Monday, March 21, 2005

The kids and I made our own homemade broom from a broom plant that I pruned. They've been having fun playing Harry Potter and taking turns flying around on the broom. They've also made some really cool spears for themselves after watching Troy. Achilles weilds a mean spear, that's for sure! The kids loved watching the mythological world of their Age of Mythology game come alive. We watched the bonus features disc, a National Geographic special on the Making of Troy, and read a couple of excerpts from The Iliad. As chance would have it, Emily had picked up a children's version of The Odyssey from the library, so we got a sense of what happened to Odysseus on his way home from the Trojan War.

This weekend, Jim set up an old CD player in the girls' bedroom, and they've been having a ball listening to all their CDs and feeling quite grown up. Julia put in a disc that had come with a ballerina book Em got ages ago, and she immediately recognized the music from Swan Lake. I was quite impressed. She then proceeded to tell Sam all about the story.

Friday and Saturday the kids and dh helped me get the vegetable garden turned over. There's still quite a bit of clay that each year we work hard to get rid of by taking as much out as possible and replacing it with good organic matter from our compost bins to mix in with the remaining soil. I turned the garden over, the kids helped pull out any rocks and clay while breaking apart the shoveled clumps and Jim hauled the compost. By the end of the day Saturday, it was looking pretty good, and the chickens were loving the compost top dressing, which we'll turn in with a friend's rototiller sometime this week, hopefully.

While we were working on Friday, we found a six-spotted green tiger beatle, which was really cool--an amazingly brilliant, iridescent emerald green. We were able to use the bug vacuum Sam bought at the toystore a few weeks ago to suck it into the magnifying canister and then identify it with our insect book. While I was inside getting the book, Sam let the beatle go, so at first we had to identify it from memory. We narrowed it down to two from the pictures, then used the description of the habitats to determine which it was. As we did, we found the beatle crawling on Sam's jacket, much to his chagrin, and were able to recapture it, and sure enough, those six spots were clear as could be under the magnifying glass.

Then later, as I was moving some rocks around for my rock walls, I found a black widow and was able to suck that up as well for safe viewing. It was beautiful, and it's not the first one I've found in my rock walls, unfortunately. We supposedly have brown recluses in the area too, though I've never found one, and we need to be careful of copperheads, as well. Basically, we're all pretty careful to wear our work gloves when ever we're handling fire wood or rocks. And we scout out our climbing area pretty carefully when we head over there, too.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Slacklining Adventures

We had a blast this weekend hanging around the house. Jim set up a slackline, which we all tried out. Instead of a "tight" rope, it's a "slack" rope, which has a fair amount of give in it, bending with weight. Sam was having so much fun using his weight to bounce up and down, which he thought was much cooler than just trying to walk it.

A slackline is basically a piece of webbing, connected between to points--in our case, two trees. Jim had used some climbing webbing, 'biners and a come-along to set it up, but this time he was able to procure a tie-down used to secure gas canisters at work, which has a clamping device built in to the line. You can read more about the sport at Slackline Brothers. Slacklining is loads of fun and surprisingly difficult. I was amazed at how much my leg would wobble back and forth the instant I weighted it, making it nearly impossible to walk without holding onto someone. I was laughing so hard! Obviously, it ought to become easier with practice, but it's amazing that folks actually walk across canyons this way! Julia was really good at it, not surprisingly. Her balance and concentration are phenomenal!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

We've been fighting off some kind of bug, though none of us has been out right sick, just a bit off-kilter. The girls have been playing with "paper dolls," coloring and cutting out historical figures from some of their Dover coloring books that we've picked up on our travels. They've been coloring in dresses from Colonial and Civil War eras, and even Sam's been getting in on the action.

We've also been watching several DVDs from the library. We've watched Little Women and Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, both of which have given us lots of opportunity to talk about those historical moments. The girls loved being able to watch Meg and Jo get ready for the dance in Little Women, comparing the dresses to those that were in their coloring books. They were outraged that the teacher hit Amy, and we all cheered when Marmy made her speech about keeping her home.

Sherlock Holmes was fun, though a bit on the scary side for the kids. We had seen Jackie Chan's Shanghai Knights first, which made all kinds of references to Sherlock Holmes, even portraying a character supposed to be the author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, showing "how" he became a knight. Pretty funny all of the connections, and we laughed about the tall-tale nature of Shanghai Knights.

We watched Master and Commander, which was an amazing movie, packed with historical information. The kids were fascinated by life on board a ship, and they really identified with the character Lord Blakeney, because he was so young. The Napoleonic Wars serve as the movie's backdrop, creating another Napoleonic dot for the kids, which began with the movie The Count of Monte Cristo, connecting to the apocryphal story of Napoleon shooting off the nose of the sphinx, connecting to this movie.

We tracked the journey of the ship on our world map, adding yet another journey to those of Pocohantas, Amelia Eerhart, our own and others. We talked about the birth of Natural History, represented by the doctor's fascination with the Galapogos Islands, and Lord Blakeney's desire to follow in his footsteps as a "fighting naturalist." This led to discussions of biology, evolution, Darwin, and much more. The next day, we found a bug in the house and were looking it up in our book, when Em found a picture of a bug that disguises itself as a thorn--just as Doctor Maturin showed. I love this!

After the movie, we visited the Master and Commander website, which is filled with interactive information. The site has even more information about life on a tall ship, a captain's log, a detailed map of the journey, specifics about the different ranks and responsibilities. It's just amazing what's available these days!

Of course, we've also been doing other things this week as well--lots of claywork with sculpey, lots of painting--including arms and faces! Yesterday, Sam and Julia pulled out all of our cardboard slated for recycling and began building. Julia made a really cool dollhouse while Sam worked on a castle. At one point, Emily pulled out a measuring stick the kids had been given at the local hardware store, and they all began measuring each other, how high the boxes were, etc. Two days ago, the weather was glorious, so we spent most of the day outside, soaking in the sunshine and listening to Harry Potter on CD, drawing and playing. Life is one grand learning adventure!

Sunday, March 06, 2005


We've had cable television for almost 2 years now; prior to that I was tv-free for nearly 10. And now, after 2 years of unlimited access to cable channels such as HGTV, Disney, The History Channel and Cartoon Network, my family--yes all of us!--have made the decision to give up cable. But what brought us to this point?

When I went to grad school, I made the decision not to have television in my life, the mountains of Central Pennsylvania and a graduate student salary aiding my decision. With so much work, I felt that I would carefully weigh the decision to watch a two hour movie in a way I would not turning on the tv. Thus began my blissful life without the "plug-in drug," causing me to miss the entire Seinfeld and Friends eras, shamefully unaware of the cultural references shared in the grad student offices. Did I miss out? Yes and no. My life was rich in other areas, and let's face it, I can now enjoy all those missed seasons of Friends on DVD--they're all new to me!

So what does this all have to do with our Unschooling adventures? Well, what to do with that 20th century entertainment box is a perennial question for child development experts, educators and, by extension, Unschoolers. The big question becomes does television expand or limit one's world?

Over the past 2 years, we have all enjoyed free access to the channels and information brought to us by cable tv. We have enjoyed "Bloody Rome" week on The History Channel, "Landscape Challenge" on HGTV, and my children have discovered shows like "Kim Possible" and "Teen Titans." Cable television has expanded our interests and our world, even when I haven't always liked the ways in which it's been expanded. Even shows like "Ed, Ed and Eddy" and "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy" have offered us insights and information.

Never once has television limited our world or our lives. Critics talk of the addictive or passive nature of television, but our experience has born out neither of those criticisms. There have been days when the kids have watched, enthralled, and other days when they have never turned on the tv. Always, the shows have fueled their imagination and curiosity, informing their play, their art, their questions.

Why then choose to cancel cable? The question for us has been one of economics. We now have the option for DSL instead of the cable modem, a switch which would cut our monthly bill by $70. The question for us was whether the shows we watched were worth $70 a month to us, the answer to which was ultimately no.

The children had just as much a say in that answer as we did. We talked over all of our options and decided to digitally record as many of their favorite programs as possible, nearly all of which are reruns any way, before cancelling cable. This way, they will have these shows available on DVD whenever they choose to watch. We also have joined Blockbuster online, which will allow us unlimited movie rentals each month, many of which offer their favorite characters. We decided that the difference between these options and cable was not worth the nearly $60 a month it would cost.

We will still enjoy our favorite shows, "Survivor" and "The Amazing Race." We will still get Fox and PBS. We will still have many options available, all of which enrich our lives. And, we will have an exta $60 a month that will make saving for our December trip to Disneyworld that much easier, eliminating the need to sacrifice little luxuries like gameboy games and chinese take-out. We will still have trust and freedom, but more than that, we all have had the power to decide what works best for us as a family.