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Freedom to Explore

Giving the kids the freedom to explore without constantly intervening can be difficult. Not many of us have been given the same opportunity, especially as very young children. Thinking that a five or three or even one year old can do things on their own with little help from us can seem impossible or even dangerous.

We were at a birthday party in June and Egan was climbing up stairs, climbing the ladder on the play set, and other things he has been doing for a long time. It was funny to watch the other parents looking at us, looking at him, looking back at us, to see why we weren’t helping him. There were a lot of “be careful” comments while they were watching him. There were many comments about his bravery and how it must make us so worried, so nervous, all the time.

Sometimes it does make us worried, like when he is climbing the stove. But we have grown to understand how capable these children are if we simply give them space. Egan knows what his limits are. When he gets stuck, he knows I will be nearby to help him. The same goes for Gannon and for Waverly, too, though they rarely need help from us anymore. We have boundaries, of course. Egan isn’t going to climb a ladder up to a roof, or anything, though the other day he did climb up a slide that was very tall. It was one of those old, metal slides. He didn’t want to slide back down, nor did he want to go down the ladder. We got stuck for a moment at the top but we figured it out, in his time, not mine. He let me know when he was ready for me to carry him down the ladder.

Gannon has been riding a two wheel pedal bike with no training wheels since he was 3.5 years old. Waverly tries but doesn’t have the confidence quite yet. She will in her own time. Egan has a balance bike that is attached to a rocking base. He prefers to rock it while standing on the seat or standing in front of the bike, facing the back of the bike, with his feet on the rocking platform. He also enjoys flipping the bike upside down (with help from his brother and sister) and climbing on the underside of the rocking base. Someday, he will understand the mechanics of a bike simply from the exploration he is doing now.

Gannon is interested in climbing trees but we don’t seem to have a good tree for climbing around here. Waverly too likes to sit up high in a branch, looking down at us with a big smile on her face. We have been reading a book about Amelia Earhart and Waverly has so many questions about flying. She likes jumping from the tops of things or off of tall rocks.

Sometimes when they run down the road, my anxiety spikes, watching them moving so quickly over loose dirt and gravel, down a hill. I can see how easily they could slip and get hurt. But I can also see, which is more important, how much they love running. They’ve done it so many times and it pains me, at times, to not yell, “Slow down!” They know what they are doing. They haven’t fallen yet and if I had, each time, told them to be careful or asked them to slow down, I would have taken all the fun away from them. Eventually they would stop running down that particular part of the road, fearful that they would slip and fall, a fear in which I would have instilled in them for the sake of making myself feel better.

There are so many instances where I see them pushing a prior limit. Climbing a little higher, going down a faster slide, pumping themselves on the swing to a new height. I see them running faster, riding their bikes faster, going down hills faster. They have this ability to know when they are ready for more. I can’t possibly know this for them. I can’t hold them back from what they know, from what they deserve to explore.

 

Socialization

“I just worry about the socialization,” is the most common comment we get when people learn we will be keeping our kids home from school. This is, from what I’ve seen, also common among most people who are keeping their kids home from school.

What does socialization mean to those who ask the question, I often wonder.

Our kids are exposed to people of all different ages; adults, elders, toddlers, babies, adolescents, and teenagers. They play with kids in the neighborhood. They see the children of our friends.

Socialization. You mean that thing where you talk to others? I looked up a few definitions and I don’t see where it says that to socialize, we have to be the same age as the person(s) we are socializing with. I don’t see where it says we have to sit in a classroom. It certainly doesn’t say while in the classroom, we need to be told to sit quietly and do our tasks, not talking to one another, to be properly socialized.

Is that what you mean by socialization?

I see it as exposure to real life. An experience with people of all ages. A kid at the park or the cashier at the grocery store. The farmer at the farm stand or market. Aunts and uncles, cousins, friends. Nothing says to be socialized we need to sit in a school for 12 or more years of our lives, with kids the same age, being instructed to be quiet.

Jobs aren’t divided up by age, last time I checked, and in no other instance that I can think of are things segregated by age. Other than the school system, that is.

Boy, I sure would hate if my kids never learned how to talk to other people because they didn’t sit in a classroom for days on end, memorizing things they don’t particularly care for so they can pass a test, dreaming of being outside or reading a book or painting.

I’d prefer to worry about the world we are raising our kids in. Guiding them through life, modeling kindness and helpfulness. Love. Humanity.

You can’t find those things in a textbook.

Year Long Learning

A lot of people who have discovered we are keeping our kids home from school will often ask when we start homeschooling. Many of the homeschooling forums I read talk about starting and ending times, vacation times, and holidays. They will discuss what happens when a child is sick, is a lesson continued or is it put on hold?

I can understand the questions of when do we start. Most kids start school at a certain age, have holidays off, have a couple of vacations scatter throughout the year, and don’t attend school in the summer. Many people don’t realize that children have been learning from us since the moment they were born and we are simply extending that learning style.

Learning happens all hours of the day, every day of the year. Each situation can present us with a learning moment. Summer seems to be our favorite season for learning. We learn about birds, about plants. We learn about the weather. We learn about the physics of a bicycle. We learn about lawn mowers, tractors, solar energy. We learn and learn and learn.

Gannon and Waverly tell stories about the things they see outside, or put the story to a melody and sing me a beautiful song. We search for Monarch caterpillars and watch them transform to beautiful butterflies. We spend our days in the sun, running through the grass, catching grasshoppers. We check the plants in the garden, and when they are ready, we eat our snacks plucked fresh, sun kissed and delicious.

I can’t imagine having them missing out on these essential learning moments because of a system that has been in place for a relatively short period of time. Imagine the freedom of hunter gatherers but with technology, safety, and health systems that weren’t before available. It’s a great time, in a lot of ways, to learn right in the backyard.

Finally, Sunshine!

I don’t know about you all, but we certainly enjoy life a little more when the weather is nice. I feel less pressured about making sure we are DOING and find it easier to simply let them BE. Unstructured days lead to some of the best learning days.

When we can take our time to go through the day as we please, the moments become slower, the breaths we are taking become deeper, and life becomes more meaningful and full of growth.

So far we have had almost a full week of warmth. After the damp, cold spring we have had thus far, it was welcome. Gannon, Waverly, and even Egan helped plant the seedlings in the soil. Gannon has made it his sole duty to water our vegetable babies. Waverly has been role playing with her dolls every moment she gets so she was happy to finally set up the pool so she could do swim lessons with them. We have gone on bike rides and walks, helped work with the backhoe, play golf, and play baseball.

We went to a baseball game this week, which was great for teaching some more extended number recognition. We used the players jerseys to talk about who was at bat, who was in the outfield, and who was pitching. We also sang songs, clapped along, and they learned the rules of playing a team sport. For a 5 and 3 year old, their attention to the details of the game was surprising, even to me. They also learned how delicious french fries are while sitting in the sun and watching a ball game.

They have played in the mud, made “meals” in their play kitchen with ingredients from nature, collected feathers and tried to identify the birds (lots of chicken feathers around our property), and today they collected some shells from the lake. They all did some painting this week too, which was great since the art walls needed refreshing. This morning they also got out the binoculars to identify a far off bird that was perched on a branch. Gannon thought it may be a hawk, since there is often a red-tailed sitting there, but it turned out to be a Cedar Waxwing.

We shall see what the next few days bring! I’m hoping some rain. I’d really like to jump in some puddles.

A week in the life…

IMG_0684IMG_0698One of Egan’s favorite ways to start the day is helping Paul with the chickens in the morning. Paul puts him in the backpack and off they go. Egan loves the chickens and is delighted with each movement they make. He especially loves when they run out of the coop in the morning.

We seIMG_0701em to have a lot of fun with painting. Gannon told me recently that he likes to paint when he is sad because it makes him feel better. It made me want to give him all the painting supplies in the entire world. He is so creative and it shows when he is in the moment. His concentration is unbelievable and his desire to keep on going is such a wonderful sight for me, as his mom to see.

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And then there is Egan, master climber. He loves to do things like this, climbing where he really shouldn’t be to get to things he really wants. He is very careful in his climbing. Cautious and calculated. He falls mostly when he is tired but still, I’m nearby just in case. There is no stopping this one!

 

 

Thursday was my birthday. We went to our favorite place for story time. Luckily, a good friend of mine was able to join us to lend a hand. They love exploring this farm. They have lots of gardens and animals. Gannon even drew an ant for an employee who was helping with story time and handed it to her without my assistance. He is growing wonderfully in this direction and I couldn’t be more proud. Egan loves the baby chicks hanging out in the brooder, Waverly loves the lambs, Gannon likes all of the animals, and I love the baby goats. Someday we will have goats of our very own. Oh, and bees. They have this great observation hive. I’m hoping the more interest Waverly shows in the hive, the more appreciation she will gain and the less fear she will have. Gannon loves the loom and uses it each time we go. It is a beautiful piece and seeing him using it brings me much joy.

We have had a fox tormenting our chickens so one thing we have needed is a more sound chicken pen installed. Finally, some holes were dug and some posts inserted in the holes. There is still a lot of work to do. Egan was happy to watch the tractor and unroll all of the string used for laying out the borders. Gannon and Waverly helped with the tape measure and watched the tractor dig the holes. They are learning a lot of lessons in these household chores!

This is a view into the things we have done this week with many other small things in between. Going to swim class, doing gymnastics, playing with water, learning about dinosaur fossils, learning about new creatures on Wild Kratts, and reading books. Playing in the sand box. Meeting new people. Talking to neighbors. Selling backyard eggs.

Each day brings new opportunities for learning. It doesn’t stop for us, as adults, so it is important to set a healthy foundation. Loving to learn is a quality that will carry them well in life. Being able to see them experience all of this is a gift for us.

Sewing a Special Gift

I’ve been waiting to post this one since March. My mom came over to help my kids sew a special blanket for a friend who is having a baby. Her baby shower was today and she has received her gift so now I’m in the clear to post this without ruining her surprise.

They measured the fabric, cut it to length, and pinned it down. My mom had a great amount of patience during this project because of course there were lots of questions and excitement which can make instructions hard to follow. They loved pinning the fabric. Minky is pretty slippery so there were lots of pins. Gannon did most of the sewing with pretty limited instruction. Waverly even had a turn at the machine and she did great stopping when she reached a pin. They learned about the right side of the fabric, watching fingers with sharp needles, how to change a bobbin and thread. They helped turn the blanket right, then sewed the opening closed and continued to finish up the blanket. It wasn’t a quick project, it took a lot of concentration and patience on their parts too but they did it! (Thanks, Grammy!)

I was so proud to give this blanket to my childhood friend. From my first to her first. I hope that she will enjoy it for many years. Gannon and Waverly came to the baby shower with me so that they could see her open it. They were very proud of themselves and happy to give her the gift.

Someday, I will have time to learn to sew, and they just may be the ones to teach me.

The Hard Lessons

We have been experiencing some issues with a fox who really wants our chickens. Our dogs have been doing a decent job at chasing the fox off but we did lose one hen a couple of weeks ago. The other night the fox had pinned one of our girls down but we happened to catch sight of it before the chicken was injured. This has been a lesson in the food chain for the kids, unfortunately involving their beloved hens.

As difficult as this lesson can be, it is essential.

Yesterday, we were out exploring. We were in a loved area, playing with wood chunks and branches and climbing on a rock pile. Our dog, Juniper, discovered a den in a pile of brush that had been left from last year. She was going crazy, digging and yipping, trying with all her might to get into that den. I watched her closely so she didn’t get hurt and so nothing else got hurt. As much as I don’t want a fox eating our chickens, I don’t want it to be injured either.

Juniper dug and dug and then she came out with something in her mouth. I commanded her to release it, and she did immediately. It wasn’t a fox, after all, but a baby raccoon. I left it, hoping it would get reunited with its family. I was so sad when I checked on it and it was struggling to breathe but very much alive. What I was hoping was a still attached umbilical cord turned out to be part of its intestines.

We made a few phone calls. One person advised us to leave it alone. I couldn’t do that. I called a woman who rehabilitates animals to get a positive ID and for further advice. She told us the name of a local vet we could bring it to to have it euthanized. I couldn’t let it suffer so off we went.

I felt awful that it’s injury was most likely caused because of me, and I let the kids know that I shouldn’t have let Juniper dig in that far. She most likely would have scared any creature living in there anyway.

We brought the raccoon to the vet. The woman working the desk told me that she raised one from that age, and with tears in her eyes squeezed my hand and thanked me for bringing it in so it wouldn’t need to suffer anymore.

Waverly was a mess. She didn’t understand why we couldn’t bring it home. Gannon was afraid that his belly would open and his intestines would also spill out. Egan didn’t know what was going on and really just wanted to eat dinner.

We had a long talk about nature, about death, and about not lettingFullSizeRender (2) things suffer. They had some big lessons yesterday, some hard lessons. But important ones. Life is fragile. It is precious. I made a mistake and I feel incredibly sad. This is a creature that could grow up and cause more damage to our chickens, so it was also ironic. But it is still life.

When i removed it from the den, I wrapped it in my flannel. I held it all the way to the vet. The kids looked at it, expressed their sadness in various ways. The raccoon would stretch, make some noises, and settle back in against my hand. My heart will hurt for the loss of this being for a long time to come.

 

 

Just some thoughts…

I haven’t been great about keeping up with our activities through the blog (and not that much better about keeping track on Facebook either). It seems that the days escape me and by the time the kids are asleep, it is time for relaxing on the couch. Gannon turned five yesterday. I am trying to remember that he is still younger than even kindergarten age so I can slow down. I don’t need to have planned activities for every waking moment of the day. I don’t need to have any planned activities at all.

Slow. Play. Freedom. Opportunity. Exploration.

That is what they need. To play. And in their play, there will be ample opportunities for learning. I finished reading How Children Learn by John Holt. It really made me feel that I was doing right by these three wonderful humans. It also reminded me of how much I love watching them learning and just being. It reminded me of how interesting it is to see these developments happening before our eyes. It also taught me some valuable lessons in giving kids the chance to use their own minds and not guiding their every move or correcting every mistake for them.

We don’t need to rush education. It can happen in little moments, moments that will teach them in a way they will remember, not just memorize. Gannon remembers an incredible amount of information about animals from watching Wild Kratts on PBS. When we are outside, he is often pretending he sees some of the creatures in our backyard. Waverly is learning so much too. Today, we were writing on their new whiteboard and I spelled her name. Then we found the matching magnet letters. And as I was sitting alongside her, just talking, we were engaged in a lesson about letters. She then said, “Gannon is G-A-N-N-O-N, right, Mom?” Yes, Waverly, that is right. She is always listening to her brother and he has been spelling his name for a long while now. She looks up to him and learns a lot of the same things he does. She is currently working on learning her colors, which she knows most of, from watching YouTube videos and from general conversation around the house. And Gannon has started writing his name with hardly any instruction in letter making. I am astonished at their progress with no lessons, only support and encouragement, and endless conversations, of course.

This is why unschooling makes so much sense for us. Unschooling relies on real life lessons and interactions for knowledge growth. Education never stops. It is happening throughout the day, from the moment their eyes open in the morning until they close at night. They are learning on weekends, on holidays. Their hunger for information is growing, rather than diminishing. We are here, learning, right alongside them.

So that means I am trying to be more present, more engaged, and more focused on them while going through a process called deschooling. Deschooling is basically removing all of the learned practices and ideas from being in school, or those imposed by society. This is not easy. I went to public school. It is hard to remember keeping kids home does not look like school and it shouldn’t look like school. It is so much more. This is not to put down schooling in any way; I believe the school systems serve a crucial role as well and are needed in many ways. Unschooling is a lifestyle that fits our relationship with our children. Some people consider it an extension of attachment parenting and I agree. It is the decision to spend time with our kids, engaged with our kids, teaching them through our actions and living life together.

I hope to be writing more about our adventures now that Egan has been more agreeable to napping somewhere besides my shoulder. I hope to be able to take a few minutes here and there to write about the lessons the kids are learning without lessons.

Everyday is an adventure. Every new situation meant for learning. Every turn an opportunity.

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Dr. Seuss Week

We had a great week celebrating Dr. Seuss! Every day we did a different projected based on one of the books written by him. It was interesting to see how the kids responded to a theme for the week. We haven’t done much directed learning so this was different than what they are used to. Gannon seemed to enjoy most days as did Waverly. They each had one day where they didn’t feel much like playing along but that is better than what I had expected.

On Monday we read The Cat in the Hat and decorated hats. Most projects I’ve seen are pretty specific in that the hats look like the one in the book. I like to deviate from the norm in almost all things so here are the kids hats, decorated as they wished. Waverly’s hat is on the left and Gannon’s is the right. They used markers, glitter markers, washi tape, tissue paper, and colored pencils to decorate their hats.

On Tuesday it was Waverly’s birthday so we did two projects. We read The Lorax and I provided them the tools to make a scene of Truffula Trees.

This was the day Gannon didn’t want to participate. Waverly’s scene is on top, Gannon’s on bottom. She thought her trees should be flying, I guess! We followed up this craft with baking and decorating her birthday cake. Usually we get a cake from a baker but she wanted to make her own. It was much more fun this way.

We read Happy Birthday To You while decorating the cake. She did most of it on her own and luckily I’m the one who ended up with the eggshells and not any of our family who came to celebrate with us.

On Wednesday we read One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. They decorated fish with similar materials as the hats. They both really enjoyed this project. Waverly’s (left) was decorated mostly with glitter markers and Gannon (right) loved the fish he created using tissue paper with glitter markers.

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Thursday was Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book. This was one of Gannon’s first favorite books so I was excited to use it. We kept the project pretty simple.First they painted with watercolors on a plain piece of paper. I used a stencil and cut out the letters of their names for them to glue on their paintings. While we were waiting for the pages to dry, they used alphabet stamps and stamped paper. Then we glued their names to their paintings. Gannon worked diligently to obtain the result he was happiest with. This was the day Waverly wasn’t feeling up for doing much. Instead of stamping paper she stamped her arms, legs, and face but she did help me glue the letters on her painting.

Friday we read Horton Hatches the Egg. We had gotten a delivery of diapers and had a nice big box that the kids turned into a nest. They sat in the box as I read the story. Then I used tracing paper to trace a page out of the book for them to color. Never having done a themed week before, I was pretty tired from the projects so we kept it even more simple than the previous day.

Saturday there was an event at our local library to celebrate Dr. Seuss. We ended the week there for story time with the one and only Cat in the Hat. The kids each received a ticket for a free book so we left with three new Dr. Seuss books we hadn’t yet read. It is a pretty great excuse to spend the morning at the library meeting new friends.

We had a lot of fun celebrating Dr. Seuss over the week and I am loving the new additions to our dining room wall. It makes me so happy to see their artwork displayed!

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The Little Boy by Helen E. Buckley

I read the poem, The Little Boy, by Helen E. Buckley a few weeks ago. I can’t seem to shake it. While there are many lessons that stick out in this poem, the greatest to me is how easily a child’s creativity can be diminished. I keep coming back to this poem over and over.

In the early fall we attended a play group on a farm. Each week we read a story, were given material to make a craft, and then we met an animal. The first craft was to make a barn using paper. They were told to draw doors and windows, which were to be cut a specific way, and instructed to cut the second piece of paper so it would allow for gluing to the first sheet of paper. It was an advanced craft for the age group. Gannon and Waverly listened intently to the instructions. Gannon did pretty well drawing windows and doors. He didn’t want to cut them because he was happy with his drawing. He was quickly led to the scissors and told how to cut his doors. I told him he didn’t need to do anything to his barn and if he was happy with it not being cut he didn’t need to cut it. He looked upset that she couldn’t see how hard he worked on his barn. They didn’t do anything wrong with the material they were given, it was simply different than the model they were shown.

After this first meeting the crafts were more simple and they figured out that unless my kids asked for help they preferred to be on their own. Mostly they did well doing as instructed but they just enjoyed using whatever material they were given, especially Waverly who had just begun finding her creative side. The group and the staff were wonderful and we can’t wait to do it again in the spring.

The end result should be a child who is proud of their project and the work that they put into it, regardless of what it looks like when finished. To be honest, one of the hardest parts of homeschooling for me has been letting go of specific projects like the ones I did as a child. They can be a lot of fun so I don’t think I could ever eliminate them completely. One of the best parts of homeschooling is attempting to do a specific project and seeing where the kids take it. Having an open mind, allowing kids to use their own minds, and seeing the learning is pretty amazing.

The Little Boy

Once a little boy went to school.
He was quite a little boy.
And it was quite a big school.
But when the little boy
Found that he could go to his room
By walking right in from the door outside,
He was happy.
And the school did not seem
Quite so big any more.

One morning,
When the little boy had been in school a while,
The teacher said:
“Today we are going to make a picture.”
“Good!” thought the little boy.
He liked to make pictures.
He could make all kinds:
Lions and tigers,
Chickens and cows,
Trains and boats –
And he took out his box of crayons
And began to draw.

But the teacher said:
“Wait! It is not time to begin!”
And she waited until everyone looked ready.

“Now,” said the teacher,
“We are going to make flowers.”
“Good!” thought the little boy,
He liked to make flowers,
And he began to make beautiful ones
With his pink and orange and blue crayons.

But the teacher said,
“Wait! And I will show you how.”
And she drew a flower on the blackboard.
It was red, with a green stem.
“There,” said the teacher.
“Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s flower.
Then he looked at his own flower,
He liked his flower better than the teacher’s.
But he did not say this,
He just turned his paper over
And made a flower like the teacher’s.
It was red, with a green stem.

On another day,
When the little boy had opened
The door from the outside all by himself,
The teacher said,
“Today we are going to make something with clay.”
“Good!” thought the boy.
He liked clay.

He could make all kinds of things with clay:
Snakes and snowmen,
Elephants and mice,
Cars and trucks –
And he began to pull and pinch
His ball of clay.

But the teacher said,
“Wait! And I will show you how.”
And she showed everyone how to make
One deep dish.
“There,” said the teacher.
“Now you may begin.”

The little boy looked at the teacher’s dish
Then he looked at his own.
He liked his dishes better than the teacher’s
But he did not say this,
He just rolled his clay into a big ball again,
And made a dish like the teacher’s.
It was a deep dish.

And pretty soon
The little boy learned to wait
And to watch,
And to make things just like the teacher.
And pretty soon
He didn’t make things of his own anymore.
Then it happened
That the little boy and his family
Moved to another house,
In another city,
And the little boy
Had to go to another school.

This school was even bigger
Than the other one,
And there was no door from the outside
Into his room.
He had to go up some big steps,
And walk down a long hall
To get to his room.

And the very first day
He was there, the teacher said,
“Today we are going to make a picture.”

“Good!” thought the little boy,
And he waited for the teacher
To tell him what to do
But the teacher didn’t say anything.
She just walked around the room.

When she came to the little boy,
She said, “Don’t you want to make a picture?”
“Yes,” said the little boy.
“What are we going to make?”
“I don’t know until you make it,” said the teacher.
“How shall I make it?” asked the little boy.
“Why, any way you like,” said the teacher.
“And any color?” asked the little boy.
“Any color,” said the teacher,
“If everyone made the same picture,
And used the same colors,
How would I know who made what,
“And which was which?”
“I don’t know,” said the little boy.
And he began to draw a flower.
It was red, with a green stem.

~ Helen E. Buckley