Tag: play

Unschooling Life: A trip to the museum

On Sunday we celebrated Purim though not in the traditional way. There are no Messianic Jewish groups nearby and we don’t actually know anyone local who is Messianic in their thinking. So, when I heard about the free day at the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum and remembered how the kids had been begging to go, I thought it was the perfect way to celebrate God’s quiet intervention in our lives. It worked out beautifully because I actually had gas in the van, we had visited my grandmother the previous evening (we usually visit on Sundays), and everything just fell into place.

We do have a membership for the Science Center and Art and Natural History Museum but it doesn’t include the Children’s Museum (despite including all the other big museums in Pittsburgh.) This is really funny because this museum is tiny and more expensive to join than any of the others– it only gives about 3 hours of entertainment versus the others where we can spend the whole day. It is, however, included if you come into Pittsburgh and have a science center membership so make sure to hit it if you do.

I was surprised at the lack of crowd (though it was a beautiful day and the zoo had a free for under 13 day as well– I suspect the zoo was a lot more crowded.) I found it interesting that the vast majority of children there were under 6. There were a few older kids but they mostly hung back and were there with littles. It was also interesting to watch the little s immediately become interested in whatever my bigger kids were doing and that my kids immediately began exploring everything, applying the knowledge they accumulated from my dad, general discussion, books (they love the Dangerous Book for Boys as well as pretty much any experiment book), and tv (mostly Myth Busters, Dirty Jobs, and Rough Science).
Heading to the entrance

I love this shot of the kids. Esther has been waiting a whole year to go back and has been excitedly asking when the next free day was so she ran ahead. Meanwhile Rach (wearing a Hello Kitty Barbarian hoodie) decided to hang back and spend some time with her little brother.

Falling Letters
And this is what Essie had been waiting for, above all the other things there. She spent a good half hour catching letters, which made for some very fun photos (yes, that is me with the camera).

Rachel and Issac exploring magnets in the Creativity Lab.

Magnetic sculpture

Rachel’s magnet sculpture ended up being posted at the museum’s Creativity Lab Blog here. (It is the second photo down.)

Issac, who adores his Snap Circuit sets and spends quite a bit of time playing with electricity loved attempting to make this electro magnet work.

While Issac and Rachel explored magnets in the garage Esther played with sound and wind.

After half an hour or so exploring magnets Issac and Rach climbed the net, tossed some parachutes and then played on the giant slide a bit.

The building area was what Rachel had waited a whole year to use. She loves to invent and build and couldn’t wait to start on the house sshe had designed in her head based on her experience last year. When she started this area was empty.
Within minutes she had help.
Lots of help.
When they were finally tired of that room we went next door to experiment with wind.
ant hill
We then had to head to the next favorite– the human ant hill, where Rachel was immediately overrun with littles again.
Issac found fish
In Mister Roger’s Neighborhood we found the fish tank.
The trolley
And the Neighborhood of Makebelieve.
castlenoisy stairs
We then headed up the very noisy stairs (they sigh, and ow, and make other noises as you walk up them.)
Young Children Only
In the nursery area (where we had to explore because there were BABIES!) we found this little teeter totter with the massage “Young Children Only” to which Rach replied, “That means we can use it forever,” and then insisted on a photo with it.

We headed upstairs to the water area, where the kids quickly went from this to this:
getting soaked and making friends
Where they made friends with the only other older kids willing to play and got thoroughly soaked.
getting soaked and making friends
The making friends was the best part– I loved watching them quickly find like minded kids to play with without being shy (unlike myself and their dad at their ages.)
drying off
Sure it meant plenty of this and this:
drying off
But it also meant they had someone to hang out with the rest of our visit which made my extroverted oldest very, very happy.
clock pendullum
For those who went to the Pittsburgh Children’s Museum as a child, the pendulum clock is still there and Issac quickly found it and had to explore it.

paper making

Meanwhile his sisters were having fun in the art room with their new friend, making paper

painting, and print making.
Issac wanted nothing to do with the art room (which he feels he can do readily enough at home while he really wanted to go to the Attic or “the sideways room” as he calls it.
And Rach went back to build in the Garage with her friend.
Esther, on the other hand, went into full performance mode which meant I got tons of incredible photos of her playing with the slow motion camera.
Many Esthers
Where she and her new friend spent a lot of time twisting, twirling
and doing the robot dance.
In the attic are all sorts of cool illusions, from optical to sound, to shadow, and gravity. Here the kids play with sound.


Mr. Roger's front porch
Finally they posed for some photos on Mr. Roger’s front porch swing.
Then on the actual front porch swing (which is HUGE).
Then because it was a beautiful day they posed for some more rather silly photos on the way to the car.



Click here to see the rest of the photos.

On the road again: part 2

So it is October and I am only just now, finally, finishing this series, except that this isn’t the finish because I am just doing part of a post because I have to leave in a few minutes to take Esther to her 2 and half hour Oliver! practice (during which I will sit and paint– the project is progressing and Sunday afternoon practices have been a huge help since I get to sit there for 2 and half hours without kids hanging over me– “Whatcha doin’ Mom?  I’m hungry!  Can I …..”)

So, the second stage of our trip to Alexandria we  used our wonderful gift of the museum membership to go to the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore (which just happened to be on the way to another friend’s house.) On the way there, which entailed driving the bypass for DC, Rachel recorded my running commentary regarding the crazy drivers off DC. Mostly she just took pictures which are not nearly as funny as she thought they should be. And at this point all I remember was how silly it all was, and how silly the roads are down there with their constant attempts to remove you from the road you are trying to stay on and the GPS constantly jabbering on about staying left, stay right, take the right lane to turn left.
And this is me. No, I am not angry, just sweltering hot (100 degrees), and concentrating on the craziness around me.
Maryland Science Center
We mad eit with no trouble, except that the GPS thought the Sceince Center was a mile down the road on a bike path, which was nice. Oh, and there is no actual parking so you have to do road side (just so you know– Pittsburgh has cheap parking for the Ar tMuseum and Sceince Center– which I never appreciated until this where I had to pay $15 for 6 hour parking and had to run outside every 2 hours to pay (remember that I had to park AWAY from the Science Center entrance and it was 100 degrees outside? Yeah. Oh, and I was alone with 3 kids? Which meant at the very least dragging the youngest outside with me each time and being very nervous about leaving the older two with very strict instructions to STAY TOGETHER and call if they need me.)
Maryland Science Center
At least it was pretty.
Maryland Science Center
As usual we headed to the top first (beat the crowds going the other direction. In this case the upstairs was kind of dull though the Chesapeake Bay area and blue crab bit was cool if short.)
Maryland Science Center
The next floor was much, much cooler. We actually got to go into the chemistry lab and experiment (ours showed us how enzymes worked, which is awesome because we have to take food enzymes daily for most foods.)
Maryland Science Center
Really awesome.
Maryland Science Center
Then there was the physics section– which the kids adored. This particular contraption was after my marble loving boy’s heart.
Maryland Science CEnter
All three loved this experiment with pullys.
Maryland Science CEnter
Maryland Science CEnter
Maryland Science CEnter
Also awesome was this section– here the kids had to build an arch from these foam blocks as quickly as possible.
Maryland Science CEnter
Maryland Science CEnter
Building flying machines to put in the wind tunnel= awesome.
Maryland Science CEnter
Black lights right outside the bathroom.
Maryland Science CEnter
Obligatory “dress up as astronauts” photo for my brother, who has worked at NASA from the last 9 years and has wanted to be an astronaut since he was 4.
And about here my camera batteries died or something because I don’t have photos of the other areas– like the dinosaur dig– which Essie adored or the astronomy section. And none of the human body/cell area– which freaked out my two preteen girls to no end. (We have hit that” too much information about the human body being learned out of necessity and therefore want nothing to do with blood cells and all that” stage.)

The kids enjoyed this science center but there has been quite a bit of debate about which is their favorite so far– I think Carnegie Science Center still wins– the Maryland Science Center had some really impressive exhibits but felt too wide open and empty compared to all the awesome stuff at the Carnegie. Also, I think the exhibits at the Carnegie have more replay value than those at Maryland.

A few minutes after leaving the Science Center we were well on our way to another friend’s house but you will probably hear more about that sometime in November if current trends continue. And now I have to leave as it is work time for me and practice time for Essie.

Snow Play


Snow is pretty.

Iceskating 2010

Snow on ice after ice skating is pretty. I took a ton of photos of it because it reminded me of cubism.

Iceskating 2010

The creepy hole in the ice for pouring water over said ice to make it smooth is not pretty, and is rather nerve wracking.  It actually has a nice layer of ice over top and and huge bump of ice all around– no one is going through (and there is a rope nearby) but still, rather scary.  And that is my dad cleaning the ice so it would be nice the next day– keeping the ice nice when it is snowing is lots of work.

Iceskating 2010

James stole my phone and took a photo of me ice skating.  So that is me.

Iceskating 2010

And that is Rachel.  She fell, and laughed.

Issac sled riding.

Issac spent hours trying to perfect a sled riding track (with my help.) Lots of physics involved (slope, weight, gravity, angle, etc.) as well as lots of physical labor (I had a tiny metal kids shovel that I was using to perfect the ramp so he would go all the way down the hill instead of off to the side.)

More snowy photos (and ice skating photos to come.)

A gentle reminder

Where there are no oxen, the crib is empty: but where there is much corn, there the strength of the ox is manifest.
Proverbs 14:4

My desk is a mess– multiple coffee cups, several salad bowls and water glasses, watercolor stuff, paper work and receipts.
The kids rooms are trashed (although the daily service is working and they are slightly better each day). Books are everywhere though at least now they are in piles, most of the clothes have finally made their way to the laundry–clean and dirty alike, paper and writing utensils are everywhere as are all the little girl trappings– stuffies left from plays and other productions, nail polish and hair things set up like a beauty salon..
In the living room sits a box full of Christmas decorations (I finally took down the last bits), Wii motes and yoga mats, blankets and bean bags left out after movie watching, a laptop sitting on, and papers strewn about the midi keyboard.
Issac’s room there are legos and race tracks covering every inch of the room, mixed with books and boxes (used as needed for every building project under the sun. )
The kitchen is covered in dishes left over from meals, cd’s of audio books, and my paints and paintings in progress.
In the bathroom are the results of Rachel’s latest hand cream/epson salt concoction, some dolls and doll clothes left over from a recent doll resort, hair clippers from a recent trim, plus numerous damp towels and clothes on the hooks– left there just in case I need to go out and hubby is sleeping. The laundry room is overflowing with clean and dirty clothes and the back hall is full of snow things hanging to dry.

It is easy to think of these things as mess and clutter. And yet, I am reminded that these are signs of success, of learning, of activity and thought.
Everything left out in the girls’ room has been recently used and is the result of a project. Rachel’s hammer is sitting out because just a little while ago she used an old Chubs box (those plastic lego brick style diaper wipe boxes), a pen, and bits of paper to make a voting box– which entailed hammering a hole in the box for the votes. Books are piled everywhere because Essie always has a book, or her laptop. Audio books also lie strewn because Rachel is always listening to one. Their floor is always covered in paper and pens and other wiriting utensils because the girls are always drawing, designing, writing, or creating something.

Issac’s room is covered because he is constantly in the process of building or designing something new. Today he designed a war game using the weights to build cannons and gaming dice to figure out who wins each round. Race tracks cover his room surrounded by stuffies, Legos, K’Nex– all built precisely to the enclosed directions, and then adapted and added to, surrounded by books and boxes.

The kitchen is cluttered and not so clean because we ate and ran today as right after lunch we headed to the pond to test out the ice and Rachel’s new ice skates. The food we took along got dumped on the table because we had some other project to do when we got home. The audio books are there because we have been listening to classic books while I work on an acrylic painting and the kids either eat or do projects at the table. There is a blue IKEA bag full of snow things on the floor so we can easily take them to the pond tomorrow. A workbook (Issac’s) sits open where he left off coloring and doing activities (because he wants to, for fun, not because it is a rule.)

The bathroom is less than ideal because today Rachel made a special hand cream using various essential oils and Epsom salts to help our hands with the cold dry weather and aches that accompany the RA. This led to a discussion of books that I own with recipes for such things as well as which herbs work best for what, and future plans for me to teach her how to melt bees wax, olive oil, and coconut butter together for creams. She and Esther also had a beach party for their dolls a few days ago and today she had a spa day for the doll that she took skating (she designed skates and clothes adapted from other dolls for her so she could go along but then dropped her in the snow so she needed a bath).

The laundry in the laundry room is a sign that the girls finally remembered to give me their dirty (and some clean) clothes and that I have finally begun to get caught up on washing.

The living room proves that Rach, Essie, and I watched part of Rozencratz and Gildenstern are Dead this morning, which lead to much commentary on Shakespeare and humor and later watched The Golden Boys (a fun and interesting period piece) (both watched on the living room laptop). Issac also spent some time replaying Mario Sunshine, enjoying that he can finally read a lot of what is on the screen, and this morning Rach finally brought me the other Christmas box so I could take down the rest of the decorations. Oh, and several books are strewn about (because they are being read) and the piano music is out because it is being used.

The hall is evidence that there has been much snow play (and ice skating) as are the rather salty spots on the floor where people keep stepping with wet boots no matter how hard they try to avoid it.

The fact that my desk is cluttered is evidence that I have actually gotten some work done recently.

We may not have an immaculate house- though it is much, much cleaner, and staying cleaner now that we have instituted the 5 minutes upstairs 5 minutes downstairs rule. The kids are actually beginning to enjoy cleaning up and going well beyond the 5 min I require. It is never going to be perfect, or even clean to most people (though I do keep clutter to a minimum so that we don’t have so much to fuss about.) However, the mess is evidence of living and life, of time well-spent, of fun had, and mistakes made. More conversations and time together happen because we aren’t fighting over who is supposed to be doing what job and why isn’t everything perfect. Learning is going on at every turn without coercion and fuss. We all have time to pursue our interests without constant nagging and whining. We are greatly blessed.

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.

A Day in the Life of this Christian Unschooling Family

This morning I decided today was a good day to do a post like this.  Then things got crazy so I decided to write as I go–which would be great if it weren’t already 3:45pm.  I have been taking pictures as the day goes, well until 1:00 but you will see.  Is this a normal day?  We don’t have a “normal” day, is it typical?  Yes, in that everyday the kids, Shamus, and I all have projects we are doing and interruptions that take on a life of their own.  Word of warning, it was a long day so it follows after the jump.Read More