unschooling

big rock candy mountains

We got the chance to head down to Southern Utah this week to relax, hike, explore and enjoy a few degrees warmer weather than at our home. We visited Capitol Reef and Fremont Indian State Park. Big Rock Candy Mountain is an actual place that we drove through on our way around and about and when you see the colors and textures and beauty of the surroundings nearby, you can see why.

Capitol Reef is full of amazingly beautiful rock formations as well as historic Fruita, an old fruit growing town. We stopped at the Fruita school house and blacksmith shop and spotted happy deer living in the orchards and big marmots chewing grass in the picnic area near the river.

We spent a lot of our time exploring slot canyons, which I particularly love and have apparently passed my love on to our kids as they requested more and more slot canyon hikes. We also hiked some of the scenic narrow, but not slot canyon narrow washes that are easily accessible in the park. The kids are strong and energetic enough to hike about 5 to 6 miles total in a day now which lets us explore some areas that we haven’t been able to reach before. (We go fairly slowly and make a lot of stops though, to allow the kids to rest and to enjoy the scenery!) We went up Capitol Wash through the narrows, past the historic pioneer register and up to the tanks. We even happened upon an arch when we hiked a little way off trail to find a place to sit and eat our lunch.

We hiked up into Cottonwood Wash to some beautiful slots. Gavin did some photographing which is fun to witness both the process and the outcome. My favorite is the one where he had Lilah put her hat with the pink tentacles so it was just peeking out from behind the rock.

In between hiking we played Power Grid, worked on puzzles and had a few egg hunts. There was a rabbit that liked hanging out right next to the place we stayed.

 

We hiked through Grand Wash, exploring some of the offshoot canyons, spotting petroglyphs and spotting geodes left and right in the wash. The kids are fascinated by rocks, especially crystals and fossils so we were enjoying spotting geodes, both closed and some open ones lurking everywhere. They often remark on the minerals or formations of rocks while we are out, wondering if the red rock is full of iron and the purple manganese, the greenish could be lime stone. They got bracelets on the trip with mini compasses on them so they were comparing their compasses to the car’s compass as we drove and looking at which direction were were heading on trails as well as wondering if iron in the mountains was affecting their compass readings.

We have plans to do more rock hounding as it’s fun, fascinating and gets us outside and into new places. I need to find more local resources and get us some better tools. I wish we had our own rock saw so we could slice some beauties open without having to go somewhere and have someone else do it.

We spotted so many lizards, birds and this hummingbird moth.

We drove out on Burr Trail through the Waterfold Canyon and it was an amazing drive. I was drooling over all the amazing rock formations, washes and canyons to explore. We spotted deer as well as a herd of cows and their cowboy along our way. We made it out to a fairly remote spot where we had lunch up on a huge rock bench before heading out to find Headquarters slot canyon. It was a fun, pretty easy trail through a deep dark beautiful red wash up into a slot that was one of the narrowest I’ve been in. We spotted lizards galore and Lilah even saw this huge beauty, around a foot long!

I loved noticing all the dried flowers from last summer, now a beautiful gold color decorating the edges of the trail, waiting for the rains to cover them in green again.

Fremont Indian State Park is a fairly small park but is full of amazing remnants of the Fremont Indians who lived in the area long, long ago. Unlike many of the other native peoples who lived in our area, these groups lived in homes underground. They came upon a huge collection of ancient homes and artifacts when they were clearing the area to build a road through and from that discover the museum and park came to be. There are thousands of petroglyphs, right next to the road, right next to each other, utterly fascinating and awe inspiring, also lots of other artifacts and an ancient granary you can see into and an underground home you can climb down into and explore. We also visited the labyrinth, a spiral that isn’t really advertised or well marked that you have to just happen upon while wandering in the park. It’s created with the local lava rock and stumps of old trees put together oriented to the four directions and really fun to walk into and out again, contemplating the mysteries of life now and for people living thousands of years before us in ways we may never fully understand.

On this trip we ended up talking a lot about graffiti, petroglyphs, historic markings, what constitutes damage and what doesn’t since we saw all of those things plus a little girl drawing on small rocks in a remote wash as well as a grown man trying to throw a huge soccer ball sized rock into a hole in a protected canyon rock wall, near historic markings. (The impact of the girl will be small, easily erased and not seen by many. The impact of the man will be possibly quite damaging to an area which hundreds of people walk by to admire the scenery of said rock wall every day.)

As we drove through the park and there and back we listened to The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill and Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson. I love exploring new books with the kids. They eat up most everything we listen to and often the stories and concepts are things they use in their imaginative collaborative story play.

 

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eclectic fun in March

We’ve been baking. Brownies, cinnamon cake, cookies with two colors of dough. YUM.

Lilah’s been playing her ukelele and writing songs. I adore seeing her play and create and enjoy.

They started their own spur of the moment Dungeons and Dragons style game with Lego dragons as characters. Here are their supply lists:

The supply lists read: (Gavin) 1 medium pack, 1 ruby, 1 bag of herbs 2 loaves of fresh bread, 1 cat, 1 awesome sword, 2 gun parts, 1 gun, 1 owl hunter. (Lilah) 2 medical packs, 2 rubies, 2 bags of herbs, 4 loaves of fresh bread, 2 cats!!!, 1 sword, 1 owl, 2 gun parts, awesome bow and quiver of ice arrows.

We saw Black Violin, a musical group that was amazing! The group has two classically trained violinists, a drummer and a DJ and they play everything from classical pieces done over in new ways to contemporary music done in more classical overtones. It was energetic and fun.

 

We’re listening again to The Thirteenth Child series by Patricia Wrede. It’s such a wonderful story, a personal exploration and growth story with a female protagonist who does things her own way and learns that there are always multiple ways of looking at things.

Gavin’s been going on his own to the library several times to get books on MineCraft building.

We celebrated my Dad’s birthday and tried to help him come up with ideas for a deck or patio.

Lilah’s been drawing, drawing, drawing. Here are an owl, Lilah’s version of herself as good (cat) and evil (cat), and a cat. I’m proud and happy to know that she has thoroughly learned that if she tries drawing something and it doesn’t come out the way she likes, she can just try and again and practice instead of getting incredibly upset by her first attempt.

The kids got out their hexbug sets and built an epic track for their bugs.

Gavin saved up and bought himself a copy of MineCraft Story Mode, a game based on the MineCraft world where he gets to work through big adventures.

It’s been snowing and springing, both so we’ve been trimming some plants, planting some beets and carrots in between shoveling snow. Gavin swept the deck on one of the warmer days so it’s clear for swinging and lounging.

We’ve been talking about garden plans this year. Gavin wants to try garlic again and Lilah wants lettuce. I’ve never grown either so we’ll see what happens!

Lilah began asking for egg hunts several weeks ago so we pulled down our plastic eggs and have had several hunts. Yesterday it was warm and dry enough to hide and hunt outside so Gavin set up a hunt with 60 or 70 eggs for us to find.

We went to an RSL soccer game with my parents. It was an awful game for our team, but fun anyway.

We spent a full Saturday with Gavin’s Odyssey of the Mind team, who have been preparing for months and months for the state competition where they competed in their problem, a skit they put together, designed and performed which met certain criteria and solved certain problems and in spontaneous problems where they work together to come up with solutions to puzzles/problems on the fly. Here’s Gavin in his costume, designed and put together by the team:

He is a soldier in a Star Wars world. Here is Gavin putting together part of his team’s set:

They had a lot of fun and it was great to watch all their work over the last several months come together!

We had an egg hunt party with a big bunch of friends. The kids hid the eggs and then later found eachother’s eggs, opened them and enjoyed their spoils. We put balloons in the ones we brought and there was a whole half hour of balloon music, as the kids blew them up and then slowly or quickly let the air come out and made loud, weird and awful sounds. So fun!

Lilah has been doing silk aerial classes for a while now and sometimes Gavin joins in. She loves it! They give the kids a lot of freedom to play and enjoy but also support to learn new moves. She was recently invited to participate in a several month long prep class to prepare a routine to perform for an audience and she turned it down. Sometimes I wonder if she will regret not taking opportunities like those later on but I am happy that she feels comfortable with herself and us enough to say, no, I like to have fun but not to compete.

We started getting the local newspaper delivered. Mostly it’s me reading it, but Gavin will sometimes look at an article or two. We felt it was a good time to have a more neutral source of news than online news available in the house and especially about local issues that we can connect with more easily. The kids have been very much enjoying the crosswords, sudoku (which they learned to love from Grandpa) and comics. Most of our recent lunches have seen them both working on crosswords or sudoku at the table.

We’re at a new bend in our unschooling journey, trying to re calibrate how much to stay home, go out, meet with friends, do as a family. It seems every season we have to balance these things again, and after years I’ve come to see this as an ongoing process not an end goal I still haven’t mastered. We are trying a few new group meet ups and trying some new activities on our own and trying to find that sweet spot where we get enough time with other people as well as enough time to do the important work of being at home. The current plan is aim for two days a week at home, one just at our house and one to take trips or adventures as a family, two days for meet ups and friend gatherings and one day that can go either way.

All of us went to a science night at the library. They showed us a whole lot of really great experiments including this fire tornado. Lilah built a leprechaun trap for St. Patrick’s Day. We did not snare any leprechauns.

We spent several afternoons walking and scooting along the Jordan River Parkway, spotting birds and muskrats, watching the river.

Both kids worked on sewing a gift for a friend who is turning two.

The kids and I are very interested in wild foraging so I have been slowly trying to find resources to help us learn about what can be eaten or used and how. It’s slow going to find good sources. Gavin in particular is interested in mushroom hunting which I’ve never done.

I’ve been talking about and watching videos about brain development, adolescence and emotions and their purpose with the kids quite a bit, working on being more self aware and having strategies for dealing with hard moments. They are both growing so much in their understanding of the world and themselves.

Gavin’s been talking about and beginning work on designing a Lego set that could be voted on by fans and if supported enough, eventually could become a Lego set sold by the company. He was thinking about a Ranger’s Apprentice set or a Hayao Miyazaki movie set.

All four of us went to the Holi celebration Festival of Colors near us, with Indian food, colored powder to throw at others, into the air, music, yoga. We also enjoyed seeing the llamas and peacocks who live next to the temple.

 

 

Three of us went cross country skiing. It was the kids’ first time and they loved it even though we were only out for an hour and a half and spent most of our time on the flat trails. They asked to go again the next day! It’s expensive and we already had plans but I’m hoping to go again at the same place (with lots of flat areas and rentals right there) before they close for the season. It’s been years and years since I’d gone and it was really fun to go again and to introduce the kids to it. Their favorite part was a tiny hill that they could go up in a few strides and then slide down. They did that ten or twenty times at the end of our ski before turning in our gear and heading home.

We spotted the first butterflies of the season this week! An orange beauty and a black beauty!

Life is amazing!

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desert adventures

We ventured south to Arizona and Nevada for a week, stopping at Prescott to explore Watson Lake, Tucson to see an early Real Salt Lake game and Saguaro National Park and in Overton to explore Valley of Fire State Park.

Lake Watson is a bunch of granite boulders all put together this way and that, which they added a dam to one end so it is filled with water. There were so many birds and every few feet was a whole new world of rocks and water. It was very much a shame that we were too early to be able to rent kayaks and paddle boards but it was fun clambering around, bird watching and launching fleets of driftwood into small ponds and larger bays in the lake. We even spotted a few road runners while we were having lunch one afternoon.

One afternoon we drove out to Jerome, a ghost town nearby and we enjoyed exploring there. It was cold and getting dark soon so we didn’t get to see as much as we’d like, which just means someday we can go again and explore further.

Here Chris and the kids are reading about a jailhouse that slid down the hill.

We all brought our fan spirit to Tucson and enjoyed seeing our beloved soccer team, Real Salt Lake trying new configurations and putting new players to the test.

Saguaro National Park was as amazing as the last time we visited. We saw so many cacti and birds and nests and an old mine and petroglyphs.

 

Lilah figured out that she could play the barrel cactus! Each curling spike makes a different noise when you gently tap it.

Valley of Fire was gorgeous! It was also fairly crowded for being a state park in winter but it was fun anyhow. We explored on and off the beaten path. We even got to see quite a few big horned sheep. There were amazing petroglyphs, pretty orange sand to play in, a slot canyon, lizards,

and ravens and songbirds and squirrels, so many colors of rock. We saw white, yellow, purple, pink, orange and red rock, and in some places they are right next to each other! There was an area with waxy looking and feeling rock too. I would like to find out more about that. I wondered what it all looked like when it was wet. I bet the colors are even more vibrant.

The petroglyphs were some of the most distinct and amazing that I’ve encountered. The kids’ favorite glyph was the one known as Mystical Bat Woman, which is the one right in the center of this picture that has sort of clawed looking feet, a skirt and sleeves and two horns or antennae on the head.

Lilah especially loves to play in the sand. She made a sand rabbit:

We saw lots of tracks. Here is a bee making tracks:

We also noticed lots of holes in the ground and speculated about who lives in them. Gavin thought this one looked like a burrowing owl hole, with some debris scattered in front to lure in tasty smaller animals to eat. He did some research about how to identify a burrowing owl’s burrow.

Gavin decided he wanted to try being a photographer on our trip so we have quite a collection of photos that he took with our camera. I’m really looking forward to watching him explore photography more! Here are some of my favorites:

As we were driving away the last time two adult big horned sheep followed by two babies crossed the road right in front of us! Wow! What a special moment!

 

On our way home we stopped at the Hoover Dam which was big, impressive and really expensive to park at, visit the Visitors Center or take a tour. Gavin was interested in taking the tour to see the inner workings of the dam but we didn’t have time on this visit. It’s right next to Las Vegas though so not too far from many of our usual routes.

When we got home, the kids spent some of our settling back in time to play with their lego stop motion animation book. Here’s a video Gavin made one morning:

And here’s one by Lilah:

 

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favorite winter things

We’ve been reading chapter books, graphic novels, picture books, novels, read alouds, and audiobooks. We just enjoyed The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.

We’ve been practicing cursive for those who find it appealing (Lilah),

Puzzling a cat puzzle,

Going to see the local gymnastics team compete, enjoying waving pompoms to cheer them on,

Playing with friends,

Taking winter walks,

Practicing Aerial silks and hammock tricks,

Game playing: Blokus, Cobra Paw, Exploding Kittens, King of Tokyo, Power Grid, Sid Maier’s Beyond Earth to name a few,

Gift making and hunting,

Enjoying new treasures,

Cookie baking and decorating.

We made soap, which was a fun new project. We tried the melt and pour kind and it was a bit tricky but we figured out how to make molded soaps with smaller soap shapes inside, marbled soaps and we added some home-grown lavender and rose flowers to a few. The kids have requested to do this again.

There’s been Dungeons and Dragons playing,

Finger knitting and crocheting. Look at this beautiful scarf Lilah made for me!

We tried making ice lanterns and ice orbs for the first time to celebrate the winter solstice. Next year we’ll know how to do it better. The lanterns were gorgeous when lit up with candles and stuffed with natural things we collected from the yard and the park. The ice orbs didn’t quite freeze all the way through. The lanterns did freeze but we didn’t leave enough space to create thick enough bases so they were fragile.

We spent time working on the second chapter of Gavin’s book that he’s been writing on and off for a year or two now. Gavin got another big section finished and is happy with it. I’m happy to see that it’s ever so slowly becoming easier and he needs ever so slightly less support.

We’ve been making pom poms and cutting paper snowflakes.

We got to visit with family in Idaho and Washington. There were lovely conversations, meals, games played, explorations and hugs.

We visited a Jim Hensen exhibit and that has sparked a week or two of watching The Dark Crystal and The Muppet Show as a family.

The kids tried archery for the first time! They both enjoyed it.

Lilah and I’ve been painting,

And drawing and cutting and gluing and taping and coloring.

 

Gavin made a map for a skit he’s participating in, to use as a treasure map.

We went ice skating with friends, with much twirling and even some backward skating.

Life is good.

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Nashville

We flew to Nashville for a bit of fun and a bit of work that was fun. None of us had been to Tennessee before. Chris went to a conference and spent some time with colleagues and co-workers while the kids and I explored and then we all explored a bit together too. It was Lilah’s first time on a plane and Gavin’s first in a looong time so they were a bit nervous but did just fine. The waiting in the airport and on the plane was the hardest part. Lilah watched that Trolls movie that I really don’t want to see (so now I don’t have to!) and Gavin watched part of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them and part of Doctor Strange on the flights.

We went to the zoo. Lilah loved seeing the red pandas and the clouded leopards. Those red pandas are so fluffy and cute. Gavin liked the snowy owl and the goats which were pretty entertaining characters. I liked seeing their huge collection of frogs, especially tree frogs of all different kinds, colors and sizes and I liked the lorikeets who came to perch on people if they felt friendly enough. Gavin enjoyed the lorikeets and Lilah enjoyed them on other people, but after one landed on her head and left again, she pulled her jacket over her head to keep them away.

We headed out on a forested trail a few miles out of the city by a lake and enjoyed some exercise (me walking, kids jumping from log to log and then climbing along the fence) and spotting some turtles and a blue heron. The kids were interested to see there are many kinds of trees, plants and animals we have in Utah, but also some that we don’t.

The Adventure Science Center was packed with fun and interesting things to do. Lilah and I loved playing with the magnetic sand and liquid inside of other liquid with strong magnets. There was a space exhibit area and a train and lots of games and fun things to try. Chris and Gavin tried the space challenge and the kids went on a moon walk simulator several times. Chris was really disappointed that the computer with the program to show how you might look in the future at various ages didn’t work for him. The tinkering lab was fun too. Gavin made a car and subsequent ramp to test it on and Lilah made… you guessed it… a cat.

We all visited the Johnny Cash Museum and some nearby parks.

We also played games and read at the place we stayed. Here’s a drawing Lilah and I made one evening. We each add something and then pass it to the other person who adds something and so on. It still makes me laugh.

I wish we had been able to do some swimming and boating but those warm weather activities weren’t available in December.

Chris and I got together with many of his coworkers from North America plus several from other areas who were in town for WordCamp for dinner one evening. It was really fun to meet people he works with and get to know some of them a bit as they are all spread across the world and so I haven’t had the chance before. I am always impressed by what I hear and see of Human Made’s ideas and people and so glad Chris is part of it.

We went to the Frist Art Institute and enjoyed seeing an exhibition by Nick Cave that was absolutely amazing and the kids quite enjoyed looking at it as well. There was also a hands on art room for kids (and big kids) to create some of their own things so we spent an hour there as well, making prints, doing fractal art on the computer and various other things. One of my favorites in the Nick Cave exhibit was this room with a room of painted bamboo curtains that appeared to change as you moved and that was so many different things and also, nothing specific. Fascinating!

We visited the replica of the parthenon they have and it was impressive but also not very fun for longer than a few minutes. There were some huge trees and some fun swings to try nearby though.

It was another good adventure.

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fall together

riding bikes and scooting

baking

gardening (clearing out the dead plants and harvesting the last of the veggies which included some potatoes, kale, beets and a tiny melon.)

reading (so much reading!)

hiking (this is one I did on my own one chilly afternoon, it was so quiet and the smells of fallen leaves and pine trees were abundant)

swinging (trying out the old car booster seat in the swing because experimentation is our way) also, she is wearing a striped dress, a patterned skirt, striped leg warmers and dotted socks. I LOVE to watch her choose for herself and enjoy a world of possibilities.)

drawing (separately and collaboratively)

playing games, games, games

making shoes

playing with cats

playing with Chris’ drone

 

enjoying

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