Friday, February 22, 2008

Not An Ordinary Teen

Today I'd like to introduce you to my friend Stella, who now has her own blog. Stella is an unschooling teenager I've been privileged to get to know over the last few years. For just a tiny fraction of a second, I hesitated in calling her my friend, because in the normal way of things parents and other adults aren't supposed to be "friendly" with kids. Since Stella is on the robotics team that I coach, I am nominally in some sort of position of "authority" and we all know from the "experts" that you're not supposed to get chummy with kids, just in case you need to pull out the authoritative role at some point. When we hear of adults who try to be friendly with kids, we think of those icky people who dress and wear their hair slightly too young, and listen to Britney Spears just to be thought of as "cool" (except that kids these days probably don't say "cool" anymore anyways, and Britney, well she stopped being cool a while ago). But, although Stella also happens to be the daughter of a friend of mine, she really can't be described as anything but a friend as well. She's funny and thoughtful and smiles a lot. I enjoy her company and her wit and her fresh observations on life.

It is one of the biggest blessings of unschooling that I get to spend a lot of time with young people and hear their interesting take on life. Especially since many of these people have grown up so differently from the common culture - they have really unique and interesting perspectives on everything. I think being around kids like this is like a daily infusion of hope.

So, just as I write about unschooling from the perspective of taking this journey with my kids, Stella writes about unschooling from the perspective of a kid who has taken this unusual journey herself. I think you will see from her blog the passion that comes when a person is allowed to follow their heart - to dream big, to follow their dreams, to not be constricted by the mandates that take up the bulk of many kids' time (get up, get dressed, go to school, afterschool activities, dinner, homework, to bed). So here she is: Not A Ordinary Teen.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Unschooling Voices, Question of the Month

For Unschooling Voices blog carnival, the question of the month is: What do you do, as an unschooling parent, when your child expresses an interest in a particular topic and you don't know how to help them in a way that doesn't involve lesson plans and curriculum?

I guess this is a hard question for me to answer, since we have always unschooled. We just do whatever it takes to learn something. We've never used lesson plans or structured curriculum, but I'm not averse to cracking open a book (even one that looks distinctly schoolish) if that's what it takes to help my kids learn something they want to. For instance, I picked up a copy of Cliffs Quick Review (by the makers of Cliff Notes) Basic Math & Pre-Algebra at one time. It has come in useful whenever we've had to do something mathematical that I can't quite remember the formula for - like calculating the median vs. the mean or deciphering statistical mumbo-jumbo. My first reaction to a question from my kids isn't typically to reach for a curriculum, but neither is my reaction to avoid any kind of formal teaching. I think if a kid is interested in something, there are many paths to take to approach that thing and no one path is necessarily better or worse.

When my son was interested in robotics for instance, we bought him the Lego Mindstorms robotics set, and checked out some books from the library to learn about building and programming different robots with the set. Then an opportunity came up for him to take a class from an actual robotics engineer at our local homeschooling resource center. That sounded like a great opportunity, so he went for it. As it turned out, the woman teaching the class knew a great deal about robots, but very little about passing on that knowledge to kids. So while he enjoyed some aspects of the class, it wasn't really what he was looking for. That summer, we heard that a mom who was coaching a FIRST Lego League robotics team was going to hold a small summer day camp with a robotics theme. Both of my kids decided to go to that, and from there ended up being on her FLL robotics team that fall (a year and a half ago). They had an excellent experience working with their team to compete in the FLL tournament. That coach moved away last year and I promised the kids that I would try my hand at coaching the team. As you can see from updates on this blog, it has been an amazing experience for all of us (as well as their teammates).

So in the case of robotics, as with so many other interests, we came at it from many angles - trying our hand at it, reading about it, looking for other resources in the community, people who are sharing their knowledge, etc. I think if you keep an open mind and really put your intention to learn something out there, you will always be amazed by the resources available to you. If not in your own community, the vast experience of the WWW is also at your fingertips. If we had lived somewhere with no robotics experiences open to us in real life, we could've joined forums and online communities and expanded our knowledge that way.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Holidays, Sweet Holidays

I'm not a Hallmark Holiday kind of person, and I don't expect a dozen long-stemmed roses from my hubby like clockwork every Valentine's day, or brunch on Mother's Day (though I'm glad he always remembers to bring home Euphoria truffles - what a guy!). But one thing I learned growing up is that holidays serve to tie a family together, and connect us with the seasons and the circle of the year. It's no mistake either that so many of them happen in the dreariest parts of the winter. My memories of childhood are a wheel with spokes of holiday dinners and red doilies with valentines pasted in the centers, cookie baking and 4th of July picnics by the river. Valentine's Day, with it's focus on love and friendship (and cookies and brightly colored hearts) has always been one of my favorites, not for the mass consumerism pushed by the greeting card companies and florists, but for the sheer sweetness of taking time out to appreciate those you love.

I'm not quite the picture-perfect mom of home and hearth that I'd like to be though. When it comes to crafts and cooking, my talents are thin and disaster often ensues. Case in point, the night before our homeschool group's Valentine's cookie-decorating party had me all Betty Crockered-out, covered in flour and gleefully baking sugar cookies. Being the modern mom, I'd downloaded a recipe for the "World's Best Sugar Cookies" from the internet and was mixing away. There was that little niggling voice in the back of my head that said "Isn't four eggs an awful lot for cookies that are supposed to turn out flat??", but quite unfortunately I ignored it and forged ahead. When I peeked in on the baking cookies, it was to see with horror that they were puffing up like marshmallows in a microwave and no longer resembled hearts in any shape or form. Now if you bake, you'll recall that sugar cookie dough has to be refridgerated for many hours before rolling out, and it was now 8:00 pm.

That is why Valentine's morning saw me rising with the dawn (and the help of my alarm clock and several reminders from my daughter) to start rolling out and cutting another batch of three dozen cookies. All was well that ended well as the second batch (recipe courtesy of the actual Betty Crocker, not some virtual Crocker wanna-be) turned out just fine. The first batch went with us to karate to be handed out to friends who were more than grateful to eat the very tasty non-heart-shaped lumps. And the kids poured on the frosting and the sprinkles at the decorating party, and I realized that it's not really the shape of the heart that counts, it's how much love you generate. I know my kids won't remember me for my culinary talents in their childhoods, but they'll remember the love, sweeter than sprinkles, that drives a mom to rise at dawn and create another family holiday.

Funny she'd say that...

Sometimes when my daughter does something that totally reminds me of myself, I'll say to her jokingly "Sometimes you're so much like me, it scares me."

One thing she's well known for around here is leaving a trail of stuff behind her - clothing, hair ties, fruit peels, toys. The other day, I happened to leave a plate on the table with grapefruit peels on it and she said with a grin "Sometimes I'm so much like you, it scares me."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Exciting News - Robotics!

I am excited to share two things about our robotics team today. One is this video slideshow I made chronicling our entire season so far. You can really see the heart and soul these teammates poured into meeting the challenges of the robotics competition:

The second thing I want to share is that out of 400 robotics teams in Oregon, our team has been chosen (along with another team) to represent Oregon in the selection process to attend the World robotics championships!!! The selection is based on your team exemplifying the "Core Values" of FIRST Lego League:
• We are a team.
• We do the work to find the solutions with guidance from our coaches and mentors.
• We honor the spirit of friendly competition.
• What we discover is more important than what we win.
• We share our experiences with others.
• We display gracious professionalism in everything we do.
• We have fun!

Our team was recommended by the teamwork judges at the competitions to be nominated, and the kids had to write an essay answering six questions about these core values and how our team worked. From this process, they were chosen to represent Oregon. Now their essay (along with those from 200 teams around the world) will go on to the World selection committee, who will choose 10 teams to attend the World festival based on these Core Values nominations.

Please keep those fingers crossed for us! Our team has been simply amazing this year, and these kids have been awesome and worked so hard and are such great teammates. I am so proud of them over this nomination!!!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

And the World is Made New For Them

365 Day 306: So This Is Why I Need a ChiropractorAt the library yesterday with Mackenzie, he remarked excitedly "Mom, they put in a whole section just for Greek Mythology - a whole section!" I love how the world seems made new for kids - as if any new discovery was created fresh on that day just for them.

So we wandered about the library, he showed me how to do an Advanced Search on the computer, something I hadn't discovered yet. I showed him how the Dewey Decimal system worked. We went up to explore the wonders of the adult section, this feeling like some kind of rite of passage to me. He found a gigantic book with drawings and text of every airplane every built, I think it weighed about 18 pounds. I pulled out some art books on Picasso and Dali, because the other day when he complained that his drawings don't look exactly like the objects he was sketching, I told him about many famous and wonderful painters who drew things differently and made their own forms of art. He pulled a book off of the shelf called "Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime" that is right up my alley for morning tea reading time, saying "mom, this looks like one you'd like".

Asa has two hours of dance team and ballet on Tuesday afternoons and I love my lazy wanderings with my son during those hours. We spent almost all of it in the library yesterday, riffing off of each other like experienced Jazz musicians, comfortable in our relationship and happy to have each other's company. What more could a mother want? Maybe another four or five arms to carry all the books home!