Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Out and About

I was asked if we used the community much with regards to how the kids learned.
. Short answer: Yes. Long answer (and I mean LONG)...read this: 
One of the BEST reasons to homeschool is the ability to get out into the community with your children during the daytime.  Lines are shorter. There are way less crowds to deal with.  Plus, you and the kids will have so much more energy to go off exploring in the daytime, instead of waiting until they've already done 8 hours of school and trying to wedge it in those oh-so-short after school hours.

But maybe you're wondering just what community outings I'm talking about. With three very different kids, we’ve had a lot of different experiences.  And, since the Air Force moved us several times, we had the opportunity to discover more cool activities in new communities. Now that my kids are grown, we can wander back down memory lane and see some if any of these ideas might inspire you!

We started homeschooling in Alaska. The kids played in a hockey league and a Coaches Pitch baseball league. They tried Indian Princess and started in Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts.  Each of the scout troops took them out into the community, especially for service. All three joined the Sunshine Generation, a group that sang and performed in parades, malls, nursing homes. We went to the start of the Iditarod, and followed our neighbor who was mushing. We helped our friends with their 14 sled dogs and went on the trails with them mushing. We ice skated at the mall, took monthly classes at the Eagle River Nature Center, the Anchorage Museum, and the Imaginarium (a hands-on Science museum). AND, we got to stay as long as we wanted instead of being hustled back into the bus after just dipping our toes in those different explorations. Our veterinarian let us watch our cats be spayed and declawed. We learned about how the cat's body works, including how quickly their pads pink up when the oxygen level is increased. We went to the Earthquake Museum and talked to people who lived through the Quake of '62. We saw baby polar bears at the Zoo, bald eagles at Homer Spit, and penguins at Seward. We swam at the indoor pool during the daytime, took ceramics class, went to the Opera, and listened to a Symphony. We spotted belugas and 20 foot tides in Turnagain Arm, salmon jumping in the air from the Russian River, and Native Alaskan history in Ketchikan. We picked berries in the mountains, talked to artisans in Girdwood, and pet a baby octopus who was living in a tank the Cordova Visitor Center, We went on a whale watching excursion and we survived a drunk ferry captain in Valdez. We camped and hiked and ice fished and built snow-caves. We went to Denali and saw grizzly bears. We saw black bears in our campground there! We gasped for air when we dipped our feet in the icy Chena River in Fairbanks and stopped off to hear elves working in Santa's workshop in North Pole.

 When we moved to California from Alaska, we took the Ferry, a 3 day ride. We went to the Fish Market in Seattle and hiked around Mt. St. Helen's volcano. We drove through redwoods – yes,  the forests, but also some of the trees that were big enough that cars drove through their trunks!  We picked apples in Sebastapol, saw where The Birds was filmed in Bodega Bay - and watched people's tents blow into the ocean when they couldn't withstand the wind. We got carsick on Hwy 1, touched stingrays at the aquarium and saw sea lions in Monterrey Bay.  We went to park days that lasted all day and astronomy outings that lasted all night. We camped on the beach in Santa Barbara and drank Fig Shakes on Seal Beach. We took Mad Science classes at the Library and more classes at various science and art museums nearby. A "museum pass" could get us into any museum in California – including the big ones down in San Francisco, so we went there too!  We saw Alcatraz and walked on the Golden Gate Bridge. We took a 108 foot Square Rigger named the Gaslight on the San Francisco Bay, and Michael and Ron spent the night with a group at Angel Island, reliving history. We ran the spotlight and the Tinkerbell light when Katie first started in community theatre, and often drove to Sacramento to watch Improv. We hung out at Barnes and Noble and Jamba Juice and we never missed the monthly farmer's market in Davis. We watched sheep be sheared at the county fair and took hay rides in pumpkin patches and apple orchards. We ate peaches that fell off the tree after the "shakers" came by to harvest. We smelled the almond and plum trees in bloom. We took horseback riding lessons and helped at ManMar ranch, an A & M veterinary training ranch. The kids learned about race horses, and in vitro insemination, and "crazy mares." They watched foals be born and old horses die. We helped build a barn and bought a horse. They rescued an injured Barn Owl, and saw the Raptor Center in action.  Weeks later, we went to a park and watched them release our little owl, ready to go back to the wild. We held unique birthday parties, including a “Bring Your Pet” party – even Alyssa’s Dentist and Hygienist came with their turtle and kitten! We watched Harry Potter premieres and hosted birthday parties that were totally Hogwart themed. We went to Rennaissance Faires and held Halloween parties with dry ice experiments. We hosted a Japanese Exchange student and took him to San Francisco to eat at the Bay, to ride roller coasters in Santa Cruz, and to a homeschool conference in Sacramento. We camped and hiked and learned to sail on Folsom Lake. We learned how the locks work in Lodi. We made the local news with our support group's Civil War Reenactment and we starred in a homeschool documentary.

Then we moved to a ranch in north Texas where we had horses, cows, goats, chickens, dogs, cats, birds, guinea pigs and a donkey. We had a lot of veterinary excursions with those! We participated in Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Alyssa even delivered Girl Scout Cookies by horseback! We saw hydroponic farming with live fish, worked in pecan orchards, ate fresh  peach ice cream in the Peach Festival in Charlie. We had air soft wars in neighboring fields, took cattle to auctions, and talked with the people on a real covered wagon train that had pulled over at the edge of our pasture. We participated in 4H which exposed us to SO many people in the community. The kids participated in elections, held offices, and met so many different people.  We bought a calf and started a cockatiel business. We birthed a calf with our neighbors. We met local news people,  were interviewed a few times for the community service projects we did, and participated in a film school offered by the public television service out of Dallas . Michael got his first job at Target and Katie got her first lead role at the community theatre. We spent a lot of time in various community theatre projects. We visited with a woman who had no running water, but collected rainwater in buckets. She was nearly 90 and could tell us about what it was like when Burkburnett was really a Boom Town and how rough the oil field workers were living in tents nearby. We handed out toys every year with the Toys for Tots program through the Salvation Army, and we organized huge blanket drives for the Linus Project. We built houses with Habitat for Humanity and worked the soup kitchens on New Year’s Eve. We went on camping trips, and rock climbed, and zip lined. We walked through emu farms, prairie dog mounds and participated in small town Christmas parties. The girls took tap and jazz and ballet and hip hop. Michael took a girl to her prom and started community college classes.

When we moved to the Austin area, we went to concerts, large and small. We continued with dance classes and theatre classes. We learned to use the bus system. We watched high wire acts at Cirque du Soleil and watched the Ringling Brothers unload elephants in the middle of town. We talked to legislators and worked on political campaigns. We learned about bats and watched them fly out from under the Congress Avenue bridge. We traveled with Alyssa's competitive cheerleading team, got involved with the SCA, and joined writing groups with NaNoWriMo.   We saw WW2 
re-enactments in Fredericksburg and we watched how fast the sun sets from the top of Enchanted Rock. We spent a lot of time hanging out with friends and their families.

Vacations were always filled with learning, whether we meant it to or not! We watched bison and geysers at Yellowstone, Revolutionary history in Alexandria, and national monuments in D.C. We explored New York City with its rich immigrant history and fascinating architecture.  We messed with the fish at a hatchery in Arkansas and danced with the jazz culture in a rebuilding New Orleans.

Their teen employment took them out in the community with jobs as cashiers  and instructors (dance, make-up, swimming lessons), baby-sitting and pet-sitting, bookstores and movie theatres,  life-guarding, house-cleaning  house-sitting, and even radio D.J.-ing.

Alyssa took on an internship with an organic make-up company. She learned to run the store, work with customers and teach Girl Scout troops. She learned to do make-up on fashion shows, walked the runway herself (once!), and assisted photographers. Her love of eyeliners and color combinations led her to a Vidal Sassoon cosmetology program where she will be paid to play with all that.

Opening up our home to the exchange student when Michael was 12, led him on a path of cultural and foreign travel. He started with his own exchange student program – 3 months in Japan at 16. He took Archaeology/Anthropology classes in Belize, and is now on an assignment for the Peace Corps. Ironically, the boy who never stepped foot in an American high school now teaches English in a Nicaraguan high school!

Katie’s love of “putting on a show!” started with backyard theatre productions with our support group kids in Davis and Dixon, Califronia.  From there, she moved  to community theatre, then to local films and commercials and now she's enrolled in a conservatory in NYC.

The point is simply that involving your kids in the community helps them discover what THEY would like to do. What adventure interests them? There’s no telling what it will grow into. While you may not have lived in as many places as we did, you could. We chose the military so I could be a stay-at-home mom. And that enabled me to get out and about and become the best tour guide around! 

Sure, when someone says, “Do you do things in the community?” or “What do you do all day with kids?”,  I just smile. My days are only limited by my stamina!   If you will just look around and be willing to drive a bit, involving your child in your community (and your neighboring communities) will be the best homeschooling choice you make.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Hurricanes on Multiple Fronts!

I wasn't writing much because I was knee-deep in preparing for one of the most difficult things a mother like me can do: Getting my kids ready to leave home.  Michael had graduated from college, was accepted by the Peace Corps, and had an assignment in Nicaragua. Katie had been accepted to the New York Film Academy.  My little unschoolers were ready to go off to explore their dreams. Unfortunate for me that they couldn't do this a little closer to home, but...roots and wings, right?

Sue's Meticulous Plans
So my little house of cards was set up. After shopping and packing and prepping - and lots of tears from mommy - we had a plan! I'd take Katie to NYC on a Thursday, we'd stay together for a day or two, find the grocery stores nearby, practice on the subway, etc. She'd check in on Sunday, I'd fly out on Monday. I'd be home in time for some last minute time with Michael, who would fly out of Austin on Tuesday morning at 6 a.m. Short, fast, do-able.

Slight glitch. I had forgotten about Alyssa's first fashion show with Avenue Five. It was scheduled for Friday night. Luckily, Priceline was lovely and simply changed my departure date to Saturday morning. We'd all go together to the fashion show, along with family, friends, & Alyssa's boyfriend's family. We'd pack ahead of time and be ready to go out the next morning, 8 a.m. That would leave one day for Katie and I to figure it all out, but we could do it. Packing it in was our style anyway, right? Crisis averted.

And what is bad when you build a little house of cards? A breeze.
My breeze had a name:  Hurricane Irene.

 We had been watching the hurricane on the news, but it seemed so unlikely that it would hit NYC.  We looked at it as an adventure that Katie would be sharing with her roommates, and they'd always remember that they were the group that blew in with Hurricane Irene. It was starting to look a little ominous that I might not be able to get back on Monday, in time to see Michael off, but I *could* get Katie settled before the storm arrived. Michael had traveled before, so that's how I prioritized it. Still, I wasn't that thrilled with the idea of missing him.

As we were all dressed and walking out the door to the fashion show, Katie received a text from the dorm in New York: "Evacuating residents. Registration/Check In for Sunday is CANCELLED."

I could regale you idioms like "best laid plans of mice and men" or other such things. But my brain was on overload.  I picked up the phone and called the dorm, "Really?? I just spoke to someone there saying that the kids COULD check in, changed the flight, etc." They were really patient with me, because I must have sounded like a lunatic wanting to send my child INTO a  hurricane!  I was like a hurricane in reaction to a hurricane! We knew that the mayor had decided to shut down all public transportation. Our car service emailed saying that if you can get here, we will drive you anywhere that's available. But the dorm guy said, "Listen, it will be very unlikely that you'll even GET a flight to come into JFK tomorrow at all. But if you get her here, we'll take care of her. Everyone didn't evacuate. And it is the north end of Manhattan."

 So we stuck our head in the sand for a couple of hours.

We went to the Fashion Show, unsure of what our next 12 hours would look like. How does one predict the path of a hurricane anyway? The show was awesome. Alyssa did some great work on the models. We skipped going out for dessert afterwards, and just ate ice cream at home with the family, Grandma, and Josh.  Turning on the computer, we discovered that the dorm guy was right, all flights to JFK were cancelled.

Ron could see that I was dangling from the end of my rope. So he sat on the phone for hours, first  trying to reach Priceline, then trying to figure out the best flight to rebook.  I tried to cancel the pricey hotel I was going to stay in, but because I used a service to book it, they couldn't unbook it. I had visions of being charged anyway.  Suffice it to say I have no extra money laying around. I canceled the car service and rebooked it to the later date Ron was able to get.

The next morning, I could get the booking service for the hotel. They were working from their homes because they had all be evacuated. No charge, no problem. Whew.

So after all of this chaos and drama, everything worked out. Just like a hurricane - crazy wild when you're in the middle of it, then the next morning, the sun comes out, and if you're as lucky as we were, it looks like nothing ever had happened.

Michael's flight to D.C. wasn't canceled, and I was able to take him to the airport to go off on his adventure.  While I have received a couple of emails from him since then, his last text to me as he was boarding the plane from Miami to Nicaragua was, "Off I go, into the wild blue yonder..." Air Force people will know that line. Mothers do not like to hear that though.

Katie got to spend more time with her boyfriend. We left on Wednesday, and got her settled. We checked out a few grocery stores together, ate at some cute cafes, and then I came back the next day. She figured out everything else  on her own, no problem.
I, on the other hand, cried in the car all the way back to JFK airport. The driver kept looking at me in the mirror, but stayed silent. Probably for the best. 

I love my kids. I love their sense of adventure. I KNOW where they get that! But sometimes I wish we could scale it down a bit. Don't some kids just move out into an apartment nearby? Would that have been too much to ask???

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

See Genius!

"The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world...are the ones who do."

I absolutely love this video. It comes from the Humanity Healing Network. The writings are from Jack Kerouac. Doesn't this make you think about raising children to be who they are MEANT to be? Not just "successful" or "likeable" or "employable"...

It makes me think that our whole purpose as parents should be to help them get so comfortable in their own skin that they can do what they've been put here to do. No fear. Eyes open.

Cydney reminded me that a smaller version of this was part of an old Apple computer commercial. No wonder it seems so familiar.