Thursday, July 30, 2015

Finding the Freedom to Unschool (at least a little bit)



I don't think my homeschooling can adequately be described by any one of the popular methods anymore.  I think if I had to give an answer it would be the Classically-Minded Montessori Traditional Charlotte Mason-Inspired Unit Study Unschooly School of Stuff method.  With a concentration in Intuitive Parenting.

Because I want them all. 

A literature-based curriculum that keeps children enthused about subjects and taps into the innate desire to learn and teaches through the universal appeal of story?  
YES!

A time-tested curriculum that fosters critical thinking skills and immersion in ancient truths and cultural foundations and teaches according to the proper understanding level of the student?  
Of course!

A curriculum that focuses on hands-on experiential and skill-based learning that grows upon the interior inborn intellectual delight of the student?  
Oh that!  We've got to do THAT!

A school setting that requires rigorous work and proof of concept mastery and acknowledges that the worth of a subject cannot be measured by its immediate gratification?  
Obviously!

Check all the boxes.  I want them all.  And on any particular day you'll find me using one or more approach, though I don't necessarily identify it as such while it's happening (and probably wouldn't really know how anyway).  And that's where the Intuitive Parenting comes in.  What seems to my reason and intellect to make the most sense in this given situation?  
Yes.  Let's do that.

But as I get further along in this homeschooling journey I find myself more and more relying on the scariest one of all.  Unschooling.  I have my non-negotiable subjects - math, reading, writing, Latin, memory work, piano.  Those things get done because they must get done and aren't always going to be fun.  But things like science, history, literature, physical education, health and more have for the most part become my unschooling subjects.  Here's why:

A few weekends ago we went to a Civil War reenactment.  We thought the boys would like it (they adored it) and we had a free Saturday and a season pass.  So we went.  When they got home within fifteen minutes they were setting up their own battle.  A week or two later I turned around to my six year old's request, "Mama, look at me!  I'm George Washington!"  He had on a navy blue tee shirt and his version of a tricorn hat fashioned out of construction paper and string.  I briefly admired and then didn't think much about it so used to it as I am.  The boys all went out to play and I cleaned.  As I cleaned I found books strewn about the front room.  Again.
Sigh.  Will they EVER learn to pick up their books?  
But as I picked them up I saw the title of the books and what was happening.  All the books were about George Washington and different battles of the Revolutionary War.  They were learning yet again without me doing a single thing.  A few minutes later I was called out to the yard to this:





It was their own Revolutionary War reenactment.  They had looked it up, worked together, planned it all out (uniforms, weaponry, attack styles, smoking cannons and all), and they did it all without one iota of help from me.  I can guarantee that they learned more from that than from anything I could've planned.  I mean, I guess I could've planned all that out.  I could've decided that at a certain month or year we were going to study the Revolutionary War.  I could've planned reading assignments and crafts and discussions and field trips about the topic.  I could've written out lesson plans and assigned biographies and read them stories of the battles.  I could see this being part of some very extensive unit study program with coloring sheets, book lists, diagrams to make tricorn hats, and a whole big helping of stress on the side.  That could work.  But this time something else did.  They did it on their own, they did it for fun, and they did it without any stress on my part.  I have to believe there's something very important to them taking the initiative, figuring it out, implementing it, and wanting to do it all on their own.

And I'm learning to be okay with that.   

This happens all the time.  I bet it does in a whole lot of houses.  History, science, reading, sports…they want to learn about something and then they do.  Or a conversation about something happens naturally at the dinner table - a current event, a way to spell something, a debate about the best ways to build a rocket.  It's the lemonade stand they plan and implement all on their own.  The random Google search to answer that question about black holes.  The poring over a book on Ancient Egypt and requesting a coloring page of King Tut's mask.  The family garden.  The building of a birthday catapult.  The desire for cookies (the "if you can figure out how to make them, sure we can have them" approach.)  The woodworking project with dad.  The family pilgrimage.

They're learning all the time.

And yet every single year I still think I need to have The Perfect History Curriculum, The Perfect Science Curriculum, The Perfect Book List, The Perfect Program to Write on the Form.  Otherwise, how will they learn?  And every year I fail at implementing it and they still learn and no doubt learn far more than that elusive curriculum would've accomplished anyway.  

It's messier than I would like.  It's not organized and lovely and doesn't fit well onto the state's quarterly report forms.  I can't quantify it and measure it and check it off my list.  But it's real and it's happening and if I see it for what it is, it's actually an unbelievable gift.

The world is an incredibly interesting place.  The stories of our past, the way creation works, the many amazing things we can create with our hands and talents - they all entice the child whose mind has not been dulled.  And while I nod my head to that, it is just now that I'm learning to embrace it and let it work for me.  How foolish I am to be too afraid to get out of the way and just let it happen!  It's a gift to the homeschooling mom that her children are born with that innate desire and instinct to learn and very often it can happen with nary a structured and stressful lesson plan.  It's a gift that I'm learning to recognize as real and just as valid as the learning that can be quantified and checked off the list, if not more so.  It's a gift that my family needs right now.

I think it's fair to say there are things we have intuitively or intentionally done to foster this kind of thing so it's certainly not just hands-off do-nothing homeschooling.  Not at all.  But it is natural, effective and darn it, it's certainly easier.  Which means it's a whole lot more likely to happen versus my perfectly outlined and parent intensive curriculum that I won't realistically actually implement because baby and dinner and exhaustion and how the heck did we run out of red construction paper again?!?  

We have set family meal times, we go on field trips as a family (but I don't think I've ever once called it that), we greatly limit screen and media time (and make very intentional choices about those when they are allowed), I allow them ample amount of free time, and we've filled our home library with books that are worth reading.  All of those play a huge part in things like described above just "happening."


Oh, don't get me wrong.  I don't want to give off the idea that our home is some blissful 24/7 educational utopia.  Because it's not.  But right now we are called to homeschool.  And I have a little brood of kids, a home to care for, meals to make, health to keep up, and other ministries that are important to me.  If God is calling me to all of these then I need to accept and believe that God will provide a way for it all to happen.  And maybe this is part of it.  Maybe I can accept this natural curiosity and eagerness to learn as His gift to me.  I want to recognize that and work with that and stop stressing about it fitting some sort of preconceived mold of what education should look like.  I'm going to see those moments they create as the way God may be giving me to continue to educate my children at home while still meeting the demands of all the other things.  A gift I can receive without guilt or pressure to the ever tempting More.

This year I'm daring to allow that to be my lesson planning.  They'll be required subjects, of course.  They'll be daily math and reading and Latin and more.  But I'm going to try for those other subjects to not plan anything at all.  With lots of materials and tactics and ideas in my arsenal, I can let go and embrace the gift of letting it happen all on its own without me needing to stress or fear.  I'm finally giving in to that fact that maybe God had a hand in all this and let it be the joyful, messy, and so very freeing adventure that it can be.  I'm embracing the gift of children who want to learn and counting it as valid.  

I think I'm finally  learning that it's okay to get out of the way and that the lessons that I don't need to teach are just as real as the ones I do.

And of course, this is where I am now and how it looks for our family right now.  It's not what I deem the way all the families must do it so let's get off that crazy train right now.  But for me right now in our particular family it's time for me to embrace the fact that I don't need to do it all.  To see the gift that's lying open right in front of me.  It's time for me to finally let go of my ingrained ideas of how it should all look and embrace the gift and freedom of sometimes doing what feels like "nothing" at all.


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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Babies, Guns, and Baby Guns {phfr}


It feels good that we've been doing a lot of impromptu fun things with the family.  Last summer was weird.  I was getting out a lot but my motivation for doing things together as a family was at a low.  This summer I'm battling it out and I'm trying to make it a priority to embrace the opportunities put before us.  We decided on Friday night to head out the next morning to a Civil War reenactment about an hour away from us.  It's at the same place we went to for the Fourth.  And while reenacted battles and the loud loud loud cannons and guns were not necessarily my cup of tea (I'd much prefer to watch them churn the butter and work the loom, thanks), you can guess how the boys felt about it.

I didn't get many shots of the actual battle because hands full on Ben and Luke duty.  Little ones and loud noises and all.  I was holding one ear against my chest with my palm against his other ear and he was perfect.  He even fell asleep in the middle of both of the battles.  Luke was responsible for his own ears.

It was hot.  But worth it for the memories, for the boys soaking it all in, and for making history, a subject I struggle with so much, come alive.

{pretty}





I love that the reenactors legit camp out in these tents, cook and eat outside, and live the life for a weekend.  








{funny}
About fifteen minutes after we got home this happened:
My favorite part is that David was "wounded" and had to be dragged back to the tent.

And Luke's face.

{happy}
At the beginning of summer we had a family of purple martins decide to make our window frame their home!  I feel so lucky because usually people have to put up fancy tall martin houses to attract them.  They're great to have because they swoop around all day long eating bugs almost exactly like bats but WITHOUT BEING BATS.  I love to watch them going back and forth and there are a ton.  Unfortunately, there are still lots of mosquitoes out there because of the wet June but I guess they'd be even worse if our little martin family wasn't there. 

Last week I noticed that they had babies!  They were so sweet and they're already huge and I *think* may have taken flight?  Or that's them up there.  I can't really tell because they won't let me get too close.  They're nest is now huge over the window and goes all the way along the width.  I'm nervous it might begin to pull the eave (that's what that is, right?) away from the house.  You can thank me for not showing you the porch floor underneath.  Ew.  But at least those floors are slated for replacement real soon ;)

{real}
This one.  Two months yesterday.  For real.
And way too squirmy for stellar photography.  But that doesn't keep me from trying.


He loves to hang out in his muscle baby gun pose.

But fuzzy photos are the price to pay, I suppose, for this kind of happy squirminess.

Doing the {phfr} thing with Like Mother, Like Daughter…we're headed off soon for some more summering - a baseball game and downtown exploring!  Have a happy Thursday!


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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Long Expected Party - A Middle Earthen Eleventh Birthday


This past Sunday we were finally able to have John Paul's birthday party!  
He had been planning for months for his Lord of the Rings themed party and the first date was frustratingly rained out.  Very thankful that all the crazy forecast changes for this past weekend didn't pan out and we had a beautiful (if hot) day to finally celebrate.

We realized a few days before how fitting it was to have this theme on his 11th birthday…I mean, not many people make it to their eleventy first, right?  (<---LOTR fan reference right there.)  It's pretty great once kids get to the age where they can really help out and he was so enthused and did most of the planning himself.  


(I feel the need to apologize for the photo quality.  Poor lighting plus poor photographer equals these.)

§ The Decor §

I was so very happy to simply reuse the banner that I printed out from sweet Charlotte at Waltzing Matilda and used for Michael's dwarven birthday!  

Along with her printables!
The birthday boy felt gold and black seemed to fit the theme best so we went with those for a few streamers and balloons, though green and gold I think would also work well.  I also had our huge Middle Earth map on display in the living room.

§ The Food §


The spread:

We had the party in the afternoon post lunch to pre dinner so I just provided themed snacks and cake which seemed to be more than enough.


John Paul used the elvish alphabet to write out the cards for each snack.
The specifics:

Our favorite
Homemade lembas!  John Paul used this recipe completely on his own and cut them in largish squares with an X on top.  We have a catalpa tree in our yard which just so happens to put out the perfect huge leaves for lembas wrapping.  Of course, for catalpa-less folks green paper cut to shape would also work just fine!

Tater Chips

The (onion) Rings of Power
(Pretzel rings also would work but there were none to be found at the store.)

(Gold)Fish for Gollum

Boromir's Bugles Horns

Conies - (Auntie Anne's Bunny Cookies)

And beer.  Ours didn't come in pints, though.

§ The Cake §

One of the simplest cakes ever to make and for that I was most grateful.  Inspired by Jessica's One Ring Cake.  I didn't have a ring pan like hers but a bundt pan with a bit of hole-widening worked just fine enough.

Dyed with the India Tree natural yellow dye.  Rather than the actual ring inscription, I used my best Elvish script to write out happy birthday John Paul.  If there are any Elvish scholars out there finding errors, please blame Google not me.


§ The Favors §

Homemade favors were provided upon entrance.

For the girls, Elvish circlets:
He used 12 gauge craft wire and a bit of construction paper.  

And homemade daggers for the boys:
He used…I don't even know.  Scraps from the garage, it looks like.  And cardboard.

§ The Costumes §

The boys wore their homemade costumes from a few Christmases ago with the addition of an Aragorn crown.

When not sleeping our little Gollum hung out on the porch ;)

(Requested action shot)

The party ensemble…we even got orcs!

And I did my best Arwen impression with a fifteen year old bridesmaid dress from the back of my closet.  Knew I kept that thing for a reason ;)  

But really, check out that handiwork.  Ha, unintended corny joke right there, folks.  I'll be here all night.

§ The Games §

Mount Doom Ring Toss

Stool + basket + plastic tablecloth + red streamers + painted cardboard ring


The Catapult 

John Paul made that thing.  I came out one afternoon and he was busily drilling away.  I think it is hysterical.  And a great addition to our lawn the last few months ;)

They had to catapult a rock to knock down the wall.

Which eventually was overtaken by battering ram...


The Orc Battlefield

Creepy paper orc heads were printed out online and mounted on sticks.

Heading out to battle

“Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”  C.S. Lewis

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”  G.K. Chesterton


Heading back from battle

Archery Practice

Just a simple target for an archery contest

The Eye of Sauron Piñata

Inspired by Melody's piñata, John Paul created this lovely eye that loved to glare at me every time I walked into the laundry room the last two months.

They were entertained a looong time by trying to knock it down catapult style.


But it eventually just needed Anduril.

§ The Gifts §

We didn't do themed gifts but for the sake of mom blogdom, a few pics of gifts.
David bought him a chocolate bar.

The Odyssey.  (Homeschool alert)

And more books (Horatio Hornblower, if you're interested).  

And the sweetest homemade baseball game from his cousin.  I love when they make each other gifts!
We gave him our gifts on his actual birthday - more books and a new (to him) bike (thank you, Craigslist).

And a faux blow for cake time because the wind wouldn't let us keep the candles lit.  
At this point the cake was melting but I, um, totally meant for that to happen because Mount Doom and all.  Ahem.

Happy birthday, Aragorn.  
May you always battle for good and rise to the heights for which you were created.
And don't forget your Arwen ;)


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