"Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Everett has been having a difficult time lately. He's been sleeping with us more often than not, crying more easily, and picking fights with his brothers. Trying to talk to him about the problem has yielded few answers, but to the best of my knowledge he's feeling displaced by Tegan - who is nearing toddlerhood at full-steam ahead, and taking up more and more of my time and attention.

Yesterday he burst into tears for the third time, this time because he wanted to play Playstation, but Spencer had just started a game. Spencer offered to let him play with him - it was a 2 player game - but he didn't want to play with Spencer, he wanted to play with Paxton. When I told him that it wouldn't be fair to make Spencer stop his game so he could play (but that he could play when he was done), he tried pulling the controller from his hands, then unplugging it from the system. I told him he'd have to leave the room if he was going to keep doing that, and he left. I took a deep breath - I was more than a little frustrated by that point - and followed. I knew that he'd be in the other room crying, and he was.... curled up in a chair, sobbing his little heart out. I picked him up, got him settled on my lap, and held him while he cried. He buried his face on my shoulder and cried until he was out of tears. We eventually talked a little bit about what he was feeling, but mostly I just let him cry. And when he was done, he was better, and a few minutes later he was happily playing with his brothers again.

I know what the popular school of thought is on the subject... that you have to stand your ground, show them who's boss, ignore the tantrums... I know all of that and I unapologetically say that I think it's ridiculous and cruel.

The last time I cried, really cried, was the day that we had to have Ally put down. I was so thankful that I had Mike with me that day, to hold me as I cried. He couldn't change the situation, couldn't take away the hurt... he was just there, and he let me cry. And the way that that helped was immeasurable.

So what I wonder is this: If we as adults know how valuable it is to have, literally, a shoulder to cry on, why on earth do so many parents expect little kids (who are that much less emotionally equipped to deal with disappointment) to do it on their own?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Tadpoles, Baseball & Flaming Arrows

The last of the creatures arrived last week - the leopard tadpoles that Paxton has been waiting for with bated breath. They too lived on our kitchen counter for a few days until a space was cleared and a permanent spot was made for them in the boys' bedroom.

Floating in their bottles so they get could acclimated to the water's temperature:

All set up and ready to go:

Tonight Mike helped the boys get their cocoons situated in their new habitat, where they will hatch into butterflies. It involved using a safety pin to attach the paper disc to the mesh on the side of the structure. Strangely enough - especially given my fondness for office supplies - but we couldn't find a single safety pin the house. Thankfully, there is a revolving door when it comes to borrowing from the next door neighbors (which goes both ways), and they came through in the clutch.

Here they are all settled in on Everett's dresser.

I wish there was sound with this picture, because after they were disturbed during the whole pinning process, a few of them started to shake violently, a natural instinct to protect against predators. It was one of the eeriest things I've seen, and heard, in awhile, and it made a rat-tat-tat sound like a spinning roulette wheel on the wall of the habitat. I don't know how long it continued because I left the room before it stopped (and might not return again until morning!)

In non-creature news, this Saturday was Paxton's baseball tryouts for the spring season. He did very well, especially at fielding, and he barely resembled the unsure child who just started playing this past fall! We'll find out who his coach is and what team he'll be playing on next week, and practices start in earnest the second week of February. Spencer is finishing up his final weeks of being a Cub Scout, and just received his Citizenship and Traveler pins. On February 28th he'll be getting his Arrow of Light at a fancy dinner banquet and ceremony, where he and the other boys in his den will get to shoot an actual flaming arrow. Cool!

Friday, January 23, 2009

We have cocoons!

OK, this is why I homeschool. Setting aside all the waxing poetic that I did a few days ago, the simple simple reason I homeschool is that I want to be here for this. I want to be here when I tell the boys to come see what their caterpillars did overnight, and to watch them jump up from their seats in that super-human way that's reminiscent of Tom and Jerry cartoons, watch them trip all over themselves as they run across the house, and watch how excited they are to tell their dad when he gets home from work.

While the butterflies have been working quickly, the changes in Taddy the tadpole have been more gradual. It's hard to take a picture of a tadpole, but if you look closely, you can see his little legs growing... legs that now have teeny tiny feet with teeny tiny toes. Watching him grow has been like looking at a perpetual ultrasound reading.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

words words words

You can click on it to make it bigger!

Make one (or 5 or 100) of your own at Wordle. So much fun...

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wisdom by Paxton

Paxton - age 8 - came up to me today and said "You know what would be cool?"


"If money and time were reversed." I wasn't sure what he meant at first, but it sounded right coming from him. He loves numbers.

I asked him what he meant, and he explained, "Well, if there were 100 minutes in an hour, and .60 in a dollar."

I told him that then a dollar would be worth less, and he responded that "everything would still cost the same, so your money would go further. Something that is $5.00 would really cost 300 cents instead of 500 cents. AND, there'd be 100 minutes in an hour, so there'd be more time to play!"

Can't argue with that.

And back to the critters....

The day we got them...

Just one week later!

They are hungry little guys! The stuff in the bottom of the container is their food, and the furry things are the beginning silks of what will eventually become their cocoons. Once they're all encased and hanging from the bottom of the cap, it'll be time to move them to their habitat, and wait for them to become butterflies!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A long one - unschooling

There it is, right in the title. This is gonna be long and there's no way around it.

I've been keeping this blog for over 4 years now (cool!) and despite its title, I don't do a whole lot of talking about unschooling. I think by the time I'd started it, we'd gotten to a point in our journey where everything was beginning to become seamless. Life IS unschooling, and unschooling is life. So by talking about the kids and their interests and our projects and our trips, I have been talking about unschooling... but only if you actually already understand what unschooling is. If you don't, I'd guess you'd just see a blog about the ramblings of a crazy lady and her kids.

This post though, this post is about unschooling, pure and simple. Well, unschooling and a little bit of blown steam. And the whole thing was sparked by a conversation I recently had... a conversation with too many revelations to keep to myself.

It started with this question: "Unschooling is no text books, but learning from life, right?" I should say that it was late at night - not late late, but late enough that I didn't want to get into the conversation that could surely take us clear through till morning. But the question was there - and it was sincere - so I wanted to answer it. Um, yes? In all honestly, I would have defined unschooling exactly the same way a few years ago. And I guess for a simple definition it's as good as any other. But no, that's not how I would describe it anymore.

We have LOTS of books, and an all-important library card. When we want or need to reference something in a book, of course we'd first look to something more interesting than a plain old text book. Given the choice, wouldn't most people? But if one of the boys specifically wanted a text book for something they were exploring, I'd make sure they had access to it. The same holds true for curriculum, although again I'd have to wonder why - with so many endless options of different sources to read, watch, listen to, touch, taste, try - why they'd choose something as limited as a simple book or curriculum. Real life isn't compartmentalized into subjects and lesson plans, test scores or letter grades. Learning is EVERYWHERE, it's all interwined, and it's all there for the taking. Unschooling is much less about the absence of textbooks or tests or curriculum, and much more about the presence of everything else.

If I had to pick just two words that came to mind when I thought about unschooling, they would be "trust" and "respect." Trust that given a rich, interesting environment and an involved, attentive parent that real learning will naturally happen... learning that is far more relevant and applicable than any learning that is done for a test or a grade. Trust that children are far more capable than most adults give them credit for, and that they'll learn what they need to know, when they need to know it. And respect... respect for children as unique and valued individuals with their own way of viewing the world, and their own personal paths in life. Respect for their opinions and their interests. Respect for their individual learning styles, in large ways and small. If an adult asked me how to spell a word, I would never humiliate them by refusing to answer and instead instructing them to "sound it out." I extend my children the same courtesy.

John Holt said "True learning-learning that is permanent and useful,that leads to intelligent action and further learning, can arise only out of the experience, interest, and concerns of the learner." Retaining information long enough to spit it back out for a test is not learning. I did well enough in school, by most people's standards. I got good grades, aced my tests after cramming the night before, wrote convincing research papers. But learning? Real learning that carried with me into adulthood? That came from my own efforts, and had little to do with school. Children who are unschooled do all of their learning of their own volition. They aren't pushed and pressured and ridiculed. They're not performing for gold stars or straight A's. They're learning because that's what children do. That's what all humans do, unless they've been like so many of us, and had their natural love of learning squashed out when they were young by being told how and when and what to learn.

True unschooling is not method of homeschooling. It's a philosophy that extends to all areas of our life. People who say for example "We unschool except for math" (something I've heard a lot) are entirely missing the point. It goes back to the issue of trust, and is like saying "Unschooling's fine in theory, but math is too special, too important to take a chance with" And what's one of the biggest learning phobias that people seem to have in school, myself included? MATH! It's ironic too, because of all the things I've watched the boys learn, math has been one of the most effortless. Math is everywhere; we use it daily. Unless you make a conscious effort to keep your kids from math, they'll be exposed to it, and they'll learn it.

If I'm talking unschooling, I'd be remiss not to dispell just a couple of misconceptions. Unschooling is NOT leaving your kids alone, probably the one I hear most often. In many ways, it's the opposite. Yes, as any parent that pays attention knows, there are plenty of times when the best thing you can do for your child is get out of their way and let them figure something out on their own. But that does not mean we are ALWAYS out of the way! Unschoolers are very involved in their kids' lives. They are on the floor playing, they're reading, they're researching, they're experimenting, they're looking, they're discovering, they're talking, they're listening, they're singing, they're showing, they're laughing, they're googling (lots and lots of googling). They're looking for cool new books and DVDs and video games. They're buying art supplies and science kits and zoo memberships. They're driving to the library and the museum and the post office. They're living and breathing and being with their kids.

Unschooling also is NOT letting your kids make all the decisions. I have heard this one more than once as well. It is giving your child a voice, and letting your child know that he or she matters as much as anyone else in the house. It's showing them that they are valued, that they are important, and that they are members of the family. We have a family of six, which means that at any given time, we may have six different wants or needs that have to be met. There are times when one or more of the kids has to wait for what they want, so we try to minimize that as much as possible. We try to be sensitive to all their needs. I hear a tape recording in my head of a mother telling a child "no" just for the sake of saying no. The child complains - rightly so - that it isn't fair, and the parent snaps "Yeah well, life isn't fair." And it's not. Life's not always fair. And children too often get the short end of the stick, just because they're children! They're not old enough, they're not tall enough, they're not mature enough. The world can be a frustrating place for a child. I see absolutely no reason as a parent to make their life more miserable simply because I can?! In our house, if it is at all possible (and it usually is), children get a say too.

I couldn't do what I do, and live the life I live if I let the negative opinions bother me. Homeschoolers make up a small fraction of people in this country, and unschoolers an even smaller fraction. Most people disagree, and I get that. It was a journey of self-discovery to get here, to be sure, but I can honestly say that I don't care what other people think, nor do I feel any need to defend what I do. My children are what matter to me. And at the end of the day, if they go to sleep happy, confident, and knowing with every fiber of their being that they are loved, valued, and respected, then I've done my job.

Worms, glorious worms

Setting up the habitat...

Adding the worms and their dirt...


They are all snug in their home now, residing on Paxton's dresser (along with the praying mantis egg, the ants, and the caterpillars - who by the way, have more than doubled in size already) Taddy the tadpole is still in the kitchen, and as I've grown strangely attached to him, he may just stay there. Paxton is still waiting for his leopard frog tadpoles, and trying not to get his hopes up every time they walk up to the mailbox. So far, all is going well, although I'm a little concerned about the praying mantis egg case. It was on the table by the drafty door for several days, then took a flying leap off the dresser when Spencer dropped the remote control off the top bunk. Time will tell whether or not I'll be a grandmother to 100 praying mantis babies.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ants and Caterpillars

And the creatures continue to arrive...

The first few pictures are from the day the ants came, as the boys got everything ready. We only had a few escapees, and we were able to - eventually - wrangle them back into the habitat. The ants have been working hard the past couple of days, and this is what things look like now:

Today they got their caterpillars, which are tinier than any of us envisioned. They will eventually turn into Painted Lady butterflies, which we'll release into the yard.

And on a totally unrelated note, Tegan's latest accomplishment is that she is now adding "getty go" (spaghetti-o) to the end of her "uh-oh"s. Here's a current picture.

I do so love that girl!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

It's a girl!

Or a boy. We won't know until he or she becomes a frog. Everett got his tadpole today, and was he ever excited. I was a little bit frustrated with the mail carrier since the packaging said "Live animal, DO NOT LEAVE IN MAILBOX" all over it, and she had in fact left it in the mailbox. Thankfully, my minor frustration waned when we opened the package and found the tadpole alive and well, swimming with all its might in the little baggie of water. We had to make an emergency run to the grocery store because it needed bottled spring water which we didn't have on hand, and we were all relieved it was still alive after that as well. It's all set up now in its little habitat, temporarily living on the kitchen counter. That's the other thing that Santa didn't think of. Where exactly are we going to put all these creatures?

Homeschooling on the Rise


Top reasons cited by parents (could pick more than one):

� Concerns about the school environment (including safety, drugs, peer pressure): 88%

� A desire to provide religious or moral instruction: 83%

� A dissatisfaction with instruction at other schools: 73%

� An interest in a non-traditional approach: 65%

Source: Top home-schooling reasons in 2007 Parent and Family Involvement in Education Survey

From an article in USA Today. Read the whole article here.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The critters are coming, the critters are coming!

The boys got a lot of live Christmas presents this year. The day after Christmas we sent in 6 order forms for praying mantis eggs, ants, worms, caterpillars, and tadpoles. Most of them will take a few weeks, but the praying mantis eggs arrived this weekend. Santa didn't read the praying mantis kit very carefully, because we were shocked to learn that we were receiving 100-200 eggs, and that they'd all have to be put into separate containers before they grew and were released. Surprise! The egg sack is in the habitat, and we're faithfully watching them every day. They should start hatching in 2 or 3 weeks - giving us some time to come up with 100 jars - and it can't come soon enough for Everett, who doesn't quite understand how long a week is yet. He's been looking at it hopefully every morning for the past few days, and announcing, "They haven't hatched YET?!" I can't wait to see the look on his face when they do make their appearance.

Friday, January 02, 2009

In with the new...

I always get very excited about New Years. I love the idea of fresh starts and clean slates, new calendars and to-do lists. Out with the old, and in with the new. I did not however, make any resolutions this year. I want to live today for TODAY. If there's something I want to change (or improve or quit or start) I will do that when I feel the need, regardless of the time of year. In fact I've made some changes in a few areas lately that I'm very happy about, and they will carry right through to 2009.

Our final week of 2008 was a busy one, and full of many firsts. Skip and Barbara were visiting for the week and we - in no particular order - rode downtown on the new light rail, went bowling, ate lunch at PB Loco and Cooperstown, visited the new children's museum, and drove aimlessly around Scottsdale looking for a little out-of-the-way cloth diaper store (we found it.)

I posted more museum pictures on my Facebook page. Too many to choose from! And while I'm on the subject of Facebook, are you on it? I think it's a pretty amazing thing. Where else can you socialize with your inlaws, your parents and siblings, your ex-boyfriends, coworkers, old classmates, old friends and new friends... all in the SAME PLACE?


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