Two nights ago the kids and I slept out in the yard.
Under the stars.
It seemed like a great idea at the time, and indeed I think it was. But by 3 AM I had watched the moon's entire journey across the sky as well as the procession of night music from spring peepers to the great horned owl to coyotes, whippoorwill, snipe, and... well, you get the idea.
There was more nature observation happening than sleep that night.
And then Lupine, damp and cold with dew and night air, climbed into my mummy bag along with our barn cat and I could no longer move my arms. At all. We were pretty much wedged tight until we wiggled out and dashed to the house for hot tea beneath cozy blankets at 5 AM.
It was a magical - but sleepless - night.
And no, I didn't regret a thing, but yes, I did drink most of a pot of coffee to make it through the following day.
So the next night I decided the kids (okay, really I) would need to get to bed early. Really early. Because we were exhausted.
That evening, just before dinner, the phone rang. It was our neighbor who has been passionately restoring his prairie for years.
And Lupine, still dressed in a sparkly dress from a birthday party in town that afternoon begged, "Oh, mama! Dan is burning the prairie again. Can we go? Please? Please, can we?!?!"
(Puppy dog eyes.)
And I want you to know that I did not say, "But I'm exhausted and it's already 6:30 and we haven't had dinner and did I mention that I'm exhausted?"
Instead I said, "Yes."
And she squealed and leaped into the air and went upstairs to change into something more practical and I heard Sage cheer in the next room.
And then we ate venison steak for dinner. And nothing else. Because we could take steak with us in our grubby little hands and walk next door to watch the fire and the sweet potatoes were too messy for eating while walking.
Off we went, in the direction of the smoke.
The truth is, I can't imagine having missed this day.
It was amazing.
We talked about the importance of fire and the ecology of prairies and forests and invasive species and evolution. We walked through thick smoke and explored the expanses burned just a week before, already greening up with new life.
After an hour Lupine was tired and ready to go home, but Sage was just getting started.
So at the time we normally would have been tucking in I kissed him goodnight and left him with Pete and Neighbor Dan on the hill, a butane torch in his ten-year old hands.
And he burned the prairie, with Dan as his teacher and Pete looking on. And what an experience that was for the still smallness that longs for bigness that is ten.
I was asleep next to Lupine in her bed when they came home, long after dark. Sage woke me, soot on his cheeks and smelling of smoke, his eyes radiant. "I got to use the torch, Mama! I burned a ton of that Prairie with Dan."
And the confidence and pride in the air was palpable.
He did it.
He helped push back invasives and enrich the soil for natives.
He felt the trust from the adults along side him as he stepped into the role of worker, not mere observer.
He did that.
And I wonder - how often do our kids get to step up and do the important work that lets them know they matter? How often can we silence the voice that says, "Be careful! That's dangerous! Don't do that!" and let them be and explore and truly live.
I say the more we do that the better. Because this kid was on fire (pardon the expression) with the work he had done.
It changed him.
And I'm so glad.
What does an average day in the life of an unschooling family look like?
Oh, my. Honestly, I have no idea.
Well, of course I do but yet - I don't.
Because although we live it each day, each of those days is different.
I'm over on Simple Homeschool today sharing what our life is like as an unschooling family - and why it's hard to fit into the tidy boxes of a schedule.
My post is here. Come and join us!
I suspect I am in the minority in that I have never given either of my children an allowance.
Yes, I buy them things occasionally and for a while I would give them a thrifting-day stipend (to help them learn to manage their spending, reduce whining for me to buy them things, and um, okay, to buy myself some time.)
But normally they earn their own money.
When Sage was four he started his first small business.
He grated our LuSa soap trims, packed them into little drawstring bags, and sold them at the farmer's market as "Soap Sachets". By the end of the day he had something like $24 in his little pocket.
At age four.
And that was powerful for me.
I decided that I wanted my kids to experience wanting ("I really want those fancy pencils!" I really want to have a scooter!") and then find a way to make it happen. I wanted them to experience the satisfaction of earning their own money as well as the patience for delayed gratification.
I wanted them to learn that they are capable of having whatever they want, if they choose to make it happen.
I also didn't want their participation at home (IE: chores) to be linked to the money in their wallet. I think chores are done by all members of the family simply because that is how a family functions and survives. You don't do it in order to get paid in dollars. (More on how we do that over here.)
And then there is the fact that our family lives entirely off of income from our own small business. So to me it's a pretty important message that yes, you can follow your passion and earn a living - joyfully!
But I digress.
Sage's second business venture, "'Magical' Play Silks" dying and selling silks, was a huge success as well ( thanks to you beautiful people) and when he and I calculated how much he earned per hour we were both amazed. (Okay, I was floored. He was mildly engaged.)
And now it's Lupine's turn.
Lupine began her first small business venture last week, called "Rainbow Dough".
She is making homemade, essential oil-scented play dough. (Yes, she raided LuSa for the essential oils.)
Currently Lupine's Rainbow Dough is available in turquoise (eucalyptus), deep pink (rose geranium), purple (lavender), and light green (spearmint).
Because it is her business (not mine) she chose the recipe, set her prices, and picked her scents. She made the dough. Sage is helping her here and there (as am I), but mostly she's on her own. At six.
In case you were wondering, Lupine will be selling Rainbow Dough to anyone who is interested. (And yes, she ships!) She is charging $3.50 each, plus postage.
Truth be told I don't know how big each dough will be. I'm guessing every one will be different. Because, well, she's six. (But she's a generous six so I don't thik she'll dissapoint anyone.)
I hope that Lupine, like her brother, will learn that hard work and passion pay off - quite literally. And that work can be fun. That's a lesson that most of us didn't get as children that I think is vital to finding joy in adulthood.
I mean really. Who wouldn't benefit from that message?
For your own kids, the possibilities are limitless. Cut flowers, jewelery, freezer paper t-shirts, tea blends, cookie mix, poetry, painted peg people... Ask them what they love to do and then support them as they run with it. (But when they're ready to be done remember that that's okay too.)
Oh, and for the record, the play dough smells heavenly.
So. Who wants some?
The kids and I quite literally ran away to the circus on Friday.
But only for a day.
Although we lived just three blocks away for years we never once went to visit.
Living in Baraboo and not being the circus-type was a bit of a trip. Walking (then infant) Sage by the river near our house we would occasionally see them bathing elephants in the river, and we could hear the calliopes from our backyard.
I vividly recall my dog barking like mad just after we moved to Baraboo. I looked up to see a sad clown with a giant mallet over his shoulder bicycling by my house. I smiled at him politely and he just stared, all frowny-faced and sad-eyed. Biking and staring at my dog and me.
"It is scary," I assured my dog. Keep barking.
You see, my history with the circus is sketchy at best. (As a teenager in Milwaukee the only time I went to the famous Circus Parade was to hand out fliers about animal rights. I was that kid.)
So thinking about the circus has always made me feel sad.
But last Friday I decided it was time.
And I suspected that visiting in the off-season would mean no animals, few other guests, and just an amazing visual and educational feast.
I was right.
We had the place to ourselves. (Literally.) Dioramas, trains, wagons, and exhibits.
Our favorite building was a huge warehouse filled with antique circus wagons. Unheated and un-staffed it had just two rules: don't smoke and don't climb.
Wagons were packed willy-nilly throughout like they were hastily unloaded in a windstorm. Some we crawled under to get past.
It was amazing.
At one point Lupine was running full bore between two wagons. She stopped and glanced up to both sides. "There is a lot of Greek mythology in here!"
And off she ran again.
(See? We were homeschooling.)
The displays also provided me with an opportunity to talk about how people treat one another in our culture. And how slowly we are learing to believe in equality. Bit by bit.
There was a huge circus diorama that captivated us all. But when we got to the "Side Show" the kids were baffled and disturbed by what they saw. They had no framework from which to process it.
It was a great moment to discuss how we as a species are evolving as we begin to see one another as whole people - not something to laugh at, exile, ridicule, or judge.
But mostly we just had an incredible day.
An afternoon at the circus. (And oh, yes - two thrift stores on the way home.)
And now to plan next Friday's adventure. Hmmm... Where to go...
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Happy Martin Luther King day. Here is looking forward to our continued evolution, understanding, and compassion.
After seven days in the woods if you asked either of my children (or me for that matter) what the highlight of the trip was the answer was the same: painting at Quartz Hill.
It was our first full day up north. Each of us picked our adventure for one day, and a hike to this giant quartz formation was Lupine's choice. (In an effort to maintain the rhythm of doing a bit of organized homeschooling work each day, I added the painting.)
After walking through the forest to the hill we ate a picnic lunch in the dappled sun. Then we sat beneath the trees making art. All day long.
It was wonderful.
We've painted outdoors before (when the kids were younger) but this time was different somehow. It was magical.
If we hadn't run out of paper we just might have spent the night up there.
So while I questioned it on the hike up the hill, schlepping that (big, heavy, awkward) basket of art supplies through the woods was absolutely worth it. Oh, goodness yes.
Now and again I get a comment or an email acknowledging the vulnerability of putting myself out there as I do in this space. And every time I have the same reaction. "What? I put myself out there?"
Yes, I'm a little oblivious.
Because as I see it I'm just sharing what makes me tick, (and sometimes what makes me tic) without attachment to that being the same for you. I've always been different from most around me, so I never expected you all would resonate with every word. That would be strange to me.
So thank you for respecting the (perhaps radical) ideas that I throw your way here every few days.You are graceful and respectful and open and I am in deep appreciation for that.
I am also appreciate those of you who share my radical ideals and call me out when you think I might be slipping down a slope I don't intend to. For the unschoolers, yesterday's post was like that.
Therefore, a bit of clarification...
Sage and Lupine are wabi sabi - perfect in their imperfection. Like all of us. I am not trying to fix them or change them or make them better than they are right now. I am instead seeing an ember of desire in my son and helping him to fan the flame.
We aren't really "doing school" (or long division). We're playing games with cards and wooden pennies. We're learning calligraphy. We're messing around with vinegar and pennies, salt and nails. We're painting peg people. We're making paper airplanes. We're dissolving the shell of an egg. (Oh yes. Yesterday was an outstanding day.) And we're also crunching some numbers and practicing our handwriting.
And I think there is balance in that.
None if it is delivered with the message of "you are not enough". Instead it is delivered with the message "you can do anything".
So yes, I do perceive some gaps in their knowledge, but no, I'm not fearful that those gaps are going to be detrimental to my child's success. What I really see is a readiness for knowledge and trepidation at taking that first step. I'm here to hold their hands and walk that path together. I am not going to push against resistance, just nudge them towards new challenges.
Okay. Thanks for listening.
With homeschooling in mind, I'm over on Simple Homeschool again today. I'm reaching out to those among us who have chosen to not homeschool. Many of my friends (and my family) and perhaps many of yours.
My post is here. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts (as homeschoolers or as friends of homeschoolers).
Love and gratitude,
We've been unschoolers since the start.
That means we follow the leads of our children with our learning. We don't work off of a curriculum. We don't "do school" at all. Instead we learn as we go, day by day. Their interests lead the direction in which we travel.
Some days around here look pretty schoolie, with text books and experiments scattered around the kitchen, but most days do not.
Instead we learn while we cook, while we garden, while we travel, and while we play.
Frankly, we love it. Unschooling has been a perfect fit for our family.
And now Sage is ten. He's ten!
Ten feels big. Not because I'm remembering who I was or what I knew by ten, but simply because of the accelerating I'm feeling with his growing up. As he put it, "In that much time again I'll be 20!" Right? I'm not even sure how that is possible, but I checked his math and he's spot on.
And during the past few weeks I decided that he is old enough to be pushed our of his comfort zone and into some of the learning he has been less enthusiastic about. A loving nudge that will lead to leaps in understanding, while still (mostly) unschooling.
And we've never done this before.
We have never ever done school.
Sage was not taught to read. He learned organically, not unlike a child learns how to walk or talk when given a nurturing environment in which to grow. We were all trust and allowing and he learned when he was ready.
But now... now I want to balance all of that trust and allowing and ease with a little nudge towards long division. I think he's ready, and after ten years with this boy I think I understand how he works.
That the initial discomfort is holding him back. That he'll need to get it wrong before he gets it right.
And maybe unschooling means following their interests first and then noticing how their temperaments are holding them back and work with both.
So we've done it.
We've scheduled a block of time each day to, well, to "do school". Starting today. I am focusing on the areas where I think we have gaps (spelling, math, and handwriting specifically) and then we'll fill the remainder of the morning with the lessons they are so excited about they could hardly sleep. (That would be chemistry for Sage and portrait drawing for Lupine.)
And for me this is a new path. I'm as nervous/excited as the kids. I woke at 5 to have time to check email and post the blog. Because I don't want to be distracted during the day by all that I didn't get done.
We'll hit the ground running in a couple of hours and see how far we go.
Starting something new is simultaneously exciting and uncomfortable. Change is like that. Sage was resistant to the idea of something too structured. But once we went over the rhythm together and he saw the built-in free time and reading time and outside time he embraced it. With gusto even.
I expect that he'll be up by 6, ready to get started.
Yes, today is a nudge into the discomfort for me as much as for my kids. We're all in this together. Stretching, growing, changing.
And I think that's right where we belong.
My contribution today post is about road-tripping with children, inspired by this adventure. (After re-living that trip through the writing of this post, I am itching for another adventure. I am scheming another trip with my family. And soon!)
Every few weeks I'll share a homeschooling-related post over on Simple Homeschool.
You can find my first post here.
Once a week I load my kids into the car and the whole family heads in to our LuSa Organics business space. It's my one day a week to work on site - developing new products, blending new scents, and making product prototypes for private label customers.
Yesterday I reflected on how this day works for my kids. Are they just spending the day waiting for me to finish my work, or are they learning? And in that moment in the other room I overheard Pete teaching Sage long division. Pete took a quick break from bookkeeping to explain the math to Sage, who had been carefully measuring and drawing something to scale all morning.
Meanwhile Lupine was singing and dancing (as usual), cutting some treasures out of paper, working on a puzzle, drawing, and helping me quality check the soaps. As always there were lots of questions about the map of the world that hangs on the wall.
And then I remembered what I have known for so long. That wherever we go they learn. They learn at home, in the woods, in the city, and yes, even at LuSa. There was math and art and fine motor work. There was geography and chemistry. There was physical education and natural history. It's all happening. Everyday. No matter where we are. And I love that for so many reasons.
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