Saying “Yes” to Unschooling

Plunging into the Unexpected

This past week I did something I did not expect to do until June.  I sent a letter to our local school superintendent with my intent to home-school my child – in the middle of the school year!  We had been home-schooling together from grades 1 through 6, but I enrolled her in middle-school in September of 2017.  The guidance counselor decided that it was best for her to start from the ground up, so she entered school as a sixth grader.

From that time until the present, I heard earfuls of grief about how miserable she was at school.  Some children have made the transition from home-schooling to public school learning with relative ease, but my child was not one of those.  She had supportive teachers, but that was not enough to keep her going.  On top of that, last month she fell and has since been recovering from a concussion.  That caused her to miss an extra week of school and to fall behind in her schoolwork.  I wasn’t sure if she would ever recover.  I was also done with the constant worry about her emotional well-being.  I missed home-schooling as much as she did and was ready to return.

Socialization

It wasn’t the schoolwork that she found hard, except for math.  Math has been her most challenging subject, but that can change with time.  She was doing well in all of her other subjects.  It was the social scene she didn’t like or trust.  She couldn’t figure out who was a potential friend because everybody was mean to everybody else and put each other down constantly, with few exceptions. They were also fickle.  They changed their allegiances at the drop of a pencil.  She was so bothered by the culture on the school bus that she asked me to drive her home every day instead of making her take the bus.

The one argument most people make in favor of formal schooling has been around socialization.  But, are our children learning things we may not want them to?  Are they emotionally and physically safe there?  Is the predominant culture all that healthy?  Unless there is an extreme case of bullying, I don’t think teachers or administrators notice if a child is feeling unsafe.  This type of thing builds up quietly until it is too late.  There is tremendous peer pressure to go along with the norm of what classmates think is funny, cool, etc., or be harmed by rumors, teasing, practical jokes, or worse.  If my daughter did not want to learn in the environment that she encountered at school every day, she wasn’t going to.  If a child is under tremendous stress, her receptivity to learning new things is diminished significantly by that stress.  A sense of safety is important to learning new things.  My daughter will learn more with her fellow home-schooling friends, travel, and random gatherings with other youth than if she kept attending public school.

The environment of most public schools is not one conducive to inspiring all children to become lifelong learners.  Sitting at desks does not engage their imaginations.  Their curiosity and wonder are crushed by long days with limited movement.  Perhaps not all children experience this because they somehow thrive in the academic environment and succeed, but that experience does not serve all students.  We have read many stories about what happens to the students who cannot fit in.

 

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The bottom 3 sets of ivy around the right side our doorway was painted by my daughter.

Curiosity, Wonder and Unschooling

My philosophy about life is that we only have the chance to live ours once.  We need to do it right.  Why not make it the happiest life there is, and generate the fondest of memories to warm us on cold, dark, wintry nights?  I wanted to give my daughter back her happiness and to lighten her spirit.  I wanted her to love both life and learning again.

During our former years of home-schooling, I sat beside my daughter and worked with her to develop skills in observation, experimentation, and recording what she saw.  She learned how to draw what she observed, think about how two substances interacted together and wrote down questions she wanted to find answers to.  This time around, I know that she is old enough to take responsibility for her own education.  She will start by reading some books in each of the subjects that we already have at home, and then supplement those resources with library books, field trips and other fun activities.  She will use our local library’s web site as a free portal into the world of learning new languages, such as Spanish.  I will need to work while she reads, writes and explores, but will make time to listen to her share what she has learned.  She will also be responsible for keeping up-to-date records of her learning experiences – just enough information for me to write the progress report in June.

My daughter’s spirit and energy are returning to her, more quickly than she expected.  She has expressed curiosity about the content she is reading  and wonder about what she notices happening in the world around her.  That is because she is given the room to demonstrate agency when choosing her own curriculum at the highest level she is capable of learning.  She knows herself best.  She takes lots of initiative in beginning and completing projects, such as painting ivy around our back doorway (above).  She is also given time to exercise her body, because physical activity also feeds the brain.  I am excited to see how she works through the learning activities she sets up for herself, and  look forward to working with her on projects such as painting wall murals now and then.

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A Lifetime of NBP Braille: From Reader to Proofreader

We are all Storytellers and our Stories are Magical

The theme of my online writing this month has been about the magic of storytelling  We all have a story to tell, and our heart-bonds are strengthened when we gather often to share our stories with each other.  Our world grows bigger, our circle of friends widens, and our muses multiply.  Below is a blog post written by a colleague of mine.  I am sharing the link to it because I consider it a magical story.

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by Carey Scouler, Proofreader

I’m sure that everyone can remember or relate to the joy of receiving an expected gift in the mail as a child; counting down the days until it would be delivered…

Source: A Lifetime of NBP Braille: From Reader to Proofreader

Finding Enchantment in our Modern World

Enchant

There are two definitions of the work Enchant, v. in the Webster’s New Riverside University Dictionary: 1. to cast a spell over;  2. to Charm and delight completely.

Have you every encountered a scene in nature that has enchanted you?  How about a person?  Or a pet?  Perhaps the place or person delights you and you have gathered some lovely memories around that place or person.  If you are enchanted by a pet, you probably love spending lots of time playing with your critter friend. No matter the source of your enchantment, memories of spending time with that source undoubtedly bring you joy and peace.

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Our late beloved pet hamster, Elsa, eating a blackberry

Gratitude and Well-Being

What are your sources of enchantment?  Take out a piece of paper and make a list.  How many are they?  Does writing about them and reading over your list lead to feelings of gratitude and well-being?  When you think about them, does time slow down or stop for you?  This happens to me when I write about aspects of my world that bring me a sense of enchantment.  Here are some of the things on my list:

  1. Working in my garden
  2. Reading an enthralling book
  3. Playing with my daughter
  4. Playing with our hamsters
  5. Walking around my neighborhood during an evening snowfall
  6. Spending time by the seashore
  7. Playing my musical instruments
  8. Walking a labyrinth

Please feel free to share some of your items as comments below.  I’d love to know about them.

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My tabletop seashore labyrinth, which I made for myself

Re-Enchanting Our World

I am reading a book by former priest and psychologist Thomas Moore, titled The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life.  He is very Jungian in his perspective about how people form relationships with the world and how the modern world distracts us from developing deeper connections with nature, places we visit, animals, other humans, and the food we eat.  The materials of the homes we live in affect our sense of peace when we are there.  There could be too much of one element in a home, such as wood, and not enough of another, such as stone.  There could be too little color or other types of creative stimulation in our work spaces. Such imbalances increase our levels of anxiety and affect our well-being.  They detract from our health.  If we give ourselves a chance to tune into what we need, we can create a more balanced home with a few adjustments, and begin our journey back to a greater sense of wholeness.

Once we can find enchantment daily in our homes, we have the freedom and openness to find enchantment in who we encounter there, such as family and pets.  After that, we will be able to find enchantment in the places we pass through regularly, or visit occasionally, such as parks, schools, farm stands or local shops.  Are there places in your town that you find enchanting?  Are there favorite places that your family loves to visit?  Our family loves to visit North Conway, New Hampshire and Acadia National Park in Mane.  We also love to walk the trails of our local conservation land to our town library.

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My daughter holding a sheep puppet that I knitted for her and she decorated

We Are Enough

When we look around us, do we find an enchanting place that warms our heart?  If not, we can change that and make it more comfortable, more us.  Our homes are meant to reflect what we love most, what makes us feel truly “at home” in the world.  From that place we can have greater energy to meet the challenges that the world hands us, and respond with resilience and hope, perhaps sprinkled with playfulness.  We can be a healing presence to others.  Who we are is enough to light up the world.  May we bless each other with our unique light!

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Heartlights of Hope in the Darkness

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Marshmallows toasted over a roaring bonfire

Where does your glow come from?

We are now engulfed in the heart of winter.  The holiday season is winding down and the coldest days of the season are still before us. No matter where we live, the dark hours of the night still seem much longer than those of daylight.  What makes this season of cold and dark bearable for you?  How do you satisfy your longing for warmth and light?

We need the shadow play of dark and light that winter brings.  Only on the darkest nights do the lights on trees, bushes, yards and porches shine brighter.  The darkness commands us to slow down, bundle up, and face the blustery side of nature.  The time we spend inside gives us the opportunity to think about what we want to make happen in the new calendar year. The longer shadows help us focus our thoughts toward our center.  The light of candles is softer than electric illumination, and fits the reflective mood of the winter months.  One of the first things I do each day in December is to plug in the lights of our Christmas tree. As evening approaches, I light candles on safe surfaces.  The play of shadow and light that they create invites us into a spirit of mystery and anticipation.

Bonfires and Holiday Lights

I am fortunate to live in Central Massachusetts.  I live in an intentional community full of neighbors who love to gather around the hearth.  When the night sky is crisp and clear with starlight, we sometimes stoke bonfires in the bowl pit and roast marshmallows.  Neighbors also string lights on their porches and doors in anticipation of the holiday season.  Those lights bring cheer and inspire me to spend more time walking around outside before I curl up under a pile of blankets inside.

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Neighbor’s door decorated for the holidays

Walking around our co-housing village this time of year is a magical time. My daily goal of 10,000 steps is more easily realized while walking the footpaths close to home.  I often greet neighbors who are also walking about and wave to children playing.  At dusk, the lights strung on porches and in doorways begin to sparkle brightly against the approaching nightfall.  They are beacons of hope and warmth when the wind picks up and the chill begins to freeze my limbs.  Yet, there are also fields nearby to step away into the darkness and appreciate the starlight of the winter constellations.

When I walk, my first destination is usually our community labyrinth on the other end of our village.  It is a wonder-filled place to walk and reflect.  It’s Baltic Wheel design and natural setting inspires moments of stillness and appreciation for nature’s wisdom.  The deep, dark colors of our conifers stand out as snow laces their branches and shrouds the earth around their roots.

snowy-labyrinth

Winter Garden Wonder

Another place quite close to us that we love to visit is Tower Hill Botanical Garden.  It was established in 1986 by the Worcester Horticultural Society and hosts a wide variety of programs for members and guests to forge a deeper kinship with nature.  The garden is a magical place all year round, in all seasons, but especially when it is lit up with many lights during the site’s Winter Re-Imagined festival.  Their outside and inside exhibits delight visitors of all ages.  I spent 2 evenings this month volunteering there and plan to return soon.

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Courtyard lit up during Winter Re-Imagined at Tower Hill Botanical Garden, Boylston, MA

Happy New Year

May all of your days in 2017 be filled with love, hope, and cheer.  May the warmth of holiday lights remind you that you are not alone, that no matter where you are you are thought of fondly.  May the spring bring warmer days to accomplish outside tasks and the summer shine on an abundant garden harvest.  May all of your dearest dreams come true!

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A Fond Farewell to Autumn Leaves

As Autumn wanes and we await winter’s cold and snow, I bid a fond farewell to the colorful leaves that have graced my days the past couple of months.

September escaped my grasp and I have nearly allowed October to run away from me, too, as I have spent these past couple of months walking wooded paths and enjoying the glory of Autumn in New England.

As September glided into October, my family and I spent a weekend exploring Acadia National Park in Maine, one of the first parks in our national system founded a hundred years ago.  The flora, fauna, and geological diversity at the site captured our interests and imagination.  We were also treated to an early foliage peaking as the state of Maine is very close to Canada, and very close to the top of our continent. Brrr.

During the month of October, we have enjoyed the peak foliage season closer to home.  I have reveled in the glow of warm colors in the leaves as I walked our wooded labyrinth, took an art class around drawing fallen leaves with colored pencils at our local botanical garden, and watched my daughter jump into fluffy, fragrant piles.  Together we love to throw armfuls of leaves into the air and stand in the middle of their showering over our heads.

We have seen more rain fall from the sky this fall than we had all summer. The first frost bit our pole bean bushes and snap pea vines.  I am grateful for the kale that still grows and the butternut squash continuing to ripen in our pantry.  The beets still have some time before they are full grown and are hardier, so I have left them in the bed for now, and planted garlic bulbs for next year’s summer harvest.

As more colorful leaves begin to carpet the grass than flutter from the branches of trees, I extend my best wishes to you for a cozy and productive winter.  The world is ready to rest.  I am ready to spend more time indoors than outdoors.  As Garrison Keillor used to say at the end of his Prairie Home Companion show every week ~ “be well, do good work and keep in touch.”

Winged Healers in our World

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Raw Honey bought at Harvard Sq. shop

National Honey Bee Day

Saturday, August 20, 2016 was National Honey Bee Day, instituted as a celebration of the beauty, industry, and generosity of honey bees.  They deserve our respect and appreciation.  There are so many things that our winged friends do for us:

  1. Pollinate our plants so that flowers and food blossom and grow for us.
  2. Make honey that contains an abundance of healing properties.
  3. Their honey adds sweetness to our lives without spiking glucose levels.
  4. They build beautiful hives that are geometrically intricate – according to the Fibonacci pattern of mathematics.

 

Bees in Community

If those aren’t enough reasons to appreciate bees, they also live in and inspire community.  All bees work together to accomplish their home building and honey production, and to keep their family thriving.

On August 19th, the eve of their special day this year, the owner of Follow the Honey, a shop in Harvard Square, hosted an evening of poetry by Devi Lockwood  in their warmly lit courtyard.  She is a cyclist and a writer who traveled around the world collecting stories about water and climate change.  Her poetry is beautiful and thought-provoking and speaking with her was a pleasure.  We bought a copy of her chapbook to support her next bicycle trip, which will be to attend the climate talks in Morocco.

Follow the Honey also partnered with Proud Pour, a wine company that helps the environment thrive with each bottle it creates.  It’s “Oyster” white wine is crispy and refreshing on a summer’s night, reasonably priced and restores 100 oysters with each bottle.  They will name their next wine project “The Bee,” which will have sweet honey notes in it and will dedicate its sales to supporting the health and survival of bee colonies.

Sustainable Business Models

I was impressed by how a business model can be built around contributing to economic and environmental justice.  The time it took to travel and park in Harvard Square was rewarded with a wealth of fresh knowledge and our chance to taste a variety of honey flavors. We also brought home 2 jars of raw honey, which we have enjoyed in our iced tea and morning cereal.

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Pet Hamsters are like Little Buddhas

Chocolate Chip crossing the rainbow bridge
Our first hamster, Chocolate Chip, scampering across the rainbow bridge

Over the past two years we have loved and lost two pet hamsters ~ Chocolate Chip and Elsa.  They filled our lives with love and joy while they lived, and when they met the end of their lives our hearts were filled with grief.  The average life expectancy for most species of hamsters is 18 months, though we had hoped to keep Elsa living as long as two years.  If we continue our habit of adopting hamsters every year and a half, we must learn to approach their impact on our lives as preparation for letting go.

Attachment and Healing from Loss

Zen Buddhism is famous for promoting the concept of non-attachment.  In order to be an effective hamster parent, I believe that it is important to form a bond of attachment with our pets, but then readily let it go and heal from our grief when they die.  Each time we adopt a pet hamster, it is important for us to form a loving bond with the individual critter that communicates to our pet that he/she is cherished.  Such a bond is expressed through showing the animal appropriate measures of respect and affection, including consistent fulfillment of their physical needs: fresh water changed daily; a bowl full of food and chews, and a clean, stimulating cage environment.

When each hamster passed on, it was comforting for us to think about the concept of their little spirits crossing over a “Rainbow Bridge” to a special heavenly home.  We buried Chocolate Chip and Lucky (my daughter’s previous pet, a blue beta fish) under the weeping willow tree on our property.  We buried Elsa near our community labyrinth, with a little mausoleum of leaves, sticks and flowers built around her resting place.

Closeup of Elsa's mausoleum

We learned from the death of Chocolate Chip that in order for our hearts to heal, it was important for us to let go of our attachment to our former pet, then allow another hamster to fill our hearts.  It took us a month to adopt Elsa last year.  It has taken us five days to adopt Sammy Bear.  She is such a merry little hamster that she wrapped her little paws around our hearts as soon as we laid eyes on her.

Each hamster that we have loved has taught us how to care for him or her, and for hamsters in general.  We hope that this learning will keep each hamster we adopt strong and healthy for more months than the previous hamster.   We heartily thank our furry friends for being such loving, patient teachers and will always hold them dear in our hearts.

Spirit Hamster
Chocolate Chip
beautiful elsa eating a blackberry
Elsa
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Samantha Bear, our newly adopted merry little hamster

Rumi rolls along

Rumi Pippin, the youngest hamster addition to our family

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