Computer Programming for Kids

I recently heard from a homeschooling friend about this site called Code, which encourages people of all ages to learn computer science by completing an “Hour of Code.”

Learn the basic concepts of Computer Science with drag and drop programming. This is a game-like, self-directed tutorial starring video lectures by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. Learn repeat-loops, conditionals, and basic algorithms.

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After a busy day of art and parkour classes, jumping on the trampoline, Minecraft, playing and more, my husband Jody and the kids sprawled out in the middle of the living room this evening and started working on it.

Ava was reluctant to start at first, but once she started, she loved it. She’s already completed 352 lines of code! After seeing some of her coding in action Ava declared it, “Epic!” She said her favorite part was the drawing.

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Julian did about 50 lines of code as well, but wasn’t as interested in it at this point as Ava and that’s OK. That’s the beauty of unschooling. He might want to do it now or later or never at all. He can decide.

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I think it’s awesome that this free program exists and gives kids as young as six and adults the opportunity to learn how to code. Both of my children are interested in creating mods on Minecraft (their favorite game) and this gives them an idea of what it might be like to do that someday.

If you or your kiddos want to get started learning how to code, check out Learn an Hour of Code: Tutorials for Beginners. I’m excited to get started on it myself as well!

Related posts from around the ‘net:

In his own time

One of the many things I enjoy about unschooling is that my kids get to work on a skill when they are ready, not at an arbitrary time when someone says they should.

Up until last summer, my son (who was six at the time) had shown no interest in drawing. This was in stark contrast to my daughter who has loved to draw since she was very young. I wasn’t really concerned about it, but one day when I was at the store I decided to pick up a few pads of drawing paper, crayons and markers to bring home and strew*, if you will.

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After arriving home with the supplies, I announced to the kids what I had bought and set the supplies out on the table. I honestly thought my daughter would dive right in, while my son Julian would shrug and go off to play Legos or Minecraft.

However, Julian came right up to the table, opened up the fresh new pad of paper and markers and immediately started drawing. And drawing. And drawing. He literally sat at the table for a good hour or two, filling each page with a new creation. And getting progressively better at his drawing.

He ended up filling the entire drawing pad with pictures that day, even turning much of it into a story which, when asked about it, he narrated aloud. He later said to me, “When I started this book, I wasn’t very good at drawing, but I got better and better.” And it’s true. He improved a lot that day. The beauty of it was that it was all at his own pace and in his own time. He was never asked to draw against his will before he was ready, therefore was never turned off to drawing.

I loved that he could see his improvement and that he took pride in his work.

Unschooling isn’t always easy — it involves so much trust — but it’s moments like this that reaffirm my decision to do it. I believe my kids will learn what they need to learn in their own time. It’s my job to trust them and help them along the way.

“All I am saying … can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” — John Holt

*Strew: to place objects in the path of kids without any expectation, coercion, or force of use.

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Play Matters

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We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. – George Bernard Shaw

It’s 11:41 p.m. on a Thursday as I lie in my bed listening to the murmur of my kids from the next room. They are very involved in their play — something that often occurs in the late hours of the night when one might typically expect children to be sleeping. But they play so well together in these late-night moments, creating elaborate stories, developing characters (tonight it’s a city of talking Matchbox cars), working through conflict, working on their communication skills, developing dialogue, and more. Who am I to interrupt them just because the clock says it’s nearly midnight?

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Play is the work of the child. – Maria Montessori

According to Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College and acclaimed author:

Human children, who have the most to learn, play far more than any other primates when they are allowed to do so. Play is the natural means by which children and other young mammals educate themselves. The most important skills that children everywhere must learn in order to live happy, productive, moral lives are skills that cannot be taught in school. Such skills cannot be taught at all. They are learned and practiced by children in play. These include the abilities to think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions.

Additionally, counseling psychologist Gayatri Ayyer says,

Research shows that playing is paramount to our physical, intellectual and socio-emotional development. The play I’m talking about here is the unstructured, spontaneous and imaginative escapades that we had in our childhoods; not the structured and organized sports of today. The benefits of playing are immense. They learn different academic concepts, the rules of behaviour with peers, manners, friendship, decision-making, conflict resolution, cooperation and competition.

Eventually I may ask them to wrap up their game for the night, but for now I am grateful that tomorrow (like most days) we have nowhere we must be in the morning. For now I will enjoy the sweet sound of my children getting along, the sound of imagination, the sound of play.

Play matters.

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New Unschooling Blog by Zen Habits’ Leo Babauta

OK, I admit it. I’m a bit of a slacker when it comes to reading blogs. I’m all “hey, look at me! I have a blog. Read *my* blog!” And yet, <gulp> I rarely read anyone else’s. There are a handful that I try to keep up with, but unless someone specifically shares a post with me or I happen to stumble upon something that piques my interest on my own, I just don’t see it. I’m a little embarrassed about it, but I’m guessing I’m not alone in this. Am I? I have a hard enough time trying to keep up with the happenings under my own roof. 🙂

I guess that’s why I feel compelled to tell you about a blog that I actually AM reading — like every day even! Leo Babauta, creator of zen habits and mnmlist, recently started an unschooling blog called Unschoolery. My husband is a big fan of Babauta’s and told me a while back that he’d posted a bit about his family’s experiences with unschooling on zen habits. I liked what I read then and was even more excited when Jody told me the other day that Babauta dedicated an entire blog to unschooling. (So much so that I shared it with several unschooling friends and now I’m sharing it with you.)

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Why is it exciting that Babauta is writing about unschooling? #1) He’s intelligent. #2) He and his wife Eva have been unschooling four of their children for the past five years. #3) He’s passionate about unschooling and sharing the philosophy with others. #4) Thanks to his other blogs he’s already got a huge following. #5) He’s a best-selling author. #6) He’s a man. This might seem a little weird to point it, but most of the unschooling blogs I’ve come across to date are written by women. Perhaps more men/dads will be more open to the idea of unschooling as a result of this blog.

In addition, Babauta writes clearly and concisely about his family’s experiences with unschooling, yet does not claim to be an expert on the subject. In fact he even says, “We have a bit of experience, but we’re still learning. We still don’t know what the hell we’re doing. We love it.” I think that’s a sentiment many of us unschoolers can relate to. I feel like we are always learning, half of the time not knowing what we’re doing, and all the while loving it.

Some of the Unschoolery posts I’ve most enjoyed include:

Because Unschoolery is only a month old, I’m expecting a lot more great content from Babauta. If you are at all interested in unschooling, this is a great blog to read. I plan to keep up with Unschoolery – for information, encouragement and inspiration.

Photo by Eartha Goodwin

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Encouraging our Kids to Dream Big (Despite our Fears)


My friend Jill recently posted a link on her Facebook page to How to Mentor a Kid with Big (Possibly Unrealistic) Dreams by Lori Pickert from Project-Based Homeschooling. The article touches on something that I’ve struggled with in the past. What’s the “right” way to respond to your kids when they have dreams that are beyond what you think they can accomplish – either now or ever? Do you encourage them even though you *know* it’s not going to work? Do you attempt to let them down gently to avoid disappointment and tell them you don’t think it’s possible? Maybe we are trying to save them from embarrassment or even save ourselves from embarrassment. Maybe we are afraid of failure — either for ourselves or our kids.
What’s a mom to do?

For example, my 6-year-old son has often said when he grows up he is going to invent a machine that makes him become a kid again or he’s going to time travel or become a super hero that does X, Y, or Z. When he first started voicing these lofty goals, I wasn’t sure how to react. My first thought was, “that’s probably not going to happen, buddy” but I didn’t say that out loud. Instead I’d try my best to encourage him, even if I felt like his ideas weren’t based in reality, but it was a struggle for me. Was I doing the right thing?

Pickert says:

Before you move to stop your children from trying to do the impossible, take a breath and remember what your job is: to mentor and support, to brainstorm and listen, to remind and reflect. Your job isn’t to step in and tell them their ideas won’t work and their plans are doomed.
Remind yourself:
You don’t know what your kid can do.

One example shared in the article is about a child who wants to write a novel and have it published by a real publisher. Something similar came up for my daughter a few years ago. Unfortunately, I hadn’t figured this all out yet and rather than encouraging her and then (potentially, but who knows?!) see her fail, I thought I was being a good mom and tried to prevent disappointment by explaining how hard it would be to do or something along those lines.

Pickert points out that when you respond that way, “You haven’t prevented disappointment — you’ve only brought it from the misty future to the right now, and you also killed all the learning and skill-building that would have happened in the interim.

Choose to deliver your bad news — that her dream is statistically unlikely — and what will happen to her ambitions? What will happen to her idea of herself as a writer? Will she wait and start her writing career at 15? At twenty? Never?”

Had I encouraged her, who knows what would have happened. But I’m not beating myself up over this either. I live and learn, just like the next person. All I can do is hope to do better the next time.

There are a lot of great examples and quotes in Pickert’s article (and comments following it). So many that I want to quote here, but I will just recommend that you click over and read it yourselves. If you have a big dreamer in your life, it is worth the read.

You cannot predict the path an authentic, self-motivated learner is going to take. When you guess — and then decide to go ahead and pull the plug because you know it won’t work out — you eliminate all the learning that happens along the way.

It really goes along with the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” The journey is all about the learning, the trials and tribulations, the mistakes and the triumphs, the tears and the joy. When we tell our kids, “This just isn’t going to work,” we remove the opportunity for them to experience all of those things.

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Confessions of a Reluctant Gamer: Playing Minecraft with my Kids

I should have known when I married my husband Jody — an avid gamer — that someday down the road our future children would be gamers as well, but I didn’t think much about it. I kind of thought my husband would eventually grow out of his gaming “phase.” I mean, grown men don’t play video games and Dungeons and Dragons forever, right? Right???

After 12 years of marriage I think it’s safe to say that the gaming “phase” is not a phase at all. It’s just a part of who he is, just as much as not gaming is a part of who I am. And I am OK with that. I may have fought it for a while (ok, for years and years), but I eventually learned that it wasn’t productive and I wasn’t going to change who he is, so I’ve mostly accepted it.

So now we have a 6 year old (who just lost his first tooth!) and a 9 year old (how did that happen?!) and they both LOVE computer games. Minecraft is a favorite in this house, as well as Roblox, Sims and a handful of others. Unlike my husband, who has accepted that I’m just not a gamer, the kids have not been so easily convinced.

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When they first started playing Minecraft I joined them a couple of times. I had a hard time moving my character around and — big surprise — just didn’t get into the game. So I stopped playing with them. I figured Jody could play with them as he enjoys it and they were placated…for a while.

Fast forward several months. Ava would periodically ask me to play Minecraft with them. I would find an excuse or tell her it’s not my thing or whatever. I just really didn’t want to play. However, when she asked me the other day, I considered my answer carefully. I know the game is important to her and I want to support that and be a part of it, even if it is hard for me. So I said yes. Ava was ecstatic.

I’ve since played with them a few times and I’ve gotten a lot better about moving around and was surprised to find that I was actually having fun collecting wood and other supplies for the kids to build us a house. And I was surprised by how well they shared resources and helpful they were to me when I didn’t know how to craft a stone pickaxe or torches or whatever. And how much they appreciated me playing with them. I’ve heard several times from both of them, “it was so fun when you played with us, Mom!” And ya know what? It really was.

And so I’m trying to do a better job about playing with them when they want me to even if it isn’t my favorite thing to do. Even if I need to vacuum or water the garden or load the dishwasher. Today I even initiated it myself and it was fun. The time spent connecting with them is priceless. Who knows how long they will want their mom to play with them. But for now they do. And for now I will.

I’d love to hear from you!
Do YOU play any computer/video games with your kids even though you are not into games? What has your experience been? 

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Learn Nothing Day 2013

From Learn Nothing Day by Sandra Dodd:

Unschoolers need a holiday.
When people ask if they homeschool in the summer, they say yes.
When people ask when they have a break from learning, they say never.
This has gone on for a long time now.

July 24 is Learn Nothing Day — a vacation for unschoolers.

As unschoolers, we tried our best to take advantage of our vacation day from learning, but alas, we failed.

We’ve only been up for a couple of hours and already we’ve learned things! I learned a new exercise as part of the Daily Hiit and that the kids prefer their bagels untoasted. Ava learned how to spell several words, the color of her friends’ eyes and their Zodiac signs (she’s creating some of her friends in the Sims game). Julian claims he hasn’t learned anything, but I am skeptical. He’s watched a few gaming videos on YouTube, played with the chickens, collected eggs and then dried off some toys in a centrifuge (salad spinner).

Both kids also proceeded to ask questions about why it’s Learn Nothing Day. Those darn kids and their questions. How do they expect to NOT learn if they are always asking questions!

It’s only 12:41 p.m. so we still have the whole rest of the day to try to avoid learning, but we are meeting friends at the pool this afternoon. Is it possible to avoid all learning while swimming and being with your friends? We’ll do our best, but this is going to be a challenge!

If you want to learn more about unschooling, you can check out my post What is Unschooling?. Just whatever you do, don’t read it today. I wouldn’t want you learning something on Learn Nothing Day.

Are you an unschooler? Did you participate in Learn Nothing Day? How did it go for you? Please share in the comments! 🙂

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Sew much fun!

One of the things I love about unschooling is that I’m often exposed to things/experiences that I might not explore on my own if it weren’t for my kids. One of those experiences that’s come up recently is sewing.

I’ve had my mom’s old sewing machine in my basement for years. I had a brief desire to learn to sew (beyond what I did in home-ec class in high school) when Ava was a baby. I tried sewing some diaper inserts for her FuzziBunz. My mom helped me with them and it was fine, but I never got excited about it. Once a few inserts were sewn, back into the basement the sewing machine went.

Fast forward nine years (has it really been that long?!) and my formerly cloth-diapered baby has expressed an interest in learning to sew. Some friends of her’s recently made doll clothes for her American Girl doll for Ava’s birthday and another friend sewed a dress for her own doll. There’s nothing like friends learning to do something cool to give you a little push in the same direction. Ava decided she wanted to learn to sew too.

I hauled the old White Jeans Machine from the basement and was pleasantly surprised to find it already threaded, since I really had no idea how to do it myself! Ava and I grabbed an old shirt and I set her up to practice. She loved it!

Ava learning to sew

Then the needle came unthreaded and it was up to me to figure out how to thread it again. Thankfully the sewing machine has a little diagram on it which made threading it easier than I thought. It took a little trial and error, but I got it going again. Woot! I got to learn something too! The practicing resumed.

A couple of days later we made a stop at my mom’s house to check out her fabric stash. Ava picked out a few fabrics to try making doll-sized pillows. And I chose several scraps to make into prayer flags for our sunroom — something I’d actually been wanting to do for several weeks after reading a guest post Create an Outdoor Space You Love on my friend Sara’s blog. I already added a few throw rugs and twinkle lights, but it still needed more color.

Pretty fabric

After I helped Ava a bit with sewing her doll pillow, I was excited to get to work on my prayer flags. I ended up needing my mom’s help with loading a bobbin, but once I got that down, I was set. It felt good to made something and I’m happy with how they turned out. I plan to make a second set for Ava’s bedroom.

Homemade prayer flags in my sunroom

I think it’s pretty awesome that my mom’s old (can I call it mine now?) sewing machine sat for years without getting any love, but when the time was right, it was here for me, for Ava, for us. I’m happy to have it and am thankful that my mom passed it on to me way back when. I’m excited to see what kinds of things we create using this old machine and curious to see if my son will want to play with it too. He’s done a tiny bit of sewing on it so far that first night I got it out. Time will tell. I do know that this time around the sewing machine won’t be retiring to the basement any time soon!

I’ve since started sewing a little dress for Ava’s doll. I’m mostly just playing around, but I’m having fun and isn’t that how all of the best learning takes place anyway?

If anyone has any tips for teaching kids to sew or fun, easy sewing projects for adults and kids, I’m all ears. A friend of mine just told me about these paper sewing sheets for kids and I plan to print some out for myself as well as Ava. And I just came across 10 Simple Sewing Projects for Kids. I’m guessing there’s a whole lot out there if I just start looking. Yay sewing!

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How We Came to Home School: Guest Post

I’m currently on hiatus from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but want to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. For a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

This guest post comes from a good personal friend of mine named Jen who blogs at The Evolving Homemaker.

How We Came to Home School

I had always been fascinated in the idea that kids could learn MORE than what they learned in conventional classrooms.  I think the first time I had ever heard about homeschooling I was in college and heard about a little girl who was attempting to fly across the country solo.  While the trip ended in tragedy, I started to wonder why it was we arbitrarily sent our kids to school and how much more excited they might be about learning, if they had a little flexibility, more time to explore things they were interested in, and more freedom to discover themselves.

As I was becoming a new Mommy, I thought for sure we would home school.  I had lofty dreams of how our days would be and how much smarter my kids would be than so many others.

Ahem.

And then motherhood gave me a reality check.  Toddler-hood.  Woah.  Would my kids learn from me?  Was I patient enough to teach them?  Patient enough for even the hard days? Was I creative enough?  Organized enough?  Would I be able to still do laundry, home school, and have any iota of a personality and passions to call my own?

Then I started being haunted by panic attacks.  I was under a lot of stress and doing a lot at the time.  I was volunteering, heavily involved in the political season, lobbying, and raising two small children and trying to be a ‘good enough’ house goddess too.  Whatever it is that looks like.

So I sent my son to kindergarten at a local Montessori that had just opened.  I was sure they would be able to do it better than I could.  After all, they certainly knew more than I did about educating young minds, this would be better for him.

Except it wasn’t.

He began to show signs of anxiety.  He wasn’t learning to read there.  I sat in one day to find him not partaking in the ‘works’ but playing ‘cars’ with the tape dispenser instead.  He didn’t like to go.  Every morning he would ask, “Is today a school day?” and if I said, “Yes.” he would yell, cry, and be mean to his sister.  He would come in the car in the afternoon like a pressure cooker and burst in a fit of energy.

With two weeks left in the school year, they told us he should be held back in Kindergarten.

We decided instead to try it at home like we always thought we would.  With both kids.

It has been fantastic.  And hard.  And scary.  And frustrating.  And fun.  They both have time to play, they are learning to read, and they are exploring their own interests.  We are all learning more about ourselves and our passions.  I am learning that I can do it, that doubt and fear are not infallible.  That I am a ‘good enough’ Mom, and that yes they need math, but they also need my presence.

I wanted to home school because I wanted my kids to learn to think outside of the box.  That life isn’t just about going to school, getting a job, and then working for 50 years, retiring, but all the while hoping you make it to retirement without a heart attack or cancer.  Nope, the marrow of life is at their fingertips any second they decide to find it.  That is what I want them to learn, that they are the creators in their own journey, and while we use some textbooks, I don’t think they need a textbook to understand that.

Jen Parsons is Mama bear to two babes 7 and 5.  While she would like to be better at parenting, crafting, farming, sewing, ceramic scouring, knitting, homeschooling, travelling, book writing, domestic laundering,  boxing refereeing, spousal engagement, etc., she is learning to realize she cannot do it all but blogs about the journey at www.theevolvinghomemaker.com.

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Thoughts on home schooling now that we’re doing it (well, sort of)

Oh, hello 2011. Yes, yes, I realize we are now more than half-way through the first month of this year and I haven’t written one blog post yet. I can’t say I have any good reasons other than perhaps because I’ve been obsessively watching the first season of Veronica Mars (via Netflix On Demand) vegging out just a bit and life happens. OK, I confess. I watched the first season finale of Veronica Mars two nights ago – WOW! Now that was a season finale! And now that I know who killed Lily Kane, I feel like I can take a breather for a few days and even write on my blog. Yay! 🙂 (The next time I disappear, it may be because I’m watching season two. Just sayin’.)

I could have sworn I wrote a blog post about deciding to start home schooling Ava this past fall, but wouldn’t you know it, I can’t find it. The way my brain works these days it’s hard to say if I wrote it and just can’t find it or if it’s one of those posts (among many) that I always had the best of intentions of writing and never did. I’m betting on the latter. (I did write “Is homeschooling right for us?” back in 2008, so that’s something, right? *wink*)

Anyway, yes, I am home schooling Ava this year for first grade. We started back in September. I’d seriously considered starting in kindergarten, but after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and trying to get that under control, the timing didn’t seem to be right so off to public school she went. Little did I know I would be dealing with a tragedy this past fall proving the timing to be off once again, but I’m still happy with my decision to home school and we are forging ahead.

Although I don’t feel that we’d yet found our home schooling groove, we were starting to work in that direction when my sister Carrie died in October. After Oct. 25, 2010, very little formal home schooling took place in our home for the next two months. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. If I wasn’t busy planning a memorial service or two or traveling, I was grieving and trying to hold it together just enough to keep the kids clothed and fed. Admittedly there were plenty of days we stayed in our PJs all day. Hell, that still happens on occasion now! Ava continued to go to the part-time school she attends one day a week and continued with the Lego engineering class she was already signed up for, but that was about the extent of it. I don’t know if I would say that we were unschooling during that time or just taking a break. Yeah, I think it’s safer to say we were taking a break.

Fast forward to the past few weeks and now that the holidays are over we finally have been getting back into our groove again. I feel more equipped to take trips to the library, sit down with Ava and work on different subjects, go on “field trips,” sign up for different classes, attend home schooling functions, etc. We’re still far from finding exactly what our groove is, but we’re working on it. I’m working on it.

Quite honestly, I don’t think we fall into a specific “type” of home schooling family. Eclectic seems to be the best way to describe my “technique” so far. And that’s OK. I like that we/I have the freedom to explore what works best for us and to learn as we go. I like that we were able to take a break when we needed it, even if others might feel it was detrimental to Ava. I don’t think it was.

It’s true she’s not reading chapter books yet, but that’s OK too. We’ve been regularly reading to Ava her entire life. With Jody and I reading to her before bed, we’ve been through the seven novel series of The Chronicles of Narnia and the nine book series of the Little House books — twice — among many, many other books. Does it matter to me if she starts reading really well on her own at age 5, 6, 7 or 8? Nope. It just matters to me that she enjoys books and reading, and she does so far.

With the help of library books and the Internet, I think we have most subjects covered except for math. She knows her numbers and basic addition and subtraction, so I don’t feel she’s “behind” per se (and I try not to think of it like that anyway), but I’m still trying to find a good way to teach/learn math and welcome your suggestions. I don’t feel the need to sit down and drill her with addition and subtraction flashcards on a daily basis, but I do want her to have a good foundation in math — it’s just the figuring out how to best accomplish that where I could use a little help. It could be a curriculum you like, a web site with math games, or anything else really. I’m flexible.

That’s one thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to stay flexible when home schooling. I planned on using X, Y, and Z curricula and doing A, B, and C every day when we started out, only to decide those weren’t the best choices for us. Some days we use books. Some days we use the computer. Some days we do both. Some days we do neither. Some days we bake or explore nature or go to the library or do science experiments or dissect owl pellets or garden or do arts and crafts or play games or a number of other things or all of the above or none of the above. Some of the best learning experiences happen when we just go with the flow.

Oh, and if you are wondering what I’m doing with my 4-year-old with regard to school, he’s currently in a Waldorf-inspired preschool (though not the one Ava attended). I really like preschool for my kids and think it benefits them in a lot of ways. He will likely, however, start home schooling once he’s in kindergarten (which is still nearly 2 years away because of his late birthday). And he participates in some of the things Ava works on now so he’s really already home schooling. (Aren’t kids pretty much home schooling from the day they are born?)

I like that the world is our classroom and I like being with and learning alongside my kids. I don’t subscribe to a particular schooling philosophy. Instead, we do a little bit of this and a little bit of that and that is what works for us for now.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
– William Butler Yeats

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