Parks, Pain and Pessimism

I have recently purchased a new bike for myself, as well as a two-seater trailer for the kiddos.  My first attempt on the bike was a success considering I haven’t really been on one since…oh…middle school.  I didn’t fall off or maim myself or anything!  However, it literally only took me a couple of blocks pulling the girls in the trailer to figure out that, ONE:  I needed a different seat.  Who knew lady parts could hurt so much from merely sitting on a seat?!  And TWO:  I am really, REALLY out of shape.  Really.  Oh, the aching, burning legs!  What in the world was I thinking?!  Who in their right mind waits until they are several months pregnant to start a new strenuous activity?    Apparently me…but I never claimed to be in my right mind anyway.  So, moving on.

I didn’t get a lot of use out of the thing for the next several weeks while my bruised ego and bruised…um…well, you get the idea…healed.  However, around five months into the pregnancy, it was another lovely day and I spent a good chunk of it giving myself a pep talk that I truly could actually make it to the park that’s a mere 2-3 blocks away without killing myself.  And, lo and behold…I did.  Yay for me!

Tater Tot rode her bike and I pulled Boo Bear and Sweet Pea along behind me, only needing to stop for a mini-break once along the way.  (Pathetic.  I’m aware.)  But…we made it there and back even.  So that’s what counts.

We had a nice time at the park, as we usually do.  This one is nice because it is nearby, but also because it is on the lake and because it is a very simple park.  There isn’t much to it and that is precisely why I like it.  Without all the twists and turns and slides and thingamabobs of a fancy super park to continuously entrance the girls, they actually take time to observe and appreciate their surroundings.

Butts ParkThe girls were picking leaves pretending that they were parts of a gourmet meal they were going to prepare.

Butts Park (1)A favorite area is the dock.  The girls can spend quite a bit of time just running back and forth on it, tossing rocks and leaves and other debris into the murky waters beneath.  They spotted a fish floating sideways near the surface, which I initially said was dead, but then it wiggled itself along, much to my surprise.  Judging by the redness, I’d say it was a fishing throwback, but it was still valiantly hanging on.  Maybe it’ll heal up and survive after all.  The girls also noticed all the green “stuff” floating on the water’s edge and wondered what that was, so we talked about it.

Butts Park (2)Sweet Pea decided to show me her shoes.  Not sure why she wanted to at that moment, but I thought it gave an awfully cute photo, nonetheless.

Butts Park (3)Boo Bear enjoying her own “give me a smile for the camera” moment.

Butts Park (4)Tater Tot picking more leaves, this time to be tossed into the lake to watch them lazily drift away and to see if any fish will actually eat leaves, something they were curious to know.

Butts Park (6)Another cute non-pose.  Boo Bear was just hanging onto the pole, staring out at the water for a long moment, lost in her own thoughts.

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Butts Park (11)We took pictures of several different mushrooms and identified them in our nature book once we got home.  The girls successfully identified the aptly named puffballs and we are almost, but not entirely, certain that the others are a common, very poisonous brand of mushroom.  (The name escapes me right now.)  These little boogers are everywhere and now make me a bit nervous as Boo Bear likes to pick them and even though she knows to never eat anything she has just randomly picked, the nature book actually cautions about touching them at all, warning you to keep hands away from your face and wash them immediately.  Wow…talk about giving me a bit of stress over something abundantly available and pretty innocuous-seeming.  In any case, it prompted the girls to look at some of the other mushroom species noted in our book, which they found to be interesting.  They would like to see inky caps or witches butter someday.

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Butts Park (13)I pointed out this tree to the girls and had them take a look at it to tell me what they thought was different about it.  Tater Tot quickly noticed how the bark was missing in one area and separated, but still attached, in another.  We hypothesized what might have caused that to occur, ruling out a lightning strike, because there seemed to be no singeing or scarring.  Tater Tots thought it may have been an animal.

Butts Park (14)The girls picked up this leaf off the ground and Tater Tot proceeded to explain to Boo Bear that the holes in it were most likely from a caterpillar.

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Butts Park (16)Sweet pea got a kick out of this moth we spied and the pretty hidden orange under it’s top wings.

Butts Park (17)Unfortunately, the entire time at the park wasn’t completely enjoyable.  At one point, I basically asked Tater Tot to switch swings with Boo Bear so that the two youngest were closer together in order to make it easier for me to swing them.  She didn’t readily do so and so I told her I would remember that sometime when she needed a favor from me.  This sent her into one of her occasional full-blown meltdowns where she fixates on something she cannot change (because what’s done is done).  So we had a long discussion about how the only way to rectify something that has already occurred is to take note of how the situation could be improved the next time around and to improve the behavior from then on.  Rather than accepting that she didn’t make the best decision and moving on, she spent the better part of 20 minutes crying and pouting for essentially a do over and not even for my benefit, but to prevent my turning the tables on her at some random point in the future.  Before it was all said and done, we also discussed new vocabulary terms:  exasperated and pessimistic.  One was Mommy and one was Tater Tot.  I’m sure you can figure out which was which.  In any case, while I was talking to her about her behavior and the way to improve it, Sweet Pea must have taken the above shot of her with the camera.

Butts Park (18)The geese were walking around on the banks so the girls all tried, rather unsuccessfully, to sneak up on them and get a good picture.  Not surprisingly, those geese high-tailed it to the water seeing three bouncy little balls of energy coming their way!

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Butts Park (22)More exploration at the water’s edge.  The girls found a dead fish sans head, spied some dragonflies, and generally teetered along the rocks in a zig-zag across the bank.

Before heading home, I noticed a little honeybee on my shirt, which I tried to get a picture of, but apparently didn’t have the angle right.  I pointed it out to the girls because it was covered in pollen, which they all thought was interesting to see up close.  I had on a blue top with tiny, yellow and white flower-looking things that the bee kept sort of rooting around on, apparently oblivious to the body beneath.  The girls decided that it must have thought they were real flowers.  Whatever it was doing, it seemed perfectly content until I finally shooed it away.

All in all, we had another nice day at the park, enjoying the outdoors, the beautiful day, the nice breeze and all that nature has to offer.  And, bonus, I got a smidgeon of exercise in, with only minimal wear and tear.  😉

 

A Low-Tech Day

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Okay, I admit it.  My family is plugged in.  It seems at any given time, somebody, somewhere in this house is either watching tv, playing a video game, piddling on the computer or blasting through Ipad apps.  The kids fight over who gets to do what and when.  My son disappears hours at a time due to the lure of a good video game.  My husband can be known to do the same (until he sees the look in my eyes that tells him I’ve about had my fill of Daddy-here-but-not-here).  I have a love-hate relationship with it all…scrolling Facebook and despising the time it took, posting our adventures on this blog and getting aggravated because something with the photos or the site or whatever other inevitable glitch happens caused 20 minutes to turn into 2 hours.

On one hand, I believe that it is difficult to function in society these days without a good grasp of the technology available.  On the other hand I think…it’s difficult, but not impossible.  There are days when I look upon the Amish families that are abundant in this area with a sort of awe.

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After what seems like too long of a stretch of media overkill, I can be known to dream of getting “back to the basics” and fantasize about smashing X-boxes and tossing computers out the window.  In fact, at one point in time, I came dangerously close to doing just that.

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However, I know that this is impractical in my household…if for no other reason than because the precedent has been set.  We are entrenched.  We are accustomed.  We LIKE downtime, where we aren’t always on the go, go, GO!  And what better way to engage our minds (or not) without much effort than through media outlets?  Tater Tot has probably taught herself half the things she’s learned this year through BrainPop alone!  (An excellent source of kid-friendly, educational videos, by the way.)

However, despite all of this, I desire…no I NEED…nature.  I need to go outdoors and get away from my phone and the internet.  I thrive on simplicity and seek to establish it any way I can in my own home.  I need it and I believe my family does, too.  That is why I try to balance all these conflabbid, newfangled gizmos with plenty of sunshine and fresh air (or barely tolerable snow-covered frigid days, depending on the season).  We get outside and just be.  Those are the days when I truly feel more at peace and at ease with myself and the world.

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Here is an example of one such lovely day that started out with little more direction than “No more Ipad!  Let’s go to a new park”.  We drove around a nearby town and found several…some we had been to, some not.  Boo Bear picked a smaller one that ran alongside a creek.  At first glance, Tater Tot decided it wasn’t going to be a fun park and spent the bulk of the time we sat eating lunch at the picnic table pouting about the choice that was made.  However, once we all decided to bypass the playground area and check out the covered bridge by the creek, a whole new attitude emerged.

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The girls spotted butterflies basking on the rocks and the fluffy tree pollen was in the air, giving Sweet Pea plenty of amusement as she tried to catch the “fuzzies”.  She and I also took a small walk and looked at bugs in the trees, saw a tree trunk that made me think of a dinosaur and spied a bumblebee in the flowers.

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It wasn’t long at all before the girls kicked off their shoes, made their way onto the muddy banks, and finally ended up traversing across rocks in the stream.

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Other kids came and some even found deeper areas and started to swim.  At one point, the girls made some friends and they all were observed trying to use sticks and other items to try to leverage a log into the water in the hopes of using it to float down the stream.  It was fun to watch them brainstorm and carry out methods until they found the simple machine that worked. Much to the girls’ dismay, though, they did not get a chance to see their effort through to fruition. It was time to go and I wasn’t going to let them float down the river on a makeshift raft, so to speak. Not this time, anyway. Nevertheless, the kids all had a great time and Daddy and I enjoyed sitting on the bank watching them wholeheartedly play in the simplicity of nature.

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I like technology and the positive ways it can be used and I don’t foresee my family ever going tech-free, but I truly do enjoy those days when there isn’t an electronic gadget in sight.

Could This Be Education?

I’ve been thinking more and more about the legitimacy and sense of unschooling.  I don’t know that I will ever fully quiet my fears of all the “what ifs” and “but, if I don’t do a, b and c…” types of thing that run through my head, but I am ultimately convinced that unschoolers have it right, at least where my family is concerned.  It is a difficult transition for me in some respects, because I enjoy planning unit studies and I also like feeling in control and seeing results.  With unschooling, results happen, but they aren’t always as easily measured.  On the other hand, I never cease to be surprised by the amount of knowledge my kids acquire all on their own.  Just when I think we are stagnating or I begin to worry that they aren’t getting enough academic direction, that’s when we will inevitably launch into a completely unplanned discussion about a random topic of interest or expound upon something the girls saw on a program or heard in a book that led to a serious discovery or line of questioning.  In none of these times do I sit the girls down at a desk and shovel workbooks or lectures at them.  There are no multiple choice bubbles to fill in and no essays, however brief, to write.  Yet, somehow, some way, despite what might seem their best efforts to play all day, my girls are inquisitive, educated little beings.  Could it be because I give them plenty of time to play and explore and delve deeply into their interests?  Yes, I do believe we are on our way to becoming that family that doesn’t really “do school” because learning is just taken for granted.  It is not set aside as a special time.  It just is…all day…any time.  It is life and we intend to live it.  This is not to say that it isn’t without it’s hiccups.  I can’t help myself sometimes from trying to expound upon something that I might deem worthy that the girls didn’t exactly request to learn.  I suppose that makes us not the best unschoolers on the block, but I think it’s all about balance.  There is a fine line between the give and take of the teaching/learning relationship and it’s a balancing feat to remain on it.  I believe that my girls will eventually learn all they need to be successful, but I also believe that many things are more easily grasped while they are young, so it is a constant internal struggle for me to know when to push a little and when to leave things be.  I think the balance has been struck so far pretty effectively, simply because they haven’t reached the point where any imparting of wisdom receives groans and sighs.  When the glazing of the eyes starts to happen, I know it’s time to switch gears.  I just let the girls do what they do and pay close attention to where their journeys take them, seizing opportunities to turn experiences into education…on the sly.  😉  This is what one of the first weeks of completely stepping back from traditional, directed learning looked like for my girls:

I downloaded a new app on the IPad called Toca Builders that lets kids essentially create buildings in a virtual world in a similar fashion to Mine Craft. 

Tater Tot discovered this and commenced teaching herself how the app works and building her virtual world.  The girls later went outside and decided to build tents with sheets, chairs, sticks and whatever else they could find.  This led to Tater Tot’s question of whether or not they could camp in the back yard.  (Instead of that, we ended up camping at the end of the week at Wildcat Mountain.)

While watching the girls play in the yard from inside the house, I observed Tater Tot problem-solve a situation by trying various methods to get a swing to a position she wanted it by the tree.  She ultimately ended up tying an extra rope to the swing, throwing it over the “Y” of the tree trunk and using it for leverage as a sort of pulley to hoist the swing to the height she wanted it in order to swing down with it from the tree.  Such good thinking and she didn’t call for me once!  I did break my non-directive approach a bit and asked if the girls wanted me to read to them while outside.  I read a chapter of Little House in the Big Woods. 

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They seemed only moderately interested in that, so we haven’t revisited the book since.

The girls decided to complete their alligator craft that was started the week before and completed it with a discussion of what alligators eat (and stickers in the mouth to match).

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Tater Tot drew a picture and began to stick more random stickers on it, but those turned out not to be so random after all, as they were all water creatures in her water scene.

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Tater Tot had gymnastics on Monday night and on the way home, I saw what looked like a group of bats flying overhead.  That lead to some questions that evening, such as whether they stay in warm or cold places and where they sleep.  The next day we pulled out our Usborne Bat book and looked through it together, answering those questions and more.

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We also found a cute little bat hanging out in our patio umbrella around the same time.

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Playing outside again, Tater Tot randomly made up what I believe was a tall tale about a strange looking bug we had seen the day before.  She told me that she “just remembered that her old preschool teacher had told her that the bug was called ‘Cumulus Acclominus'”, (which she accurately repeated to me numerous times that day), and then proceeded to explain the “facts” about the bug, such as it’s preferred climate, habitat and sleep patterns.  Very creative, though I might need to be worried about the nature of it being a “fib” in itself.  She also assured me that I needn’t look it up because she is sure she knows what she is talking about.  lol

The girls are all growing as growing girls do, and so we spent some time together going through the clothing and changing out the size/season boxes. Later, in typical fashion, the girls managed to make another play fort out of my couch pillows.  This is a pretty frequent occurrence, though it really drives me a little nuts. 

I asked if the girls would like to make things out of pretzels and marshmallows, which we did…outside.  This was a fun treat, as they loved to eat their creations once completed.  It was a great opportunity to discuss the difference between 1, 2, and 3-dimensional objects.  Tater Tot did a great job at making some basic 3-d shapes and also decided to make a 2-d house.  (For anyone wanting to duplicate the activity, I would maybe suggest toothpicks in place of the pretzels.  They worked, but just barely.  I think toothpicks might be easier to work with.)

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The girls did some cleaning and picking up on their own, without my direction or request.  Tater Tot began listening to White Fang on audio book each night and finished it within about a week.  She has been very interested in wolves lately.  She even wants to be a werewolf for Halloween.  I went to the Warrens Cranberry Festival here on recently and snagged a really great wolf winter hat/scarf/ mitt combo and even a real wolf’s tail from the local Trapper’s Society for her costume!  Picked up a cute polar bear one for Boo Bear and a nice wooden name puzzle for Sweet Pea, which she figured out how to put together right away.

On another trip outside in the morning, when the dew was still heavy on the ground, the girls noticed the drops glistening like diamonds and we discussed dew, condensation and evaporation.  Tater Tot also found a couple of great spider webs. 

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We tried to preserve one, but it didn’t take to the paper well.  We went inside and watched a YouTube story reading of Eric Carle’s, The Very Busy Spider. I think they found it a little boring, though. 

The girls then wanted to make spider crafts. 

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After that, I made a painter’s tape “web” in the doorway and we played a game of catching the flies in the web, complete with counting practice for Boo Bear. 

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The girls wanted to make bat crafts then, which led to more bat questions, and another visit to the bat books for more bat facts.  We pulled out the Fall decor and started decorating.  Tater Tot also helped me to make a camping list for that trip at the end of the week.

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Soccer practice was on Wednesday night.  Boo Bear skipped out on her soccer again, so she washed dishes with Mommy to make up for the time and money wasted transporting her to an activity she never wants to participate in.  (We haven’t bothered going back.  She just isn’t interested this year.  I believe it’s because they combined ages with an older group for the team and it’s not a girl teaching this time.)

Periodically throughout the week, the girls opted to listen to our lovely little patriotic cd, We Sing America.

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Then the weekend was here and we had a great time camping!  We went on some hikes, rode bikes, roasted marshmallows, talked about what a fire needs to keep going, as well as fire safety, learned how to put a tent together and visited a great nature center to learn about all the local wildlife while there.

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It was a fun-filled, educationally enriching, child’s delight-filled week, with not a plan, curriculum or agenda in sight!  Yes, I believe unschooling is the way for us.