Friday, April 01, 2005

Unschooling on April Fool's

Wonderers sometimes ask what a typical unschooling day looks like. Often, the responses they receive aren't exactly typical. Of course, as misunderstood as unschoolers generally are, we sometimes feel the need to put on our best face for outsiders. So, the answers tend to focus on amazing field trips, ultra-cool park days, and the processes of learning those important-to-schools subjects: math, reading, etc.

Of course, we go on field trips (sometimes to museums or zoos or a recreation of 1880s farm life, but more often to grocery stores, banks, post offices, and thrift shops), but that isn't every day. Some days, we stay at home (or at least within our own neighborhood).

Of course, Kenzie learns "schoolish" things, but it's not usually a focus in his life. He doesn't often cook, a favorite exercise to convince people that math can happen through everyday life, and he doesn't read the classics on his own (though he enjoys me reading them to him). We haven't yet made a volcano with baking soda; nor have we acquired a microscope or telescope (though we're working on it). So, what do our days look like?

Today, Kenzie woke up at 7:15 ready to play Toontown. He fished for a few minutes, played some mini-games, and then decided to defeat cogs to complete "Toon Tasks." In order to do this more easily, players team up, often putting each other on their "friends lists." Kenzie takes these lists very seriously and considers the characters true friends. Today, however, after Kenzie helped a new "friend" complete her or his task, he received a notice that he had been deleted from that player's friend list. He was distraught. How could someone use him like that? Didn't that person like him? We had a long discussion about the people behind the characters. They're especially difficult to see in Toontown because the chat is comprised of pre-made phrases, such as "Hi," and "We did it!" and "Have a nice day!" There are a few negative phrases, but generally speaking, it's difficult to discern the players behind the characters.

We realized it was April Fool's Day and decided to look up sites with good April Fool's tricks. Then, Kenzie lined up hundreds of his new superhero cards in paths throughout the house. There were paths leading into all the different rooms, into the closets, and behind the comfy chairs. Then, he would hide at the end of one of the paths and call out for me to find him. We played this game for an hour or so. When I found him, he gave me a stack of superhero cards; when I couldn't, he yelled out, "April Fool's!"

After finding Kenzie for the tenth or
twelfth time, we decided we wanted to try out the new ice cream in the freezer. Kenzie read off the ice cream's description and asked why there were so many sweet things in it (chocolate ice cream with caramel swirls, chocolate-covered nuts, and brownie pieces). Was Bryers trying to get more people to buy it? We talked for awhile about the reasons companies might want to focus on consumers' tastes and interests, and we both decided that we were more likely to buy ice cream that contained things we like (such as brownies and caramel!).

Kenzie came up with a plan for an April Fool's Day party to which he'd invite his neighborhood friends once they returned from school. There would be jokes and gags and silly costumes. He designed, drew, and wrote out the invitations, and he looked through the pantry and refrigerator to find party foods, finally settling on popsicles. He pictured himself as the butler at the party and looked forward to serving his guests their choice of artificial flavors. After searching for party food, though, he decided he was hungry and made himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat and an apple for lunch.

During his bath, he noticed the lines and whorls on his palms and fingers and asked me about them. I told him that some people believe that you can read a person's future in their palms, and I brought out my old palmistry guide (my mother entertained visions of me working my way through college by telling fortunes part time). Eventually, Kenzie decided the lines on his palm were a mansion and a swimming pool, and his fingers were the gates to his lavish future home.

He began to get dressed for the party hours in advance. The theme of the party required Kenzie to look like a trickster, so he ravaged his costume bin for clothing that would fit the part. Eventually, he decided on this:

Somehow or another, we ended up talking about discerning the genders of birds. We discussed their colorings and markings, and Kenzie asked about the gender of a small, migratory bird we found in the mouth of a cat a few months back. We took the tiny, yellow creature to a wildlife rehabillitator and left it in his expert care, hoping for the best. We had decided that it was a juvenile orange-crowned warbler that had flown down from Canada for the winter, and Kenzie remembered how it reminded him of a canary. He asked where canaries live (other than in cages), and I told him that I was fairly certain they hail from the Canary Islands (and, amazingly, I was right). He was sure I had made the place up, so I searched the Internet for a map. We decided it would be easier to "see" it on the globe, and he brought that out. So, of course, for the next half hour, we played the "Where Am I Going to Live?" game. Kenzie's favorite future residence? The Plateau of Tibet, sometimes called "The Roof of the World." Today, I ended up landing in the middle of the ocean more often than not, and when I was lucky enough to find land, my fingers inevitably landed on either Ethiopia or the Middle East.
We talked about wars, and droughts, and famines. We discussed climate, and governments, and name changes (our globe is old enough to show the U.S.S.R.). When we tired of the game, we put the globe away.

After reading an email about Homestar Runner now being a subscription service, we decided to check it out for ourselves. Ah, more April Fool's tomfoolery! "New Annual Fee! Same Content! More Banner Ads!" Kenzie was upset because he couldn't access the regular, expansive site, and he's looking forward to tomorrow when the animated characters will be up and running, again.

We then found a Lego designer's webpage and spent quite a bit of time looking through his creations. Amazing. We discussed how he creates them without ready-made designs, how many bricks the sculptures use, how he makes money (works at Legoland, sells his sculptures, custom builds sculptures, gives talks and presentations, etc.), and whether or not he enjoys his work. I'm betting that tomorrow will involve lots of Lego bricks spread out across the living room floor.

By this time, it was 5:30, and Kenzie went off in search of friends to invite to his April Fool's Day party. We had pulled out eight joke books, set up a table in the front yard, and gotten the tickets to the party ready for the partygoers (these, of course, were superhero cards). Unfortunately, none of his neighborhood friends could come over today. However, he was able to jump on a friend's trampoline for a few hours, and he came home happy and tired.

After dinner, we read a few chapters of "The Tin Woodman of Oz." This is the only book of the series we haven't finished. Kenzie and I are big Oz fans, and we dream of someday visiting the Wizard of Oz museum.

From his bed, he asked me several "what if you were" questions. "What would you say if you were a talking pebble?"

"No, no!" I answered. "Don't throw me into the lake! I can't swim!"

"Okay, what if you weren't near any water?"

"Hey! Stop stepping on me! Don't you have any respect for those smaller than you?"

He laughed and asked me several others. Then, he chose a book called This is London by Miroslav Sasek and settled back to read. He was soon asleep.


At April 02, 2005 8:50 AM, Blogger gina said...

WOW. I love "day" posts! They provide lots of good ideas, insight and SUPPORT! I found your blog throught the AHA. I'll be adding your link to my sidebar.

At April 02, 2005 8:53 AM, Blogger gina said...

maybe you could comment a tmy friends blog -
she's feeling some pressure about unschooling and is having some moments of self-doubt. :) linking here might be just what she needs!

At April 03, 2005 11:36 PM, Blogger Shana said...

Thanks, Gina! I posted a comment to her blog. Some days, it's difficult to persevere, especially when there aren't clear signs of "learning" (such as test scores and report cards and "good reader" awards).


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