Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Old Schoolhouse Expo - Free Ticket Giveaway!

Hey everyone! The Old Schoolhouse magazine is having a week long online homeschooling Expo in August so I'm sharing about it here on my blog for anyone interested in this super awesome experience.  For helping to spread the word, I receive a free ticket to the Expo as well as a free ticket to give away to some lucky homeschool mom.  If you're interested, please comment or message me and let me know. The contest for the free ticket will run through August 11, 2013. Also, please check out the information from The Old Schoolhouse about the Expo below. :)

Down a Rabbit Trail

The Old Schoolhouse Expo 
Special Event

Get Ready!  Get Set!  No need to “go”!  The Old Schoolhouse invites you to attend a week long Expo event from the comfort of your home! That’s right!  No fuel costs, no travel involved, no need for a sitter, no waiting in lines! This Expo includes live presentations from some of the biggest names in homeschooling! All homeschoolers will benefit from the wealth of information and inspiration shared each day.  Don’t have time to commit to an entire week?  No problem!  

The Expo will be recorded and you will have access to any and all sessions that you miss.  What a great way to jump start the school year!  Mark it on your calendar and tell your family you will be attending your first Parent/Teacher conference of the year!   Join us August 19-23 from 1:00 PM – 8:00 PM (Eastern). For more information and to purchase your ticket, go to  

Wouldn’t it be nice to have access to a bunch of “big-name” homeschoolers all in one place?  Just think how refreshing it would be to gain perspective through the eyes of the ones who have years of homeschooling experience and advice to share!  The Old Schoolhouse is about to make this a reality!  You are invited to join us for a week long Expo Extravaganza event August 19-23 from 1:00 PM – 8:00 PM – all from the comfort of your home and through your favorite device.  

You’ll hear sessions from special guests including:  

Ray Comfort                              Carol Topp

Dean Butler                               Adam Andrews

Todd Wilson                              Andrew Pudewa

Jessica Hulcy                             Ann Dunagan

Diana Waring                            Christine Field

Dr. Jay Wile                              David C. Gibbs III

Hal & Melanie Young                  David Stelzl

Kim Kautzer                              Davis Carman

Antony Kolenc                           Evonne Mandella

Terri Johnson                            Tyler Hogan

Andy Harris                               Marie Rippel

Jennifer Courtney                       Deborah Wuehler

Joaquin Fernandez                      Heather Laurie

Malia Russell

Don’t wait!  Seats are limited! Go today and get signed up for an event that will leave you equipped, refreshed, encouraged, and ready to tackle a new school year.

and MORE!

Keeping Caterpillars in the Kitchen

Wordless Wednesday on Only Passionate Curiosity
This is a Blog Hop! Link up with us by leaving your link here, and then grab the Blog Hop code

Only Passionate Curiosity - Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop

Friday, July 26, 2013

Unschooling: It's Personal

Whenever people ask me about "this unschooling thing", it's gotten to the point where I'm pretty darn quick to clarify that *I* was unschooled, as was my younger sister. 

I guess I want people to have that perspective before the discussion really gets going, because conversations usually go one of two ways.  Genuine curiosity -or- curiosity of the "look at that train wreck" variety. 

You know the kind...the hang their head out the car window gawkers, the neck craners, the "don't take this personally, I love the whole 'idea' of unschooling, BUT I want *my* children to grow up to..." - fill in the blank. educated.
...get into college.
...know how to read.
...learn to do things they don't want to.
...not be lazy. able to get a job.
...handle a schedule.
...respect authority. well-rounded.
...make goals and achieve them.

Whoa! Just go ahead and back the bus up right there.  

I want those same things for my children. My parents wanted them for me and my sister.  What's important to recognize is that are many paths that can be taken in order to reach those goals.

My sister and I began our homeschooling journey back in the olden days...otherwise known as the 80's.

With the exception of "pretending" to do A.C.E.'s PACES worktexts the first year (talk about train wrecks), we were homeschooled using an entirely interest-led, unschooling approach - me from 9th grade on and my younger sister from 4th grade all the way through high school.  

Me with my parents and grandparents at my graduation open house.
Check out the awesomeness that was my hair.

We both went on to college, obtaining degrees in our fields of interest. Some of what we did looked pretty moments. Most of what we did looked nothing like anything resembling "traditional".  

At the time, my parents weren't aware of any "label" for how we learned back then. We simply did what we did. My mom and dad always gave a very simple explanation of how we homeschooled...that they encouraged us girls to follow our interests.  And that we did. Passionately. :)

I think I turned out okay. Normal. Mostly, anyway.  I'm certainly not a train wreck. 

Me with my lovely baby sister.

Because of my personal experience with unschooling, I feel pretty confident and secure in how my own children learn. I'm secure in the knowledge that 90% of what parents stress about and push their kids to do academically in the name of "homeschooling" is entirely unnecessary.  I know that the same goals can be achieved. That you have complete control over the how and why. You can change things, drop stuff...tweak it all. That at any point in time, for your own reasons, you can take a step back...and wait. I know without a shadow of a doubt that you can take a deep breath, relax and enjoy your children - and let them *be* children. I feel passionately that you can partner with your kids, give them freedom, flexibility and control when it comes to their learning, and they will turn out more than just "okay". They will flourish. They will thrive. 

Backing up to that list from above...

I've had a good number of people ask curious, well meaning questions about, share their personal opinions on and even offer warnings about the failures in and dangers of unschooling and the more relaxed, interest-led homeschooling approaches. Now, I absolutely love sharing about my experiences. Love, love, love. But I am not so much interested in defending or debating what, how and why we do what we do.  If you're genuinely curious, GREAT!  I'll share with you about unschooling and interest-led learning till your ears bleed!  Once I get to rambling, you'll wish you'd never asked! 

Just know that if you'd like to share your opinion on how unschooling won't or doesn't work - be prepared. 

I'll take it personally...because for me, it's definitely a personal experience.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Learning to Read: Nudging, Pushing and Pimp Slaps

Both of my daughters crossed that magical line into reading "fluency" at around the same time...each in the second half of their 2nd grade year.  I know there was YEARS of build up, but still, it seemed to happen overnight. Like magic. Their individual journeys to get there were vastly different but after partnering, guiding, facilitating and then just plain old staying out of the way, I felt pretty confident that my youngest, a boy, would find his own way too, in his own time. 

 And yet...

He didn't seem to be as interested in the whole reading thing.  Being read *to*, yes! But not reading for himself.

Being 6 and not interested didn't bother me.  Not a bit.

Being 7 and not interested didn't bother me.  Not really.

Being 8 and not interested didn't...wait, that started to bother me.

So I tried a little bit of extra "nudging".  Nudging that was not well received by my son.  Now, I'm a big fan of a well placed and gentle nudge but it should be noted that continuing to offer unwelcome nudging is nudging no longer.  It becomes pushing.  Ack.  I knew better and yet here I was - pushing.  So I backed off.  Well, let's be honest here. I backed off after I went ahead and made a bit of a mess of things.  But I backed off.  I took a deep breath and continued on - continued to read to him, answer his questions about what things said in his video games and on television, birthday cards, signs and books he would look through.  At night when I read aloud to him before bed I would still offer to read with him if he wanted. Sometimes. Sometimes not.  And sometimes he wanted to.  And sometimes not so much.  And then were times when I didn't offer, that *he* asked.  A book that seemed to click for him, that prompted him to ask more nights than not to read to me, was The Children's Story Bible.

It was at this point in the whole process that this 8 year old of mine informed me one night as we were reading together, that he reads all the time during the day.  All the time.

Really...?? The schoolish part of me (a very teeny tiny part but still there to rear her disdainful head from time to time) clucked her tongue and said, "I don't see any of that going on and if I don't see it and hear it and measure it, then it didn't happen. And besides, whatever it is he's doing is NOT the same thing as sitting down with ME and *practicing* reading."

I promptly pimp slapped the schoolish part of me.  Hard.  She didn't even see it coming. 

And then I listened to my young son as he matter of factly told me how he reads everywhere we go.  How when nobody is watching him or asking him questions, he reads signs.  Street signs, signs in restaurants, at the library, businesses we drive by and stop in...signs EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME.

I smiled and told him how awesome that was. And that one day soon he'd be able to read anything and everything without even having to try, he just *would* - just like his older sisters.  Of this, he was still a tad doubtful.

After that conversation I began to pay a bit more attention.  I discreetly watched him at moments throughout the day. Watched how observant he was, noticed the times where he stood looking at a sign or a cereal box...quietly, sometimes mouthing the words to himself.  And the unschooler in me went ahead and called forth that schoolish part (the part I'd pimp slapped with relish into a dark, isolated corner).  "See? Do you see that?  That's how it happens.  Shame on you for making me doubt, for making me not see the full value and beauty in *that*."

My son is 9 now and will be a 4th grader this fall.  He enjoys reading shorter books with lots of pictures or illustrations thrown in here and there.  As his skills grow, so does his confidence in himself.  The lure of food coupons and cheap toys through our local library's summer reading program, has prompted yet another burst in his reading fluency.  So now at night before I read to him, he'll lay there reading a Mr. Putter and Tabby book.

I just sit there with him, keeping him company, waiting my turn to read to him.  Sometimes he reads out loud to me. Other times he reads silently to himself, occasionally turning the book around and pointing to a word he can't figure out. 

The schoolish part of me would make him sound it out, figure it out for himself.   But she's cowering in the corner - where she belongs.  And the unschooler in me simply answers my son's question. :)

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Modern Complexities of Nature Study: How to Raise a Tadpole

When I was kid, I remember finding tadpoles in the creek that ran through our backyard and sticking them in an old metal cookie tin with a bit of water and covering it with the lid - then promptly forgetting about the little fellas for like a week and a half.  Checking back on them, the tadpoles had magically transformed into little toadlets.  Ah, the miracle and design of life. :)

 So tell me...why is it that it just doesn't seem to be quite so simple NOW??

I've pondered if it's a matter of the difference between tree frog tadpoles and toad tadpoles. ?  Or maybe that their housing situation involved having 300 plus of them dwelling together in one smallish habitat.

 Perhaps.  But these are the tadpole cards you're dealt when you're plucked from the clutches of certain death - i.e. rescued from a pool cover by a soft hearted and sympathetic 12 year girl.

But it does *seem* far too complicated.  Our little tree frog tadpoles are extremely sensitive to their water temperature, too much sun, not enough sun, too much water, not enough water, water too clean, water too cloudy.  Too many fellow tadpoles and not enough of a varied diet cause them to turn on each other, devouring their brothers and sisters like the ravenous little cannibalistic monsters that they are.  Side note: we no longer have 300. :(

And there I am...changing their water every other day, delicately straining them out of the old and gently transferring them to the new. I even go so far as to warm up a cup or two of ice cold hose water on the stove so as to not shock their delicate little bodies.

And food???  Oy.  Besides each other, they are provided with a rich and varied diet of bacon (they prefer cooked to raw), turkey lunch meat, cantaloupe, banana, boiled lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, plenty of algae, and the yum of all yums...freeze dried blood worms.  (I'm pretty sure they're also eating all the water snail egg case jellies, since those keep mysteriously "disappearing" off the sides of the container and off the algae covered rocks in the habitat.)

I don't remember things being this complicated when I was a kid, but the fruits of my and the kids' labor is finally paying off.  We have a good ten tree frog tadpoles with an awkward combination of back and front legs!  We've also had a handful of little tree froglets whose body shapes have changed and their color shifted from a dirty, greenish brown to a very bright and pretty green - one of these we've already released into the garden by our mini-pond area and two apparently crawled up the sides of the habitat to glorious froggy freedom during the night.  Godspeed, little froglets.

3 down!  Only 50 or so more to go. *sigh*

This post shared at Fisher Academy's Nature Study Monday linkup!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Keep Calm and Step Away From the Books!

You may have noticed that there tends to be a heavy emphasis on the literature aspect when it comes to the Charlotte Mason method. Now, don't get me wrong, I love books. Nope, "love" isn't strong enough a word.  Adore. Revere. Borderline worship. There's nothing quite like the smell of a book (new and old alike) or the weight of one in your hand...I cart one around with me whether I'm going to have time to read it or not. My husband would consider that there are far too many books stacked all over our home, in every book and cranny possible. It should also be noted that you can never ever have too many book shelves.

Don't worry, I am very aware of my potential issue - that I am possibly one family crisis away from being an unequivocal book hoarder in need of an intervention. I'm dealing with it. Sort of. :)

With all that said, here comes the but...

Our society in general loves to place books on this pedestal - higher than, more important than and better than any other medium for learning. And with the Charlotte Mason method, the idea I see pushed at times is not only that books are better but that the older the book, the dustier the book, the more difficult to read and challenging the book...the more in line with CM it must be and therefore, better.  If a child (or parent for that matter) struggles with the selections, the amount, the complexity, the language of this wide variety of literature selections, the advice often given is to dig your heels in and plow through it. :(

Let's take a moment and go ahead and put books in their place. They are books. Just books. Nothing more than books.

With regards to CM, the best of the best were to be carefully chosen and used as a tool to widen our children's world.  (I'll add here that the best of the best didn't stop being written in the early 1900's. Older is not necessarily better. Just saying.) But let's put things into some perspective. What I personally pull from the Charlotte Mason method is not how a child's entire education revolved around the use of whole and living books.  I know it can seem that way perhaps at first glance, but take the time to look deeper.  

She emphasized forming relationships and making connections with people, things and ideas.  She emphasized learning from an abundance of real life, hands-on experiences - not just great literature. I don't get the impression she would have ever advocated learning something from a book over going out and experiencing it for yourself, first hand.  You really just can't get any more hands-on than the Charlotte Mason method. :)

So there. Books settled nicely into their proper place. A tool. One of many. :) 

Museums, trips, travel, nature walks, games, handicrafts, real-life, hands-on activities and experiences, a variety of whole and living books - and one of our family's favorite tools, documentaries.  While a lot of CM purists would seem to shun the use of technology, I feel Charlotte Mason would have been absolutely over the moon at the wide variety of fantastic documentaries we have available to us.  History, science, name it. There is most definitely an abundance of breathtaking, "living" documentaries out there.  

If our goal is to widen and expand our children's world, to put them in touch with the best of the best, let's use all the wonderful resources available to us. Let's provide our children with a buffet of resources, materials and experiences - with a living, breathing education. 

Go ahead, expand your world...keep calm and step away from the books. 

Down a Rabbit Trail Facebook page

Unschooling Charlotte Mason Facebook group

Monday, July 8, 2013

Ninja Style Froggin' Skills: How I Totally Rock Nature Study

My husband is a cop. And not the "Officer Friendly, can I help get your poor little kitten out of that tree" kind of cop. Definitely more of a "by the book, just the facts ma'am" kinda guy. But this man of mine tolerates me and the kids having to stop and rescue pokey roadside turtles, the containers of caterpillars and slugs as our kitchen table centerpieces, and a tree frog and water snail nursery completely taking over our back deck area.  In fact, he often sends me texts and pictures when he's at work of all the frogs and toads he comes across late at night while he patrols. He's even been known to make a quick stop, buy a cheap container and bring home some wandering roadside critters for our nature studies. 

Recently, we were on our way home extremely late at night and my husband wanted to show us the area where he sees all the frogs and toads when he's on duty, so we drove out to take a look.  Low and behold, little frogs and toads EVERYWHERE!!!! Jackpot! :)

It would be at this moment, that both my husband, Tim, and my son, Zach, looked at *me* expectantly.  -_____-

Problem #1:  Libby (12) is the family frog whisperer. The girl with the net. The girl with the skill and the talent.  The girl who looks super-duper cute when she's out froggin' and critter catching.  And she was not with us.

Problem #2:  Zach (9) is a straight-up germaphobe. While he loves observing and assisting, he will not touch a frog or toad unless he has immediate access to a sink and lots of soap.

Problem #3:  No net in the van.

Problem #4:  No critter container in the van.

But still...this look of expectancy from the two men in my life.  So flash forward one hour later and here are my conclusions.

#1:  I totally ROCK when it comes to sneaking up on and catching little tiny frogs and toads with nothing more than my bare hands. In the dark. In the rain.  ROCK I TELL YA! :)

#2:  You can fit an extraordinary amount of amphibians in an empty 44oz. Speedway cup.  Looked a tad awkward for them but...

#3:  Crawdads crossing the road in the dark look an awful lot like giant spiders. Which should be noted that in the moment is utterly terrifying. :(

#4:  Judging from the sound of laughter coming from the van as I exercised my ninja-like froggin' skills...I do NOT look nearly as stinkin' cute as my daughter Libby does when she does it.

The End.