My 4 Year Old’s Bucket List

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Here is one from the archives (March of last year).  Made me smile.

My children and I were sitting at home, looking at a raised relief map of Colorado.  My son, who is 4, asked, “Are those the Andes Mountains?” I explained to him that they were called the Rocky Mountains, and showed him on the globe where the Andes Mountains were.  “Can we Climb the Rocky Mountains?”

“Yes!  Of course we can,” I replied, “But it might be a while before we do.”

Later, we were putting together a jumbo United States puzzle.  Each state was a piece of the puzzle, and many of the states had pictures on them, showing what might be found in that state.  It was then my son informed me that he would like to go canoeing in Oregon, hug a cactus in Arizona, and visit some hay in Montana.

At 4 years old, my son is a little young to have a “Bucket List,” but I guess he is getting an early start.  It is such a pleasure to see his sense of adventure, and his eagerness to explore the world.  And who knows, maybe our next vacation will be to Arizona, and we can all hug a cactus.

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Learning From Trees #3: Bonsais

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Throughout our day, we have many interactions with people.  Some of them may be positive, while others may not be so positive.  After a negative encounter we may wonder, Why does this person behave in such a way?  How could this person be so heartless (inconsiderate, rude, oblivious, cold, cruel et cetera)?

Well, this is an excellent question, and there is probably a reason for their undesirable behavior.  It is also not only possible, but quite likely that they have asked themselves the same question, and have tried unsuccessfully to change.  Why is it so hard to do what we know is right?  Is it just human nature?

What people become under one set of circumstances does not tell us very much about what they might have become under another.  Japanese gardeners, over many centuries, have learned to do things to trees, to clip their roots or trim their branches, to limit their supply of water, air, or sun, so that they live, and for a long time, but only in tiny, shrunken, twisted shapes.  Such trees may please us, or they may not. But what could they tell us about the nature of trees?  If a tree can be deformed and shrunk, is this, then, its nature?  The nature of these trees, given enough of the sun, air, water, soil, and food they need, is to grow like trees, tall and straight.

People can be more easily deformed, and worse deformed, even than trees—and more than trees, they feel it, it hurts.  But this cannot and does not say anything about their nature.  Only to the degree that people have what they need, that they are healthy and unafraid, that their lives are varied, interesting, meaningful, productive, joyous, can we begin to judge, or even guess, their nature.  Few people, adults or children, now live such lives.  Perhaps few ever did.  There is no way to find out how much good or kindness there may be in human nature, except to build or try to build a society on the assumption that people are or would like to be good and kind, a society in which to be good and kind is at least not a handicap.  Until we are able to do this, it would be more wise and fair, and even prudent, to give human beings the benefit of the doubt.” –John Holt

Perhaps we ought to take Mr Holt’s advice, and show a little grace not only to others, but to ourselves.

Ruining Socialization For The Rest Of Us

If you have homeschooled for more than a few minutes, someone has confronted you about the “Socialization” issue.  I will not bother re-hashing the same debate, because you can’t walk ten paces on the internet without running into it.

I would, however, like to point out that the more society relies on school to socialize children, the more scarce social opportunities become even for those of us who don’t.  As an unschooler, I am worried that my children may not have enough positive social experiences.  But that is not because they aren’t in school, its because so many others are.

  • Many of the young children (who would just make excellent playmates for our little ones) are locked up for the majority of the day
  • When the children are released, they are hesitant to make bonds with “outsiders” and are more comfortable playing with those who they already know.
  • Many adults are shocked (and even offended) at the sight of children during school hours.  So, instead of acknowledging our children, greeting them, and interacting with them, they recoil in fear and gasp “what the hell was that?” under their breath.
  • Adults who our children manage to get close to are not used to having wee ones taking an interest in whatever “adult task” they may be performing.  Instead of offering to show them how that tool works, they give a firm “Don’t play with that, its not a toy” and offer to turn on the television.

So, in a sense, all those people who want to know how you will socialize your kids have a legitimate concern (albeit misguided).  In a culture where the majority of the population is institutionalized from a very young age, there are not nearly so many social opportunities available.  Maybe if everyone homeschooled (or unschooled) their children, we could get back to socializing again, just like humanity did before public school arrived on the scene.

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Checkmate Dad! (Putting an end to my bias toward “Educational” activites)

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There was a time when I had a clear distinction in my mind between “Educational” and “Mindless” activities.  I even had a mental scale, or rating system that I used to determined which activities would be more or less educational.

When my children would chose an educational activity (Studying the globe for example) I would be filled with joy and satisfaction, knowing that they would soon be silencing my critics with their display of awesome knowledge.  When they chose a less educational activity (watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for example)  I would be filled with anxiety, fear, and disappointment.

One place where this mental dichotomy would manifest itself is our local library.  We would walk into the children’s department, and the first thing my children would see:  The computers.  “Why?”  I would think, “Why can’t they look at books?  That is what we are here for, maybe they would actually LEARN something!  Must they spend the entire trip on the computer EVERY time we come here?”

On one of these trips my son (aged 5 at the time) stumbled upon a chess game on the library computer.  He fell in love.  For the next 3 weeks everything was chess.  He watched instructional videos to learn the names of the pieces and how they move, he played chess on the kindle and on the computer at home, and EVERY time we went to the library.  He was chess obsessed, and he was getting pretty good at it.

Had I insisted that he stay off of the Library computer, and go pick out books, he never would have had the joy of finding something that he loved.   By steering our kids toward activities we believe to be more “educational” we may just be robbing them of an opportunity to find something they are passionate about.

At any rate, our beliefs about what is “educational” are made up prejudices, and we should do everything in our power to make sure our children participate in any activity they desire, without regard to our biased opinion.

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Are You Qualified to Teach Your Children?

Another re-post from my old blog:

When people find out that our children are home-schooled (Well, unschooled actually) They usually respond by shifting the conversation to a more comfortable topic, such as…well, anything but homeschooling.  However, when speaking to less timid folks, the conversation can quickly turn into an interrogation.

“Whats wrong with the schools in our community?”
“Didn’t you go to public school?”
“How will your children learn to socialize?”
“How will they learn to take instruction?”
“How will they learn discipline?”
“How will they get a job without a diploma?”

And then there is my personal favorite, “What makes you think you are qualified to teach your children?”

When I was first confronted with this question, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to answer it.  I came up with all kinds of legitimate answers, as well as finding statistics comparing the performance of home-schoolers to children taught in public school.  But no matter what answer I came up with, it still didn’t feel right.

I then realized something that has completely changed the way I look at my children’s education.  I am NOT qualified to teach them.  My critics were right all along, I do not have what it takes to educate my own children.  But the good news is, they are qualified to learn.  Every child has within them the capacity to learn from their surroundings, without school, without a curriculum, and without a teacher.  So maybe you don’t have a teaching degree, but don’t let that stop you from allowing your curious, and resourceful children from learning naturally, and with joy, on a daily basis.

“Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom.”   -Albert Einstein

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Inside an Elementary School

Occasionally for work, I make visits to local elementary schools.  I have the opportunity to see the way many (if not most) children are spending the bulk of their waking hours.  Having four young children myself, I know what they are capable of.  Children are creativity machines, always singing, dancing, building, digging, experimenting and exploring.  They have a tremendous drive to take in as much of the world around them as possible.  They are bursting with excitement at the newness of everything.  Imagine having 200-300 of these little imaginative beasts crammed into one area!  What would that look like?  What would they learn, create, and discover?

Well, I have seen what it looks like, and it is quite disturbing.  Today was my first visit of the school year to a few local elementary schools.   Each of the schools I visited was the pretty much the same.  None of the children spoke (At least not loud enough for me to hear).  They moved silently in single file lines, and the only sound was the commands and reprimands of the adults.

You couldn’t have asked for more docile and obedient children, but the school staff still found reasons to chastise.  One student put out his arm, and ran his hand along the wall as he walked (still in line) toward the cafeteria.  “Aiden, the wall does not need dusting!”

As I made my way through the school, I heard a teacher inform the students that they ought to walk “Single file through the hall please, quiet as a butterfly,” on hearing this, one of the more spirited children gently flapped her arms (like a butterfly), “SASHA!  We are not birds!”  Whoa.

It was pathetic.  The teachers were really grasping at straws.  On my way out I heard “Why would you put water in your hair!? Why? Just, WHY!?”  I turned to see a boy, not drenched as I was expecting, but patting his slightly damp head with his hand.

These are young kids we are talking about, anywhere from 4 to 10 years old.  I can’t believe that I am the only one who doesn’t think this is a natural or healthy way for them to behave.  And it is not enough for them to be silent for six hours, and walk in single file lines, but they need to keep their arms at their side, not touch anything, and whatever you do, don’t let any of them put water in their hair.

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Bonsai Children

I found this post while revisiting one of my old blogs.  I thought it deserved a re-post.

I have a fondness for bonsai trees.  They are quite amazing, and if  I had the patience to grow them, or money to buy them, my home would certainly be a bonsai forest.

As I was sitting and thinking of the techniques used in growing bonsais:  The pruning, trimming, clamping, and wiring.  And thinking also of the outcome:  The size, the artificial appearance of maturity, the constant care that is required.  I compared these aspects to those of their wild counterparts, which are tall and majestic, with spreading branches, elaborate root systems, and no need for human hands to care for them.

Is it unfair for me to draw these same comparisons between the schooled mind, and the mind that was free to learn for itself?

At school, children are shaped into a form that may not be natural for them, but is acceptable to society.  They acquire an appearance of maturity, but it is merely an illusion based in fear.  They are kept contained for 6 hours (or more) a day so that their roots cannot reach deep into the ground, and find their own source of happiness.  Without school, children are limited only by their nature.  They are free to become themselves, whether that be a shrub or a sequoia, they will be themselves, and in that, there is much joy.

The main difference is that the growth of the bonsai gives a sense of joy and accomplishment to the grower, while the growth of the wild tree gives a sense of accomplishment and joy to the tree.

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“Speak To Me Of God”

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“I said to the almond tree, ‘Friend, speak to me of God,’ and the almond tree blossomed” ~Nikos Kazantzakis

There is an indescribable completeness that one finds in commune with nature.  It gives contentedness and joy; it feeds the soul.  Days spent in a sterile, synthetic environment lead to separation, discontent, worry, and fatigue, but time spent in nature brings peace.

Make every effort to deepen your connection with nature, and with yourself.  breathe the air, feel the earth, take in the sunshine.  Hear the wisdom of the earth and follow its guidance.

Learning From Nature #6

IMG_20140726_161303931“As a child, one has that magical capacity to move among the many eras of the earth; to see the land as an animal does; to experience the sky from the perspective of a flower or a bee; to feel the earth quiver and breathe beneath us; to know a hundred different smells of mud and listen unself- consciously to the soughing of the trees.”  ~Valerie Andrews

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jacques Fresco: This Shit’s Got to Go!

There is not much I can add to this, it pretty much speaks for itself.

“I’ve watched humanity set the stage for it’s own extinction. I’ve watched as the precious finite resources are perpetually wasted and destroyed in the name of profit and ‘free’ markets. I’ve watched the social values of society be reduced into a base artificiality of materialism and mindless consumption, and I have watched as the monetary powers control the political structure of supposedly free societies. – I’m 94 years old now, and I’m afraid my disposition is the same as it was 75 years ago: This shit’s got to go!”  ~Jacques Fresco