Friday, April 27, 2007

Adventures With Tadpoles

Happiness is a Jar of Tadpoles
This week we went out to a local marshy area and the kids got some tadpoles. It was just gorgeous out there with camas bulbs blooming everywhere and red wing blackbirds calling to each other. A friend of mine who is a local field biologist (and homeschooling mom) suggested the outing. I love going places like this with her because she comes armed with spotting scope and more knowledge on local flora and fauna than anyone I know. The kids loved romping around in the fields, watching pond turtles through her scope, and finding the cute little tadpoles in tiny ponds. On the way home, we picked up a used fish tank at Goodwill and have filled it with water from our creek. We're going to try to raise these little guys into frogs so keep your fingers crossed for us.

The internet is such a wonderful resource for this kind of thing. I wouldn't have even thought twice about filling the tank with tap water, but fortunately I Googled "Raising Tadpoles" first, so we went for the creek water. It was a little murky at first, but it has settled out and all seven of the little guys (Taddie, Taddles, Tad Tad, Tadmina, Teddie, Link, and Zelda) seem to be quite happy in their new home.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Mischief Team

When the kids were about five and two, M. said to me one day "I'm the leader of the Mischief Team!" with a proud smile on his face. And was he ever! He could get his adventurous little sis to do just about anything. Still can, as a matter of fact. This is what they got up to the other day: emptied out the craft closet and he made her this "Inside-out suit" also known as "the alien costume", including wrapping her up in crepe paper and making the helmet out of bags. I love how in this photo he's trying to look like he didn't have much to do with it. Of course, the house looked like a craft bomb had exploded, all of my tape is now gone, and we need to get more streamers before the next party occurs, but hearing their giggles and fun makes it all worth it.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Learn (Many) Something(s) New Every Day

Every now and then I jot down all the things that the kids and I have talked about and learned about in that one particular day, just for fun. I always come away from the experience amazed and awed at the things we talk and think about, the learning that happens without us even noticing it. On any given day, if I thought about it briefly, it would seem like we "didn't do much". The kids and I like to hang out together, or they're at their friends, we might read a book or go for a walk, we might have an activity (of course, activities like a violin lesson look a lot more like the "learning" that people are used to - formalized, taught, timed, structured), or we might bounce on the trampoline or play Yahtzee.

Unschooled learning doesn't look like a parent sitting down and teaching their kids, or the kids working their way through some set of materials aimed at learning some certain thing. It's a lot more fragmented than that, a lot more integrated into daily life, and a lot more interactive on the part of the parent. I have to stay on my toes, as I never know when I'll be called on to pull an answer to some esoteric question out of my hat. "Mom, what's the crush depth of the average submarine?" Hmmmmmm, I'll have to think about that one for a minute.... The other thing that amazes me is how good kids are at putting together the puzzle pieces of learning in their head. They make connections between disparate pieces of information, or things we have talked or read about days, months, or years apart. This is as true of numerical facts and figures as it is of history or literature, or scientific ideas. You don't need "Well Trained Mind" timelines glued to your walls or fancy curriculae for the kids to get how it all hangs together.

So all of this was illustrated in the day's little snapshot of unschooled, interactive learning, which looked like this:

The kids made Eggmen with leftover Easter eggs, glue, tape, boxes, crepe paper, twistie ties, crayons, and anything else they could find in the craft drawer. This is Commander Eggman next to his spaceship. They came up with some funny, punny names too: a baseball-playing "Eggo Martinez", the ever-artistic "Egginardo DaVinci" and the thespian "Eggo Mortensen".

Diva Girl and I practiced violins. She's playing in a recital next Saturday, so she was polishing up a Bach Minuet. I was trying to explain how to get more out of her dynamics when I decided just to stop in the middle and pull out some CDs. We listened to Mozart's Requiem (Confutatis Maledictis), Dire Straits' Telegraph Road, and Andrea Bocceli's Con Te Partiro. The latter piece sparked a discussion about the Italian Language. We've been watching Rick Steve's guide to Italy's Countryside on DVD lately and are hoping someday to take a bicycling trip there. We discussed how I could read some of the Italian lyrics in Bocceli's songs and understand some (because I can read French and some Spanish) and how the Romance Languages are tied together at a common root (and since the kids both studied Latin for some time, they could also find the roots to some of the words.)

Returning to dynamics, we listened to the music and the ways that dynamics influence the presentation of many different styles of music. I later did a little bit more research on dynamics and found out some interesting facts to share with the kids that I didn't know previously (like the fact that some composers have used more than three fff's or ppp's: Tchaikovsky marked a bassoon solo pppppp in his Pathétique symphony and ffff in passages of his 1812 Overture, for instance!) When Diva returned to her violin piece over an hour later (a bit of a long diversion), the difference in dynamics and presentation were really incredible. It wasn't any planned "lesson" but a divergence from what we were doing that interested all of us.

We took a walk to the store, talked about what to have for dinner. Since Italy was on the brain (and since Rick Steves shows off a lot of wonderful Italian cooking in his series), we decided on pasta and picked out fresh ingredients at our corner market. On the way home, we talked about how going to market and cooking were similar and different between our lives and the small Italian towns we'd been watching on the video (in the segment on the Cinque Terra, they talk about how a traveling marketplace comes to each of the small hill towns on the coast once a week.)

On the way home, we saw a smashed soda can. That's what got us talking about the crush depth of a submarine. That conversation led to discussing where the deepest spot in the ocean was (I said I was pretty sure it was in the Mariana Trench, but looked it up when we got home just to be sure - there's always finding new places or new measurements.) Along the way to finding that fact online, we found some other cool ocean facts, like where the tallest underwater waterfall is (who knew there was such a thing!) or the 50+ foot differential in the tides at the Bay of Fundy.

A wonderful family pasta dinner later and we were watching another Rick Steve's Italy episode, and then a Nova special on cuttlefish (truly amazing creatures). In between all of that we did plenty of different things. The kids played, we went outdoors, we took care of all of our animals, I gardened, they trampolined, M. told me all about his newest adventures in the DS game RocketSlime, Divagirl picked out some tunes on the piano and sang to the chickens (to help settle them into their new enclosure.) We talked with shopkeepers and friends in the neighborhood, rescued worms stranded by the rains, discussed worms, went home and looked up info about whether or not the giant earthworms still live in Oregon (did you know that some giant earthworms here grow up to three feet in length, but that they may have gone extinct in the last decade or so?), discovered that Charles Darwin played the piano for earthworms to confirm that they were deaf, and that there are over a hundred species in our region alone, and many many other things.

Those are just a few things I jotted down. None of them seemed outstanding or spectacular in their moment, just a few threads here and there. It's only when you step back and look at the whole rich tapestry by writing it out like this that you can see how beautiful it is to live and learn as an unschooler.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Path to Unschooling Goals

Every now and then I like to write about examples that show up in my kids' lives that address those nagging unschooling questions and doubts. Things like "What if all they do is play video games all day?" or "How will they ever learn anything?", or, a biggie: "How will kids ever work toward a goal if you don't make them?". None of these things are serious concerns of mine after seeing the way our kids go after the things in life that interest them, but this week is a really shining example of how they work towards their own goals.

Miss A. (seven and a half years old now she tells me since this last week) loves animals. Perhaps loves is not a strong enough term. She adores them, pets them, cares for them, tames them, she could probably meet a wild rhinoceros and have it follow her home for tea. She is also a really caring kind of person, and one of the things she loves to do is give massages. Even with her tiny hands, she's pretty darned strong and can do a good job of it (which I have really appreciated at times!) When our dog Sabre was alive, she would massage his back and legs and you could tell that he really appreciated it, and it helped him be less stiff and relieved some of the joint pain as he got older.

So our neighbor is an acupuncturist, chiropactor, and specializes in sports medicine, among other things. He also has a very cute dog named Rocky. Although Rocky is a very vocal dog, which might be intimidating to some, Miss A. isn't fazed by that at all and is always loving on him if he's around. So our neighbor mentioned off-hand one day that he could show Miss A. how to do acupressure on animals, and A. got very excited about that. So excited that she waited patiently the next morning until the polite hour of 9:00 am to run across the street and talk to him about it. He was busy that day, but they ended up setting a time of 4:30 on Monday to meet up.

All weekend she would say things like "Only two days and 3 1/2 hours."
"Until what?" I'd ask.
"Until my meeting with Nathan."

It was obviously a very big deal for her, and she was not going to miss it. When Monday finally arrived, she set an alarm, then the timer on the stove. She was going to be there right at 4:30 (as a former businessperson, I would only wish that all adults were so conscientious and prompt!). As the appointed hour arrived, she donned her shoes and marched across the street to knock on his door. She came home totally excited about all she had learned (he demonstrated the pressure points on Rocky) and the happy effect it had on Rocky ("he just melted to the floor, mom!").

As always, I am grateful for the wonderful adults that our kids manage to encounter. Certainly our luck in having such a giving neighbor is great. It's awesome when adults who have special skills or talents are willing to take the time to share them, especially with such a young kid. And as always, our kids amaze me with their tenacity, their drive to learn, their desire to follow their passions and interests until they are satisfied that they have all the information that they need. Our neighbor's business card is now one of Miss A.'s prized possessions. A business card! I did have to stop her from calling his office number to enquire about the next time they could meet up (enthusiasm does have its boundaries), and suggested she wait until he was not busy with clients and such. I'm sure she will return for more information and practice, and maybe someday she will make her career in the same field (I wouldn't be surprised), or maybe it will just be information she files away and uses on her own pet some day (or her entire farm full of animals, more likely). Either way, it's wonderful to see her following her dreams.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Words to Make a Mother Wig Out

"Mom, I'm growing a mustache."

Especially when this is said in that husky, cracking, boy-turning-to-man kind of voice. Oy.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Easier Bake Oven

The kids have been wanting to do more cooking on their own, and I found these cool silicone flexible muffin pans, just small enough to fit in our toaster oven. So they can bake tiny muffins all on their own. M. treated us to a batch of chocolate chip muffins. He saved out some batter for me, since I'm not a fan of chocolate chips in anything but cookies. I made mine with cranberries and walnuts. Yummmm!

I had originally bought the toaster oven instead of a regular toaster because I knew it would do double-duty as a miniature oven for the kids. Why get an "easy bake" oven when you can cook for real in the kitchen with one of these? Maybe we'll do mini-pizzas tonight.