Monthly Archives: July 2018

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Why the idea of curriculum is absurd

Okay, that is a deliberately provocative title.

The thing about curriculum (particularly in schools), and even more so standardized tests, is that some one has arbitrarily chosen the content in or on them and said that, in our vast sea of knowledge out there, this is all you need to know or be interested in. Rarely do educators or students ask, who decided this was important and why? And even more importantly, do I agree?

Parents and educators are often up in arms about how hard it is for children to discern what is good information and what is bad, what is useful and what is not They also work themselves up into a tizzy over the amounts of information that are at all of our fingertips in the form of the Internet. The solution, curriculum and standardized testing. In worrying over the information ocean and overload, they decide not to give them the skills to navigate that sea or evaluate it or even how to be efficient. Instead curriculums tell the children what they need to know so they never have to dip their toes in those information waters.

But this sets kids up in a Catch-22. They are told what to learn, are given an arbitrary set of information (that often is not particularly useful nor relevant to them or their interests), and then are berated for not knowing how to go out and find and evaluate other information when they discover how useless and miniscule their “well-rounded” education has been.

This for me is a large part of why I want to unschool. Instead of dedicating money and hours and hours of my child’s life to a set of information that someone else had deemed interesting and important I would infinitely prefer to give my daughter the skills to create that set of information for herself. Her time will be infinitely better served in doing that. Plus, in having those skills, instead of a collection of facts, she will know how to learn on her own and follow her interests.

The thing is, children will learn to read, will learn basic arithmetic and science through their own natural curiosity and through their need for those skills.* Saying I want Cam to form her own curriculum does not preclude my stepping in to help her learn skills or explicitly teaching them to her. I just need to tread lightly and at the right time. Many of the skills we hyper obsess over in school, in curriculums, and on tests are not the end goal. Reading is a skill to be put into service of learning, not the other way around. And for that reason children will be motivated to learn to read.

So, using a one-size-fits-all arbitrarily curated curriculum doesn’t serve the majority of children well and I would like to opt out of that for my children. 

*I am well aware that there are children who will not come to those skills easily or at all because of learning disabilities and I know how important early diagnosis is for those children. I also know that the reason for curriculum and forcing skills on kids is NOT to ensure that kids with learning disabilities get the help they need as early as possible. Learning disabilities in schools is a whole other thorny issue that is often not addressed correctly or appropriately.

Zero Waste: Going Down the Rabbit Hole

Zero Waste BannerWith all the time I’ve spent over the last four months nursing a baby, I’ve gotten really into Instagram. I used to follow a lot of social media on my computer, but it’s just too hard to maneuver a laptop while sitting on the sofa and cradling a baby. So while trapped under her for an hour while she was tiny and nursing for long periods of time and frequently I got really into scrolling through Instagram. While cruising around on there I’ve come across the zero waste movement and I kind of went down the rabbit hole with it. I started following a variety of people, researching products, and reevaluating various aspects of our lives.

The underlying principles of environmentalism, environmental justice, and minimalism are not new to me. They’re ideas that I’ve been thinking about and exploring for awhile, but zero waste (which is kind of a misnomer) really gave me a tangible way to live those principles. I’m hoping to use this series on the blog to talk about how I have started to put those ideas into practice and how it’s getting incorporated into our unschooling journey as well. 

The zero waste movement isn’t without it’s issues, though. For starters no one is perfect and it’s hard not to produce any trash. Our economy is not set up for that to be easy. And for now that’s fine, I’m discovering. Some people prefer the term low impact over zero waste because it sets a more realistic expectation.

More troubling to me is how the movement is problematic in terms of social justice. For starters, the idea of zero waste is not something that hipsters started. It’s something that indigenous cultures around the world have practiced for eons, but capitalist, primarily Western companies, have co-opted the idea to sell products. Sure, they’re green, eco-friendly products but they’re products benefiting the company and their founders. Also, it’s hard to hold the expectation that all people can and should be zero waste. Not every one has access to the kinds of stores that allow them to reduce their waste. Many products that are low impact are expensive. Other ideas within zero waste, such as making your own foods, household cleaners, etc. require time and effort not all people can take on. 

All of this is information I’m beginning to research and sift through. I do really like the idea of zero waste and know we can do our part to reduce our impact as a family without having the expectation that everyone will be able to do everything we are. I’ll be sharing here to offer inspiration to others who might want to take the plunge. 

Book Club: I Love the River by Maya Christina Gonzales

Book Club Banner

Book Club is a series dedicated to extending the reading experience either through an activity. Activities will tie in with other areas of study or cross over subjects. 

Today we’ll be looking at art style. Maya Christina Gonzales is a phenomenal author and illustrator that you should know about. She and her husband run Reflection Press which publishes diverse stories that promote equality, peace, and freedom. The website has some sobering and incredibly important statistics about the state of children’s publishing and while this is only tangentially related to the activity in this post, I encourage you to check them out and reflect on what that means for you as a parents, educator, and consumer. 

I Know the River Loves MeWe were particularly drawn to her book I Know the River Loves me when we ran across it on display in our library. The white space and bold illustrations with bright, vibrant colors were really inviting.  On picking it up I discovered it was written with the Yuba river in mind, which is near where we live and somewhere we’ve been. The story of the connection between the little girl, nature, the river, and the seasons was especially appealing. The activity below is how we used the book to extend the learning experience. 

What You’ll Need:

  • Paper (drawing paper, scrap paper, whatever is around the house)
  • thin markers or Sharpies
  • I Know the River Loves Me written and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzales

Together read the book I Know the River Loves Me written and illustrated by Maya Christina Gonzales. Pay particular attention to the art style as you read. Point out colors, patterns, and lines. While the illustrations appear simple, they are incredibly beautiful and impactful.  

When you are finished reading get out your art supplies. Together you can think of pieces of nature that speak to you. for the drawing prompt we filled in the sentence “I know the ________ loves me.” Maybe it’s mountains. Maybe it’s a river like the little girl in the book. Maybe it’s clouds, the sun, or the rain. Using simple shapes and lines draw an outline of that thing. Then fill the shapes in with swirls, colors, dots, and waves just as Gonzales does. Flip through the book and study the pictures as you draw. 

Here is a glimpse of how Gonzales uses lines and patterns to embellish her illustrations.

Here is a glimpse of how Gonzales uses lines and patterns to embellish her illustrations.

Not only does this encourage your child to look closely at the art in the picture book, but it also helps them draw connections between their own lives and experiences and the story. Take it a step further and get outside! Is there are creek nearby that you can walk to? A hike you can go on together? Or a park to visit? The point is not to find a secluded nature area, but to find a natural space that can welcome you. If you have a pad of paper and a bag to pack up your markers, head over there to draw what you see using patterns like Gonzales.

Friday Five: Lighthouses

Maybe it’s the cheerful colors of lighthouses or the fact that they’re so iconic of costal places, but they signify summer time to me. In honor of July here’s a Friday Five dedicated to lighthouses.  

Hello LighthouseHello Lighthouse written and illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Watch the days and seasons pass as the wind blows, the fog rolls in, and icebergs drift by. Outside, there is water all around. Inside, the daily life of a lighthouse keeper and his family unfolds as the keeper boils water for tea, lights the lamp’s wick, and writes every detail in his logbook.

We recently bought this one and love it. I have mixed feelings about Blackall since the fiasco with A Fine Dessert, but this one is a winner. It’s got intricate, beautiful illustrations and the story is fun too. The form factor of the book is especially neat- long and tall like a lighthouse itself and many of the illustrations contain circles and circle motifs echoing the rooms of the lighthouse.

 

Keep the Lights BurningKeep the Lights Burning, Abbie written by Peter and Connie Roop, illustrated by Peter E. Hanson

In the winter of 1856, a storm delays the lighthouse keeper’s return to an island off the coast of Maine, and his daughter Abbie must keep the lights burning by herself.

I remember reading this book in either first or second grade. I loved it then because it was such an exciting story and I was so struck by how brave and tenacious Abbie was. Even better, the story is based on a real storm and a real girl- the end has a note about the true events. Cam and I pulled out our copy of this after we stayed in a lighthouse keeper’s quarters back in February of this year. Keep the Lights Burning is actually an easy reader, which might make it good for emerging readers to partner up with a parent or older sibling to read through. But even if your child isn’t reading yet, give it a try. 

 

Little Red LighthouseThe Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge written by Hildegard H. Swift, illustrated by Lynd Ward

If you like sentimental, classic stories this is one to try. A little red lighthouse happily keeps watch over the mouth of the river in New York City until one day a large gray bridge it built, towering over the little lighthouse. The new bridge also has a bright light on the top of one of its towers. Feeling forgotten and replaced the lighthouse believes it is no longer needed until a storm blows in a familiar tug boat wrecks on the rocks. The bridge calls out to the lighthouse telling it the light on the tower is for planes and that the lighthouse is still needed. The lighthouse keeper also appears and is grumbling about his keys being hidden by some naughty boys. The lighthouse beams out once more and finds its purpose again. The full sentiment of the story may be lost on most children, but I don’t think that will take the enjoyment out of the story. To me it’s reminiscent of Virginia Lee Burton’s books and it is from the same era so it isn’t surprising that it does bring those to mind. I love that the book is a small nearly square rectangle much like the little lighthouse squatting on the edge of the river. 

 

The Abandoned LighthouseThe Abandoned Lighthouse written by Albert Lamb, illustrated by David McPhail

This was such an interesting book. It felt a little existential, a little dreamy, and a little magical. Definitely give it a read if you like gentle, but exciting stories. Also, strangely, most of the lighthouse books I have read feature girls (not complaining) or animals. This book has a little boy (and a bear) as the protagonist. The two are brought together by a row boat and an empty lighthouse for a quick overnight adventure.

 

 

 

Gracie the Lighthouse CatGracie, the Lighthouse Cat written and illustrated by Ruth Brown

Gracie is a great study in how illustrations can convey an entire story not written in the text. This is even more interesting as that second story shown in the pictures is a true story of a ship wreck and a lighthouse keeper and his daughter rescuing the stranded survivors. The text in this book is short and simple, but also very dramatic. Be aware that the kitten is swept out in the storm and the mother looks frantically for it. But all is well in the end, for both the cats and the people.