unschooling

always moving, sometimes faster, sometimes slowly

We’ve been busy, with all the little things and a few big ones.

We’ve been

swimming with friends in the hot springs

finishing our audiobook The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo

picking out legos from bulk lots

learning about elections in the U.S. and talking about the process and the people involved

playing Minecraft and building and dreaming so many ideas up for it together

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playing soccer with Dad

playing Connect Four and Carcassonne and Exploding Kittens and WildCraft and Race for the Galaxy and War

working on making a mask from a doodle crate gift Lilah received recently (I think she’s making a wolf mask) with a plastic mask base you shape, then cover in foil and plastic, then cover in paper mache and finally she will paint the dried paper mache mask

 

visiting a brand new library just blocks from our house!!! The kids each got their own library card and checked out books. Gavin brought home a Lego idea book and Lilah brought home a book about rocks.

We’ve been celebrating Grandpa’s birthday with Gavin creating a game for him and building it and writing up the instructions with Dad and then trying it out with Grandpa. He made a board out of cardboard and used little plastic army men and a purple die that he got at the skating rink for this very purpose.

 

We’ve been playing with friends (human and animal) at the farm

practicing gymnastics

 

cleaning our house

building a house for our cats, refining it, observing the cats in it, adding toys and stickers

creating new lego designs based on books and otherwise

enjoying the first warm, sunny days of the year at various parks and gardens, with and without friends. They’ve been having opportunities lately to play with much younger kids (being the oldest) and that has been both fun and challenging. I’m so glad they have these kinds of opportunities!

We’ve been practicing a play at their scout meeting

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doing the important work of playing, navigating challenges with differing degrees of confidence and happiness and enjoying each other and the world.

At the moment I write this, the kids are setting up for a game where each of them has a pillow and an umbrella in their bases and they try to hit the other’s area with a squishy ball.

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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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cold days

We’ve been reading books, of course. Gavin picked out a novel from the library that he says is good called The Mapmaker’s Sons by V. L. Burgess. He also borrowed How To Train Your Dragon, Book 1 by Cressida Cowell. Lilah is reading The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.

Lilah and I built a canoe and teepee fort with her set of fort building pieces.

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Then we had a tea party inside it.

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We went to a women’s gymnastics match at the university with my dad

and Lilah’s practicing her own gymnastics in a slightly more challenging class now. Here she is doing a handstand on the beam and then she practiced a round-off dismount.

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We all played Civilization on the computers together.

Gavin and I played a game of The Castles of Mad King Ludwig. It’s really quite a good one for kids with longer attention spans.

Lilah watched Song of the Sea again, one of her favorites and mine too.

I baked some oatmeal chocolate chip cranberry cookies and we all ate them.

We pulled out our marble maze pieces and built and experimented and gasped as the cats knocked our creations down and then built them again.

Gavin got out his master builder books and has been making and remaking various different things with his Legos. Today he built a drawbridge that moves up and down.

Lilah made a horde of adorable paper cats and angels and cat angels. She even decided she wanted to make a chain of them and figured part of the process out and asked for help with the rest but did it all herself.

Gavin’s been working more (in tiny bits) on his book.

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He and I spotted a bird up close in the parking lot.

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The kids made a few different automatons from a kit that came in the mail as a gift. They were fascinated.

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So I introduced them to the Strandbeest, amazing huge automatons made by Theo Jansen, and they were even more fascinated. If you haven’t come across these already, you’re in for a treat!

 

Lilah and I have been hula hooping and working on new tricks.

We went to the natural history museum and learned about DNA and watched videos about Native American history and culture. This was the first time that the DNA has sparked Gavin’s curiosity apart from solving the puzzles they have out in the area. He looked carefully at a display of all the protein pairs in human DNA compared with about twenty other animals and then we talked about how two strands fit together and apart again, creating the spiraling shape.

The kids reconnected with some old friends at the museum who we haven’t seen in years and who play a computer game Gavin and Lilah like so they have been playing a bit together now and then and having a lot of fun sending “letters” to each other and showing off their in-game creations.

I have been thinking a lot about parenting with empathy and reading many articles about how to support kids when they feel anger, in expressing and feeling and then moving forward and if helpful making things right with others.

We’ve been chatting and dreaming about where we’d like to visit this year; Southern Utah, California, Arizona are on the table.

I talked a bit to the kids about yoga and mindfulness and we practiced a few very short meditations together. I found mainly bedtime meditations for kids and I am hoping I can find some more that involve both movement and relaxation and are a little more playful.

We read a few books about Martin Luther King, Jr. and talked about how things are similar and different than when he was alive.

I learned how to knit cable twists and made a pretty good looking hat in a color I call mermaid. Gavin put in a request for a similar one in deep blue.

Chris served on a jury for a trial the past two weeks and so afterward he talked with the kids about what he did and how things work. They were both fascinated and a bit worried about it as it was a pretty serious criminal trial.

Today, Chris was home all day so I got to take a snowy hike on my own. Beautiful!

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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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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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Sunken Cities, Lego Cities, Evolution

Over the past week or so the kids have been playing Spore every morning lately.  So, the rest of the time the kids conversation is including evolution, mutation, tribes and herds.   (It’s a computer game where you start as a tiny sea-dwelling organism and slowly evolve and become a land-dweller.  You get to choose the changes, like type of eyeballs, type of feet, size of torso…, as you slowly level up and your creature changes and develops.)  Usually both of them are leaning together, planning what changes to make next, where to take their creature in search of food, shelter or allies.  Here’s Lilah in a rare moment without Gavin’s sage advice on hand.

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Gavin built a Lego version of Carcassonne, complete with four civilizations, Japan, China, Vikings and Rome.  It has a volcano and a temple, four cities and a river that goes to the sea.  I’m impressed by his building, his creativity and his interest in geography, history and game mechanics.

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We finished reading Madame Pamplemousse and the Enchanted Sweet Shop and are continuing Prairie School.

We looked at a bunch of slides with the new microscope as well as some feathers from our parakeet.

Lilah went to gymnastics.  She even went up to the high bar, the one up higher than my head, swung herself around and up and did her “mermaids” on that bar before swinging down and dismounting.  I was impressed.

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Gavin and Dad played civilization.

We built my new single-serving puzzle.

Lilah’s had a cough for weeks and the air has been really bad here so we’ve been staying in quite a bit.  Yesterday and today the air is finally clear again thanks to some rain and snow.

The kids have been playing with their Hero Factory modular robot toys.

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Here’s a snippet of one of their stories:

G: “I’m following you Earth Leader. All right, Sandstone. Look this is the tricky part of getting down.”

L: “Yeah but remember Kai is good at climbing.”

G: “Yeah he’s good at climbing things but not slippery things like vines.”

 “‘Let’s go to the new city of Earthler which I’ve never seen’, Kai admitted.”
L: “Look, she’s fireproof and waterproof!”
We talked about sales tax because Gavin has been doing chores to earn money and is interested in spending it on a new Bionicle figure.  We discussed how much sales tax is, why it exists and what its for in general and specifically here in Utah.  Then we began talking about when it started and got into the Boston tea party and representation of the people in governments.  It was a pretty great bunch of discussions!
We picked up our Spanish practice again, going over food words, animal words and I learned how to say, “You are so sweet my teeth hurt.”
Gavin finished knitting his hat on the loom.
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Gavin asked recently about Atlantis, if it’s real or not. So I explained that actually there are plenty if cities that have sunk for different reasons and we don’t know if Atlantis is one of those.  Afterward we looked at some great photos of sunken cities and read the brief descriptions of where they are, when they sank and if they know why.  It’s been something that has interested me since I was a kid, so it’s fun to see Gavin interested as well.  I’m glad to know and be able to pass on that there are infinite mysteries left in history, biology, physics just waiting to be discovered and puzzled over.
We went the the Museum of Natural Curiosity and climbed and read and spun and wondered and built and laughed.  My favorite part this time was watching the kids dress up as pirates and put on a play.
Friends.
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Monday

The kids set up a lego restaurant with dishes, tables, customers and a menu.

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We watched a crew clean our street and then cover the cracks with tar.  I asked the kids why they thought they cleaned the street first.  Lilah said, “To get rid of the dirt”. Gavin added, “Because it wouldn’t stick with the dirt on it”.  Then we talked about what happens if water from snow gets in cracks in the road and then freezes (and expands).

We worked on some Makit plate designs for holiday gifts.  They will make plates with the designs the kids draw and color.  The ones from years past are some of our favorite plates to use around here!  Gavin drew an owl with wind, tornado, crown and jewels.  Lilah drew several cats.  They both have a particular interest in those animals right now, which is fun.

Gavin and I solved a sudoku puzzle with his Chocolate Fixx set while Lilah was still working on her drawings.

When she finished we played a game of Magic The Gathering.  It’s a very complicated game and not really something Lilah can grasp fully, or even Gavin for that matter, but they enjoy playing it at the stage they are at now and it has so much to think about: math, strategy, order of phases in your turn, lots of new vocabulary, art on the cards.

Lilah and I drove over to her gymnastics class

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while Gavin stayed home and built a lego spaceship and watched an episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.

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