Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Blossoming Gardens

In 1997, we were in our second year of keeping our kids out of school. Michael was 8, Katie was 6, and Alyssa was 3.  We were trying to create a community of unschooling and relaxed homeschooling families in Alaska, so I agreed to publish a newsletter called Chart & Compass.  It was only available for the few years we lived there, but I wrote this article about Spring and Unschooling and Alaska...and it just makes me smile.  I'm glad I continued on that path!

And now, 15 years later,  I'm happy to share it with the Unschooling Blog Carnival!

I've really been getting into gardening lately. I'm amazed at the bold colors and the lush flower arrangements all over town, a town barren just a couple of months back. Being new to Alaska, I don't really know a lot about which flowers grow well here.

All my gardening knowledge dealt with plants indigenous to Texas and North Carolina-clearly bluebonnets and azaleas aren't going to work out. Well, actually, I could plant them in pots, regulate their sun time, heat, and watering to be more similar to the South. While the plants would grow, they wouldn't really thrive---not to mention how exhausted I would be---all because I only wanted to grow what I was familiar with!

I'm struck by the similarity between my gardening experience and my unschooling/homeschooling experience. Prior to this year, all I knew about education came from what and how I had learned in schools. Some good, some bad. What worked, what hadn't. The only thing is, that environment is not what I want to duplicate in my home. "School-ish" materials seem to really be aimed at the center of that bell curve and a lot of the repetitiveness is due to so many children in one classroom. Certainly, it doesn't take 12 years to cover that material! So, probably, just as with my gardening, I'm going to have to learn new ways.

Forcing a familiar school-type approach at home is like forcing bougainvillea to bloom in Alaska.

I look out the window and see the Alaska Shasta daisies, lobelia, and the Forget-Me-Nots growing like mad. They're not root-bound in pots (and the gardeners seem to be thriving well too). All it took was to find what these little flowers needed and provide it. And allow Nature to provide the rest. That, too, requires a certain amount of trust. I have to hold myself back from interfering, trying to force my old ways of gardening and learning upon my gardens. I guess I'll just try to relax and enjoy my little flowers' unfolding. I hope you're enjoying your gardens too!

Anchorage Visitor Center

From Chart & Compass May 1997 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Interesting Graphic about Homeschoolers

This is from the College at Home Blog. While I don't think we're in this to dominate anybody, I think it's nice to be able to show that those who learn at home are doing just fine thankyouverymuch!

Glancing at the sources a little, I see where they get their numbers. Not sure it's all that accurate - no one asked me about our income level or my husband's occupation. Still, it makes a little sense as to where some of this comes from. Nevertheless, it's a quicky reference for the naysayers, I guess. ;)

[Sorry about the overlap here into the sidebar. The image doesn't give me a lot of choices. It's ok, you can see it.]

Homeschool Domination
Created by: College At Home

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Unschooling Your Teens - FB Resource!

Have you ever noticed how great information simply scrolls off the bottom of a Facebook page?  That may change with the new Timeline format that's coming, but for now, I lose things all the time! I think something sounds worthwhile to read and plan to come back to it later when the house is quieter, or I'm just less distracted.  But then, I find that I a) don't remember where I saw it, or b) that particular wall has now been engulfed with 6 more hours of worldwide comments. I simply cannot find it.

So last fall, I started a Facebook page and simply started posting the interesting articles, videos, blogposts that pertained to families with teenagers learning at home.  I didn't make it public, I just stored articles there.  Eventually, I realized that others might benefit from this resource and even be capable of sharing articles that they find out on the internet. I wrote to a few friends and flipped the switch to "Public."

Someone asked if this is a Discussion forum. The answer is Yes and No. Yes, in that we can discuss whatever the article, video, blogpost that's up on the wall. But no, in that I'd prefer questions that don't pertain to the uploaded links be handled on the many lists that exist out on Facebook and the web that handle this. I agree that there are very few places that parents of teens can share specifically to that age range. But, perhaps something will come. If you are interested in the materials, or have something to share that is specific for parents of teens, please join the page.

In the meantime, here's my new Facebook Page: 
If you go to this link, "like" the page,  any updates will be automatically sent to your Facebook newsfeed.

Please share this link! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Conferences 2012

 When we were first homeschoooling, I wanted to learn as much as I could. I found a conference that was nearby and went to it. It was referred to as "a Christian" conference, but I didn't think much about it. We were Episcopalian, that seemed like it would be fine. It wasn't long before I discovered that there are sometimes "code words" in the homeschooling language. And, evidently, "Christian Conference" is one of them.

They talked about being called by God to homeschool. That wasn't my situation, I just thought I could do better than the public school system. Sure, I prayed, but I didn't feel like God Himself was telling me to do this! They also talked about wives deferring to their husbands for all decision-making, being subservient, and recognizing that their husband was The Principal in their Home School. That certainly didn't describe our situation. My husband agreed that homeschooling was a good thing, but he hadn't researched it nearly as much as I had. Why would I ask him for advice? I was trying to get HIM to read more and get more educated on the topic (which he ultimately did). But I was leading this push, not him.

What I did find to be beneficial at that first homeschooling conference was their resource room. I had seen various materials for sale in homeschooling catalogs, and most of them were right there in the Resource Room - available for me to look at and decide if their marketing was accurate. You know how you see movie trailers that are so great, but then you realize that those were the only good parts of the whole movie? Marketing works that way in homeschool catalogs as well. And that was the mid- '90s! I'm sure marketing to homeschoolers/unschoolers has only grown larger!

Long long ago!
Lillian Jones, Linda Dobson, me, Alyssa
I will tell you that my favorite conference is HSC Conference in Sacramento. I went for several years as we lived nearby. I even spoke there and worked as a Speaker Coordinator. What I like about it is that all kinds of homeschoolers are welcome. There is a distinct unschooling "flavor" about it. But as my homeschooling friends used to tell me, "I love being around unschoolers. Even though we use curriculum, you all inspire me to be much more creative!" That's what this conference will do.

So grab a friend and head off to a conference! Bring your kids too, because their are fun things for them as well. Also, I think it helps them feel part of something larger.

Unschoolers’ Waterpark Gathering.
January 23-27, 2012. Sandusky, Ohio.

In-Home Conference
March 15-17, 2012. St. Charles, Illinois

ARGH, Autodidactic Radical Gathering of Homeschoolers
May 6-9, 2012  Roan Mt, TN

ALL in May
Always Learning Live Unschooling Symposium
May 18- 20, 2012, Worcester, Massachusetts

LIFE is Good Unschooling Conference.
May 24 -27, 2012. Vancouver, Washington.

HSC Conference: Adventures in Homeschooling
August 2-5, 2012. Sacramento, California

Northeast Unschooling Conference.
August 23-26, 2012. Wakefield, Massachusetts.

Rethinking Everything.
Labor Day Weekend August 30 - September 4, 2012. Dallas, Texas

Wide Sky Days (was Good Vibrations Unschooling Conference)
September 5-9, 2012. San Diego, California

Un in the Sun
October 17-20, 2012

Always Learning Live Unschoolers Symposium.
Dec 27-30, 2012 – Albuquerque, NM

Toronto Unschooling Conference,
 On Hiatus, Toronto, Ontario

For Teens:

Backpacking 101, Outdoors Skills and Ethics
Bowman Adventures
May 13-18, 2012, Jonesborough, Tennessee

East Tennessee Unschooled Summer Camp.
Aug 12-19, 2012. Buffalo Mountain, Tenn.

NBTSC (Not Back To School Camp)
July 30-August 6 Camp Latgawa, Eagle Point, Oregon
August 21- September 4  Camp Myrtlewood, Bridge, Oregon
September 21- October 5  Farm & Wilderness Tamarack Farm Camp - Plymouth, Vermont

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Following a Passion

When we lived in Alaska, a small horse stable was located on the outskirts of the Air Force base. We'd have to pass it everyday, as we drove in toward the neighborhoods. Alyssa was mesmerized. She and Ron would identify which horses were out in the pasture. As winter approached, the horses spent a little more time in the barns. So when Ron dropped Michael off at Tiger Cubs, he and Alyssa would go to the stables and talk to the horses for that hour. Sometimes they'd talk to the owners, sometimes they'd bring carrots or apples or sugar cubes.

Alyssa was shy around people, but not around horses. She'd walk her tiny self - she was all of about 4 years old - up to the stalls, and pet those enormous horses. Ron would hold her up and she'd rub their faces, speaking softly to them. They'd talk about different horse breeds and how they looked and acted. Soon the owners came to know them, and they'd share stories about their horses.  We thought about how nice it would be someday, to own our own horse farm.

So when the Air Force took us to California after Alaska, we knew we needed to find a horse farm. We couldn't buy one, but we sure could hang out at someone else's! We wanted to find riding lessons for all of the kids; Ron decided he wanted to learn too. He found ManMar Ranch near our home. ManMar was interesting because it was a breeding ranch for the UC Veterinary school. We found a riding instructor named Miss Shirley.  She was from England and wanted everyone to learn English instead of Western. Being a HUGE John Wayne fan family, that did not sit well. Miss Shirley explained that it was a better way to learn. Less leather between you and your horse, means you will be able to read each other better.  So that's what we did. And we decide to learn something, we immerse ourselves. Ron and the kids would offer to help the ranch owner, Liz, with whatever she needed. She had stable hands, but they had a lot to do. Soon, my kids were moving horses from one field to another, bringing them into their stalls for the night, helping with feeding, chatting with owners. When one of the mares was about to have a foal, Liz called us to come up and watch. A miracle in the barn - without a doubt!

The UC Vets let the kids look through microscopes, talked with them about injuries, and explained artificial insemination. They all learned about the dangers of getting too close to the hormone-raging stallions, as well as the mares who were used solely for breeding. They were referred to as the Crazy Mares. I guess you would be too if you were pregnant most of your life! This happens in the horse racing world. Expensive race horses cannot run the risk of a problem pregnacy. So the Crazy Mares do all the work, so to speak.
Liz had shared her horses with us. First it was Pepper (For Dr. Pepper), then it was Louie. Finally she wanted us to try to ride Gilley. He was a Standard bred bay colored horse who had not done well on the track. He was fast, but he was easily spooked at the gate. While that's no good for a race horse, it's not that bad for a family horse. Ron and Michael spent many days there helping them build a covered riding arena, learning how to break in horses - all to barter with Liz, work for boarding costs for Gilley.  Liz loved her horses. So when Alyssa clearly loved them too, they were connected. She even hosted a birthday party for Alyssa out at the ranch, letting all of her friends climb onto different horses and go for a ride.

Katie's interest in horses faded. But Michael, Alyssa and Ron continued their horse love affair. So when the Air Force was ready to move us back to Texas, we decided we had to have a ranch! Boarding costs alone made it sound like a good idea. But really, it was clear that we were bringing more animal interests into our lives. We already had a parakeet, a turtle, a dog, a cat, a guinea pig and some tadpoles that would never morph into frogs (I'll save that story for another post!) So we bought 16 acres on a hill northwest of Wichita Falls, in a community that was just a dot on map: Thornberry. Before long, we acquired 2 more horses, Dolly and Cimarron.

 But we also acquired chickens, ducks, guineas, guinea pigs, goats, cows, a donkey, a bull, cockatiels, parakeets, feral cats and guard dogs.  We built a chicken coop and raised chicks. We learned how the light affects the egg production and how to keep chickens safe from coyotes and bull snakes. We wrote stories about the animals and the various adventures and mysteries that happened on the ranch. The kids bought a breeding pair of cockatiels and started a cockatiel business. They trained the birds so they could be handled and hand-fed and sold the babies to other families. They helped with the birthing of calves, trimmed hooves on goats, and even buried a much loved cat that we had brought with us from Alaska. They bottle-fed kittens that had been abandoned in a neighbor's barn. They learned how soft a donkey's nose is and how stubborn a bull can be. They entered their dogs in 4H competitions, even winning some of them! They learned about horse tack and temperaments. We bought materials to build stalls and run fencing.  The kids shared their information with other "city kids" who had no idea we had only just left the 'burbs ourselves.  We met other horse owners in the ranches nearby. Alyssa even delivered Girl Scout cookies by horseback!  Our kids knew what was safe and what was important on the ranch.

We stayed on our ranch in Thornberry for 5 years. We learned so much there! But the reason I'm sharing this here is because, for us, this was what following our passions looked like.  Ron noticed Alyssa was interested in horses in Alaska and found a way for her to see one up close. Connecting all the dots is something you can see clearly when it's retrospective; but while you're living it, you simply have to step toward the interest and see where you go.  These steps led to a 10 year adventure with animals - for the whole family!

Alyssa was a late reader and didn't retain many math concepts. But she could spot a Thoroughbred and tell you all the difference between a Buckskin and a Palomino. She knew her tack and her horses. It really made me smile to look out the kitchen window and see her pull her horse, Dolly, over toward the hot tub or the fence gate. She'd climb up so she'd be tall enough to hop onto the bare back of the horse. Then she'd ride laps around the house, down the driveway, and around the fence lines. It gave her a confidence that would see her through many of the obstacles she'd face later in life. Our "pets" taught all of them that animals need their human to do a lot of hard work - every day. If it was cold and windy, they still had to be fed. If it was raining, someone still needed to close up the chicken coop door.

But they learned even bigger lessons. They learned that if you love something, it's within your grasp... even if you have to shift some priorities to get it. People might look at you funny saying, "You're going to do what?" But anything is attainable if you walk through the steps to get there.  That is so much more important than long division or reading by 8.

In spite of - or more likely *because of* this nontraditional approach toward learning, my kids did learn to read and to write.  
     Michael (almost 23) got a degree in Journalism and is a Peace Corps Volunteer. 
     Katie (21) is studying at a film acting conservatory in New York city. 
     Alyssa is completing her cosmetology program, ready to start her career at 18.