Thursday, March 15, 2018

An Unschooling Curriculum: Backwards in Time

Unschoolers love to say they don't follow curricula.  I've noticed though, that you can define an unschooling curriculum backwards in time by what the gang, (three year-old No. 3, five year-old No. 2, and seven year-old No. 1), has accomplished in the last week.  It's kind of awesome, going in, we had no goals, nor any idea any of this would happen!

3 developed a love of cooking!
3 asked to attend a pick-up cooking class for kids at the Noe Valley Rec Center.   (I love that San Francisco kids can drop into Parks & Rec classes if there's room.)    She had a blast!  About four days later, when she and I went to the red-hat for our weekly meat and egg shopping, she insisted that we get squid.  She asked to hold the bag while I levered the squid into it.  (This led to an amusing confusion.;  unable to see 3 below the seafood ice tray, one of the workers was concerned I was dumping squid onto the floor.)  When I was ready to cook, 3 wanted in on that as well.  She helped pop their heads off to clean them, and then after I'd sliced them up, rolled the pieces in the batter mix,  3's interest brought seven year-old No. 1 and five year-old No. 2 in on the game as well.

No. 2 started getting ready all by himself!
Five year-old 2 has been wanting to eat breakfast earlier and earlier.  Meanwhile, he's been taking longer and longer to get ready in the morning.  I don't always remember to respectfully parent, but when I do, wow!  It works pretty well!  2 and I took the time before dinner a few nights ago to discuss the breakfast situation.  I explained that perhaps part of the reason for delaying breakfast until after he was dressed and ready to go was because his various caretakers were concerned that it would take even longer to get ready if he ate breakfast and then got dressed.  We talked about my suspicion that if he got ready more quickly and reliably, he could probably eat breakfast whenever he liked.  Then, I suggested that maybe he could lay out his clothes right then, the night before, so that it would be really easy to change into them as soon as he woke up.

The next morning, the first time I saw 2 he was wearing clean clothes, and fairly beaming about the whole thing!  Taking time to make sure we talked through the breakfast vs. getting ready issue, covering what all the parties involved wanted, did wonders!

1 and 2 make the Farmers' Market a Breeze! (Also Baby Broccoli is Back!)
With their independence, and math skills cruising along, 1 and 2 are helping me more and more by splitting off to get things at the Farmers' Market where they know everyone.  In fact, it was their increasing number of Market forays that led me to send them for:  Cheese!

A Wrinkle in Time
On our way to the movie, seven year-old No. 1, who taught herself to read, was heard to say, "I've read the book!  Every word!  By myself!" 

3 Made a Friend!
We have spectacularly vibrant branch libraries here in San Francisco!  The gang almost always finds other kids already there when they visit.  One afternoon this week, 3 who hangs out with other kids all the time, made her first friend all by herself!  She and her buddy were drawing pictures together, singing, and occasionally stopping to talk with each other!

So, there you have it.  A whole week of unschooling, with a math, reading, cooking, and people skills curriculum!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Independence in Another Light: Utility or Grab the Cheese Please!

I had a great remembering a few days ago.  For me, it was a breakthrough moment, for the kids, well, the kids just did what they were capable of doing long before my 'awakening'.  We've tried to set things up so that the gang, 7 year-old No. 1, five year-old No. 2, and three year-old No. 3 are always encouraged to be independent.  When we were grad students, that meant hanging out at campus quads where the kids could wander a hundred yards away or more exploring the area and interacting with people. 

As they grew, this emphasis on independence meant trusting that they could successfully and safely range further and further ahead of me.  The whole thing involved  learning to focus on each other, and mutually trust each other.  As the kids learned to listen for me to occasionally holler directions, they got to range out further and further, and explore more and more.  Ironically, (with respect to my 'awakening'), we started this in the somewhat confined spaces of chain grocery-stores where the kids could be several yards ahead, but still in eyesight, and earshot. 

When we moved to the big city, ranging out at the grocery store, became ranging out to the end of the block.  We each had to learn new kinds of focus.  The gang had to learn to focus on the people around them, not bouncing off of, running into, or getting trampled by them.  They also had to learn to focus on where they were, stopping at every corner habitually without fail, and recognizing busy downtown driveways as different sorts of corners where they had to wait for me to turn catch up before proceeding.

A new kind of independence came when we got to hangout more in 'wilderness' settings.  On hikes with winding switchbacks, the gang would cut the switchback using deer-trails while I took the longer distance switchback route.  They loved it, their route took the same amount of time, (the deer-trails tended to be more steep, arduous affairs to navigate), but they got to be out of sight, even more independent, exploring on their own.

All of which is a rather long-winded explanation of how in building independence, I'd focused on the fun, and beauty of the activity, without focusing on potential benefits to, well, me.  Which brings us to our most recent grocery shopping trip.

Every weekend, we make a dairy run.  We grab milk and butter on one side of the store crowded with weekend shoppers, and then head to the opposite side of the store for cheese before we finally work our way back to the front of the store to pay and escape.  I've been asking the gang to show me where different things are.  "Take me to the milk please."  Followed by the kids ranging out ahead, and me following along as they lead, weaving through the crowd to the back of the store. 

This weekend, though it finally occurred to me!  We could cut our shopping trip in half by splitting the work.  Since the gang knows where everything is already, do they really need me with them?  Not really.  I asked No. 3 to show me where the milk was, and then turning to 1 and 2, said, "Can you go grab two blocks of cheddar cheese, and meet us back by the milk please?"

1 and 2 headed out for points known.  3 and I trundled pleasantly through the store.  3 pointed out the display case for the milk and opened it.  We got the first gallon into our basket when No. 1 chimed, "Here you go!"  She and 2 were back from the opposite corner of the store cheddar cheese triumphantly in hand.  I always felt independence was important, but who knew it could be so handy? 

What are your favorite independence and ranging out stories?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Five year-old No. 2 Wants to Learn to Read (Unschooling in Action)

We unschool.  This blog talks all about what our unschooling family does on a day to day basis, but rarely, (at least recently), mentions unschooling.  But, a really cool thing happened last week, so here goes.  Five year-old No. 2 said he wanted to learn to read!

Before I get into 2 and his desire to learn to read, I should perhaps point out what unschooling is, as well as what it is to us.  Unschooling is a schooling methodology wherein the curriculum is based on what the learner wants to learn.  The general idea is that kid’s live life, and as they express an interest in a subject, they’re assisted, (if they need assistance), in finding material with which to learn, and perhaps encouraged, (it depends on the particular interpretation of unschooling), and perhaps taught when and if they ask for help.

While it might sound as if unschooling kids are dropped into an educational void, and told to swim, that’s not the case.  Parents ‘strew’ educational material they think might interest the kids.  In our family, strewing amounts to the fact that as we read books and funny-books, and not being a naturally tidy bunch of people, we tend to leave them laying around the house.  We also ‘strew the city’, meaning we send the kids out to see various ‘educational’ events, as well as to run errands, explore, and meet people.  All of these activities, we hope, might generate interest in different subjects.

To me, the most important part of the methodology is the kid expressing an interest in what they want to learn.  As a kid, and even today as an adult, I learn best the things I have a motivation to learn.

So, I lit up like a Christmas tree, when I heard that 2 had expressed an interest in learning to read!  We’d already figured out that 2 was built a lot like me, and that frankly he wasn’t going to learn to read until he was darned good and ready.  Knowing this, and even knowing where his attitudes came from, we still couldn’t help worrying a little bit about exactly when he would in fact get ready.

2 is a pragmatist.  Months ago he figured out that reading is cool.  He also figured out that seven year-old No. 1 would be happy to read to him; all he had to do was ask.  He had a need to read, he found a solution, problem fixed.

We strewed and strewed.  “2, would you like to sing the alphabet song?”  At first the answer was no, then over weeks, 2 decided that yeah, that could be fun.  I cheated the unschooling methodology, and proposed that 2, 3 year-old No. 3, and I work specifically on the letters A-G one week.  As I mentioned, I’m built a lot like 2, so that didn’t last.  I didn’t need to do it, and so subsequently, I forgot to do it.  When 1 was working on her Chinese character sheets we also made sheets for 2, but with the letters of his name instead of Chinese characters.  2 appreciated having worksheets of his own, but wasn’t particularly jazzed.

Then, at the start of last week it happened.  2 found his mom, and then me, and asked where his letter worksheets were.  A few days later, he announced that he wanted to learn to read!  Now, he’s up and running, bringing books to us to read to him and sound out words.  Reading, here we come!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Blake's and the Green Chile Cheeseburger

 On our recent trip to New Mexico, seven year old No. 1 and I got to stop at Blake’s, a favorite of almost all New Mexicans!  The place was clean, well lit, and the help was friendly.  At Blakes, they actually cook your burger after you order it.  Since I didn’t feel like waiting, I called our order in from our hotel before we headed out. 

1 tore through 7/8s of her adult-sized Lotaburger with cheese, and declared it the best burger she’d ever had.  (If you’re looking for the kid’s size, that’s called an Itsaburger.)  We ordered fries with one burger, and onion rings with the other so we could try both.  Much to her surprise, 1 discovered that she was quite enamored of onion rings, even if they are kind of hard to eat when you’ve recently sold both of your front incisors to the tooth fairy.  I had the green chile cheeseburger!  I add the exclamation point because one simply cannot get green chile on one’s cheeseburger in San Francisco.  If you’ve never had green chile, the experience is both incredible and addicting.  There’s an initial burn depending on how much rain the chile crop in NM got that year, but after awhile the burn is subsumed by a massive endorphin rush, leaving you to consume the rest of your meal in a blissful state of well-being.  Green chile isn’t for everyone, and especially, kids may not like it.  1 has yet to develop a taste for it.  I didn’t really start to love it till I was in my late teens. 

Having had such a wonderful dinner experience, we headed back in the morning for breakfast.  1 and I both had breakfast burritos.  Her’s had bacon, mine had sausage and chile.  Breakfast burritos are a wonderful New Mexico delicacy that usually consists of scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese, and if it’s your thing some kind of breakfast meat like bacon, sausage, or chorizo.  Breakfast burritos tend to have chile sauce rather than diced chile, (although some have green chile cooked right into the eggs).  Chile sauce comes in two varieties, red and green.  If you want to come off as a native, and have the most delicious burrito ever, order the sauce as ‘Christmas’.  You’ll get both red and green.  It’s so good!  I broke my own Blake’s rule, and ordered at the drive through.  Since the breakfast burritos are also cooked when ordered, 1 and I spent about 5 minutes waiting at the drive through window, but it was worth it!  Then, loaded up with food that would last us through lunch, (breakfast burritos are huge!), we headed out to visit with friends, and make our way to Villa Nueva State Park.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Petroglyph National Monument

Seven year old No. 1 and I got to visit Petroglyph National Monument last week.  The monument’s a short drive from Albuquerques airport, and having nothing better to do, a hike seemed like a great way to spend our late afternoon, so we headed straight there after picking up our rental car.  Having never been before, (even though I grew up in New Mexico), our first stop was the Visitor Center.

There are two things you should know about the visitor center.  First, it’s nowhere near any of the monuments hiking trails.  Second, while the rangers are ultimately very helpful, and truly very nice people, they do seem to enjoy talking some Park Service smack on the way to helping you.  1 and I inquired as to what would be the best trail for a short afternoon hike.

“Well, you could go to Rinconada Canyon… but are you prepared for a hike?”

The kid and I have literally been on hundreds of hikes. "I think so?" was my humble but confused reply.

"Do you have water?" The ranger wryly intoned.

“No!  Oh, that’s how we need to prepare!  Shyoo!  No, we have no water, but we’ll just step outside here and use your water fountain.”

“We’ve turned it off for the evening.”


“We turn it off every afternoon in preparation for closing the Visitor Center at 5.”

Note:  It freezes in New Mexico.  A lot.  Pipes burst.

“Oh, well, then I guess we have no water.  We’ll be fine though, if we get thirsty, we’ll turn back.”

Taking care to make meaningful eye contact, the ranger almost psychically mindlinked, “We have water for sale.  Three dollars.”  And so it was that 1 and I came to be in possession of our very own bottle of Petroglyph National Monument Drinking Water.”

The ranger continued, “what did you want to see?”

“Oh, we just wanted to go for a little hike, and maybe see some petroglyphs.”

The same elementary school glare seared over the top of the ranger’s glasses, “So, you haven’t researched your trip at all.”

I almost withered, then remembered we were on an impromptu jaunt, so of course we hadn’t researched, “Well, no.  We just got here you see, and this seemed like a nice stop to make, so…”

“It’s OK.  It’s alright.  I’ll help you.”  After that, the ranger delivered a brief set of driving and parking directions, and sent us on our way.

Here’s what you’ll need to know about Rinconada Canyon.  First, the parking lot, as advertised by the rangers, dos in fact lock up at 5 PM.  If your car’s in there at 5, it’ll be in there the next morning when they open back up.  There are however, three parking spots outside the gate.  (There’s actually four, in New Mexico, it’s more than OK to invent your own spot.  We wound up parking on the dirt patch to the side of the asphalt).

The hike was actually very nice.  A bit civilized by New Mexico standards, but in general very nice.  The trail is a 2.2 mile loop of hardpack dirt occasionally covered with soft sand.  The outward portion of the loop has a very gentle upwards incline that’s undone by the equally downhill return potion.  The’ve put up a steel wire divider between the path and the petroglyph bearing lava rocks so you can’t climb on them anymore.

You can however toodle out across the desert to the side of the loop away from the petroglyphs anytime you’d like.  1 and could feel the desert chill coming on as the sun went down and we approached the boxed edge of the canyon.  We elected to skp the last 100 or so yards into the (now very, very cold), canyon, by crossing the loop to the return side.

The petroglyphs can be hard to spot, but it’s great fun when you can find one.  One of the most prominent ones was made not by Native Americans, but by ranchers ninety-nine years to the day before our visit.  Score a point for impromptu planning!  I bet the Park Ranger never saw that one coming!

1 is slowly but surely learning Chinese characters.  One of the petroglyphs made here a quick believer in the Bering Strait theory

To 1 it looked just like the da character: 大 .

There were other theories bandied about as well.  In the midst of a childhood spent watching Ancient Aliens (it builds vocabulary and complex sentence structures, I swear!), 1 was certain that the petroglyphs that weren’t Chinese characters were left by aliens.

Also, there were jackrabbits!  We watched six jackrabbits—each of them about the size of a largeish Cocker Spaniel—cross the trail ahead of us.  We couldn’t get close to them , but we did manage to find jack rabbit tracks!

All in all, the experience was great!  For a historically oriented desert hike less than a 15 minute drive from a major airport, it can’t be beat!