One social study – The Thursday bunch of flyers

The Thursday bunch of flyers is the thickest of all. Tony had remarked on that before, during the time he had a paper route. At first, I thought it was just a random occurrence but now I know it is so. Thursday heralds the approaching weekend via flyers and people follow the trail all the way to the mall (or other individual stores) to shop.

A regular Thursday pile of flyers is thick. The Black Friday pile was the thickest I’ve seen so far, but then again, there’s always a next opportunity. After all, any event can be made into a sale event, says the marketing guru team overlooking our ways from where they can see what the masses are attracted to and even if they are not, what they can be persuaded to buy. Overwhelming irresistible visuals, promises of so much (emptiness.)

Hence our homeschool social study. The boys got three flyers each – one from a food store, one from an electronics store and another from an everything retail store. Then came dissection time!

For the food flyer, I made a few categories: wholesome, local/seasonal, environmentally-damaging, misleading, and processed (yes, there is good/necessary processed and bad processed (if you think Cheesies you are on the right track.) For starters.

As expected, it was an eye-opener, not that my eyes are not open enough. Yes, cynicism seeps in from all corners, but such is the nature of the journey. The boys added a letter here and there, L for local, S for seasonal (seasonal where, Mom?) and then we chatted. Have the ‘why’ answered when you chat with children, they said. I did. The local food is scarce in big stores. Plus, it’s winter – what would seasonal offer? Seasonal in areas that are close enough geographically so that the food does not accrue too high a fossil fuel tag, can we add that up? Can one eat healthy with just seasonal/local offers? People did it for a long time. Would that foster better appreciation for food and reduce waste? Perhaps.

We moved on to the electronics flyer and the ‘everything’ store. We perused the images and as we did so I felt many shades of shame for my fellow humans. How many kinds of laptops and cell phones do we need to have available for consumption when we know the high price in human lives and environmental damage that the extraction of precious metals inflicts?

The huge TV screens – how many kinds do we ‘need’? And if the size is so, where can you fit it? Not in a small room, that’s for sure. And that is before you get the rest of the surround system paraphernalia. Bigger is not better, unless it refers to the size of one’s heart, metaphorically speaking of course. How can kids of today learn about it if they see bricks of flyers every week advertising the opposite?

If we are to find a way out of this environmental mess and wasteland we have created over the last century but more so over the last 50 years, we really need to promote ‘small’ and necessity-based living. Leaving room for what matters (how do we determine that?) is a daunting task for today’s youngsters. There is an army (more in fact) of marketing specialists, ad wizards, and app creators ready to add to the shackles that enslave too many the young minds. Sure it cannot be so dark you may say. Take a look around is what I say; it’s not a pretty sight.

Consumerism is out of hand. What’s ironic of course is that many people find themselves buying things they do not need, or they buy because the deal is too good to pass on. There is an avalanche of things and special offers that keeps on tumbling down, and the fast-paced life allows for little, is any breaks to conjure critical thinking and make sound decisions regarding consumption.

Onto the ‘everything store’ flyer. In the toy section there are board games – how refreshing! – featuring Nintendo games and some big brand names. Subliminal messages? Ah, but the message is rather in our faces. Do we mind? I do. Why not leave games as they are? Why not leave toys unbranded and children’s minds unpopulated with logos? It would only benefit them, leaving enough room to observe, question, wonder, choose.

Truly, there is so much to learn from merely observing the paths we travel during just one day of existence. Looking around, reading, pondering, but most of all, questioning. That is what we want our children to grow up into. Critical thinking tools are too precious and necessary to not be passed on. In a world that is bursting at the seams with too much stuff, but where famine and poverty are rampant in so many parts of the world, leaving our children minds open to see and question becomes a moral obligation.

The conversation expanded in many directions. The boys had questions, doubts, answers, and then more questions. I had some of the answers too, but the point is not for me to answer but for us to converse on the topic. Not just on a regular day of homeschooling but on any day. To delve deeper still by looking around and casting glances that do not succumb our minds to the mainstream flow but rather help us question the happenings of today, which ideally will prompt ideas for change. Spring will not be brought about by one flower, it’s been said countless times, but then again, it’s a start.

It’s September. Here we go again.

I feel a bit like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland these days; hurried, forgetting a few things, and just as often following my own steps until I realize I am running in circles. Adequately so, you could say. It’s the beginning of the school year, which means planning, more planning, sorting through books and ideas, sharpening handfuls of pencils and searching for erasers at the bottom of drawers. Jumping knee-deep in phone and in-person chats with our learning consultants, checking multiple mail boxes regularly… A word that does not exist in the summer dictionary other than to accurately describe our evenings spent on the river banks. Regularly showing up there, self-respecting river rats that we are.

We are to transition (in harmony, if possible,) from those long-drawn summer nights when you fill the time laughing, playing, chatting, hiding behind sand castles you build on the river banks so the setting sun won’t find you, so you can keep going forever.


The autumn chill started swallowing those bright summer nights, cricket chirps and all, a couple of weeks ago. You see it clearer with each year passing by. Time flies. You know there is no running away from it, but in knowing that, you also learn to hug each day a bit closer and take a deeper breath each morning. You learn to take off your shoes so your feet can dance on the dewy grass, you learn to silence everything for a few precious moments; eyes closed, only bird songs should be allowed to breach the silence.

We will transition then. It’s an adventure, yes, another stage in our growing to know more of the world and place ourselves with grace somewhere in it. Grace, gracefulness, gratefulness… It’s how I find my balance. Brackets of gratefulness opening and closing each day (most days?) and each season, each year. Forgetfulness, forgiveness, learning what being human means, that’s also on our curriculum.

Doubt pinches me, it does. Am I going to know how to do it all? Is our learning adventure good enough to feed their growing, curious minds? The whole picture is dazzling and nauseating at once. I won’t go there. Instead, I go the old way: one day at a time. Yes, many will ask me once again, and again, if the boys get enough socializing (yes, they do) and if this is really learning (yes, it is, just jump into a conversation with them,) and if they are missing out on life of any other kind (no, but ask them?).

So it is then. We will put up our sails and ride the waves. Some will toss us every which way, some will downright maroon us on some forgotten shores from where we will find our way back to where we can see the stars again. And some will lift us all the way up from where we will gaze and see past the limitations. Learning is an adventure; a door that never closes.

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.

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.

Food Lessons On A Bright October Morning

Over the last few months the boys have been privy to the following:

  • Gardening Lilliputian style (I will explain below)
  • Saturday trips to the farmer’s market which include wild excitement over the first of the seasons, the goodness of fall bounty and everything in between
  • Foraging for berries in or near Kamloops (Saskatoon berries, raspberries and chokecherries)

They saw pots full of fruit that became many jars of jam and jelly.

They got to taste a modest crop of potatoes from our garden, as well as zucchini, chard, kale and strawberries.They sliced apples for drying, tasted the results and packaged the dried goodies for storage.

It makes sense that after all of that and after reading and discussing how people lived in Canada back in the day, before and after the Europeans came, we would dedicate some time to learning about food preservation.

YummyThe reasons why they would learn and understand the multi-faceted process that is food preservation go beyond the rather simplistic ‘because it’s cool to have a homemade jar of jam or…(fill in the blanks)’. In our little school, we are shooting for the big picture. The bird’s eye view if you will.

So our lesson went from brainstorming about all the ways one could employ to preserve food (canning, freezing, drying, smoking/curing (for meats), sand storage (root vegetables), with variations of each, to discussing about what happens in each of them, why, how and where does it leave food in terms of taste, quality, appearance and usefulness.

Relating the gist of it may sound dry, yet our conversation was anything but. Among others, there had to be an answer for the question: Why store food when you could buy fresh produce and other foods year-round without turning our house into canning central?

Care to guess? Here’s our side of it:

  • because we preserve food we grow or forage for ourselves (meaning it is picked at the peak of its goodness),
  • because the farmer’s market is a seasonal festival of exquisite tastes (everything tastes better when picked at the peak of its ripeness)
  • because of the incomparable quality of a meal you can cook using your own pantry or freezer. It ties a family together and it gives a different meaning to home cooked.
  • Plus, think of the stories that sprout from a steaming bowl of soup or a stack of pancakes carrying the purple veil of chokecherry jelly.

We discussed the meaning and necessity of local food versus food grown conventionally, most times in mono-cultures, and we tied it in with the health element.

20160509_090325What goes into growing food? Hard work, enriching the soil using natural methods (compost and manure), more hard work and plenty of fresh water, plus a community to sell it to or people to share it with. Conventionally grown food often comes with chemicals many of which can have effects on the brain, endocrine system and they can also increase the risk of allergies and chemical sensitivities. It also comes with a variable-size carbon footprint, depending where it is shipped from. Possibly some low-paid workers in there too. Another level of unaffordability you could say.

That was part of today’s lessons. From understanding why fruit becomes mushy when frozen and then thawed, to why meat and fish can be cured by using salt, we crossed into chemistry and back into biology, agriculture and spent a good chunk of time on ethics too.

It’s the big picture that counts indeed. Fragmented learning can be done by memorizing facts and phrases if needed, but learning that helps them make sense of the world we’re in only happens when facts are tied in with thinking and asking questions.

No self-consciousness, no fear of ‘stupid questions’; it’s all about thinking, wondering, bringing stories together, historical facts too, adding scientific explanations and leaving it all a bit open-ended so the conversation can continue at a next meal, at the next apple slicing or tasting of the apricot jam that invites itself to a cup of hot tea on a cold fall afternoon… To be continued.

Gardening in a clay-rich soil like the one we have at the moment where we live is a mighty challenging deed. Growth is stunted which makes produce small. Plus, deer traffic through the back yard… well, you know. They help themselves. If they don’t get to it, wild rabbits do. It’s both amusing and frustrating, with an element of awe which comes from realizing that we share the living space with wild creatures. A lesson for another day…

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.