Life Learning Continues On the School Bus

Welcome BayThis fall marks the 8th “school” year of home learning for us, and, as every year unfolds and the kids get older, we are given new opportunities of inspiration to consider.  The mornings of mist and fog settle around the golds and browns of shifting leaves, easing us into the soft and still warm breaking through of the sun.  The changes sometimes seem sudden, like the darkening of the evenings, but also natural and embracing.  It feels this way with my oldest daughter’s decision made within 6 days to attend the local elementary school for her 7th grade year.

One week we were snorkeling together on a thursday afternoon, and the next tuesday she was on the school bus heading to her first day of being in the class room.  There were many conversations, both practical and heartfelt, that led her on this journey.

welcome bay snorkelMany of her close friends had chosen this year to switch from our home schooling group into the school, each for their own reasons, and she was feeling a strong need as a twelve year old to connect with similar aged friends within her learning environment.  A natural shift from learning mainly through play seemed to be taking place in the last year, but with an unknowing of how to continue to create interesting, integrated, experiential and fun learning projects on her own motivation.   This led her to be inspired to expand her experience of learning-  we discussed how every experience has something to offer, in this case, study skills, self discipline, being an individual learner within a directed group, group projects and discussions, and diverse social situations.  Moving out of a comfort zone and seeing what there is and how to respond.  She equated her educational journey to a spiral- with each experience leading the spiral upwards.  In life learning, everything is education, no matter what the structure is- and it will all be a part of what shapes and directs her journey.  In the future, she may chose from a variety of learning situations, and she was quite excited to begin getting familiar with a few of those options.  She told me one night that she felt she really believed in herself, in her own strength and abilities to overcome anything that felt challenging.  on the waterIf she doesn’t like it, she understands that she can switch back to being at home, with her own schedule, and with a deeper understanding of her own motivations and preferred environment.  Here on the Gulf Islands, we have a 4 day school week, and an incredibly supportive principal.  Surrounded by good friends and a familiar place, she enjoys her teacher and the absence of desks in the class room- all factors that have made the transition for her a positive one so far.  She has already taken part in an overnight camping trip to Saturna Island’s SEEC program with her class, (which we have done many times with our home school group in the past), a combination of outdoor activities and peer group learning that is perfectly within her educational desires at this time.  There have been some doubts along the way, related mostly to early mornings and being inside a lot- both being practices of discipline and commitment.  She has also noticed a disconnected sense towards our land- a place we have slowly developed in the past 6 years and on which she has spent most of that time outside and keenly aware of the nature around her.

When we began home schooling, it was my belief that the first few years, the youngest ones, the most impressionable ones, were the most important for a grounding of and a knowing of the self.  My experience of school as a primary aged student, which followed into the rest of my adult life, was the disappearance of myself in a crowd, and the conflict of wanting to be seen and acknowledged, and yet, never to be the focus of attention.  I realize that that may not have been the experience of my kids if they were in school, and I was willing, of course, to support either of my kids if they at any time, chose to take a different path, but neither of them had until now.   Taeven now has a strong, inward sense of herself, with a solid foundation of values and unique qualities to share with her classmates.

cedar in arbutusMy younger son, who is 9, has no interest in attending school at this point.  He is fueled by riding his bike around and building things all day- and being entirely in control of his own time and activities.  (With a little math and reading direction from me.)  He has a great group of similar aged friends in our Spring Leaves Family Learning group, and very much enjoys the time we spend together doing a variety of seasonal, especially outdoor, activities.  He misses his sister, and she has expressed a mutual feeling, so we try to spend off school hours together as a family- at home, in the community, or on short trips to the wild west coast to surf together.  I am grateful that we have been able to create a supportive educational journey for our kids, one in which they are able to nurture their inner sense of self as well as their infusion into the one world around us.  We are empowered by our own choices, and thus create the life we dream of.

 

 

Summer Life Learning

tree frogs

Taeven’s tree frog photo won first prize at the Fall Fair

I often get asked if we continue to “home school” in the summer.  I understand why I get asked; since  “school” suggests a scheduled time frame while “home” implies a year round location.  In my attempts to explain our tendencies towards seasonal life learning, I reflect on how summer is often even more intensely full of focused learning and play.  This summer my kids have done a week of sailing camp, a week of family music camp, soccer camp, and 4 days of kayaking around Pender Island.  A number of distant family members and friends came to visit, we had music festivals to attend as well as to host, and in between, endless bicycling around with neighborhood friends.

watching the sunset at the weekly beach potluck

watching the sunset at the weekly beach potluck

Our pond often became the local swimming spot for children and parents at the end of a hot summer day, and we continued with going to our community beach potluck every sunday.  We also constructed projects and crafted entries for our local Fall Fair, and these days, we are busy harvesting and processing apples, pears, and plums as well as keep up with other gardening activities.  Our time spent actively moving, socializing, learning with different teachers, and challenging our (I should say “my”) organizing abilities in a summer mode of spontaneity and relaxation.

I could of course, put up a million great photos of all I have just described, but really, what I am wanting to capture is the essence of creativity in a season of outside living and free time.  Our unscheduled time in between activities was, of course, intensely chill- with a late afternoon position of myself, the kids, and a few other neighborhood friends sitting by the side of the pond, soaking up the stillness of a slowly fading heat, watching dragonflies, hearing crickets, and generally being present for this wonderful life we have.

Together with a great friend that moved to the neighboring island a few years ago, Taeven and Cedar spent hours one day creating these pond side idyllic living spaces from what they found all around them, imagining a whole other world in which to be.  There is a lot of detail in each photo, which the kids took, so enlarging them might be more inspiring.

Tree Frogs, Lillies, and Dragonflies Emerging

These are a few photos of the life around the pond.  Lots of pacific tree frogs are now making their way further from the water and into the surrounding flowers and grass.  If I was a tiny frog, I would definitely choose to nestle inside the petals of a water lily on a hot day…

lily reflection lily frog OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA tree frog in lily

We also have lots of dragonflies.  In the late spring, the water larvae of the dragonflies climbs up out of the pond on stalks of vegetation, where the skin on its back splits open and the adult dragonfly emerges, expands and dries. The empty larval skin (exuvia) remains as a reminder of the larva’s aquatic life.  We were lucky to have witnessed one such dragonfly as it stretched out it’s new wings, making it’s transformation from water to air.

dragonfly emerging dragonfly emerging 2 dragonfly emerging 3 dragonfly emerging4

Pottery Sessions

Every two years, we have invited a local island potter to come and play with our Spring Leaves kids.  Nancy Silo has been working with clay since the 1970’s, and her enthusiasm for sharing her skills with our group is always a special treat for us.  This year, Nancy led us through the steps of making bowls in a very surprising and delightful way.  Photos taken by Kenta Kikuchi beautifully illustrate the two days we spent working on them- first decorating and shaping, and a few weeks later when we glazed the bisque fired bowls.

After rolling out a flat piece of circular clay, the kids decorated their clay with a variety of stamping materials, as well as freehand drawing into the clay.  Then Nancy demonstrated a very surprising and delightful way of making the flat clay into a bowl- by laying the slab on a piece of foam, placing a bowl on top of it (there were two sizes to choose from) and pressing down hard into the foam.  When the bowl was released, the clay slab underneath had been pressed into a ripple edged bowl of varying depth.

A few weeks later, after Nancy took the bowls home and bisque fired them, the kids glazed them with a selection of glazes that Nancy brought in with samples of their finished colour and shine.  When she returned a few weeks later after their last firing, we finally got to see the end result.  Often with pottery, there is a bit of surprise all along the way, as the variations between the elements involved in the process take on their own actions and results.  Thank you, Nancy!  Thanks also to Kenta Kikuchi for taking and sharing the photographs.

finished bowlsdetails

 

 

 

glazed bowlsspring leaves group

Nettle Soup Campfire Style

a basket of stinging nettles

a basket of stinging nettles

Some of the earliest Spring plants that we can gather and harvest as food here on the west coast is the abundantly nourishing stinging nettle.  One of our favorite things to do as a group involves cooking by campfire, so a few weeks ago, when the nettles were still small enough for harvesting, we went down to Limber Lost, built up a nice fire, and went for a walk to collect nettles.  I love the fact that these stingy, rash inducing plants are actually so very tender and full of nutrients, that their seemingly angry stings are in fact so easily persuaded otherwise with a bit of heat or crushing.  There is even a growing understanding that the sting itself can help alleviate internal discomforts- muscle pain, joint pain, arthritis, tendinitis and gout.

Mostly, though, we like to eat it.  So with gloves and clippers and bags and baskets, we came back to the fire and a huge pot of boiling water.  Everyone had brought some veggies and seasonings to add to the soup, so we got them chopped and cooking before adding the nettles at the very end.

It was so delicious!  With everyone helping a little bit, we had a tasty and abundant lunch accompanied by various spontaneous games in the forest.

Spring Branch

We have a branch on the window sill of our dining table that we seasonally adorn throughout the year, and until recently it still carried the paper snowflakes that we made in the winter.  Last week, the emerging sun of spring engaged us in a morning of fluffy wool and felt, for a branch transformation into spring.  Of course, other ideas sprouted, and soon Cedar had sewn himself a bluebird head band.  Cedar and Taeven also made drawstring pouches from a book he has been thoroughly enjoying, The Boy’s Book of Adventure- The Little Guidebook for Smart and Resourceful Boys.  Over 40 ideas for outdoor activities and fun crafts.  (There is a girls’ book, too, but they are quite interchangeable.  Published by Barron’s.)

The following is an excerpt from Earth Wisdom, by Glennie Kindred.  This book has been on my shelf for many years, and I often refer to it at the times of the yearly changes for inspiration and insights.  It explores some of the Celtic traditions, knowledge and beliefs from Britain and Northern Europe and brings them forward to the present day.

Spring Equinox, Festival of Balance and Potential, March 20-23 (Northern Hemisphere)

“The power of the sun is increasing, the days are lengthening and the nights are shortening. We begin to feel empowered to reach out for what we want and to take risks, strike out on our own, go for walks and connect to the Earth again.

We can use the potential and fertility of this time to create opportunities for positive change in our lives and in the world.  At his point we are poised between opposite forces, light and dark, receptive and active, unconscious and conscious, inner and outer.  These can be united within us so that we are whole and balanced individuals.  This gives birth to actions that come from the heart.

At this time of year we can inspire each other with prophecies of hope, the power of “we” and our willingness and power to bring change into the world as we create opportunities for a bright new future.”  Glennie also offers an awareness of tree energies, and the role of the spirit of trees through Celtic folklore and mythology.

tree offeringsAnother way that we enjoy bringing intentional blessing and joy to the awakening earth is making decorations for branches outside with colourful pieces of wool, yarn, string, beads, bells, shells and whatever else we find that can be crafted into a joyful offering to the efforts of the blossoming plants.  Creations can be hung in the branches of budding fruit trees to bless the fertility of the harvest.  Alder trees, being the 3rd tree in the Celtic Tree Ogham*, represent balance and inspired action, and begin their rebirth in spring by bearing bright red catkins.  Hazelnut trees, bearing clumps of yellow catkins, are associated with creative change and inspiration, and willows are trees of intuition, inspired action, fertility, visions, dreams, and expressed emotions.  These trees all have an energetic commonality in the quick movement of water as a refreshing, spring clean quality, and so adorning these trees with bright celebrations of joy to be caught by the breeze also blesses the water that flows with new nourishment into the life that reaches out all around… including to and from ourselves.

*The Oghams were used by the Druids to classify, memorize, and store information.  The Tree Ogham is a means of communication through each of the 20 Ogham symbols carved into Ogham sticks or staves.  Each symbol, called a fedha or few, represents a tree or shrub and its underlying energy or wisdom.

 

Archipelago- Exploring the Land

In continuing with the Archipelago game that we started with Spring Leaves last year, we have been exploring land formation, compass skills, and simple building, as well as going on the adventurous journey of arriving at our islands.  (Archipelago! and Archipelago Activities)  We have been introducing Archipelago to Lauren, our Spring Leaves facilitator for this year, and she has been excitedly offering some fun ideas and activities as well as joining us and hanging out as we trek around on our island adventures.

In the fall, we picked up with our game by building topographical models of each of the islands that were created on paper last year.  With lots of cardboard collected from the recycling depot, the children worked in their island groups tracing each of the 10 meter layers on to pieces of cardboard, cutting them out, then gluing them together to create the features of the islands.  They were glued on to an ocean piece, and then painted with beaches, lakes, rivers, and rocky peaks.  Everyone was then invited to choose a place on their island where they would imagine building a homestead.  We copied a compass rose on to each island to consider sun exposure, and the arrangement of the islands as a group gave the kids an idea of where their island sits in relation to their neighbors.

Next, we organized a trip to experience “arriving” at the islands.  Those of us who owned boats of some kind hauled them down to a launching point on a chilly but dry January day.  After arranging kids and adults in each boat, which included a canoe, a single kayak, and two row boats, we headed off to explore the coastline and find a suitable landing place in which we would settle our future homestead.  The tides were slack as we rounded a rocky headland, revealing a little bay protected by some outlying rocky islets teeming with inter-tidal life.  Sheltered mud flats housing clams and oysters stretched to the little beach, which helped direct a small forest stream into the ocean.

We hungrily ate our lunches and took in our surroundings a little further.  There was a beautiful clearing just back from the beach that the stream ran through, tumbling down a steep grade of thick, west coast forest.  After lunch we got out compasses to explore the directions, and we found that the beach faced southwest and the uphill slope of forest was to the northeast- a wonderful position for sun light exposure for warmth and plant growth, and a great place for water catchment.  We did some basic skills with the compasses, learning to keep the “red in the bed” while moving in any direction.

fireA few weeks later, we ventured out once again to our favorite outdoor home base, Limberlost- the undeveloped property of one of the Spring Leaves families’.  It was a frigid February day, with bright sunshine and crisp air, made more comforting by a large bonfire and thermoses of tea and soup.  The kids were making simple shelters from the forest- branches, bark, moss, fallen logs, and dry leaves.  Everyone’s was so unique and different, and some worked well and some didn’t, but all made discoveries about the skills, supplies, and teamwork needed to actually protect ourselves from the elements if we needed to spend a night or more outside with nothing from a store.  There was excitement about spending a night in their shelters in the warmer season.  In a second visit two weeks later, shelters were repaired and rebuilt, and new ones were made.  We used the compasses once again to determine the direction of each shelter from the central fire and the distance with counting out paces.  Thanks to Kenta for the shelter building photos!

In our homeschooling journey, being outside in all kinds of weather and using our hands to build and explore and learn appears to be one of the best ways to engage ourselves in a deep level- a level of really experiencing the land that we live on and rely upon even in a world where most of what we need comes from a store.  Especially in a world where what we need comes from a store!  Learning to be discerning about manufactured products in today’s availability of tomorrow’s garbage is important for our next generation.  What we need is inside of us.  What we need is often found in our local community.  What we need may also be bought with gratitude and understanding of where it comes from and who made it.  This is always a great reminder for myself as I move through the journey of life learning with my family and with the family of Spring Leaves.

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