~a month of unschool~ fossil fueled

before i get too carried away with the school year just begun, i want to update about last month…

it’s been a dino month. (i was concerned that angry birds star wars had eclipsed his first great love, but dinosaurs still get this boy very excited!) a dino project patchwork quilt:

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dinosaur/fossil “unit”: we read the magic school bus series book dinosaur detectives. then, the final week of summer library program “dig into reading” was a puppet show by the dragon puppet theater, entitled “i dig dinosaurs.” even if it was not for the way the ampelosaurus burped loudly each time it swallowed a mouthful of fern, or the way the paleontologist (one sean’ry o’connory) stated at one point, “i’m a paleontologist! i only pick up fossilized dino doo-doo, not fresh dino doo-doo!” (which i can only transcribe here because quinn memorized it instantly and has repeated it back to me, dissolving in fits of giggles each time), i bet you can still guess which six year old boy thoroughly enjoyed himself. afterwards, we got to do a cool project where we made dinosaur “fossils” by embedding a plastic toy dinosaur inside a ball of goo which we then let dry for a few days, before chipping away at our “rock” to reveal the “fossil” within. the goo was made from coffee grounds, flour and salt (2:2:1 plus add some cold coffee or water until it holds together like dough) and then left to dry on a sheet of waxed  paper (in the back window of our car… that is where hot and dry conditions are best imitated in our climate). i love this idea and have ideas of expanding on it in treasure hunt format.

the following day, quinn and i spent our screen time on bill nye’s fossils episode (bill nye is so great- consider the following in that episode gives a sense of billions of years by showing bill jumping around in a silo full of popcorn kernels. naturally.) i googled “dinosaur skeleton building game” and got this link, which allowed quinn to articulate three different skeletons: gastornis, mammoth, and australopithecus. that day on the beach, quinn was sean’ry o’connory, digging in the sand and finding some very interesting specimens (feathers were a popular item, which obviously could have come from archaeopteryx). the following morning, the first words out of his mouth were, “can i draw a picture?” but of course! he drew a dinosaur skeleton, then proceeded to dig up fossils from the blueberry/blackberry layer under the “dirt and mud” (cheerios and milk) that had been sitting there “for millions of years and turned into rock!”

the excavating of fossils including the one we created at the library, and another one he received for christmas from grammy and grampy, took place out on the front steps one evening when dinner was supposed to be getting started. dinner must wait for science sometimes.

i have since found another dinosaur fossil digging game on the phone which takes him to all the continents of the world except antarctica and challenges him to find fossils of a more impressive list of dinosaurs. once he has dug out all of the various parts of each skeleton, they get placed in the museum, which is one reason i think he has decided his room shall become a museum. the first skeleton in his exhibit will be completed soon- an eel skeleton that had been in pieces in a box i had tucked away. he took the 12 sections of vertebrae and laid them in the order they should be glued, taking into consideration the gradual, subtle increase and decrease in size of each vertebrae from skull to the tip of the tail. a 3-dimensional puzzle from nature (specifically, a beach in baja california sur on which i hiked alone when i visited there via schooner 13 years ago). we plan to glue them all together so we can hang it from his bedroom ceiling, “so my room can be a museum!” an idea that is very exciting to him.

also inspired by the dino dig game (called dino quest- it’s a droid phone app that i am sure there are approximately 6 of us using, in case anyone is interested), quinn has been making a paper version of the game, and has gotten a game board glued together as well as a half dozen or so skeletons of dinosaurs he has traced out of his reference books onto tracing paper.

he is basically on fire about dinosaurs! in my efforts to continue strewing dino goodies in his path, i also came across some awesome dinosaur origami that is out there to be done, but i am pretty sure we are not ready for that yet, in the department of building flexibility and skills for handling frustration. but soon!

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oh, and if you need your budding paleontologist to eat his dinner, turn it into a paleontologist’s face with a dinosaur bone (chicken leg) to gnaw on. faces have been the popular food item this past month. i think it makes veggies taste awesome! especially when they are carrots from the garden, some of which grew to look exactly like dinosaur limbs (there is a photo in the quilt above of quinn holding a velociraptor carrot leg, complete with toe claw.)

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quinn’s dad has been able to recently begin taking him on outings and it has been a great addition to quinn’s life. he has begun tying his own flies for fly fishing (his dad says he studies the book and has made drawings of flies he plans to tie), and they have been fishing and canoeing a lot in the nice weather. quinn caught a cutthroat trout on a fly rod and cooked and ate it. he also went crabbing with dad, and after eating a crab sandwich for breakfast, he brought crab home to us to share (maybe his dad saw that as a trade for the peaches i shared; either way, there is a much nicer example being set for quinn recently of how coparents should get along.)

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we went blueberry picking, and quinn got to hang out with a friend he only sees when we go to the blueberry farm, a girl just his own age named salix. both there, and at home, he did lots of imaginitive playing: he built a tipi in the bamboo grove and also used the bamboo to make magic wands, broomsticks, spears and lightsabers. inspired by the book if you give a pig a pancake, he drew blueprints for a treehouse he plans to build.

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we spent more time with our friends, including quinn’s pisces brother, noble; before they left town, we got to visit the aquarium together, where the kids drove a  yellow submarine, worked a fishing boat and a fish market counter, and dug for shells under a quote from albert einstein reading, “play is the highest form of research.” very fitting for these particular kids.

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games last month quinn was in game-making mode, and he made another one this month. it was once again inspired by angry birds star wars, but this one i could actually follow, and we played a successful round of it. i was all for borrowing dice from another game to get playing, but he came up with his own unique idea for rolling how many spaces we could advance. he grabbed a penny, a nickel and a dime, and we shook the coins, advancing the total value of change of the coins that landed on heads. it kept it very interesting, because we could go anywhere from 0 to 16 spaces, with various numbers in between. once you arrived on one of the planets, you had to roll a perfect 16 to get back out again, and you had to visit each of the three planets before you could advance to the game’s conclusion.


giraffe juice; one of the most important lessons quinn got to be a part of for summer program at ols was reading the book giraffe juice (free ebook!!!!! download it now!!!!) i know i have some non-violent communication mamas among my readers, who may already know about this amazing free resource. if not, go and check it out! this book is aimed at children, but is inspired by marshall rosenberg’s nvc style of dialogue, and for many who stumble on nvc, it is a game-changer.

on a similar topic, the kids made felt faces to represent their anger, inspired by the book anh’s anger by gail silver,  in order to help them to sit with and make friends with their anger, something many folks in our society grow up without learning to do effectively (raising my hand!). quinn has had anh’s anger on his bookshelf for a year or so now, and it has been very influential on him.

along with making friends with our anger, teacher kelly gave a great presentation on parts of the brain, to help the kids get familiar with their prefrontal cortex (conscious thought) and our amygdala (reactive emotions like aversion, resistance, and desire that can bring about impulsive reactions) and how to think things through.

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observations/senses; at home, quinn and i finished the observation/evaluation worksheet (yes, there is a free e-workbook from giraffe juice, too!) our followup discussion continued days afterward in which quinn and i took turns observing what was going on with our five senses. “i see quinn’s hair sticking up like harry potter.” “i hear “ “i smell” “i taste” “i feel”. quinn spent one reading of giraffe juice doing “experiments” at the science counter of ols, where there is always a set up where the kids can mix up chemicals (acetic acid, citric acid, sodium bicarbonate and dihydrogen oxide) and use the associated tools and containers and notepads to record their observations. quinn took the notepad very seriously. we recorded what he saw, heard and smelled going on with his “potion”. (he dictated, and i took down his notes.)


the last picture he drew in the notepad was of him as an adult (it is of when we will be adults together, when, he declared, we will be good friends) and lots of living school kids sitting on steps, where they are learning about potions and experiments from him. i asked if he thought he would be a teacher at living school when he grew up, and he stopped for a minute, then said, “yes, i will. and on the days when school is cancelled, i will be out digging for dinosaur fossils to bring back and show to all the kids at living school!” i’m guessing they will then jump on their magic school bus and time travel to the time of the dinosaurs to see them first hand.

for the last show and tell of summer program, he brought in his piece of driftwood that is slowly becoming a dragon that will hang up in his room. it’s not finished yet, but he plans to bring it back in to school to show when he has it completed.

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quinn was super excited to do all of the projects the summer library program  (dig into reading) had to offer; he made a volcano, a digger, pop-up digging animals (a burrowing owl and a pair of meerkats, which quinn apparently knows an astonishing amount about due to a movie he has at his dad’s.)


some of the more school-ish things about learning to “do school” have been on the agenda this month: standing in line for the bathroom before lunch… raising his hand to talk during group time… putting away his own lunch (and on the last day of summer program he packed it all up and put it away by his hook before i even realized it! be still my heart.)

he is ever so gradually improving on getting himself dressed in morning, which of course is harder for someone who is such a dreamy guy.

also in the department of self-knowledge, quinn told me his only spirit helper is the owl. i do not know much of what went on in his mind to determine that, but he sounded very sure. and of course, the newly re-organized narrative of his early life has been a major source of learning for quinn this month.

on a lighter note, he is always acquiring new non-literal phrases, a few of the ones he worked on this month were “get on the same page” and “it’s a given.”

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and finally, in spite of his overabundance of ongoing projects, quinn still manages to find me in the garden and help me dig potatoes every now and then.


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