconds of learning in freedom. Our lives are blessed.