Friday, October 26, 2012


Ok, so here's the radical part of radical unschooling.  I do not require that my children do chores, have arbitrary bedtimes, limits on TV/computer time, or eat according to my preferences.  I trust them to follow their intellectual and creative curiosity to learn in our home and out in the world, and I trust their innate desire to be healthy and happy, to guide them with how to treat their bodies.

This is not to say that I just leave them to their own devices to eat whatever 'junk food' they can scavenge from the cupboard and watch TV in their jammies all day.  I am a more engaged parent for not simply falling back on rules to guide us.  I offer lots of opportunities for interesting learning opportunities (a science experiment, an outing, craft supplies, etc.), and I offer advice  (i.e. "You look sleepy, hon, let's brush our teeth and read some books together in bed."), and I offer opportunities to help in a meaningful way ("Wanna help me clean the livingroom and then have a dance party?").  All of these offers, really are offers.  They are free to say no, thanks, or not now, maybe later.

I say yes as often as I can, and I give reasons for my no's.  I believe that these children are not just potential adults needing to be filled with knowledge, but full-on human beings experiencing the world on their own terms.  I am here to guide them in matters of safety (their own and others), and to provide an environment that allows learning to flow freely both at home and out in the world.  That last bit is inspired by, perhaps paraphrased from, Sandra Dodd, a longtime radical unschooler who has collected a lot of inspiring writing on the subject of unschooling.

This radical unschooling gig plays out differently in each family based on the interests and temperaments of the family members.  A lot of what I share here is how these principles of trust and respect (and yes!) play out in our family.  So, here's what two more days of radical unschooling at the Verde house looked like.
 Yesterday, a rainy day, looked like soaking an egg in vinegar to see what will happen, via the naked egg experiment.

 While the girls were playing and watching a movie, I doodled with a Sharpie on watercolor paper to paint on later.
 Camille was similarly inspired.

It looked like me helping translate so that Camille, who has been poring through a sign language book to learn ASL can communicate with Sylvia without either of them getting frustrated.  They built a "musical fort".

After playing, and a run to the library, and reading, and swinging, and dancing, and watching Bill Nye, the Science of Music and The Pirates of Tortuga, and eating and playing on instruments, and Camille's play rehearsal, the girls decided to clean the living room.  It doesn't happen every day, but one of the beauteous things about not requiring chores is that children can choose to joyfully do those things which could otherwise be seen as drudgery.  Ayla loves to help with the dishes, Camille enjoys organizing things, and Sylvia is often happy to sweep and dust.

After Camille retired to bed to listen to Alice in Wonderland, Sylvia took advantage of the big, clean, living room floor by donning a bikini and rollerskates.  I put on some 80s music (not too loud, so Camille and Papa could sleep), and her and Ayla and I rocked out for a bit before going to bed ourselves.

Today was sunny, but cool.  We strolled down the road and into the woods.
 Sylvia had packed us a picnic of cheese, apples, baby carrots, dried cranberries, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and a jar of water.

 Nearing the end of our hike, we lay in the damp leaves and admired the blue sky, Camille and I snuggled up in one pile and Sylvia and Ayla nearby.

We gathered corn cobs left behind from the harvest in a nearby field.  Ayla 'grated' the cobs together while Sylvia grated carrots for Camille's egg drop soup (shredded carrot, garlic, sea salt, cumin, and beaten eggs in boiling water)    

Sylvia loves to chop and grate and Camille enjoys cooking on the stove, so the came up with a dessert soup as well.  "Mama, this is so good.  You should put this recipe on your blog!"
Apple Blueberry Soup

Chopped apples and fresh or frozen blueberries stewed in water with maple syrup and cinnamon.  Cook until fruit is soft but not falling apart.  There you go.

  We played catch with a felt wool ball.  The girls kicked a soccer ball around while I ran a load of laundry.
Some days are much more social than this.  Some days someone will eat a few too many mini marshmallows and decide their tummy doesn't like that.  Some days someone will get really interested in a new show on Netflix or a new computer game and be enthralled for hours (maybe in their jammies).  Some days I do all of the cooking and cleaning myself.  Some days sisters need space from each other or a reminder to treat each other respectfully.  Some days we meet friends, and go to museums, and run errands in the city.

Right now, the sky is dark, Camille and Sylvia just came in from playing and closing up the chicken coop for the night.  I started this crazy-long blog post sometime around the soup-making time and am just finishing it now.  Ayla is sleeping in my lap, Camille is reading Sylvia a Choose Your Own Adventure story,and I think it's a damn fine life we're living.

*linking up again over at Owlet's Unschool Monday.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

alka-seltzer and trihexaflexagons

It was warm and wet and foggy outside today, and I wanted nothing more than to go out for a nature walk with all of my girls in tow, but they are at various stages of a sniffly cold, and it was indoors for us today.  So, three snuggly best friends hung out under the covers and watched more Bill Nye the Science Guy (the Skin episode this time) and Barbie & the Diamond Castle.  Yup, we're well-rounded.  I started reading The Hunger Games over an unusually quiet morning cup of coffee.

Before long they were trying out an experiment suggested by Bill.  One hand was immersed in icy water and one in warm water.  After a few seconds the two containers of water were combined and both hands plunged in to see if the left and right hands felt the temperature differently based on their previous sensations.

"Let's do another experiment, Mama!"

Thanks to Steve Spangler and a mention of it by Stephanie at Ordinary Life Magic, I had Alka-Seltzer on hand to try out the Alka-Seltzer Lava Lamp.
 We added the oil, and the water, and the food coloring.

 Gave it a swirl, and dropped in an 1/8 of a tablet of the fizzy stuff.

 The bubbles rose up and sunk back down while the food coloring drops dispersed.  Ayla was kept happy with a supply of tablets and plain water.  It kept her two-year-old-fingers busy while Camille documented her observations and Sylvia gazed.
 Of course we had to see what would happen if we added 1/2 of a tablet.... or a whole tablet.
 Camille's scientific conclusion:  one whole alka seltzer is awesome.

"What else should we do?"

How about hexaflexagons?  Remember those?  Alright then....let's start with an equilateral triangle, and another, and another, fold into a hexagon, turn inside out, and voila!

 We started with the Trihexaflexagon Classic from the Flexagon Portal, except we had to add our own artistic flair :)  Even these basic ones are surprisingly satisfying to turn inside out over and over.  I think we'll have to slowly work up to the heptahexaflexagon.

What else?  Mama read-aloud, audio books, and board games.

Sylvia loves playing games and puzzles of all kinds (including on-line jigsaw puzzles by National Geographic), but the cooperative board game about medicinal herbs, Wildcraft is by far her favorite. I enjoy it too, but I have found that with this very talkative, easily distracted girl, my patience level is much improved by having a bit of knitting to hand.  It's not as distracting as a book, but just right for taking up when I feel myself wanting to yell, "just. take. your. turn."  Instead I can peacefully enjoy a row (or two) of this ruffly scarf that I started ages ago.
So there we have it, a bit of science, reading, math, art, herbal medicine study, and knitting ...all without leaving the house.  Time for dinner and a cup of herbal tea.  Maybe, we'll be up for a nature walk tomorrow, if not, I wonder what we else can get into....

Do you and your children have any favorite sick day (or rainy day) activities to do?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

bath crayons and leaf lanterns

Bath Crayons
We were inspired by the Tubtime Crayons recipe in The Ultimate Book of Kid Concoctions.  We started by grating a bar of Ivory soap and adding it to 1/4 cup of warm water.  After stirring it, we separated the slippery soap 'dough' into 4 parts and added about 5 drops of food coloring to each part.
  The food coloring was kneaded into the soap mixture and we pressed it into popsicle molds.  Ice cube trays or cookie cutters could also be used to shape the bath crayons. My sensitive-to-textures girl wanted nothing to do with it at this point, but one of these girls loves to squish, shape, knead, and squelch so she lucked out on the job :)

We popped the soap into the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up and then took them out of the molds to continue drying over night.

After two batches, one with double the amount of food coloring, we wondered if a natural castile soap would also work.  The bath crayons looked similar when made with the castile soap, but for some reason they didn't leave much of a mark behind on the shower walls.
 I think perhaps the process of making these was more exciting than drawing with the final product, but now we have very colorful soap to use :)

Leaf Lanterns
We were inspired to make these from the book, Earthways:  Simple Environmental Activities for Young Children, but mostly improvised the actual construction of them.
Even though the peak of the autumn leaf color is over, there was no shortage of "here, hold these ones, mama, while I look for more."

 We brought our leaves in and arranged them between sheets of wax paper.  After ironing both sides on a low iron setting, we were ready to shape our lanterns.  We used fresh leaves instead of pressed ones, but it seemed to work just fine.

 We cut out circles of cardboard for the base.  We cut a small (1/2" or so) snip every inch around the bottom of the wax paper and folded the resulting tabs under.  We used a glue stick to attach the waxpaper around in a cylinder and also to attach the cylinder to the base.
 So simple to make and so pretty when lit up.  I especially love seeing the details of the leaves' veins lit up.

Other Stuff
After watching Bill Nye, the Science Guy's episodes about Bones & Muscles and Blood & Circulation, Camille and Sylvia paid close attention to their pulse rate after resting and after exercising and were surprised at how much quicker their pulse rates were after activity.  

We've also been watching a documentary about pandas and playing Zoo Tycoon on the computer.  Sylvia has been enjoying having Caddie Woodlawn read aloud to her, and Camille has been listening to George's Secret Key to the Universe by Stephen and Lucy Hawking on audio book.  It is a very engaging story with  fascinating science facts mixed in.  Camille and I glanced at each other with our jaws open in surprise several times while driving in the car and listening to this book.  We also giggled over some of the character's antics.

Let's see, what else?  Legos and Pirates 101 and Skip to My Lou, oh my!  Throw in a visit to the library, our favorite Whitaker's Farm Fresh Market store for locally grown and produced foods, and two play rehearsals, and I'd call that a very satisfying two days.