unschooling

Florida

We took a little over a week to explore part of Florida.

It’s cold at home and much warmer there which was a nice reprieve. The kids had never been to Florida and Chris was traveling to Sri Lanka for a work retreat. It is so incredibly hard to be left behind when he travels internationally because I love traveling and have always wanted to travel more of the world and have had not any opportunity to do so in twenty years. It’s also hard because I also become a single parent for that time and have to be on duty 24/7 with all the needs of the kids and household. I’m lucky to be in a relationship where we are partners and do our best to share the load for most things so it’s a big deal when he’s away. And to be completely open, being a “stay at home mom” is hard. So hard! I love it and want to do it and am so lucky to be able to choose to but there is no validation, respect, appreciation, recognition for all the things you do, or all the progress you make or the things you really try hard at or excel at. It feels so lonely and so unseen and so endless. There’s no time off or work hours or bonuses or kudos. I miss when I had people who “saw” what I did and how well (or not) I did it. There’s a tiny bit of that from other moms and friends, family and my partner but it’s simply not the same. And our culture has no other value system for accomplishments, time spent, effort that what is there in school or work. Anyway, that’s a whole other post about my personal experience with the isolation of being a full time parent and home educator, how difficult it is and how I struggle and make do.

So, to keep myself from going mad, we went to Florida while Chris was away. He made it easier on me by getting us a great place to stay and flying out with us to get us settled in. We stayed in Cape Coral which we learned is the burrowing owl capitol of the world! Whoa! Gavin’s face lit up when I told him that. We looked around but had no luck but it so happened the Burrowing Owl festival was going on while we were there. Of course we had to go. The festival itself was fun, sort of like a fair. They had some rescued owls of different types and a butterfly pavilion.

Here are some pictures Gavin took of the owls at the festival:

 

Gavin says they’re an albino pygmy owl, a great horned owl and a barred owl.

But they also had a bus tour to see burrowing owls! We signed up and went with twenty other much older folks to see owls. We learned that in Cape Coral, they mark burrows. So, just like that, our owl spotting opened up! We stopped at several burrows and some were occupied, some weren’t and some the owls were inside and not visible as it was warm and the middle of the day. We learned that CC owls are the only ones who dig their burrows as the sand is soft enough there. In other places they use other animals’ old burrows. They were pretty cute little owls! There was usually one out guarding the entry to the burrow though at one burrow we saw both. After our tour we took our own tours and found many owls including a pair only two houses down from where we were staying! Wow! They are nearly invisible so without some serious location help or the markers they put around each we likely never would have spotted any even though there were thousands of active owl burrows in Cape Coral.

We went to the beach and the beach and the beach. Fort Myers beach was warm and shallow and the kids had a lot of fun paddling around there.

Sanibel Island was beautiful and there were lots of shells to discover but it was quite crowded and hard to find parking.

Lovers Key was amazingly gorgeous though we got attacked by tiny biting insects at dusk. If you go, do not stay till dusk and do not stop at the washing station! We spotted osprey nests and enjoyed the beautiful white sand and turquoise water. Here’s our picnic spot:

And here some shots from the beach:

We headed to the Everglades twice. Once we walked and once we biked the paths. There were so many birds and fish and turtles and alligators! We saw tiny baby alligators hanging around their moms and big ones submerged so they looked like rocks in the canals and big ones sunning themselves on the side of the path. We saw blue herons and white herons and night herons and ibis and spoonbills and wood storks and anhingas and hawks and tiny diving herons. We spotted a pair of nesting anhingas with babies. It was beautiful. The kids loved biking there and it was fun to yell, “Stop, there’s an alligator!”

 

We headed to Manasota Key to look for sharks teeth. We found so many! It was really fun figuring out how and where to look for them and then picking them up. We found tiny ones and pretty good sized ones and some were black, some were golden brown and black and some were almost bluish or orangish tinted in places. It was also an excellent place for shelling! Lilah loved looking at the shells for treasures. Gavin spent several hours looking for all the butterfly clam shells he could find in different colors. He theorized that they are different colors in different places. We even spotted some butterfly clams alive in the sand and we watched them bury themselves back up after getting washed off by the waves.

Here’s Gavin searching for butterfly clamshells:

And hunting for sharks teeth:

We admired the patterns of the coral on this big hunk:

Here’s some of our haul of treasures from the beaches:

Lilah learned the names of a bunch of shells we’d never encountered before.

We passed a bunch of mini golf places while driving so that was on Gavin’s wish list. He chose a pirate themed place and we went there one afternoon and enjoyed the course. They had an old smugglers ship turned into a hole which was pretty neat. They even had alligators we could feed. So, of course we did! We put the kibble between pins on a fishing pole and lowered it down and the alligators caught it and ate it. It was fascinating to watch. They looked like they didn’t even notice but then suddenly would jump and catch the food. They hung onto the end of the string for a while after catching the food too. I wondered how many golf balls they’ve eaten. No pictures were taken of the feeding because there was too much fencing in the way to get a decent shot.

I did a lot of yoga to stretch, strengthen and relax my body and mind. It helped ease my intense feelings a bit and felt good.

There were lots of little lizards living by our place, running up the trees and in the trash cans and on the windows. They were fun to watch. One evening we spotted a bunny grazing at the side of our place in the evening. The kids enjoyed watching it munching and then bounding away.

It was really fun to be in very different climates and biomes than we usually enjoy at home. It was fun for me to remember trips to Florida to visit my grandparents a long time ago.

While driving around lately we’ve listened to Hellen Keller’s autobiography: The Story Of My Life,  Changeling by Molly Harper, The Hazelwood by Melissa Albert. Now we are listening again to Children of Blood and Bone  by Tomi Adeyemi in preparation for the second book coming soon.

Lilah is already talking about our next trip to Florida! I’m not sure we’ll go again soon as there are so many other places to explore but it was a good week.

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Spring!

We’ve been biking,

visiting our new neighborhood library,

playing with friends,

baking pumpkin bread,

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experimenting in MineCraft with new buildings and animals and researching how to make machinery that functions in the game,

loving the kitten,

painting Lilah’s wolf mask from her Doodle Crate gift,

reading,

building with Legos (Gavin’s been doing a lot of research and then designing and building. Here he has built a house with a hinging wall that opens, and four poster bed, book shelf, lamp and dresser inside. The next day he added another level with a balcony.)

We’ve been puzzling,

spending more time with friends,

waiting in terribly long lines to participate in the caucuses in our state,

watching flowers begin to bloom in our neighborhood.

Lilah asked me about Hindi after we talked about languages other than English and how a language with different characters works and we’ve made a plan to do some learning in that area.

We went to a Hindu temple in our vicinity for a celebration of Holi, a Hindu spring festival which involves throwing and wiping colored powder on each other. It was so much fun and the kids loved it! I have fond memories of the Holi celebrations I took part in in India many years ago and it was so satisfying to share with my family. We’ll definitely go again!

At my parents house we dyed eggs and hunted eggs and enjoyed each others’ company on Easter.

We listened to Rolling Thunder In The Mountains by Scott O’Dell in the car and enjoyed that quite a bit and I’ve been reading The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle to them, a chapter here, a chapter there. It’s one that’s new to me as well as the kids, which is fun.

We went to the hot springs for a soak and a swim. It was rainy today and when we got into the pool it began to hail! We’d brought an umbrella and so we huddled under that in the warm water and enjoyed watching the hail stones plop and splash in the water and make bubbles. After the hail let up the kids went into the cooler pool and there was lots of splashing and chasing and floating on pool noodles.

The kids played with mixing up some gooey substances with their latest Tinker Crate.

Life and life learning is good.

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our newest biker

Lilah’s now moving on two wheels!

Gavin learned to ride a bike several years ago through a rather grueling process where I would squat and run behind him while holding his bike up while he practiced peddling and balancing. I tried holding the front instead and it didn’t give him the control and independence he needed to progress. It was scary for him, though less scary than trying without me holding the bike. It took several weeks of that and he got it and has been happily biking since. I have at least once or twice referred to that process as the worst part of parenting because of the amazingly awful pain of running while squatting and holding up a bike with a biker who’s going at good speed. It’s seriously not a good time, though of course worth it for the fun of the kid being able to ride.

Lilah has been riding on training wheels for years and last summer I thought she was ready to ride without them and we tried a few times the same way but it was hard and scary and neither of us were very motivated to keep going.

The weather has just turned the corner on warm enough here to want to be out and so I decided to ask if she’d like to try a different approach that my sister who is practically on a bike most of the time suggested. Lilah kept her feet off the pedals and just pushed along and balanced. She was comfortable with it because she could stop whenever and go as slow or fast as she wanted. It was tough going up hills and not very practical at first even on flat ground but she really started practicing going down a gentle hill at the park by us. Today she begged to go “balance biking” and so we all went and halfway through she started putting her feet on the pedals and going!

She’s so proud and I’m so excited about bike trips together and I’m thrilled that we figured out a less scary way for her to get the hang of it!

Woohoo!

Biking and picnics here we come! Gavin asked me to take this picture of his “proud my sister can ride a bike face.”

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another full week

We visited the Treehouse Museum.  There was flag designing, castle play, illuminated manuscript making, a sword in the stone, and much more.

We went to the library, enjoyed reading in their inviting kids lounges and brought an armload of books home, most of which were read that very day!

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We found a new playground and tried it out thoroughly.

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Lilah and I baked Toffee Cinnamon Bars and then we watched Song of the Sea, a new favorite movie.

They’ve played My Little Pony Life, Puerto Rico, Magic the Gathering, Carcassonne, and Candy Land together in the mornings.

We got out some instruments and played music.  Lilah made a rug on a square loom with stretchy loops for her dollhouse.

Lilah and I practiced for her upcoming gymnastics meet.  She’s working on her beam routine at the moment.

Gavin and I biked to a playground while Lilah and Chris walked.   Gavin’s really enjoying biking and Lilah’s so close to being able to go on her own but it hurts so much to run in the crouch that it takes to support her that I haven’t gotten around to doing it with her recently.  I think that might be my least favorite part of parenting; running in a crouch while holding a bike with a nervous kid on it.  Incredible pain.  Still very much worth it though.

We took a very short walk up on Bonneville Shoreline Trail to play Ingress, stopped at a playground on the way there and then picked up a friend afterward and came home to play elaborate storylines filled with queens, invisibility cloaks, potions and special royal bathrooms.

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We did some cooking and talked about how to add fractions like 3/4 and 1/8.  We drew pictures to figure it out on the whiteboard.

They did some building with Gavin’s physics set.

Chris and the kids went to Spiral Scouts and tried playing different instruments.  Gavin’s favorite was the ukelele and Lilah’s was the didgeridoo.

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There was roller skating down the hall, crashing (kids were fortunately not hurt enough to stop skating back and forth) and sometime soon we’ll get to work together to patch up a small hole in the wall. There’s a lengthly list of home repairs and maintenance that needs doing… at some point soon I should knock a few things off with the kids help.

We finished Little House in the Big Woods and immediately began Little House on the Prairie.  They are very much enjoying those stories.

We took a trip up the canyon and visited Hidden Falls.

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Here they are looking at the waterfall.

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The kids loved it and afterward when I asked them if they wanted to climb further and find the top of the fall they said yes so we hiked up further and discovered the stream and the pines and the top of the fall.

It had snowed and so the kids ate quite a bit of “fresh snow” on the way.  We saw squirrels and old dead trees tattooed underneath the bark with squiggly lines from beetles and butterflies, orange, white, yellow.

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On the logs, the kids noticed there were different sized squiggles and wondered if they start small and grow or if they were different beetles.  We talked about climbing safely in steep places and how to cross streams on log bridges.  It was beautiful!  On the way down we spotted a “cave” made by a huge boulder perching on top of several other boulders and decided to check that out.

Here’s the view from inside.

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They each wrote a letter to Grandma & Grandpa.  It was stressful for Gavin but the results were good.  His handwriting and spelling are both much improved but how he feels about writing hasn’t changed.

And, after much asking and wishing for weeks, we made it to the skating rink.  When we arrived they had a mist over the rink and were flashing strobe lights with the main lights off which made Lilah a bit nervous.  But she ended up enjoying it and then they turned the lights back on and the music back down and we had a wonderful time.  They can do tricks like turning around that I can’t now.  Here they are dancing and doing tricks in the center of the rink.

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Out & about

Up to Red Butte Garden.

Lilah took along a pen and notepad and drew some observations and fascinations.

Exploring.  Enjoying.

Off to Kingsbury Hall to take in American Tall Tales by the youth theatre group.  It was a fun performance and we sat on the second level for the first time, which the kids were excited about.  My favorite part was that they included part of Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett, a tall tale we’ve read many times in Steven Kellogg’s book, where a little girl is more powerful than all her brothers and sets off to find challenges in the wild.

A haircut for Gavin. “When it’s long it bothers me during soccer.”

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Over to the Leonardo museum with friends, playing with electricity, motion, giant blocks, goo, and a green screen.

Biking to the park.

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We pulled out our pvc pipes that we used once upon a time to build a Magic Treehouse fort for Gavin’s birthday party years ago.  They’ve been asking about fort building and this was perfect for some building fun.

Enjoying a fort.

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Visiting the cat sculpture park.

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On a hike we’ve never tried before.

Enjoying each other.

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To the botanical center.

Magic playing.

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Digging rows and planting carrots.  Finding the first roly poly of the year.

Playground with friends.

In between we cuddled and cried and snuggled and built and played Pandemic and practiced gymnastics and finished Island of the Blue Dolphins and began Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder and listened to Harry Potter and picked flowers and played with modeling clay and ate huge sticks of celery like bunnies.

Things are good.

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Playing outside

The kids played Heroica with my sister for an hour or so and then they took the dog for a short walk.

Lilah worked on some perler bead making.

Gavin helped Dad pump up his bike tires.  Then he biked while Lilah and I walked to the park where there was swinging

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and climbing

and biking on the hills

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and spotting some tiny fish in the creek that has trash in it and isn’t taken care of well at all.  But there are fish living and growing!  We saw at least ten the size of Lilah’s fingers, darting over and through the shadows.

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The kids taught me how to play “Chinese War”, a variation on the card game War, that my cousins taught them over the holidays.  Gavin got very frustrated when he was losing and decided to stop playing.  I’m not sure how to help him deal better (faster?  more easily?) with the frustrations of games that don’t go the way you wanted them to.

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Lilah and I went to gymnastics class while Gavin played Civilization with his dad.

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On the way home we passed a UPS store and Lilah asked me if we order things from UPS.  I said no, and explained how people and companies pay UPS (or USPS or…) to pick up and then deliver their packages for them.

We started a project making hearts out of paper.  It involves stapling and cutting with a paper cutter so the kids practiced their safe and effective stapling and paper cutting.  We made a huge heart but don’t think it could stay up that way so we might just string them as a garland.

I read a chapter of The Wizard of Oz to them.  We talked about what cowardly means, since we just met the Cowardly Lion.

There was coolmathgames.com play together.

They played several more hands of Chinese War, often getting really frustrated but continuing or playing again later.  It’s hard for me to decide whether and when to step in and say, “This is causing too much frustration” and whether and when to let them keep hitting the same wall and trying again.  Sometimes they deal with it alright and sometimes they get mad, yell, throw things, refuse to do anything for twenty minutes, Gavin more than Lilah as his expectations are often higher.  More and more I think I need to say aloud what I notice happening, maybe say what I would feel or choose if I were in the same position and then let them work it out.  Solving problems for others doesn’t work for kids any better than for adults.

The perler beads came out again.  A ninja star was designed by Gavin and a lace circle by Lilah.

We went to Lindsay Garden park and the kids spun on the merry go round for a long while while I used the swings.

Then we went on a short walk through the cemetery.  There is supposed to be a nesting owl who comes every year about this time but I have no idea which tree they call home.  Maybe sometime we’ll happen on an owl nest.

After lunch we watched a bit of the 5th Harry Potter movie.  We’re listening to the 3rd audio book when we’re driving around.

Then it was time for Lilah and I to pick up her friend from school.

All three kids played with K’nex, Legos and pop beads together, making up an epic tale involving ninjas, queens and magic ala Harry Potter.  There was scepter building, underwater place building, cat drawing, cafe visiting and everything else they could toss in.

In the morning the K’nex were used with the pop beads to create this home for the pop bead characters they are designing and playing with.

We took a drive out to Promontory, Utah to visit the Golden Spike National Historic Site.

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It was a long drive and so we were happy to get out and balance on the rails, inspect the replicas of the old locomotives, check out the large collection of tumbleweeds hiding behind the railing at the visitors center and admire various old tumbling down buildings (more me than the kids).

The actual gold spike was not at the site, it’s at Stanford University, but they had a replica there.  So Gavin learned that word pretty solidly and has been using it since, at least twice that I’ve heard.

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There was a crew working on restoring the locomotives, one coal burning, one wood burning.  They were welding and scrubbing.  The guide kept referring to Gavin as a girl and he never chose to correct him, so I followed his lead.  Afterward I told him that he’s always free to point out he’s a boy if he wants to in these situations (happens shockingly frequently!) or ask me to if that’s more comfortable.  He answered that he didn’t really care, which surprised and impressed me.  The last time he was not happy about it at all.  So we left it at that.  It didn’t really matter enough to make a fuss over.  If he’s comfortable, that’s what matters to me!   A cat visited us while we were admiring the paint on the trains.  She’s in charge of the mice, the guide told us.  It seemed to me she was also an expert in visitor relations.   She came right over to us and Lilah knew she’d like some petting.  And she did.

We learned that the trains had to stop every 15 or 100 miles, depending on what they burn to produce steam.  We learned that hooking the trains to the other cars was a very very risky career with injuries and deaths likely.  Here’s Lilah trying her hand at using the link.

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Afterward, on our way home Lilah spotted a playground and shouted, “Mama, PLAYGROUND!”, in a sort of desperate plea/command.  So we circled around and tried out another merry-go-round and teeter totter, climbing bubble, and finally the play structure.  That seems to be how the kids rank the various options – older and probably more dangerous first, then new and plastic and (possibly) safer.

I’m glad to know a merry go round is still something that can occupy hours and endless combinations of movement and experimentation.  I remember it the same way from my own childhood.  There aren’t very many left in our city – only one that I know of but in smaller towns like where we stopped today there are probably many more older playthings left.

I’m working hard to get us outside every day and take advantage of the spring time weather we are having in the beginning of February.  It’s gorgeous right now, even while it’s obviously a sign of climate change.

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