Monday, June 17, 2013

The Way We School

Little Fire Faery and I were outside in the backyard the other day. She said, "Look at that bird!" It was obviously a bird of prey of some sort. It was light colored - not the very dark turkey vulture, we which know are in the area - and it was lazily circling above us - just watching.

We watched it circling for a while. I had a very brief moment of concern that it might be trying to gauge whether or not we or the dogs were too big for it to handle. I know, given the chance, it would have taken one of our chickens.

She tried to get a picture.

Later, she told me it was a Cooper's hawk, and then, she told me about how she's seen these same birds on multiple occasions. She had a whole litany of places and times when she'd seen them, and she decided to find out what kind of bird it was. While some resources claim that making the distinction between the Cooper's Hawk and the look-A-like, Sharp-skinned hawk, can be difficult, there was no mistaking the sound. I've heard that monkey call on many occasions. It's definitely a Cooper's Hawk, and she further identified it as being a female, based on size and coloring.

And I'm impressed - awed, actually - that she figured it out.

Last night after dinner, while Deus Ex Machina and I were still sitting at the table chatting, Precious sat next to me with a math workbook we picked up from somewhere. We provide resources for the girls, and they have lots of books, workbooks, games (both board and virtual), educational toys, paint/markers/colored pencils/crayons, paper, journals, sketch books, chalkboards, globes, computers, iPods, educational posters (including one on laser doppler anemometry that we're using in lieu of a curtain or blinds on the French doors in our bedroom ;), and other manipulatives (like dice). But we don't *do* formal lessons with due dates and grades. When the girls decide they are interested in a subject, they pick up (or ask for) a resource and do activities related to that project. Last night, for Precious, it was math, and she worked on some addition, and then, she worked on some multiplication, and we sat with her and helped her when she needed us.

That's the way we do most lessons: it comes up because it's related to something we've seen - like the hawk; or one of the girls gets interested in doing it, and just does.

One of the most oft asked questions of us, especially this time of year, centers around a curiosity of when our school year ends/begins. It's hard to explain that there is no end or beginning, that learning is continuous, that everything is learning, and nothing is. The short answer is: our school year ends after dance recital and the next year begins around July 1. No, we don't take summer vacation, but rather, we space our "time-off" throughout the year so that if we have a day when we don't feel like doing anything, we don't.

Of course, sometimes, on those days when we don't feel like doing anything, we still are, and some of the best "school" days we've ever had were days that no one would recognize as being a "school" day.


2013 Wyvern Academy Highlights

While Deus Ex Machina and I tried (bare-handed) clamming, our girls explored the clam flats and found lots of interesting things.

Katniss doesn't have anything on my girl.

Painting rocks for our Tic-Tac-Toe game in the garden.

Typing class? Story writing? Yes! But to her, it's just play.

Corn art. We grew the corn, we dried the corn, we shucked the corn ... and the girls decided to form it into pictures. who needs a fancy made-in-China etch-a-sketch or doodle pad. We have corn ;).

Drama club at school is not nearly as cool as local theatre! Because Dad can't be in your school play ;).
Precious, Little Fire Faery and Deus Ex Machina were all cast in last winter's production of Honk! Good times, for sure!

It's math. It's origami. It's a toy. It's stress-relief ;). Yes! Learning and playing. Here's how to make your own.

Family game night ... or geography lesson? The truth is that playing Risk with my sisters was how I learned World Geography as a kid - it's also how I learned I'm not destined for world domination, but that's a very different lesson ;).

Agility, grace, stamina, strength, team-building, personal responsibility, community service, and a positive body image ... those are all lessons my girls have and are learning from dance. In addition to performing at competitions, fundraisers throughout the year, and their annual recital, my girls also perform at nursing homes and community building days (like the Old Port Festival).

Animal husbandry and horsemanship are all part of Precious' riding lessons. She even placed in a recent Dressage competition. Of course, her favorite part about the competition - other than being able to ride for one extra day that week - was being given a toy horse and a ribbon :).

She's very proud of her first-ever knit scarf.

Invasive Asian Long-Horn beetle or native Sawyer bug? We found it in the yard, and since we have a lot of maples, which are the Asian Long-Horn beetle's favorite target, we've saved it for identification.


There was more, of course. There are ongoing, year-round music lessons with master teacher, Andy Happel (and this June 2012 TEDxDirigo talk that Little Fire Faery was invited to participate in :). There was the Mother Earth News Fair in September at which Deus Ex Machina and I were speakers. We hosted a NaNoWriMo writing workshop class in November. I taught a formal economics/social studies class called World Without Oil, and Big Little Sister taught a class on set-up and maintenance of a home aquarium in the spring.

And there was the every day, little things that we do that often get no formal recognition, but that are very much a part of our learning experience.

It's been a fun year. I'm excited to see what happens during this next one ;).


  1. It's great that you provide such a creative environment for your kids. I worked in Montessori for a while and it was similar- the kids learn by doing. As the kids get older, if they want to have an outside job, they might need a better understanding of schedules, deadlines, etc. if they don't already. All my girls had part time jobs in their teens, and it was a learning curve...

  2. Thankfully, we have been able to both model and provide real-life experiences of schedules and deadlines. I work from home, and obviously, I have deadlines I must meet, and so my children have seen me doing this.

    Also, as members of their dance competition team, their work with the local theatre (where there are schedules and time-expectations) and as participants in many outside classes and field trips over the years, they've experienced the need to adhere to deadlines and schedules with real-life consequences and not associated with arbitrary, symbolic things like grades ;).

    In addition, again, as members of their dance team, they understand - intimately - the need to be prepared, and THEY are responsible for ensuring that they have their costumes and all of the pieces. When they lose or forget a costume or piece of a costume, fail to have the right shoes, or don't bring the correct (and clean) tights, it's a big deal.

    My girls have a lot of opportunities for clock-watching - more than I would have chosen for them had they given me total control :). There might be some learning curve - and even schooled kids have some trouble with punctuality, even after all of those years of being on a very rigid schedule - but I suspect, since they've been given so much responsibility over the years, they'll not have too much trouble adjusting.

  3. I'm curious to know how you and your girls deal with subjects that are eminently useful, but sometimes not so fun? As a child, I hated math, even though I could do it fairly well if I really tried. I have a feeling that I would pretty much never have been interested in math.

    Are your girls like this about anything? Or are they just curious about everything from physics to music to literature?

  4. "Eminently useful, but sometimes not fun" ... like stacking wood? ;)

    Mostly, when it comes to "school subjects" we try to make them practical. Like "math" covers a whole broad spectrum of knowledge and information, but the bottom line is that if they "get" adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, they "get" math. For most lifestyles (and jobs) a basic understanding of math is all that's necessary, and if they wish to do something that requires more, they will already have the interest necessary to find the subject requirements fun, also. That's the basic philosophy of unschooling - that what we need to know, we will learn. As an adult learner, I've found this to be absolutely true. It's no different for our children.