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.

Standard
unschooling

Del Norte camping

We headed over to the redwoods forest and the beach in Northern California.

The salt flats of Utah are on the first leg of the trip and we got out to see for a few minutes. It looks like snow but it is all salt and it is hot out there!

Our campsite was in the redwoods. It was cool and beautiful and so, so green. We even had banana slug and millipede visitors along with sweet singing birds. After 95-100 degree days in Utah, it was lovely to have mid 60s weather there.

The beach we love nearby was closed due to landslides on the trail so we had to adjust our plans. We headed to Crescent beach for some walking and shell collecting.

We really wanted to do some tidepooling so we found a few other possible places and tried one out the next day. The area the rangers were setting up was very slippery and hard to maneuver and we couldn’t find much of interest besides the most common shallow critters like anemones and crabs so we headed to the other side of the beach and we found sandy pools that Lilah could easily get around and so many fun things to see!

There were ochre sea stars in a rainbow of colors

and leather stars

and another kind I’d never seen before except at the aquarium which some research indicates may be a blood star.

There were crabs, both hermit and bigger.

There were barnacles and limpets and mussels and anemones and snails.

There were several types of fish.

There were nudibranchs! We found lots of one type with orange tips and one of another that was beige, flat backed with dark brown polka dots.

There were baby sea stars!

And best of all, we even spotted a small live jellyfish flowing in the currents

and an otter!

I spotted the otter in the ocean looking at us and then as I yelled, “It’s an otter! Loooook!” it swam up toward the beach near us and then galumphed up, rested, then galumphed more into a pond up at the top of the beach where Gavin spotted it! We think it was a river otter.

Here’s the “I just saw an otter!” face on Lilah:

And here she is, looking at fresh otter prints.

We hiked to Hidden Beach, a beautiful walk with wildflowers, ferns, views of the ocean below, a few seals sunning themselves far out on the rocks.

The kids built forts, with Chris’ help.

We spotted more amazing animals during low tide there too. Here’s a limpet that had come off it’s rock.

A couple of things I’m still working on figuring out what they are:

these orangey red blobs, which were further down in the tidal zone, which look like they may be red ascidians (commonly called sea pork) which the nudibranchs above particularly like to eat

and this, which may be a tunicate, but I’m not certain.

We also did quite a bit of hands-on (feet on) research about which seaweed types are slippery, or good for gripping while maneuvering through wet rocks in the tide pools.

In between our beach fun, we played Hero Realms, Yahtzee and Dragon Farkle, roasted marshmallows, explored the campground and while driving we listened to The Land by Mildred Taylor, a book about race relations and a young man with a white father and a black mother finding his way in America right after slavery ended, some short stories and The Land: Founding by Aleron Kong, which is a role playing game themed series with some crude humor that I’d prefer was left out but otherwise is quite entertaining.

 

It was a wonder full week.

 

Standard
unschooling

Portland Visit

We tripped up to Oregon to go to our first unschool conference and see friends and the ocean.

The conference had so many fun activities but was kind of hard for us introverts to make connections without knowing anyone beforehand. Lilah spent most of her time in the art room, drawing, painting, making a masquerade mask,  a leather gauntlet and bracelet. Gavin spent most of his in the game room. Gavin did a self defense workshop. Chris and I got in a few hours of listening to panels and speakers as well as accompanying the kids. Most of the speaking was geared toward new or prospective unschool parents, which was  bit disappointing. It was so nice to be surrounded by educationally like minded families. Lilah was delighted to see many other kids sporting tails and ears and both fit right in with their candy colored hair. It seemed to me that if we went again, we’d do well to find friends to go with or wait until the kids are teens in desperate need of other teen group connections.

Seeing friends was fun. The kids picked up right where they left off, playing games, petting cats, swimming and putting on impromptu performances at the open air amphitheater in the Rose Garden. Chris made a new friend at the garden.

The ocean was lovely. I terribly awfully wish we lived near it. It’s my happy place, along with many other nature scapes. We dug in the sand and watched birds and crabs and spotted animals in tide pools. We also found a local shipwreck that is now part of the beach scenery at Fort Stevens.

During all of our driving hours we listened to The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman and got a good start on a new favorite: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.

Life is good.

Standard
unschooling

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!

Standard
unschooling

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.

Standard
books, unschooling

fall in the mountains

Lilah’s been finger knitting. She’s made a scarf, two necklaces, some bracelets, a head band and some curtain ties that I know about plus likely just as much that I don’t.

We went swimming and worked on breathing while swimming.

Lilah took a lyra class and has been doing more aerial silks classes. I do yoga while she does aerials which is perfect.

We’ve been listening to the Brotherband Chronicles, The Outcasts by John Flanagan in the car. It’s so good.

Gavin is working with his Odyssey of the Mind team on a Star Wars themed challenge. They are working on a play with various characters and scenarios. It will be his turn soon to be a student leader and bring and support a short activity for the group so he’s been brainstorming about that.

I’ve been working on Halloween costumes. The kids weren’t sure what they wanted to do until just a few days ago so I’ve been scrambling to collect pieces and parts for all of us and to make Lilah’s costume but it’s fun to do even if we are on a tight schedule.

We took a hike up to Fifth Water hot springs with my sister.

It was a beautiful cool day and there were still colored leaves everywhere though a bit less vibrant than the previous week. When we go up to the hot springs the river runs blue and a bit cloudy and there are many small pools with rocks, waterfalls, reeds. We found one that nobody else was using and my sister and I enjoyed immersing ourselves while the kids dipped their feet and legs in and explored. Gavin had brought a book so he read for a while as we soaked.

We watched a Ginormous Pumpkin Regatta, a boat race in giant pumpkins with my family. It was really entertaining. There were some capsized pumpkins and one that was so big it could barely move aside from spinning in a circle. I want to know more about growing those pumpkins. How big are the plants? How much soil do they need? Do you pick off all the other pumpkins to grow one as big as possible? How do they taste? If the growers spend up to 30 hours a week caring for the pumpkin, what is it they’re doing? I may do some research to satisfy my curiosity. However, I doubt we’ll be growing giant pumpkins anytime. The usual size kind took over our yard just fine this year. We got 4 orange pumpkins from two vines and 2 gray-green pumkins from another vine that grew from seeds in the compost. The kids are particularly excited about the green ones.

We’ve been going to a homeschool gymnastics open gym session with friends. The kids get to use the equipment and play for several hours.

One of our favorite places, Red Butte Garden, a botanical center near us and where Chris and I were married has a Halloween activity every year called Garden After Dark that we enjoy. This year it was Alice in Wonderland themed. It was really fun to hunt for gems for our key to the portal to another world, search for white rabbits and enjoy the Queen of Hearts reciting Jabberwocky. They had games like flamingo croquet and giant tea cup decorations and also fun information about plants like there are roses that change color and riddles about flowers and herbs. We had a lot of fun and came home with wildflower seeds and chamomile (tea) seeds.

 

Standard
unschooling

99 degree days

We’ve been at the pool, working on swimming strokes together, as well as going down the water slide there. We’ve been going to the water parks too. It’s good to cool down when it’s hot outside.

They’ve been reading oh so many graphic novels and we got some fun math books to check out.

We’re working through a puzzle I got for my birthday with lovely depictions of the constellations on it. The kids and I have had several discussions about constellations and horoscopes as we look at the pictures on the puzzle. Lilah decided she doesn’t want to be a Libra. She’d rather be something that has an animal representation.

We went to a new place in the mountains with friends called Cataract Gorge, an area full of waterfalls that’s several miles down a very rocky dirt road that felt pretty exciting as we were bumping up and down. The kids played for hours in the water. Gavin hauled driftwood around to create bridges, docks, an aircarrier and a huge ship with lots of customizations (smaller sticks tucked into nooks in a large log). The waterfalls were beautiful too.

We met a new bunch of people for a Magic the Gathering club and were disappointed. The kids were mostly too young to really be able to play and the kids that were of similar ages we didn’t hit it off with. I am so disappointed about this as I was really hoping it would be a good regular activity with a group of peers for Gavin. I am considering other options for providing Gavin (both of them) regular time with kids close to their own ages.

Lilah started a Makerspace class, where she does tinkering projects. So far she’s made a nametag with LED lights as eyes and is working on a notebook.

She also tried an aerial arts class, where she does acrobatics on long silk pieces hanging from the ceiling. She loved it so much and we’ll be going back often.

We’ve been enjoying harvesting from our garden. This week we picked two green beans, a jalapeno, a pink banana squash, several small pumpkins, cherry tomatoes, a zucchini, a handful of eggplant of various types, a bunch of lemon cucumbers and some basil and Thai basil. Yum! Lilah and I like to check the honeydew and golden melon progress every few days. The biggest melons are about the size of a kids football now. They are less fuzzy than they were. Lilah built a support for one of the honeydews that was dangling in mid air with some sticks and a rock.

Gavin’s been working on some coding, in a new class and on codeacademy.com. He really enjoys solving puzzles and is enjoying messing around with html and css. He says he likes css better because he’s interested in customizing things.

We listened to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl while driving. Such fun! The kids have heard them before but didn’t remember them well. I always have adored how Charlie Bucket’s grandparents have matching names: Joe and Josephine, George and Georgina. So much amusement in those stories.

Lilah’s been working on learning to play the chorus of Let It Go from the Disney film and a song from Moana as well as refining her Yellow Submarine on the keyboard. She’s getting quite good!

Gavin’s been building and rebuilding a Lego Mindstorms robot and then programming it to do different things. It’s huge and very complicated and he’s spent hours working at it. He’s really enjoying working on it.

I’ve been painting a bit. I love it! It’s time consuming but I absolutely love every second even when I despise the results. It’s hard to find the time but oh, so important for me to enjoy, for the kids to see me doing (since it’s one of my big life goals, to make art) and then sometimes they join in either just watching and chatting or sometimes painting too.

I learned back in college that when I make art, most of it is destined for the garbage can. I don’t mean I hate it, though sometimes I do, but I mean it takes a lot of practice, of experimenting, of quantity to create a little quality art. And it doesn’t bother me at all now. Long ago, it really did! Now, I just enjoy the process and enjoy those projects that I value the product too. It’s the making that matters to me. I hope the kids enjoy the making in life too.

Here’s my latest work in progress. I’m still struggling with the texture of acrylic on canvas, but I’m enjoying the struggle.

Here’s Lilah’s latest painting (of a cat, naturally).

 

Standard