Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's like riding a bike!

Last year, Timmy and I had decided Nico was old enough to learn to ride his bike without the training wheels. We took them off, tried to help him learn, and after a few tries he insisted on putting them back on.

A few weeks ago Nico decided he no longer wanted the training wheels on his bike. He went to the tool box, picked up tool after tool until he found the right one and took them off himself. A week or so later, he was happily, confidently riding his bike on two wheels.

The moral of this story, kids know when they are ready for something, and it doesn't necessarily correspond to a certain age. Do other kids ride bikes on two wheels at an early age? Sure. Does that mean my kids have to? Nope!

The thing to remember, while unschooling, is that you are letting your kids work on their schedule. Whether it's learning to read, solve complex arithmetic problems, using tools, or riding a bike, they will do it with ease when they are ready. If they are resistant, or hesitant, put the training wheels back on for a while. Let them revisit things at a later date, when they feel more comfortable, and be amazed by how much easier it is for them to learn.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Yet another post about Reading

Nico was taught to read using phonics, so in his mind the only real reading is when words are sounded out. I find it extremely joyful, to watch Lucas take a different approach. Lucas does know some phonics, but that has never been a huge focus, and since no one is actually teaching him to read, he is using more of a natural whole word approach. This led to an argument in the car the other day between me and Nico about what constitutes reading.

See, as we were driving down the road, a Publix bakery truck was riding along beside us. Lucas looked over and said "Look a Publix truck." When I told him good job for reading the side of the truck, Nico insisted that Lucas hadn't read anything, he just recognized the word. But isn't that what reading is; seeing a word and recognizing it? (Granted the color and font of the word probably helped a lot in the recognition, but still, he did recognize it.)

Nico and I argued back and forth about it. Nico insisting that Lucas can't read because he doesn't read the books Nico puts in front of him, and me insisting that he most certainly can read, just not anything and everything just yet. Lucas stayed pretty quiet during this whole discussion. I only continued the conversation for so long because I hate the way Nico is always trying to undermine his confidence, which is probably why Lucas doesn't read out loud more often. Constantly being told you can't do something, leads you to not even wanting to try.

For a kid who can't read, I've seen Lucas recognize an awful lot of words, most often when he thinks no one is paying attention to him.

Friday, November 4, 2011

How do you know if/what they're learning?

How do you know what your children are learning? If they never take tests, or get evaluated, how do you know they've learned anything at all? These are common questions people ask when they find out about unschooling. And the answer is so simple, and easy, I can't believe it eludes them.

I know my children are learning, because I pay attention to them. As unschoolers, I spend a lot of time with my children. I may not always be actively engaged with them, as we don't enjoy all the same activities, but I am always aware of where they are and what they are doing. I pick up on the little cues that tell me they are learning, or have mastered a new skill.

Example 1: Nico has been working on figuring out time for quite a while. He was constantly asking what time is it? how long until? and other such questions to help give himself a better understanding of how time moves. I know he is mastering this skill, because he has stopped asking so many questions, and has started making statements about time. In two hours, it will be... Only five minutes until...

Example 2: This morning Lucas read the number 1100, off the playstation screen. He said "Mommy I scored eleven hundred points!" I didn't know he could read numbers that high, so I walked over to check, and sure enough he had scored 1100 points. Now I know.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Unschooling in the media

I just finished watching a segment about unschooling on The Today Show. If you missed it, check here for the video clip. All in all it showed unschooling in a positive light, which is a huge departure from how it's been shown in the past.

I love the Bentley family in the video. They are a wonderful example of how unschooling works. You can tell from watching the video that those girls know themselves. They know their passions and what they want out of life. And that's what unschooling is all about. Mrs. Bentley seems to share my view of the parent's role in unschooling as well. She says, "I consider myself their facilitator. Bringing the world to them and them to the world." And that is exactly how I see myself when it comes to my children's education.

They say that travel is a big part of unschooling, which leads host Matt Lauer to speculate that only the wealthy can do it. Not true. You don't have to be wealthy to travel, you just have to make good choices. Also traveling doesn't have to mean going out of the country. It can be as simple as driving an hour away to your state park. People who choose to unschool make the choice that travel is important to them, so they make the sacrifices necessary to make it happen.

It was mentioned that unschooling is not right for every family, and to some extent I would agree with that, but not for the reasons they said. It was stated that only children who are self-motivated and self-propelled can be unschooled. I would argue that all children are self-motivated and self-propelled, and it's only after spending years in a classroom, that they start to lose those qualities.

There were a few points made by the 'experts' and by host Matt Lauer that kind of got my blood boiling. Take their many references to the fundamentals. "Will there be gaps in the fundamentals." People, there's a reason they're called the fundamentals. You can't escape learning about them. No matter what your goals and passions are, the basics are there. You don't need to sit in a classroom, eight hours a day, five days a week, for twelve years, to learn them.

One statement that Matt Lauer made, and one of the so-called experts touched on too, was this gem. "If they aren't assessed, how do we judge and compare them to other kids their own age?" And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what is most wrong with our school system. This idea that you can only know if a child is learning by comparing them to others. It's not good enough to just compare them against themselves. The idea that only tests and assessments can demonstrate learning is ridiculous.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Concerts and Comic books

Timmy and I took the boys to the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center to see the Orlando Philharmonic Young People's Concert. Nico and Lucas had never been to a concert like this before, and I wanted to be sure to expose them to it at-least once. The full orchestra was on stage, and we learned all about a few American composers, and what makes music American.

Although I enjoyed the concert, and would like to return again next year, no one else really did. Timmy said we were sitting on the wrong side of the theatre. Too close to the drums and base, and he would rather have been closer to the violins.

Nico sat pretty quietly during most of it, but at the end confessed that he was bored and didn't want to attend anything like this again.

Lucas was restless from the very beginning. Complaining that it was too loud, while all the performers warmed up their instruments. Then he squirmed so much in his seat that I eventually scooped him up onto my lap. He turned his back on the stage, and told me repeatedly that he was all done, and ready to go. He too has said he doesn't want to attend anything like this again.

Ah well, at-least I tried to introduce them to a little culture.

On a side note, I have been thinking for a while about introducing the boys to comic books, hoping it might spark a bit of reading. As luck would have it, one of our neighbors dropped by and gave Timmy a stack of about 60 comic books from the early 90's. They include some Wolverine, Spiderman, Predator, Terminator and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics. I've left them on a side table in the living room, and Lucas was the first to pick one up.

Yesterday he started thumbing through a Terminator one. Nico wandered over and tried to read it to him. He came across one word that he didn't know, and gave up. (He does the same thing when trying to read a book.) Lucas still likes to look through the comics, so I'm still holding out hope that they may spark some interest in reading. At-least I didn't have to spend any money this time.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Letting them figure it out...

It's sometimes hard for me to sit back and just let my kids figure things out for themselves. Especially when I know a quicker, better way of doing things. In those moments, I need to remind myself of how I feel when others try and tell me how to do something that I know I can figure out on my own. (Timmy is particularly fond of giving me driving directions, even though I know where I'm going. I may not always take the quickest route, but I'll get us there eventually.)

When Nico started doing the laundry for me a few weeks ago, I showed him how to turn on the machines. I explained about how to balance the loads, so it doesn't make that loud banging sound. But I never showed him how to fold the clothes once they were dry. That is something I left for him to figure out on his own. This was particularly hard for me, since I banished Timmy from helping with the laundry years ago, because I hated the way he folded my clothes.

Let me tell you, Nico has come up with some creative ways of folding. He only does the kids' clothes, so I refrain from re-folding everything my way. I'm trying to remind myself that my way, isn't always right for everyone, and I need to let my kids find their way of doing things.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Allowance

A couple weeks ago, Nico asked if he could start receiving a weekly allowance. I told him most kids who get an allowance do something around the house to earn it.

After some discussion, Nico and I agreed on $5 a week in exchange for him doing the laundry. (Not all the laundry, just the kid's clothes.) Lucas wanted to get in on this whole allowance thing as well, and we agreed on $2 a week for dusting.

It's been three weeks, and they haven't given up on it yet. As I'm typing this Nico is putting his clothes in the dryer, and getting ready to start a second load in the washer. I really thought this would be another passing interest, like everything else they do, and I am pleasantly surprised. It's nice to have a little help around the house, even if I do have to pay for it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

On Religion

One of the things I am most grateful to my parents for, is the fact that they never forced any one religion on me. Growing up, we were not made to read the bible, or go to church weekly, but neither were we forbidden from it. I attended church many times with various friends. I knew of Christianity, I knew the stories, and I guess I kind of believed by default for part of my childhood just because I had never sat down to think about it. When I was about eight years old is when I knew, with out a doubt, that those stories were just that, stories. I didn't label myself an atheist (openly and proudly) until well into my adult years, but I knew I was one.

When I had children of my own, I knew I wanted to give them the same open freedom of religion that I had while growing up. Although my kids have never been to church, (they have been to Buddhist temples) they know of god, because our society is saturated with religion. They know of heaven and hell, angels and the devil. They both have told me that they believe in god, and I have never tried to discourage that. But neither have I hid the fact that I do not believe in god, heaven, hell, or angels. We have had open and frank discussions, and always have I left my children free to find their own beliefs.

Last night I had an interesting conversation with Nico. He tells me, "By the way mommy, I'm religious now." It kind of caught me off guard because it was so out of the blue. I asked if he knew what being religious meant, and he said yes. So I asked what makes him think he is religious now, and he said because he no longer believes in god.

"No, no, no honey, you're confused. Religious is when you do believe in god, and you follow a specific religion, adhering to their tenets and following their holy text. I think you mean you are atheist now, because that is when you don't believe in god."

"Oh, yeah, I'm an atheist now."

"So what makes you think there is no god?"

"I just don't see any proof anywhere."

"So you've been thinking about it, and looking for proof?"

"Yes."

"You know I was about eight years old when I realized that I was an atheist."

"Well I'm just under that."

Here's the thing. He's only seven. He has a long life to live, and many, many more years to think and study religion. The significant thing to me, is that he is thinking about it, and coming to his own conclusions.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Terrified!!

Nico absolutely terrified me last night. I was working, and I always keep my cell phone on silent while I'm working. Most nights I don't even look at it until I get off work, but last night was slow. I snuck into the bathroom and had planned on sending a text to my darling husband. Instead I see two missed calls from Home, and two new voice mails. Right away this sets off alarms. We never use our home phone, Timmy always calls from his cell. The first voice mail is only six seconds long, and all I hear is a bit of whimpering. The second voicemail is 47 seconds long. The first five or so nothing, then I hear Nico, in a scared, pathetic voice say "Please, pick up!" and then for thirty seconds it's quiet whimpers. OMG!! I was freaking out. It's 11:30 pm, and those voice mails were left at 9:45 pm. I was so close to running out the door, but I stopped long enough to call Timmy's cell. If he hadn't answered, I was out of there. But, Timmy picks up with "Hey Baby, what's up!" I'm like, "You tell me, is everything ok?" and I explain about the voicemail. Then I hear him yell to Nico, "You told me you didn't call Mommy!" I was like, what the fuck happened? So here's the story. The boys went to their rooms at 9, like they always do for "bed time". Timmy, about 9:30 took the dog out for a walk, and then stopped at the tennis court so he could run and stretch his legs for a bit. The boys, came out of their rooms, and I guess thought Timmy had just up and left them. So they freaked out, and called me. I don't know why they didn't notice the dog wasn't in the house either? Why they didn't just look out their window and see his car was still there? Or why they went out the front door looking for him, when it was locked from the inside and we always use our back door anyways? And at-least they called me instead of 911, and at-least I know they know how to call me if they need to. But I tell you what, I don't ever, EVER, want to hear another voice mail like that again! EVER!! *****UPDATE***** So the boys just confessed to me that they knew Timmy had taken the dog out for a walk. But when he didn't come back right away, they feared he, and the dog, had been eaten by an alligator, and that's why they freaked out.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Negative Numbers

A few weeks ago I wrote about Lucas playing with percentages. He was joyfully telling me how full all of his food centers were, during a one on one shopping trip. Do I think because of this one playful moment he has now mastered percentages? No. Do I think he fully understands the concept? No. But the more he plays with it, the closer he gets to understanding and then mastery.

Lucas is not the only one working to understand new concepts in math. Last year for Christmas I bought each of the boys their very own calculators (mostly so they would stop stealing and losing mine). Recently Nico has started wondering what happens when you subtract a large number, from a smaller number. One day, calculator in hand, he comes to tell me, "Hey Mommy, 2 minus 4 is negative 2." That simple operation sparked an interest, and for the last several days he has been subtracting more and more large numbers from smaller ones, to see what he gets. "Did you know 700 minus 900 is negative 200?" he asked me just last night.

Along with negative numbers, the calculators are also helping both the boys to recognize and learn place values. They type in a bunch of numbers, and then have me read it off the calculator for them. Nico came to me last night and asked if 10,000 was 100 thousand. I said no, it was only 10 thousand, and to make it 100 thousand, he needed one more zero. Later he came and asked me what 90,000,000 was. I said 90 million, and he said "Oh cool, seven zeros to make 90 million.

They think they're just playing when they pick up those calculators, but I see it for what it really is.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Back to School

What does back to school mean for unschoolers? Generally speaking, since there is no distinction between life and learning, there are never breaks from school, and so no need to go back to it.

But things do change for us in the summer, and during other traditional school breaks. Mostly because the other kids are out of school, and the places we like to visit become way too busy and crowded. Also, living in Florida, it's just too hot in the summer to venture out of the house often.

So back to school for us, means we will once again have a full calendar of events. Our monthly field trips to the Oakland Nature Preserve are starting back up on Friday. Other field trips are being discussed within our group, and will be filling up the calendar soon. In early September we start meeting with our home-school group once again, for our weekly co-ops. Some changes have been made this year, and we are looking forward to some fun and exciting classes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fun with Percentages

I just got back from a trip to the grocery store with Lucas, where I spent the last half hour listening to him explain to me the different levels of his food centers.

See, his sugar center is at 90% because of the ice cream we had after lunch, and no he does not want a free cookie today. If he eats a free cookie, his sugar levels will get to 100%, and then he can't have any more sugar for the rest of the day.

His fruit center is at 50% because he just had fruit in his yogurt, and fruit in his ice cream. But I should really buy him those pear fruit cups because he loves pears, and just one cup will bring his fruit level up to 100%.

His cheese center is currently at 0%, so I need to buy him some cheese sticks, and also cheese balls. Just one cheese ball will bring his level up to 100%, two will bring it to 1000% and three will bring it to infinity, so what ever I do, do not let him eat three cheese balls.

We're having lasagna for dinner, and his lasagna center is way down in his leg, but only a few bites will fill it up to his belly and put him at 100% there too.

His drink center is at 0%, so we just have to stop at a gas station to get him a drink.

Some days that boy just cracks me up!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In the kitchen

I am not the type of mom who typically cooks with her kids. Generally speaking, I am a very patient person, I'm just not that patient! When it comes to every day meals, I want to get in, and get it done, with out the fuss and the mess of involving the kids. In fact most days they aren't even allowed in the kitchen while I'm cooking. Some days I make an exception, however.

This afternoon, Lucas asked for Mac N Cheese for lunch. Nico asked if he could make it, and I was feeling rather patient, so I agreed. Of course Lucas also wanted to make it, and they do not work well together in these types of situations. So I had two chairs pulled up to my stove, two pots of water boiling, and two boys happily stirring two boxes of Mac N Cheese. My kids were in heaven, cooking their own lunches.

Don't get the wrong idea. My kids are no strangers to the kitchen. They routinely go in to grab snacks, drinks, and have been fixing their own sandwiches and cereal for a while now. But they only get to use the stove on rare occasions.

Lightening struck twice today, because later Lucas asked if he could sit and watch me cook dinner. Still feeling patient, I agreed, and he pulled up his chair as I began dicing tomatoes. He asked if he could smash the tops when I was done, and I saw no reason to say no (I already had a mess to clean up after all). So after I was done with the cutting board, I handed him a mallet, and as the steak was cooking, he happily pounded away at the tomato tops. When he was done, Nico took his place, pounding those tomatoes flat.

Today was one of those days where I really felt connected to unschooling. I said yes, when I would normally say no, and things turned out alright. I like to think I can make that happen more often, but tomorrow they will probably be banished from the kitchen again.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Allergies


It's been confirmed. Lucas is officially allergic to cats and dogs. More so cats, but only by a tiny margin. This is the cause of his asthma, and presumably his eczema as well.

I feel like I should have known. Looking back, there were signs, I just didn't see them clearly.

The question now becomes, What do we do with our beloved dog, Light? Do we keep Lucas on the daily allergy/asthma regimen and keep the dog? Or do we give him up so Lucas can breath easy?

We've had Light for almost two years, and in that time Nico and Matthew have become really attached. Timmy, Lucas and I aren't really pet people, so we mostly tolerate him for the others. Lucas never really gets too close to Light, but his fur is everywhere! Nico has accepted that we may have to give him up rather graciously, but I know if the time comes he will be heartbroken. Thankfully we already have a great home lined up, just in case. A place where Nico could go visit often.

I only spoke with the Dr. briefly on the phone when she told me the results of his allergy test. We have a follow up appointment in a couple weeks, and we will speak more in depth about it then.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tonight's conversation

The boys spent most of the day with their uncle, which tends to get them overly excited. On the way home they were trying to convince me to sign them up for boxing. When I informed them boxing isn't a sport children can partake in, they decided on wrestling instead. T.V. wrestling to be more precise.

Anyways, the boys had the funniest conversation in the car, and I'm going to try and recreate it here for all of you.

Lucas: Sometimes people make a mistake and think they are boxing when they're really wrestling.

Nico: No one is going to think that, because the sign on the building will say wrestling.

L: What if they couldn't read?

N: Well, when they walk in someone will say, "Welcome to wrestling." then they'll know. Besides if they can't read, how would they think it says boxing?

L: Well what if they were blind, and drove up thinking it was boxing.

N: If they were blind, they wouldn't be driving. Unless they took a taxi, then they would know where they were.

L: What if they walked?

N: If they were walking, they would have a helper dog, to take them where they wanted to go, then they would know they were at wrestling and not boxing.

L: What if they were allergic to dogs?

N: Then they could get their wife to help them.

L: What if they weren't married?

N: Then they could get their mom or dad to take them.

L: What if they didn't have parents?

N: If they didn't have parents then they were never born, and wouldn't be doing boxing or wrestling.

At this point they both were just having so much fun playing the what if game, which somehow led to someone (presumably the blind guy, who is allergic to dogs, has no family, and was never born) peeing in the sink.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rated M for Mature

It's no secret that my boys play a lot of video games, and watch a lot of t.v. What many may not agree with, is I don't pay any attention to game, t.v., or movie ratings. If my boys want to watch/play something, I let them.

One of Nico's favorite shows is 1,000 ways to Die, where each episode they reenact five unusual ways people have managed to get themselves killed. Lucas is actually getting pretty good with Call of Duty Black Ops and other "mature" games, on the Playstation. Tosh.O is a family favorite show, and so are shows like Family Guy and Futurama.

I do have a line drawn. I do not intentionally expose them to anything pornographic (True Blood is only put on when they are in bed). Nor do I expose them to things that will cause nightmares. (One might think that 1,000 ways to die would cause nightmares, but it doesn't.) Also, Tim doesn't really play any of the really scary games, so there aren't any in the house for the boys to play either. What I don't care about is supposedly adult language, or adult situations. If my kids hear a word they don't understand, they ask what it means. If they see actions they don't understand, it opens the door for a meaningful conversation.

What's really fascinating though, is that my kids still gravitate towards the kids stuff anyways. Our t.v. is on Cartoon Network more than any other channel, and Little Big Planet 1 and 2 are played more than any other game we own.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Home Alone

Timmy and I were discussing at what age is it appropriate to leave the boys home alone. I looked up Florida law, and as it turns out, there is no minimum age set for our state. If the child is mature enough, and understands the rules and what to do in an emergency, it's ok to leave them alone. That's not to say that you can't still be charged with neglect, for leaving an obviously too young child unsupervised, but it's at the parent's discretion.

So knowing that, how can I tell if my children are mature enough to handle being unsupervised? It's a tough question to answer.

I would say that right now Nico, at seven, would do just fine being left alone for short amounts of time (an hour or less). But not if Lucas were also home. They have this way of antagonizing each other, that I'm sure all siblings share. Nico and I have had many talks about what to do in an emergency situation. When to call 911, how to get a hold of me and his daddy, and when to go to a neighbor for help. Lucas is always present for these conversations, but I'm not sure how much actually sinks in. I think he would be more likely to panic in an unexpected situation, and thus it's going to be some time before he is left on his own.

Nico has been asking for this little bit of freedom and independence since he was five. I have yet to let him try it, but that day is approaching. Perhaps within the next year? We may start off with a half hour trip to the grocery store, and see how he handles himself. It's going to be a good two to three years before I would consider leaving the two of them alone together, though.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Food

As a child, I was an extremely picky eater. There was almost a solid year where I ate nothing but bread and cereal. Corn and green beans were the only vegetables to ever cross my lips. The only way to get me to eat a potato was if it was french fried. When my mom would cook something for dinner I didn't like, I would just fix myself a bowl of cereal or buttered toast instead. She constantly told me my taste buds would change as I got older, but I never believed her. Until one day I found myself enjoying broccoli, pot roast, baked potatoes, and all the other foods I swore would never make their way to my gut.

I was afraid that my own childhood pickiness would be passed on to my children, but that doesn't seem to be the case. My boys will eat just about anything I put in front of them. Because of the freedom I enjoyed as a child, I have never required them to eat anything. If they don't like what I make, I'll fix them a sandwich. They never have to clean their plates, when they're full, they're full. One might assume this would lead to them being more picky, but quite the opposite has occurred. They almost never leave food on their plates, and almost always eat what I cook.

Still, I find it odd when I hear one of them exclaim "Yay, brussel sprouts!" when I set a plate down in front of them. Some of their favorite foods are things I couldn't even look at with out wanting to vomit as a child. Because of my own experiences, I can sympathize with parents of picky eaters, but I am secretly grateful not to be in their shoes.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Swimming


My boys have never taken swimming lessons. Like most everything, I decided that I would let them learn how to swim on their own terms.

Both boys have life vests they generally wear in the pool. Lucas clings to his, and puts it on each and every time we go to the pool. Nico, however, discovered that he is tall enough to reach the bottom of the pool, in the shallow end, and has all but abandoned his life vest. I'm pretty sure he has only put it on once or twice this summer. He loves jumping in, seeing how long he can hold his breath for, and swimming along the wall. I still wouldn't really call him a swimmer, but he's slowly but surely getting there, completely on his own.

Tonight, I took the boys out to the pool for an hour or so after dinner. Once again, Nico's life vest lay along the edge of the pool, forgotten. I had no intention of going in the water, I was only going to sit and watch, and so I didn't bother to put on my own swim suit. I warned Nico that I would not be going in to rescue him, so he had better swim, or stay by the steps. Advice he promptly ignored.

The boys had brought out one of their green noodles to play with, and Nico left the safety of the steps, to try and reach the noodle. As he swam towards it, his movements kept pushing it farther and farther away. Nico made it to the middle of the pool, before realizing A) he was never going to catch the noodle, and B) he was too far from the steps (or edge) to make it back on his own.

What's a mother to do in that situation? My clothes are now hanging, dripping wet, on the porch.

Even though Nico couldn't make it back on his own, he did swim to the middle all by himself. Not too shabby for a beginner, with no formal training.

Friday, June 24, 2011

I'm Bored!!

I'm Bored!, is the mantra of most schooled kids during the summer months. After spending the rest of the year being told what to do every minute, of every day, they have no idea how to entertain themselves for those few short weeks of freedom during summer break.

I'm bored, is something I rarely (if ever) hear from my boys. They spend all day at home, jumping from various activities. They will spend a little time watching t.v., a little time playing video games, computer games, i-pod games. When they get tired of those things, their imaginations take over. They build stuff out of whatever they can get their hands on. Lucas is fond of stacking things from the kitchen, such as cereal boxes.

Last night when I returned home from class, the boys had pulled every pillow, cushion and blanket from the living room so they could build huge walls in their bedroom. The purpose of these walls were simply to be crashed into and knocked down, repeatedly.

It doesn't take huge sums of money, fancy toys, and weeks of summer camps to keep kids entertained. A few boxes, pillows and complete freedom to spend their time as they choose are all that's needed.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Stories

I love reading! I've loved to read since I was about ten or so, and I always hoped my children would love to read as much as I do (I inherited this love from my dad). Nico and Lucas are still a bit young, and who knows how much they will enjoy reading. Neither of them read on their own yet, and I hate reading out loud, so they haven't had a lot of experience with books. I have read a couple books to Nico, and he did really enjoyed it, so I'm not counting him out just yet.

Matthew on the other hand doesn't really like to read. I've tried (before realizing it was the wrong way to approach it) making him read during his summer vacations. He would do it, but he never really enjoyed it the way I do. Then I realized something important, that's made me change the way I feel about reading, and my children reading.

The reason I love to read is because I love stories. The possibilities are endless, and the characters are fascinating. A good book will make you feel like a part of the story. Like the characters are your best friends, or worst enemies. This is why I enjoy reading books part of a series. You really get to know the characters on a personal level. Harry Potter is not just the name of some guy in a book. He was my friend once upon a time.

The day I came to my realization, was the day I really listened to Matthew talking about one of his video games. He was talking about the characters in the game, much the same way I would talk about the characters in my books. They follow a story, much the same way as a book. The major difference is his stories are more interactive. He can change the story, rather than just following the story.

T.V. shows and movies also tell stories, and can make you fall in love with the characters. Anime is particularly fascinating for our family, and that is something we all enjoy together.

So what I realized, is that the things I love most about my books, can be found in many different places, and even if my children don't enjoy reading like I do, they can find other ways to gain the same experiences that I love so much.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Outside pressure

As unschoolers, my boys do not learn from me and me alone. They learn from everyone they come in contact with. All their family and friends. Their home-school group. The people they meet in the grocery store, or standing in line at the bank. Every interaction, every day results in learning for them. Not everyone is capable of seeing this learning for what it is, and that can result in unneeded pressure being put on the boys.

Take for instance their grandparents. Until very recently, they would babysit for me about once a week, for several hours. As it turns out they cannot look beyond the norm, and see how the boys learn through interaction instead of study. They would spend their time with their grandkids quizzing them, drilling them, and pressuring them which is counterproductive to how I want my boys to learn. Not only that, but they were quizzing, drilling and pressuring the boys on things that were above their level.

I was willing to look past all that (if that was how they wanted to spend their precious time with their grandkids, I wasn't going to stop them). But then the boys said something to me that made steam come out of me ears. "Grandma says we shouldn't be home-schooled because we aren't learning anything."

This all stemmed from them asking the boys what they were learning at home, and they both said they couldn't remember. Well color me surprised, a public schooled child would never give an answer like that!

To be honest, I'm not surprised they feel this way. From the very beginning they have been hinting that they disapprove of my home-schooling the boys. They would send me pamphlets from the local charter schools, and offer to let me use their home-address to put the boys in a 'better' district. And I'm fine with them disagreeing with my decision. They don't have to approve, they don't have to like my choices, but I do expect them to be respectful. The best way to be respectful is to address their questions, comments and concerns about the boys' education to me (the one whose making these decisions) instead of to my children. I don't see how that was asking too much, but apparently it was, since they refused.

They seem to think it's perfectly acceptable for them to put doubts in my boys' minds about the decisions I am making for them, and because of that they will be spending a lot less time with them. It's most unfortunate, because my kids could really learn a lot from their grandparents, if only they could relax and stop with the pressure and negativity.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What is the purpose of unschooling?

I like to tell people that for us, unschooling means I have no specific expectations for my boys. There is nothing they *have to*, *should*, *need to*, or *must* learn. I do not set goals for them, nor do I expect them to reach goals set by others (reading by age 5 for example).

So that begs the question, what do I expect them to get out of unschooling?

To be honest, I'm not really expecting anything. I hope they will come out on the other side with a strong sense of self. I hope they will be able to set goals for themselves, and find ways to achieve those goals. I hope that they will know what makes them happy in life, and find a way to maintain that happiness. I hope that they become strong, active members of their community, with a strong sense of family, friendship, love, and compassion.

In other words, I hope that my children grow up to be happy, healthy, productive members of society and I think unschooling is the straightest path to get them there.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Evolution

The concept of Evolution is tough for most adults to grasp, so trying to explain it to a five and seven year old isn't exactly easy. They can grasp some of the more specific aspects of it, but the general concept, as a whole, still causes confusion.

Nico once argued with me for days when he asked who the first person was, and I told him there was no first person. Populations evolve, not individuals. He just couldn't wrap his head around that concept. Tonight, Lucas asked me how all the people in the world were born, when in the past there were no mommies and daddies to make babies (i.e. before people evolved). I didn't think I could adequately explain it with out help, so I pulled one of their books out to help.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters does a fantastic job of explaining how life evolved, in a simple way for children to understand. We read the book together, stopping along the way to discuss various aspects of evolution. I was rather surprised by the tough questions the boys asked along the way; such as Nico asking how the first cells got into the oceans to begin with.

During our conversation about evolution we also touched on abiogenesis, embryology, climatology, cell theory, just to name a few. The boys couldn't stop talking over each other, eager to discuss the many questions popping into their heads. After we put the book down, we went to youtube.com and watched some videos on how embryo's grow and develop from a single cell, into multicellular organisms.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Finding a job and/or going to college

The other day Timmy and I were discussing life after unschooling for the boys. Specifically how they would go about getting a job or getting into college/trade school without a diploma. Our discussion turned into a bit of an argument (one of only a few that we've ever had). Here's why...

Timmy dropped out of high school when he found out he would have to repeat his senior year for only two elective credits. He had moved to Florida from Virginia, and the requirements for graduation were different. He wanted to apply for a job at Disney, but they wouldn't hire him with out a diploma or equivalence (GED). So he went and got his GED. He later applied to a tech school for Automotive and A/C, to which he had to provide his GED and take an entrance exam.

So during our discussion, he insisted that if the boys don't get a high school diploma, they will have to get a GED in order to work or apply to college, to which I disagreed.

I have spent countless hours online researching and reading about how unschoolers handle these types of things. (It's not like I've arbitrarily chosen this path without doing any research, and I'm just hoping for the best.) I may not personally know any grown unschoolers, but I feel like I do since I read their blogs regularly. This is what I was trying to get across to him.

When the boys go to apply for a job/college/trade school, where it asks for the high school information all they need to write is HOME-SCHOOL. They could even check that they have a diploma, depending on how old they are and if I have issued them one (because yes I can issue them one). Timmy tried to argue that wouldn't be good enough, because the people would have no idea if they actually did anything at home. To which I replied "Then they will take the entrance exams. The same entrance exams that all public, private, and GED students take anyways."

Timmy still feels that employers like Disney, will not accept anything other than a high school diploma or GED, and just writing home-school will not suffice. Otherwise he wouldn't have had to get his GED. But the difference is, he wasn't home-schooled, so he couldn't have written that, he had no choice but to get the GED.

Furthermore, I was not arguing that I was against the boys going that route, if that's what it takes to get them a job, or accepted into the school they wish to attend. If it comes right down to it, and the employer or school says you have to have a GED, they can go get it. But I don't think that's very likely. It's a whole different environment now than it was 20 years ago when Timmy left high school. And it's getting more and more home-school friendly by the year. In ten years, it's not likely the boys will face too much discrimination due to their home-schooled background.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Perspective


It's so interesting watching my two boys. They live in the same home, have the same parents, and pretty much do everything together day in and day out. Yet they each have completely different perspectives.

Nico is all about the big picture. He sees things as a whole, and doesn't care much about the details. He is very logical and passionate.

Lucas is all about the details. He seeks out patterns and is more emotional and sensitive.

They tend to argue, a lot! They just don't seem to understand how two people can look at the same thing, and each see something unique. I feel like I am constantly telling them both that what is true for one, may not be true for all. It's a difficult concept to grasp (one most adults are still struggling with).

Some day I hope they are able to really understand each other. Being able to share the world through someone else's perspective can open up new wonders, that may be missed on your own.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Shadow puppets, plays on words, questions explored

Lately Nico has been obsessed with shadow puppets. Anytime there is a light source available, he can't help but make shapes fly across the wall. His shadow puppets mostly consist of birds, a butterfly, and a dog. But he's getting better and better each time.

He's also developing new aspects of his sense of humor. He's starting to appreciate plays on words. The other day, after drawing all over his face with markers, a lady stopped by our table at dinner to tell us how adorable the boys were. I looked at Nico and said he sure did draw a lot of attention to himself. He replied, "Yeah I do 'draw' attention to myself." He's also noticing when other people make a play on words. A cartoon this morning showed the biggest 'meat'eor, made out of a giant meatball. Nico laughed and laughed.

Last week, Lucas asked why your body leaned the opposite direction when going around a turn in the car. This lead to a great conversation about movement, motion, and inertia. Lucas also likes to ponder a lot of 'what ifs'. He comes up with these crazy scenarios and wonders what if that actually happened. For instance, "What if someone was stupid enough to drive on the wrong side of the road?" (All his what ifs involve stupid people for some reason.)

Friday, May 6, 2011

It's getting to be that time of year again...

The public/private schools are coming to a close. Shutting down for summer break. The parks and libraries are going to become over crowded for the duration of the summer. Parents will be trying to cram all those things they wish they could do the rest of the year, into just a few weeks. We'll be staying home more, avoiding the hordes of people. I like the quiet, calm of an empty weekday park, and I'll miss it until August.

Lately several of my friends with kids in public schools have been boasting about their child's achievements. Honor roll awards; reading and math awards; attendance awards; behavior awards. Awards aplenty. I admit I felt a slight pang of regret as I realized my boys will never receive such an award. They will never feel that moment of pride, standing in front of their entire class, grasping that piece of paper. (Nor will they ever feel the sting of humiliation of having not won an award, when all their friends have.) After all, those types of arbitrary achievements were a large part of my own childhood. I can't tell you how many honor roll awards I racked up in school.

But after allowing myself to feel regret, I moved past it to look at the bigger picture. It's not as though my boys never have moments they can be proud of. Every time they finish a project, or master a new skill, they beam with pride. As they grow and delve into more difficult areas of study, they will have opportunities to win real awards, that actually have meaning. School is not the only place to achieve success. Sometimes I need to remind myself of that.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How painting has evolved.

My boys have had access to paints of some kind since they were just wee toddlers. For the most part, they are abstract painters. Splashing colors on paper with random sweeps of the brush is way more fun than trying to create something recognizable.

A year or two ago Nico started trying to make sense with his brush strokes. He painted a series of portraits, including a self portrait, of our entire family, which has been proudly displayed above my computer. He likes to paint flowers and rainbows for me as well.

This morning Lucas made the leap into structured painting. With his water colors paint set, he created a very colorful alien, with claws. Then decided to paint a person saying something, in a cave, but the cave turned out to be inside a monsters stomach. He used the paints to tell a story, something he has never done before. I always just give them the paint and paper, and let them go. I never try and structure their work, or give them guidelines, other than keep the paint on the paper.

From their very first fingerpaints, to their newest water color creations, I have always proudly framed and displayed their works of art through out our home. Nico once asked if he could put his stuff in an art gallery, and since I couldn't do that for him, I've turned our home into his own personal gallery (well one he shares with Lucas).

I enjoy painting as well. I'm not great at it, but I'm decent enough. One of the things I like to do is paint on glass around the house. It's easily removed, and I can change the painting as often as I like, so I'm not stuck looking at the same thing all the time. I do a lot of holiday, or seasonal images, and sometimes I paint things for the boys to enjoy. I recently took down my winter scene, and replaced it with a field of sunflowers, beside a duck pond, to brighten up the house a bit. Nico wanted to paint his own scene, so I allowed him to remove my Spy vs Spy, so he could use the sliding glass door as his canvas. He had his own vision of what he wanted to paint, so I gave him the paints, and left him alone. About an hour later I had this beautiful sunset painted on my glass.

Painting isn't a passion for any of us, but it's a casual hobby that we all share. Looking around my house I can see how their skills have evolved from the earliest finger paints to the complex sunset. I can't wait to see what they can create in another five years, ten years, twenty years, if they continue to develop their skills.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Those weird home-schooled kids!

Yes, my boys are becoming those weird home-schooled kids, and it's not just because of the purple and blue hair.

They are free to express themselves any way they want. Lately this involves coloring on themselves with pens and markers. Especially since Nico has decided he wants to be a tattoo artist, and so needs to practice his body art.

Today we went to my husband's company picnic, and the boys had marker all over their faces. Lucas and Nico both have a mustache and goatee drawn on, and Nico drew on a pair of glasses too. When mixed with their blue and purple hair, the effect is....I'm not even sure how to describe it. I think one initial reaction was "Oh, wow!"

During the picnic I mentioned to Timmy that from this day on the boys will forever be known, by his co-workers, as those weird home-schooled kids. He then told me they already had that reputation. Ah well, good to know they are living up to expectations!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

It's only hair!

A couple years ago when Nico asked if he could shave his head bald, I said sure, it's only hair, it will grow back.

So off came it all. The next couple weeks were horrible for him. He was teased and picked on for the first time in his life. People looked at him differently, and treated him differently because he was bald. But, like I said, it did eventually grow back, and I think he learned a lot from the experience. You can't know why it's not right to pick on others, until you have been picked on. Whenever he starts in about the way someone else looks or acts, I remind him of how he felt during that episode of baldness. He didn't like it, not one bit.


Fast forward to the present. The other day he asked if he could color his hair blue. Of course I said yes, after all it's only hair! Since Nico was doing his hair blue, Lucas wanted to color his hair red. They were out of the red hair dye though, so Lucas settled for purple. We applied the color last night, and it looks great! The purple on Lucas looks almost natural. The blue could never be mistaken for natural, but it totally fits with Nico's personality.


We haven't yet left the house, so we haven't encountered other people (friends or strangers). I'm not sure how others are going to react. I do know, good or bad, both boys will likely learn from this experience, just as Nico learned from his past experimentation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dating: ALREADY!!

The other day in the car Nico started talking to me about dating. How old do you have to be to start dating? Where do you go and what do you do on a date? If he gives a girl my phone number, will I let him talk when she calls?

He's only seven! Luckily he's just curious, and has quite a while before this evolves into more than just a discussion on the topic. He still thinks kissing is mostly yucky.

I handled this conversation the same way I handle all our conversations, with frank honesty. Most people aren't allowed to date until about 15-17, although some start as early as 13. He can date whenever he wants, but only with supervision until he is much older. Most people just hang out and talk while on a date. They go out and do fun things, and generally just enjoy spending time with each other.

We talked a bit about breaking up, and how it's not always as easy as one would think. Unless both people want to break up, someone is going to get their feelings hurt.

There's no need to lock up your daughters just yet. He doesn't have any particular girl in mind that he wants to start dating. I got the feeling he was just filing this information away for later use.

Monday, April 18, 2011

It was going to happen sooner or later.

I've been waiting for the day my boys look old enough for people to notice they're not in school but *should* be. It finally happened on Friday.

On our way to the Oakland Nature Preserve we stopped at the gas station to pick up some drinks and snacks. The clerk behind the counter asked the question I get asked more than any other question; "Are they twins?" Since I answer this question all the time, my response came out quickly and naturally. "No, actually they're two years apart." "Oh, which one is older?" He inquired. We weren't really running late, and there was no one else in line behind us, so I had no qualms about engaging in polite small talk. I pointed to Nico and said "He's seven, and this one is five", patting Lucas on the top of his head.

Then came the quizzical look, because it's clearly a week day, and they are not in school. "Oh, so they are in elementary school then?" he asked tentatively. "No, actually we home-school" I replied. By this time our transaction was complete, and there were now people coming up behind us, so I have no idea what kind of response he would have had to that.

Generally speaking, I don't pay close attention to the days of the week. Weekdays and weekends kind of blend together when you're not running on a school calendar. But the rest of the world does notice things like children not in school, and for some reason they have no problem questioning complete strangers about their lives. I assume that sooner or later it will become just as natural for me to answer the "Why aren't they in school?" questions, as it is for me to answer the "Are they twins?" questions.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Busy Week

We had a busy week last week, and there is lots to write about.

Let's start with last Sat. night. We headed out to the Dark Sky Festival in the town of Harmony. It started at six, and they had all kinds of tables set up around the square with food vendors, and people selling crafts. There was a Cosmic Kid's Zone set up with a few things for the kids to do. One of the things set up was an Extreme Wall. The boys strapped on harnesses, and were to traverse an obstacle course about ten feet in the air. Lucas got too scared once he was at the top, but Nico made it through the whole course. He felt like he was on Ninja Warrior.


We had some shaved ice and nachos, and Lucas stood in line for a balloon snail. About 8 pm it was starting to get dark enough for the main event. In a field in the middle of the square they had about twenty telescopes set up and aimed at the sky. At this point it was only dark enough to see the moon clearly. We looked through about five telescopes and saw the moon in a whole new way. The boys were fascinated by the details. Unfortunately we couldn't stay longer, but one nice man aimed his telescope at a nearby yellow star, so we could see one thing other than the moon before we left.

Then on Monday we headed to Green Meadows Petting Farm to celebrate a friends birthday. The boys have been before (in fact this was their third time) but still had a fabulous time. We were able to hold baby ducks and chicks; pet and feed goats and sheep; take a pony, train and hay ride. I find it fascinating watching the differences between Nico and Lucas. Nico loves animals! He is still rather timid of them, but he wants to hold and touch them as much as possible. He is always the first one in and last one out. Lucas, on the other hand, is much like me. He likes animals, but mostly from a distance. He will go up and touch them once, but after that he's done and ready to move on.


Tuesday was co-op, and we colored Easter Eggs. We do this every year, but this was the first time doing it with our home-school group. It went pretty smoothly, and the boys had a great time.


Friday was our monthly field trip to the Oakland Nature Preserve. We haven't been able to make it the last couple months, and the boys were dying to go back, so I was determined to be there. Of course they had a fabulous time. Our day started out in the classroom where Mr. Clay talked about where we are. Where we are in the universe, galaxy, solar system, planet, country, state, county, city, community. I'm always very impressed with how patient Mr. Clay is. He lets the children ask as many questions as they want, no matter how far off topic they wander. After about an hour in the classroom, we took a walk down to the turtle pen, where the kids were able to get in, pick up and hold the turtles. (Of course this was Nico's favorite part.)


After that we walked down the boardwalk to Lake Apopka to see the alligators. Mr. Clay said the last three days he walked down there he was able to see bull gators fighting because it's mating season. We saw two gators, but they didn't do any fighting while we were there. Along the way Mr. Clay pointed out some of the edible plants growing in the preserve, and let the kids try them. One was a pepper bush, and the others were black berries and raspberries. On the walk back, we stopped by the climbing tree so the kids could climb and explore a bit on their own. At one point the trail was covered by tiny black and orange grasshoppers. All the kids stopped to try and catch some.

We ended the trip back in the classroom with a quick presentation on the history of Florida. Next month Mr. Clay has lined up some archeologists to come speak to the class, and said they had all kinds of activities planned (like making arrow heads).

That's a trip we will not miss!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Writing Club

video

Nico decided he wanted to start a writing club and invited me to join. He set up a place in his bedroom with paper/pencils/crayons etc.. and chairs for each of us.

Our first meeting, was just Nico and I. He didn't have any clear idea of what he wanted to do, so we just sat and drew pictures together. Nico drew a house with a chimney first. His second picture was a jungle scene. I wrote out I Love You in bubble letters, and surrounded it with hearts, stars and streamers for my first picture. My second picture I drew a portrait of Nico. He didn't think it looked too much like him, but since I have always struggled with faces I think it came out well.

Today we had our second meeting. This time Lucas joined us. I suggested that we try and create a story together, but this idea was rejected by both the boys. Nico wanted to try and create a t.v. show, so we tossed around a couple ideas. Lucas finally decided on a show about dragons, that are killed by people throwing toothbrushes. Nico wanted to make his show about a super hero who saves people from bank robbers. I suggested they come up with a mutual story, that they could act out together, but they each wanted their own story, and wanted to draw it like a cartoon, rather than act it out themselves.

Since Lucas can only draw stick figures, he called his story Stick World. He drew three pictures, and then I took a video of him telling his story, while showing the pictures (See video above). Nico didn't like that format, and he wanted his video to be more like a cartoon. He only drew four pictures, and although I can put them together in video format, I can't figure out how to add sound to it, so Nico's video is still incomplete. Here is his first picture.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mama's Boys

What is a Mama's Boy exactly? Is it simply a boy/man who loves and respects his mother? Is it a boy/man who is partly or completely dependent on his mother, overly attached some would say? Are my boys Mama's Boys?

My boys certainly are not overly attached or dependent on me. They've proven this by being capable of spending months away, and being perfectly happy. They don't cling to me in public, nor do they bat an eye when going with family or friends. In fact, they are some of the most independent kids I know.

Yet, some still refer to them as Mama's Boys because they show a lot of love and respect towards me. But aren't all relationships built on love and respect? Isn't that what we want most from those around us?

In addition to all the normal times we say I love you (in the morning, before parting, before bed) at random times during the day the boys will say "I love you, Mommy!" and come over to give me hugs and kisses. It's just something we do, all the time. We use the phrase I love you to express all kinds of things; such as agreement and disagreement, pleasure and disgust, laughter and anger. I make sure that my boys know, no matter what else is going on, I always love them. So they do the same.

Will my Mama's Boys grow up to be good boyfriends/husbands some day. I hope so. I certainly don't plan on interfering with their relationships, but I can see some habits developing in them now, that will make some girl really love them later. Take Lucas for instance. Whenever I leave the house with out him (for school or work) after giving him a hug and kiss at the door, he used to say "Meet me at the window" and run off to his room. Since his bedroom window faces the parking lot, I would have to walk over to the window and blow him more hugs and kisses before getting into my car. If I became distracted between the door and my car, and somehow forgot to meet him at the window, a 20 min meltdown would ensue. This ritual was very important to him.

Luckily, he no longer wants to meet me at the window. Instead, after giving him a hug and kiss goodbye, he rushes to find his shoes and puts them on. Then he walks me to my car, and opens the door for me, before one more hug and kiss.

I firmly believe that how boys treat their mother, will translate over into how they treat their mates. If this is true, my boys are going to make some little girls very happy some day.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Revelation

After re-reading my last post and mulling things over quite a bit, I have had a revelation.

I may be stuck in a bit of a rut, but my boys certainly aren't. They have a spark, it just doesn't need any flaming from me. Yes, I am talking about their new video game, Little Big Planet 2.

See, after thinking things thru, I've realized just how beneficial this game is for them, and why they are so consumed by it.

Not only are they practicing their reading and spelling when they take the game online (while learning how to communicate with people on the internet), but Little Big Planet 2 has this awesome create mode where the boys can create their own game levels. And when they are online, they can check out levels that have been created by other gamers.

Mostly what they do create is very repetitive. They put hundreds of the same thing in their level. But repetitiveness is how kids learn. I see this now. They are completely unhindered with their creativity when they play this game. They can use whatever tools they want, however many times they want, and can create anything their little minds think up. In doing so, they are learning what are the best tools to use. What works well together, and what doesn't.

Do they create awesome levels that will be loved by gamers everywhere? Not even close. But in a few years, once they have all this experience under their belts, they might.

Would I be disappointed if my boys jumped head first into the gaming community? Not at all. The gaming industry is huge, and still growing! There is a lot of money to be made, and a lot of creative ways to make it. I sometimes wonder where people find their passions (since I don't really seem to have any) so it's interesting to me to see it developing in my children.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Down Time

Let me start off by apologizing for not posting for a while. First I got sick, then the boys got sick, and to top it all off, we've been in a bit of a lull lately.

I've done a lot of research on unschooling. I've read books, articles and other people's blogs. From what I gather, it's normal for there to be periods of time when it seems like not much is getting done. These periods can last days, or weeks or even sometimes months. We're experiencing one of those periods right now.

Last month the boys got a new video game, Little Big Planet 2, and they've been obsessing over it. It's all Nico can talk about, think about and pretty much the only thing he wants to do at home. Of course there are times when video games are taken away from him. When he can't keep his hands off his brother for instance, he loses video games for a day. Even then, he hasn't really been interested in much else. Lucas, too, is pretty consumed.

So far this month we have had to miss two co-ops, and a really awesome field trip to Reptile World, to watch the snakes get milked. I think the boys would have really enjoyed that one, but since they were both feverish we just couldn't make it. We also had to miss several birthday parties, due to the illness that spread like wildfire through our home. We did get to take a pretty cool tour of an equestrian center here in town. The people there were super awesome! Even so, the boys really didn't seem all that interested. Sure they went along, and they liked petting the horses, but it didn't spark anything in them.

Nico did suggest a picnic in the park one day, after we were all well again. I couldn't think of any reason to say no, so we packed a lunch and headed out. It was a quiet, peaceful lunch, on a beautiful spring day. The boys played outside for a bit, which really helped to get out some of their pent up energy.

I wouldn't say that the boys haven't been learning these past few weeks. We still talk, a lot! I like to incorporate words in our conversations that I think they don't know, just to challenge them. With out fail, if they don't understand a word I use, they immediately ask me what it means. A day or so later I will hear them use the new word. I have to say, I love the way my children speak. The words and phrases they use are well beyond that of typical 5 and 7 year olds.

But what I think we've been missing is that spark of curiosity. We haven't had any big questions, projects or interests emerge this month, so it seems like we're stuck in a rut. I'd be lying if I said I don't worry about whether or not I've chosen the right path. At times like this it's difficult to trust that they will eventually learn the things they need to know. I feel like it's partly my fault we're stuck, because I've been so busy with my own stuff (work and school) that I haven't had much time to introduce new things to them. But like I said, I've done a lot of reading. I know eventually, things will turn around, and they will take off again. It's hard to hold children back, once that spark is lit.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It's Huge!!

That's the catch phrase for a local go cart park called Fun Spot here in Orlando. The boys and I love going there, and racing. The other day I got an email saying they were looking for extras to be in their new commercial. How could I resist?

So Monday morning we got up early, and headed out. Lucas decided he didn't want to do any singing or dancing, so he sat out on the sidelines. Nico and I learned a couple of quick dance steps, and joined in the mob scene portion of the commercial.

Nico (not being a morning person) was grouchy, and didn't understand why we had to rehearse so many times. Then when the filming started, he didn't understand why we had to do so many takes? I tried explaining, but when he's in one of those moods, logic just doesn't seem to penetrate.

Nico and I also got to drive one of the go-cart tracks while they were filming, but so were a lot of other people and who knows what portion of that they will actually use in the commercial.

After our part was over, we got to hang out and have drinks and pizza with the rest of the extras. They gave each of us a $20 gift certificate for participating, and free all you can ride arm bands that could be used that day, or brought back to use another time. Even Lucas got one, even though he mostly just watched.

All in all it was a fun experience for us. Nico had been saying for a while he wants to do commercials (he hears the radio ads, but doesn't understand how much time/money is involved in such endeavors), and I think this has satisfied his curiosity; for now at-least.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

If you could be any animal....?

Nico started this discussion yesterday in the car. If you could be any animal in the world, which one would you want to be?

Lucas answered cheetah, because they are fast runners. Nico wanted to be an owl, because they can fly, and they are mostly awake at night, and he thinks the night is the prettiest part of the day. I answered an eagle, because they are strong, powerful birds. Nico guessed that Daddy would want to be a snake, and that he and I could eat him, because sometimes birds eat snakes. Lucas thought he could be fast enough to catch me and Nico, but we could just fly higher, so no matter how fast he ran, he couldn't reach us.

So what is the second animal you would want to be? Nico picked a monkey, so he could climb through the trees. Lucas picked an eagle, so he could fly high in the air. I picked a bear.

Third animal? Nico picked a shark, and I picked a caterpillar/butterfly. I thought it would be neat to experience the metamorphoses process. But if I had to pick a sea animal (and Nico insisted that I did), it would be a dolphin. Nico thinks dolphins are defenseless, and sharks are tougher and stronger. I argued that dolphins are smarter, and still pretty tough.

I tried to move the conversation in another direction by asking what kind of plants they might want to be. Nico said a bush, and Lucas said grass. I picked a giant sequoia tree, so I could live a long, long life and see how the world changes.

This led the conversation into a whole new realm. We started talking celestial bodies. Nico wanted to be a star, like the sun. Lucas wanted to be the whole galaxy, and I thought it would be neat to be a planet. "Imagine if you were the whole universe, and you could throw galaxies at other universes?" Nico mused.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Where do those bad habits come from?

A while ago I noticed that Nico has this annoying habit of ticking his tongue either before starting a sentence, or after pausing in the middle of a thought. I find it rather annoying, as he does it all the time! For the life of me I couldn't figure out where he picked up this habit.

Well, I was at work one day, talking with a customer and I paused to collect my thoughts. When I continued to speak there it was! The same tick of the tongue that Nico has been driving me insane with for months. In that moment I realized he picked it up from me. I have no clue how long I've been doing this, or how often it slips out. Since then, I've been trying to pay closer attention to my own speech, but it must be very subconscious since I haven't noticed it again.

Being home-schooled, my kids do not spend a whole lot of time with their peers. So, I cannot blame their bad habits on people outside the family. When things crop up, I need to stop and take a good, long, hard look at myself (and their father), to determine where the behavior originated.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Favorites

Do you have a favorite child?

I know parents should love their children equally, and I unequivocally do. I would do anything for either of my children. But, can you like one more than the other? I think so.

There are a million things I like about Nico. He is strong, independent, assertive and so smart. Sometimes we have very deep and meaningful conversations with each other, well beyond what you would think a seven year old could comprehend. But those qualities make him extremely difficult to parent. I can go from calm to complete and total frustration in mere seconds when he is around. Some days he gets me so infuriated, that I literally pull my hair out. I look forward to the days where we can move our relationship past parent/child and become friends and equals.

Lucas on the other hand, is so loving and compassionate, calm and peaceful. His personality is so similar to my own, in that we both are usually gliding through life like a feather blowing in the wind. Quiet and thoughtful as we contemplate the world around us.

If I had to choose which of my children to save from a burning building, it would be save them both, or we all perish. I could not ever choose between them, as they are both special and unique in their own ways. Choosing which one to spend more time with, would depend on how the time is going to be spent. There are plenty of things I would like to do with Nico that Lucas wouldn't find interesting, and vice versa (although I rarely get the opportunity to spend one on one time with either of them).

With all that said, I prefer to spend my own free time with Lucas. Does that make him my favorite?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bad Words

I've been trying to explain to Nico and Lucas that there is no such thing as bad words. Words are just words, after all. What makes them good or bad is the intent behind the words.

Nico didn't understand, so I told him to think about how the words make other people feel. When you speak to someone, are trying to make the other person feel good or bad? What reaction did the other person actually have? Sometimes the person you are speaking with may think you are saying something bad, when you are not trying to. Miscommunications can lead to hurt feelings and arguments.

So long as the boys are being nice and respectful, I do not care what words they choose to use.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Online Gaming

We were reluctant to let the boys take their game play online, because of obvious security concerns. Of course they have their own agenda, and have recently discovered how big the online gaming world can be. Now they are hooked, and want to play every game online.

We've had several talks with the boys about what can and can't be said online. Never talk about where you live, how old you are, or anything that could inadvertently give that information away. Nico isn't sure how he could possibly give out information with out intending to, but we assured him it is possible, so be very careful what you say. Basically, only talk about the game, and nothing else.

A great side effect from online gaming, is how much reading, writing and spelling is involved. For Nico to coordinate with other players, they must chat, and both Tim and I refuse to read things for him, forcing him to decipher things on his own. (Yes we monitor everything exchanged.) This morning I've been sitting back and watching Nico interact with another player online. He's been trying his best to decipher chat, and respond appropriately. Sometimes Lucas even reads it before Nico gets the chance. (I have the feeling Lucas can read much better than he generally lets on.)

I have jumped in and interpreted a few things, such as LOL and brb. Nico was able to figure out plz meant please completely on his own, but that's an easy one. In his responses, he's been sounding out and spelling words completely on his own. He's not always correct, but he's usually really close, i.e. swich for switch. I can forgive him for not hearing the t.

I'm not yet ready to give him free range of the interwebs, but so long as he is supervised, I see no reason to disallow him online game play. Especially since he is learning so much from it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lazy Days

Between me being tired (work and school are wearing me out), and Lucas getting sick, we haven't really been doing much these past two weeks. Mostly just hanging out at home.

We did go out and ride some go-carts one day. Nico and Lucas each got to drive the kiddie carts. Lucas seemed to be the better driver.

Some things we've discussed this week; How many nipples dogs have, and why; How do people become billionaires.

A couple days ago Nico found a dead fish on the edge of the lake. He wanted to collect the bones, but it was still covered in flesh. So today he looked again, and the flesh was gone. We pulled the bones out of the water, and they are now drying in the sun. I may take him to the craft store tomorrow to buy some glue, and a backboard. I'm going to try and help him preserve the bones, for study. Tim is really grossed out by the whole thing, but this is how hands on science works.

Mostly the boys have just been playing video games. They have discovered the thrills of online gaming, and love it. We generally don't let them play online, but now it's going to be hard stopping them. We would like to get them their own gaming computer, since neither mine nor Tim's computer is capable of supporting online game play. Nico has been asking to play FreeRealms for months, but my computer crashes every time we try. For now they have to settle with playing PlayStation online.

We have some pretty awesome fieldtrips and co-ops planned with our home-school group in the next couple months. Hopefully I will be able to summon up the motivation to get the boys there. But for now, we are just relaxing and enjoying our lazy days at home.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

First trip to the Emergency Room

Yesterday started off with Lucas coughing, again. He's been having these coughing fits, off and on for several months. Always accompanied by a runny nose. Usually the cough lasts 3-4 days, and then subsides for a week or two. But things were different yesterday. His cough was nonstop for two hours straight.

I took him in the morning to see a RN at the Minute Clinic, to see if there was anything I could do to help alleviate his cough, and let him get some rest. She said it most likely was an allergy related cough. Allergies causing his nose to run, and drip into his throat, which was causing the cough. She recommended starting him on a daily allergy regimen, and also prescribed an Albuterol inhaler to help open his airways. At the time his oxygen stats were normal, and she said she heard a small amount of wheezing, but nothing to be too concerned over.

So I start him on the allergy meds, and attempt to get him to use the inhaler. Problems come up because they did not give us a spacer for the inhaler, and he just is not getting how to use it properly. As the day goes on, he gets progressively worse and worse. The coughing subsides some, but his breathing is becoming faster and shorter. He finally falls asleep, but I really don't like the way he sounds. Around midnight, I go in to listen to his breathing, and he is taking 4-5 short rapid breaths for every 1 of mine, and I can hear the wheezing with each breath.

I did the worst thing I could have possibly done, and started looking on the internet. Needless to say, I totally freaked myself out. Nico was still awake, so we all headed off to the ER together. (Our first trip ever to the ER.) Since it involved difficulty breathing, we were seen immediately, and given a bed. The first thing Lucas said to me when I laid him down was, "I don't have any brain damage, Mommy." I said "I know you don't sweetie, we're here because of your breathing."

Then he anxiously looks up at the heart monitor and asks if they will be turning it on. I told him I wasn't sure, but they might. Then he asked the question no parent wants to answer, "Am I going to die?" (Let me tell you my heart broke right there that he would even think of that.) "I said no, honey we wont let that happen." He looked back up at the monitor and said "but if they turn that on, and the line goes straight, that means I'm dead." Can you tell he watches too much t.v.? I said, "Yes that's true, but there are lots of doctors and nurses here, who wont let that happen."

Soon after the respiratory nurse came in with a breathing treatment for him. When that was done we walked down the hall to do some chest x-rays. He really liked the x-rays, because they take pictures of your bones and stuff, and that's really cool. The rest of our visit was mostly just waiting. He was given a steroid, and the x-rays came back clear (no pneumonia), yay! On the way out the ER nurse pulled up Lucas's x-ray on her computer (upon his request) so he could see what they looked like.

He is now taking antibiotics (first time ever) for the next several days, along with a steroid and his allergy medication. We were given a spacer for his inhaler, so hopefully it will be more effective from now on. As far as trips to the ER go, this was actually a not bad experience. We didn't wait forever, and he received excellent care. Even so, I'm not eager to return anytime soon.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Music

I am not a musical person. I like listening to the radio in the car, but I pay very little attention to artists, and song titles and things like that. (Same is true for movies, actors, producers and directors. Which makes me terrible at trivia!) Of all the forms of entertainment, music pretty much comes in last around our house. But that hasn't stopped my boys from being interested in it.

We've had a piano since before Nico was born, courtesy of Tim's parents who passed it down to us from his grandparents. So the boys have been banging on the keys since they could reach them. I've offered them piano lessons, a few times, but every time I've been shot down. See, they're already "really, really good!" so they don't need lessons.

For Christmas Nico was given a guitar, and Lucas an electronic drum set. I had my reasons for picking the electronic drum set, 1. smaller and takes up less space, 2. you could plug in headphones making it quieter. However, I now realize that I should have gotten an actual drum set instead. The electronic one has already gone through four sets of batteries, not from being used that much, but from being left on and forgotten. Also, it's just not as much fun, and so it hardly gets used.

The guitar is awesome, and both boys play it daily. Although, Nico yells at Lucas anytime he touches it, Lucas finds a way to get in some play time while Nico is distracted. I'm thinking soon we will be buying a second guitar, and a real drum set.

I have offered guitar lessons to the boys, but again they refused. They want to just play, and not be told what is and is not acceptable. The funny thing is, they're not half bad. The more they pick it up and play, the better they are getting, even with out any formal training. They are completely uninhibited when they play, and that makes all the difference.

***EDIT***

I forgot to mention, we have WII Music, which has introduced the boys to a whole host of instruments, and the sounds they make. I was amazed the other day when a commercial came on, and Nico accurately attributed the music in the background to cymbals. I wasn't real impressed with WII Music, but the boys love it, and play it often. Will it teach them how to play real instruments? No. But it has taught them a lot about music, sound and rhythm, and for that alone it was worth the money.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Mirrors

Last night Nico noticed that images in mirrors are backwards. Well, he noticed the letters on his shirt were backwards in the mirror, and asked me why. I didn't have the perfect, scientific explanation for him, but I did my best.

First I told him that the light is reflected back at you in the same spot where it hits the mirror, which makes it appear backwards. I told him to go stand in front of the mirror and hold up his left hand, and his reflection would appear to be holding up its right hand. Of course he tried that, and then came back out and said no, my reflection was holding its left hand up too. So I had him stand facing me while holding up his left hand, and then said, now I am going to raise my left hand. When he saw that my left was on the opposite side of his left, when face to face, he understood, and checked the mirror again. Sure enough his reflection is holding up it's right hand.

Then I took a piece of paper and wrote his name on the top, and on the bottom wrote his name backwards, and had him hold that up to the mirror. In the mirror the name on top is backwards, while the one on the bottom is not. He thought it was awesome, how they seemed to switch places in the mirror.

A single question, a simple explanation, and a couple quick experiments, at close to midnight last night, and Nico now has a better understanding of the world around him.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Finally old enough...



I felt like the boys were finally old enough to appreciate a trip to Kennedy Space Center. KSC is more like a museum than a theme park, and before now I didn't really see it appealing to the boys too much. But they had a great time today.

We arrived at 11:30, and started off our day by letting the boys get some energy out at the children's play dome. They climbed around, and went down slides, and made a new friend. Then we explored the Rocket Garden, before heading in to have lunch with Astronaut John Fabian.

I was a little disappointed with the lunch part of the experience. Half the water glasses on our table were dirty, and the food consisted of a pretty limited buffet. It was good food, but not much variety. Meeting John Fabian more than made up for it. He spoke to the group about his experiences, some of his personal heros, and climate change. Apparently, climate change is a pretty hot topic among those who have been to space, and have seen first hand the changes sweeping our planet.

Then he opened the floor to questions from the audience. Nico decided to ask not one, not two, but three questions. The first was "How far away are the satellites?" to which Mr. Fabian replied it depends on which satellites he meant. Spy satellites are a mere 100 miles up, but he couldn't reveal more than that. Nico's second question was "What is the difference between (being in) water and space." The answer is, there is still gravity and viscosity in water, but not in space. And Nico's final question was, "How long does it take to get to Pluto?" A probe was launched five years ago, and still has not reached it. So a long, long time.

After lunch, and a quick picture with John Fabian, we headed over to The Shuttle Launch Experience. Unfortunately Lucas was just an inch too short to ride, but he was able to watch from the observation room while Timmy and I took turns riding with Nico. It was a pretty realistic simulation, and Nico loved it.

We ventured into the Star Trek Live show, where Cadet Timmy was called up on stage to be scanned by a time-traveling Vulcan. Then after a quick ice cream stop, we headed in to watch Hubble 3D on IMAX. The images from the Hubble Telescope are breathtaking, and seeing them in 3D almost brought me to tears. But KSC needs to do a huge overhaul on the film. There were many black spots cropping up through out the movie, and at times it was difficult to watch.

Made a quick stop in the gift shop, where Nico picked out a t-shirt, and Lucas picked out a rocket/shuttle pack of toys, before departing.

The weather was perfect, the boys were engaging and well-behaved, and overall it was a wonderful day! I'm glad I decided to wait until they were a bit older before venturing into this territory, but now that I know they can handle it, I look forward to many more trips like this.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Are video games replacing board games?

They are in my house.

It's not that my kids dislike traditional board games. In fact, while they were spending two months with my parents, they played board games all the time. Of course that was because there were no video games available.

I think it's mostly my fault. I dislike board games, in the sense that they have so many small pieces that get lost, and need to be set up. Video games are just easier, because everything is virtual. Turn it on, and go.

I do occasionally pull out the board games. I've taught the boys how to play chess and checkers. We've played Candyland, Chutes and Ladder, and Sorry. I even bought them some new games, Guess Who, Connect Four, and Operation along with a couple new card games, for Christmas. Those games have yet to be opened. But the new video games they got for Christmas have been put to good use.

It's not as though I turn on the video games to use as a babysitter either. We are a gaming family. There are many games I simply cannot play, or watch the boys play, because I get pretty bad motion sickness. Luckily there are many games where that is not an issue, and so we all play together. The time that families of yesteryear were gathered around the table with their board games, my family is spending gathered around the t.v. with controllers in our hands instead of dice.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Oakland Nature Preserve



We took a field trip this morning to the Oakland Nature Preserve with our home-school group. It included a three hour, guided tour. Despite the chilly weather, we had a fabulous time.

The tour started out along the boardwalk through the wetlands. Mr. Clay, our tour guide, explained that the boardwalk follows the flow of water. So whenever there is a twist or turn, it's because the water twists and turns on its way down hill toward the lake. Along the way, Mr. Clay stopped every so often to explain different parts of the wetlands to us. He explained that sometimes when trees die, they remain standing up right, and become homes to all kinds of animals and insects. Birds also use the trees to hide nuts and berries, so they can find them later when food becomes scarce.

We also learned that even though most of the plant life was brown and crinkly, it was not dead. Once warmer weather returns, those plants will spring back to life, and the wetlands will be lush and green once more.

Several trees were fallen over, and the kids asked if beavers were the culprits. As it turns out, the soft muddy ground, sometimes causes the trees to fall over on their own. When those trees threaten to fall across the boardwalk, people go in and cut the tree, so it will fall in the opposite direction. The fallen trees remain in place, so as they decay, they feed nutrients back into the habitat.

Off the boardwalk, was a path that led to a gazebo, outdoor classroom, and a great climbing tree. All the kids took turns climbing the tree, and jumping across the wooden benches where classes are taught. It turns out the person who owns the land beside the preserve, has the unusual hobby of raising exotic animals. So while we were on that side we peeked thru the fence and got to see a couple Emus prancing about.

Back on the boardwalk, we followed it around to Lake Apopka. Although there are several large alligators in the lake, we were not fortunate enough to spot any today. They were probably hiding away from the cold, not to mention the loud group of kids thundering about. We did spot a lot of white foam floating atop the surface of the lake. Mr. Clay explained that the foam was secreted by algae, because of the cold, and was perfectly normal.

Out of the wetlands, and closer to the visitor center, was a large area that was being restored to it's natural habitat, after spending several decades as an orange grove. We explored thru there for a bit, and that was where we spotted an owl, flying high in the trees. The owl spied down on us, while we came across a bush of beautyberries, which each child promptly picked and tried, after getting the go ahead from Mr. Clay. Beautyberries are small purple berries, sometimes made into wine or juice, but an abundance of sugar must be added to mask their somewhat bitter taste.

Back at the visitor center, Mr. Clay let the kids have an encounter with a snapping turtle, and a very friendly snake. They also got to explore a small museum, filled with some Florida historical artifacts, as well as native Florida wild life remains.

Lucas told me the snake was his favorite part of the trip, and Nico concurred, but also added that he had a lot of fun jumping across the benches at the outdoor classroom. Our group is talking about making this part of our monthly routine, and I couldn't be happier with that idea. In fact, before we even left, Nico was asking if we could return next month, when they have their new alligator pools finished.