For Lunch, We Take Big Bites. Then, We Chew…

It’s been a while. It’s 2018 and a cold, snowy, about to get snowier day here in Kamloops. The day so far has been full – reading an engaging book in early morning when all is quiet and making enough mental notes for a good conversation with the boys later on, walking the dog in winter crispness, meeting with Sasha’s teacher to lay out this semester’s intended learning (a group of homeschooling kids meet once a week for various learning activities such as nature excursions, science experiments, art, and of course, playing.) Add a haircut and grocery shopping… then we’re back home for the day’s learning.

Sasha settles on a book about Canadian discoveries, a library book that has them raise their eyebrows in surprise and say ‘Oh, I did not know that…’ or ‘Mom, did you know…’. Past the reading about discoveries comes the part where creativity kicks in and be it Lego, or other materials, various viable or less so inventions come to life. Inspiration is a word that contains a world of hopes, dreams, sweat, frustrations, and sometimes succeeding, but it never ends at that. It’s a word I’d like the boys to make it a constant presence in their lives as they grow up and I’d like the same for myself, to be inspired no matter what.

As we sit for lunch, we chat about an incoming overnight hike to a nearby lake, and I wish I could remember how the conversation slipped from snowy woods, cabins, and the games we’d play in the evening to Martin Luther King. While the boys still munch on their food, I read out loud about his contribution to the world and then we listen to his famous speech ‘I had a dream.’ The timing couldn’t have been more adequate. Our last weeks have been peppered with many conversations about equality, the expectation of some to dominate over others, modern-day slavery, the extent of it compared to the old day, the wrongness of allowing it as an invisible presence in the developed world market, the fact that people are still judging people based on the colour of their skin.

The boys sit and listen; I read some of the words that carry so much weight it’s a wonder (not the positive kind) we do not employ them more intensely in the education process. ‘Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity…’ has me read over twice because it brings so much with it. We live in an age when questionable leaders emerge with the help on internet ‘viral’ spreading of various kinds of information, true or otherwise.

We also live in a world where education is being tweaked to fit within narrow confines dictated by commercialism (presence of cell phones in classrooms has nothing to do with learning no matter how you turn it, no pun intended) and is often commandeered by the fear of imposing any boundaries, even though children’s well-being depends on the adults around them establishing healthy boundaries.

How are we to inspire the young generation to seek knowledge in the interest of preventing ultimately selfish pursuits and avoid ‘conscientious stupidity?’ How are we to inspire them to see that the world they are part of is requires patience to understand, a sense of wonder and determination to develop critical thinking skills that will eventually help create a better social, political, and environmental landscape…

Learning is a beautiful adventure, a constantly evolving path that can have us maintain a balance within ourselves as we grow, no matter our age, and balance with the world we belong to. I wish that by the time the boys are ready to take off flying, they will remember that and keep that as a bookmark of sorts in that book of knowledge they’ll hopefully keep tucked in their backpacks…

Lesson of the Day: Everything is Connected

How do you go from planting French tarragon, tomatoes, and zucchini to the lymphatic system, with some stroke information and type II diabetes facts and implications along the way? Oh, and the perils of climate change when it comes to plants and crops in general.

There is no recipe really, other than keeping the mind open and making connections. Eyes wide open, two boys jumping in with ‘I know the answer, can I say?’ and taking turns becomes a game I moderate and delight in doing so.

How do you then? You spend some time in the garden, tiny as it is, weeding and helping the little seedlings thrive with less competition. You talk about weeds as you do so: why do they grow so well, how do they grow no matter how rainy or dry the season? Resilience comes from?…

Then you talk about soil and thoughts trail back to when we did that first time, looking at pill bugs and earthworms and many other critters we had to imagine as we could not see. Kids do that willingly, which is why they learn so heartfully. They are open to imagining and building on from there.

The next day you talk seeds, fruit that bears them, the mysteries that make them germinate. Both boys are now well aware of the beautiful process that transforms a dormant seed into a plant. They steal each other’s words: you start dicotyledons, move through explaining hypocotyl, the role of the starches and fats the seed stores until the leaves appear (why only till then? What happens as leaves appear and bathe their wee faces in the sunshine? Oh yes, I gave it away… Photosynthesis).

The dance includes now chlorophyll, which is so interestingly similar to hemoglobin. And what do they each do? How? What makes our hemoglobin able to uptake oxygen? Where does that upload take place and where do the red blood cells take that oxygen? And then? Arteries, veins, movement that promotes health, breathing the right way. This is how is done… The boys breathe in and out and we wonder more about how magical the oxygenation process. Muscles that need oxygen, movement again, we need to move more and it less.

Why do strokes happen? Do they have to do with blood? Circulatory issues… Type II diabetes, a terrible and increasing menace. What exactly is that? We talk insulin, pancreas, lifestyle, movement again too, food… we’re back to the garden. Eating what we are best designed to eat. Plants… seeds and seedlings, growing into plants that produce more seeds and the big cycle continues.

‘Mom, I love it how they are all connected! It makes so much sense!’

‘Mom, is this a subject or two?’ It’s many. It’s the way they are connected. Everything is connected.

I take a deep breath. This is homeschooling. I think I’m starting to understand its beauty.

Yes, There Is Some Magic Involved


The things is, learning is not a straightforward concept. People keep wanting to straighten the curls and create the line you can safely walk on in your pursuit of information. Therein lies the problem. Lines do not accommodate much freedom to wiggle your toes, or your brain cells for that matter.

It took me a while to figure out the line thing. In some ways, I had to, given that the boys learn at home. In homeschooling, we’re anything but straight lines. Squiggles. Artesian fountains of thoughts and ideas, zigzags, much like the flight of the many small birds our pup engages in chasing on any given morning. Lack of focus, you might be tempted to say. Hardly, and here’s why:

There’s an intricate feeling of being silently patient while waiting for the big picture to appear in the boys’ minds. It does, without fail. It takes patience, like I said, and trust. I think kids can feel that you’re giving them the time of day to make sense of what their mind acquires through reading, touching, seeing and hearing. And I dare say they know when they are not rushed or pressured in any way, when they are free to play with concepts and not feel self-conscious.

I like to think of that process of eventually seeing the big picture and understanding where and how everything fits in as the building of an island. I watch bits of this and that falling into a hungry ocean; their mind (any human mind for that matter). The more knowledge in whatever form (yes, mishaps count!) their minds come in contact with, the more bits accumulate. Where? That’s where trust comes in.

One day, an island emerges. All the bits that kept being engulfed by their hungry minds, they danced their invisible dance, neurons making new friends every day, doors opening, new breeze of satisfaction paving the way with even more curiosity… an island appears, and in the middle of it, a child, grinning and holding up his happy heart, celebrating knowledge! It’s when things make sense.

There is no timing on it so don’t rush them. There are no boundaries to learning either, so yes, follow some curriculum to a certain extent, but never stop them from exploring. Learning is magic if you let children follow that sparkly path curiosity leads them on. Learning is joyful, so much in fact that one day Tony wondered ‘If I like this so much, does it count as school?’

That’s when it’s my turn to smile big and count the many blessings of witnessing the way they learn. Tears always follow. Then, we start anew. We wobble some more (yes, again), we doubt and wonder if this is still the way to go (yes, again) and we find that trust grows stronger with each island that peeks out from below the waves.

So, About Those Pink Shirts

It’s the day after. February 23, which comes right after the big anti-bullying day, pink T-shirts and all. Back when Tony started school we would purchase them directly from the teacher. Now you can buy them in stores too. Store clerks need to buy them too in some stores. I guess to prevent customer bullying?

It sounds nice and dandy and looks all innocently pink that day, but then when the next day comes… The boys’ T-shirts, because you had to buy one for each as a statement to your anti-bullying stance (I mean theirs,) went in their drawers until the following year when, if they still fit, they’d be worn to affirm their opposition to bullying.

Now here’s the thing: there was no way to make them wear them another time in between anti-bullying days at school because… ‘Mom, it’s pink.’ Right. I did not have a colour-coded childhood, and neither did my boys. They wore colours and some happened to be shades of this or that and that was that. Still, that pink T-shirt was a no-go.

You see, Sasha was already in the pink corner you could say. Because of his long hair (longer than your average boy haircut,) he was called ‘she’ by this one (short-haired) boy in his class. Yeah, dare wear some pink, Sasha, why don’t you. He didn’t. Also, he corrected the boy explaining that he is a boy. The ‘she’ appellation continued. Subtle but undermining when you’re grade 3.

My point is: the pink T-shirts work as long as they’re being backed up by true to form authority stance on bullying. Which on many an occasion does not happen. Many children end up bullied and alone in it. Just recently, two teenage boys from an Edmonton school (yes, the same school), committed suicide. They were Tony’s age and younger. Their deaths brought forth many more complaints from other students who have been bullied over the years, or were while they went to that school. The administration concluded there was no bullying in the school and most likely dressed everyone in pink yesterday. For anti-bullying day.

I see the pink T-shirts as a good initiative, but if you have it but once a year, you’re looking at 364 days of ‘fingers crossed’ in hope that all goes well and bullies dissolve in thin air. They don’t. Moreover, because bullying went from directly belittling and hitting someone (at least you knew where it came from,) to the insidious and seriously harming cyberbullying, the threat is higher than ever nowadays. Children likely need some pink body and mind armour to keep them safe from that kind of threat.

Pink T-shirts alone are simply not enough to protect children against bullying. A strong anti-bullying affirmed position needs to be there all the time or else we will keep on seeing people getting hurt. No one should feel alone while dealing with bullying and yet many do.

I recently chatted with a young man, a neighbourhood high school graduate. He explained the facts: when you enter high school you might make a friend or two if you’re lucky. If you ever get on the bad side of someone popular and get bullied, you better not complain to any teachers. ‘Walls have eyes and ears’ he said; you learn that soon enough. He was happy to be done with that chapter. ‘I wish I could one day say it like it was so enough people will know.’ I could see no need to ask if he had his pink T-shirt on occasionally. It sounded like it would’ve have made a difference anyway. Like a pink band-aid, it would cover the wound but not protect against other injuries or deal with what’s causing them.

Any day’s lesson: beyond math and science, there’s a lot of you

What’s the first thought that comes to mind when you think school? Joy. Ha! I am being cheeky, I know. It’s likely a math thought. Or science. Shudder. Not me; I am of the geek tribe that finds such subjects attractive. A language of sorts that helps in translating the world around into yet another comprehensible way. Or not, say many disillusioned former schoolers.

The first few days of having Tony at home two years ago when we started homeschooling came with a few serious confidence jolts. Do I have what it takes to do it? What about potholes? Because I knew there will be some. (There have been.) It felt like this: there’s a gate you open, you make your way through and then look for the path. There is none. You have to make one; with every step you take, a path appears. then you get lost. Repeat.

‘Do you like learning at home?’ I’d ask them both occasionally. Yes. Are they just being polite? Nope, we learn to be honest here. So no. Still, the path we make… Me, the guide. Them boys following.

I step unsurely at times because ‘what if?…’ – and most often, the what if is followed by a dark cloud. Gulp. The negative alternatives. Some days become so intense you’ll be thinking you’re heading for disaster. We cover subjects of all kinds, and then we make it our own with subjects we NEED to cover. Say, for example… emotions.

For all the stormy days we’ve had along the way, we need a manual on being. Emotions as they happen. Learning what takes us straight into the brambles where the spikes are and then there needs to be some learning on how to make our way out. Boys and emotions. There’s a book I cherish that is cradled among other parenting books: it’s called Raising Cain: Protecting the emotional life of boys (Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.) A peek inside a boy’s heart. The mysterious realm of storms and wonderful adventures.

So we made it a subject in our school. Ditto for learning to communicate respectfully, aiming for non-violence but feeling our way towards where one can stand tall, humble and vulnerable at the same time.

We talk about anger and joy, about letting others know how their actions make you feel, about the courage to look at yourself in the mirror that someone holds for you to see… We talk about being humble enough to accept that sometimes you’ll be the one leaving marks that do not show though they do exist among people’s feelings. Shreds of pain here and there, which you cause without meaning to do so.

On any given day, emotions filling us like a cup fills with tea. You pour until you reach below the brim. Physics dictate that if you continue the cup will overflow. Then you have to deal with the mess. We accept that as a fact because we see it happen. No witnesses needed, no explanations from the cup as to why everything went past the edge. Because you overdid it, that’s why. When it comes to pouring too much onto people and seeing their emotions overflow… there’s a lot to learn.

Kindness, we talk about that too. Perspective changing when you’re wearing each other’s shoes. Emotions exist and they are part of a person. You feel and your feelings matter. We more than touch on that. We look into each other’s eyes after a storm and that takes courage. It makes it possible to stay close to each other, to reach out when a curved ball reaches your soft sides, to laugh with all your heart, to cry when all becomes too much to bear. To listen when one says it hurts. To forgive and to learn why asking for forgiveness is such a gargantuan task . . .  And yet, it’s vital. It makes hearts softer and minds more understanding of other people’s plight.

So onwards we go through days of learning. We tell stories, the boys open up and bravely speak up when the other’s actions are hurting, and we try to understand, repair trust and reinforce the connections. I am but a guide for it all, yet learning as much as they do from each of the subjects, emotions included (mine too, yes.)

For this is learning. Of ourselves most of all. With humbleness, with gratefulness, with courage to bare it all, emotion-wise. Hugs at bedtime are a must. Tomorrow we trek on farther than today. We follow a path we make with our own footsteps…

Witness To Snowfall and Children Learning

There is something beautifully gentle about being privy to the first snowflakes falling. Like the flutter of a newborn’s eyelids as she’s nestled in a sling by your heart. I remember that too well, though the boys are way past the age. I remembered that the other day when the morning walk with the pup brought the beginning flutters of a snowfall to rest on my cheeks…

The snowflakes the other day had an interesting effect though. First of all, they reminded me of time passing. Of this corner of goodness where I am but the homeschooling mama of my two boys. Of the corner I have been missing from for too long. Time passes. There is no counteracting, but there is being present. My forever reminder to myself.

Back to snowflakes. The second thing  they brought with them was an unmistakable similarity to my witnessing of the boys’ discovering the world they learn about. It’s that sensible a process you see, hence my witnessing of it a gift i do not take in jest. Their eyes light up as they talk about the things they find ever so intriguing and I keep silent and listening because I could not bear the thought of missing it. Then I ask about this or that. What do you know of this or that? what does that word mean? The concept of?…

Sasha learned about electricity and built circuits for days. Rephrase: Sasha built circuits for days; he had fun, eyes twinkling with the surprise of it all. Joy followed along like a puppy. The result was learning about electricity. Then it dwindled. For now it will sit somewhere on a brain shelf until the day comes for it to resurface. We visited Makers’ Space here in Kamloops recently; perhaps future visits hold the key to more learning about electricity. It’ll come. That’s what learning is about. A cascade of facts that link this fact to that and create a bridge of knowledge that you can walk on from here to there, inferring, developing common sense and …well, thinking. What a grand adventure!

Tony delves into geography, becoming so accustomed to a place (right now it is the UK and Ireland) that he can name destinations within it, attach historical facts to it and put today’s happening into perspective. He dives into a complex textbook (say, chemistry) without questioning whether the level would be too high for grade 9. Learning calls for curiosity and discussions. His eyes and mind grow at the same rate; seeing beyond the often narrow path a curriculum imposes.

Stop where facts start getting confusing and information overwhelming, I tell them. They do. I take over where they stop, I read, and then meet them in the realm of where they left it. I am a mere guide, teaching them most of all, and hopefully so, to have the humbleness to admit where their own knowledge of a subject lacks so they pursue more learning. Truly, when we know more, we realize how much more there is that we have yet to learn. It brings awareness of the necessity of life-long learning and the imperative quality we need to pursue that: developing and maintaining an open mind.

Should that be one of the purposes of our learning at home? It better be. The dance continues, much like the delicate dance of snowflakes. I am there to see it. Aware of the immense privilege, I end my days just like I start them: with gratefulness.

Are You What you Wanted To Be?

20160402_180445The very puzzling thing that happens when you are a child is that adults often ask what you want to be when you grow up. It’s a question that carries a certain weight except that when you’re little you peep out an answer that is both cute and easily forgotten.

Not so when you hit say grade 6 or so. The answer ties you to a commitment towards making it happen. Or, at the very least, make you accountable for how you shape your studying towards making it happen one day. As you get older the question carries more and more weight. And the weight rests on your young and primed-for-flying-unencumbered shoulders.

I remember saying for a while that I wanted to be a veterinarian (I did have a penchant for taking care of every hurt animal and bird I could find and I still do whenever the situation arises). I was told by my Dad that being a vet was often less glamorous than it seemed at first sight. He was right and while he was not trying to deter me, he also held an accurate image so I can see and decide.

I then leaned towards wanting to become a chemist (I was told pure science is not as practical as food chemistry for example which carried little attraction to me at that point). I moved to musing about wanting to become a writer at which point I was told that I will starve to death. Hardly something to aim for.

In the end, I chose biochemistry and later writing found me anyway or I found it so I guess the path took me to a place I was trying to picture as a child but did not quite managed to put my finger on it.

To be fair, my parents never pushed towards any of the things I chose to study, nor did they advise against my free will to study this or that. They let me be, they listened when I shared my learning pursuits and for that I am forever grateful.

Nowadays I am often witness to hearing the ‘what you want to be’ question directed at my boys. The older they get the more reluctant they are to give away details. I can understand that. When I get asked about the paths I envision my boys would follow in their professional lives (it sounds a bit dry doesn’t it?) I shrug and say that is not for me to decide or push onto them in any way.

img_20160429_192008All I ask of them is to grow up to be good people. Respectful and carrying compassion for fellow humans, animals and the environment, curious enough to keep on learning and most of all joyous. Whatever path they choose, they should be able to wake up with joy and excitement. That is what comes from adding layers of learning as you go. And most of all that is what happens when the world inside is one that has relevance to who you are. So, you listen and courageously follow the path you feel attracted towards. Profession? Who knows. Things evolve as we do. We grow and open our eyes and then we close them just so we can see lights flickering in the distance. We get inspired by reading, by connecting to people we meet along the way and by seeing places.

There is no telling, that’s how much I know. There are no categories of careers we should attempt to push or influence our kids towards. We can have an open, non-judgmental dialogue, a listening ear sharp enough to catch whispers but coupled to a mind that can let go instead of holding the child accountable. We can answer questions, guide, suggest and …listen some more.

One of the most wondrous things we can witness as our children grow is seeing them full of zest for learning more of whatever drives their curiosity and having them explode with enthusiasm as they talk about it. There are ideas sprouting out of that kind of rich environment; there are projects and dreams and maybe something that can become a job or even a lifelong career.

20160401_163306The point is… what matters is that they keep curious and willing to learn and they do so while being good people. Kind and open-minded and able to think for themselves, willing to accept failure and ready to keep on going even when hills become mountains and the top gets lost in thick fog.

It’s what learning does to kids when they can follow it using minds and hearts combined. Things fall into place I dare say.

This Is How We Think Of Learning

img_8721It’s been a while since we made the decision to learn at home. Those were the times when my answer to people’s question about which school my boys go to was a somewhat unsure ‘They are homeschooled’. It’s been more than two years now and I am still learning about what homeschooling means, yet my reply comes firm and sure of itself: My sons are homeschooled.

Just like that. Now I hold open the gate that allows you to peak in, if you wish so, and I invite you to walk right in and get a good feel for what our days are like and our learning is about.

Full disclosure: The extra heartbeat and the occasional cloud of worries stationed right above my head on certain days are still in place. Yes, very much so. But that is also part of our curriculum you see. We bring up feelings too and allow what makes us human to shine through, successes and failures included, while also learning that no one is defined by deeds but by the determination to keep on trying. There is a lot of stuff to keep our eyes wide open, plus minds and hearts too.

img_9068Which takes me to the very concept: learning. It’s as complex as the world itself because that is what learning is. Can you pinpoint where it starts? Not a chance. But somewhere in there are those first long walks with a wee toddler whose curiosity defies any sense of time. Leaves on a windy day fluttering, drops of water falling from the sky. Why? How? A snail pulls its body inside its shell when you as much as get your finger close to its dot-like eyes. Why? How?

Why does your stomach gurgle and where do dreams come from? What are colours? Can you invent more? How do molecules become the yummy smell you feel when you make apple sauce? Why do flowers wilt? How can big trucks drive over bridges without collapsing them?

Curiosity does not ebb and flow, I dare say. It grows. It should. The more we learn, the more questions poke their heads out and the more makes sense. You realize how much more there is to learn.

Children learning about the world helps them understand where and how life fits in. I got to see many people roll their eyes and twitch their faces when I mention my science background. It sounds nerdy and scary, and science is kind of boring most say. Note to self: help the boys see past that misconception in our learning.

img_9462Biology, geography, math, physics, chemistry, history, and everything branching into specialized subtopics, which then branch some more and become even more specialized… that is the world around us. Each subject adds clarity to the big mystery that is life in all its shapes and forms. We know that bees make complex mathematical deductions to remember trajectories, and communicate to each other in ways humans have yet to understand. A bee is not just a bee. Children have the right to learn that. We owe it to them and to their curious minds.

That a topic is complex should never be discouraging but a powerful incentive to inspire us to look closer into the complexity that enables life as we know it. Learning, the way I see it and intend to make it a reality in our school, is the tapestry that keeps it all together with enough loose ends that will permit more learning to be added as we go. More weaving… That’s how the tapestry grows. That’s how the big picture gets revealed and finally, that is how the understanding that everything is connected to everything else and each strand holds the other in place, is becoming a reality.

20150722_153553Learning makes sense when subjects are not cut into separate slices or ripped apart like petals of a flower. It’s the whole picture with all the subjects included and connected that makes learning fun and exciting and long-lasting. It’s not about memorizing, but understanding. Memorizing happens without effort when things make sense. That invites humbleness in. Joy too. There is so much to know, those who learn constantly will say. Children do. If only we let them and provide them with free thinking space that encourage learning.

I like it when the boys’ eyes sparkle as they learn. It’s when self-consciousness cannot reach a child that he or she has the courage to learn by wondering, creating hypotheses, coming up with possible answers and not for one second becoming afraid of making mistakes. It’s when learning becomes ingrained.

A friend of mine made the poignant observation about homeschooling: she said that learning does not end at 3pm when children are dismissed from school. On any day and for no curriculum-fulfilling purpose learning unfolds with complete disregard for the time of day. It should not just apply to homeschooled children either.

Just turn off the TV and allow for playing, talking, reading and roaming in the great outdoors. Learning is bound to happen. For parents, too. Which is I guess one of the greatest, most humbling lessons homeschooling has provided: you learn side by side with your children. It never stops. That sense of wonder… Life unfolding. If you make time to see, to inquire and to turn yet another page.

The First Steps of Every New Adventure

To see is to learnHere we are. A new page of the new blog that will follow our homeschooling adventure. The start day was supposed to be last month as the new school year debuted. Well, it’s this month instead.

But school starts with learning plans to be put together, with spending to be figured out, with summer days to say goodbye to and a quiet giddiness that learning has us together instead of the boys being dropped off at school in early morning.

To avoid rudeness, some introductions are in order: Mom (Daniela) is the happy owner of this blog. I am learning guide and grateful parent to two wild boys: Tony, 14 and Sasha, 10, grade 9 and 5. We learn, read, chat, laugh, cry, and discover paths unknown together.

Our learning adventures would not be complete and adventurous enough without the presence and inspiration provided by Max, husband and stepdad. Max is in charge of applied skills, lots of adventure planning and also supplies the much needed listening ears a busy homeschooling mom needs.

Oh, and the dog. Name is Poppy, she is in charge of teaching loyalty, reminding of unconditional love from a dog’s perspective and of course, adding sweetness to any day. Being a dog who loves walks and hikes, she is an enthusiastic participant to our expeditions wherever they may take place.

We live in British Columbia and feel blessed for it. It really is a beautiful place to be.