Nomadic Dreamers
...our unschooling journey

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Location: Fairbanks, Alaska, United States

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Baptism by blaster

Last night T introduced me to Star Wars Battlefront II. I know T is extremely proficient at videogames, but my experience gives me new appreciation for his skill. I wasn't just bad --- I was TERRIBLE. I grew up as a part of the Atari generation: a simple joystick and a fire/jump button. The PS2 controller scares me....arrow buttons, two joysticks, and the X, square, circle, and triangle buttons. Oh yes, we can't forget the multiple left and right buttons that run along the side of the controller. Of course, this game uses all of them. I knew I was doomed from the very beginning.....

T was patient -- extremely patient -- with me and encouraged me all the way, as I banged into walls, shot the ceilings, and fell off cliffs. He even ran me through the tutorial, giving me tips and rooting me on when I died spectacularly again and again. I have to admit it was fun....but exhausting!

Today T rummaged through some of our older computer games and decided he wanted to play "Age of Empires" and "Civilization III." He only played Age of Empires for a bit but spent a number of hours on Civilization III; he would run to the top of the stairs and shout down to me everytime he made peace/declared war/conquered a city. He was quite successful in his game and, needless to say, there was quite a lot of shouting going on.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

And the school system rears its ugly head

*Sigh* Just when you think you are out of the clutches of the public school system, think again! Alaska is supposed to be one of the best states to homeschool; we don't have to notify or seek the approval of anyone. T's former school, however, doesn't see it this way and decided to send us a "nice" letter stating that we are not obeying the law. For a few hours this put me into a panic, with me coming up with scenarios whtat included social services or a truancy officer knocking on my door. That is until some nice, fellow homeschoolers put me at ease. I think the letter was a scare tactic more than anything, in hopes of getting T back into school. Afterall, T is money lost for the school if he is not enrolled. It just infuriates me that they are so "educated" yet I know more about the homeschooling laws than they do. How ironic.... Just in case I have folks that start asking questions, I have prepared a binder for T. It includes the homeschooling laws for AK and a "course of study" that I put together. Once in a while I add in things like places we've visited, books he's read, etc.

Last night we pulled out some PVC pipe and fittings since T wanted to construct his own sewer. He built two different designs and tested them out in the sink and bathtub. He even insisted that I videotape the demonstrations.

Before heading to bed, we watched a bit of "Brother Bear" which led to T asking if bears can see in color (after a quick internet search we found the answer to be "yes!") and making arrowheads out of polymer clay.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Routine Days

We sent Jody a humor themed care package last week, which contained some DVD comedies, T's first movie "The Evit Two", a "Calvin and Hobbes" book, the Sunday comics, some Mad Libs that T and I completed, and -- of course -- a rubber chicken. Jody will think we have completely lost our minds, but it was such fun to put together.

A few of T's latest endevours:
Making movies, complete with outtakes (filmed AFTER the movie) and bonus materials (T discussing his reasons for making the films, etc.).
Bit of reading in new hermit crab book
Lots of time on Age of Mythology and Star Wars Battlefront

Recently, T has become quite interested in religion, questioning different Bible stories and asking about various other religions. Except for various discussions at home, T's only real exposure to religion has been in a school setting, as he has attended two different private schools. He even debated theology with his first grade teacher. Thank goodness she was open minded and didn't simply squash his curiosity and questions and dismiss them with a simple "it's in the Bible so you must believe it." T's most recent request is to get copies of The Koran, both in English and in Arabic. I'm going to see if Jody may be able to get a copy of The Koran while he is over in the Sandbox. He's already on the lookout for a book in Arabic for T.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

For the love of owl vomit

Yesterday T and I went to Glow Putt, a nifty little indoor mini golf place that is lit up with blacklights. We had the entire place to ourselves! A few weeks back went mini golfing with the grandparents when they came to visit for Christmas. What a stressful ordeal that was! T was upset and even cried for nearly the entire game! Yesterday was so nice and laidback. We didn't keep score, we gave each other extra tries, cheered each other on, etc. Once we finished, we talked to the gentleman that was working the counter. He happens to co-own the business with one of our local weathermen. Both of them are incredibly friendly and really nice guys. The man working yesterday mentioned that he had just received their brand new commercial, which hadn't yet aired. We watched it on his computer, and T gave him some very positive feedback.

T has always had a variety of interests that his friends (and former schoolmates) just don't share. One of these is owl pellets. Few things excite T more than owl vomit. Yes you read that right. On several different occasions he has had the opportunity to dissect owl pellets (regurgitated undigested remains of animals that the owls prey upon). He has always been fascinated -- or more accurately obsessed -- with bones. Human bones, fish bones, mammal bones. With owl pellets T can carefully pick through the pellet for the bones. Last night I came across "Dirty Jobs" on the Discovery Channel, and what happened to be one of the featured jobs? Owl Vomit Collector!!! I thought it was hilarious; T thought it was terrific.

"Dirty Jobs" ended up keeping us glued to the Discovery Channel for the rest of the evening. We then watched "Mythbusters" (T said we must now watch every "Mythbusters" episode since it was so cool). After that we watched a show on tight-rope walking, which made our palms sweaty for a straight hour!

My lack of confidence when it comes to electronics has had me procrastinating hooking up our new camcorder to the TV. T made several small movies with his friend the other evening and was thrilled to learn they would be able to watch them on the "big screen" instead of the tiny LCD camcorder monitor....that is, if Mom could figure out the technicalities!

Surprisingly, T and I got it figured out very quickly, and soon T was rolling on the floor and howling with laughter as we watched his first endeavor into film making. It was incredibly funny and looked quite a lot like an extremely blurry "Blair Witch Project." As I was messing with the camera, I happened to flip a switch and found us "live" on TV. T thought this was extremely cool and was immediately coming up with ideas, including me setting up the camcorder and acting as a newscaster, while he caused a number of disasters to occur. With it already being after midnight, I asked him if we could postpone that until the next morning. That way I would be able to dig out my tripod in order to secure the camera.

We stayed up very late again last night, talking into the wee hours of the morning about his former school and unschooling. Several folks have asked him if he misses school, what he misses about school, doesn't he miss his friends, etc.. I know people can easily plant little seeds of thought into my mind, which will often make me second guess decisions. I was a bit worried about this with T so I asked him what he thought of people's questions, and if he had doubts about staying home (yeah, asking questions about people asking questions....seems like an oxymoron, but....). He was very adamant about wanting to stay home and went on a bit of a tirade about all the things he didn't like about school. He did mention he missed a few people (namely the librarian!) but quickly said that she said he was welcome to visit any time he liked. "I'd like to visit, Mom, but I don't want to stay!!" He told me about some of the punishments he received in school, like having to copy essays with such topics as "I should consider myself lucky that I get to attend school"! I wish I would have known about that when T was still in school. Some heads would have rolled over that one!

I also gently broached the subject of kids asking him what he learned at homeschool lately. In the past, I have heard him say "nothing." I was a bit concerned that he would begin to think he was lagging behind his peers. He got this incredulous look on his face and said that he has been learning so much....about Egypt, DaVinci, strategies (from his computer games), and a number of other things. That got us on the subject of what different things I had learned on my own outside of school.

T did feel guilty about one thing. He said it wasn't fair that he was able to stay home, play, and learn about whatever he wanted to learn about, while all the other kids were forced to go to school. For a boy whose last teacher said he "shows no empathy for others," T sure has a big heart.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

D&D according to T

T was very disappointed to find out that we had sold Jody's D&D books years ago (not to mention Jody's disappointment now that he realizes T would like to start playing!). Both Jody and I thought we had kept a few, but they are no where to be found. I ordered Jody and T a giftset of D&D books to get them started...the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master Guide, and the Monster Manual. They arrived a few nights ago, and they haven't left T's sight. He went through the Monster Manual page by page and has briefly flipped through the other two books.

Last night T approached me with a mischievous grin and his D&D books under his arm. "LET'S PLAY!" he exclaimed. So, we proceeded to play "D&D according to T." Now, D&D (at least to me) is extremely complicated. I can't seem to wrap my mind around all the tiny intricacies that this game embraces. That didn't seem to bother T in the least. He immediately appointed himself as DM, and we were off playing. He set me up with hit points (for attack and defense) and started me off on an adventure through a set of catacombs. I encountered a number of monsters, fell through floors, visited a mausoleum and stable, discovered chests (some filled with gold and armor, while others contained traps). He even had a few mythical creatures join me in my adventures (a pegasus and later a hippogriff). We rolled dice when we battled, and T took it upon himself to add/subtract the points and kept a running tally in his head. When we decided to wrap it up for the night, T wrote down a series of notes...where we were, what weapons/armor the characters had, the current attack/defense points for the characters, etc.

Most of T's time right now has revolved around playing "Dungeon Siege" and "Age of Mythology." He has found his way through both of these games with little to no help. I'm the one who is always reading manuals on how to play a game, while T just dives right in and is usually much more successful than I. There was a time where he would pass up any portion of a game that had to do with dialog, etc. He now insists on listening and/or reading it and reading/studying any bit of info that happens to pop up while he is playing.

Right now T is downstairs with a friend, coaching him on the finer points of "Star Wars Battlefront" and "Sly 3."

It seems like T and I have become real homebodies these past few weeks. We do love to get out, and it is a rare thing for us to stay home all day. We have, however, not been nearly as active outdoors than in past winters. I think part of it has to do with the crummy snow conditions this winter. I had visions of us cross country skiing often, snowshoeing, etc. This just isn't happening. We could snowshoe, but right now the ski areas are so incredibly icy. I don't have fun, and T gets extremely frustrated with the slick conditions...he really doesn't have fun! I'm also not dealing with the cold very well this year. I seem to always be cold, no matter how I dress. It's just no fun to be out when you are cold. I need to find a remedy to this since there is so much T and I could do outdoors, minus the skiing.....exploring downtown, going on photo shoots around town, and even geocaching. As it is right now, our main exercise is taking Jazzie for her nightly walk (and that is only for 15 min or so). Maybe we'll look into heading to the pool.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Late night philosophical discussions

T's most insightful observations and discussions inevitably occur once he is tucked into bed for the night. Last night was no different, and I found myself leaving his room at 2:30AM!

At first it was just general small talk, and he all of a sudden got this incredibly excited look in his eyes and said "It's 2006! That means new state quarters!!" (He's been collecting the state quarters for about a year now) This revelation led us to pulling out the globe since he wanted to know the exact location of Philadelphia (location of one of the mints), which led us to comparing the distances between Fairbanks and Denver and Fairbanks and Philadelphia and why it is so much more common to see Denver mint quarters in our neck of the woods.

Since we had the globe out, T then said "Let me find where Dad is. I know it's near Egypt so I need to find Egypt!" So he takes a bit of time to find Egypt and quickly finds Iraq and Mosul, which led us to the route Jody's plane took to get to Iraq, and the possibility of us visiting Egypt while Jody is on R&R leave. T then shifted the conversation to Iraq....why we went to war, was it right/wrong, protesting the war, Saddam's trial, whether he would be executed if found guilty or would be given a life sentence, what types of executions are used, and our own creative execution styles (like using the flesh-eating scarabs in "The Mummy").

Ah, yes, we also briefly talked about the Battle of Normandy (and the strategy behind it) and Stonehenge. T happened to have the DVD "Valiant" quietly playing in his room during our conversation which led us to this.

When T was in school he was having problems sleeping and would often be grumpy and difficult to deal with during the school day. While in school, most of the conversations, unfortunately, revolved around all the bad things that had happened that day --- injustices, punishments, teasing, worries about the next day. One day the principal approached me, and I told her about T's tendency to these bedtime discussions. Her response? Only allow him to talk for 5 minutes and then leave the room for the night. This type of attitude is yet another reason why we left the school system behind.

What if I had left his bedroom after only a few minutes? What kind of impression would that have left on T? That his views are neither important or valid? That his parents could really not care less about his troubles at school? Those nightly talks gave T a safe outlet to vent his feelings and frustrations. Ugh. Every time I think of that principal's comment it just makes my blood boil.

One thing that T did mention several times last night was that finding the various locations on the globe was like school, and he seemed quite excited about that. I tried -- in a round about way -- to suggest that he can learn about anything (and mentioned several things he has learned in just the past few days) without it needing to feel like school. For the most part, I think he is settling in well to an unschooling lifestyle, but it's almost unbelievable at how ingrained the school mindset can be. I do worry a bit about him feeling that he isn't learning anything because we don't model school at home, and he may feel pressured to head back to school to "keep up" with his schooling friends. A few weeks back, one of T's friends asked him what he is learning at "homeschool." T replied, "nothing yet." *sigh* He doesn't see that he is indeed learning in his daily activities....playing on the computer, his reading, watching documentaries, taking apart electronics, etc. I believe he thinks he must be doing the constant and tedious worksheets, speed drills, and tests.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Finding joy in "junk"

This morning we woke up to a peaceful crabitat and ever-growing triops -- all is right in our household. LOL

When we first pulled T out of school, I was worried that the days would just drag on, and I would find myself counting down the minutes and hours until T and I would go to bed. I couldn't have been more wrong! I am finding that we are having a difficult time fitting everything we want to do into our waking hours.

Today we had a relaxing morning watching movies and headed out to WalMart this afternoon to get some pictures developed to send to Jody. Once we got home, T had a friend over to play for a bit. His friend had only been gone a few minutes before I saw T hard at work at the kitchen table. He was dismantling a broken PS2 controller. He didn't just remove the main case, he completely removed every tiny piece and then put the now empty shell back together. He asked if he could do more projects like this. I'm going to let him loose on two broken radio/CD players we have lying about the house and may even take him to a thrift store to pick up a few things (small appliances, electronics) if the interest persists. I also plan to research some simple electronics projects. I wish Jody were here since he is much more proficient at these types of things than I am!

This evening we watched yet another mummy documentary, this one was a Nova special about the discovery of the mummy of Rameses the 1st. At the rate we are watching/recording these shows, we'll soon have quite the DVD library of all things Egyptian! The rest of the evening was spent watching Disney's "A Kid in King Arthur's Court" and T read one of Jody's copies of Spawn. The Spawn reading had to have been the highlight of T's week. Both Jody and I had memories of that comic being especially graphic, but it wasn't bad at all (it must be the later ones we are thinking of). T is very HS in some regards so I previewed the comic beforehand. He was thrilled when I gave him the "OK" to look through it.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Unearthing Treasures

For months T has had his eye on a particular book that he saw at Fred Meyer called "The Silent House," a rather thick fantasy novel. Several days ago I relented and bought it for him. On the cover it mentioned that it was written by the same author of the "Forgotten Realms" series, and when T saw this he questioned me on it. Not being too familiar with Forgotten Realms, I told him it was similar to D&D and went on to explain the game and how Jody used to be an avid gamer. I thought we still had a number of D&D manuals lying about the house, and that immediately had T all excited.

Last night I finally tracked down the elusive D&D box and, unfortunately, the only role playing manual was one from Star Wars. T was a bit disappointed but soon discovered that this box held a number of wonderful treasures. He messed a bit with Jody's old bag of gaming dice. He spent most the night looking through the pile of comics....Star Wars, Aliens, and even dug up Jody's Spawn #1 (no he didn't open this one!).

In addition to the comics, we also found Jody's old yearbooks. What fun it was to see them! T got quite a kick out of them, especially seeing his dad with hair. "That's not my father!" he would exclaim ever so dramatically and begin laughing hysterically.

While looking through and categorizing the comics (you can't mix "Aliens: Newt's Tail" with "Alien vs. Predator") we watched a marathon on mummies on Discovery Times....6 hours in all!! One was a two hour special on Rameses, while the others were part of a series called "The Mummy Detective." T insisted on recording it so I am sure we'll be watching part, if not all, of this in the near future.

We started the big triops experiment yesterday and it looks like we may already have a few teeny tiny triops swimming about. Apparently there is some need to keep balance in our home when it comes to pets. As we add new triops to the house, we had some carnage in our crabitat. T and I went to Petco (again!) and came home with three new crabs on Saturday. By the next morning we had a dead crab on our hands. The poor fellow had one of his claws removed, and he had been pulled from his shell. All seems peaceful now; I certainly hope it remains that way.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Always on the Go

T never seems to stop moving. He is always engaged in an activity, sometimes two at a time, and is often rushing to another project after he is finished with his last.

Tonight we watched "Iron Chef America" (he has become an Iron Chef junkie), and he would rush downstairs in hopes of getting a few minutes of gaming time in during commercials. When I would yell that the commercials were over, there was an immediate thundering up the stairs and T bounding onto my bed to watch the latest battle (tonight it was "Battle Clam").

T approaches nearly all aspects of life in this manner. If he finds something that sparks his interest he never goes into it is all or nothing for T.

At school this proved to be extremely problematic. They wanted to label him ADHD, with a huge emphasis on HD. Nevermind that his activity was focused onto a specific project; the teachers and the rest of the staff that had contact with T failed to see this. He never wandered aimlessly about the class and school. He would quickly and efficiently finish work that he found tedious and boring and was then forced to sit placidly until he was forcefed even more unstimulating work.

Being at home allows T to be free, to pursue any and all interests when he chooses. He can spend an hour translating English into runes or hieroglyphics or two minutes glancing at the latest novel he has chosen to read. He can ask one question about a topic and be satisfied or completely immerse himself in a subject.