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Milestones

Yesterday afternoon, Andrea took Emma & Meaghan to the library. Emma came home with a Scholastic Star Wars novel. Although she did pop up here and there, she spent most of the rest of the day in her room. When it was getting near to bedtime I checked on her. She was reading the last chapter and I told her she could go ahead and finish.

I’ve been reading to Emma before bed since she was three. Over the last few weeks I had read a couple of the other novels from the same series. I prefer reading the novels to reading children’s stories. Over the last year or so, her taste in what we read before bed was changing and because she’s number 4, I knew we were getting close to her choosing to read it on her own.

We made it. Emma was unschooled from the get go. I haven’t given her a single “school” lesson in her life. When Emma was 6-7 she had asked Andrea to do school a few times (which Andrea did with her). We have never compelled her to do any *lessons* or learning.

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Renovations and a story

Sometime in the next few weeks this blog will be undergoing renovations. I have a rough idea of what I want to do but have decided exactly what and/or how I’m going to do it. I blame it on the fact that there have been recent changes to the backend of wordpress. I’d be the first to admit that the backend needed changes. Unfortunately, the changes that they made didnt address any of the issues that I felt needed to be addressed. You can blame it on my transition from early to mid-forties. if you like ;)

Now for the story.

When I arrive home for lunch today there was a car in the yard. It belongs to a friend who lives in our area. She was getting ready to make her way out when I came in. As a way of saying hello/goodbye she asked, “Do you know your kids are amazing/intelligent (I don’t remember which one)?”

Simply, “Yes, I do.”

That’s why we homeschool. They are every bit as amazing as they were at 6 months old. Preserving that was worth all sorts of sacrifices which I would make again at the drop of a hat.

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Links

Unschooling Voices #13 is up.

Andrea sent me a link to some maze design research at the University of Waterloo, one of Canada’s prominent universities. I’ve always enjoyed mazes. What I find a bit amusing about the article is that in one of the programming courses I used to teach, I gave the students an assignment where they wrote a maze solving program.

Currently, comments on my blog are not working unless you are signed in. I haven’t had a chance to figure out why. In the mean time, if you want to leave me a comment, you can do it here.

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Unschooling Emma

Unschooling Voices #12 is up. Thanks, Kim.

Everyone in our house has the occasional tendency to start talking out loud midway through a conversation/train of thought going on in their head. Emma is no exception. There are times when she shows how astute she is.

Earlier this week Emma and I were in the office: her at one computer and I at the other. She asked me if we had any money left from selling the green house. I did explain that although we had spent most of it, we didn’t have to pay the bills for the green house anymore. She said nothing in the 5 minutes before or after that. Nor did she give any sign that she heard my explanation. But I’m sure she did. Prior to the sale of the green house she was aware we were running under a tight budget. For the last couple weeks the belt has been loosened a notch or two. Since last weekend we were planning on a shopping trip to Fredericton for this weekend. It may take a few months for her to realize that still having the green house was why we had to run on a tight budget, but I’m sure she will eventually.

Last night while sitting at opposite computers from the last story Emma asked, “Doesn’t war makes them bigger?” with a hint of don’t be silly. Again this came out in the middle of a good spell of silence. I looked over at her screen. She was watching the Schoolhouse Rock DVD. I had to watch the video for about a minute (the volume was low enough I couldn’t catch all the audio) before I figured out what this particular episode was about. It was explaining DEFICIT using a household budget to illustrate spending exceeding income. If we were a household that watched the nightly news, news channels, read the daily papers, etc. then I probably would have expected something like this from her. The truth is that we DON’T buy newspapers, watch news channels or the evening news. I’m still thinking through where she might have garnered the information for this conclusion. Out of the mouths of babes.

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Homeschooling, etc.

I know it’s been a long while since I’ve written a homeschooling post. I’ve been keeping busy. Here and there, there have been things that Emma has said or done that I wanted to write about but never seemed to have them in mind when I had time to write.

Since we are now back under the same roof, Emma and I have gotten back to the routine of me reading her a story before tucking her in for the night. One night in the last couple months, I was going through a bit of a cold. I had to stop reading to get a kleenex from Meaghan’s night stand. I handed Emma the book to hold while I did that. She picked up reading where I left off and continued reading until I sat down beside her again.

One night this weekend I asked her if she wanted to read a few pages and she read the first 7 or 8 pages and then handed me the book saying, “You can read now.” Her reading ability has been developing steadily over the last year. Other than help with the odd word here and there, she is self sufficient.

Oddly enough, the main reason I haven’t been talking that much about homeschooling is that we aren’t doing anything out of our normal day to day family routine. We talk about things. If the opportunity comes up we talk about the math related to some subject or other. We share things we’ve learned with each other. In a real sense there isn’t anything to talk about outside of living. And those are the things that I’ve been talking about as of late.

The update on the green house is that it is still on the market. A second open house is scheduled for this weekend. The thing we had not talked about was that the first person who looked at the house did put in an offer on it about 2 weeks the first visit. It took about another week to come to a purchase-sale agreement. Due to extenuating circumstances, there were special consideration(s)/options (depending on which side you were on). A few weeks later we agreed to an extension. That extension was up in the last couple weeks. As it stands now, that deal has fallen through. We are hoping for good news in the next 3 weeks though. But, at this point, it is probably one of the things that is pressing on us most.

Even though I will not be celebrating Thanksgiving this weekend, I will enjoy being home with my family. For the readers in the US, I hope it’s a great weekend for you.

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Unschooling Voices Is Up

#10 is here.

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Pellet Stove Install – Part 1

Last weekend Andrea wrote about the buckwheat hulls in our wall. We are in process of installing a pellet stove for heat this winter. There is an oil furnace in the basement. We don’t intend to use it. The first reason we looked at alternative sources of heat was that neither of us like oil heat. We haven’t owned a house that had oil heat. But, we lived in one for part of one winter and didn’t particularly care for it. And, I found a study which said that wood pellets cost about half as much for the equivalent heat in heating oil. Even if that is somewhat off, it would still make sense if the cost was based solely on the cost of fuel.

The other factor we considered was cost. If we were going to use the oil furnace, there were a few issues we were going to have to deal with. The oil furnace has not been used in 3 years, so it would definitely need to be serviced and I doubt we would have gotten away without having to replace some parts (we do know the fan works ok). The oil tank is so old that it does not have the tag on it indicating when it was manufactured (which means it is too old to be used). So, we would have to buy a new tank. Finally, the chimney is not quite up to code because it does not extend above the roof line enough. So, we were looking a potential cost of $3-5000 to get the oil furnace in working order. Getting a pellet stove setup and ready to use costs in that same range (most of the variance comes from range in price of pellet stoves). The particular pellet stove we purchased in manufactured in Canada but the design is licensed from the UK.

We also considered a wood stove. In pricing it out we found that the install cost was in the same range as the pellet stove. The issue we would be up against this time of year is that it would be difficult to get seasoned wood. Looking forward to future years, I also did the math on the cost of fuel. By weight, pellets cost about 40% more than local seasoned firewood. Pellet stoves do have 10-15% higher effeciency rating than most wood stoves do which should offset some of the difference in fuel cost. So, realistically, we will be looking at slightly higher fuel costs. To offset that the nice thing about the pellets is that they don’t involve continual cleanup and Andrea and the girls will have no trouble keeping the pellet stove in fuel.

Our house insurance requires that we document the installation of the main heat source. Since I’m doing it anyway, I thought I would share how to install a pellet stove here while I was at it. After deciding where we were going to put the pellet stove, I did some rough measuring and some exploritory surgery on the wall in the area where the vent was going. Tonight we picked up all the pieces for the vent except one. I put enough of it together, and after reading the installation manual, so that we could hold it in place to mark the area where the thimble will go in the wall.

Here is a picture:

Yes, we have wood walls behind our exterior plaster walls. Given the house was built 100 years ago, I think it was an interesting way to give the house some insulation. The buckwheat hulls that Andrea referred to were put in the wall between the plaster and the boards on the inside of the exterior wall. Behind the boards is blown in cellulose insulation. The white area is a plaster refinish job which was probably done just before the wall paper went on. The white area is slightly larger than the thimble at 13 inches high by 12 wide. I’m hoping that I am able to finish the installation this weekend. We’ll see how it goes.

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The secret

I’ve heard it said that the secret to success is figuring out what you love to do and then find a way to make money doing it.

Of course, when you think about it, that makes alot of sense. If you are doing something that you love to do, then alot of the things that are common goals of working become secondary. A perfect example of that is making money. Alot of people work to make money so they can do things they like to do. If you are already doing something you like to do, you will probably spend less money pursuing other things that you would like to do. IOW, you will probably have less expensive tastes.

Without thinking it through in advance, I fell into something I love to do. I discovered in college, that not only was I good at my chosen profession, but that I also liked it. What I learned from teaching in college was that my students’ ability at computer programming was largely dependent on whether or not they liked it. I don’t believe that all professions will distinguish between those who do like it and those who don’t to the degree that programming does.

This time of year many homeschoolers are ‘off’ of school as they somewhat follow the societal school calendar. One of the beauties of unschooling is that there is no ‘off’ time and no ‘on’ time. The closest thing we have to that is learning for the fun of it. There is learning which we do which falls into the category of life skills. I learn things for work. We learn things to improve our life, our home, etc. But sometimes we explore in an area where there is no direct association with life skills. To me, that is our ‘off’ time.

If you’ve been following along in this and Andrea’s blog, you’ll know I’ve been working pretty flat out on getting our old house ready to go on the market. Usually when I get to the computer at night I’m tired enough that I don’t feel like writing. In the same vein, I’m having a bit of trouble transitioning from one thought to another.

The closing thought I’ve had for this post over the last few days has been that I hope that all 4 of the kids (Addison, Sarah, Meaghan & Emma) learn the principle I opened the post with in the course of their homeschooling ‘education’. Unschooling caters particularly well to that because they will have far more opportunities to discover what it is they love to do. Hopefully, we will provide them with avenues to discover how to make money doing it.

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Thinking post

I put this under book studies. But, I’m not going to get into the school type massacre of literature. What I am going to do is mention a book. I’m not going to do that at the start though. There’s something that I’ve been mulling over for the last month or so and the book provided some insight.

Over quite a period of time leading up to Andrea’s surgery, quite a few people asked some variation of how I felt about it. My initial reaction to the question (I can’t remember if someone asked me or if the question related through Andrea) was that I thought it was an odd sort of question. I wasn’t the person who was having the surgery and going to have to go through the recovery. I hadn’t really stopped to think about it in terms of anyone other than her. At one point (possibly the weekend before), she said, well, ‘we really haven’t talked about it’ (how I felt about the surgery).

I summed it up by saying, ‘If the choice I have is the surgery or losing you, it’s not a difficult choice to make.’ Excepting that I did not look forward to seeing Andrea going through more surgery and recovery, it was an easy choice for me to support whatever she decided to do. Sometimes I dream big and have very high aspirations, but when it comes down to brass tacks I don’t waste alot of time wishing and pining for choices that I don’t have. And I hope that I can say all of that without it sounding like it was directed at the people who asked. IMO, the people who asked obviously cared. What trying to articulate my thoughts on the issue of choices brought to mind was the moral:

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you do about it.

We all have problems and issues that crop up in life. Probably the issues here are radically different from most in the third world. For some here, when their mp3 player (or some other gadget) fails it’s a serious problem. There are millions (if not a billion) people on this planet who have never held an electronic device. Years ago, I helped my father with organizing some geneological data. Within the last 200 years, in my ancestry, there was a couple who had 10 children. Only 4 survived to adulthood. It’s a sobering thought. If I can rephrase,

Life isn’t what happens to you. It’s what you do.

If you played the lottery and won, that doesn’t dictate what happens next. That may give you more choices. But, really, what you choose to do from that point is life.

What I’ve noticed is that there seems to be two camps in our society with people spread across the spectrum between. One camp is the ‘life is what you do’ camp and the other is the ‘life is what happens to you’ camp. For a long time I wondered whether the ‘life is what happens to you’ camp was a product of the school system where things are largely set up to be things that happen to you. In watching (and reading) Pride & Prejudice, I realized that was not the case. I’ve concluded that Jane Austen was a keen observer of human behaviour and social interaction. I think she did an incredible job of describing the character of both camps.

A snippet of the exchange between Mr. Darcy and Mr. Gardiner was, ‘It was through my mistake…and so the remedy must be… The responsibility is mine, I must have it.’ It’s very much a statement of what I did and what I’m going to do. No where in the conversation does Mr. Darcy even hint at ‘what happened to him’.

In contrast, throughout the book (and hence the movie), Mrs. Bennett focuses solely on what happens to her both directly and indirectly. At no point in her conversation does she talk in terms of what she’s done or doing. In the miniseries version, I found the character somewhat overplayed. But, I think being overplayed really accentuated the fact that the character was obsessed with making the right things happen (to her or some other character).

I’ve spent quite a while writing this and I almost forgot the closing thoughts I had in mind. One of those is that whether or not systemized education has increased the commonality of the character flaw, it probably has existed throughout time. Secondly, if you haven’t read the book and/or watched the movie it is well worth watching. If you are going to do both, I would suggest watching the movie first. Finally, I suppose I’ve made it fairly clear which of the two camps I feel would be a better choice to gravitate to. So, I’m not going to restate that here.

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Christmas traditions

Most every family that celebrates Christmas has its own Christmas traditions. This year Emma has been letting one of ours out of the bag. For a long time now, she has been introducing herself to people. Once she was the size that she looked like she would be in kindergarten, it usually boiled down to:

“My name is Emma. I’m {age}. I’m homeschooled. Mommy’s my teacher.”

It took a while before it occurred to me that she was answering the questions most adults who didn’t know her, asked her if they conversed with her. For the last month or so she has been adding the following to her introduction:

“My Daddy is my Santa.”

I would say the majority of adults she’s said that to don’t know how to respond. I’ve had a few looks which suggested that I had commited a severe injustice. Others, though, have been a little more understanding. One lady after having a bit of time to absorb it did say, “I suppose, that’s the best sort of Santa to have.” This week, while out grocery shopping she added, to one lady:

“Maybe my Daddy will bring you presents, too.”

Over the years, I’ve run into adults who remember Christmas primarily from when they were a child. And, it seems to an extent, that Christmas as an adult brought them little joy or happiness. I’m not that way. I said to Andrea tonight, “This is the best Christmas ever.” She promptly replied, “You say that every year.” And she’s right. I do say that every year and I’m not making it up. On Christmas morning, I’ll be in a room full of people whose whose main goal there is to make every other person in the room happy. In my experience, that doesn’t happen very often.

While sitting here thinking of what to talk about next, I realized that over the years we have parted from what I perceive the traditional Christmas to be quite alot. For example, starting at age 2, I would take the children out and let them pick out gifts for the rest of the family. One year that turned into Andrea opening a wrapped box that contained a can of peas. I fear, that for many children in our society, they have become the object of Christmas. Christmas is a product that gets delivered to them and their role in it all is limited to Christmas morning. If that was their childhood Christmas, it is no wonder that being the person who creates the product sees no joy in it.

For my children, Christmas has been a process. I can guarantee you that all of the older children have spent far more time in the last year thinking about what they were going to give everyone else than they did thinking about what they might get.

But, I really haven’t told you the story behind what Emma has been telling people recently. Before her third Christmas, I asked the older three if they wanted us to teach her about Santa. They unanimously said no. And we haven’t. At the time I also proposed an alternative way of having stockings filled for Christmas morning. So, we largely left it to Emma to draw her own conclusions. The irony that came along 2 years ago was that Emma asked me to get a Santa suit and be Santa.

When it got close to Christmas, Andrea and I picked up a Santa suit. On Christmas Eve, I went upstairs and got suited up, went into the attic. I then closed the door loudly and stomped my way down stairs. I had a gift for each person to open in my sack, plus I got Emma to help me put a gift in each stocking. Then I went back upstairs and took off the suit. Throughout the whole thing Emma called me Santa and corrected someone who mistakenly called me Dad. But the glint in her eye and the smile on her face betrayed that she knew she was taking part in pretense. When I came back down stairs as me, she excitedly told me the whole story of Santa being there.

This year, she has already asked me to do it again. And, of course, I will.

We hope you have a truly Merry Christmas (Ho Ho Ho).