Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Unschooling (on a Budget)

Monday through Thursday, photos of our family's unschooling life. Learning is everywhere.
 On Monday we drove through pockets of cloudy fog while the sun shone rainbows around us on our way to Bill Blagg's Science of Magic show. (We were able to get free tickets through our homeschool cooperative for educators and their students.)
 We stopped at a large town library while we were there and loaded up with stacks of books, audio books, and music CDs. (Free, of course.)
 We like to pull over and check out quirky roadside displays. (We checked carefully for any No Climbing signs. There were none.)

While Camille was at her saxophone lesson and band class, Sylvia, Ayla and I stopped at a local park to read books and play around. (Camille participates in instrument lessons and band for free through the local public school.) 


 I guess we wore Ayla out.

 Camille's ducks and geese (that she wanted for her birthday) provide eggs for us.
 Every day is dress-up day around here. Our dress-up clothes (as well as our wardrobe in general) is mostly thrifted, gifted, or homemade.

 Camille found a quiet spot to read Anne of Green Gables (for our local library teen book club).

 We grow as much of our own veggies, fruit, and herbs as we have the energy and skills for.

 We visit our local parks often.

Camille used some of her Christmas money on a snap circuit set a couple of years ago. It still gets used.


 My husband researched starter guitars to find a relatively inexpensive one for Sylvia to learn on when she showed interest. This is a left-handed, 3/4 size, classical guitar.

  A mom from a local homeschool group set up a tour of our phone and internet service provider. (Another free educational opportunity that my children were interested in.)

 We buy a pass to the state parks for $25, which provides us free entry to any Wisconsin State Park year round.
This is the one nearest to our home.

 making a faerie house

 There is an 8-week gymnastics class every spring and fall through a nearby town's recreation department for a ridiculously low fee. Camille and Sylvia have been enjoying it so much.

"Look, it's an am radio. All I can tune in is country and talk radio, though."

We live on one (modest) income for our family of five. While we may be privileged in some ways, there were a lot of sacrifices and difficult decisions that led us to creating the kind of lives that we want to live and raise our children in. We are not without some debt. Our home has solar heating, a wood burning stove, standard electricity, phone, and internet, a well, and a small parcel of organic land around it, but it is not (nearly) completely finished. We have continuously (but slowly) been building walls, finishing flooring, replacing appliances, putting in doors, etc., and we have been blessed with some help from our families. We try to bring in opportunities and supplies for our children that are exciting, open-ended, and educational while being very conscious of spending and consumption. The more that I see my children growing into thoughtful, respectful, creative, and curious people (as their developmental abilities allow), the more I see that the kind of resources that create a thriving, joyful unschooling life are less about financial resources (beyond basic security) and more about the kinds of resources that can be found by being creative, engaging, and engaged ourselves, in our community, and in our world.

Monday, September 22, 2014

It's all in the details

One thing that is missing when I share a blog post every couple of weeks is all of the ordinary moments and little details that make up our lives. Those are my favorite bits. Those seemingly insignificant moments make up a life, not just the grand outings and the planned activities. 

I'm getting a little better. Here's only four days worth of pictures.

Because we live pretty far from town, we try to incorporate fun stops and park hops into our errands so that we can fit them all in and not get burned out. After stopping at the bank, the grocery store, and the dollar store, Ayla had a play dagger to chop veggies at the park, Sylvia had a suction cup bow and arrow, and Camille had three jumping beans that she adored.
Of course we had to read about what makes Mexican jumping beans, well, jump. Apparently, small moths that are native to Mexico lay their eggs on a shrub (Sebastiania pavoniana). When the larva hatches, it eats away at the inside of the seed pod that it inhabits. As it eats and spins its cocoon, the weight of its body causes the small seed to jump around. If a moth successfully hatches form the little beans we can safely release it. Camille has named her three, Salta, Violeta, and Pequeno.
Then Camille and Sylvia had a gymnastics class while Ayla and I switched between watching them tumble and playing more at the park. After gymnastics, we stopped for donuts and one more quick stop for gluten-free treats, too.


 Who doesn't love a unicorn playing a kitty keyboard and singing sweet ramblings into the microphone?
And a thoughtful princess preparing for a tea party?
We grew that little watermelon. It was one of only a couple that ripened without getting nibbled on by something.

Lucky me. I was invited to attend the royal tea party as long as I was adorned with jewelry. They dolled me up. There was a fruit platter, sliced tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, tomato pesto salad, and clover and mint tea.


Then it was time to take Camille to the public school for band class. During the 45-minute class, Sylvia, Ayla, and I sat at the park in the sunshine and finished reading The Ordinary Princess because it was due back at the library that day. After class and a quick library visit, we brought one of Camille's friends home with us for a sleepover and although Camille had opted out of the royal tea party earlier in the day, her and her friend proved that they weren't too old for dress-up shenanigans. Never too old, right?


In the morning, Camille and I joined her Girl Scout troop at the Necedah Wildlife Refuge to go duck banding. The plan was that the girls would have the opportunity to catch, band, and release wild ducks that had come into a baited enclosure to help the staff track the various migrations.
 After a long drive into the refuge down gated, one-lane, dirt roads the girls were disappointed to see that none of the wild ducks had taken the bait. Serendipitously though, the staff was in the process of releasing young whooping cranes, who had been hatched and raised by their parents in captivity, into the wild.
They allowed us to watch one of the releases from a safe distance. Since they are an endangered species, with only about 500 whooping cranes still in existence, this was a rare opportunity. After having been reared by their parents in captivity, the young cranes were each separately released into a small enclosure to acclimate to their new surroundings. The hope is that these young birds will attract the attention of wild adult whooping cranes and be adopted by them. There was an adult mating pair just visible in the distance as this young one was being released, which was a very good sign.

I was not close enough to get a clear photo of the crane that we saw, but here is a photo from the refuge of two of the four chicks that were being released that day.
Photo Credit: USFWS/Kara Zwickey

Although we didn't get a chance to help with duck banding, it turned into a really wonderful experience, with other animal sightings as well, and a generous guide who shared photos and stories from some of his other wildlife research experience. He also helped this little painted turtle out of the road to safety. :)

It's hard to tell the scale in a photo, but this whooping crane egg was about twice as long as our chicken and duck eggs.

After leaving the wildlife refuge, another of Camille's friends came home with us for a few hours and the girls headed out into the woods down the hill from our house for awhile. I harvested some random veggies form the garden, and all of the girls settled in to watch Anastasia on Netflix. We talked a little bit about which parts of that story might be true and which are pure legend.

Later in the evening, Camille and I decided that spying on penguins for science seemed like a good idea. We registered for Penguin Watch, a volunteer citizen science project to help count and catalog adult penguins, chicks, and eggs for research. I bounced back and forth between penguin counting and putting together puzzles and being silly with Sylvia and Ayla.
Camille started on a tied fleece blanket.

Camille finished the blanket in time for an-all ages Girl Scout meeting. Her group made quite a few of the blankets to give to cancer patients while they were in the hospital for extra comfort. This was their final project to finish the Junior Bronze Award.

It was my first time co-leading the Daisy and Brownie members of the troop (ages 4-8). We made butterflies out of tissue paper, clothes pins, and pipe cleaners, and made sparkly garden collages. We talked about insect body parts, flowers, diversity, and respect for ourselves and others. We ate banana splits that the older girls in the troop made. Not bad for a first meeting, I think.

The rest of the afternoon was pretty relaxing with scattered play, and food, and photo editing for me.
Camille played Flow Free on the tablet and talked about her strategy for figuring out patterns. Sylvia and Ayla played some game where Ayla got bossed around a lot because Sylvia was a princess, until Ayla got fed up with that one. They moved onto something else that seemed to involve every toy in the playroom getting dumped out and strewn about. Well, that's what it looked like to me, but they assure me there was more to it.

During some silly play between all three of them before bed, I was invited to come see an Unusual Hat Parade.

Phew! It'll be a bright and busy one tomorrow, so I'd better go make room in my bed where all three of the girls fell asleep. The cover-stealing and occasional errant elbow are well worth it for the serious sister-pile-snuggle-up that awaits me in there. Good night, all.