Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hippo Love

For many years now, Mackenzie has absolutely adored hippos, even going so far as to have two hippo-themed birthday parties, sponsoring hippos through World Wildlife Federation, and getting an "Adopt-A-Hippo" for Christmas. The dresser in his room has been dubbed the Hippo Shrine. So he was overjoyed to find this wonderful video about a very special "House Hippo". Enjoy!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Measuring Up

Today Asa told me that if Mary Poppins measured me with her tape measure, it would say "practically perfect in every way".

High praise indeed from a daughter who only five minutes before had been giving me the evil eye about emptying the dishwasher, LOL.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Eid-e Shoma Mobarak (Happy New Year)

All over the world today, Persian people are celebrating Norooz (also spelled NowRuz & NoRuz in English characters). Timed to coincide with the first moment of spring (literally, it took place here at 4:44 am Pacific Time, but is different all over the world), this is the Persian New Year. Celebrations go for two weeks and include many activities, starting on the last Wednesday of the outgoing year, called Chahar Shanbeh Suri. On the evening of the last Wednesday, Persians light small bonfires and jump over them shouting:

Give me your beautiful red color
And take back my sickly pallor!

They also set up a Haft Seen, or table with seven items that begin with the letter “S” (Haft means seven, and Seen means “S” in the Persian alphabet).

The festivities end on the thirteenth day of the new year, called Sizdah Bedar, (Sizdah means thirteen and Bedar means outdoors). To escape the bad luck associated with the number thirteen, families leave their homes to head outside for a picnic, literally entire cities like Tehran empty out into parks and any scrap of land (including traffic medians) to picnic on this day.

This year, just before NoRooz, my sister Marisa and my brother-in-law Nickrooz (who is from Iran) journeyed down from Seattle to our house. In addition to celebrating Marisa's 40th (OMG!) birthday (can my lil' sis really be 40???) they put on a wonderful presentation for our homeschool group and neighbors on Nick's home country of Iran and on Norooz.

We started off with a Persian potluck, with every family cooking and bringing a dish from recipes my sister mailed me. I tackled "Shollehzard" or a rice pudding made with saffron, rose water, and decorated with pistachios and cinnamon (here, my sis and brother-in-law show the gorgeously decorated pudding, almost too pretty to eat!). The food was awesome, such a great idea to get us in the mood of an entirely different culture. Persian cooking is very distinctive, and my kids have gotten used to sampling some of uncle Nickrooz's dishes (his "green rice" has been a perpetual favorite).

After eating, they showed slides from their two trips back to Iran, showing the kids everything from markets and roads to ski slopes and playgrounds. They had put together a terrific presentation that really gave a picture of life in Iran, which is a bit different from the kinds of things you see in the media about Iran on a daily basis. The kids asked lots of questions. I think they were most impressed with the fact that the bazaar in Tehran is 12 miles long!

All in all it was a wonderful way to get a peek into a different culture, something you might not be exposed to every day. I've been grateful to have my brother-in-law Nick in our lives, because I have learned many things myself about Iran that I would've never known. It was nice to be able to share that with our friends and have a great evening together as well.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Curiosity Required

Asa just bought a stone at the market the other day with these words inscribed on it:

The life you live is the lesson you teach.

She picked that one out after looking through a whole basket of stones with new-agey inspirational sayings. It strikes me as an interesting choice for a nine-year-old, since kids this age are usually looking more inward than outward. But it also strikes me as an excellent phrase to take to heart as an unschooling parent. In fact, it could be the credo of the unschooling parent.

I was out on a run the other day when I passed a mother and two kids. They were by the side of the canal looking at a nutria (a large rodent that looks like a cross between a beaver and a rat, an introduced and invasive species I might add). The kids were asking the mom what kind of animal it was, and she replied that she didn't know. "But that's what you said last time!" one of the kids wailed. "Why don't you know now?" It's an excellent question, and one that cuts right to the heart of the biggest requirement for an unschooling parent: curiousity.

The life you live is the lesson you teach. If you are not living a life of intellectual curiosity, it may be hard for your kids to find the impetus to be interested in more than just their own small little universe - whatever that might be. Or worse, by not being open and actively engaged with their own curiosity, you may inadvertantly shut it down. I imagine the young kids of the mother by the canal may eventually stop asking such pesky questions.

In school, many of us remember that asking too many questions was penalized, either by exasparated teachers or more typically by the other students. A kid with their hand perpetually up is, more or less, frowned upon or outright reviled. You pick up unsavory knicknames if you don't learn to stifle that curiosity, and most kids learn to do just that. By 5th grade or so, they're way too "cool" to care.

In many ways, unschooling is easier than the sit-at-the-kitchen-table variety of homeschooling. Heaven knows, I know I'm not personally cut out to be the parent who enforces 10 pages in the workbook each day. But in many ways, it is tougher. Without a curriculum to follow and standards to be checked against, the unschooling parent can find themselves feeling like they are just drifting along and that their kids aren't "interested in anything". But if we take the time to engage in whatever our kids are doing, we discover that their interests can take us all kinds of places. My son's now four-year love of hippopotami came from a video game he used to like to play called "Impossible Creatures". We've since watched hippo specials on the Discovery channel, read hippo books, adopted hippos through the Nature Conservancy, he has a hippo shrine in his room, and a career as a wildlife biologist protecting hippos and their habitat is on his list of life's possible paths.

By having our own interests, our kids are often drawn into worlds that they might not venture into otherwise. I check out books and videos from the library that answer my own curiousity. Recently for me, that's been world religions and religious art, which meant National Geographic videos Inside Mecca and Inside the Vatican, books about Caravaggio, the Catholic Saints, Giotto, etc. Sometimes the kids ask what I'm reading and I summarize or read them excerpts. Sometimes over breakfast I read them a poem or show them a painting from whichever book I have at my place at the table. They almost always watch whatever video I'm watching. We discuss, we think about how what we've seen or read fits with our own experiences, and often these discussions bring us to more questions that we want answered.

For any one thing that kids or parents are engaged in, a thousand possible things spiral off. Every question that asked is an open door to walk through into unknown worlds. The internet and the library are our best friends in making sure that we follow up on things that they want to know about, and that their curiosity and interest are rewarded with finding answers and more information. Often, the answers lead to even more questions and we're off on another path of learning.

Monday, March 02, 2009

A Miscellany of Days

It's winter as usual around our place (drawing towards the end of winter with today's little taste of sunshine), and that means we've been filling our homeschooling days with lots of indoor activities, and getting outside whenever we can to get our gardens ready.

A sampling of what we've been up to:

Asa has been learning how to milk goats from the folks that we buy our goats milk from. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they also have seven new puppies on their farm, so every Saturday has been a combined goat milk/puppy petting extravaganza. Who can resist brand new puppies!

Mackenzie loves to hang out by the library bookshelf in our living room. But the problem around here is that with four cats, whenever you lie down with a good book, you become a convenient pillow for a feline.

We took a tour of the library with our homeschooling group and got to watch the robotic book sorter in action. We found out that on average, our main library receives about 6,500 books turned in each day. For a town of 130,000 people, that's impressive! I think we probably are single-handedly responsible for about 1,000 of those books. As homeschoolers, I can't think of any resource more valuable to us than our wonderful public library.

Whenever the weather breaks for a little bit, we head out to the enormous leaf pile for more raking. We're trying to get a good thick layer of leaves covering the area that we're going to use next year to expand our vegetable garden.

Mackenzie has asked me to teach him algebra. I think that's a blog post in and of itself - me, sitting at the kitchen table, teaching the kids stuff out of a textbook, just like real homeschoolers do!

We have our karate test coming up this Friday. The kids are testing for their next rank of orange belt. I'm testing for my (ulp!) brown belt!

And most excitingly, my brother-in-law Nickrooz and sister Marisa (known to all of us in the family as Meese, my name for her when I was three) are coming down from Seattle this weekend. Nickrooz is going to do a presentation for some of the families from our homeschool group about his native country Iran. We're going to do a potluck with Persian dishes, and he and Marisa have some slides from their last two trips to Iran. With Iran being constantly in the news, I think many people don't know much about the Iranian people and the country itself, beyond a few sound bites about nuclear weapons or Islamic extremism. Iran is a country with a culture that goes back millenia and I am so glad to have Nick as my brother-in-law, I have learned so much about his homeland! I'm excited to share that with other homeschoolers and also of course to have Nick and Marisa here and to celebrate her birthday.