My son Woody turned six in November of 2011. That would have been the kindergarten year for most kids, 180 days that mark the beginning of the school career. But Woody did his learning in the big, wide, beautiful world, without school being a part of it.

I'm Teresa Honey, and I kept this blog to document this time in my son's life, to share pictures and stories with far-away friends and relatives, and to add ours to the many stories of families living rich, engaging, loving lives with learning happening all the time and in many forms, totally inseparable from every other part of being human.

Here you'll find 180 or so learning moments recorded from August, 2011 to April, 2012 in the life of a 5-turned-6-year-old radically unschooled kid.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Afterward




Hello, friends!

This is the last post I'm writing on this blog, which has chronicled in words and pictures bits and pieces of my now-6-year-old son Woody's learning as an unschooled child over 180 or so days.

But it's possible that you're reading this as the first post, and I'm so glad you found us. While the posts were written chronologically, almost all of them stand alone, so I might recommend that you use the labels to the right to poke around, clicking on subject terms that are most interesting to you. The search box, too, might be helpful.

I think writing this blog helped me to be a better parent. When I'd sit down to write a post, I'd be thinking of one or a handful of learning moments in isolation, but also in the bigger context of our whole year of learning, sometimes even Woody's life so far. This was good. It kept the big picture in my mind: the point is to live with kids with curiosity, love, understanding, happiness, and feelings of gladness and plenty. Even when I was writing about the mother of all meltdowns--mine or Woody's--or my worst doubts and insecurities, I thought about it as only one of 180 moments--our life together could still look like that beautiful big picture, and the next moment I wrote about could be a happier or more gentle one. I had to decide to make that so, and to get myself the tools I needed to do it.

And now I have a record of our first year of unschooling--many, many instances that were wonderful, fun, magical, sad, disappointing, silly, hard, scary, amazing, sweet, and surprising. We made it through all of them, and got better at doing this unschooling thing--hell, this family thing--together. I am grateful for that.



This blog was also my almost-daily writing practice. I loved it. I treasured it. Now I'm going to be happy to focus on other kinds of writing, though doubtless the same themes that came up here will feature in whatever comes next. Writing what you love may be trite, but it works for me.

Wherever you are on your own learning journey, I wish you well. I like to imagine that we're all traveling the roads and off-roads together, carrying knapsacks in which we keep the ideas, pictures, phrases, realizations, memories, poems and stories that we pick up, the ones that seem worth holding on to and that make us happy or thankful or known or hopeful to look at. They're all over, these little gems, and I'm most thankful that others graciously share their collections through writing, songs, talks, videos, and other ways of communicating.  If you've found one or two here, I'm glad. It's good to travel these less-charted paths with kindred spirits.


Fondly,

Teresa







180


Here we are! Post 180. Today was a sweet homeschooly day. Our friend Samuel came to play for a couple of hours in the morning, and all three boys bounced most contentedly from one activity to another, letting each other know clearly when there were perceived injustices, and recovering just as fast to go on to play again together.


At one point, Fox brought me two Scooby-Doo books to read to him, and within a minute Samuel and Woody were also on either side of me to listen, too. Knowing the mystery-story formula, the boys guessed at various points what would happen next: the house would be haunted, Shaggy would yell "Zoinks!", the shadow would turn out to be only the farmer, the gang would unmask someone.


Evidence like that of cultural dissemination, how even young children can know with a few clues how things typically go in certain contexts, is fascinating to me. We perceive patterns in our real lives just as we do in stories. Samuel's mom, Joy, who is a great student of human ways of being, talks a lot about personal "narratives" that we construct around our experiences, the stories we tell ourselves about what happened and how it fits in to our bigger understanding of how the world works and our place in it. It makes me glad that the preponderance of material my boys have to work with in real life is nurturing and fluid and supportive of the ongoing search for meaning.

Not all kids have that. My kids might not have had that, if I hadn't have walked the path I walked up until the point that they came into my life.

At the park, they expect other kids to be friendly, and they'll usually walk away or come get me if they're not. When they come to me and ask to read a book together or draw or look up something on the computer, they expect that I'll help them --maybe not right that second, or in the exact manifestation they're asking for, but in some form, sooner rather than later. They expect stories that Daddy Honey and I tell from our lives to feature the helpers and the lessons, the interesting, uplifting, bizarre, funny, and cool. We don't brag about put-downs or play up violence or speak admiringly of winning arguments or besting someone else in a way that's hurtful.

This is good. Many days, it feels like even if I get nothing else right (and sometimes, it feels as if that is exactly the case!), the fact that I have presented to them a vision of the world that is full of possibilities  gives me great comfort.

I am working on an Afterward, a wrapping-up post to end our project. Maybe tonight, maybe tomorrow.

I'm a little sad about it.






Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Something that Helps

This is one of my favorite pieces of writing about handling tough moments. It's from the Parenting Peacefully page on Sandra Dodd's site. I visit this page a lot. I can point to probably ten posts here that  would have been much better if I'd been practicing these strategies more! But then again, I can point to ten or more posts that were much better than they might have been because I had these ideas in my mind. Here's the piece, written by Ren Allen:


It's Going to be Good
Someone had written:
I tend to "hide" from the kids when I'm overwhelmed and of course it's just a vicious cycle.
Ren responded:
Being sensitive to stimulation makes it difficult as a parent....I think being very proactive in a situation like that really helps.  Don't wait for the "overwhelmed" thing to happen, take steps when you're feeling calm and centered. 
Having many tools in your toolbelt helps...like the stash of toys, Pam's chopsticks, new games etc..., taking time to sit quietly with a cup of tea or a bath when everyone is sleeping, whatever feeds your spirit so you can connect with your children from a loving center. 
I have found that when things get tense, a short "meditation walk" will really help re-focus my energy...or if the kids come along, we all see new things, find our joy again by being in a new setting. 
Just a quick shift into a different place, or different situation can really change the energy in the house.  Going for a drive can do the same thing. I have a big enough van to keep the children that are having issues, FAR away from each other.:) 
Being present isn't always easy, heck, I forget to listen to my own advice at times!! We're human, we get cranky, we have hormones and life issues and frustrations. Luckily, we also have an incredible web of support (thanks to technology) and a chance to do better every day.  
I wake up sometimes and really think about how I will respond THIS day. Just today I'm going to be utterly present for my children, I'm going to be in their world (not just doing my own thing while they do theirs), I'm going to really hear them, I'm going to prepare myself to be present starting right now. I drink my tea, breathe deeply of the new day, think about preparing some yummy food they will love to help start their day off on a positive note.  
All this helps me really BE there when they awake and come out for hugs. Those are the days that things really flow, that I'm not getting as frustrated (even when challenges arise), because I've made a CHOICE.  Every day isn't going to be smooth...that's just life. But when we choose mindfulness, choose to be present in each moment, choose to prepare ourselves for the most important role in our lives...it's going to be good.  

Ren

Monday, April 23, 2012

179

Daddy Honey went in late to work today. I've been doing more work at church lately, and also writing more, and he's just gotten elected to the board of directors at our food co-op, in addition to working more than 40 hours a week at the library, so our family time has felt stretched lately.

But this morning, there was ease.

Daddy Honey woke up first and made eggs and hash browns for everyone. The boys played around the house. Daddy Honey and I sat at the table and talked. We all got ready for our day slowly, sprinkling in plenty of hugs and conversations and playing and watching cartoons amid brushing teeth and getting dressed and packing bags.

Just before noon, Daddy Honey left and the boys and I headed south to the Ozark Folkways Heritage Center.The Center demonstrates and hosts classes in all kinds of folk and fine arts and crafts, in addition to selling and displaying examples of these arts and crafts, and we'd been meaning to check them out for a while. But we went expressly today to pick up some art supplies that they were  graciously giving away for free to anyone who wanted to do some art. (Awesome, right? They consider it part of their mission to inspire creativity in the Northwest Arkansas region!)

Watercolor and sketch pads, packs of construction paper, card stock, and mat board!

We made a new friend--Rebecca, the director of the Center, who won Woody's heart instantly for her very cool cammo pants--and had plenty of interesting and funky pieces of art to look at.





Afterwards, we stopped by Candice's house just down the road for some taco lunch and play time. The day was gorgeous. Kids played outside on the tire swing and trampoline and in the garden and inside on the computer and with dinosaurs as Candice and her husband Cheyne and I talked and talked about unschooling.







This was such good stuff. It's good to hear about other families' epiphanies and joys and struggles. It's good to see how other parents interact with their free-learning kids, how their kids interact with each other, and how their kids interact with other kids and adults. It's good to talk to people who recognize how big a deal it is that your children trust you, trust themselves, and are willing to approach the world from a place of trust and security. And it's good to be in the company of comrades with whom you feel safe, loved and known enough to laugh at yourself and your mistakes.

I would still have happily done unschooling if I'd had only my computer and books to read, and maybe the occasional conference to attend, but it brings so much good into my life to have real-life friends who are out here soaking up the sunshine and feeling the breeze with me.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

178

Tonight there was a block party in our neighborhood.


Daddy Honey has gotten to know Daniel, one of the hosts of the party, and a chef. Daniel was making crepes for everyone on a cool crepe grill. The tool he used to spread the batter out super thin looked like a mini squeegee. Raspberry or chocolate filling with whipped cream on top. Woody had been having a hard time warming up to the party, but the crepes definitely helped.


But after a little while, I found that I was of the same opinion as Woody. The social vibe was a little off for us, especially with the other parents and kids, so after an hour, we went home. 


I like this part of homeschooling socialization, which is to say real-life socialization. If a social scene isn't enjoyable, you can leave. 

It's odd that that isn't a basic freedom, but of course it's not for most children. If a social scene isn't enjoyable at school,  you put up, shut up, or push back. You probably learn many permutations of these three to get through. But just walking away to do your learning elsewhere isn't really an option in the school system. You have to work in the group the teacher assigned. You have to sit in the assigned seat in front of whomever the teacher put behind you. You have to ride on the bus with whomever lives near enough to you to be on the same bus route. 

Some people would argue that the challenge inherent in being stuck in a wretched social situation is helpful in building character. Maybe that's true sometimes--being effectively assertive is one of the toughest things to pull off. Many adults struggle with it. But even if adversity does help people practice assertiveness--and I'm not convinced that it does, or that school is the best place for that practice-- there's too much other ugly stuff you learn along the way trying to cope with that much dysfunction. Also, the kind of behavior that's prevalent in schools isn't tolerated in other places in society. It's not a realistic model of the ways people tend to act or the options you have for dealing with them. People get thrown off the city buses for acting like they do on school buses. Security guards escort people out of stores for being rude to clerks. There is legal recourse for assault and harassment. 

Sometimes, it makes the most sense to just go home or somewhere else--the library, the museum, a friend's house, the park, the coffee shop, for a walk--where you have a little more space and power to be who you are. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

177

Woody, going to bed last night: Mom, I'd like you to tidy my sheets and covers when I get out of bed in the morning. Sometimes my covers get twisted while I sleep.

Me: Would you like me to teach you how to make a bed?

Woody: No, I'll probably just be doing my thing and you can do your thing and make it for me.

Me: I'd be happy to make your bed for you tomorrow. Maybe you'd like to watch just in case, though. You know, in case some day I do my thing and don't have time to make your bed, or I forget. You might want to know how to do it yourself then.

Woody: Maybe.

Chores are a big thing for some parents. It wasn't a big thing in my house growing up, but it was a quietly tense thing that blew up now and again. From the time I was 11, mine was a single-mother home, and none of us three girls did much to help. I don't know why that was. When my parents were together, chores were angry obligations performed (or not) alone and with resentment. Load the dishwasher or you can't go out and play. Clean your room or you don't come with us to the movies. When they split when I was 11, I didn't want to do a single chore ever again in my life.

There were a few Sundays after my dad left--before my mother got a second job--that my younger sister, my mom and I would go around cleaning all together listening to Bob Marley and singing and dancing through the rooms carrying garbage bags, feather dusters, laundry baskets, and brooms. It's one of the times that I remember things being whole and OK. I can still smell in my memory the lemon Pledge and remember how the wind sounded through the open windows when it was cool enough to air out the house. But then, when my mom started working on the weekends and it was just me and my little sister, chores went back to going mostly undone with all of us stalking through the house angry for the dysfunction in our environments and in our relationships with each other. My mom did all the cleaning herself in big, hard bursts when it got to be too much to bear.

It took me a long, long time to learn how to clean and tidy and fix-up, and even longer to see it as a pleasant part of being a functioning human being. I'm still working on it with dishes, but I love putting things back in their places, and I love wiping surfaces with nice-smelling cleaners (which I learned how to make on my own, another part I love). I like shaking out rugs in the front yard and the satisfaction of a shiny stovetop. Folding clean towels. Hanging little boys' clothes on the line. Sweeping off the front porch.



So this morning, after hot cocoa (on what feels like it may be one of our last mornings cool enough to enjoy it), and after he was finished watching cartoons, I showed Woody how I made my bed. Then he climbed up on his bed and I helped him do the same.




Thursday, April 19, 2012

176

Today I have been in a state of mild distraction. To tell the truth, one may say that I was obsessing just a little bit about a health issue I probably don't even have, so when I caught myself staring off into the distance with my mind fixed on symptoms real or dreaded, I started cooking. I went right for the gorgeous fresh produce and good meats. We had eggs with buttered green beans for breakfast. Cole slaw with a white bean salad for lunch. Yogurt and red pepper strips and little sausage patties for snacks. Dinner may be more cole slaw and roast chicken.

We made the mayonnaise for the cole slaw together using eggs, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, and cayenne pepper whipped into emulsion in the blender. That was fun, but was messy and really loud, and took longer than any of us expected.


On days like today, it feels like this with the boys: 



It was mostly peaceful coexistence with stretches of doing things together and then doing things apart, sometimes circling back to find one another again. 

Yesterday, when Daddy Honey came home, Woody told him that he wanted to start a leaf collection. (I think he may have gotten this idea from a Franklin episode?) So they went through the back and side yards looking for cool leaves. Daddy Honey can identify a fair number of trees, and we looked up some others in our tree book which, while written for Floridians, still is full of good information pertaining to trees here in Arkansas. (And also, it was written by our dear friend Hope's dad, Gil, and he inscribed it to me, and so it will always, always have a place on our shelf, even if we move to New Zealand.) Daddy Honey's favorite is a Catalpa, so they went down the street to where the one is that he passes every day walking to and from work. Its leaf is the big one down there.





Tuesday, April 17, 2012

175, part II

This was too good not to share, even though I think it's probably obvious with these parts I and II as of late that I am maybe cheating a little bit, dragging out my 180 learning moments into parts of parts so that I can keep noticing, keep telling, keep showing.

Still, HA! Look!


This may be my favorite Honey House craft yet. It's Luche libre meets Made by Joel meets origami, and it was wonderful.

See, I would never, ever have thought to build this into a lesson plan, and even if I had, that would have ruined it, because I would have been trying to wedge in resources that supported my pre-determined learning outcomes instead of following my kids' leads, offering stories and facts and links along the path that they blazed. This was spontaneous and silly and so much fun, and it was Spanish and sportsmanship and Greco-Roman sports and percentages (of the prize money split between wrestlers). 

I tried to go back and figure out just how we got to this zany homemade toy, but I missed a few turns. No matter. Today and every day, !Viva la unschooling!






175

Today is exactly seven days since we played at Joy's house, where the chicken pox were making their appearance, and my boys are drippy and coughing. Maybe colds, maybe allergies, maybe the beginnings of the pox (though no marks yet), but either way we are staying close to home where the soft rags and tissues are plentiful and where everybody pretty much has all the same germs.



I crushed some mint and gently bruised some orange slices to make "vitamin water" for lunchtime.


And because lots of snot, in our house, sometimes means puking (as the snot makes its way down the throat to the stomach), I cleaned the toilets extra good. Because really, nothing can make puking worse than it already is like puking into a slimy, stinky toilet while staring at tiny hairs. (This would never be your toilet, I'm sure, and I'm not exactly admitting that it is often mine. I'm just saying.) Whenever the squirt bottle comes out, Fox is the man of the hour, so he helped get things disinfected and sparkly.



A cool poster advertising a series of modern apocalyptic movies at the university yesterday caught our attention, and one of the movies was WALL*E. It was one of our favorites when Woody was around Fox's age. I rooted around and found this book this morning, one of those Scholastic "Early Reader" books, and Woody was excited to try reading it by himself out loud to me and Fox. He asked for help on maybe five words.



And in the same place that I'd stashed the WALL*E book, I had put the 29 Magic Treehouse books that our 9-year-old friend Peter had given us when he cleaned out his room with his mom. Woody was ecstatic! We read the first one, Dinosaurs before Dark, and will read the second one tonight. This strikes me as very good timing, here on the edge of a household sickness, to be excited about a particular series of books of which we have more than two dozen.


Monday, April 16, 2012

174

After a weekend of what Woody termed a few  years ago "Daddy-stay-home days," Mondays can be tough on us all. It's the difference between dancing to three drum beats instead of four. It's still rich, and it's still dancing, after all,  but you notice that something nice is missing that was there before. And Daddy Honey has his first meeting tonight as a member of the board of directors at the co-op, so he won't be home until late.

So after breakfast, we decided to make a surprise visit to his work in the Special Collections of the university library. It was (thankfully) perfect timing. There were no researchers in at the moment so we didn't have to whisper and Daddy Honey could share some of his new projects with us.

He was so excited to see us.


He had been making scans of this book of Harper's Weekly issues from the 1860s. This particular folio contained a picture of slaves digging a canal through backwoods Mississippi that would have allowed Grant to bypass a Confederate fort that was giving him trouble. I was surprised that Grant would use slave labor for this. 


Remember when we went to the Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista? This is a bust of the architect who designed it. (Fox wanted to know if the rest of his body was in those file cabinets.) Models and pictures of his other buildings in the background.

And here's the model of the chapel that we saw. 


Afterward we stopped at the co-op  and saw a new vegetable--fresh Fava bean pods. One of the employees cut open a pod for us and showed us how to cut off the outer casing of the seed so that they were tender enough for fresh eating. (This is one of those things that makes me love food co-ops so much. We get this kind of treatment every time we go in, which is several times a week! They are just as geeky-happy about good food as we are.) We bought a few to try for ourselves.


Back at home, Woody wanted to draw a really big battle scene, so we used the roll of newsprint that Nana gave them for Christmas.


Only he decided later to share the paper, so we divided it up and each took a section. 

There was still a fair amount of sighing and shifting without apparent purpose from room to room in between other activities. What Daddy Honey adds to their life is special and irreplaceable, no doubt about that. I try to be extra gentle and fun with them on Mondays to set a really great tone for the week, and we make wild and wonderful plans for things to do when Daddy Honey again comes home.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bronze Medal in Poetry

Sometimes this blog catches more than Woody's learning moments, and I think that may be inevitable when we write about the dearest, closest ones in our lives. Kids especially. Everything we do and say and are touches on our children--our philosophies, our politics, or hobbies, phrases, lopsided smiles, songs we hum unconsciously, whether or not we wave to the bank tellers--they're watching it all, picking it up and trying it on, maybe just filing it away under a stack of blue river rocks in the back of their mind to go back and get some other day.

So even though this happened to me, I am posting about it here:

I PLACED IN A POETRY CONTEST! THE FIRST ONE I EVER ENTERED!

I am happy about this. There was a cash prize for my third place win--$25! The organizer of the contest is very funny and makes all three winners sign a piece of paper stating that they will use the money toward forwarding their own creativity--not paying the light bill. And the poems get published in an anthology, details of which I forgot to inquire after. But my friend Starr, who is the person whose first question to me the first time I met her when I first moved to Arkansas, was "Are you into poetry?" won first place! So it was all really, truly wonderful in that here-I-am-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time kind of a way.

I told Woody when I got home and he said, "You got the bronze medal in poetry, Mama!" Which made me feel just about as keen as anything leading up to now.

And this is funny--it happens often to me like this--I got this little lucky rabbit hit earlier in the day that I might win a prize, and that it might be for this particular poem, even though it wasn't my favorite of the three I submitted. So about an hour before I went to the prize announcement and open mic, I rehearsed this one--only this one--to Woody while Fox was napping. 

He mostly listened, but he did stop and ask what cerulean was. He happened to be wearing a shirt with cerulean stripes (a beloved "preppy" hand-me-down from Jennifer's Isaiah), so I could show him rather than tell him. 


I'm not sure I want to share the poem here. I'm not trying to be coy, just, well, holding a little something back in this moment. But I did get the idea to start another blog when this one is done, which is crazy soon, that may be more about writing, though of course, it will still be all about the boys, too, because I just don't really think a writer can not write about her heart.



173

For some reason, it is often the case when I get together with other homeschooling parents that the conversation will turn to worries about whether or not we are good enough--smart, fun, organized, energetic, flexible, silly, or learned enough ourselves to be the facilitators of our children's learning. More often than not, the other parent will say, with that uncomfortable laugh we give one another when we feel insecure, that he or she would feel more confident with an education degree.

I have an education degree. An advanced one from a university with a good reputation for such a thing. And I worked with professors who are well respected in their areas of expertise.

I don't think this has a single thing to do with how well or poorly I do as an unschooling parent. It does mitigate my worries specific to schooling, but then, I probably replace them exactly to the level that I would have them anyway with other worries! Ah, such is the way with we fragile creatures, human beings.

But something today made me watch myself thinking about learning in a schooly and unschooly way, and I wanted to share a bit of that.

Any of us can see that in any given situation in which our children are engaged, learning is taking place. If you've studied education, you could  put that learning in education speak, and could pick out from a list which benchmarks or standards are likely to be addressed with a particular activity. And through your own observation, listening, and maybe a quick, casual conversation or example of "work," you could talk about level of mastery or deficiencies with regard to these standards.

But here's the thing: all of this would be happening your my head. The actual activity, the actual learning, the actual mastery, retention, future application of skill or knowledge, etc., would have happened whether or not you or I contextualized it the way that educators do.

I think it's something like being an artist versus being an art critic. The artist makes art, and may or may not be able to talk about their pieces as part of a greater movement, or as representative of periods in their careers, or as employing certain techniques to achieve certain effects in the minds of the viewer, or as harkening to X, Y, or X past master. The art critic talks about these things, but may not make art.

They're different people. They do different things. But whether or not art critics are telling us about art, art is most definitely happening and being created all over the world all the time. And if you were interested about in doing art--yourself, your own art--whom of the two would you choose as a mentor? That's not a perfect analogy, but maybe you get what I'm saying. Applying categories and labels and numbers to learning doesn't make it any more or less than exactly what it is, and the person best suited to facilitate a child's learning is the person most vested in supporting that child's learning.

I thought of that today. Woody made up a game a few weeks ago using a favorite book, DK Eyewitness Books Arms & Armor. You sit side by side with the book between you and choose weapons which you then use to pretend-battle one another. You make a case for why your chosen weapons or defense is superior to the other person's. ("My knight's armor protects him from your arrows." "Yes, but these arrows are fired from crossbows, so they can go through some armor," etc.)

He asked me to play this today, but instead of using just the the one book I asked if I could choose my own book from which to select battle gear. I chose Museum ABC. He scoffed, and chose for himself all four Eyewitness medieval books we have, Castle, Medieval Life, Knights and yes, Arms & Armor. He was confident of a win.


The "battles" were, as you might imagine, pretty silly, but they were great fun. I used B's boats to launch a sneak attack on his archers while they got a drink from the river. He used his most skilled knights to battle M's monsters. H's hair sent lice to his peasant army.

My favorite one was this:



I chose the nose page to show that I was an infectious disease, contracted through the air by sneezes and coughs and such. He was stymied at first, but then we looked at the table of contents in the Medieval Life book. "Death and Disease" sounded likely, and sure enough, he found on that page a bunch of herbs to use as preventative or curative medicines.

I forgot to mention that if both parties make equally strong cases for why their assault would triumph, you break the tie using rock/paper/scissors. Woody and I  consistently throw the exact same thing for something like three or four times before one or the other of us wins. On the disease vs. herbs battle, he won.

This moment was only about half an hour long, but for whatever reason, my mind reached back into my education training as I thought about it for today's blog post. I found myself musing about what "practice" or "skills" might be checked off on a developmental continuum after such an exchange: early reading (including various sight words and also compound words whose letter combinations Woody sounded out and then put together), recognizing elements of nonfiction books (table of contents, headings, captions to photos, etc.) and using those features to find information for problem solving, employing critical and creative thinking, describing and evidencing, comparing arguments.

These words can be comforting, since they suggest that our children are not somehow missing out on what other kids get in school. They sound so certain and official. And they are, but that doesn't change the value of what Woody and I did. We sat together for half an hour enjoying a game, reading and looking at pictures in books, and making up stories about imaginary battles between real and pretend entities.  We learned easily and happily together. <------- That's the focus. That's what matters. It's good, and it's good enough.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

172

A few days ago--the Waffle Day, to be exact--we had a couple of very tough hours in the afternoon beginning with me telling Woody it was time to get off of the computer so that we could bring Daddy Honey up his Civil War costume and some lunch. I thought I had set us up for success; I had told Woody twice earlier in the day that this would be happening, I had reminded him when he had five minutes left before it was time to go, I had packed the car ahead of time so that he'd have every last second to finish up, and I was casual, kind, and short with my words.

But no. Chernobyl happened in my back room. Then again in the car. Then again getting out of the car to come home.

With a few days' distance, I can see that right smack in the middle of those situations, all you can do is weather them as calmly as you can, to do what can be done to minimize damage and hold safe boundaries without adding any to the swirling fireballs around you. Successes, for me in these times, are measured in portions of minutes: thirty seconds of calm, a fist halted mid-air with eye contact and a loving but unambiguous NO, a reminder that "I'm on your team" that sunk in before the next round of name-calling commenced.

My friend Lauren and I were talking about this once, and as she described what it was like with her then-three-year-old son, I got an image in my mind of waves crashing against jetties. We--the parents--are the jetties and our children are the waves. We can hold ourselves solid, bridging the space from the ocean to the shore, doing no harm and being present with our angry children, even as they come pummeling toward us.

But of course, in the moment with Woody, I only partially remembered this lovely image, and I was rather caught up in it at different points since Woody hurt Fox at one point as he lashed out in anger. When the worst of it had passed, late in the afternoon, I scooped Woody up like a baby and held him tight on the couch. He loved this. A play therapist whom I adore once explained to me how kids sometimes need this kind of physical pressure; I can't remember what she called it, but I've tried it here and there with Woody as a last resort and when he's open to it. This time, it seemed to help a great deal.

Also, I posted on the Always Learning Yahoo Group to ask the experienced unschoolers there for help. At the end of this post, I'll tell you what they said.

And that brings us to today's moment. Our food co-op is holding an "Owner's Weekend" this weekend in which there are big sales throughout the store including an overall percentage off of a whole purchase. I'd been planning for a few weeks what I'd like to buy during this time. Food is our highest expense, and money management is not my best strength. And I have the boys by myself this Saturday since Daddy Honey is working.

I was worried about getting the boys out of the house to go grocery shopping early; it's not their favorite task, and they often take a little while to warm up to the idea of leaving the house. And yet, I had heard the place gets very busy and starts selling out of some items quickly, so time was of the essence.

But, following several of the suggestions I got about making transitions from place to place, we did it! I got a freezer full of local, organic meat; butter; bread; and coffee plus a pantry boost to boot. And all three of us had a good time.



Collected Wisdom from the Always Learning List on Ways to Help Kids Make Transitions 
from Place to Place

The overriding principle in the below might be said to be "Help them move toward something rather than away from something."

In the hours before leaving:

1. Tell your child what's happening that day, and then ask an open-ended question about what might make the day fun for him or her. For example, "We are bringing Daddy up his costume and lunch later today. We could make another stop, if you like. What would be fun for you?"

2. But maybe not. Some kids do better with an excited announcement of an adventure right before it's time to go rather than a long lead-time, in which case you might pre-plan a fun side-trip and sell it.

In the moments before leaving:

3. Use a game, a song, or a snack to help them move from room to room or into the car. Or maybe give them fun jobs like helping you pack things up or picking out the music to listen to in the car.

If there is resistance, or if things seem as if they might get ugly:

4. Offer some silliness to the tension, a-la "Playful Parenting" by Lawrence Cohen. Make up absurd pretend scenarios involving the two of you doing whatever--being spies sneaking through the headquarters out to your spy car, using "opposite day" speak to get shoes on (I mean off!), etc.

5. Give your child some time and space to calm down before trying a different tactic. (I plan on building in a few minutes in case I need this one--it's hard to pull off when you're already late)

6. Change something else besides what your child is doing until you can get your bearings. Maybe phone to say you'll be a few minutes behind, or go in the other room to not have the difficulty right in front of you.

Afterward:

7. If things were difficult, ask your child, later at a calm and connected time, what might have helped the situation. Woody has come up with some really good stuff at these times, and has given me more information than he could have in the tense moments about what he was thinking and feeling, which helps me to make better decisions the next go around.

8. Note to yourself what worked and what didn't work. Next time, try more of what worked. Go back and forth among your best ideas.

9. Remember that kids are learning, and that they make mistakes. That's OK. They'll grow, and we'll learn, and it will be a different set of circumstances next time.

And here's a fantastic page for further reading: Partners, not Adversaries





Friday, April 13, 2012

171


Two back-to-back episodes of Backyardigans featured cacti, so Woody and I got to talking about a book we like, Cactus Hotel. (I'd forgotten that I already posted about that book once, here, where coincidentally I was also tidying the bookshelf.) I told him how certain places--like where we used to live, Florida--support certain types of cacti, but that mostly people who don't live in the desert grow them in the house where they can control the moisture and humidity more. Would he like to go to the plant nursery and check out some cacti? I asked. He said OK, not full of enthusiasm, but OK.

So we went. Found the cactus and succulent section. Some were near flowering and all had very, very dry soil. He thought they were pretty cool, but he thought a lot of other stuff was REALLY cool. So, we puttered and jumped and splashed and ran around the garden center for the better part of the morning. I bought potting soil to get the tomatoes, peppers, basil, and pumpkins started in the garden.


Tadpoles! Woody forgot what these were called and first announced he had found the nimmows!

"Bleeding Hearts." So, you know this was Woody's favorite, right?


Back at home, we planted the summer veggies. And while the boys stayed outside to play Star Wars battle, I hung clothes out to dry.

There's a poem here that I haven't been able to grab hold of just yet, but maybe tonight when the boys go to bed...

Near the clothesline I found these really, really cool pink pupae. We can only guess which insect laid them since it's near to the honeysuckle plant, which has been attracting tons of flying creatures.


But as sometimes happens, a Google search for "pink pupa" or "pink pupae" turns up all kinds of irrelevant stuff. (In fact, adding the word pink to any number of normal nouns renders it absurd and irrelevant in Google. That was a fun experiment.) So, we may have to hit the actual books with this one, or take our picture up to the extension office and ask around.

ETA: I posted this picture on my friend Irwin's Facebook page and he pointed out to me that they are leaf galls, places where the plant has encapsulated and pushed out an insect egg! "Like a pimple," he said. Ha! Happy spring.