Monday, September 23, 2013

If You Build it, They Will Come

Ninja warrior training course erected.  And, the neighborhood kids have begun flocking to our yard to climb on it.  Let's just hope the HOA keeps out of our hair.  I wonder how long it will take before someone complains about a rope course in front of the house.

This small influx of kids to play in our yard has encouraged my kids to spend much more time outside.  Since I've taken Kaio out of school, I've seen him nervous about being around other boys and girls.  His posture changes in the presence of kids playing: he slumps his shoulders and diverts his eyes.  Even at classes with other homeschoolers, I've noticed major apprehension to get close or talk to other kids.  I know he wants to be able to talk to the kids and joke around, but doesn't feel confident.  It's sad this has happened so young, and I'm not sure why.  I'm not sure if he was like this in school and that's why he didn't want to go anymore, or if this is a new development since he's been away from a consistent social group.

Part of the drama with friendships and kids has been around our across the street neighbor, a boy who is only a year and a half older than Kaio.  They used to play together years ago, but since school began, the neighbor does not invite Kaio over or come over to play.  Sometimes there will be kids playing in his yard, and Kaio will walk over, only to be told that he can't have anymore kids over at his house.  

This summer Kaio tried to talk to me about it, with difficultly explaining himself.  They both attended a nearby Vacation Bible School for a week.  Kaio stopped me on Wednesday before we entered the church and said, "Sometimes John (not real name) knows me, and sometimes he doesn't know me."  I attempted to give him some other words to help, "Yes, sometimes John pays attention to you and sometimes he ignores you."  

It became one of those moments of me trying to explain something that I don't feel wise enough to tackle.  What do you do when you like someone and they don't like you back?  When someone doesn't invite you to the party or to the neighborhood games?

I found myself resenting this little boy for making my boy feel left out.  But also knowing that there must be a reason for John excluding Kaio.  It could be something benign, like Kaio's just too energetic for his taste.  But if it is something malicious, like he's bullying Kaio, that only reflects on pain he's experiencing and trying to push on someone else, in which case I feel sorry for him. 

It's just become a weird dynamic.  John will pass by our house and Nala calls "Hi John!" to him, and he'll call back to her.  Kaio will be right there, but they'll ignore each other.  Last time this happened, Kaio looked at me, "I don't want to say hi to John."  I conveyed so much with so little words, "You don't have to Kaio, you don't have to."

In my kid who's still so lagged with his language development, we often have these cryptic conversations, where I'm not totally sure what he's saying, but I infer and then we go from there. 

That brings me to today.  An older neighbor boy came over to play on our tree.  John crossed the street and asked the boy if he would like to come over and play.  But the boy said no because he had to leave to football practice soon.  I saw John retract to his yard to be by himself.  It seemed like he banished himself instead of just sticking around and playing in our tree.   I regret not stepping in to invite him over.  

And I have to say that I felt some evil vindication with the whole thing.  I wish I were above that I really do, and hopefully next time I wont stare at him across the street by himself.  I will be gracious and proactive .  As we came inside for the evening, Kaio even said, out of nowhere,  "I want to invite John to my birthday party."  I guess he must have been remorseful of the payback as well.   

I know this is a part of growing up.  Kids are allowed to like and not like people.  Nala has some preferences when it comes to certain kids and speaks her mind about it.  I think her reactions sound amplified because she doesn't command language enough to tone it down with subtleties.  It's not a big deal, and it's a part of growing up.  I can't force my kids to like everyone or force other kids to like mine.

But, yeah, back to the rope swing.  It has been a huge hit!  A bridge to encouraging kids outside to play in the shade of the tree.  A conduit for imaginative play, innovation, and connection with nature.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


Fist thing Nala said this morning: "Can we do homeschool today?"
It's Saturday, but I said, "Ok, what do you want to do for homeschool today?"
Confidently she responded, "Whatever we want and whatever we like.... meow."  Then she rolled over and purred like a kitten.

Kaio spent the morning, last evening, and day before, and pretty much every free moment between; playing Bad Piggies and Angry Birds.  I peeked in occasionally on what he's up to.  He beat all the levels already and has now taken to playing in the sandbox arena building virtual vehicles.  If you're not familiar with the game, basically you have a set of parts (motors, wings, balloons, explosives, umbrellas, etc) that you can use to build any contraption you want.  You try to use your vehicle to transport piggy through the level and attain stars.  You have infinite number of times to build and rebuild.  It's a virtual world with infinite resources, how cool is that?! Kaio stopped caring about the stars and just builds things to see what will happen.

He builds trains, planes, and rockets that take off into the air and then explode.  He created a factory conveyor belt that takes parts from one spot to the next, and wacky devices that propel the piggy into painful situations.  He makes these things with no prompting from the game, and no reward that the game is giving him.  He doesn't try to get the stars anymore.  He just creates, for his own personal enjoyment.

Did you get that?  No one is telling him what the right answer is: he's just inventing as a pure expression of his ingenuity and humor. And he loves it.  And that means he's exercising his passion!

Two weeks into the school year and we've probably stepped off the bar chart of what 99% of Americans do, or think should be done by 1st grade children during school hours.  It may look like I don't give a fuck.  But, if you know me, you know that I've debated inside and out about what the goal of school and life should be.  I've fretted over making the right choices for my child till the cows come home.

And....... yeah maybe everyone is right, because I came to the conclusion that I don't give a fuck about standards, time tables, subjects, and a well-rounded education.  This is what I care about:

That place where wonder compels you to action.  Where excitement boils up from deep in your gut and shines through your smile.  Where you wake up to follow through on something you love to do.

 So when I see things like this, I think we're on the right track creating a space where the kids can express themselves:

Where they can choose how to spend their day based on what inspires them.

Where we can spend the morning finding the right amount of clay to suspend an angry bird balloon.

And then we feel accomplished.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

1st Grade Unschool Kickoff

I caught a glimpse of the big yellow bus shooting past our bay window, the rumble of diesel vibrating the glass.  I had to stop and feel the moment, the second day of the new school year started and my 1st grader is not on that bus.  This time last year I held back tears when that bus shot by.  But this year I felt relief.  My boy still slept as the bus left, and when he woke up he became so engrossed in a video game that he didn't even want to break from it to eat breakfast.  I'm proud of this, happy to see that he has become so interested in something that he dedicates himself to it.  That's a skill he'll need in the future.

I had my moments of doubt in the ending weeks of August, where I worried that homeschooling was too much work for me and too much pressure on me to give the right answers all the time.  But I turned in the paperwork to the county anyway because I know that homeschooling is the best solution for Kaio's personality.  He doesn't need to be forced to sit at a table doing cute construction paper projects and worksheets.  He needs freedom to play. If we lived in Finland, then he wouldn't even be in school yet because they start compulsory education at seven years old.

And here Kaio is spending a big chunk of the day mastering Finland's greatest export: Angry Birds and Bad Piggies.

Yesterday he baked a cake, that we ate for dinner and breakfast.

oh, I could share the list of what he wants to learn about this year (the basis of which I used as the list of subjects I'm required to submit to the county).  But I think it's still too influenced by what he thinks you're supposed to learn in school.  We're still deschooling.

Nala and I painted.

Because I believe that if you can create your own space surrounded by art, then you will never be a slave to someone else's definition of success or value.  You'll always be immersed in beauty.


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