Doing, To Do, Never Done

Sat down with Zephyr today and we made a list of all the projects she is currently working on as well as a few she plans on doing. 

1. Wrote a Play, now casting it, will conduct acting classes and then direct the play
2. Write poem a Day
3. Interior decorating Dollhouse
4. Sewing raccoon stuffed animal
5. Composing song for summer symposium
6. Playing piano
7. Playing guitar
8. Arduino programming
9. Writing The Odd Ones Out book
10. Journaling daily
11. Ken Burns Civil War
12. Birding
13. Watching Science and Math videos
14. Choreograph dance to Grease songs
15. Reading fiction
16. Drawing Manga superheros for graphic novel
17. Writing Workshop – Harry Potter Collaboration and writing poetry
18. Junior Model UN
19. Odyssey of the Mind
20. Naturalist
21. Problem Solving Games at home
22. US Government class
23. Current Events class
24. Biology class
25. French
26. Hebrew
27. Circus Aerials
28. Girl Choir
29. Just Dance exercise
30. History of music 1950 – 2013.
31. Make a Harry Potter Board Game
32. Learning about acoustics and carpentry helping B build recording studio

To Do – Soon
1. Photography – get the camera.
2. Make a Flower Journal – Get Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady
3. Research “Behind The Scenes” of movies, for Mockumentary
4. Make more personalized shirts
5. Find Math resources – try Kahn Academy

To Do – Later
1. Going to museums downtown
2. Learn how to garden
3. Swimming
4. Sew costumes
5. Write a musical

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When life gets in the way of. . . well, Life.

Our world is full of many interesting, exciting, educational, and seemingly necessary things to do that it is all too easy to over-schedule til our days and weeks resemble an precariously piled plate at a cruise ship buffet. And, unlike the edibles at most buffets, many of classes and activities available for homeschool kids are drool worthy.

Your kids can choose from typical enrichment classes like piano, guitar, choir, Hebrew, and French, to more academic classes likes writing workshops, Model UN, Odyssey of the Mind, current events, biology lab, and American Gov, to more avant-garde lessons like circus aerials, upcycle sewing, naturalist class, and Reader’s Theatre literature class. Or, like me, you can not choose and just sign your kid up for all of it.

As parents we are all aware of the need for unstructured free time for kids. Free time not only increases “children’s academic potential, social skills and creativity” but kids who never get to play “grow into anxious, socially maladjusted adults.” Unstructured time is essential for adults mental, physical, and emotional health as well. So chauffeuring them around hell’s half acre isn’t good for either of you.

When my daughter was younger I was better at making free-time a priority. And I knew if I ignored her complaining “I’m bored” that within 30 minutes I would find her intensely engaged in some uniquely creative activity.

But this year, once I got a look at the exciting array of classes available to her, I behaved as if there were nine days in a week instead of seven, and thirty hours in every day.

To be honest though, I think Zephyr still spends less time on her activities than traditionally schooled kids do on school, enrichment classes, and sports. And they are all activities that she enjoys, most of them she loves and she would cry if I tried to take them away from her. She is learning a lot and having a good time. Be that as it may, unstructured time is just as important to her development and health as any other thing she could be doing. Given her age is it probably more important that almost anything else. The benefits of unstructured time are myriad and far-reaching. On her blog, Reality Check, Dr. Borba lists The 11 Benefits of Play:

1. Play boosts children’s creativity and imagination. Play gives children the chance to invent, build, expand, explore and develop a whole different part of the brain.

2. Play stretches our children’s attention span. Playing outdoors just 30 minutes a day increases child’s ability to focus and pay attention.

3. Play and rough-housing boost boys’ problem solving abilities. The more elementary school-boys engaged in rough-housing, the better they scored on a test of social problem solving. (Don’t ya love that one!)

4. Play boosts self-confidence and self-regulation. Kids learn to become masters of their own destiny without an adult directing, pushing, managing or scheduling.

5. Play forges friendships, strengthens social competence and teaches social skills. Undirected play allows kids to learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate, communicate and develop core social skills they need not only now but for the rest of their lives.

6. Play helps kids learn to enjoy just being in their own company, entertain themselves and develop identity. Ease that guilt when your kid says, “I’m bored, Mom!”

7. Play reduces children’s anxiety and diminishes stress. A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry shows that play is also critical for our children’s emotional health because it helps kids work through anxiety and reduce stress.

8. Play creates joyful memories of childhood. Come on, no kid is going to remember the car pools and worksheets but the swings, jumping in leaves, playing leapfrog in the mud, blowing bubbles, building forts–those are the unforgettable childhood moments. Sigh!

9. Play boosts physical health and reduces risk of obesity. Henry Joseph Legere, MD, author of Raising Healthy Eaters points out: “Rises in screen time have led to the rise of a sedentary lifestyle for our children. In 1982, the childhood obesity prevalence in the United States was actually less than 4 percent. By 2004, that number had grown to about 30 percent.”

9. Play expands our kids minds and neurological development. Self-initiated play improve skills such as guessing, figuring, interpreting and is important to brain development and learning

10. Play builds new competencies, leadership skills, teaches lifelong hobbies, and develops resilience. “Play is what allows kids to manipulate their environment,” says a report written by Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D. of the AAP, “And how you manipulate your environment is about how you begin to take control, how you begin to develop your senses, how you view the world.”

11. Play nurtures the parent-child bond. Child-driven play also improves our parent-kid relationship.Play offers a wonderful opportunity for parents to see the world from our children’s eyes as well as strengthen our relationship when we join in.

 As a parent newly committed to self-direct learning I am impatient to reclaim and protect unstructured time for my daughter. As her parent it is my responsibility to act as her last line of defensive against a society that gluttonously consumes childhood by increasingly demanding her time, energy and focus via tantalizing but unnecessary educational opportunities as well as threats that she will end up living out of the back of her car if she doesn’t have a perfect test scores for college. I also need to protect my daughter’s from her own tendency to overload her schedule. The rest of the world sure isn’t making it easy for her to have that essential unstructured time, but when she does have it, the world seems easier, day to day life feels better for all of us, and I am able to see the benefits, first-hand, in her creativity, health, confidence and development.

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Maker, Citizen Scientist, and DIY

Last week a friend on Facebook posted this NPR article about Hacker Scouting. Hacker Scouts build forts and campfires but they also learn to solder, build prototypes, and film stop-motion animation movies. They also take a photo or film of themselves doing it, share it to the internet, and earn a badges.  DIY.org is a hacker scouting organization for kids 8 -14. They have hundreds of online tutorials for their young hacker scouts to get hands-on with biology, cartography, industrial design, special effects and many more skills, with new ones being uploaded everyday.

Today Z searched through the site, ooohing and ahhhing over the many exciting tutorials. She ended up choosing to work toward her Salvager badge. I think she was imagining that there was a secret (clean) junkyard that I could drive her to, and where she would find awesome (clean) metal and wood bits that she would paint and re-purpose, perhaps as our new dining set.

Instead she ended up randomly finding some plastic plants on the sidewalk,


and plans to use them in some sort of art project or maybe to decorate her Dollhouse, which is also a salvaged project that we made from an old bookcase. Once she uploads at least 3 Salvager projects she will earn a badge in that skill. I wonder what she will sew the badge onto…

I love using projects that combine online activities with activities you can do IRL. Z has recently started bird watching. We got her her first binoculars, a birding book, and two bird feeders. Today she worked on a cool Citizen Science project today through Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology. They have several projects to do, but we started with Yard Map. Yard Map uses google maps and some other mapping and drawing software to gather information about the birds right in your backyard (or at your office or school, etc), as well as teach you things you can do to make your area more sustainable and bird friendly. While Z was mapping our yard she also learned the number and names of the trees in our yard. She also recorded birds she saw in our yard this morning at ebird.org, another citizen science tool for bird watchers.

Then working from a tutorial we found online she made this awesome stenciled shirt (with a little help from me doing the ironing.)

photo photo

Doesn’t it look pretty professional? This was our first time trying it.

Z wrote another poem today too:

I see no stars

I see no stars
The only light comes from the glowing orbs encased in hanging lanterns
Tonight, there is no Mars
But sweet music floats through the satiny darkness to me
Celestial scars
Are all but vanished in the rich enthralling night
There are no cars
Honking and whirring, no penetration of this thick absence
The night’s guitars
Still strum a hypnotic lullaby, even though
I see no stars

Today she also read, played the piano, went for a walk, and built with her LEGOs.

Categories: Art, Birding, child-led learning, homeschooling, learner-led education, Poetry, Science, Tech, Uncategorized, unschooling | Leave a comment

Terra Incognita

Explorer’s Log – Day 1

December 10th, 2012,

Today marks the first day of of our journey into Terra Incognita, the Unknown Land. Our young navigator is guiding us out beyond the boundaries of the known, on a journey as yet uncharted.  There is no spare thought for when we might return amidst the excitement of discovering new lands, phantastical beasts, and treasures untold.

This is the first expedition to be led by our intrepid explorer Zephyr Bly. I am gladly passing the proverbial torch of Lead Guide into the hands of this young, adventurous vanguard. She has shown herself to be capable, curious, and a true challenger of the unknown.

*                                                                                    *                                                                                  *

Today I handed over the reigns of my daughter’s education to my daughter. She is eleven, which to some people may seem too soon to be put in charge of her own learning, to others it may seem too late. To me it just feels really right. Like really.

I only started contemplating this idea last Wednesday and since then I have felt really at peace with it. My husband, who only kinda-sorta knows about unschooling, also jumped onto the bandwagon with surprising ease. My daughter was the one that needed a bit of convincing.

On Wednesday morning I asked her “What do you think about unschooling?”
To which she replied, “I don’t think I want to do it. I like learning.”

I was able to convince her, during a conversation that continued sporadically throughout the day, that unschooling didn’t have to mean “playing video games and not doing math” but more like, “You decide what is important for you to learn and do.”

I told her that I am just really curious to see what she would do with her time if it was her own. She said, with sincerity, “I am too.”

And really, I am SO curious. Is she going to write a musical? Learn to cook? Plant a Garden? Organize a Social Action initiative? Read 100 books? Study Linguistics via Tolkien’s Elvish Languages? Design and Sell her own line of geek culture t-shirts? All those things sound plausible. But she will probably do something I haven’t thought of, something that is really about her, something that she might not have had the time to pursue in-between doing everything else that the world tells her is more important. Exciting, isn’t it?

I guess what we are doing could be called “unschooling.” Though that word means different things to different people, so I am not sure I can really claim that as an accurate description. Also, personally, I don’t like the idea of describing what I am doing by what it is not.

Another term I could use is “Child Led Learning” but DD seems too old to start calling her a child now. “Learner Led Education” is what they use at the homeschooling school she goes to twice a week, but that is a  mouthful.

As a writer I have a belief that words are imbued with great meaning and power. The right words can make it and the wrong ones can break it. In my mind, what we are doing is recognizing that it is time for our daughter to be the lead decision maker regarding her own education. The metaphor that I came up with, that fits her and us, is that she is the Lead Guide in this Exploration. And, right now, we are very much in an exploration phase. The uncharted territory is a practically unlimited land of learning opportunities and life experiences. Her father and I are Argonauts in her Exploration Team. We have skills and knowledge she can call on but we also understand to use what authority we have sparingly to encourage her to gain the independence that is right and natural for her at this stage in her life. Like most explorers we are excited to be leaving what’s familiar behind and setting off on our own adventure, not really knowing where it is going to lead.

As the team scribe I will be chronicling our adventure, transitioning from homeschooling to unschooling, here in my Explorer’s Log. Special Thanks to the late, great Jack Kirby for the inspiration for my blog name The Challengers of the Unknown. And to the New Pornographers for  making this awesome song, that reminded me of the name.


Categories: child-led learning, homeschooling, learner-led education, Uncategorized, unschooling | 1 Comment