You Are Fabulous

Dear checker, Thank you for boldly being your unique self. My son needs to see as many people like you as he can.

I chose your line on purpose. It wasn’t because you had less people waiting. It was because you were you. You were a handsome young man wearing a stunning amount of makeup.

See, I have a son who asked for 50 pounds of makeup for Christmas. He’s already bought some and hesitantly worn it at times. But I see his face light up as he strolls past the makeup section in the stores.

Society, in it’s subtle and not-so-subtle ways, tells him everyday that makeup isn’t for him. That he shouldn’t be colorful or sparkly or beautiful. But you were all of those things. So thank you and your glittering red eyeshadow.

I saw my son stare at you as I paid for items. Hopefully, you weren’t offended. He wasn’t being rude. He was studying you and taking in all that you embody for him.

When you wished us a fabulous day, you couldn’t have possibly known what you’d just done for making that a reality. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing my son to see one person who’s not letting anyone dull their sparkle. You showed one little boy that he too can be uniquely and unabashedly himself.

When Everything Falls Apart

I almost had to enroll my son in school. To most people, that’s not a big deal, it’s the norm. For us it would’ve been devastating. B has never been to school and thrives with an unschooling environment. He’s free to choose how he spends his time and what he wants to learn. That freedom is something I always want for him.

This summer was beyond challenging for me. My nanny job ended when the family moved, I tried to launch an Etsy shop, worked a couple of part-time babysitting jobs, but nothing was coming together the way I needed it to, financially.

I applied for full-time nanny position after another, only to be turned down because I wanted to bring my son. My qualifications and references are amazing but people get hung up on that one aspect. I guess it seems hard to believe that I could manage their children/ household as well as my own, while homeschooling. Funny, when I write it that way it does sound superhero-ish. It’s just the way it’s needed to be so that I can give my son what I believe is best for him.

So, we were broke this summer and muddled through with some help from dear friends. I kept applying for jobs, crying when I’d get turned down, and sometimes taking to my bed for a couple of days at a time. Depression is hard to stave off when you can’t provide for your family.

The part-time babysitting job I had for September, was for a single mom like me. She’s trying to work full-time and go to college full time. When she was suddenly laid off, we were both left floundering.

The little I was making, was now gone and desperation setting in, I had to give a lot of thought to enrolling B in school. It’s so painful that my child, in this society, could be an obstacle to gaining employment. So many feel forced to put children in school so they can work to support them.

Luckily, at the final hour, I got an email from a family who had originally turned me down. They had reconsidered the arrangement and wanted to give me a try. They have one baby who will be my only responsibility. While he naps, B and I can spend one on one time. Most importantly, my son gets to continue learning in the way that suits him best, while I earn a paycheck and support B in his self-directed days.

I start full-time on Monday and I’m looking forward to it. Some of the bills that I’ve gotten behind on can get caught up and I can reduce the weight that’s been on my shoulders.

Use this as a reminder to take nothing for granted. You never know how much worse your situation could be until you’re there.

A Regular Unschool Day

Memorable conversations from our day yesterday are a perfect example of this unschooling journey we’re on. I want to share some with you.

The first was on our drive to work, where I talked with B about how we have two weeks left at my nanny job, before they move, and then we will be starting something else. He offered to start doing his lemonade stand every weekend to contribute to our family budget. I love that he wants to help. I talked about finding another babysitting type job, so he can come with me to work. Then I said, “unless you’ve changed your mind about starting school in the fall?” He came up with many reason why that was a no, but this was my favorite. He said, “then I’d only get to see you like 9% of the time.” That warmed my heart like nothing else.

Another conversation was with B and one of the children I nanny for. We talked about the presidential candidates and that one of them is a woman. How all of the presidents so far have been men. B had told her that before I entered the mix. He remembered from his Picturepedia book and a previous talk we’d had. The qualities that would make a good president, based on gender, were volleyed back and forth between the kids. I left them to it.

While eating dinner together, B and I talked about how people can tactfully do things with regard to their jobs and sticking up for themselves. We talked about what quitting vs. being fired means and why burning bridges with employers isn’t always a good thing.

On our way from dinner to a store, he noticed some people waiting at a bus stop and he mentioned that they were homeless with a level of disdain that made me recoil. I explained that they may not be homeless, they may just not have a car. Even if they are homeless, they are people just like us and we could just as easily be in their situation. Homelessness is not something that happens to just a certain kind of person. It can happen to anyone and shouldn’t be something you ever look down on a person because of.

Then we got into the store and we’re walking along when we came across a woman who was distraught and was tugging at her clothes and yelling, “excuse me!” to no one in particular. B looked at me quizzically and I told him that she seemed to be unwell and that one of the employees seemed to be handling it. He asked how I knew she was sick. I explained that sometimes people have sickness inside their brains that we can’t see from the outside.

On our way home, Amy Winehouse’s song “Rehab” came on in the car so we talked about what rehab was and how sometimes people need help quitting, when they use drugs. I shared how sad and ironic the song is since she died because of her drug use. No sooner had we finished that bit, when we drove past a table set up gathering signatures to push for marijuana legalization. Naturally, we talked about that too.

So, B’s “schooling” for the day may not have even included the 3 R’s but we hit on A LOT of big topics and lessons of great importance. This is my favorite part of the unschooling process. We discuss interests or topics as they come up organically in our day. There is no school or curriculum that could rival this, in my opinion.

 

 

Math Adventures

We have been loving a book series for a while and I wanted to share it with all of you. The Sir Cumference books by Cindy Neuschwander are phenomenal and no one is paying me to say so. I discovered our library system has all of them so we checked them all out. B asked me if I had bought them so that we could keep them forever and that is a glowing endorsement!

Each book is a typical 32 page children’s book with colorful illustrations by Wayne Geehan. The stories are usually some sort of adventure that the characters have. Different math concepts are introduced in each book, from a range of typical school grade ranges. Even as an unschooler, I still look occasionally to see what grade B would have been covering a certain topic that he already understands. It’s funny to me when I discover it would’ve been three years from now. But, I digress.

These books present the information as part of the story and that lends well to my son’s learning style. Didactic, teaching type books, rarely appeal so I was thrilled with these. I get asked to read them again and again. That helps solidify these concepts and I don’t mind because the stories are fun too.

The names of concepts get brought into the stories in the best ways. So memorable when you have characters named Sir Cumference, Radius, and Vertex as well as places like the Mountains of Obtuse. Brilliant! The play on words that occur in these books are such a wonderful literary hook for my new reader. He is loving all the language play he can wrap his mind around. I’m in love with seeing it unfold too. Seems like not long ago, I was worried that it wouldn’t happen. Great books help for sure.

B noticed that these books are a sort of series, but that they aren’t numbered like his Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. So, that evening I showed him how you can find the copyright in a book and we put them in order that way. The learning never ends.

The books are;

Some math concepts that they include, are; diameter, radius and circumference in the first book, Pi in the second, angle measurement and acute and obtuse in the third, three dimensional shapes in the fourth, area and perimeter in the fifth, place value in the sixth, map use with x and y axes in the seventh, pie charts and bar graphs in the eighth and rounding in the ninth. So, they’re helpful resources to add to your collection or to borrow from the library and enjoy for as long as you can. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hardest Lesson Learned

Today is Earth Day. The lesson my son took away from today came in the spaces in between. This is the nature of unschooling though.

I picked out a lot of our books this morning, before he woke up, about topics related to recycling, rain forest preservation, and caring for our Earth. I inflated our globe beach ball and set it out near the books. He walked into the living room, saw it and said, “really?!” I think it amused him. It reminded him what today was and he immediately wanted to bike to the park to pick up trash. No reading of books was necessary.

He grabbed a plastic bag for trash and stuffed it in his pocket. We got ready and headed out. Once we were almost there, he felt in his pocket for the bag and realized it had fallen out or been left behind. We went on with cleaning up the park, found some treasures that had to be kept and then headed back toward home.

About a block and a half away from home I spotted his bag and pointed it out to him. It had blown into someone’s yard. I stopped my bike and waited for him to go pick it up but he told me he wasn’t going to. I asked if he wanted me to cross the street with him or hold his treasures. No. I expressed that since he had brought the bag and lost it, that it was his responsibility to collect it. It was the right thing to do. He waited near me, in the hopes that I would just go pick it up. I could have. This seemed important. He was a bit afraid or embarrassed to go into someone’s yard. I wanted to support him in this.

I had a whole story going in my head that kept me so calm during all this. My parents would’ve just yelled or threatened, but that wasn’t even it. I thought of all the people who suggest that we need to “discipline” our children to teach them responsibility. “Kids these days…” This was so hard and yet so simple. I just had to be there for him and let him know that doing the right thing was important.

He even rode his bike away from me and went home briefly, although it seemed like an eternity while I stood along the road with my bike. I knew he’d come back and he knew I’d still be there in that spot. When he came back, he said some angry things. I listened. And waited. Finally, the wind blew the bag out of the yard and down the street. B chased it down, tucked it into his pocket and raced for home.

That was it. A big lesson in accountability. The best takeaway for this Earth Day, or any day, really.

So Many Pets!

Why in the world do we have so many pets? Anyone who’s been to our home or seen my Instagram knows we have a lot of pets. I suppose that wouldn’t be strange if we lived on a farm or something but we rent half of a two bedroom duplex in the middle of a city. So, why?

I did grow up on a farm and developed a love for animals, almost from birth. While my parents were raising animals for our dinner table, I was naming them and getting to know their unique personalities. So, I gave up eating them at age 14. I learned so much from them as a child; love, loss, birth, and life. It’s hard to imagine my life without pets now.

So, my son and I have 3 hens who live in our back yard, 3 cats, a gecko, a newt, a dwarf hamster, 4 goldfish and 2 plecostomus. We have to take all of their different needs into account when making a home for them. B is aware that they each have a unique biome and food requirements. He helps with feeding when he’s so inclined, but he’s not required. I want him to know the love aspect of caring for others, rather than the drudgery of unpleasant chores. The care is most genuine then.

There is so much to learn from having so many different kinds of pets but it’s not the main focus of why we choose the ones we do. We adopt pets when we do because we want to share our lives with them. Strange to some, I suppose. They give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning, although I’ve never been a morning person. When a bout of depression strikes, they give me a lifeline to hold onto. Before B came along, that was huge for me. I need to be needed in times like those. These little creatures depend on me and I won’t let them down.

B has loved and lost pets several times in his short life and he remembers each one. He has learned to guard his sensitive heart ever so slightly but he still loves deeply and talks about how sad it will be when it’s their time. I believe that having learned young the fragility of life, helps one better enjoy and appreciate the time we do have.

While these pets are in our care, we take the best care of them that we know how. They are part of our family and B knows they have feelings and needs just like we do. We take them in for life when we adopt, no matter how difficult that may prove at times. We learn about them, from them and also about ourselves as people. I’m more inclined to wonder why people don’t have pets.

 

What Unschooling Looks Like…Today

A day in the life of an unschooler looks different every day. I decided to just jot notes down as a random day progressed, and then write it up. Truth be told, as the day went on I wasn’t sure this was the day I wanted to ‘showcase’ but I’m all about keeping it real. So, here’s how it went.

My day actually started much earlier than B’s, but I’m focusing on his day. The little night owl rolled out of bed around noon and grabbed his tablet. It was important to him to see what happened overnight to his base in Clash of Clans. He checked on that and watched the replays of some attacks, then moved on to some YouTube favorites. He subscribes to many YouTubers so he gets a notification when new videos go up.

I mentioned that it had snowed so we headed into the living room to take a peak. The next door neighbor was out shoveling and B decided that he would head out to help meet him in the middle with shoveling the sidewalk. He stayed out for over half an hour; shoveling the sidewalks, driveway (so I could get the car out,) and sledding in the back yard.3-2-2016 039

When he got back in, he headed to the PC and while that booted up, he did some puzzles in his newest Lego Club magazine. I had just happened to leave it laying on the computer desk. B played Lego Worlds for a little bit and when his hunger got the best of him, he headed to the kitchen for something to eat.

He had some macaroni, while working on a new March Math Problem Calendar. This made him realize that it was indeed March and he had heard that Clash Royale was going to be available in the US this month so he grabbed his tablet and checked to see if he could download it. No luck, so we researched when the drop date is supposed to be for that. Then I grabbed a cookbook for kids that I had picked out at the library and showed him some of the recipes from around the world. We added items to our shopping list for the following day. Then B replied to the journal entry I had left for him on the table. He finished eating, brushed his teeth and hair, then headed to his room to get dressed.

Next up was some Plants Vs Zombies Garden Warfare on the Xbox, with online friends. He has a headset so he can talk to other players and made friends with a boy from California. This is a pretty intense game for him, so he bounces on his trampoline while playing it. This particular time, it led to a hurt foot, which ended the gaming and jumping for the day.

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Our new homeschooling books arrived from Amazon so we took a look at those. B thought it was funny that his book was twice as big as mine. He snuggled with his kitties that were in the vicinity, then headed to the kitchen to try the peanut butter energy balls I had made. They got a thumbs up!

B got on the PC to play Minecraft since one of the YouTube videos he watched gave him an idea he wanted to try. He hadn’t played in so long there were a lot of new updates to explore and test out. There was one called Elytra so we looked that up to see what it was, how you use it and how to pronounce it. It ended up being an insect anatomy lesson. Dragon’s Breath was another new one that we researched. When he lost interest in Minecraft, he moved on to Rock of Ages for a bit.

He finished on the computer and played with his kitties and some cardboard boxes, which reminded me that the pet store had called and said their food was in. We headed out to pick that up. That required removing snow from the car (one of B’s favorites.) The store was an exercise in patience and making the best of a situation, since there was no price listed and blah blah blah. This particular store gives out bite size candy bars at checkout so we earned a couple extra for our patience. On the way through the parking lot, I spotted a California license plate and pointed it out to B, reminding him that was where his online friend was from. Connections!

Got home, fed kitties and B and I ate too (not the cat’s food.) Then we snuggled up in his bed to finish reading aloud Diary of a Wimpy Kid #8. Next up will be his Guys Read book club choice from the I Survived series.

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B still had some sillies in him so he wanted me to play 2 player soccer on the PC with him. He deemed that I was too good and kicked me off to vs the computer. That didn’t last long.

3-2-2016 046.JPGI asked if he wanted to feed the fish and he said no so I did that and prepared the gecko’s food. I handed B a slice of apple and told him his hamster was hungry. He quickly got to work filling dishes and adding fluff to Jack’s bedding. Then he took little Jack out to run around in my bedroom, in his plastic ball. Ten o’clock rolled around and I reminded B that was the time he’d agreed to take his shower so we put Jack to bed and B headed into the shower.

Once he was squeaky clean, he came out, told me good night, collected a smooch and headed to his room.

That was our day. Simple as that. Living life, answering questions, exploring interests and making connections. Can I measure anything or say for sure what he learned? No, probably not. I don’t have to. This is his journey and he gets the most customized, perfectly unique education for him because he chooses his path.

Our Week of Adventures

Off work this week and making the most of it with as many free activities as possible. Check it out! Pictures and videos abound here.

On Saturday, after dinner, we headed out to Horicon Marsh  Education and Visitor Center for their candlelit hike event. It was nearly an hour drive to the shuttle location, since I’d read that parking was limited. I’m SO glad we went that route because B got to have his first school bus ride! He was nervous on the way to the marsh. Once we got there, we explored the visitor center and then headed outside to the giant bonfire they had going. B loves fire and there were marshmallows to roast, so…BONUS! We met some interesting people who shared pictures of the Lineolated Parakeets that they raise. It was about ten degrees outside so we didn’t stay too long but were glad to have gone anyway. B’s favorite part of this adventure was the bus ride back to our car. We sat at the very back of the school bus and bounced and laughed the whole way there.

Sunday and Monday we just vegged out at home and B played a lot of video games and watched some of his favorite YouTubers; Jacksepticeye, Markiplier, EthanGamerTV and FGTeeV. I played some Spore on our PC. B was curious where some of the YouTubers lived so we found Ireland and Sweden on our world map. I did some toilet paper roll stamp art, a tape resist painting and a splatter painting with stretched rubber bands. B didn’t join in, except to stamp a heart over my heart, but he thought the tape resist was cool so he may do one at some point. He isn’t as artsy fartsy as his mom.

Tuesday we headed downtown to visit two museums. The Wisconsin Veterans Museum was one that B was excited to explore. This is so not my thing, but his learning isn’t going to be hampered by my distaste for war. I had printed off scavenger hunt pages from their website beforehand, since I knew I would be of no help besides reading signage. B moved through the exhibits, looking at things of interest to him, staying as long as he wanted. There were areas where he beamed and I was grateful for this unschool life that gives us such freedom. He loved the submarine periscope that had been repurposed in the museum to view outside. He could see the capitol building and surrounding area.

After the Veterans Museum, we headed over to the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. All but two galleries were closed down for new installations so there wasn’t much to see but we did utilize the kids pack that they lend out at the reception desk to engage kiddos in the art. The highlight here was probably the large glass staircase that B delighted in dragging me up and down. He loves to help me push my boundaries of comfort with heights and such.

Wednesday we headed to Olbrich Botanical Gardens to hang out in their conservatory. It’s one of my favorite things to do this time of year, when everything is covered in snow and the gloom threatens to take over. The warmth, smells, peace and beauty does my heart good. B remembered to bring coins because they have a machine there where you can press a penny into a keepsake. He’s always wanted to do it and we never had the coins with us, so he planned ahead! He also made a connection there that floored me. The conservatory had an exhibit about how chocolate is made. He wasn’t all that interested, but we did read one sign about how marshmallows started out being made with marshmallow plant sap. That connected, in his brain, with a comment that had been made by Annoying Orange in a video he’d watched. I’m always amazed by how the learning process unfolds!

At home we worked on some ice experiments that we had set up the night before. We froze Lego mini-figures in two plastic cups of water. Be chose to melt one with salt and one with the hair dryer to see which was faster.

Thursday was B’s monthly “Guys Read” book club at the library. He was super excited to share with everyone that he had read, not just the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid book that was assigned, but the second and third in the series as well. We’re making progress with this reluctant reader! Mama is happy.

Friday was a half day for the school kids in the neighborhood so three of them came over and B sledded with them, in our back yard. I made a repurposed candle holder with tissue paper and Mod Podge.

This week has been a lot of fun and I wish I had every day at home with my little guy, but we have managed to make the most of the time we had. We still have the weekend too…

 

Powering Down

As unschoolers, we trust our children to make the choices about what they do with their time. Who would know better how to spend one’s day than oneself? This is where, as parents, we often get accused of unparenting. Nothing could be further from the truth and I’ll tell you why.

Parenting a child who unschools means you need to stay in tune with your child. Really see them and know them and understand how they tick so that you can best facilitate their journey. With no curriculum to guide you, the child is the guide and you all know how much they change every day. So, this is no small feat.

I have tended toward the radical unschooling end of the spectrum, as much as our lifestyle allows. B chooses when he goes to sleep, how much and when he eats, what outside activities he wants to go experience, and until a couple days ago, how much screen time he wanted.

When our schedule changed in September, four months ago, he was given carte blanche with the computer, game systems, and his tablet. I noticed as time went on that less choices were being made to do other activities. Science experiments, that were once an almost daily thing, were not an interest. YouTubers were becoming a source of ‘friendship’ of sorts. Our cabinets and closets and shelves of toys, books, games and puzzles were becoming completely ignored.

I was still strewing and asking often if certain activities might be of interest and was increasingly being told, not right now. While months were going by, I was holding the trust that he would soon learn to self regulate his screen usage. Then I started to notice things he would say about sucking at real life or that he didn’t smile much any more. He started chewing his nails until they bled. We talked about it feeling difficult for him to shut down the screens and do other things that he enjoyed. He ‘couldn’t.’

Not every child, or adult for that matter, is going to be that way. Part of the trust and being in tune with your child, is being aware of when you need to step in and help set healthy limits. We all need help now and then. He is upset about having these new limits and I even heard, “you’re not the boss of me!” We will get through it together because, no, I’m not the boss of him, we are a team, but I’m also his mom. My duty is to do what’s best for him and help him be his best self.

She Liked Me…She Really Liked Me

You never know what people will think of you when they get to know what you’re really like. They often surprise you if you give them the chance.

A neighbor of mine came over to deliver something I had ordered from her daughter’s fundraiser. It was freezing cold outside so I invited her in while I rummaged for the funds. She commented how “homey” our place was and how she really liked how I had our place set up. Our living room is filled with the usual couch, TV and comfy chair but it also has most of B’s toys and a bookshelf holding things he’s made.

In conversation, it came up that we home school and she was really excited about it. She wished she could do that. I told her we actually unschool and how that’s done and she kept agreeing with me that it sounds exactly like how learning should take place. I explained about my nanny job and how I make it work so I can be employed and be with B.

Then she shared with me the challenges her daughter’s having at school and that the school would like her to be medicated. We talked about how similar our children are and how different our lives are than maybe we had intended.

I told her my basement roommate is moving out soon and I’m considering taking kids in as a new work from home job. She really hoped that I would and said she knows a few people who could use after school care. So, it’s something I’ll think about.

We haven’t always lived in the best neighborhoods and there’s even lyrics to a song that sum it up at times; “I ain’t have neighbors, that’s why they call it hood.” It was good to connect with someone who lives across the street and actually thought what we do in here isn’t weird or crazy. I could get used to that!