Sunday, November 26, 2006

Unschooling Voices: December Edition

Unschooling Voices, a blog carnival hosted at A Day In Our Lives asks "What interesting activities, projects or experiments have your kids done this past year? " as their December question.

Wow, to answer that would fill pages and pages. Every year for our homeschool group's Honoring Ceremony, I put together a slide show of all the things our kids have done together during the year, and it always fills me with amazement to look back on an entire year and the wonderful cornucopia of fun and activity that comprises our kids' life and learning. Camping trips and beach days, science experiments and baseball in the street, train trips and museums, forts made out of cardboard boxes and salamanders caught in the creek. And that's just the things they do together as a group.

So I'll just try to hit the highlights of the year for our family.

M. (10) is a thinker, so his projects tend to be things he spends a fair bit of time inventing in his mind before transferring them to reality. These projects are often stories - long and complex or short and sweet. His writing amazes me, not so much in the technical aspect of transferring ideas to paper (that's always been the most challenging part for him), but in the depth of the characters and ideas he brings to life. Recently he's branched out into cartoons, with the invention of characters and storylines that have him cracking up with laughter even as he transfers them to paper. This year, he has also invented a few board games. Some of them have been created with a friend or two, and involve big sheets of cardboard with complex squares and rules that boggle the mind. One of them, a castle game, is something I'm helping him refine and maybe eventually produce and market. We found this great article by a homeschooling family about making your own game.

This is also the year he discovered Sherlock Holmes. We've read through a great deal of the massive Sherlock Holmes volume that we got him for his birthday, and we also found a great game at a thrift store called 221 B Baker Street. It's sort of like a more involved Clue game where you solve Sherlock-like mysteries.

Both of the kids had a great opportunity this summer to join a Lego robotics team, working toward the First Lego League competition. Being a part of this team means a lot more than building a robot and competing to complete tasks with it. Every year, the FLL has a different theme (this year it is Nanotechnology) and the competition also involves doing a research project and a presentation on this theme. For their presentation, the kids are doing a play they wrote on the medical applications of Nanotechnology for cancer treatment. A. is the narrator and M. is the cancer patient. They've also done a lot of work on programming the robot, with each kid on the team having a particular task on the competition table to solve.

A. (7) is the Diva of the family. She's happiest when she's singing, dancing, acting, or (preferrably) all three at once. She's doing modern dance, tap, ballet, and had the opportunity to be in a musical production of Beauty and the Beast earlier this year. She's currently in a ballet production of Chronicles of Narnia. I saved the message on my cell phone where she breathlessly called me to tell me that she was not only going to be in Narnia, she was going to be a mouse! This is a most wonderful role for her, because it combines her love of dance with her other love: small, cute animals. At home, she can most often be found turning cartwheels in the living room, hanging from the trapeze outside, or dancing to the stereo in her room. This year, she's also made a bit of a career out of playing the violin, expanding her repertoire of Celtic music and playing at our outdoor Saturday market in town. She and I went to several Celtic jam sessions last spring, and this year she's been invited to a monthly Bluegrass jam at a local grange. Getting together with other people to make music or dance or make theatre come alive is her greatest joy in life.

Beyond their individual interests, we've done a lot of cool things as a family. Probably one of the best for the year was a great family trip we took to Vancouver Island, Canada. A ferry trip from Seattle up through the gorgeous Puget Sound, and then we got to camp out in wonderfully empty campgrounds and explore the lakes and rivers. We capped it off with a few days in Victoria, riding in horse-drawn carriages, visiting the museums, and of course, having "high tea". A couple of months later, we took a fabulous weeklong camping trip through an area of Oregon that surrounds several areas of the John Day Fossil beds. We found fossils, camped in the desert, swam in the John Day river, mined our own thundereggs, hiked around the fossil beds, and had a wonderful (if very hot) time. Our homeschool group also arranged an Amtrak trip to Portland, with our group having an entire train car to ourselves. We spent the day at the science museum, and returned in the evening to gather at the train station.

We also have embarked on our first year as urban farmers. We put in garden beds this year, and the kids each got their own bed to raise whatever they wanted. The kids' chickens started laying eggs, and so egg-gathering and corn-shucking, blueberry and blackberry picking became part of the family's seasonal rhythms. We acquired two new chicks this year that the kids hand-raised, only to find out they were roosters who couldn't live with us here in the city.

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