Tag: education

“Screen Time”

We get the “my kids are doing nothing but play video games/watch tv/look at a screen and I can’t stand it, what should I do?” question about once every week or so on our  (now huge) Christian unschooling Facebook group. It has become the norm. We are all kind of tired of it. Really. For many reasons. Mostly because we hear the fear, we know the paradigm shift hasn’t occurred yet, and  we know it will be a fight to get there, and that part is exhausting. The following is a recent response that I wrote while super-short on sleep 😀 but which ended up covering all the basics in one place.

Esther playing Sims.
Esther playing Sims.

To pull from something my dear friend Pam often points out; how much time is “nothing other than game on their PC/ds/Wii”. Do they get up to get a drink? Go to the bathroom? Eat something? Sleep? If they are doing those things then clarify. They are doing something other than just playing games. They are probably getting up. They may even jump around, do other things. They may spend a few minutes getting something, look something up, they may even go play with something else for a while, go outside, play together beside the tv, they are very likely doing something else too. We need to see those things and recognize that no, the child is not spending “all their time”, they are spending more time than we feel comfortable with.  When we start out with a generalization, it is really hard to get from the viewpoint of seeing it in a negative light to seeing “screens” as many different types of learning and internal things going on and the screen itself as just the media they are getting those things.

Rachel watching anime.
Rachel watching anime.

My husband spends the majority of his day in front of a screen. Working, playing, socializing. He does many different things and yes, he has always preferred doing things in front of a computer screen to elsewhere- there are just so many more things to do, it is a vast world full of many, many types of media in one place- no huge mess to clean up when he wants to play a game, he can write quickly and efficiently, read quickly and move between many different things to read, watch a movie, change the movie, and so on.  It is an amazing, miraculous thing that allows us to communicate with our friends across the world (he collaborates with people all across the US weekly on huge projects), work anywhere (he works with people from all across the globe) and so on. It is amazing that this technology is available in our lifetimes and our children get to learn the language of it now, easily, without fear.  Our kids are going to live in a world where much of their time is going to be in front of the computer. Some people won’t, but the vast majority will. They will use it for work, for play, for socialization, and as unschoolers we have the freedom to let them learn it right now, first hand, and be proficient at it. This is a huge boon compared to kids who are stuck in a classroom unable to look things up as they are interested. Our kids will be well prepared for the future, right now.

 “Technology is here to stay. So why would I choose to keep my kids illiterate in the language that they may need for the future? A half an hour a day does not give kids time to explore the land scape.” ~Aza Donnelly

That said, if you are still really uncomfortable with how much time they are spending, then you get off the computer (you are here, reading this, communicating with others, online) and do really cool things out where they will see. Things that they will love. You make things available that go with what they love on their games (you will probably have to get online to research those things). You find things that associate with what they are doing so there is a connection- if they are into a game that has an associated tv show or other media then there are probably lots of  products out there related to it- pick up a book connected with it, or some figurines, or whatever. If there is a website that has info about the game they are playing (hints, a walkthrough, a wiki- my kids learned to navigate the internet and read because they loved looking up info for their games) put it on your screen and show it to them. If the fact that they would be reading it on a screen bothers you, then you can often buy  a gamers guide but they do get expensive. Offer to help them create a database of the characters and their skills, or print up ones you find online for quick reference. Pick up a gaming magazine for kids, or a book about the collectibles or whatever. Find ways you can connect with the kids where they are, ask them about the games, the shows, whatever. Bring them healthy finger foods if you are worried about what they are eating or that they aren’t eating enough. Ask them about the game, what they are playing, the plot, the people in the games. Let them know you are thinking about them  and want to encourage their interests. Find some aspect you can understand and join them where they are.

Issac playing online with a friend.
Issac playing online with a friend.

This will help you connect with them and really get a feel for what they are getting out of all the things they do on that form of media, and maybe even why. And as they feel you are really trying and aren’t going to “take it away” and that you aren’t frowning about it at them, they will loosen their hold on it a bit and gradually they will start joining you in the cool things you are doing (not all), they will start looking at the books, playing with the associated toys or crafts, and so on. (Many of us have minecraft posters on the wall, or Pokemon, or Skylanders, or Terraria, and books, and action figures, stuffies, houses full of geek references.) Meeting them where they are will help you feel connection with them again (which is usually where the parents panic when they start feeling the kids are doing “nothing but screen things”.) It takes time for both sides, but it is like learning another language and our kids get to do it first-hand and be prepared for this changing world where screens are an everyday all the time part of our lives.


Unschooling in the House

A random list of unschooly things going on in our household over the last few weeks (partially pulled from my twitter/facebook accounts) and including the learning Shamus and I are doing since it all goes together that way.


Issac is:

  • Spending large quantities of time playing Terraria and Roblox with friends online.  I love that my shy, introverted boy has found friends his age that are interested in the same thing and has found a way of playing that does not overtax his introverted-ness.  When he needs quiet he walks away from the computer (often leaving Skype open… need to work on that).  He has always talked through whatever he is doing and being able to talk to someone actually involved in what he is doing is a blessing.  He is still shy in person to some extent but this has REALLY helped him come around a bend.  He is no longer afraid of playing on the unschool kids Minecraft server (he was afraid people would talk to him and he would have to respond– he prefers building in Minecraft on his own projects.)
  • Issac’s reading and writing skills have grown significantly.  He is still nervous of typing/writing unless he can copy something but he just had me add youtube videos to his growing list of favorite movies to watch (found 3-2-1 Contact and Square One on youtube and he has been loving them.)  He is now confident that he can type in things he has written down, and confident that he can read what I write for him.  In fact, yesterday he pointed out that he is now putting closed captioning on on all the videos on Netflix that has it because he is enjoying reading what they are saying.  He also had me make a food chart/menu plan for him so he is more confident getting his own foods. It is not a legalistic chart, just suggestions so he doesn’t have to make decisions when hungry.  I love that he is confident enough in his reading skills now that he ASKED me to make him a food chart and it didn’t even occur to him to worry about being able to read it.
  • He continues in his fascination with all things science and math though I recently heard him declare that he was “no good at math” which is funny because this is the kid that uses math regularly without thought and has always thought of it as a game.  I think it was him repeating what he had heard both from his sisters (who are the same way– good at it but imitating what they hear and know is expected) and what he has heard on iCarly and on Ned’s Declassified.
  • Recently he has taken to wanting to watch kung fu movies with me (Jackie Chan and Jet Li with the occasional Bruce Li thrown in) which is another testament to his reading since they are mostly the older ones that have subtitles.  He also watches my Korean dramas with me (especially the ones with action) and no longer complains of subtitles there.
  • Doing tons of experiments with bubbles and various bubble solutions– trying to figure out how water tension works and why.
  • He is teaching me how to play Spore Hero– he takes great pleasure in this.
  • He is showing interest in maybe, possibly joining us in Just Dance 2 (took him a year to try Dance Dance Revolution) now that we have Kung Fu Fighting and Mambo No. 5.  He also loves the song Rockafella Skank but thinks the dance is too embarrassing.

Esther is:

Suddenly looking freakily like Uma Thurman.
  • Recording Minecraft lets play videos with friends that she has been posting on Youtube.
  • Designing a dragon from texture pack up in Minecraft so she could hav ea cool desktop background.
  • Spending lots of time learning about the ins and outs of the computer so she can personalize her user account on the shared computer.  This is carrying over into interest in designing websites.  She now wants me to install a wordpress website for her so she can learn to personalize it.
  • Reading, reading, reading.  She was going kind of nuts because she ran out of books– so we downloaded a whole slew of free ones from Amazon plus she borrowed the Eragon series from my brother.
  • Spending a lot of time drawing and painting– often beside me when I am working.  She is growing by leaps and bounds and is very comfortable in her artistic skin.  In fact I just shared this on Facebook:
    • Just saw Essie on chat say confidently “I am an artist.”   And she is. She spends a lot of her time not spent reading and writing and on the computer drawing and painting. She sits by me when I work, asks questions, and experiments.
    • The thing is she is just like I was EXCEPT she has the confidence to call herself an artist and behave accordingly. It took me YEARS to get that confidence (ps all the way, with all free time spent reteaching what supposed to learn in school but basically unschooled all summer). I internalized all the criticism I received in school and at home and despite drawing and painting from the time I was Essie’s age I didn’t “call” myself an artist until I was in my 30’s.
    • If that confidence and comfort with self (and love of the Lord) is all she takes away from our unschooling lifestyle, then it is WELL worth it.
  • Writing a Minecraft fan fiction novel  She read it aloud what she (with a friend who was spell checking it and giving ideas) had written and it was kind of shocking– it sounded like a real novel. Shamus, who is working on his 3rd novel went on and on about how her pacing was perfect, how she had a good solid voice, etc. Not surprising since she reads constantly but it was a huge jump forward from the last story she wrote (about a year ago.)
  • Using tutorials to teach herself Blender (3-d object creator/animator.) This is especially amazing because my husband and I both used Truspace to design avatars for a game years ago and Blender was too much learning curve.


Rachel is:

Essie and Rach voluneered to pull up old tiles and replace them-- because it "looked fun" and apparently it was.
  • Using youtube as a piano instructor for harder songs than learning at class.  Currently learning a relatively simple (compared to the full version) “Moonlight Sonata”.
  • Researching a doll found at the thrift shop in order to sell it on Ebay.  Finding out prices, finding out how much it might be worth, learning to photograph it for ebay, learning how to sell on ebay.
  • Writing a parody of a song for a youtube video.  Practicing singing the song, learning how to record it, as well as learning video editing.
  • Weekly babysitting– voluntary  1 day plus in exchange for piano lessons the other– the Friday one means she gets up, packs a lunch, and gets herself out the door on her own because lately I have been sleeping way later.
  • Taking lots of photos and learning how to take better photos.  She is considering using the money she has been saving to buy a decent camera.
  • Spending time with online friends; chatting, playing Words with Friends, and Tripletown.
  • Doing a lot more around the house on her own.  She is currently sleeping afternoon through evening so  I will wake up to find various jobs around the house done.  Which is really pretty awesome.


Shamus is:

  • Playing a game I am not allowed to talk about because it is still in Alpha and he had to sign an NDA, but I can say he loves it.
  • Working on his next book (which I get to read and LOVE)– a completely different setting from this one.
  • Writing stuff for the Escapist.
  • Recording Spoiler Warning.
  • Redesigning a website.


Oh yeah, I chopped my hair off-- about 10 inches.
  • I am working on illustrations for Shamus’ book.  (You can see them on my Facebook page if interested: https://www.facebook.com/ElasahArt)
  • Editing the final revision of Shamus ‘ book.
  • Formatting Shamus’ book.
  • Attempting to keep the house in order for showings and fix up what we are able to fix.
  • Feeling like I need to share things more online…so I am trying to do that.
  • Helping Esther with some art questions she has.
  • Helping Rachel figure out how best to record.
  • Helping Issac with computer questions.
  • Reading James A Owen’s Imaginarium Geographica series which is prompting all kinds of thoughts about classical writers.
  • Reading a 1920’s girl detective story I found for free for the Kindle.  Very fun.  Prompting much thought about the changes in language and slang from then to now.

Plank Pullin’: Crying into the Dishwater

For the first time in several years (at least–can’t remember the last time honestly) I am joining in a weekly meme: Jessica’s Plank Pullin’. Hop on over and read hers (which I totally identify with, or would if we actually had people randomly stopping by– in our case we still have all elderly neighbors and my kids are the ones going visiting.)

So, if you have been paying attention you know we are doing an experiment this week. In case you don’t have the energy to read through my wall of words here’s a run down:

This week I am fasting from telling the kids to do chores or insisting they do what I ask in general (the fast policy is ask once then let it go–it is not required obedience because I am asking not insisting).  They are 13, 11, and 9.  They know how the house runs.  There have been nightly fights since we instituted the “kids are in charge of the dishes” rule 6 months ago and I have had enough as have they–thus the fast (which may extend to all the time–usually my character fasts do in the end).


The problem is, my attitude about it stinks, as does theirs.  I can’t fix theirs but I CAN fix mine, which is where this week’s plank pullin’ comes in.

We have been doing pretty well– I had been making sure I asked for help only when the kids weren’t actively busy with something.  So if I said, “Hey, could someone run down and check the laundry” someone usually would.  But last night my attitude with a healthy dose of hormones reared its ugly head and when you live in a house with pre-/teen girls, THEIR hormones are also raging.

We had spent all day out shopping– the exhausting sort– and I was exhausted, wiped out, and REALLY didn’t want to do dishes.

See, growing up my parents didn’t get a dishwasher until I moved out– why should they when my brother and I made perfectly good dishwashers.  They got it when I moved out because my middle brother was busy with all sorts of after school activities and was never home to DO dishes, my other brother being a baby.  I’m not bitter. So I grew up hating doing dishes even though when my brother  helped it was kind of fun.  Despite how we acted around our parents we really enjoyed each other’s company and made doing dishes fun.  The result of this is I hate doing dishes but don’t mind so much if it gives me a chance to hang out with someone.

When I asked for help last night everyone decided they would rather do something else.  So I sobbed into the soapy water instead of yelling (because if I am on a fast and call it that then I rememberand I refused to yell–though BOY was it tempting.)  This led to a big wet, whiny talk with God about how I hated doing dishes alone and why was I the one who had to pick up all the slack and do all the extra work that needs done and how the kids know my love language is service and not one of them could be bothered to even offer to help and waaaaaaaahhhh.

Now remember, part of this experiment is that I want my kids to get a better attitude about work and not go about bossing each other and to quit looking at work as something to be avoided and foisted off on others.  Here I was whining about how I wanted my kids to come in and naturally offer to help without even being asked and that they wouldn’t even do it if I asked gently.  Meanwhile God often has to kick me in the rear (or shut down my computer) to get me going in the proper direction even though I should know what He wants me to do (I do have a conscience and the Holy Spirit uses it liberally) and even when He straight out asks I tend to balk.  So my love language is service and here I am whining about serving because I want others to serve me instead meanwhile I don’t pay near enough attention to the service that God is asking me to do.  Hmmm.  Big ol’ plank there.

And then, after all my whining and fussing I realized there really weren’t that many dishes after all (a little over a sink full) and suddenly I was done and I remembered that doing dishes isn’t really that bad and I was just really pulling the same stunt as my kids (why do I have to be the one to do it, why can’t someone else.)

A few minutes later, though still disappointed in my kids, my attitude had recovered.  I walked into the office and my boy ran up to me and said, “I know I didn’t help with the dishes but look, I cleaned up your desk for you!”  And he did, my desk looked really nice (and everything was where I usually put it so I could find it– and yes, it did make me feel loved–I have a very silly heart. :))  A few minutes later Rach asked, “Didn’t anyone help you with the dishes?”  I replied that no one had and why would she expect someone else to if she wouldn’t (okay, a bit of attitude lingering but her younger sister is the one who usually steps in and helps and Rach knows it).

Obviously I have some personal heart issues/attitude to address before I attempt to address those in my children.  So I consider it temporarily adjusted– I know I will have more adjusting to do but that is really what a fast is usually about (for me anyway) and fasts tend to bring out the big heart issues God wants to work on right now and this one is a doozy.


Its a post!

Look at me, sitting here, writing a blog post! YAH ME!

No, I have not been in the mood to actually share anything for some time. Instead we have been busy doing and being, and living.  So what have we been doing?

Mr. Shamus Awesomepants

*Working.  A lot. Shamus is working 60 to 80 hr weeks trying to keep afloat.  I am taking on (and getting) more painting commissions.  The kids have been helping by attempting to keep the house in some semblance of order.  We are trying to catch up on all the bills that didn’t get paid when we waited an extra 2 quarters for a rather large quarterly check that didn’t come.  We may still lose our house as fall out from that time but we are working hard trying to deal with the situation.

Part of this means that I have a rather large project coming up very quickly that I am VERY excited about but am not sure if I can really talk about yet.  I am very excited about it and if it all works out then in the end I will have my art work on a published card game. In fact, if it does work out then I am going to be sending you all that direction to try to get you to buy said card game because I will be getting a cut of the proceeds and it will REALLY help both our family, and the family I am working with, out.  And the game really looks fun and I get to do all the artwork for it, which is big, but very exciting.  (We just finally worked out the details, I think, and I should be able to start the work on it soon.)  And in this I ask for prayer since it means I will be working off and on on it through the summer (hoping to publish in the fall) and I am really praying that my RA keeps out of the way so I can focus on painting.  I also have lots of little projects trickling in here and there that are helping us out and which are rather fun to do.  In other words, God is providing.  It is a lot of work (the lottery would be SO MUCH EASIER) but we are getting to do what we love.

*Healing.  A lot. Between heartache and physical ache it has been a rough year so far.  We have slowly been healing.  God has been working on our hearts.  For me personally there have been many things that he has had to do heart surgery on.

One of the things He used was  John and Stasi Eldredge’s new book Love and War, which I REALLY need to do a review on (got a preview copy).  First let me say it is awesome!!!!!  There is something for you regardless of where you are in your marriage and just because one part doesn’t apply other parts will.  Also it helped me deal with some other, non-marriage related stuff that I needed to deal with (as have 3 absolutely wonderful friends who have been praying through with me.)

Alameda Park 2010
Rachel up a tree

Also, the girls have been dealing with some heart issues, and today they joined me in beginning Stasi Eldredge’s study guide of Captivating.  I need to get back a hold of the original book but for now the study guide is working out just right to discuss with a 10 and a 12 year old girl.  We are dealing with all the stuff that comes with being that age and all the changes and it was really good for Rach to realize she is NOT alone in this.

And on to the physical healing.  My RA has been bad this year, as has Rachel’s, plus she has had several SJS episodes (one of which triggered the death of a brand new molar– tomorrow we get to go get a root canal at a specialist.  — Please be praying that Rach will do well, that they will not need antibiotics, that it will go smoothly, and that our insurance will cover it.)

Alameda Park 2010
Rachel wading in the creek

Finally Rach  and I sat down and talked about what was triggering us having such a bad year and realized that we had totally fallen off the wagon regarding our eating, especially Rachel.  In the past we have found that going on the candida diet significantly reduces flare ups and Rach’s reactions.  And so she and I decided we needed to go back on the diet, and then the other two decided to join us, to varying degrees.  The down side of that is that it is tricky and expensive but if it helps our health then it is well worth it.  Already I have noticed a huge difference in Rachel’s attitude, mood swings, etc.

* Learning.  A lot.  There has been so much learning going on that I am finding it hard to keep track of it all.  Because the kids are autodidactic I often don’t even realize what all they have absorbed.  And lately it has been a nearly constant surprise.  We will be discussing something, anything, and they will say something about the topic that totally knocks me off my feet.  This happens regardless of topic.  One minute it is mathematical (out of the blue Issac informs me that 3 threes make 9 therefore 4 threes  make 12 and so on), historical (Esther randomly asks me what Thomas Jefferson did AFTER he wrote the Declaration of Independence then decides to go ask her sister because she probably knows), spelling (all three are suddenly writing, a lot, and spelling a lot of words corerctly that I didn’t realize they knew), reading (all three signed up for the library reading program and are reading the maximum # of books –not just for the prize but because they want to), etc.

Alameda Park 2010
"Cool!!! A dead crayfish!"

This morning Issac was watching me cook egg and was giggling and singing about how he loved science and how awesome it was that God gave us science to explore (this was brought on by seeing the hot air rise and make the egg bubble up).  All three LOVE Mythbusters but after watching so many time have started to point out all the things that they didn’t do and other ways they could have tested each myth.  We also continue to read the Bible daily (are finishing Job tonight and all three are actively discussing what is going on and are really interested in listening.)

Alameda Park 2010
"Look at this awesome dragonfly! It looks like it is changing colors!"
Alameda Park 2010
And this is the awesome dragonfly--Esther took this photo standing in the water holding my camera! GAH.

*Going.  A lot. This is the first summer in a long time that we a had a reliable vehicle.  This means we have been spending a lot of it leaving the house– to go swimming at the pond, to the park to wade in the creek, VBS, to visit Grandma, and hopefully soon to several other locations I have been wanting to them to get to see.  Hopefully we will take a day trip to the American side of Niagara Falls.  We also hope to go to several local national parks, orienteering, and finally to visit friends that the kids talk to online but seldom see in real life.  Add in my baby brother’s high school graduation, graduation party, other family parties, and boy are we busy for us.

VBS @ Whitestown Rd. Baptist Church 2010
Esther attempting to fly while Rach plays four square @ VBS.

*Growing.  A lot.  No kidding.  Rachel at 12 is now bigger than I am.  Esther at 10 is bigger than I was at 13.  Issac is nearly as big as Esther.  Gah.

Alameda Park 2010
Pretending to climb the tree and Rachel, or something.

*Playing.  A lot.  Board games, puzzles, books, games, swimming, wading, video games, pretend, you name it.  Currently the big project is the kids are planning a play with friends we hope to visit in August.  Oh, and now the kids suddenly discovered  the fun of a “photo shoot”.  When they got bored at the park I asked them to pose however they liked for a few photos (hoping to get a good one to use for a Christmas card this year).  It went on for over an hour as they ran from cool old structure to interesting rock, posing in all sorts of silly ways.  It was awesome.  Now they want to go places just to take funny photos.

Alameda Park 2010
Alameda Park 2010
Love my kids!

December 2009: An Overview of life and learning

Because things have been crazy busy and I have yet to find a simple way to import my flickr images into WordPress. 🙂 Also my camera has dust on the lens and so has been tricky to use…which is why I am not taking so many photos. Sad.

The end of November was both my brother’s 18th birthday and Esther’s 10th birthday and since I didn’t get the photos up earlier they are in my December folder. (Aren’t I so organized?)

We made a whole bunch of chocolates and cookies (in between kid colds) and sent some geeky candy and chocolates off to The Escapist (who actually pay my hubby to write about what he loves– aren’t they awesome?) I made a whole lot more candy sushi, some more and some less realistic but due to camera issues this is the only that I got a photo of (the less realistic sushi was for people like my dad who couldn’t get past the whole “this looks like it should be raw fish and seaweed so I can’t enjoy it” thing.)
candy sushi

Also made Super Mario Brother’s stars
And Pac Man cookies

Had a whole slew of work to do– both painting and computer and then got to take photos of my mother-in-laws new furniture for her (and her angel on her tree so she could share it with her facebook friends).

And then we got lots of snow (well, for December)…

which made my skiing brother VERY happy.

Not to mention the kids

The rest of the time has been spent doing things I didn’t get photos of like:

  • Logging many hours on the Wii Fit Plus.  It was an early Christmas present because before the snow we got lots and lots of rain, cold, wet, muddy rain and there is nothing like Christmas excited stir crazy kids who can’t get outside to drive a mother mad.  Issac alone logged 3 hours a day skateboarding and juggling while Rach enjoyed the Super Mario Brother’s like obstacle course, and Esther enjoyed trying out all the new stuff.
  • Alf, Scooby Doo, and Fraggle Rock.  The kids were looking for a new old tv show to watch and discovered these , which have triggered many pop culture and real versus fiction discussions.
  • Baking, crafting, and candy making, not to mention much  present planning, purchasing, wrapping and kidding (mostly the kids using money they have been saving– we didn’t buy that much this year.)
  • Rach made and sent out Christmas cards (myself not so much– this year I am just trying to stay on target).
  • We have been spending a lot of evenings playing board games, especially Trivial Pursuit Young Players edition (from the 80’s).
  • The kids have been spending a lot of days “playing school”.  Apparently this entails less work books and work sheets and more copying straight from the dictionary.
  • Esther and Rachel have been using the dictionary to look up ancient writing and copy it, writing out various things in early alphabets.
  • Due to a hiccup in our finances (hubby is on part time at one of his jobs so we are relying more on  his kind of  quarterly paycheck from his other job)we have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to make our money go further.  The kids have been very active in this helping plan shopping trips and figuring out ways to save.
  • Issac is reading anything and everything though not really picking up books yet, instead preferring to spend much of his spare time in his room doing what looks like tossing all his small toys around the room but which apparently is him playing out huge battle scenes and building giant Construx robots which he occasionally runs down and tells us all about.
  • The kids have also been spending a lot of time using Garry’s Mod (the program Shamus uses in his comic making at times) to create various scenes and mini games for each other.
  • We are continuing our chronological trek through the Bible.  Due to taking a month off when my bmother passed away we are in the end of the Gospels now.  It is very interesting to read about the resurection at Christmas and I think has done more for our attitude thios Christmas than anything ever before– especially as we were reading the Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount when Christmas lists were being made and now as Christmas day approaches we are reading of Christ’s death and suffering.  VERY interesting and has led to many discussions and thinking processes which do not naturally occur when just reading about the newborn baby.  (For instance the 8 year old finally realizes that Jesus didn’t stay a baby like people always seem to imply at Christmas).
  • Climategate (another good article here), the Copenhaegen conference, and the giant East coast snowstorm and several other things have led to more than a few discussions of truth and why Chistians shouldn’t get too caught up in the world and what the world media says is going on and how to have discernment and peace when everyone is panicking.
  • Finally and most recently the girls have discovered the Dungeons and Dragons 4.0 handbook and decided they wanted to play.  They have thus been studying it, designing and rolling up characters, and learning how to figure out armor class, hit points, bonuses, etc.  For those who have no clue about these things–  think probability, formulas, and real life mathematical application combined with play acting, logic, and character development based along set lines of behavior (the girls chose character alignments based on their natural character–Rach by nature is Lawful Neutral and Esther is Neutral Good) but when they play they will have to make sure their characters adhere to those characteristics and make decisions based on that.  There also will be quite a lot of math and pencil paper work to do but they are both excited and willing to take it on. 🙂

Unschooling Notes: This post should have pictures.

  • Our house is trashed because there has been much learning going on.
  • Made the kids search for my missing field books and the Dangerous Book for Boys (because it had how to build a safe tree fort).
  • Kids found the books as well as several others that have all sorts of cool projects including one from 1890 and another from 1900-something.
  • Issac spent the rest of the day looking at my Audubon Society Wild Flower field book and pointing out plants we have around here.
  • We made our own laundry and dish detergent because Rachel wanted to –“It will save money, Mom, plus I want to be able to do things without having to rely on stores.”  *laundry detergent recipe from Dollar Stretcher *liquid dishwasher detergent here.
  • Issac wanted to continue making stuff so we made an eczema oil to later be used in a salve using this to help us along.  (For those who want to make their own herbal remedies I heartily recommend her medicinal herb course. )
  • In order to make the oil for eczema cream we needed to search our very cold yard (it was snowing) for chickweed and plantain.  Esther and Issac helped me find it, clean it, and break it up to make the oil.
  • In the meantime, Rachel, who found her Victorian era girls book mad a Victorian folding fan (the kind that uses cardboard and ribbon.)  She spent some time laughing about the prices things were expected to cost to make.
  • Rachel discovered Neti after suffering all day from sneezing/coughing/etc..  She decided we needed to try it, we did and it worked though it was a rather interesting experience.
  • Rach spent some time playing Animal Crossing with Beck’s daughter online via Wii (if you have a Wii and Animal Crossing and wireless my kids would LOVE to hook up with your kids.).  Lesson learned–next time make sure both girls get a turn as Esther was devastated that she didn’t get to play with her.
  • Esther set up a shop in Animal Crossing.
  • Issac pent an hour building all sorts of interesting things including a speed boat with water splashing behind with dominoes.
  • Spent multiple hours reading “The Lightening Thief” aloud.  It is a great series (Issac says it reminds him of Harry Potter–I like it much better than HP) –premise: what if Greek/Roman Gods were real and existed and did the things they did in modern day.  I am finally learning and understanding mythology and understanding why other have enjoyed mythology for so long while I didn’t get it.
  • Esther spent the rest of the evening and most of the morning reading from where I left off.
  • During Bible time the kids discovered my maps of Israel and my Kregel Pictorial Guide to the Tabernacle–this meant it took much longer to get to actually reading since we have been reading through the Old Testament and this book answered many questions they had about the Tabernacle and culture, even what the ark might have looked like and how the priests clothes looked.
  • The kids and I made a ton of baking mix the other day (recipe here) using coconut oil instead of shortening (since Rach is allergic to the preservatives in regular).  Esther has been making biscuits daily, and made them yesterday as well.
  • Did I mention that with all this our house is a bit of a mess.  I mean, it is swept and not really gross, just, there are dominoes all over the living room floor, blankets all over since we need something to cuddle under while reading, the kitchen is covered in making stuff materials, there are jars of oil sitting waiting to be made into salves, lots of dirty laundry, more dishes than usual, lots of baking sheets out (Essie likes them available so she can make biscuits quickly), oh, and books.  Lots of books.  They keep getting left out because they have all this interesting stuff in them.
  • Oh, and I have been working on websites, which means I am spending all my “free time” at the computer, and learning PHP, and getting things ready to do taxes.
  • Today Rach wrote a new post but I guess she didn’t post it yet.  She did however spend quite a bit of time proofreading and going over it so I assume it will go up tomorrow–it was great.
  • And Issac and Rachel and I spent several hours watching a Chinese tv show called Laughing in the Wind (in Mandarin with English subtitles) lots of “Gungfu”, a little blood, and lots of flying kicks.  Fun stuff and lots of questions about Chinese culture and mythology.

So, lots of learning going on.  Have some photos but no time to upload them.  Have a day in the life photo essay of Issac with Pappap that I need to get put together, but no time now.

Games We Play: About games and learning

This is part 1 of a series.  In this post I explain why we play games and how we play them so that kids don’t kill each other because they are loosing. I will also talk about how we adapted games to suit different age levels and how our games have changed as the kids have grown.Future posts in this series will give more specific games, ways we have played them, and the educational benefit of each.

Everyone was talking about games yesterday, which got me thinking about our favorites.  We play a lot of games around here–video games, board games, computer games, physical games, word games, you name it.  Games are a big part of an unschooling lifestyle and we, despite being a non-competitive family, love games.

We have found that games are the perfect prompt when nothing else will get a kid moving in the right direction.  When boredom hits it is time for a game.  A long car ride or a visit to the doctors office means it is time for a game.  A quiet evening or a rainy afternoon is time for a game.  Games are what happen when we have a guest, or when someone is away from home, when we are out of movies, or when we are waiting in line.  A question, more often than not, is enough to prompt a game.  Because we don’t do traditional school the kids think of questions as games.

“How do you spell…..?”

“Can you find….?”

“How do they make….?”

“Why do you think….?”

Occasionally a statement will start it.

“Nibble, nibble little ___________, who’s been nibbling on my ____________?”

“I have ____ _____and I need ____, how many more do I need?”

“I spy with my little eye something ______  .”

Sometimes the game is a simple question answer game, sometimes a game is on the computer, on the Wii, verbal, physical, a board game, a scavenger hunt, whatever suits the moment.  And almost always, the game gets adjusted to suit our needs.  Very seldom do we play strictly by the rules and  often (much to the consternation of my mother-in-law) the rules get tossed completely.  Games of Scrabble degrade into a crossword game of how many words can we make fit on the board.  Games of toss degrade into how far away can I get and still catch the football.  Even video games degrade into a game of pretend (Mario has spent more time being a brother to someone else than looking for Sunshine sprites) or games of dress-up (my kids have designed numerous superheroes for City of Heroes though they have never played the game.) More often than not it starts when someone playing a traditional game says “what if” and we all try to see what the results will be.  Sure it means that we don’t remember the original rules for most games but we get to adapt and create and learn all sorts of things we wouldn’t be learning if we stuck to the rules.

When the kids were younger we adapted every game so that it was simpler to play (we didn’t buy Jr. editions because those are usually boring but we simplified the rules so each child could play and enjoy themselves).  We also found that usually it is better NOT to keep score.  Yes, we keep score when we play with grownups but if we are playing ourselves we don’t.  Instead we focus on having fun and coming up with ways to make the game better.

If we do keep score then we use handicap or allow those who are at a different stage of learning to have different rules so the game is less frustrating.  When we play word games then the non-reader (or early reader) gets points for recognizing or spelling any real words instead of 3 letter words (like in Boggle).  If they are very new readers then they get a partial point just for finding a word even if it isn’t spelled quite right–I correct their spelling so they know next time but they get a half point for trying to find a word.  As they learn they get less of a cushion and are expected to do it right.  Now that I have all readers with only one new reader we play more by the original rules without much frustration.

My goal is for them to love the games without being frustrated at not having the knowledge or understanding to actually play. We find that by adapting the games to each child’s needs  they still enjoy playing even if they are not very good at it, and the bonus is that as they play and we adapt the rules they get better at the game until they get to the point where they can actually play the game for real.

Building cricket houses

Another thing the kids did while we were at the cottage was build fairy or cricket houses.  The found a section of land where crickets played and with a multitude of sticks built mini houses.

This is actually what lead up to building lean-tos and forts that they could actually play in.

To build your own break a whole bunch of sticks to similar lengths.  Stick four sticks straight down into the ground  in a rectangle or square then lay the the branches around the outside lincoln log style.  When finished you can try makeing a roof–Rachel used sticks, Essie used leaves.  Honestly you can do this however you like and let the kids see what works for them.  I only made a few suggestions–they spent several hours working on them without my input at all.

Unschooling Question: What about math and the other boring stuff they need?

I run into this question often from friends, family members, forums, and even unschooling friends.  Many are fearful enough that their children won’t naturally attempt to learn things they deem boring or important (often both) that they specifically purchase a curriculum for just that subject–regardless of whether the child has shown interest in it.

Issac waiting for a boat ride at the pond, investigating the metal loop that holds the boat to the dock.

I know this question well because we also struggled with it, and it is why we have been so slow to trust God on this whole unschooling thing.  Our conversations with God have gone something like this:

Us: “God, we know you are leading us towards letting the kids follow their interests but are you sure you don’t want us to have SOME structure? ”

God: “Do you trust me?”

Us: “Well yes but we really think they need to learn how to do basic computation on paper and a bit of spelling, and well, there are a few more things we really feel they should know.”

God : “Do you trust me?”

Us: “Well yes, but what about the boring stuff?   What about the stuff they hated doing when we did school the old fashioned way?”

God: “Do you trust me?”

Us: “Well yeah, but, what about all those battles that happened because they HATED the very things you are telling us to trust you about?”

God: “Do you TRUST me?”

Us: “Well, yeah, well, pretty much. Okay, well, yes, we trust you.”

God: “Then let go and let me lead them. Love me, love each other, show them your love for me, talk about me with them, talk to them about your interests, talk to them about their interests,  I will take care of the rest.”

Us: “Um, okay, if you are sure.”

God: “Trust me.”

Issac, despite owning multiple car ramps, built new ones from boxes he found and cut up.

We are trusting Him and it has been amazing.  While the kids still turn up their noses at the books and activities that we used for “school” they gather huge quantities of resources that they have not used before; text books, curriculum, activity books, how to books, language courses, whatever (many things I think are desperately boring).  Not only are they taking them but they are using them.

Issac using the Shark mini vac my grasndma gave me to clean the ENTIRE downstairs floor, without being asked.
Issac using the Shark mini vac my grandma gave me to clean the ENTIRE downstairs floor, without being asked.

While cleaning the area we stored text books and workbooks the kids took ALL the educational books that they had not used for “school”  to their own rooms for further study–included in the books the kids secured are a high school math curriculum set which Rachel found fascinating and wanted for her own with promises of discussion of it with Daddy, several atlases and dictionaries in English AND Polish, numerous workbooks (Issac has been doing them at bedtime to fall asleep), lots and lots of blank notebooks for writing stories and comics in, lots of science books (which Esther confiscated and which I am finding everywhere–a sure sign she is reading them and leaving them where she finished them), word searches and other activity books, and a slew of other things I have forgotten.

Issac preparing to for a ride in the motor boat.

They are using those materials and others they have found around the house.  Rachel finished the first draft of her book and is waiting for me to finish her website before she edits it (she has decided that now that she can write by hand with no backwards letters and spelling mostly right she should learn to type.)  Esther wrote a short story and has been making me comic books ever since.  Then the kids each got a math kit (compass, ruler, etc.) from Target’s clearance back to school sale and started using them for drawing pictures and graphs and charts.  This prompted Rachel to get several math books on charts and graphs out of the nonfiction section at the library.  They started measuring everything in the house, including figuring out the area of the living room and hall so we could get laminate flooring.  They have been adding, subtracting, multiplying measurements.  Our household looks like “If You Give a Mouse  a Cookie” only with learning.

Issac building IKEA furniture

After that came the Polish curriculum I found at the thrift shop.  I spent a few months in Poland while in college and the kids love stories about that as well as about my grandmother’s Polish family.  I figured maybe I would use it to touch up on what I do remember.  Instead Rachel snatched it up and has been practicing ever since.  She has also  added the Rosetta Stone demo version of the Polish language lesson to her studies.  Esther has joined her in this study and they run around the house naming things in Polish.

  • Esther demonstrating her knowlesdge of boat safety.Esther demonstrating her knowledge of boat safety.
  • And this is just the tip of the iceburg.  There is so much more going on than I can even keep track of.  Discussions have included: Scotland and Gaelic, square roots and cube roots, how mortgages work and the snowball effect, natural disasters and what causes them physically, how wind works, spelling and word order, reading big words and finding their meanings, adding and multiplying fractions (while baking), determining cloud direction, and a multitude of other things.  All of it has been interest led–the kids are running with this freedom to learn and explore, and are learning many things that I think are horribly dull and boring (but don’t tell them I said that.)

    The girls often stay up in the evening working at their table, writing, reading, drawing, or in this case creating charts and graphs for the fun of it.
    The girls often stay up in the evening working at their table, writing, reading, drawing, or in this case creating charts and graphs for the fun of it.

    I think the problem, and the reason for the question in the first place, is found in ourselves and our perception of what is interesting or boring.  Any child that has been public schooled OR trained to think of school in those terms, will think that way as well–except for the odd geekling like my husband was, who at age 10, despite hating school,  spent hours and hours programming a friend’s TI because he wanted to, or like myself who at age 12 spent ALL my spare time reading and researching King Author or reading about whatever scientific thing I was currently interested in (though not what they were teaching in school.)

    School trains us to think that school things, including math and grammar, are boring.  The thing is that they are only boring if you are not, at that moment, interested in them.  When, for whatever reason, something peaks your interest you are off and running.  Sure YOU may not want to learn about rocks and gems, but I was passionately fond of studying them–until I had a lesson on them in school which promptly struck that off my list of interesting things until I was graduated from college and got talking to some kids who found a cool rock and wanted to know.

    Issac building a tunnel for his track.
    Issac building a tunnel for his track.

    So the question answers itself.  Don’t think of it as boring or hard stuff, talk about these things when you run into them.  Watch the kids cues.  Give them openings and opportunities.  If they show interest in something don’t get overly enthusiastic (that is one of those “school” things and will shut off that flow of imagination like nothing else), wait on them.  If you are just starting to move away from the “school” model it may take a while for them to jump in and take over.  Give them space.  Give them time to think of things without “school” or educational hanging over their head.  When you, as an adult, get interested in something you learn it because you want to, you don’t naturally think–“I am learning something, this is educational” you think, “This is cool.  I like this.”  Give your kids the same freedom, pray for wisdom, a lot, and let God open up their minds to multiple interests.  They may stick with something longer than you would expect or drop it in a matter of seconds.  Give them the freedom to do that (you would get nervous of showing interest in something if as soon as you did someone ran out and bought you EVERYTHING yo uneeded to do it–you want to test the waters first, see if it is for you–give your kids the same opportunity).  Find your own interests and passions and run with them.  The kids will learn to follow their passions from your example.  And with freedom to explore, resources at their fingertips, and the imagination and brain power God has provided them, they WILL learn–you won’t be able to stop them–even with the “boring stuff”.

    Finding education in vacation or Learning, Learning, Everywhere

    In July, Sandra Dodd hosted Learn Nothing Day.  Our family, after a bit of discussion, decided not to take part, not because we didn’t feel that we unschoolers didn’t need a break, but the kids decided that there was no way they could learn nothing all day.  They figured out that even if they were lying in bed all day or staring at the wall their minds would be full of ideas and figuring things out and that spending a day learning nothing would mean being in a coma or something equally undesirable.

    And so, as you can imagine, even our vacation was full of learning.  I had originally intended to do a slew of posts on the subject with pictures but life got in the way so instead I will share the condensed version.

    I have already mentioned how we stayed with friends ( a former missionary to Ecuador and private school principle, my dear friend–his daughter, and her 2 year old who is bilingual.)  Lots of learning went on there on which I already touched briefly.  After spending a few days with them we headed to the beach to stay with my dad, stepmom, and baby brother for 3 days.  In that time the kids and I…

    discussed how waves work, why the ocean is blue/green, how the tides work and why, how undertow works, how storms affect the ocean, how erosion works, and what lives at the bottom of the sea.

    We saw dolphins and pelicans, as well as numerous other small birds that follow when the fish run (silverfish –I believe) were running and many animals were feeding just off the coast.  We also got to watch a fisherman catch a sand shark, a stingray (and get stung), and another kind of shark that I can’t remember.  We got to see the animals up close and had the opportunity to pet them (um, no thank you?)

    (Above is a dolphin swimming in the sunrise, they were hard to catch but we saw enough that I got a few photos.)  We also got to experience many sand creatures and learn about biting flies that come in due to a storm at sea (ouch.)

    We learned what sand is made of and how rocks are formed.  We scavenged the beach after high tides to sea what the waves had grabbed the day before.  We found a pair of flip flops, 2 boogie boards, several shovels and rakes, and a few shells plus a jelly fish.

    We road the bus and road bikes on the board walk which led to a much needed reminder about bike safety and the rules of the road.

    We discussed how magnifying glasses work, watched fishing boats go by , learned the difference between an island and a penninsula.

    The kids made friends with another family and got braver about going out in the waves.  Issac hung out with the girls older brother and dug huge holes in the sand.

    All three kids spent the moments before high tide digging deep holes and trying to find ways to keep the incoming tide from washing them out.  They learned about different sorts of barricades, erosion, and how quickly the ocean can fill in a hole.

    We also visited a shipwreck museum and saw items from the Titanic, the Edmund Fitgerald, and other ships, learned how sea divers recover items from shipwrecks and clean them, learned about and bought some hermit crabs (their first ever pets due to hubby’s animal allergies).  We walked miles and miles, saw a lighthouse, visited our friends again and learned about cryptography, did a scavenger hunt, took a new way home, learned about how to save gas while driving, visited our friends at As We Walk, and saw all that God was doing around us–there was a ton of character developing going on that I am not even getting into.

    We are still processing all we learned several months later.  Discussions are still going on about various ideas and concepts that were gleaned from our trip.  The kids now want to go back and visit both our friends in DC and Deb’s family–they have plans for DC now that they have been to the area and are figuring out what they want to see (I think a few museums at the Smithonian are the plan for this next trip).  This has led to discussions of all that is available there and planning and organizing on their part (I try to stay out of it except to limit the cost and number of places).  And I, like my three crazies, cannot imagine a day without learning.