unschooling

a week in early spring

Lilah’s been playing her ukelele.

Gavin’s been doing chores to earn money for Lego. Here he is cutting down and getting our old bamboo ready to put into the yard waste bin.

Lilah built a dinosaur out of Lego. It’s pose-able and can open and shut it’s terrifying plastic jaws.

The kids worked hard on their “MineCraft Live” game, creating rules, world, background and very detailed characters, drawn in the square form of MineCraft. Can you tell which is Lilah and which is Gavin? Lilah’s character has red hair (like her) and cat ears and tail (which she often does too) and Gavin’s character has special armor (which he loves designing and researching) and long hair one one side (like his).

We went to a farm to see baby animals and ended up watching a goat give birth to three babies as well as feeding goats and calves and Lilah was patient enough to hold still with feed in her hand for a good two minutes until some chicks were brave enough to eat from her palm. The kids also got to bounce and go down a huge slide with friends.

The fruit trees are blooming and it’s alternately 70 degrees and sunny and then snowing. Ah, spring in Utah is so variable!

We celebrated my mom’s birthday with a scavenger hunt in teams because my mom is amazing & therefore has amazing birthday wishes. Lilah and I were a team and we sent lots of silly pictures of our hunt to my mom.

The kids pulled out the Ed Emberly drawing book and spent hours putting pieces together into fun scenes.

Gavin made some hash browns from scratch. We were out of pancakes and he did not want cereal.

Lilah’s been using perler beads to make bubble wands.

We started a family Never Winter nights computer game campaign. It’s been fun so far.

We went cross country skiing for a second time. It was still very hard, very fun and very expensive. We will definitely go again lots next season but in the mean time I will be trying to figure out if we can find some used equipment to buy so we can save some money on rental fees.

Gavin did some crystal growing.

We took a hike up to one of our favorite spots and saw glacier lilies!

Lilah did some circular weaving.

Life is great!

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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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another week of living, loving, learning

Gavin read poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein to Lilah. He stopped to eat a bite of pancake and Lilah immediately requested he read more.

Lilah and I made some fairy wings and skirts for our May Day event.

We tested out a new giant bubble recipe.

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May Day/Beltane festival with our unschooling group including fairy and knight dress up, boffer weapon making, sidewalk chalk drawing, flower crown designing, may pole dancing and singing. Lovely!

We’ve had friends over for Lego building and restaurant pretending and snack eating.

I dug holes for some lilacs to create a hedge in our back yard and dug up the garden in anticipation of planting vegetables.

Gavin and I played Chess.

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Lilah saved up for a new Lego set and the kids put that together after a great discussion about how Gavin could help but in a way and amount Lilah was happy with.

We saw the first oriole of the year and put out nectar for them.

Gavin and I made a boffer sword (foam covered for play without injury) so he could meet friends who had boffer weapons for a battle at the park.

A new tinker crate arrived and the kids put together an earthquake table and buildings to test on the table with much gusto.

Lilah drew a lovely cat.

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We watched documentaries about owls and hummingbirds.

Gavin mowed the lawn in order to save up for a Lego set he would like.

We planted most of the garden. The kids picked out potatoes, corn, chiles and helped plant those. I also planted tomatoes, eggplant, squash of various kinds, tomatillos and lemon cucumbers. Still to be put in are carrot seeds.

We met friends at the farm and enjoyed antique machinery, climbing trees, animals and a large pile of hay bales for a slide.

 

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play and living

A contemporary pre-school teacher whose blog I enjoy says that a kids’ work is play. He means, in my understanding, that when kids are playing it is a serious endeavor that enables them to learn and grow and is the important task they are in charge of as kids. I remember this often as I watch my kids as they play together, deadly earnest and growing with each moment of time spent exploring their interests and challenges.

We went ice skating again, for a second time.

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Lilah was nervous but eventually got comfortable and was even trying some tricks. Gavin enjoyed it quite a bit and was trying new moves from the beginning. I enjoyed myself thoroughly up until the point where a lace from one skate attached itself to a hook closure on the other and I fell hard, acquiring some impressive bruises but no lasting damage. It was painful and frustrating but I am glad that my kids know that these things happen to me too.

This week we read and we built and we played. Gavin started and finished How To Train Your Dragon #1 by Cressida Cowell. Lilah read several library books to me. Gavin taught me how to play Star Realms, a deck building card game set in space.

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Chris pulled out the keyboard and the kids played some music and we talked about notes and octaves and rhythm and all sorts of music ideas and words. Then they tried every single pre-set the thing has. And then, thankfully, they played more music. Afterward Lilah practiced playing her tin flute.

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We made tiny treehouses out of toilet paper rolls and cardstock.

We went to the zoo and watched seals and sea lions, a polar bear, a tiger, two lions, a family of burrowing owls, just to name a few. Lilah’s favorite part was seeing a sand cat. Gavin’s favorite was watching the burrowing owls and mine was hearing a lion shout. What an amazing sound they make!

Here is a drawing of a burrowing owl Lilah made with a mealworm in its tummy (they were having lunch when we visited.) She named it too.

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The kids played MineCraft, including Lilah buying and setting up her own account and immediately finding a puppy and two siamese cats in the game.

Gavin learned how to do a load of laundry.

Lilah went to gymnastics class where she is learning to do walk-overs and cartwheels on the beam as well as getting up on the high bar for the first time ever.

The kids watched me knitting and carefully looked at both my process and the instructions of the pattern I was using.

Chris and the kids went to Spiral Scouts and began exploring drama and theatre skills.

We met friends at a matinee peformance of various dance pieces in Illusions by Alwin Nikolais by Ririe Woodbury Dance Co. It was a fascinating assortment and the entire audience was wowed by the costumes, the dancing and the imagination of the offerings. This is the first performance offered to school kids that I’ve seen that pushed the boundaries into challenging and possibly uncomfortable experiences. I mean that the material was a bit spooky to some of the kids and the music was not always fun and light hearted. I’m so glad this was offered as I find only showing kids saccharine sweet entertainment and art is such a wasted opportunity. Kids are familiar with fear and love and life too, after all.

After that we spent the rest of the day playing and catching up with our friends through Chess, more MineCraft, our interactive globe and PlayMobil fun.

Here is one of the pieces that we saw performed. It’s beautiful and fascinating. I’m so glad we had that opportunity and to share it with friends was even better.

 

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Creating and Enjoying

We’ve been visiting the art museum,

washing dishes,

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making up new ways to play Carcassonne,

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working on his book.

 

He started out writing his book in pencil and was doing really well but then began to slow down, as he became frustrated by mistakes and time and the constraints of paper. I asked if he’d like to type the rest and he was enthusiastically for it. We’ve been avoiding this as hand writing is one of those things that I believe is a handy thing to feel confident at and has slowly, slowly been getting easier as the trauma of trying to write in school fades. However, it was getting to the point in his book project where he wasn’t feeling good about the book project but obviously wanted to keep going. Problems like, he doesn’t like the mess it makes when he needs to erase and he decides, paragraphs in, that he wants to add character descriptions in the beginning and similarly change the tense from past to present all add up to he feels overwhelmed and unable to continue on paper. So, I typed up what he’d written, letter for letter, all mistakes included and he began fixing things and adding to it and the last two days I’ve heard, “Mama, can I work on my book?” and “I think I want to work on the next part.” Wow! What a difference that is from the way it was before, when he had an idea to write about and was so excited and started and then got so mad and frustrated that he would cry and yell and tell me he “couldn’t” and “was too scared”! I’m enjoying his excitement and perseverance and I’m enjoying feeling proud of myself for asking and answering the question, “How can I help him succeed?” I don’t care if he chooses to stop because he wants to, but I certainly do care if he chooses to stop because he doesn’t know how to or feel comfortable proceeding even though he wants to go on. I think we’ve turned a corner.

Yesterday, in the middle of writing he decided he needed to make a map of the area in his story and then used that in his writing. He asked what a good name for a capitol city would be and Lilah suggested Capitol Reef and he thought that sounded good so long as it was by water.

We also discussed how many words are on a page and how that can be different based on so many things, paper size, letter size, margins, etc. He’s still deciding how he wants to lay it out.

We’ve been drawing (cats, kittens, occasional porcupine or Invader Zim)

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enjoying lots of time playing with friends,

going to see Art Dog, a play at our neighborhood theatre with my sister and parents,

 

playing music,

putting up the holiday tree,

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swimming. The kids are getting better each time we go and they ask to go to the pool so they can “practice their swimming” and then they do! Gavin is getting better at moving his arms smoothly and kicking with his legs close together. Lilah is getting better at turning her head to breathe while she’s moving. It’s amazing to see what learning a new skill can look like when it’s accomplished all on their own interest, planning and work. They are really enjoying their progress as well as ownership of their process.

There was a twilight hike for me,

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chocolate bark making (and subsequent eating),

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pop up card making (she pulled out our pop up card book, pored over it, and then asked for materials and away she went),

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cooking (red lentil dal), IMG_7630

 

working on rehanging our basement door (It’s finished now and I am relieved and proud!),

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ice skating for the first time for the kids and the first time in at least ten years for me,

snowflake cutting,

knitting for me.

Our days have been full to the brim with goodness. There is so much to see, learn and share. We’re never lacking for things to do or ideas of things to pursue.

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November

November was full of fun. We spent more time inside this month as it’s been getting cold. I miss the time outside but the cozy indoor activities are really fun too.

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A check up at the veterinarian’s office.  All is good. The kids helped comfort Luna in the exam room.

Aquarium visit. The kids were excited to see some carnivorous plants!

 

Puzzling.

Lots of reading.

Lots of drawing (lots of cats).

Playing games.

Building with circuits.

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Baking.

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Enjoying the International Peace Gardens.

Skating.

Out and about with friends.

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Feeding and watching bird visitors and a bit of snow!

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Lots of cooperative story telling/playing.

I love these kids!

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puzzling and patterning and owls

It’s getting colder and darker and we are feeling inclined to do things like go through our board and card game collection and give away those we are done with, make designs with our pattern blocks, and drink tea. (“Whatcha making?”, I asked him. “A track for the hotwheel cars!”)

We got a brand new puzzle that Chris got for us because he knows how much we love puzzles and we haven’t done one for months but we were so excited to get down to matching designs and colors and letters and creatures today! It’s a really fun puzzle with monsters of all kinds and monster stores of all kinds. It’s fun to hear the kids sounding out “calamity” and “scalawag” and “wriggles” from the monster store fronts on the puzzle.

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We put on some glitter tattoos.

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We’ve been having some fun doing math puzzles on the whiteboard. One of us writes a question and someone else solves it. Gavin’s learning it can be much harder to write than to solve! He tried some simple algebra this week and enjoyed that. Lilah and I talked about multiplication in terms of muffins and cookies on baking sheets. That was fun!

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We got out a Crime Catchers Spy Science kit that Gavin has had put away since last winter and started doing science experiments to solve the case. Here they are testing the pH of different solutions and checking for secret messages with red tinted glasses and then writing down the message clues.

Lilah made me this wonderful love note. It’s a cat thinking of cat love and saying “meaw”.

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We went to visit some Great Horned Owls, collect their pellets and dissect them. There were two owls, high up in the pine trees looking down at all the commotion from time to time. I couldn’t take a picture worth anything of them with my phone camera but a friend took this one! We were able to see them pretty well with our eyes and binoculars though.

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We found dozens of pellets, and dissected them to discover lots of rodent and possible mole and shrew bones.

In addition there was a whole lot of playtime with friends!

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Several weeks in May

Gavin has been watching/listening to the google doodles lately.  Today he informed me that today’s “google thing” was about “how girls are as good and the same as boys”.  Thanks, Google!

They rode and walked to the park with my sister for some cops and robbers games.

We had a friend over and played with Legos and marble runs and cars.

Lilah made a beaded necklace to give a friend.

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Gavin wants to write a book about Castle In the Sky so he was practicing the lettering from the front cover this afternoon.

Lilah has been picking bouquets from the yard to enjoy inside.

We spent the day in a city an hour or so away, buying a new to us car.  The kids and I spent most of the day at various parks.

We watched a favorite film, Ponyo, again.

We had a conversation inspired by a coupon saying “Save 20%” so we talked about what that means, how much 20% of $100 and $10 is and if it’s a small or large amount and if it’s worth doing.  The kids decided it is worth using.  Since it’s for the bookstore, I agree!

We visited the aviary and saw the sandhills cranes with an egg!  We got friendly with a parakeet and ran and explored and reveled.

We went swimming.  The kids have been asking about going to a waterpark and we’ve told them that we’d love to, as soon as they can swim.  So, they’ve been asking and asking to go the pool and work on learning to swim.  In some ways, this is their first Big Unschooling learning goal.  So, we went and I found some simple games to develop the skills needed in swimming and we worked on those for a half hour or so and then they went down the slide and played.  But, they both made some nice progress and I think if we keep it up they’ll happily be swimming soon, without me scaring them or forcing things along.  Woohoo!

We went to the library again, this time to try to find a specific book Gavin has his heart set on reading: Galaxy’s Most Wanted by Jon Kloepfter.  After a computer search we found it yesterday and he’s now finished with all 208 pages (the next afternoon).  Lesson for me here is: let the kids choose their own books when possible.  Wow!

Gavin asked us who the main character in Mrs Piggle Wiggle’s Farm is.  What a great question!  I am so impressed by his interest and the fact that he shows a lot of nuanced understanding, asking this because the book has a different main character in each chapter, so it’s really different than most literary situations.  So, we got to talk about how usually the way you can recognize the main character(s) for sure is by the changes they undergo, as a character.

A week after we went swimming the first time, we went again. We did more of the same little games to work on swimming skills and both kids absolutely amazed me!  Lilah is just about able to swim all on her own and Gavin is nearly there and determined to work at it.  He’s able to float now, which means totally relaxing in the water and trusting his body and Lilah is willing to put her whole head under the water to propel herself, over and over and comes up with a huge grin on her face.  I told them both they looked like dolphins and they were so, so proud of their progress.  Woohoo!

Gavin’s been doing soccer games and practice three times a week and has been working hard on his defensive skills.

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Lilah’s continuing gymnastics once a week and is getting better at hand stands, cartwheels and is beginning to work on round offs.  She’s gained a lot of strength in the past few weeks and is more and more able to pull the moves off.

More and more the kids are telling me what they are interested in doing with their time, like Gavin told me he wants to do more science experiments and Lilah has been asking for time to draw (cats mostly) and color (mandalas mostly).  I’m excited about these developments, as my own reflections on learning are that it’s most beneficial when it’s something chosen and pursued by the learner (with help and encouragement often, of course).

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Every day we are working on how to make decisions about our time together without conflicts, and how to deal with conflicts when they come up.  It’s a work in progress.

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the modern era (or this week)

The kids played My Little Pony Life.

Lilah read a whole stack of Elephant and Piggie books under an umbrella.  Because it’s cozy, I think.

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We made designs out of pipe cleaners and then mixed up some borax solution to grow crystals on our ornaments.

The borax crystals are especially enjoyable because they grow in mere hours and are ready to take out the same day or at latest the next day.

The kids often ask about how healing happens so I found this video and shared it with them.

 

We picked up a friend and the kids played all afternoon with playmobil castles and people and animals.

On our way out to the car today, Lilah kissed our tree.  She said, “I love you, Whomping Willow.”  It’s Harry Potter all the time, around here.  And it’s such fun!

There was a hike up by Jeremy Ranch, muddy and snowy and beautiful.

Gavin and I played No Stress Chess.  The kids played alone as well.

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Lilah and I made some oatmeal chocolate cranberry cookies, changing our old vegan but not gluten free to vegan and gluten free.  Yummy!

We watched the first bit of the 6th Harry Potter movie, as well as listening to the 4th book on our drives around town.

In the evening Chris took the kids to scouts for their service project meeting and I stayed home.  Alone.  It was good.  I’d been feeling itchy to have some time with my own thoughts.

When they got back we read some more Wizard of Oz in bed.

There was letter writing and card making.  The kids enjoyed using some new stationery with owls on it.

Many games of Carcassonne were played, some with new rules negotiated.

We visited the natural history museum to see a new Extreme Mammals exhibit.  There were some fun things to look at but mostly it was information to read.  We saw what baleen look like, which was great because we were just talking about that a week or two back.  We saw an animal with lower teeth that looked and functioned like a shovel.

Gavin took a special interest this visit in reading all of the signposts leading into the museum, each one focusing on one era… jurassic, triassic, etc.  We decided that the furthest ones from the museum are longer ago and then the closer ones are less long ago until the one right outside the entrance is the current time, Holocene, if I remember correctly.

Lilah drew this.  It’s she and I as mermaids.   She is wearing a purple sweater dress.

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Wizards, Origami and the joy of Movement

There were games of Wildcraft, a cooperative herbology game.

We listened to the beginning of the third Harry Potter book in the car.

We went up to Red Butte Garden again, for a shorter visit this time.

The chickadees were flitting everywhere and the squirrels were doing acrobatics.  The snowdrops were dropping open.

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The kids loved exploring the paths and finding new ways around.  They ended the visit by rolling down the long hill near the entrance, always a favorite activity.

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Lilah played with her paper dolls.

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Gavin got out the marble maze and invited Lilah to join in.

There was some tag around the house.

Lilah and I worked on origami with her paper and books from the holidays.

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In the evening we went to a special short performance by the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera Company.  It was wonderful and we even got to sit by some friends we ran into by chance.  Lilah loved the opera bits.

Gavin sat next to his buddy and they were both pretty still throughout the performance.  It started at the kids’ bedtime, really, so Gavin especially was tired as his internal clock gets him up at 6 or earlier most days.

Lilah was bouncing, kneeling, clapping with the rest of the audience, swaying.  She just can’t keep still.  I’ve slowly come to understand that movement is part of how she listens and thinks.  She reads on her back, swirling her feet around.  She tells stories while running around the table.  It’s part of who she is.  She had such a hard time in school last year with that.  We ask her to be still when we are concerned about it and she tries hard, but then she’s involved in whatever is going on and her body starts moving.  I’m so glad we can let her move as she needs now, rather than constantly cajoling and pleading and what occasionally happened at school last year, threatening her to be a statue.

She didn’t bother anyone aside from me occasionally worrying (because that’s what’s expected rather than because I actually thought there was a problem).  A few times I reached over and asked her to sit down a bit so she wasn’t blocking others’ view and she would sit down and then look at me, to check if I was upset with her.  I am glad to be in a place where I am smiling back when she checks.

Here’s a picture Lilah drew and cut of a bird about to eat a fish (sticker).

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