Friday, May 28, 2004

This whole week, the kids have all been into numbers. Julia and I made a number chart from 1 to 110, demonstrating the repeating pattern. She's picking up the idea that if she knows the numbers 1-10, she can get all the other numbers as well--"cracking the code," we call it. Emily is very into adding numbers over 100, figuring out how numbers work the same whether they're ones or thousands or ten thousands. Sam is able to count up to seven, and he's enjoying adding smaller numbers together. Counting is a very big thing for him right now.

The girls have also been doing a lot of work with currency, learning dollars and cents and how to write them out with the appropriate symbols. The American Girl catalog is quite inspiring! They've been adding up all the things they want, and I think Emily's up to more than $300 now. Big surprise!

Sam's still obsessed with Zoombini's and the pizza troll (he's down there playing with dh now, and we played together this morning--he's really getting good!). Last night we had a dinner guest, whom Sam had to ask whether he found the pizza troll difficult as well. It was actually a very precious exchange: Sam came into the house saying when he was a parent, he was going to have a weed wacker. Then he turned to our guest and very generously offered to share this weed wacker if he ever came back. Then he tried to talk our guest into helping him play Zoombini's, which he'd been waiting patiently to play with daddy when he got home. Poor Sam! He was pretty crushed that no one would play Zoombini's with him last night, though I got him to fall asleep in our bed pretty happily to Star Wars: Phantom Menace.

This afternoon, we took the puppy into the vet for her one year check up, and she weighed 67.5 lbs! The kids had weighed themselves earlier in the day, so we talked about how many kids would make a Boo. We also read several pamphlets on different types of worms--YUK!--talking about the different organs they attacked, their life cycles, how they are transmitted. Thankfully, Boo's heartworm test came back negative.

We've also been playing a lot with language lately, coming up with as many rhyming words as possible, free association, alliteration. Last night, we were trying to come up with as many "F" words as possible. When we finally gave up, we looked in the dictionary at how many F words there really are! Whew!

Afterwards, dh and I were watching LOTR Return of the King and the kids watched the first part with us before going to bed. Today, Emily decided she wanted to watch it, so we talked about the scary parts and being able to fast forward, cover her eyes, or just turn it off, but she felt ready to watch it, despite the "dead orfs" in the Mines of Moria that had plagued her last time she tried to watch it. So, we all watched The Fellowship of the Ring this afternoon--Moria, Balrog and all. The kids are looking forward to seeing the other two as well, and I think they handled it very well.

Right now, Julia is making a kite with some paper, scissors and string; earlier today she began making some flower fairies. She loves all things creative! She also discovered that she can climb the door jamb all the way to the top today--I think she's part monkey! She's absolutely incredible on the climbing wall, and apparently anywhere! This I discovered while I was taking a shower and she began shouting "Mommy, I can climb the pole!" (We have a fireman's pole on the new climber, which she can climb all 7 feet of!) When I poked my head out of the shower, commenting that we had no pole inside, I saw that she was at the top of the door frame, hanging from the upper molding! ACK!

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

We've been on our Seahorse Hunt the past two days. Yesterday, we went walking on the boardwalk and found one, then drove down to Chesapeake Beach and found another. We missed two, which we'll have to backtrack and try to locate. It was quite hot out, so we made some vanilla milkshakes when we got back home and watched the new Peter Pan movie. The kids loved it! We watched it again in the evening after playing some on the new climbing wall and having some dinner, and they watched it one last time this morning before we had to return it.

Today, we went on a major hunt and found 7 horses! We drove a big loop down to Prince Frederick, stopped and had some lunch at our favorite Chinese buffet, and found some more seahorses on the ride home. When we got back, we printed out the map and scavenger hunt questions. Sam is totally into maps these days, so he's very excited to have his own map. Emily read several of the questions and remembered all but one of the answers, which was that baby seahorses eat 3,600 brine shrimp in a ten hour period. That was a pretty tough one! Then she wanted to read through all the questions we hadn't found yet and try to guess the answers. She's amazing! Should be fun to see if we were close or not! The kids have all been having loads of fun driving around looking for the seahorses. Now, they're very excited to head out and find some more tomorrow!

Monday, May 24, 2004

Someone on the message boards posted a panic attack that her 4 year old child wasn't learning anything. I honestly can't imagine a child that age not soaking up the world around them like a sponge. I am now watching PBS's Colonial House for the second time in a row tonight--just with different children. Julia and I watched it at 8:00 until she fell asleep next to me around 9:00. Emily joined me shortly after 9 and is now watching the beginning segment, which she missed while she was downstairs. She's totally into it and got very excited at the mention of John Smith, though the lamb slaughter grossed her out a bit. Em was very excited by the preview for Japan: Memoirs of a Secret Empire, which airs on Wednesday night and for a Sunday Marathon of 1900 House. All of this is just as engaging as anything else she might want to watch, and that's just terrific!

Today we met friends at the park to do our year-end homeschool review. The kids played, ages ranging from 4 to 13, while the moms brainstormed and reminded each other of all the things we've done the past year from a class in American Sign Language to field trips to in-depth study of American history. (Somebody at the dinner table the other night quoted, "Give me Liberty, or give me death," and Emily jumped in with "I know, Patrick Henry said that!")

Afterwards, we found our second seahorse on our Seahorses by the Bay Scavenger Hunt. So far we've learned that male sea horses actually give birth and that sea horses are, indeed, fish, complete with gills and an air bladder. Then we went to Blockbuster, rented some videos, prepurchased Lord of the Rings and found some previously viewed videos for the kids, one of which was Dragonheart, which we had caught the end of on tv several nights ago. The kids were so excited to come home to watch it! We briefly talked about what a "brother" is in a religious context, and I'm sure we'll have many follow up discussions this week.

Once dh got home, we went down to the climber to play on the new climbing wall he built this weekend, which is 8 ft wide and about 9 ft. high and overhung by about 10-15 degrees. It's pretty tricky, but it's going to be loads of fun! I'm trying to talk him into building another panel on the other side of the climber, which will be vertical and meet up with the first panel as an arrete. Should be totally awesome when he gets it done! Way fun for the parents and the kiddos!

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Unschooled children are just so incredibly amazing! It never fails to amaze me how much they learn from their own internal drive, and watching Emily and Julia learn so much about language and numbers on their own terms completely debunks the myth of drill and rote learning. We are such products of the mass education that justifies its own existence through at least two very powerful myths:
1) that we cannot learn anything without experts to teach us, and
2) we cannot learn without daily practice and drill.

For several years now, pediatricians have been telling parents to look at nutrition over the course of several days instead of one meal at a time, the theory being that children will naturally eat a balanced diet over time though it may not look that way in the short term. This theory seems very well suited to education as well. When I look at the activities my children enjoy over the course of a month, I find progress in all the categories labeled relevant by schools despite the lack of daily or even weekly practice.

Over the past week or so, the girls have played their own game of Survivor, writing down all kinds of names and words on slips of paper and putting them in a big jar. Julia has been practicing writing the names of all her favorite people and things in her journal. Emily wrote me a lovely Mother's Day card. We've been playing with numbers and talking about place-value as Julia is trying to count all the way to 100. Em's been doing more and more with her comparative mythology. Last night they watched the beginning of PBS's series Colonial House and taped it for me because I was out; tonight, we'll watch the second part together. We've been researching chickens and thinking about coop designs, talking all about dimensions, calculating space requirements, figuring out how to thwart different kinds of predators. And they've loved every bit of it all, never once having been forced to learn something or do something that they weren't interested in doing.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

We had a great weekend! Saturday the kids sold some stuff at a neighbor's yardsale and, of course, spent as much as they made but had a lot of fun doing it. The girls got some new dressup clothes and barbies, and Sam got a really cool crane set that he's been playing with nonstop. Saturday afternoon Dh and I got woodchips spread all under the climber, and it looks really terrific. That night we had a campfire and roasted marshmellows; our neighbors joined us and we had a really fun time and finished up just before the rain hit.

Today is Sam's 4th birthday, though his party isn't till Wednesday. He played on the climber some this morning then came in and opened his presents. He loved everything he got. I picked up a DVD set of the 1st and 2nd season of Scooby-Doo for my mom to give him, and it's a huge hit. The kids have been watching a Scooby-Doo marathon all evening.

This afternoon we went up to Port Discovery in Baltimore today for his birthday where we had lots of fun. He climbed on the inside climber nonstop for about an hour and a half! Afterwards we went to Pizzeria Uno in the Inner Harbor for an early dinner. We watched all the peddle boats out in the harbor and saw two of the huge schooner ships go by. After dinner, the wait staff came and sang Happy Birthday to Sam, which he thought was the greatest thing in the world! All in all, he was a very happy boy today. He fell asleep on the ride home and woke up a bit cranky when we got home. But we just popped in the Scooby DVD's, and he just settled in.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Well, I had a whole post composed last week when my computer crashed. ARGH! Onto a new laptop and more posts...

We've had a really fun week. The weather has been blasted hot, and the kids have really enjoyed playing in the pond. They've found snails and tadpoles, tried to catch the frogs, fed the koi. The fish are becoming tame again after a winter of no feeding and are starting to nibble on the kids' toes when the put them in the water.

Mother's Day was really great. Dh put some shelves up in Sam's closet for us, so now we can store games and puzzles in there. He also put the cargo net up on the climber, and the kids have been having a blast down there. Julia can not only go down the fireman's pole, she can go up! What a climber! Emily can do a flip around and off the turnbar, and Sam takes a running start, grabs the disk swing like Tarzan and sets himself mid-flight. They're having so much fun; I think dh is really glad he built it.

After a visit from my mom when the girls shared Sam's bunkbed, the kids decided that they all wanted to sleep in Sam's room and turn the girls' room into an upstairs playroom. So, we put the girls' bed down in the family room kind of like a daybed. We've moved all the dress-up stuff upstairs, and set up the train table in there for the legos and polly pockets. They like having more toys upstairs and having a place to play after dh and I are in bed--sometimes they don't like being downstairs late at night.

We've done so much the past week. As always, the number of things we've talked and learned about are too many to recount here. We met with the 4-H extension officer this week, so I could look into becoming a project leader. We've heard so many great things about 4-H from other unschoolers that we checked it out for ourselves, and it sounds like loads of fun--a much better fit for us than Scouts would be. We're looking forward to starting a chicken club with some heirloom breeds and a rock hound climbing club.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

We had such a great day today--one of those days when you look back on it and wonder if it all really happened in just one day.

My mother played Scrabble, Jr. with Emily this morning and Boggle, Jr. with Julia before she left to visit old friends in PA. The kids and I read through several library books--one on sound and the different ways scientists study animal sounds, one on the Statue of Liberty, one on the Wright Bros. and one on interesting inventions. Emily asked to hear about the invention of numbers, so we read about early mathematical developments in Mesopotamia, Sumeria and Egypt, the ways in which trade influenced the development of mathematics and drove the need to create a written number system, a method of multiplication and division. Excited about that, Em pulled out her DK math workbook and did a page on metric measurements, which tied into a book on measuring that we'd read several weeks ago. She might have done more, but the UPS man arrived with a package of pirate gear we ordered last week, and drama on the high seas prevailed.

After lunch we went over to a friends' farm and spent the afternoon. We held baby turkeys and saw some turkey eggs in the incubator. We met the mama and papa turkey, and learned about the wattle, snood and beard. They raise several different kinds of chickens: Delaware, Araucana, and others that I can't recall. The kids chased the chickens, and I learned about how to possible raise laying hens. My favorite animal by far was their new Nigerian dwarf goat named Strawberry Flip. She was so sweet, and I left ready to buy one myself! After we saw all the animals and had snack, the kids made a baking soda volcano, played freeze tag and had a big squirt gun fight. We stayed for a long time, and the kids were lucky enough to take a short ride on Smokey, the thoroughbred. First they helped groom him, learned a bit about how to brush a horse and how to act around horses. Emily was so excited! She's been wanting to ride horses for a long time now--I'm guessing that will be her chosen activity for next year. Julia sat on Smokey but was too spooked to ride--he's really big! Emily, Sam and their friend rode together, but at the end, they all slid off in a heap on top of each other. They handled it well, and luckily no one was really hurt, despite the fall. *lol* But Emily took it all in stride and even went back to brush him some more, which was a really good sign. She saved some of the hair she brushed from his mane and can't wait to print one of the pictures to keep. I think she's in love!

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

We've had such incredible conversations these past couple of days, which is one of my favorite parts of unschooling. People often ask how kids learn anything if we don't "teach" them or how we know they're learning. Conversations are moments when these things come together. We're not sitting down teaching them anything; rather, we're sitting as a family discussing things in a free and respectful give and take. Sometimes I might know more, sometimes dh, depending upon whose turf it's own. Lots of times neither of us are experts, but we're debating opinions or current events. Discussions are always animated and opinionated, and Emily, especially, loves to participate! Julia often likes to listen as well, but she doesn't like confrontation and gets uncomfortable when we disagree.

The past couple of days we've been discussing anatomy, nutrition, muscles, atrophy, the nervous system, comas. We've had conversations about Henry VIII and the English monarchy after his death, Queen Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots, James I, the Interregnum, the Magna Carta. We compared the American and French Revolutions, the French overthrow of monarchy and the English adoption of a limited monarchy, the long-time animosity between England and France. We talked about Catholicism and Anglicanism, which led to a discussion of Christianity, the Crucifiction, Resurrection and what happened to Jesus after the Resurrection.

We have some of our most interesting discussions after dinner when we're all still sitting at the table, enjoying each other's company. Everyone's relaxed, genuinely curious and interested in the subject at hand, playing with ideas, making connections and just enjoying the adventure.

Monday, May 03, 2004

We had an outdoor weekend, working in the yard and gardens again. Dh and I built some new trellises for my climbing roses. The rustic ones I had built from saplings around the property succumbed to Hurricane Isabel, so this time we opted for something a bit more permanent. We finished them on Saturday, but it was an all-day project. The kids played in the yard most of the day--on the climber, skooters, with neighborhood friends.

Sunday morning, Emily and I read the new Discovery Kids magazine about telescopes. The rest of the day I spent futzing around with several small projects. I cleaned my birdfeeders, and dh helped me put up two new feeders that I bought. Now, we have a really great 4 feeder setup on the corner of our top deck where we can watch the birds from inside. We love watching all the different kinds of birds, and now we can try out different types of food to see which birds prefer which food. I re-trellised the blackberries, cleaned the outdoor furniture, and some other odd jobs.

We've begun feeding the koi and comets again, and they are still pretty skittish. Hopefully, by the end of the week they'll start coming over for the food. The pond is beginning to clear up again after a Spring algae explosion. Friday the kids helped me pull the pond plants out and separate those that needed it and give them their first Spring feeding. We also finished the bog garden. The kids helped me load stone from the driveway and place it around the plants in the bog. We have a couple of frogs, but they haven't begun their Spring singing yet as far as I can tell. No eggs yet.

My mother arrived Sunday afternoon, and the kids had loads of fun showing her all their tricks on the climber. I'm sure they'll enjoy playing with her the next few days.