Free as a Bird

When I was a kid we adopted my uncle’s pet Parrot for two years while he was living overseas. That parrot terrorized me and anyone else that came into our den. Since then I have never really liked birds in cages. They are not my ideal pet. But I love birds in the wild. I love their music, how they soar and flutter. I love their beautiful colors, bright or subdued. And I love watching them flock together, making patterns and ripples in the sky. I wasn’t a Bird Watcher though. I just was an amateur  bird gazer.

Last Autumn Zephyr went on a birding expedition with her homeschool school Naturalist class. The class met some Birders up on a Hawk Watch Observation Deck.


When I picked Z up from classes that day she was agog and breathlessly recounted the myriad birds they had seen with the fine binoculars borrowed from the Birders. Then she said something like, “I could do that all day!” and asked if we could also get some fine binoculars, since all we had now were opera glasses, which just wouldn’t do.

Come Hanukkah Z received the  8×40 Action VII Binoculars,which Amazon told me was the “standard entry” for Birders. We also got her the Birds of Pennsylvania Field Guide.  Then we made a trip to the local depot store and bought a bird feeder, some seed, some suet, and a wire cage feeder to hold the seut, and set them both up on a tree in our yard that was easily viewed from our family room and sun room.

Then Zephyr got an account at and started participating as a Citizen Scientist, keeping track of “our” backyard birds.

Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology works in conjunction with ebird and also hosts multiple citizen scientist projects that are at various levels of education and require various amounts of time and effort, i.e. projects that are great for beginning birders through programs for experts.  Zephyr started with YardMap, a cool tool that uses google maps and interacts with ebird. There is also Project Feeder WatchNest Watch, Online Classes, Bird SleuthBird Cams, the world’s largest collection of recorded animal sounds, newsletters and even more. And, almost all of it, except for the online classes, are FREE.

Except for an investment in binoculars, a bird guide, and a bird feeder, bird watching is mostly free. And, as I am delving further into it, it looks like it could be all the science you need to study for years and years. If you were so inclined you could use bird watching to get into many of the sciences (physics, biology, ecology, chemistry ) math/statistics, history, geography, art, poetry, and even Shakespeare. No really. )

You probably have FREE local nature sites, bird sanctuaries, wetlands, woods, etc. I am sure there are also FREE to join local birding clubs. But all you really need is a window to your own backyard or a walk through your neighborhood.

There are so many benefits to bird watching, not just getting you out of doors, it is also relaxing, good for your brain, and good for the environment. Start with binoculars, and a bird feeder. You can even do a woodworking project to make your own bird feeder if you want. I recommend going on a guided bird watch soon too, the guides really add to the experience, teaching about bird calls, where to look for birds, how to keep your distance and how to be a good bird steward. It is also exciting to  bird watch in a group with other people that share your passion or whose passion will rub off on those who are still birding skeptics. But, what is not to like about bird watching? Birds are  cool, amazing, beautiful, and descendents of dinosaurs.

Categories: Art, Birding, child-led learning, geography, homeschooling, learner-led education, Poetry, Science, Tech, unschooling | 1 Comment

Junkanoo, The Unknown

We had an almost perfect day of unschooling/child-led learning/democratic education today. It was one for the books.

We started the morning playing Just Dance 4 on the wii U. We did high energy duet dances to Rock Lobster, Ooops… I did it again, The Final Countdown, Les Ketchup, and Everybody Needs Somebody to Love ala Blues Brothers. It was really fun and a good workout.

After breakfast Z took out some old geography detective games.


In the background on the whiteboard is a list she keeping of projects she wants to work on.

Then she worked on LEGOs for awhile.


After lunch we played around with a new geography app, The Barefoot World Atlas. From that we got the idea to work together on one of her projects, “Take a World Tour.” Z wants to take virtual trips around the world attending various festivals. Today, December 26 aka Boxing Day, The Junkanoo Festival is being held in the Bahamas. Junkanoo is a street parade with colorful costumes and music. The origin of the word Junkanoo is obscure but it might come from the French “L’inconnu” which means “the unknown.”

We first learned about Junkanoo on the atlas app. Then we checked it out on the net. Next Z found a flight from Philly to the Nassau, Bahamas, via Newark. Then she plotted her course on the trip mapping website She want to use that website to make a map of her virtual travels. Then we listened to some Bahamian music and watched some Junkanoo parades on youtube. Of course we were inspired to design our own Junkanoo costumes.


I just realized now that, of her own accord, Z ended up doing a lot of geography today. That’s interesting.

Another project she came up with is to write a poem everyday. I would never assign something like that. I would think that too ambitious. Obviously she doesn’t. It was raining when she wrote this:

Splattering on my window like the torn fragments of someone’s diary
Children sliding down the glass towards the place where lost souls rest
Pooling into cracks of the broken pavement
Edged on like racehorses to the finish line
Filling the oceans and pouring down the sandy banks
A single tear clinging uncertainly until a bat of eyelashes casts it away

Pretty melodramatic, but rainy days can invoke that. I like the last bit about the eyelashes.

In the late afternoon she practiced piano. I think I heard her playing Great Balls of Fire, Mad World, White Rabbit, Havtikva, Musette, The Entertainer, and Castle on a Cloud.

She built more with her LEGOs until she remembered that she wanted to write letter to a friend in Indiana. At 5:00 she went down into the basement to play on the wii U, our new video game system that bookended this really good feeling day.

I know every unschooling day wont be like this. But that is fine. Sometimes real learning doesn’t look like the learning we see in traditional school. Personally I’ve never felt like geography was all that important. Anything you really need to know you can just look up on the internet in like 30 seconds. I’m more interested in the meta skills Z was evidencing today, like self-direction, executive functioning, creativity, critical thinking, and spatial reasoning. And yes, she did it all in her pajamas. Since we weren’t leaving the house today it was more efficient, not to mention better for the environment (less laundry!).

Categories: child-led learning, geography, homeschooling, learner-led education, Poetry, unschooling | Leave a comment