Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Emily has a new found interest in reading--possibly because her friend from Albuquerque is reading independently now. I didn't hear too much being said about that, but maybe enough that Em picked up on it and decided that she was ready to practice some more. So, she's been reading several pages from The Witch Who was Afraid of Witches, a Level 3 reader, each night. She's reading with her father, and it's amazing what a great job she does when the motivation is her own. Practice and familiarity are all she needs with most of the words, and she'd be reading chapter books on her own. It'll be interesting to watch all this unfold. Right now, I'm just a bit apprehensive that her father will push her, but I think he's gotten the whole unschooling thing, and I may not be giving him enough credit.

We received a promotional issue of National Geographic this month that has articles on Egypt and the Afghani refugee with the haunting eyes, so Emily, Julia and I have been reading a bit and talking about the different pictures. Em opened to one of the pictures on Egypt and gasped, "Look at all those hieroglyphs!" and she pointed out the step pyramid designed by Imhotep, the villified priest, scribe and healer from The Mummy--both WB's kids' version and the comic/movie. She's really fascinated by Egypt and has learned so much!

We also talked a lot about Afghanistan, refugees, women's rights, the science behind identity verification, stuff like that. The girls were incredulous when we talked about wearing a burka and that women weren't allowed to go out in public without them. One of the recent pictures of Sharbat Gula shows her seated with her daughter, brother and husband. Her face is exposed, though her headwrap is still in place, and she looks so incredibly uncomfortable, an expression that stands in sharp contrast to the ease with which the men gaze into the camera. By Islamic law, she is not allowed to smile at any man other than her husband, but her expression is more than that--she's angry that the photographer is penetrating her veil. Of the burka, she says, "It is a beautiful thing to wear, not a curse." Some very interesting conversations.

Monday, April 26, 2004

We spent this weekend working in the yard and gardens, weeding, working the fall compost down into the veggie garden. The kids helped plant seeds in the herb and vegetable gardens. We planted basil, dill, cilantro and echinacea in the herb garden and lettuces, broccoli, beans, sunflowers and cucumbers in the veggie garden. We also set in some tomato and hot pepper seedlings. It's so interesting to see the different shapes of all the different seeds! Sam also helped me overseed the yard, and we're supposed to get some rain over the next couple of days which should help that along.

Jim got the kids' climbing wall built for the climber on Saturday, and they just love it. It's amazing what natural climbers kids are--full arm hangs and mantles are second nature! We decided to make the climbing wall vertical, and it's challenging but not overly so. If we had kicked it out any, it would have been much too easy and lost it's appeal pretty quickly, I think.

As it is, the kids are having lots of fun mastering the new activities on the climber as we get them done. Julia's still the only one who will slide down the fireman's pole, and the little monkey actually climbed the whole way up the thing this weekend! She climbed up an 8 ft. smooth, galvanized pole! She may be tiny, but she is incredibly strong and such a good climber!

Friday, April 23, 2004

We had a blast in Alabama, and it was so wonderful to visit with old friends! It's amazing how easy it is to fall into comfort and conversation despite distance and passage of time when you're with real friends.

The kids had so much fun playing miniature golf and frollicking on the beach. They did all the beachy stuff: built sandcastles, buried each other in the sand, jumped waves. The boys even took naps, and the girls got their hair wrapped.

We were excited to find a letterbox hidden at Fort Morgan, which we added to our short list of found letterboxes. This was the first time we used our home-carved stamp, which you can see at our letterboxing page. Now that the weather's warmer, we're hoping to add some new finds to our list.

Fort Morgan was very cool. We toured the remains of this coastal defense fort, built after the War of 1812. The fort is shaped much like the Pentagon and was designed to control and defend Mobile Bay. The star shape enabled strong defenses on both land and water, offering several points to concentrate heavy artillery fire as an enemy fleet approached. By the time the Confederacy used both Fort Morgan and Fort Gaines in the Civil War, their defenses were sadly out of date. We learned that the Union Admiral D. G. Farragut was easily able to penetrate Confederate defenses despite artillery fire and mines, known as torpedoes, as he barked the famous order, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

We also took a ferry across the bay to Dauphin Island, where we saw Fort Gaines and visited the Estuarium, an aquarium designed around the marine life of the Gulf of Mexico and Mobile Bay. Run by the Dauphin Island Sea Labs, the Estuarium offers displays on river deltas, barrier islands, Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It has several hands-on exhibits, including Please Touch Tanks that enable the kids to touch and hold marine life like hermit and horseshoe crabs, clams and snails and handle different skeletons, shells and egg casings.

All in all, we had a pretty terrific trip!

Friday, April 16, 2004

Well, we've all been sick as dogs. What a drag! The kids and I drove down to my mom's in Alabama Tuesday and Wednesday. They were so sick they actually didn't mind vegging in the car in front of movies all day--though an 11.5 hour trip gets to be long no matter how your feeling! Wednesday was a shorter day in the car, and we got to have some fun and unwind in the afternoon when we arrived.

We've been having fun with their grandmother and some good friends from Albuquerque, whom we left behind when we moved 3 years ago. The reunion has been so much fun, and the kids are really getting along well and having a blast with each other. Hopefully, we're not going to get them all sick as well! We're still struggling to get over this cold. I'm hoping we'll be able to bake it out in the sunshine at the beach.

Monday, April 12, 2004

We were away for the Easter weekend and had a great time, although we ended up all getting sick by Sunday.

Friday morning, the girls and I went into NYC to the American Girl Store with their Aunt and Grandmother. We shopped and had lunch and had a grand old time. Julia brought her Kaya doll, and Emily bought a Samantha doll while there as an early birthday present. The girls had a blast being pampered and having lunch with their dolls. The train ride was lots of fun, and they also enjoyed the NYC subway ride. Emily wanted to walk a few steps ahead and stand a few steps apart on the subway, pretending to be a commuter. She felt so grown up! After our American Girl day, we walked by Rockefeller Center and saw the season's last ice skaters. What a great day!

The boys all went hiking while we were in the city. They took ropes and made stream crossings, climbed boulders and had grand adventures.

The weekend was a whirlwind of fun and food--pretty typical for this crew!

Monday, April 05, 2004

I've recently decided that the two most important things that I do for my children as an unschooling mom are...

1) *listen* to them, and
2) say yes as often as possible.

These two simple things will lead to learning, laughing and connecting more than anything else I can think of. It's amazing what saying "yes" instead of "no" will produce--especially in situations that seem to scream for a knee-jerk "no."

Today, my kids were sitting on the kitchen table (yes, on!) and one of them pulled out a hand-me-down math game we got from some school-at-homers up the road. (I don't turn anything down and try not to have preconceived notions about how things "are supposed" to be used.)

My kids proceeded to pull out the activity and equation cards, scatter them on the floor only to focus on the pristine piece of styrofoam holding the cards in place. At first, Sam begins fanning his Julia with it, which rapidly turns into bonking her on the head. After a quick negotiation from me (doyouwanthimdoingthatsaynothankyouletsberespectfulplease), he begins ripping the piece of foam apart and dropping it on her head.

Right now, it's still in pretty big chunks, but it's getting smaller and smaller and Emily begins to join in. Soon, they've got it down to the little tiny balls and are making it snow and having a snowball fight--still perched on top of the kitchen table and having a blast!

I start telling them that's exactly what the snow in the mountain scene from Lord of the Rings was done and that the actors complained about all the little styrofoam balls getting into their mouths and throats. Cool conversation, especially since Emily is *very* interested in drama, film and acting.

They went on playing this way as long as they wanted to, and when they were all done, we started cleaning up. It seemed to make sense to get the bigger chunks up with the dustpan before getting out the vaccuum, so that's what we started to do. Sam is swiffing, and I'm using the dustpan when I notice that every time I lift the dustpan from the floor all the tiny balls fly out from the static electrical charge they'd built up. So, I called the kids over to watch it happen, and they thought it was hysterical and it led to a whole new round of play. We noticed all the places the styrofoam was sticking because of static electricity: their hair, the wall, the sides of the tables and chairs, you name it!

We had loads of fun, talked, played and learned all because I didn't say to them, "Stop tearing up that styrofoam and making a mess! It's there to keep the cards in their proper places." I'm betting that was the most fun and learning that math game ever produced!

Listen and say yes, then watch the fun and learning unfold! It'll happen, I promise, and it will be magical!


After our snow storm, we played outside for a while. One of our homeschooling friends came down (former owner of said math game), and the kids played on the climber for a while.

This evening, the girls are in bed with me again, writing in their journals. Emily played around in my word processing program a bit and wrote "Emily can do anything." She also read a couple of sentences that I was writing with some help on the rough words, and she copied down a couple of words with the serif, which we talked about.

As I was flipping through the channels on the tv, she spotted the Peter Jennings program Jesus and Paul, so we're sitting here watching that now. She's just fascinated by Christianity!

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Saturday, I went to the MHEA conference. Daniel Pink, author of Free Agent Nation was the speaker, and he was fantastic. Much of what he talked about was directly from the book, but he was very entertaining. I was particularly glad to hear him clarify that the kind of free agent education he's talking about is unschooling and not homeschooling in general. He argues that with the changing economy, unschoolers are going to be much better positioned in the future job markets than their public and conventional schooled counterparts who are receiving outdated training in an educational guise. The workshops were nothing to write home about, but I really enjoyed the keynote speech and talking with so many other homeschoolers.

The kids stayed home with dh and helped him with the climber. They went to the hardware store and bought some bolts and things, and they helped attach the railings. They also did some cleaning up inside, which was great!

When I got home, we all had dinner, and then climbed in bed and watched Disney's Lilo and Stitch marathon. Great to relax and reconnect!

Sunday, the kids played outside a bit on the climber and helped dh. We also made fairies, played with numbers, and the kids played with our neighbor most of the afternoon. Pretty low key.

The coolest part of the day was when we discovered that our tiger swallowtail chrysalis had hatched and we had a butterfly! The kids loved holding it and allowing it to walk on their clothes and hands. We tried to hand feed it some sugar water, but it wasn't very interested. Unfortantely, one of its wings is ripped, so it can't fly. :(

Sunday night, the girls climbed in bed with me and wrote some in their journals--which is what I was doing. Julia's practicing writing the names of all her favorite characters, and Emily's writing a story about Harry Potter. She's convinced that she'll be able to publish it and become famous, thoughts that caused her to giggle with glee.

Friday, April 02, 2004

We were out and about all day today. The kids and I went to the April La Leche meeting where I volunteer. They get to play games with the other kids while we have our meeting, and then we all enjoy a potluck lunch afterwards. Julia played Monopoly, Jr. with one of her friends while Em played Knights and Cities of Catan with the big boys. Sam did a really good job of playing with his new jet planes.

Afterwards, we went to watch a musical with some friends--we watched Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang. The kids had a great time flitting back and forth between playing and watching, enjoying their friends and munching on popcorn.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

April Fool's Day!
Julia had art class this morning, so we did our Sam's Club shopping while she was in class. Afterwards, we went to Borders Books and spent our Discover Card Cashback Bonus Bucks. We got lots of great books--some Justice League and Wonder Woman readers, several Secrets of Droon books, some books on Ancient Greece and Mesopotamia, and a cool Egyptian heiroglyphics kit. The kids and dh have been playing historical scenario games in Ages of Empires, so we've been reading more about the ancient civilizations portrayed in the game. We've been learning all about Caesar and Hannibal, Mesopotamia, Summeria, etc. Lots of cool stuff!

We watched Survivor and parts of CSI--Emily's so fascinated with the science that goes on it that show. She just covers her eyes or leaves the room during the really graphic parts. Lots of interesting stuff to learn about though--forensic science, fingerprinting, facial reconstruction based on bone structure (which we'd actually just seen in one of the gladiator shows), deductive reasoning, the justice system.