a month of unschool

field trips! unschooling is always a field trip-oriented way to learn, but there is something about late may/early june that inspires an upsurge in field trip activities even for us. the gravitational pull of the open world becomes stronger and we do not try to resist. we went tidepooling and saw one of our local harbor seal colonies quite up close. we caught an especially negative tide that was perfectly timed for mid-morning, and got to hike to the very farthest extent of that beach- quinn is getting to be an impressive hiker and didn’t complain a single time, rather, he urged me to hike out to the tippy-farthest rock we could stand on, which afforded us a beautiful view of a natural arch i had never laid eyes on. unfortunately, i had forgotten to charge my camera batteries the night before, so we will have to return to that spot someday soon. quinn proceeded to land his whole right leg in the ocean upon disembarking from said tippy-farthest rock, and experienced a moment of despair at having his boot filled with water, but we recovered and after dumping out boots and wringing out socks, proceeded to hike slowly back, stopping to study critters (hermit crabs, anemones, urchins, chitons, etc.) and build rock snowmen on the way.

Picture 105 tidepool Picture 120 seals Picture 132 baby seal Picture 106 tidepooling Picture 127 anemone

Picture 135 baby seal

Picture 137 seals

another field trip was strawberry picking with friends, and from there we convened a picnic in the waterfront park, where the kids could splash in the fountains, their orbits around the picnic blanket sized naturally according to their age.

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creativity; quinn is interested in puppet shows lately. after reading if you give a moose a muffin together, he began making scenery and sock puppets for a puppet show; he also cut out “battle scene from hoth” printouts that i belatedly downloaded (did you know may the fourth be with you is star wars day? i will remember to celebrate this holiday in the future!) and added paper loops to them to make finger puppets, and re-enacted battles on hoth for me numerous times; captain pirate made strawberry jam; also we are building ewoks! so far we have tackled the pattern making, which involved tracing, enlarging (big ewok), shrinking (for two baby ewoks that he plans the big ewok will carry in a basket); cutting out the pattern after i drew it was all quinn; and we began cutting fabric from an old furry brown coat, though given quinn wants the big ewok to be quinn-sized, we will need to scavenge more old brown coats; quinn helped me do a round of tie dying for some custom etsy orders- he has good hand-eye coordination and control with a squirt bottle and made an excellent assistant.

Picture 035 Picture 099 Picture 063 Picture 101 Picture 008 captain pirate the spoon licker

reading; we moved up a level to a new box of bob books– we recently tackled one that involved the word family crown-clown-town-down and also contained many of the color words, as well as the word “another” (!) and he is really getting the hang of it; he read parts of the grinch who stole christmas to me one day- i learned from my mom while we were on our trip that it’s not necessary to discourage him from using what he knows from memorization- he obviously knows much of the grinch by heart, but he did notice when he had a word just slightly off, like would instead of could, and he’d go back and correct it. my mom also encouraged him to “use your picture clues” and that was one thing i had not been doing with him, like somehow if i expected him to decode the letters themselves, devoid of “clues,” it would make him a better reader. after a little thought, i think i’m getting the hang of this, too; bedtime reading now is the star wars trilogy; i just found some star wars books online that i wish i had seen before i ordered the plain text one i am reading, these have lots of great pictures from the movies. i am going to save up my pennies to get them for quinn at some point (they are only one penny, used, actually, but i have to save up for the shipping) because i can envision him spending hours reading them to himself in the not-too-distant future.

reading/geography/paleontology/history/miscellaneous…. one day quinn was asking questions about the continents, so i pulled out the atlas and he sat for a long time flipping through pages naming continents; that same day, based on thoughts that occurred to him while gazing at an atlas, he was interested in skeletons and mentioned dinosaurs, and when i pulled out two more books- one on skeletons, and one on dinosaurs- he flipped through the dinosaur book for a while and found a page on which he recognized a photo. “this is crystal park palace, mama. it’s where they built a life-sized iguanodon model, but before they completed the model, they had a whole dinner party inside the ribcage! for twelve people!” i glanced at the caption, and sure enough! crystal park palace it was. he seems to retain facts that he learns from what he calls “learning movies” with a great deal of accuracy. sometimes i swear i even hear a trace of the accent of whoever was narrating the movie, and wonder if he is actually quoting, not just paraphrasing what he has learned. but again, i think memorization is a talent i should encourage. though i am an unschooler, and obviously not big on assigning arbitrary rote memorization, i do think the things he chooses to lock into memory have meaning for him, and that is what unschooling is all about- making meaning for ourselves from the world around us.

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“…for hundreds of years educators did seem to sense that children’s brains had to be built up through exercises of increasing difficulty that strengthened the brain functions. up through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a classical education often included rote memorization of long poems in foreign languages, which strengthened the auditory memory (hence thinking in language) and an almost fanatical attention to handwriting, which probably helped strengthen motor capacities and thus not only helped handwriting but added speed and fluency to reading and speaking. often a great deal of attention was paid to exact elocution and to perfecting the pronunciation of words. then in the 1960s educators dropped such traditional exercises from the curriculum, because they were too rigid, boring, and “not relevant.” but the loss of these drills has been costly; they may have been the only opportunity that many students had to systematically exercise the brain function that gives us fluency and grace with symbols. for the rest of us, their disappearance may have contributed to the general decline of eloquence, which requires memory and a level of auditory brainpower unfamiliar to us now. in the lincoln-douglas debates of 1858 the debaters would comfortably speak for an hour or more without notes, in extended memorized paragraphs; today many of the most learned among us, raised in our most elite schools since the 1960s, prefer the omnipresent powerpoint presentation – the ultimate compensation for a weak promotor cortex.” a little food for thought from my embarrassingly overdue library book the brain that changes itself; stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science by norman doidge.

handwriting- quinn continues to have excellent writing skills, and practices on his own terms, such as writing the message on his cousin’s birthday card. i am looking forward to there being more correspondence between the two boys in the near future when they are both writing!


pe; speed and coordination- running laps around the house; agility- playing chase with the waves; endurance- bouncy house for four hours straight.

Picture 116 running laps 0604131613 playing with waves 0604131515b Picture 617

chores and money; he helped me snip apart long strings of diaper pieces i had sewn on the serger, and i gave him some money for helping, letting him know that since i would make money from the diapers, and since he had genuinely helped me, it made sense for me to share what i would earn with him. he liked that, and it happened again when he helped me tie dye. he has continued to show his innate desire to help, and routinely now will “help” in some way with dinner, sometimes stirring something really quickly and running away to play, other times hanging out for the duration and asking “what next” until i run out of toaster operating, stirring, measuring, sponging, table setting, condiment retrieving jobs for him to perform. each time we go to fred meyer, he asks to visit the lego aisle, and we do, though i have to remind him every time that i am not going to buy any legos today, that we are just looking, and that he can take note of the prices of things that he would like to save money for. he then proceeds to ask me the prices of every single box of lord of the rings, hobbit, and star wars legos on the shelves, and when he is finished looking, we move on to buying the groceries. monopoly money math must be acknowledged here, as well as quinn’s recent interest in helping me work the atm machine at my bank.

quinn and his good buddy have been playing a game with legos where they sell or rent each other spaceships or droids or what-have-you, and they will sometimes keep it going for a good hour or more, playing with small change. quinn then developed his own math lesson in his drawing book based on the game they had been playing. up until that “lesson”, he had never practiced counting change amounts, though he knew vaguely which coin was worth which amount. so this launched him into finding out that when you have 0 quarters, 4 dimes, 2 nickels, and 5 pennies, you have 55 cents!

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math; aside from his money math, quinn is pretty fired up about math in general right now. (i did mention to him that the people who designed the angry birds games had probably worked very hard at math.) he is on page 82 of his jump math workbook as of this writing, which is impressive only because i have not once required him to sit down and work in his math book. each time i suggest doing some math, he decides, and often he does decide in favor. when he does sit down to do it, he will go through many pages, the other day breezing through a whole section on addition and moving right into subtraction before deciding he was satiated and ready to move on to something else. i am happy with the curriculum, there have been quite a few pleasantly playful/fun pages for him. one involved drawing pictures of the items to be added (he drew an elaborate birthday party scene with 3 balloons, 2 presents, 2 people and 3 candles on the cake; in another box he drew an angry birds star wars scene in order to add 4 + 2 + 7.) the actual math problems so far are seemingly very easy for him, but i like that for now, for confidence building, and i like that the workbook is fun-oriented. math can be seen as a foreign language to many of us, and we often hear how it doesn’t apply to our real lives, but drawing and puzzles and games do apply to quinn’s real life. another page was a very simple word puzzle, where he had to bring down the letters corresponding to certain numbers, and decode “monkey”, “bird”, and “cat”. it’s excellent cross-training with his reading level. one day recently i shared his math book and the current bob book he was reading with my coparent, with whom i have been working with a counselor in order to parent more as a team. coparent’s jaw dropped when i told him, “if he does any math over the weekend, you should know that he can now read the instructions himself.” i think he was somewhat unaware of quinn’s fast progress in reading, which i tried not to feel too smug about. it seems quinn finally did come to understand that just because he hadn’t ever read before didn’t mean he couldn’t do it. he is internalizing the message “yes i can” more and more and realizing his competence as a person.

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socialization; always the big buzz word with us unschooler/homeschooler types, but i think we are enriching quinn’s life in this department as well as the others. we attended a dance performance of jane and the giant peach one night, and since james is one of quinn’s favorite stories of all time, and since quinn also has expressed interest in being one of the dancers (we are thinking maybe this coming fall might be the right time to sign him up), he was completely mesmerized. i heard an audible “awww, is it over already?” from him at the end, and he clapped quite vigorously for the dancers. in addition to our usual diet of weekly playdates with homeschooling friends, we also attended a wedding reception where quinn easily mingled among the children. when i went to extract him from the bouncy house at the end of the day he could be heard, along with the 4 remaining children, engaged in a pretend scenario in which 3 of them were wolves, one was a lion, and the other an elephant. he was disappointed to leave, but his transitions are going much more smoothly, as he finds something to help his resilience (in this case it was picking out some “easter eggs”, those little sugared almond table favors, to take home). he is more socially independent by leaps and bounds; he didn’t know any of the children at this party beforehand. i heard from him very little during the bouncy house session, only seeing him when he was desperately hungry and thirsty. he came back at one point clutching 2 pieces of hard candy and a wrapper from a butterscotch, which he told me he had already eaten and let me know how good it had been. he let me know later that all of the kids except one had been nice to play with, but one had “kept on saying mean things” to the other children. he said none of it had been directed towards him, and couldn’t remember what the mean things had been, but said that he and the other kids just tried to ignore the one boy when he said mean things.

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there have been so many success stories of homeschooling and unschooling families in the news recently, and i love seeing the good press. it helps to counterbalance the negative vibes and judgment that one can’t help but encounter on this road. we recently read in the oregonian of a young woman of 16 years named tesca fitzgerald, who just graduated from portland state university at the top of the computer science department. (you thought i was going to say high school?) she is off to georgia tech to earn her phd combining her computer science with cognitive science and neuroscience. she led her robotics team to the world championships several years running, where she consistently stretched the boundaries of what the robotics software designers intended and ended up teaching them about their own tools. now just think how amazing she could have been if she had only been sent to school.

this feels to me like the most accurate picture of our typical month that i have managed to portray in the past year, and though i did go back and fill in the missing months just recently, i know they were much sketchier pictures, as i was working from the hazy distance of months gone by, when things like “the physics of the cherry pitter” have slipped from my mind if i didn’t take a picture of them. still, they are there (if you ever want to fill yourself in on our months of unschool or look back through them, you can hit the handy tag a month of unschool in the tag cloud in the sidebar and get the full list; the same goes for the tag baby which will get you the list of posts from quinn’s first years that i am still slowly entering, and am now caught up to his first birthday).

(and while i am paranthetically handling housekeeping matters, if you want to get on the email list to receive updates of new posts, it’s easy to do. if you go to the upper right hand corner of the blog, there are three little icons, and one of them is an envelope with the words “by email”. click on it, and you will be asked to enter your email address, and then you’ll get an email asking you to click a link to confirm.)

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