Chronicles of the O'Brien Family Adventures...

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Adventures in Raspberries


Picking raspberries makes me feel ridiculously joyful. The sun shining, the birds singing, the earth beneath my toes... There is little finer than moments of perfection like these. Add to it my toddler helper, and I'm in a happy state of bliss. 


Together we gathered up a large basket of raspberries, eating along the way. We needed two cups for a baking adventure we were both excited to embark on. 


On our way in, I harvested my Goji berries. I'm thrilled by each red precious berry I find. Before this season I've never seen fresh Goji berries - although my kitchen in always stocked with the dry version. I discovered that the berries are delicious when stuck into the raspberry hole and eaten together. 


Cai did all the stirring and added all the ingredients I measured. He really did most of the work. 


In the end, we had a chocolate raspberry crumble bar (from the recipe by Chocolate Covered Katie). It was scrumptious. The joy in eating it was sweeter because of the memories gained while making it - from harvest to baking to table. 







Monday, June 29, 2015

Around and About: Tid Bits of Living Life


I like to find ways to enjoy my time when I take the kids around to their various classes and activities. Daytime activities mean I'm managing and hanging out with Cai. Evening activities mean that I have time which I can call my own. In between the taxiing part. At cello, my favorite thing was to go for walks through the river valley. I had a beautiful 2 mile walk I enjoyed that helped me feel exercised and soul satiated by the immersion in nature.

 


The kids and I enjoyed a concert by Michael Mitchell one afternoon - the musician that has the Canada is For Kids series; songs I used to play quite frequently when the kids were younger. The concert was brilliant with a lot of learning opportunities. Even for me! I never knew the donkey in "Donkey Riding" had nothing to do with an animal. Mind blown.
 

He even got the kids and adults dancing. It was super fun.


Cai found it loud and mostly enjoyed the dandelion blowers by the play park.
 


Aidan's creations with his 3D doodler pen.
They're very impressive as the device is remarkably difficult to operate and create with.

Visits to the Rock Garden at Lake Beaumaris.

The girl's practice yoga at one of our many park days.


Cai's been enjoying all our excursions to the park.
Almost as much as Summer with her friends.


Lately Summer has been having two or three sleepovers in a week. It's tough to keep up with her social life but I love to see how it's blossomed and how it fulfills her. On this particularly day we took one of her friends with us to the Telus World of Science to play, following a sleepover.

Summer holds brand new baby Isam.
 
Playing in the park.

Summer enjoyed going to the movies with a friend before a sleepover.
Yes the photo bomb was intentional.

Aidan has a fun day at a friend's birthday. They made clay penguins
in a workshop, played and ate Minecraft cake during a 6 hour party!


Forest visits.



Finding a geocache. Always fun.


Father's Day game night at my mother's house while we house sit.


 
This week has been spectacularly hot, for us Canadian's anyway. Temperatures have been hovering around and over 30 degrees Celsius. We've enjoyed getting through the heat of the day with epic water gun battles. I laughed so hard I actually felt like I had an extreme workout later in the evening!



The ebb and flow of life is filled with so many moments and times that don't necessarily warrant blog posts or discussions, but they are so much the crux of it all. It's the breakfasts, the laughter around the dinner table and the lazy evenings watching the sunset from the hammock as the kids laugh and swing. It's the quiet moments. The noisy moments. And everything in between.




Why We Don't Do School


Too often I tell people we homeschool when they ask why our kids aren't in school. It's the easy answer. It's not true though, especially as they envision it. I tell people we homeschool and images of "school-at-home" flash through their minds. They see me, standing before the kitchen table while my kids listen, workbooks at the ready, while I dispense knowledge. Once or twice and very rarely this happens. Mostly it couldn't be farther from the truth. We don't homeschool; we simply don't DO school. This thought is an abomination to most people however as they can't divorce the idea of education and institutional learning. People can not fathom how a child can become adequately educated without the controlling hand of formalized schools.

But it can. That's the beautiful, dirty little secret.


Most people can't comprehend the possibility that uncoerced, kids naturally want to learn. That learning does not need to include mass standardized examinations and endless rolls of homework. Learning is innate. And in an age with a spectacular amount of information at our fingertips, the notion that an institution has a monopoly on knowledge is absurd. In fact, sometimes it's the reverse as the institutional setting often isn't quick enough to catch up to new information and knowledge. For instance, Bohr's atomic model is often still taught despite it being known to no longer be an accurate representation of atomic structure. The food guide is another example, as the ancient and well taught version currently in place is far away from what has been discovered in the medical field as current and relevant information. To put it bluntly, it is wrong, and there's plenty of fresh new science to prove it. But textbooks don't change quickly and don't keep up with the pace of knowledge advancement.


Do we need to provide our babies with crawling instruction? Do they need to be enrolled in walking school? How about talking lessons? For a regularly developing child, none of this type of intervention is necessary. Children are hard-wired to learn the skills they need to survive in their culture. In an enriched environment that focuses on learning as a life long and ever constant state of being, an education is guaranteed. My big kids learned to read and both read at a level far advanced their peers - even though they were never taught. In my daughter's Brownies unit, many of her peers have visibly blanched at the heavy tomes she has read. While they may struggle through a fifty page Fairies book, she was plunging through the works of Rick Riordan. And while she obsessed with his books, she delved deeply into mythology.


My kids also naturally acquired basic math skills; those required for everyday living. They know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. They know long division and fractions and what it means to balance a budget. Much of their knowledge was facilitated by me, but it was through their own innate curiosity that they wanted to know. That same curiosity also lead them to purchase the complete Canadian curriculum workbooks for their grade level this year. They worked through parts, here and there, as they interest arose. Both kids spent time focusing on the math portions and did remarkably well.


Living this life is by no means perfect. We are a family with ups and downs just like any others. But the beauty of this life is that we are free from paradigms that are false illusions. We are free. Free to live as we see fit, free to be authentic to our own interests and passions, to each other and the world around us.

Unschooling is about being free.

I enjoyed school but I also truly felt incarcerated (at least after my elementary years where - being popular yet very introverted - I mostly wanted to just be left alone to dream and create stories in my mind, but that was never allowed). As we progressed through the years it was a well-known joke that life didn't begin until we became "free" at the end of grade twelve. There was a lot of waiting for life to begin, waiting for mastery of our own decisions, waiting to be free. And following my required twelve years, I went on to truly enjoy eight more of post-secondary. For the first time I could choose my own classes and interests, but then found myself floundering; at seventeen, I had no clue where I wanted to go (I really wanted to do it all and was choked up by making the big choice). That's another gift I hope to give my kids - the gift to direct their own lives, right from the beginning, and hopefully thus know themselves to a degree many school kids can't exiting highschool. To already know what passions you want to pursue and be able to pursue them before becoming an adult, is golden. Because no one remembers how to conjugate a verb or calculate the angle of a curve or just what year the French Revolution happened (except those that do simply because they happen to care about those subjects or use them in their profession or simply have a natural aptitude for them).

We are all individuals. Learning should be individualistic too. My daughter loves learning about the natural world and animals; my son loves computer animation and design. We explore interests together still and thus get to learn from each other as a whole. I help to foster their natural love of learning and guide them to develop their skills of how to learn and figure things out on their own and where to find assistance when needed. I know the entirety of grade school math can be learned in a concentrated six week period of study by a student focused on learning it. This is the way with all things.

I even know a handful of unschoolers who opted for high school after being unschooled to that point. They grew without curriculum; just play and natural learning of their own design. Every single one of them flourished in high school. Flourished. What does that say for the previous NINE years when someone can join up having had none of those years behind them and do well enough? And I know some people will balk at that, thinking of all the lost years of learning. But that's not true at all. There are things my kid's peers know that they don't. But there is plenty my kids know that their peers don't too. The knowledge is just different. Aidan knows by heart the amount of time it takes sunlight to travel to the Earth as well as the force of gravity and that a Tesseract is a four dimensional object. Summer knows how to budget, can name each province and their capitals and knows a great deal about animals and the natural world around us. They both know about the water cycle, global warming, human anatomy and so on and so forth.

Summer is sure she will go to high school when the time comes. Aidan is sure he will not. In any case, we will enjoy this beautiful time we have, where our kids get to be kids - to play and enjoy their days naturally exploring as the proclivity arises.

So to be more accurate, I've decided to drop the usual line that we homeschool. Instead, I'll honestly stay we don't do school; we are natural learners. My kids are autodidacts, just like some of the most famous personalities of the past couple hundred years or so.

These people don't have to "get it." It's not right for everyone. But it's right for us. That's all we can really do in life: find our own truths and live them in authenticity. Anything else is not much of a life at all.





Friday, June 26, 2015

The No-Sew T-Shirt Bag

I first saw the No-Sew T-Shirt bag at our Camp Training for Girl Guide leaders. The bag was being used to hold a game the leader's facilitating the event played with their girls. It enchanted me! They explained just how simple it was and I was all giddy to go home and try it. Who doesn't have a shortage of old t-shirts too beat up to really wear in public but too beautiful on the front to finally throw out? At least that's not uncommon in our house.

I told Sean about it tonight and he directed me straight to one of his old shirts that fit the description perfectly. I whipped out some scissors and got to work.
 
 
The first step of the process is to cut off each arm and around the collar.


The next step is making vertical slits up the bottom of the shirt, all the way across. I made each strip about an inch thick and randomly decided to cut up for roughly three inches. I wasn't going by a tutorial but just experimenting. For a smaller t-shirt (this is XXL), I'd likely keep it to two inches tall.


After all the cuts were made I simply tied each set, front and back, into a square knot. The result is a lovely fringe on the bottom of the bag.
 

This bag turned out very big, coming from one of dad's large shirts. It can be made with a smaller adult shirt, a kids shirt or even a toddler or baby's shirt for a smaller tote bag.
 

In the fall I intend to use this as a fun DIY project with our Girl Guides. It took under five minutes to make; simple, fun and practical.


 

Pioneer Games

One of our older homeschool friends had the idea a couple of weeks ago to put together a Pioneer Day event within the community. They invited the HLSA community and put together a fabulous event attended by a few dozen families just yesterday.
 

The organizers were dressed up as Pioneer's and prepared a day of fun competitive games. There was the sack race, regular races, egg races, and three-legged races. There was a pie competition, bobbing for apples and tug of war.
 



Summer won the running race in the 9-12 year old category (even though she's 8. I was rather impressed), as well as the three-legged race.


Aidan won the egg race in his age category.
 

I missed the fun of the pie competition because most of my time was enjoyed gallivanting around the woods of Gold Bar Park with Cai. It's a beautiful naturalized area perfect for adventuring. Cai wandered in and out and far, up and over and through.


At one point my heart was warmed when on entering the forest again he said "back in the forest makes me happy too."
 

Before we left, the girls had fun creating a pyramid. Summer is the one bottom center with the blue visor. She felt a little squished.


We brought her friend home to play after a fun few hours in the park. The organizers did a great job and suggest it might be a new regular event within our homeschool community. Next time, I might even bake a pie from scratch!





Monday, June 22, 2015

Homemade Vitamin C Pills

There's nothing quite so marvelous as homemade, herbal vitamin C pills. Not only are they extraordinarily high in vitamin C, but they are also filled with additional supporting vitamins and minerals as they came from a whole plant food source versus chemicals in a laboratory. The complex of nutrients in the herbs used, help to further support our health and vitality.
 

They are truly simple to make too! Simply combine 1 tablespoon of powdered wild rose hips, 1 tablespoon of amla powder and 1 tablespoon Acerola powder. I had no Acerola on hand for this recipe so simply used the first two powders. Blend the powders together and mix with honey - enough so that it sticks together but isn't too sticky or soft. I like to use raw honey for this, as it adds it's own medicinal value to the mix. Once it's to the right consistency, simply roll them into pea sized balls and roll in orange peel powder. I also didn't have the orange peel on hand so merely rolled them in leftovers of the rose hip/ amla mixture.

 
These balls of vitamin C goodness are actually pretty good! Sort of. Rolling them in the orange peel likely would have improved their taste a bit. They are definitely well worth the minimal effort. I think it took me about five minutes to put them together. Store your completed pills in the fridge and enjoy a couple a day.
 
 


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Final Musical Performances


Aidan's final cello performance was at Virginia Park School for their fundraising Family Arts Night, right on the heels of his Spring Thaw camp (we raced out immediately after his performance to drive out to Pigeon Lake while he changed from cellist to Scout in the car). Aidan performed fabulously. It was also a silent auction and we enjoyed browsing the various offerings. The evening included free food and lots of fun activities.
 

Aidan's cello teacher told me that she'd actually like to see him in a higher level orchestra than junior. She thinks he can handle any of the other levels, including possibly the highest Singing Strings, the most prestigious of them all (they even get to perform at the Winspear). Whether or not he'll move from junior orchestra in the fall will depend on which orchestra needs cellists the most however.

 

Summer was fabulous for her final recital as well. She's made such tremendous progress with the violin in the past year. She has even decided to audition for orchestra! The next round will be at the beginning of September and her spot is already booked. I have no doubt she'll get in, if she keeps her practice up over the summer; she's definitely good enough. Maybe in the fall I'll have both big kids playing in the same orchestra!




I've very proud of these two unschooled kids. They have put so much time and determination into mastering their instruments. It isn't easy and like most young kids, they aren't usually eager for their daily practice. Aidan is the least resistant of them both, which could be related to age. But they are both committed and both excelling!