Friday, July 29, 2011

Personality Differences

I post a lot about E's unschooling exploration and not so much about L's. It's not because she isn't learning, but rather that her method of learning is different. She is also younger, so the things that fascinated and excited me about watching E learn when she was 2 and 3, I take for granted more with L. I still love to watch her discover new things, but it's like watching a baby learn to walk or talk. You know they WILL, you don't stress or worry about it, you don't try to teach it or make a big deal about it, it just happens as you live life and enjoy their company. I knew that before, but now that I have one already past this age, it's so much more apparent.

She has a quiet personality. She doesn't ask a lot of questions, she just observes and absorbs. She has learned to count to 10, count objects to 3, say the alphabet, identify animals, and many other things mostly by listening to E and I and by tagging along with what we do. I do try to be engaged with her with the things that interest her, I read books to her and sing her songs, but to be honest I am not nearly as good at it as I was with E at this age. She doesn't talk as much in order for us to have conversations for me to find out as many of her interests. She also is not very open to me showing her how to do things. For example, she learned how to write the letter E by watching E write her name, but when I offered to show her how to write her own name, she was not interested.

I am interested to see how her personality makes a difference in the way she learns as she gets older. It will not surprise me if she becomes a voracious reader when she learns to read. Rather than finding things for her to do and see, it might be better to find things for her to read. However, I need to do a better job of staying engaged and connected with her. Learning will happen, I'm not worried about that, but the relationship that fosters the learning opportunities takes work.

Following Interests

I think something that can be confusing for some people is when unschoolers talk about "following an interest." I think they imagine that the child comes to mom and says "I'd like to learn about baking and money today," and then they sit down together and pour over information, do worksheets, maybe a field trip. While E has told me what she wants to learn about in so many words, that is rare. Usually I pick up on her interests through our conversations and if we can't look up the answers to her questions right that minute, I write them down and we do things later. Also, I bring a lot of things into her world that she didn't know existed, because she can't possibly be interested in them if she doesn't know they exist.

For example, a few weeks ago some kids came to our door offering babysitting and dog walking services. I politely declined since we don't have a pet and I won't be leaving my kids with 8 year olds, but I told them that I was impressed with their desire to make their own money. E asked how she could make her own money like those kids were doing and we started brainstorming some ides. She settled on baking and selling apple pies. I invested $10 into her business to buy the ingredients and together E, L and I made 2 apple pies. Then we put the pieces on individual paper plates and put them in a basket. She walked around our neighborhood and sold them to our neighbors for $2 per slice. I hung back while she knocked on the doors by herself, told people what she was doing and offered them a piece for "ONLY $2 each!" which people found cute and she came up with herself, little saleswoman. After paying D and I back with slices of pie, eating a few themselves, and getting a few tips, they made out with $24.

She said that was "WAY BETTER" than waiting to get the $2 we give each of the girls every week. She spent $10 of it to buy a jewelry making kit, because she wanted to continue her business venture and sell jewelry. The rest went towards fun at the county fair.

All of this came about because she made a little comment about wanting to make money too, and I utilized my adult knowledge and resources to help her run with it.

If you think your kids have no interests besides playing, just start talking to them! I can't even keep up with all the possible interests there are to learn here. In the last two days I've written down just a few of the many things that have come up in conversation:

How deer hide their babies until they lose their spots, where deer live and what they eat
Why magnets stick to metal
What a curtsy is called and the difference between a bow and a curtsy
What security guards do
The weather in the the antarctic
The arctic, Eskimos and igloos
Where Alaska and Canada are located on the map in relation to California and Oregon
Dinosaurs, carnivores, animals hunting
Big Foot
Nerves, brain, heart and how our bones protect our vital organs

All of these things are conversations that create learning in the moment, as I answer questions and provide new information, but sometimes they are 2 minute exchanges, barely a blip on the radar of our day if I'm not paying attention. I do try to pay attention though, because they are also interests that can be explored further. I figure if my kid is asking, she's interested! Now when I provide more information or a project or related trip later on, if she no longer cares about that topic, she'll tell me and I'll respect that. But that happens very, very rarely.

I don't say "I'm going to teach you about XYZ now that you expressed an interest in it," I say, "Hey look at this video of deer that I found" or "Remember last week you asked about what security guards do? Well I just met one and he can tell you about his job."

It's all about being engaged, interested in them and open to whatever comes up.

My Kids Play All Day

I was talking to someone last week who is a pretty relaxed homeschooler, but considering sending her daughter to school because she doesn't want to deal with the fighting over school work. She thinks that it's not too much to ask that her daughter do a little math and a little reading every day. She knows that my E frequently does math and reading related things, and she said "But E is interested in those things. What if she wasn't? Would you just let her play all day?"

So, I'll answer that here. Play is very, very important. It IS how we learn. My kids do play all day and some of that play looks like running around in the sprinklers and kicking soccer balls and some of it looks like math flash cards and writing thank you notes.

Yes, you read correctly.... math flash cards and thank you notes are FUN for my kids, because no one has ever ruined those things for them.

"But sometimes we have to do things that aren't fun," you say. "Some things in life are HARD WORK and just plain miserable."

That's true, though I believe it is the case much less often than most people think, for two reasons:

1) they don't know how to have fun with learning
2) they think of fun as WOO-HOO screaming, hands in the air, having a blast and happy to be FREE of the horribleness of work or schoool.

Which means they can't understand the kind of fun that my daughter has with flash cards.

She asked me to work on addition flash cards with her today. She told me what numbers she wanted to work on, and it was work, not woo-hoo screaming fun. It was also fun, however, not drudgery. It's fun for her to master a new skill, it's fun for her to stretch her brain. She actually enjoys struggling to grasp a concept and then getting it. L also had fun with them, practicing identifying the numbers.

However, no one finds things fun when they are forced to do them. So do I worry that my kids play all day? Nope, not at all. I also don't worry when these interests wax and wane. They might do these flashcards every day for a week and then not touch anything math related for a month and when they comes back to it, it might not look anything like school work. That's ok. That's how real learning works.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Skeletons, Pig's Brain, Eyeballs, Starfish....

I organized a trip with some other homeschoolers to the community college to see the human skeletons in the biology department. We also got to see a pig's brain, a cat's nervous system, a starfish, and models of the human eye, ear, heart, brain and the inside of a frog, a starfish, and some other cool things. E has an ongoing facination with anatomy and biology, so I knew she would love this. There were several real skeletons that had been there for 75 years, as well as a model skeleton that the kids got to touch and move.

I told the teacher that I had dropped out of her anatomy and phisiology class when I was 17, after trying it for 2 weeks. It was too hard to remember all those terms! But now that I'm learning alongside E, it's so much easier. Together we identified the ribcage, femur, carpals, metacarpals, tarsals, metatarsals, clavical, skull, patella, tibia, fibia, radius, ulna, and vertebrae. Some of them E remembered and others I helped her with. We saw a whale's vertebrae and I showed her the size comparison between it and a human vertebrae. We talked about the nervous system and how the eye and the ear and the brain work. She got to see the development of a real chicken, from egg to a chick ready to hatch.

Her favorite thing was the starfish. There was a real starfish and several models of the inside of a starfish. The teacher told us how the starfish turns it stomach inside out to grab it's food and then pulls the food inside it's body to digest it. E thought that was really cool, so when we came home, we looked for videos of the starfish eating. It was hard to find any good ones though. Most of the videos show the starfish from the top and we couldn't see what the stomach was doing underneath. I'm going to keep looking though and if I find a good one I'll post it.

L's Third Birthday

I can't believe I'm just now getting around to posting this, but I had a lot of pictures to go through. L's birthday was on July 7 and she had two birthday parties. One was a pool party a week early while visiting my sister and the other party was at the lake with my parents on the 4th of July.
It's pretty tough to get a reaction out of her. Her grandparent's hid her bike behind a tree and when she walked back there to see her present she said "Oh" and then rode it a little, but mostly let her sister ride it. But I know she liked it, because she wanted to ride it every day after that until we had to leave it at my sister's house. I'm sure she'll be glad when we can get it back!
She had a blast at the pool- she loves swimming!

7 Months Old

Z is 7 months old today! She has been crawling for over a month and pulling herself up for a few weeks. She's had a few bites of some solids- smoothies, strawberry, banana, maltomeal- but mostly she is just nursing. She has two little teeth. She's a happy baby and very anxious to be able to start running around with her sisters.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Fun At the Fair

The girls had a blast at the fair, especially riding the rides. L's favorite was the carousel and E's favorite was this thing that slowly went WAY up in the air and then quickly dropped down. She also liked the Graviton, I think it's called, where it spins so fast that the centrifugal force sticks you to the wall. I used to love that one as a kid too, and probably still would if I could justify spending the money.

They also got to pet a HUGE draft horse and see her 2 month old colt. We saw cows, pigs, rodeo horses and sheep.

I have more pictures of the second day we went, but I'll have to post those later.


I love how it works, when we are following an interest and open to the learning opportunities around us, suddenly the connections between things just pop out of the woodwork.

A few weeks ago, we went to the river with a friend and she wisely reminded the kids to "watch out for rattle snakes" beneath the rocks and in the bushes. I told the kids about the time that I was nearly bitten by a rattlesnake when I was about 10 years old. Then a few days ago, we saw the new movie Rango, which has a big, scary rattlesnake in it. E was scared of it at first, but like with most things that scare her, she wants to experience it again and again and have me sit with her and explain it until the fear of it is gone. So we watched that part of the movie several times. That led to watching youtube videos of snakes of all kinds- rattlers, baby rattlers, anacondas, and pythons. Then on Saturday, we went to the fair parade and a woman was carrying a python on her shoulders, so the girls got to see and pet that.

Over the course of those weeks, we talked about safety around snakes, how venom works, how constrictors kill their prey, how antivenom works, what it means to milk a snake for it's venom, where different types of snakes live and many other topics. Of course, each thing led to something else- like discussing rodents while watching an anaconda devour a capybara and discussing reproduction while watching a rattlesnake give birth.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Typical Day

This morning I had a lot of housework to do since I got busy writing last night and didn't clean up the house. So while I cleaned the girls played and watched part of a movie. We did something that I'm trying to make a habit- prayers and a short devotion at breakfast. Then D took them to the preschool story time at the library, which one of us takes them to every Wednesday. They read a story about caterpillars and then made caterpillars out of egg cartons. While they were gone, I went to the Women's Business Network meeting. When we all got home, the girls and I ran a few errands- to the bank, the dump and to pick up some tools D had left at a friend's house. Then D left for work and the girls and I followed an interest with measuring cups and fractions.

Today was another great reminder for me- when I'm frustrated at the way things are going, just take a deep breath and wait as we had some cleaning and decluttering issues come up and be resolved.

The girls played in the wading pool while I cooked dinner- it's so nice to finally have a yard! After dinner we cleaned up the house and then walked to the store up the street so they could spend their money. Every week they get $2 that they can spend however they choose. L bought M&M's and chalk and E bought a toy turtle that swims in the water.

I'm trying to remember all the little things that happened today: I read them a book about sheep that drive a jeep and get it stuck in the mud. LOTS of rhyming word and they had fun with those. I gave them piggy back rides and they played with the baby a lot.

I hardly write about the baby! But she doesn't do much yet. She is crawling, pulling herself up and cruising a little. She loves watching her sisters play and they find it hillarious to do slapstick comedy to get her to laugh. She got her first two teeth about a week ago.

I posted this on facebook right before bed: My kids are "watching a movie" on the cupboard door. They are discussing the plot "wow, look at Ariel going in that hole! And the airplanes are flying and crashing into each other!" and using an imaginary remote to change movies. They have even made themselves a bed on the floor in front of their "movie." These kids are allowed to watch movies any time they want, but they are doing this instead.

It's not all roses- several times today they hit and pinched each other over things like E putting her feet on L's chair or L jumping on the couch while E was laying on it. Sometimes I was able to help them work through it in the most smooth, beautiful way- having both of them tell the other one what they need, asking them to give ideas for a solution, finding one that worked, suggesting apologies and amends which they willingly gave and moving on. But at one point I had to keep E with me for about half an hour because every time she got near her sister she started something and was not interested in solving anything. So she sat on the counter while I did dishes and cleaned up the kitchen and by the time I was done she had worked out whatever internal issue she had going on and was much more pleasant to be around.

Now they are fast asleep in their bed, dreaming good dreams I hope.

Take a Deep Breath and Wait

When I was cleaning this morning, the girls were not at all interested in helping me. I was feeling overwhelmed at waking up to a big mess since I got busy last night and didn't clean up, but I made a conscious effort to own my own feelings. *I* wanted it cleaned, *I* thought it should be done right then and I wanted them to help! But they were busy with things that were just as important to them as cleaning was to me. I did tell them, "I'm feeling frustrated that I am cleaning up all this mess by myself and I would appreciate if you would help," but they didn't. So I sucked it up and cleaned the house because I wanted it clean and I knew I would feel better when it was done, and they did put a few toys away at the end. Then we went about the rest of our day and I hardly thought anything more of it. This evening it was time for me to do my normal evening clean up time. The girls jumped right in, as they often do, and cleaned up their room and took turns vacuuming it with only minimal help from me. And L helped me bring clothes in from the line and hang more clothes out to dry.

It was a good reminder that one moment, one incident, one day is just never worth making a big deal about- things change so quickly. FEAR almost got the best of me this morning- fear that them saying no to cleaning was going to become a new habit, fear that my house would be a disaster forever, fear that I had just been talking about my kids being awesome helpers the other day and now they were making me out to be a liar! But I didn't let it get me! It's hard sometimes to own your own feelings about things when you know you can use your size and power to force little people to comply. It's hard enough to accept a polite no from an adult, but from a kid.... it sets all those ingrained messages what "has to" be done and who should be doing it into overdrive.

It was a good reminder to just take a deep breath and wait.

A few months ago, I took a deep breath and have been waiting ever since for another situation to resolve itself. The outcome today was interesting:

Earlier today I was emailing with a friend about getting rid of kids' broken or never played with toys. I wrote to her "In principle- it is their belongings and it's not right for me to throw away or give away someone else's stuff. In reality, it's my job to keep the house reasonably sanitary, I need to keep my own sanity, it's a small house and they have a lot of crap that they don't even play with. Whenever I clean their room, I throw away broken things and so far they haven't missed any of it. I have talked to them about donating some things, but suddenly everything becomes "special." I have done the toy rotation thing and I'm actually about to do that again. Take half the toys and put them away in the shed until they get bored with the ones they have and then swap them out. I do like them having access to a lot of things though because they play so creatively, but sometimes it's just too much."

I really struggle with this one, because I really believe that their things should be respected and it's not my right to throw them out or get rid of them, but for crying out loud, how many broken dollar store toys does one kid need?! The last time I suggested to E that we give some things away, she put a few things in a box and then cried and took them back out. I didn't push it and haven't mentioned it since. That made the timing really interesting today, after I had just been emailing with my friend about this, out of the blue E brought me two toys and said she wanted to give them to her friend and her cousin. Ok, great! Then I suggested that she could get rid of a few more things that she never plays with and she did!

I gave her a plastic bag and didn't say another word. She sat quietly in her room for a few minutes looking at her toys while I put away laundry. Then she said she needed to be alone because she was sad and she left the room. When she came back, she picked out about 10 toys to give away, gave me the bag and sat on the recliner and cried for a minute. I said "that's very generous," and left it at that. I thought it was so cool that she did something that was difficult and sad for her without being guilted or bribed or forced into it. She was able to make her own choice, own her decision, work through her emotions about that choice, and move on. She hasn't mentioned it again at all tonight.

If it was up to me, a lot more toys would go away, but it's not my stuff. I am going to do the toy rotation, if the kids are willing, to help keep it more manageable. But I will wait until they are ready to actually get rid of things. It won't be this way forever. They won't want these same things when they are 8 or 12 or 15. So I'll just take a deep breath and wait.

Cooking, Measuring, Fractions

I posted a while back about the math game E was playing online and after that she did some fractions online and in real life. She only did it a few times and then lost interest in the game, but every time we bake something together we talk about the measuring cups and how I know how much of each ingredient to use. It's hard for me to explain much while cooking though, because L wants to stir, E is asking questions, I'm trying to follow the recipe- it's hectic! So today I got out the measuring cups and we measured water- 1 cup, 1/2 cup, 1/4 cup and so on. While we measured the water, I did the pie diagrams on a piece of paper. The water didn't hold their interest as long as I thought it would, but E and I kept drawing more pies for a while after that. We did things like having our whole family each get a piece of pie, so what fraction of an 8 piece pie would be left for friends? We talked about how 1/2 and 4/8 and 6/12 and 7/14 is all the same thing. Of course, L wasn't interested in all of this, so she and I drew circles and squares and triangles together and she fed me some of her delicious paper apple pie.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Full Grown Brats

My response to Permissive Parents: Curb Your Brats.

If you think the worst thing to see in public is a rambunctious kid and that the answer to the problems in society is hitting children for not meeting your standards in public, I have news for you. You sound like you are exhibiting the same selfish, bratty behavior you so vehemently criticize in children.

The reason some kids scream "leave me alone" is because they have learned this behavior from adults just like yourself. They have learned that if you don't like what someone is doing, you call them names, hit them, and try to exclude them.

Most grocery stores, restaurants and airplanes are people-oriented places, designed for the enjoyment of the civilized, not screaming neanderthals or social boars or homicidal daydreamers. While children might sometimes scream like neanderthals at least they are doing it because they are literally 25 years away from full brain development. On the other hand, I've seen a mother with a presumably fully functioning and developed brain encourage her older children as they all yell at a younger child for "being a baby" and try to embarrass him by telling him that "everyone thinks you look stupid crying like that." Maybe if she had just hit him enough in the past, she could have just given him "the look" to shut him up, but in civilized society a lack of empathy for another hurting human being is generally considered anti-social behavior and not something we want our children to mimic. It's likely that there were people watching this display having homicidal daydreams like your own ("we want to kill you for letting your brat ruin our dinner"), but hopefully they don't mention these to their own children because mimicking such behavior could get their kids suspended from school or even arrested.

Permissive parenting is rarely the cause of the most disturbing public behavior. I have seen a parent slap a barely walking child only to be met with approving nods from those standing by. I have heard parent call their child names that would make the devil's ears burn.

A parent slapping a young child's hand is not parenting, it's disrespectful bullying. Any kid with half way developed logic (which is all they have, by the way) will give their parent more than "the look" and slap them back. Some people are so preoccupied with making sure other people's kids are behaving in socially acceptable ways that they don't even recognize the irony of hitting kids for hitting or throwing temper tantrums over kids' temper tantrums.

If I sound a bit judgmental, I don't mean to be. I have been that frustrated mom who plunked my toddler down in her carseat too hard and I've been that tired, pregnant mom who decided that even though letting my kids stand on the restaurant seat is a social faux pas, it's not hurting anyone or anything. The things that have helped me along in my journey to be neither an immature, violent bully or a passive doormat are good measures of grace, education and time to learn, which I am grateful to still be receiving from some sources. The thing that has made this journey so much more difficult is judgmental, narcissistic adults.

See, adults are wonderful, but they are not the center of the universe.

This is the part of raising children that can be confusing for many parents. It's not socially acceptable to like kids. It's not common to be around people who understand normal developmental phases, who actually want to spend time with their children, who see the joy in kids learning and discovering who they are- even the messy parts.

The sad truth is that it's the people who cringe at the sight of an exuberant child or huff and stomp at the sight of a frustrated child, that contributes to people not wanting to be around children. They take a perfectly normal moment and project something ugly onto it. Kids will scream when they are upset, just like they will poop in their diaper when they have to go. Neither one is about you or the parent and neither one is a transgression against the greater good. It's about their needs and their inability to handle those needs in any other way. Just like they can learn to use the toilet without being shamed or punished, they can also learn to handle their emotions, use things without damaging them and act in socially acceptable ways by having these things modeled for them.

This modeling needs to come from mature, patient, respectful adults. Adults who see a child struggling and offer to help. Adults who understand normal developmental stages and walk kids through them. Adults who recognize when a parent is overwhelmed and undereducated and provide support and resources. At the very least, adults who mind their own damn business unless the kids is actually affecting them or their things in an more tangible way then simply being in the same vicinity.

Making the wishes of random strangers in public places the priority is not an expression of love. It does not help kids internalize why to act properly in public or how to respect other people. It only teaches them that everyone else's opinion is more important than their own and that their priority should be to please everyone around them for fear of disapproval or pain.

There are actually adults who don't like to see children so scared of their parents that a simple "look" will make them fear getting hit and instantly conform. Some adults actually enjoy watching toddlers explore, hearing preschoolers stand up for their own boundaries, and talking with older children who have their own opinions.

Given a choice between seeing a parent hit their child and hearing a child be too noisy in a quiet place, I'd much rather listen to the noise. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be one or the other.

If my child is damaging something I stop them and I also help them find an acceptable way to satisfy their curiosity. If they are bothering someone, I make a judgement call about whether what my child is doing is actually disrespectful or if the person just needs to own his own feelings. If my child is screaming and crying, I remove them from the situation, not so much to cater to easily annoyed adults, but to find a quiet place to help my child learn better coping skills. If my child is acting inappropriately for the situation, I model appropriate behavior and walk them through it as well. None of this requires hitting or the veiled threat of "the look" and all of it has resulted in compliments on my children's behavior.

If you have children, deal with them and yourself. Take the time to actually learn how to model appropriate behavior and teach your children actual skills instead of just how to conform out of fear.

If you don't have children, get over yourself long enough to realize that you acted the same way when you were a kid. And if you think that your parents did such a great job never allowing you to act up in public, why are you now an adult who responds to annoyances by throwing a fit or calling people names or demanding violent means to assert control?

Life Skills

Today I made a comment to my husband that was very poorly thought out. We were discussing homeschooling and he made a comment about what "we" are doing with the kids. I said, "What's this 'we' stuff? I do most of it!" He begged to differ! He reminded me that he has shown them (and will continue to show them more as they get older) things like fishing, hunting, gun use and safety, how to build a fire, fire safety, how to distinguish animal tracks, about the different types of clouds and what type of weather they indicate, self defense and many more things.

Some seem kind of unnecessary, like how to play poker, but other things, like how a husband should treat his wife, are some of the most important things they will ever know.

I am almost always the one who sees their interests and does the footwork to follow them. I'm home the most often, so I do the crafts and games, and I plan going places and doing things and D comes along when he can. But his comment reminded me that unschooling is not just about finding the academic aspects of their interests and exploring those. It is just as important to learn all the practical life skills that make it so much easier to explore the academics.