Our first week of unschooling

Unschooling Ninjas!

Our first week of unschooling has been an amazing journey.  I have been so focused on the boys and I have been more present than at anytime in my life.  I think a lot of  that has to do with the fact that I am reporting on our learning and it has forced me to be aware of how Lan is learning, what is working and what isn’t, and noticing all the little things that I might have missed if I wasn’t present in my mind.

A recurring theme I have been seeing is Lan’s love and friendship with Kayden.  He has been helping Kayden with his counting, encouraging him by telling him what a good job he is doing, and playing with him so well.

I’ve also had a few uncertainties this week.  Some of my friends have expressed to me that their children who have started Kindergarten this year are absolutely loving it.  I guess I’m still having a battle, albeit small….Am I doing the right thing?   But luckily, when I start to have these feelings, something happens to reassure me.  Things like the other day Lan and I held hands through our lunch time.  If he was at school we wouldn’t have had that special moment between us.

Our learning has been completely organic.  While playing with foam letters in the bathtub he spelled and read “fox” all by himself.  He made a craft with leaves we collected and then presented it to his Grandma.  While looking at a picture of the layers of earth he asked me “How come we don’t fall off the earth?”  Which has lead us to searching out books on gravity.  We’ve picked strawberries, blackberries, and peppers this week and talked about why food grown close to us is so much better than food that comes from other countries.  We’ve visited the art gallery, the library, the park, the pier, the Japanese gardens, and have had 3 dinners with extended family.

I am looking forward to the weeks to come!

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On Homeschooling

What if I could raise my  children to have intense curiousity?  What if they became adults who’s self esteem was not only in tact but radiant?  What if they chose their clothing not for the name on them but because it appeased their sense of style?  What if all of their decisions were made with concern for the earth and humanity?  What if they could be truly global citizens that not only said everyone was equal but truly lived that thought through their actions?  What if they learned to learn, learned to love, and loved to learn?  And what if we really could accomplish all of my ‘what ifs?’

I always knew that at some point I would be homeschooling my children because I always knew that it was in our future to travel as a family.  I did not, however, know at what point in their education I would be doing it.  Lan will be starting Kindergarten this year and I enrolled him in our local school last winter……then I came home and cried.  Now this might be an emotion that many mothers encounter when they realize that their baby is all grown up and it is time for them to head off to school but for me it was more than that.  All the way down to my core the situation didn’t feel right.  Mike and I had many discussions about if we were doing the right thing.  We decided it would be good for his socialization and we were sure he would have a great time there.  However, my nagging feeling of unease did not desist.   It was a few months later that the provincial government announced that kindergarten would change from half day to full day.

I know full day kindergarten is a godsend to many families who need to have two incomes to support themselves, but for me it was the straw that broke the camels back.  Having my four year old, whose never gone to pre-school or daycare, away from our family for six and a half hours a day is just not something I am willing to do at this point.  So out came the library card and the Internet and I searched for any information I could get my hands on for homeschooling.

When I came across the word ‘unschooling’ I was fascinated.  The premise of unschooling is letting your child learn about whatever they are interested in.  The parents role is more a facilitator than teacher.  If they are interested in dinosaurs that is what is studied, and it is studied until there is no more interest or until they move on to another subject.  There is no testing, no workbooks (unless the child likes to do them), no mandatory subjects.  The objective is to keep the child’s natural curiosity in tact.  Something which I believe schools fail to do.  They are never forced to learn something they aren’t interested  in and never interrupted when they have found something they are.

We have now enrolled him in a program called Self-Design.  Mike and I were able to choose the teacher we want to work with and we will do weekly reporting logging our activities and interests.  Our learning consultant then gives suggestions which we may choose to follow or not follow and then puts our reports into standardized ones for the Ministry of Education.  This way he will still be ‘in the system’ but apart from it.

The more I learn about unschooling the more excited I get about actually doing it.  What an amazing concept to let your child follow their bliss!  In remembering my school days I shake my head about what I actually learned.  Sure I got good grades but what did I learn?  All that information I studied for tests was promptly forgotten after the test was written because, after all, I needed to make room in my brain for all the facts on the next test!  But I did learn lots of other stuff.  I learned to make fun of other children to make myself feel better or more important.  I learned that other children making fun of me made me cower and pretend to be less than I am.  I learned to shirk away from certain people out of fear.  I learned how 12 years of school can do such harm to my self esteem that another 12 years later I am still suffering from its effects.  I learned that there are some really amazing teachers out there but the majority of them down right suck.  I learned to be bored.

I’ve had a lot of mixed reactions about my decision to homeschool.  Some of the people I thought would be least supportive have surprisingly been the most.  Some just shake their head and say something like “I don’t know how you’ll do it.”  And then there are those who have engaged me in heated debates about it.  The biggest concern seems to be the socialization aspect.  We’ve been taught that proper socialization comes from sticking a child in a room full of 30 other children the exact same age.  The more I think of this and the more I read on the subject the more I object to this thought.  Proper socialization comes from experiences and conversations with people of all ages and all walks of life.   In fact, after meeting some local homeschooling families I have been amazed at the social skills of the children!  They aren’t afraid to talk to adults because they haven’t been conditioned that the only cool people to talk to are those the same age as them!

Another comment that sparked debate was “How will you prepare them from the real world?”  My answer “Umm…. don’t we live in the real world?”  Homeschooling doesn’t mean sitting at home day after day and sheltering my family from the world.  In fact, our situation is the exact opposite.  Not only will we be homeschooling, we will be worldschooling!  Imagine all the things we will learn through osmosis traveling together!  History, politics, culture, geography, language, food, climate, zoology the list is endless.

I am at complete peace with my decision to unschool and I am very excited to be starting it in a few weeks.  I am so grateful that this is an option for me, we are so blessed that we live in Canada.

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It’s tragic, how I can live in such a beautiful place and not be inspired by the scenery every time I step out the door.  It’s like I’ve become desensitized, taking for granted just how amazing my little area of the world is.  I remember after 10 months in Asia, in the car ride home from the airport, I woke up just as we were coming over the crest of the mountain into our valley.  It was as if I was seeing it for the first time and maybe in a sense I was.  I was awestruck at the beauty and tranquility of the lakes, the desert mountains, the vineyards.  My eyes were as wide as a tourists eyes must be when they behold this valley I call home.

The view near our house

In remembering this feeling I am committing myself to seeing my surroundings with new eyes.  I am going to feel like a tourist and get out there and do things!  Swim more, walk more, ride more, observe more and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.  Who says you have to be on vacation to act like you are having a vacation!  So in the months leading up to our true departure I will be on a conscious stay-cation!

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A Low Impact Birthday

My little baby is turning three!  Amazing how fast time goes by.  This year we decided to have a birthday party with as little impact on the environment as we could.  Every time I go to a birthday party with the plastic plates, forks and table clothes it makes me sad inside.  I wanted to avoid the wasteful, chaotic typical birthday with something small, low key, and intimate.  Here is what I sent out as an evite:

Here is your e-vite for our intentional, low impact birthday party for Kayden. We are doing things a little different this year so here is the scoop….

Saturday, August 7 at around 4:30pm (or as soon as you can get here), you are invited to a vegetarian dinner at our house. This will be a casual gathering of friends with good food, conversation, laughs and maybe a round of cranium.

We have two requests of our guests and they are that if you choose to bring a present for Kayden it be second-hand or hand-me-down, wrapped in something eco-friendly such as newspaper, cloth, or reusable bag.

We would also love it if you could make the birthday cards and include a comment about something that you think is special about Kayden.

We are trying to start a new tradition for our birthdays by coming together to intentionally celebrate our children without harming the earth and we hope you will attend!

The party was a great success.  The kids played really well together the entire time, everyone enjoyed the vegetarian tacos, and best of all NOTHING was put in the garbage.  Pretty darn good if you ask me!
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How we do it…..

You might ask, “How can you afford to stop working and travel for an extended period of time?”  My simple answer is, “Because we want too.”  You can do anything you set your mind to!  It’s just a matter of deciding that you really want to do it and then making the sacrifices to make it happen.  And for us, it isn’t about too much sacrifice.

Mike and I are environmentalists.  We built the house we now live in ourselves.  I designed the house and Mike built it and we really make a great team.  I incorporated passive solar design principles, the exterior walls are insulated concrete forms, and the floor is polished concrete.  Our sole heating source is in-floor-radiant heat which is powered by an on-demand water heater.  We don’t have air-conditioning because we are so well insulated that we don’t need it!  This makes the house very affordable to heat and cool, even in our hot summers and cold winters.  All our lighting and appliances are energy efficient, our faucets are low flow, and our only irrigation is for our organic vegetable garden.  We take pride in the fact that our house sits lightly on the earth and on our pocket books.

We have an inexpensive lifestyle compared with your average first world family.  We very rarely buy anything new.  I would say 95% of our family’s clothes are second hand (but damn we look good!)  When we needed a new toaster, I waited three weeks until I found one for $5 at a garage sale!  We live close to town so most of the time we walk instead of drive.  We have basic cable  and we record the few shows we watch to avoid the unpleasantness of commercials.  We have a rule of eating no meat at home to lesson our impact on the environment and this has allowed me to buy all the organic produce I can find.  The area we live in is bountiful in the summer and we pick local and organic fruits and vegetables and freeze them for winter.  I would say our only budget breaker is that we go out to eat way too often.  But what can I say?  We love good food!

By leading voluntary simplistic lives we can keep on paying down the debt we incurred from building our house.  Then, come spring, we will fund our trip with the money from our house sale.

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Hello world!

Here’s the plan…..In February of 2011 we will be putting our house on the market.  When it sells (hopefully very quickly) we will be taking our two children on an amazing, open ended adventure.  Where we go first will ultimately depend on the timing of our home’s sale, but we do know that we will  end up and concentrate on South East Asia.  Our plans are very flexible.  We plan to travel very slowly and really take the time to immerse ourselves in culture and above all to enjoy each other.

So our adventure could be starting in as little as seven months and it is time to start the preparation.  I will be blogging about the steps leading up to departure as well as my random thoughts about voluntary simplicity, the environment, our children, and life in general.

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