15 September 2014

Some days I feel like I have this "unschooling mom who is offering opportunities to work with curriculum" thing sorted out, and then there are days like today.

On the weekend, I'd mapped out with sticky notes in my Filofax what we could do with our curriculum this week. On each of our three home days, I put a sticky note for each kid with some ideas of what we could do. For Ollie, there are pink stickies with FIAR Mike Mulligan activities. For Lily, there are blue stickies with KONOS beaver-themed activities and different selections of the dozen beaver books I've taken out of the library. For Nick, there are green stickies with BJU science textbook sections to read and a lab activity. 

It's all so pretty and neat. So we know what the kids did, right?

Ollie was chomping at the bit to get back to Mike Mulligan again. She even requested going outside for it, so we went to the picnic table with our book and whiteboard.

Nick eagerly jumped on the invitation to read the next section in his science text. He came and got me from the garden when he was finished reading, and we discussed the section review questions.

And Lily. Oh, Lily. I was all set for my super-keener "I love workbooks and sometimes think I might want to go to school" kid to enjoy doing KONOS work. But she had other plans.

To start, she uncharacteristically skipped almost all of morning screen time to try out a new instructional drawing book she received as a birthday present.
Draw all the things!
Then she sort of flitted around the edges while Ollie and I did the FIAR personification activity, until she joined us long enough to come up with the character of a chair who licks bums. (Thanks for keeping it classy, child.)

Then, she made grossed out faces when I suggested we do the beaver-themed reading and activities. When I offered to ditch the beaver stuff outright she perked right up (and I managed not to moan "But my planning! And the pages in the books that I flagged and wanted to read to you!!"). I offered to pick up on a different unit from the curriculum binder completely, and she agreed that this would be nice. I read each one out loud. She rejected each one instantly. She suggested that a novel study with one of her new books might be fun. Then she asked me to do general workbooks at the table with her, but proceeded to disappear into her bedroom with books before we even started. 

Before the day was done, she'd read two new books cover to cover, shot down my offer to use a Pippi Longstockings novel study I found online, and made an instructional drawing book of her own. Because, you know. Lily.

After all that, she joined us outside where we dug up potatoes for a while. (And did a little bit of "accidental" personification with the potatoes. There was Bob, his wife, his baby, and his two year old. She saved them all from the ground.)

 For me, today was an opportunity to actually follow through on my talk of following my kids' interests, despite my desire to pursue some new tools. I don't know how much of Lily's expressing interests and then going in the opposite direction were experiments in power play, but I had to work to keep our educational philosophy at the front of my brain so I wouldn't make demands that only served my ego. As much as all three of my kids are strong-willed in their own ways, Lily is the kid I avoid getting into battles of will with.. When she's such a courageous and hungry learner, I know her education is not a place for power struggles.

And so. In a couple of days I guess I'll see where she is. And I'll continue to be grateful that sticky notes are so easily removed from my pages.

13 September 2014

We had some great curriculum-fuelled moments of exploring this week.
Spinning homemade pinwheels in steam to go along with FIAR's Mike Mulligan and his Steamshovel.
I feel like as a homeschooling mom my life is an ongoing effort to find balance. Balance between the kids' needs and mine, between spending time at home and going out, between allowing natural chaos and implementing structure. Some weeks, when I've had enough sleep and self care, I feel like I strike a pretty good balance for everyone. Some days things go right to crap because we've overscheduled ourselves, we're all sick, or the sun and the stars just aren't aligning properly.

This week was a week of fairly good balance on the homeschool front where we had a good mix of things.

And some kid-directed free time where they created some neat projects.
Making spoon princesses from an Usborne craft book while listening to the Frozen soundtrack.

We had a lot of fun times out with friends.
Scouts night for all three kids!
 Indoors and outdoors.
An afternoon in the woods with a homeschool get-together.

Homeschool drop-in bowling.

Bowlers don't follow road safety rules.
 And some quiet moments out in the yard to just relax.
Yard time in some much-needed autumn sunshine.
 I credit a good part of the nice flow for the week to mapping things out. With my Filofax laid out in front of me, I could easily see our scheduled plans and build  our structured learning and to do's around that.
Planning material to cover next week.
My biggest hitch in my week was definitely under the category of self care. I racked up a good amount of sleep (especially that night I accidentally fell asleep at 9 pm!) but my exercise was totally abysmal. I know that I feel better both mentally and physically when I work out regularly, but this week between a couple of things I just didn't get my butt in gear. I've mapped out the homeschool side of things for the week already, so I'll make it a priority before Monday morning to get my workouts written down (in pen!) so I'm accountable to myself.

10 September 2014

Nine years ago around this time, Liam and our doula and I were walking slow laps around a foggy hockey rink in a city park in an attempt to coax our baby out into the world. Since she's always done things her own way, it would be another 14 hours and some pitocin later that we actually met Lily, but that night of misty darkness was an otherworldly time that marked my transition between being the mom of one to a mom of two. 

Lily is a child who inspires me. She is fierce and strong like nobody else I've met. She is beautiful and vulnerable and impenetrable. She exudes generosity and has brought me to tears with her tenderness. Her appearance in my life ushered me into being the mom of daughters, and her birthday tomorrow marks a day where I learned a lot about myself and my relationship with Liam.

To commemorate her special day, I'm sharing below the story which Lily created today. As an extension of a FIAR activity where we examined and created characters, she dictated this story while I type. And so I give you, The Worst Week of My Life

The Worst Week of My Life

“Tweet tweet tweet” goes the little bird in the tree while I'm out under my favourite tree.

I'm under the tree because it's my favourite tree and I've lived in this town for my entire life. But today my dad says that we have to move because the air force relocated him. Tomorrow we have to move. I've lived here my entire life though and I don't want to move. But I guess we have to.

I was born here, I was raised here as a child, and this is the only place I've ever been. We've never travelled for vacations because my dad says that he always needs to stay here for work. I'm sad that we never travel.

Today when I got home from school, I walked in the door, sat on the couch, and sighed. “Aww. I don't want to move”.

Then – ding dong! The doorbell rang.

I thought to myself “My dad isn't home yet. He tells me not to open the door to anybody while he's gone. What should I do?”.

I sat up from the couch. I went up to my room and I had a view of the driveway below. The van was black. People with black suits were getting out of the black van. Then suddendly – ding dong! Blam blam blam! Crash! Bang! Pow!

“The door is broken!” I thought to myself. Then I heard thump thump thump coming up the stairs. I decided to hide under my bed. Somebody walked into my room. I was so scared.

I heard “Is anybody in here?”.

I recognized that voice. I ran out from under my bed. I came and I hugged the person. My mom had been gone for eleven years. I recognized her voice because we talked on the phone all the time.

My mom said “The reason why the people dressed in black are coming out of the van is that they are my guards. They protect me all the time because I have a secret to tell you.”

She whispered into my ear and told me a secret. I was so happy that I jumped up and down.

“Why didn't you ever tell me this?!” I asked. I burst into tears because I was so happy.

“Is Daddy like that too?” I asked.

“No,” my mom answered.

“But, but but...” I said.

“No,” my mom said. “He is not like this and he never will be. Time to go. I'll meet you down in the car in five minutes. Get a jacket on.”

My mom left. I put my most special jacket on. It was pink with rainbows on it. On the hood it had a smiley face! I went downstairs to meet my mom.

I was just about to step off the landing when I heard my mom say “No. I will not let you do that. Never ever in my entire life.”

I heard my dad say “But please, please, please let me live with you! At least don't take all my money!”

My mom left to the car and my dad sat down at the kitchen table.

“Hi Daddy!” I yelled as I came down the stairs to go to the car.

I arrived in the car.

My mom said “You may play on your phone but be quiet.”

I answered “OK”.

We started driving. As we backed down the driveway, I saw something moving in the woods and we never had something moving in the woods. I was curious.

I asked my mom “Did you see that thing moving in the woods?”.

“Uh, what thing?” my mom answered.

We kept driving. My mom was listening to the radio. She only spoke english but she was listening to a french radio station. All I could understand was “Blah blah blah blah blah”.

I called my friend who knew how to speak french. I put my phone on speaker phone so she could listen. She said “OK, I've heard enough” and I turned it off of speaker phone.

I kept talked to my friend and she asked “Do you want to know what they're saying?”.

“Yes,” I answered.

“OK, fine,” she said. “Well, the thing that she's listening to is the news. The thing they were talking about is this wild crazy dangerous animal that's been appearing in people's woods”.

I gasped. “Do you know anything about it?”

“Yes,” she answered. “It is one of the most rare animals ever. If your mom has been listening to this she is a mad scientist”.

I almost passed out, but my mom saved me by saying “We're here!”.

I had to whisper to my friend because now my mom was listening. “OK, sorry. I have to go now. I'll talk to you in about fifteen minutes?”

“OK,” she answered. We both said goodbye.

I looked at the place where we were. It said something in french but I had no idea what it said.

My mom said “OK, you're staying in the car”.

“Why would she bring me along if she wanted me to stay in the car?” I thought. “This is so weird.”

I texted my friend “Hey, you can call me now if you like”.

Bing bing bing bing bing! My phone rang.

I answered “Hello?”

“Hi, it's me” my friend answered. “I found out why your mom has been doing all this weird stuff. I can't tell you right now though.”

“Why? Why?!” I exclaimed.

“Because,” my friend answered. “Just do what I say. Tonight, when your mom is sleeping, pull her hair as hard as you can.”

We kept talking. I kept asking “Why why why?” but the things my friend kept answering weren't useful.

“Oh no!” I shouted. “I just realized we've been talking for five hours. Gotta go, bye!”.

“Bye!” she answered.

My mom got in the car and we started to driving. She just listened to music this time.

“You can keep playing on your phone,” my mom said.

“No thanks Mom,” I answered.

When we got home my mom yawned.

“I'd better get to bed soon,” my mom said.

“Ok” I answered.

“I'd better get to bed too,” said my dad. I said the same thing.

That night, at midnight I went into my parents's room. I got a flashlight off of their dresser. I shone it straight up so that they wouldn't wake up. I got scared but I decided to still do it.

I pulled my mom's hair as hard as I could. Pop! I looked at my mom. I almost died, I was so scared.

I thought to myself “I can't scream! I can't scream! I can't scream!!”.

I had to scream somehow. I ran out of my parents room and went outside. I screamed because I was so scared.


I held the thing up in my hand. I looked inside of it. There was green gloop. I was thinking to myself “It's a mask! I'm holding my mom's mask!. Wait. This might not even be my mom's.”

I was scared. The next morning, she woke up without the mask on. She was sitting on the couch watching a show. I looked at her and I've been waiting to tell you this part because it's so scary. My mom/what I think my mom is, is an alien! Or a monster!

I was kind of spying on her from our loft. She felt her face because it was itchy. She took her hand down and looked at her.

“Oh no, this is bad! Where did my mask go?” she thought. She took off her gloves that looked like human hands. She looked at her hands. They were getting all old and were getting dried out.. Then, she took off all of her suit.

She screamed “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”.

Her voice got deeper.

“Oh no! I'm turning...I'm turning back into incinerated dust!” she said.

She got transformed into diamonds and all sorts of jewels.

Clang clang clang! Thump! The jewels made as they hit the floor.

I ran downstairs and grabbed them all. I held them up in my hands and then the jewels all turned into dust. They fell out of my hands.

Two weeks later, my dad came over to me and said “We're not going to move. I don't want to move. It would be boring. The only reason I said that we were going to move was because your mother wanted me to. Well, I guess not your mother. She said we had to move or bad stuff would happen to you because she hated me,”.

Two years later, my mom showed up. I thought “Oh no! I hope that doesn't happen again!”.

When I pulled her hair only one piece of hair came out. She's my real mom and I'm happy about that. And that is what I told for school, only nobody believed me but my friend. That is the story of what happened to me.

09 September 2014

Last month I began planning ways to implement some flexible curriculum into our schedule. As unschoolers, we've never been very heavy into curriculum and workbooks but have instead usually focused on life learning, reading, and classes. This year it felt right to introduce to the kids the opportunity to work with some curriculum and I was fortunate to find some second hand items that are good matches for their interests.

We dipped our toes into the Five In A Row waters with Lentil, but now we're getting a better feel for things.
Yesterday, we started working with Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. We picked up a copy of this lovely little book from a friend recently. It's a nice story that has sparked numerous questions from the girls on each read through, and I like the sturdy structure of the board book format.

 The first activity we did with the book was to examine the elements of the story. I wrote out categories on the white board for setting, conflict, rising action, climax, second conflict, second climax, and denouement. We took another read through the books, discussing the meaning of the various elements and picking them out of the story. I'd intended to fill in the chart myself, but my girls of course jumped in with both feet and soon took turns with the marker themselves.

This morning we returned to the chart with a second book, Deep Snow by Robert Munsch, and filled in the second column with the information from this story. We were amused by the coincidence of people being stuck in holes in both stories.

We continued the Mike Mulligan theme with the art topic of examining the trees on some of the pages and then painting our own trees. We used some different types of paint, and alternated between paintbrushes and sponges.

We also did some vocabulary sheets I printed out (thank you Pinterest!). I helped Ollie with her page while Nick helped Lily with hers. Ollie decided that she would spell the words out herself and ignored the word list on the side other than to cross them out. For a kid not even a month past her fifth birthday, I am amazed at her writing skills.

After this, I switched gears for a bit with Nick. He was interested in checking out the BJU science text so we got started on that. He read a few sections and we went over the section and chapter reviews. His brow seemed to be furrowed a little harder than usual but he picked up on the concepts and vocabulary as he worked through it. I'm still not entirely sold on this set of books, but we'll keep working with it for now.

Next up, I made some time to start on a KONOS unit with Lily, who seemed to be feeling slighted at not yet having had any work geared specifically towards her. I decided to begin with the beaver theme under the responsibility unit because it looked like fun and it felt relevant with the family of beavers we often watch from our kitchen table.

We read The Beaver Pond by Alvin Tresselt (thank you Open Library for the instantaneous resource!) which was a nice picture book that gave lots of factual information about beavers within the context of a story.

After we read the book we discussed how beavers can hold their breath for up to fifteen minutes. We took turns seeing how long we could hold our own breath and wrote down our times on a chart.

We also began a round robin story about beavers that we'll work on throughout the week. The kids each dictated a paragraph while I typed and then I added a paragraph myself at the end. So far the story is filled with sibling strife and appearances from several beavers named after Frozen characters. Lily thinks we should publish our book at the end.

 Once the kids were in bed I found some more resources on Pinterest for both KONOS and FIAR. I'm chomping at the bit to get some things printed out but our printer has finally completely called it quits and will be replaced soon.

To cap things off, I wrote up some large sheets with some questions from the KONOS book about beavers. I was thinking Lily might like to fill the papers in with the answers she knows already and as we read more tomorrow. Knowing Lily, I'm sure she'll take a whole different path with it than I'd anticipated!

08 September 2014

Today concluded my weekend of canning. I really enjoyed the process and creating so many different foods. I'm also excited by how much yummy food I have put away for the winter.

A lot of today was spent pickling. The sweet pickles turn out to be seriously drool-tastic, and I can't wait to crack open the pickled beets I dreamed of through the whole gardening season.

I'm not sure quite what it is about beets, but I think they're just so lovely. I adore their swirling patterns and just how very vivid their colours are.

By the end of the day, this was my new canning shelf in the basement. It's a good thing we got he basement cleaned and set up last weekend! My top shelf hold sour cherry jelly and pie filling. I think I mucked up both as they don't seem to be setting, so they'll likely be used as toppings for yogurt or other yummy things.

My middle shelf is all apples - apple sauce, caramel apple jam, apple butter, and apple pie filling.

The bottom shelf is the land of pickles. I've got zucchini dill pickles, sweet zucchini pickles, pickled beets, and sweet pickled cucumber.

Two years ago I was nervous about trying out canning for the first time, and now I'm having way more fun with it than I'd expected!

06 September 2014

Today was one of those days where the things I thought I was going to do and the things I actually did were two very different things. I'd had vague notions of getting yardwork done, but one thing led to another and I spent my whole day canning various food.

So much fruit! And we filled a cooler with apples besides this!
It all started yesterday, when the kids and I went out with some friends to pick fruit. My friend's aunt has a farm near here (yay for not needing to drive into town!) and they have an enormous amount of apples and cherries we were welcome to pick (bonus yay for free food!). We had a great time, and I even got to get sneak in some adorable squishy baby snuggles.

After I'd had coffee and woken up a bit, Ollie and I got working on some slowcooker apple butter. It made the house smell of delicious all day.

Next up, I got pitting cherries for sour cherry jelly. I learned that pitting 12 cups of cherries by hand is a long and messy process. Thankfully Liam joined me partway through and we got through it much more quickly than I would have on my own. 

Once I was done the cherry jelly (which in all honesty looks more like syrup than jelly), I moved on to caramel apple jam. Oh. My. Goodness. This stuff was slightly ridiculously yummy. 

After lunch, Ollie and I headed out to the garden for a bit. The weather is supposed take a serious nosedive this coming week and I want to get things in before the frost can damage it. We started off by pulling both rows of beets. We'd planted both the lutz green leaf and the early wonder varieties and they grew beautifully. I didn't get to processing any of these guys today but I have plans for pickling and dehydrating as many as I can tomorrow.

After the beets, Ollie and I moved on to collecting cucumbers. This was my first time growing cucumbers and they threw me for a loop. I thought all the seedlings had died after I transplanted them into the garden in the spring, but then they bounced back. Late in the season they really took off and I tried semi-successfully to build them trellises. We ended up with a bigger harvest than I'd expected, even if a bunch of them are oddly orange and a few of them got eaten by nighttime forest creatures. I got about a third of the cucumbers processed as sweet pickles, and I hope to get the rest done tomorrow.
Jack and Bear took care of the discarded nibbled-on cucumbers.
The last part of the garden we went at today was to pull up the beans. I'd fallen behind in picking the new beans so today we had plenty of big old beans. The girls both helped me to shell them and I'll throw them in the slowcooker for baked or refried beans tomorrow.

I ended the day in the only logical way possible - by heading into town to buy more jars! Tomorrow is already a delicious day in the works and I can't wait to see how much more food I can make!

03 September 2014

 As I had mentioned in an earlier post, I'd ordered a new Filofax for better organization and portfolio building in the homeschool aspect of our lives. Today was the day that I picked up my parcel and got the ball rolling!

My pretty, a raspberry Finsbury

I didn't get too far with actually building up the sections, partly because I was fighting with my ultra finicky printer and partly because I was actually fulfilling my to do list of the day and cleaning the kitchen and the van. I did manage to put together a pretty cover page with some scrapbooking supplies though!
"New discoveries" and "Remember these days filled with joy and laughter as you will carry them forever" seemed like fitting homeschool stickers.
 As a sort of extension for this getting organized kick, I used my alone time while the kids were at Scouts to pick up a couple of things to build an organization station. I printed out a blank routine sheet and filled in some morning and evening routine items for the last two days of the week. Below this I wrote a rotating schedule for which kid is doing breakfast/supper table setting/clearing. Beside this I have a small corkboard where I'm thinking I could post pieces of kid art and info the kids might find interesting or relevant to something they're learning.

In the times where I've provided the kids with clearly written routines I've had more cooperation with getting things done. I'm hopeful that this appealing visual reminder will get us all in the right mindset and help us to stay on top of things.


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