natural learning

Animated Music Videos

Miss Em has long enjoyed making videos. Whether it’s live filming, Screen Flow vids of her playing online with friends, or animated drawings, her skill with editing grows noticeably each year.

Right now, her interest lies in creating animated music videos to go with her favourite songs (a very Tween thing to do, IMO – she admittedly describes it as “emo”). Not only does she create the animated images frame by frame, but she then must coordinate them with the music. There is a huge skill set she is building here, and it’s hard to deny that she is building expertise in an area that has much potential for a future career. Two ideas we are working on right now are creating a series of workshops for kids who wish to learn digital art skills and also leading an online conference on the subject in The Village – our homeschool program’s online hub.

Recently, she and her BFF decided to work together on a video. Each took a section of song and created images to go with it. I love that she is doing collaborative work: it is such great practice for her socially and emotionally as she navigates the potentially tricky waters of working with someone else’s creations. The clips below are part of a WIP (work in progress) that she agreed to share with me so I can provide an example of her work.

The first clip shows the video intro. HuskyDragonWolvez is her username, reflecting three of her top animal obsessions over the years. DragonWolf Productions is the name of her “company”, and Slenderchu Productions (a combination of two favourite characters – Slenderman and Pikachu) is her friend.

The next clip shows Miss Em’s portion of the video. While only a few seconds long, this represents hours and hours of work. She told me that she was unhappy with the limited options for text effects, and she figured out how to create some of her own by changing the text on a frame-by-frame basis. So those words that seem to pop out of the screen? Yeah, she did that. 🙂 And she also made the words move around and appear to fall down into the water. In fact, that drowning scene is one of my favourites, so full of emotion.

I’m so very proud of her and the hard work she has put into this (and her other projects). This is true passion, right here. This girl, who can barely sit still for busywork that is imposed upon her, spends hours and hours of time focused on the creation of these videos and her other artwork. That is the type of focus and passion that Sir Ken Robinson talked about in his book on creativity, and it’s difficult to truly nurture this without a good amount of unstructured free time. Yes, I admit, it is very validating for me as a homeschooling, freeschooling parent. But mostly my heart is filled with joy, because finding one’s passion is – IMNSHO – one of the keys to true happiness.



Categories: Miss Em, natural learning | Leave a comment

Memory Boxes


I recently wrote about a little box that Miss Em made out of polymer clay. It was a tribute to her former obsession with ladybugs. Well, she has since added two more boxes.

I’m fascinated by where this is coming from. A while back, we were having a talk about passions and how they relate to natural learning. Unlike the system used in most schools, where a variety of subjects are tackled all at once (math, social studies, chemistry, French, etc), I have found that when learning is allowed to unfold naturally, it proceeds more like unit-based studies, where students focus on one topic and then explore it from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of ways.

For example, Miss Em’s interest in ladybugs manifested as: trips to the library to read books about ladybugs (reading), watching movies about ladybugs (listening), drawing pictures of ladybugs (fine motor skills) annotated with words (writing), learning about the role of ladybugs in gardening (living skills), walks through the neighbourhood looking for ladybugs to collect and identify (observing in nature), painting rocks to look like ladybugs (art), and counting spots on ladybugs to determine the species (math). A later interest in Orcas added a bit of history as she learned about whaling and the use of whale oil as fuel, and an interest in dragons provided insight into the myths and legends of various cultures around the world such as Norse and Chinese (cultural anthropology).

A tiny dragon.

A tiny dragon.

I guess this conversation about natural learning and passions really resonated with Miss Em. These boxes are an example of how children process information in a variety of ways. As she crafts these boxes, she is thinking back to those days when she was delving into each of these topics, how that relates to learning and being a learner, and recognizing her ability to learn about whatever interests her, to take ownership of her learning and knowledge. One might say she is dipping into philosophy as she contemplates these things.

It’s sad to me that the process of mass schooling interferes so much with the natural process of learning that few people get to witness it in its untouched state. I find it a beautiful thing to behold…



Categories: Crafting, Miss Em, natural learning | Leave a comment

Calorie Counting for Kids


Losing weight is easy in theory. Eat fewer calories than you burn, and you will lose weight. But in practice, tracking calories is hard. You really need to weigh your food, especially foods that are calorie dense, like fats (including good stuff like nuts and avocados), fruit (one banana is about 80 – 100 cals), and carbs. It’s way too easy to underestimate what you are eating, overestimate what you are burning, and end up frustrated and convinced that there is more to it than simple math.

Having watched their father lose 100 lbs and both their parents adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular running, hiking, cycling, and tracking calories (we use this site) our children know what it takes to lose weight. Both are in the overweight category for BMI and it’s no surprise given their distaste for sports and healthy foods and their love of calorie-dense foods and sedentary activities. Miss Em has been fairly active this summer and while she is technically overweight, it’s not too bad right now. She has chosen not to count her calories, but she knows that if she gets to a point where she is unhappy with her weight, there’s a tried-and-true method we can help her with.

A while back, Mr. Boo asked if he could start a calorie counting program. His BMI was bordering on obese and he didn’t like it. Plus, calorie counting appeals to his autistic love of order. We created a journal in which we write down what he eats, and if he meets his calorie goal for the day he gets a small treat (mini mars bars are a favourite, and at 60 calories each, a harmless indulgence). For a child who hates sports and exercise and has a very limited diet, this system is particularly useful as it makes no difference whether you exercise or not, or what you eat, so long as you eat at a caloric deficit.


With children you have to be careful because they are actively growing. I determined his daily caloric requirements using an online calculator for children and came up with 1700 – 1800 calories/day. To lose weight, you should aim for a 10 – 20% deficit so we set his bar at a conservative 1600 calories/day. Unlike adults, we are not looking for a drop in weight, but a maintenance of weight as he grows. Over a period of nine months he grew almost 2 inches with no gain in weight, and he was starting to look a lot healthier.

But we fell off the wagon earlier in the year when I became overwhelmed with taking on new work and just couldn’t keep track of what he was eating. But recently he asked me if we could start it up again. He was at the doctor’s office yesterday and his BMI is bordering on obese (here is a great BMI calculator for kids) so it’s definitely time to start up again. And now that I feel I’ve found a good work-life balance, I’m ready to take this on.

I’m really happy that this was his idea. At their age, I can no longer control what they are eating and having them fully on board is absolutely necessary. Overeating happens even without junk food around. I’m proud that my husband and I have modelled a healthy lifestyle and given my children the tools they need to lose weight if and when they feel the need.


Categories: natural learning | Leave a comment

Exploring Art the Unschooling Way

Many of the criticisms directed at unschooling are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how unschooling works. There is the mistaken belief that because young unschooled children spend so much time engaging in imaginative play (aka: unstructured free play) they will never learn the more “serious business of work”. In my last post I wrote about what the natural learning process looks like for “tweens”, based on my own observations of Daughter and how her free time is increasingly spent on structured, focussed study rather than imaginative free play (although that still takes up the majority of her time; she is still, after all, only 9 years old). I wrote about the dearth of opportunities for kids her age to pursue the study of topics or skills in more depth, other than trying to learn on their own. I believe that mentorship represents the next step in the natural progression from the unstructured free play of childhood to being a productive member of adult society.  I wrote that I was searching for a artist to mentor Daughter and I’m happy to report that we have found someone.

The lady is a local artist (I’ll call her “Sandy”) who offers classes and workshops to students in the area, including weekday ones for homelearners. Daughter had taken a few classes from her over the last two years and really enjoyed attending her week-long Animation Workshops, held twice a year. She and Sandy developed a good relationship and it warmed my heart to see my anxious and sometimes socially-awkward girl feeling so secure and comfortable with someone that she would happily go there on five consecutive days for 5 hours each day (a demanding schedule for my girl). We thought Sandy had moved away last fall after the last workshop but it turns out something came up and they ended up staying longer than expected, and we heard from her recently when she decided to offer another Animation Workshop.

Realizing she was here for at least the next six months I proposed my idea to her and she was very keen! So for the last few weeks Daughter has been going to Sandy’s home studio (a delightful seaside cottage with a wood stove, a dog and a cat, and an inspiring view of the estuary with mountains in the background) for once-a-week 1.5 hour sessions. Sandy got her a proper artist’s sketchbook and each week they work on a different concept of drawing. As Sandy explains, so much of drawing is “seeing”. The sessions are very free-flowing, which pleases Daughter. Sandy always talks to me about what they did that week when I go to pick Daughter up at the end of the session and I love hearing about all the neat concepts they work on together.

There is so much about this setup to love. My girl gets to go off and pursue her work in a more self-directed way, without her mother or brother tagging along. She is learning tons; not in the condescending way of being told what to create and how to create it, but instead by having a skilled artisan share her techniques and knowledge while giving Daughter the chance to be master of her own creations and inspiration. Daughter also gets to spend quality time with a woman who is really kind and talented and generous in spirit. This is one of the unseen benefits of mentoring, the chance to get to know a whole person in the context of a skill set (the two mentors I’ve had in my own life were inspiring not just as professionals, but as wonderfully kind people). I’m also thrilled with the work Daughter is doing. She takes it all in stride, not realizing how lucky she is to have this opportunity for focussed study. But I do a little happy dance every week when I go to pick her up.

Categories: learning is fun, natural learning, rethinking education | 1 Comment

Unschooling the Tween

I’ve had a big epiphany recently: my daughter is a Tween. This has gotten me thinking about the next phase of unschooling and what that will look like for her. I’m somewhat prepared for this, having been an avid reader of Miranda’s Nurtured by Love blog for years. It’s been fascinating to read about what unschooling looks like as her children have entered their tweens and teens.

Unschooling young children is easy if you follow the belief that “Play is a child’s work”.

The field of developmental psychology has provided plentiful evidence about the importance of play to all aspects of a child’s development. All young mammals play, and all do so to prepare for adult life. They learn the skills they need to learn while playing, and human children are no exception. To unschool your young children all you really need is 1) exposure to a variety of experiences (books, field trips, ideas, activities) and 2) oodles of free, unstructured time. It doesn’t really get more complicated than that. But I’m finding (and have read this before) that Daughter is starting to show signs of that not being enough for her. It’s not that unschooling isn’t working, it’s that what unschooling looks like is changing for her.

Play was her work for so long, but she is showing signs of wanting something that might more closely resemble what we adults might consider as work. Not in the sense of bringing home an income for meaningless and unfulfilling labour, but of engaging more deeply with one’s interests and passions. Of taking things to the next level: more complexity, more structure, longer timelines. She’s not at the point where she is thinking and planning about “what she’ll be when she grows up” – that, from what I understand, will start to appear in the early teen years. And here I go off on an interesting tangent…

The notion of adolescence is, I believe, an artificial construct of our societal structure, where youth are kept segregated from society by forced education and laws that prevent them from participating fully in the adult world. It’s a vicious circle: the kids are kept out of the adult world just when their natural programming is driving them to take on more responsibility and independence. So then they create their own world (so-called “youth culture”), and often the goals of their culture conflict with adult culture, and then adults decide that kids are not capable of adult responsibility and so pass more laws to deny them opportunities to participate in that world. These days many consider even 20-somethings to be immature and irresponsible.

Miranda first brought this issue to my attention (see this blog post) and I highly recommend the book The Case Against Adolescence. You can skip the parts where the author condones corporal punishment, and I think some of his proposed solutions are impractical, but he does a great job of explaining how we, as a society, infantilize our youth such that many of them (and I include myself in that category) lack the maturity and experience to really start thinking about, say, beginning a family until well into their 30’s. Biologically and historically they are ready for that in their teen years.

This young girl is responsible and experienced enough to care for her siblings.

Apprenticeships for young people are undervalued in our modern culture.

So what happens when that infantilization process is removed? What is the natural course of evolution from childhood to adulthood? What does that transition really look like? Unschooling allows us to observe this natural process and I have found the results to be fascinating.

Based on descriptions of this process by people I know in real life, as well as bloggers like Miranda, it appears that some time around the early teen years kids start to think ahead about what they want to do and where they want to go in life. They start working on more complex timelines than just “what do I feel like doing today?”. Some of them may start to want more structure in their lives, more focussed time to devote to specific projects or activities that have a longer term goal. They may choose to attack a goal from multiple angles. At this point simply “playing” for the joy of it doesn’t quite cut it for them anymore, though hopefully we all retain some play time in our lives even as adults! Tweens are caught between this world of Childhood Work (free, unstructured time) and Adult Work (focussed activity that takes place over much longer timelines).

I’ll share a couple of observations about Daughter that led me to realize she is beginning to make this transition herself. I’ve noticed over the last few months that she is engaging in more complex projects that require more time. It’s no longer something that can be done in a couple hours one day on a whim, but requires repeated effort spread out over time. Her work becomes more focussed, with more depth to it. For example, she is writing stories and comics with more complex roles for her characters, more complex story lines, deeper emotions. She’s thinking over the longer term, and enjoying challenging herself to take things to the next level. Her recent foray into portrait work has been an example of this: she draws, she critiques herself, she reads up on techniques, she draws again…it just doesn’t have the same look or feeling about it as when she was a child and would just pick up some crayons and paper and draw something on a whim.

The second observation is about her scheduled activities. She hasn’t taken any classes since a clay class last term she begrudgingly did with me. She didn’t enjoy it and doesn’t want to do any more. The problem? She didn’t want to be told what to make, she wanted to create and have someone show her techniques that were relevant to what she wanted to do. She wanted to go into depth about the techniques that interested her. She isn’t getting this from the typical art class for youngsters anymore. She doesn’t need a “teacher”, she needs a mentor. Suddenly I’m looking around and finding myself saying exactly what I’ve heard other Tween homeschooling mums say “There’s nothing out there for him/her!”. A group of us half-joked on Facebook that what we needed was a Tween University. The kids are ready to get more focussed and in-depth with regard to their interests, but they are too young for college and too old for the community centre-type classes offered as “after school” activities (a time when most kids are ready to chill out, not focus on meaningful work or study).

If attending University can be considered a kind of Work, then what we need for Daughter is a job. Not meaningless and unfulfilling labour for the sake of a paycheque, but dedicated time to focus on something she is passionate about and wants to immerse herself in more deeply, in an atmosphere where she will be exposed to others who share her passion. For a child who struggles to socialize just for the sake of socializing, this would provide a much better environment for her in which to make friends. Young kids are often brought together for the sake of playing together and socializing. For the last year we have been attending a weekly get-together with our homeschooling community that is set up for this purpose. A few activities may be present but the main point is to socialize. It isn’t working for either of my kids, but for Daughter I’d assumed it was due to her Asperger-related issues. Recently, after a few good conversations with her, I’ve come to realize that that isn’t the issue. She’s just bored. She is no longer interested in just “playing” with a group of kids. She wants more purpose to her socializing. She wants to meet people who share her interests and passions. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Daughter is becoming a person who prefers to do something interesting and meaningful and have friendships arise as a result of that, rather than go somewhere with the specific intention of “meeting people and making friends”. I see this as a sign of maturation.

One of the things we are actively looking into is finding some art studio time for Daughter. Ideally she would go twice a week for a couple of hours each time to work on a project of her choosing with a mentor who could teach her the techniques she is interested in and go as deep into the subject as she desires. I may have stumbled upon someone here who could fulfill that role, and she also happens to do Art Therapy and works with kids “on the spectrum”. She may therefore be a good fit for Daughter in the role as mentor. I’m meeting with her next week to discuss whether we can make this work.

Ideally I’d love to find a similar situation for science work, her other passion. It’s hard enough to set up a proper laboratory in the home, let alone a home as tiny as ours. I am doubtful of finding anything like that for her, but it’s mulling around in my head and I hope some solutions may present themselves.

Meanwhile Daughter is keeping herself very busy at home and I’m not short of things to report on for my weekly homeschool program accounting. But I know she would enjoy having some regular, scheduled time for more focussed and in-depth study and I am sure she would benefit greatly from some sort of mentor relationship. In discussing this with her she is intrigued and open to the idea. Hopefully over the next few months we’ll be able to put some things in place and then I can report further on what unschooling a Tween looks like.

Categories: natural learning, rethinking education | 6 Comments

Unschooling Autism

One of the things I love about blogging (writing) is that often a question that has been floating around in my mind gets answered in the process of putting my thoughts into text. Today’s post is a perfect example of this: I began writing this post thinking I needed some answers, but ended up discovering that I was answering my own questions with what I wrote.

Since realizing that my kids are “on the spectrum” I’ve begun to think about unschooling and how that may apply to kids like mine as they get older and move beyond play-based learning to learning in a more applied fashion. The fundamental premise of unschooling is that children are hard-wired to be curious about their world, to seek out information, to acquire the skills they will need to function in their society as adults. When not coerced, when given the freedom to follow their instincts, Natural Learning ensures that children will learn what they need to know, when they need to know it. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed unschooling my kids, and the years so far have been, in my opinion, a success. My kids can both read and write. They can do basic math and have are interested in a variety of topics related to science and history, for example. Importantly, they ask lots of questions, initiate interesting conversations about things in their world, are curious and have a desire to understand those things that draw their attention.

These are good starts, to be sure, but they are getting older and, knowing that they are dealing with certain issues that neurotypical kids are not, I began to wonder for how much longer unschooling would serve them. With Daughter, I worried that her anxiety and rigid thinking would limit her experiences and exposure to things that could broaden her horizons. Would it be time to start gently insisting on tackling new subjects? With Son, I worried that his narrow focus on things computer and video game related would give him an unbalanced scope of knowledge and skills. Would it be time to put limits on his exploration of those subjects?

I began to write a list of what they are into these days, and was somewhat surprised to see that it wasn’t as limited as I’d thought. They aren’t the selection of things that other kids their age may necessarily be doing, but there is definitely a diversity there. I also realized that I’d fallen victim to the ingrained way of thinking that all of us raised in a school culture are subject to, in comparing the subjects that my kids learn about to their peers in school. The truth is, learning can happen at any age and there is no inherent value in being forced to learn about, say, social studies at a certain grade level when the topic might be explored eagerly at a later age when the interest sparks from within.

I believe that what’s most important for children is to continue to expose them to a variety of topics, but to let them choose what is relevant and meaningful for them at any given time in their life. There is no better way to master any topic than to have it ignite a fire in you, and to have the confidence to pursue that knowledge. My kids have that confidence – they are not afraid of doing their own research, seeking out books and videos and other sources of information to satisfy their intrinsic curiosity. Unschooling is about trusting kids to learn what they need to know, what is relevant for them at that time in their life, and to trust that there are many things out there to learn and that learning takes a lifetime. What’s important is not what selection of facts they know, but that they are curious enough to desire information, have the skills to seek out that information (either on their own or by asking for assistance) and have access to resources to find that information. Being autistic simply means that sometimes they are going to need assistance where another child might not. Daughter may need help overcoming anxiety in order to further explore a topic she finds interesting. Son might need an aid to assist him when working in group settings, or a special class that is designed for kids like him. None of this precludes unschooling.

When I pondered all this I was reminded that one of the best things about unschooling is that, by definition, the individual is the standard. There is no expectation that kids of a certain age are going to know the same things, be skilled to the same extent in the same subjects, or even be interested in the same subjects. When I first began to understand that Son might have some developmental issues, unschooling was the salve that soothed my worries. When I worried that he might fall “behind” in his learning, I then asked myself “behind compared to whom?”. Wherever Son is, that is where he is supposed to be and reminding myself of that was a wonderful relief. His job is to reach his full potential, not some agency’s idea of his potential based on some mythical “average” child of his age and ability.


Unscooling parents have an important job to do, and that often gets overlooked in discussions about unschooling. We are facilitators and that requires us to be observant. In our homeschool program, as part of our funding requirements, we submit weekly reports entitled “Observing for Learning”. It’s an exercise of sorts for parents. It’s easy for a busy mum to use that precious time when the kids are playing quietly (or not so quietly) without you to focus on household tasks. But I have trained myself over the years to pay attention – not in the “make sure nobody gets hurt or nothing gets destroyed” sense that is part and parcel of the job of motherhood, but rather listening to what they are saying and take a closer look at what they are doing. Then ask them about it. There are many benefits to engaging in this practice, one of which is being able to facilitate learning further. You notice your child is showing an interest in ladybugs and so you go find a book or a toy or a movie that your kid might not know about. Or you organize a science experiment, or facilitate a biology project. Or, if you notice that your child is struggling, you find resources to help them. That is where I leave off today. I’ve seen where my kids are struggling, I’m beginning to understand what they need to continue to grow in their learning, but it’s not about restricting them or taking over control of their learning. It’s about finding support for them so they can continue on their own, unique learning paths.

Categories: natural learning | Leave a comment

Back to Unschooling…

I’m taking a break from my autism-related posts to talk about daily life here at the Freelearners’ Homestead. We’ve been back at it since September (our homeschool program started up) and I wanted to share some of the things we’ve been up to. I find so many people who inquire about homeschooling, particularly unschooling, want to see what it looks like in terms of daily life, which is why I do such posts every now and then. Plus it’s nice for me to look back and see where we’ve been and where we’re headed. 🙂

Daughter is up to her usual creative pursuits. She is still intensely into drawing, getting out books from the library that show various drawing techniques. She loves the Ed Emberley books, and I confess so do I. Using simple, step by step techniques that use simple shapes, the books teach you how to draw an immense variety of things. DD always gets great ideas from these books. She recently used her learning funds to purchase a book on drawing dragons. Dragons are her passion these days. A while back it was Orcas and she spent much time over many weeks learning to draw the perfect Orca. I love how she gets really into a subject, explores it in depth, and then moves on to another. She produces reams of paper each week as she practices her drawing. She has created a dragon character called Arcada. She is constantly working to improve his look, and here is an example of the latest incarnation. Here she was working on the hind feet (she made a slip of the pen at one point, which is why there’s an arrow pointing to it with the word “accident” going off the photo edge).

She also spent some time practising how to draw characters from the Sonic the Hedgehog series. I love these, you can totally see how she experiments with sketching and then fills in the colours. She was really proud of these, especially because she could draw them in different poses and aspects.

She also picked up her clay work again after a long absence. Her brother is really into Sonic the Hedgehog and they both spent some time recently watching the Sonic X series on YouTube. So when she picked up her clay she decided to make small models of Sonic and Tails the Fox. I wish my iPhone camera took better closeups because the pictures really don’t do justice to the level of fine detail in her work. She is known for her ability to craft miniatures and make very fine details with her hands.

This year I began putting aside some time each week to work one-on-one with the kids facilitating various projects with them. We call it “Project Time”. Daughter and I are working on a big movie project. She’s been making movies for years now but usually they are spontaneous affairs. This time we’ve developed a storyline, started on the script, picked out characters (she is a big fan of Littlest Pet Shop movies, as I wrote about previously) and she has started crafting some props. We hope to start shooting later this week. This is her project and she leads the way, with me simply assisting and facilitating in whatever way I can. We’re both pretty excited about it and to me it represents the very best of Natural Learning.

Meanwhile Son is…well, he is who he is! Still loves video games and computers, though he can often be found engaging in much imaginative play. He also enjoys crafting, though there is a distinct common theme running throughout – anything game related, lol. Here is some Lego Minecraft Objects he made one day using a YouTube video as a guide.

He also loves printing out game characters, having me cut them out, and then playing with them. He has lots…

But lately he’s been wanting to have Sukapon characters. He just discovered the old school game Sukapon, but the issue is that the characters are made of little bits that float, so this was tricky. We came up with the idea of using tape. Here are two characters (with their energy bars) that he has been carrying around and playing with for two days now.

A really neat learning moment occurred recently that taught my kids about an important event in modern history. My complaints about the ridiculous process that is airport security screening, after returning from a recent trip to Ohio, led to a discussion of 9/11. Before I knew it both kids were watching Zero Hour with me and asking tons of fascinating questions. They simply couldn’t wrap their heads around the notion of “bad guys” choosing to kill themselves to attain some goal. Seemed pointless to them. Which brought up the subject of religion and belief in the afterlife and how that can be a real game-changer when it comes to predicting what “bad guys” will do. It was one of those spontaneous moments where the kids’ were really caught up, genuinely curious, and eagerly engaged in exploring the topic further.

Finally, Son continues to produce spontaneous displays of some deep grasp of number relationships that seems to come out of nowhere. We’ve never done any “math” with him, just what comes up in day to day life, yet the kid can add simple numbers in his head and now he seems to have somehow figured out multiplication. On more than one occasion he has spontaneously divided some number into equal parts in his head, though he cannot explain how he does it. I did sit down with him one day at Project Time to explain the concept on paper. He grasped it immediately and after solving a couple equations declared it to be immensely boring and pointless, lol. Needless to say I’m not all that worried. 🙂

Categories: family life, learning is fun, lifestyle, natural learning | Leave a comment

Unschoolers Unite!

If you haven’t heard about Dr. Peter Gray, check out his blog, Freedom to Learn, over at the Huffington Post’s Psychology Today.

But first, if you are an unschooler then help Dr. Gray with his research by downloading and completing his survey (click on the link below).

What Is Unschooling? Invitation to a Survey

A large and growing number of parents are taking their children out of school, not to school them at home but to allow them to learn in their own natural ways at home and in the larger community. What are they thinking? Read More

Categories: natural learning | 1 Comment

Comic Book Artist

For the last couple of weeks Daughter has been working hard on some comic books. She’s drawn short cartoons before, but never anything of this magnitude. It took her many hours to complete this comic, and she devoted many evenings to it. I think it’s possibly the longest project she has ever embarked upon. I’ve posted these images in large format to assist in reading the text. While the colouring looks great, it does hide some of the wonderful ink work she did prior to filling it in. I was really impressed, not only with her drawing techniques, but with the complexity of the story. Any of you who are familiar with the Spyro the Dragon characters (which started out as video games and can now be found all over YouTube) will recognize them here. The comic wasn’t finished being coloured when I first posted this, and she has since moved on to Book 2, but I had these photos already here so I used them (plus she stapled together the final product and I didn’t want to pull it apart).

Categories: learning is fun, natural learning | Leave a comment


For the last couple of months we’ve had a bird feeder hanging outside the window beside the kitchen table. As we sit eating breakfast and drinking tea we get to watch the variety of birds that visit, up close. With our handy Bird Guide reference we enjoy looking them up to see who is coming to dine.

We’ve learned two things from these observations. First, while two or three birds may visit at the same time, they are almost always of one species. If another species tries to show up they are chased away. The other observation is that different species tend to visit at different times of day, such that the aforementioned conflicts don’t happen very often.

The first species of the morning is the Red-Breasted Nuthatch. Pretty little things that, at a distance, I had confused with chickadees. They have short tails and beaks that appear to be tipped upwards somewhat. When they fly, they swoop up and down. They like to grab a sunflower seed then scoot over to a nearby evergreen tree to eat it. Then they return for another.

After they’ve had their fill, later in the morning we get the Chestnut Backed Chickadee. Coming from the mainland I’m more familiar with the Black-Capped Chickadee. The former have a lovely vest of chestnut-brown, and their small size makes them very cute.

In late afternoon the Oregon Junco’s arrive. I’ve seen them getting chased away by the nuthatches if they show up too early, so not sure if late days are their regular feeding time or if they’ve adapted to stay away from the early-bird nuthatches. They seem big compared to the other two, their long tails can be recognized even when they are on the other side of the feeder. They are bolder than the other species, content to rest on the edge of the deck and forage down below for dropped seeds.

One of my favourite visitors is the Spotted Towhee. These guys usually show up alone, and when no other birds are around. I first saw one last spring while walking along a nearby trail, and was thrilled with their wing spots and pretty brown sides. They are easily frightened away, so I sit very still when one comes to visit.

Just today I saw a new visitor, around lunchtime. I had to search through my book to identify it, and was pleased to find an answer. With it’s strongly streaked chest and yellowish wing markings, I was able to determine it was a Pine Siskin. It’s not exactly a rare bird, but being new to this birdwatching thing it was a “new to me” bird, and just as exciting as any rare find by a seasoned birder!

We’re looking forward to continuing our birding education through the spring and into summer and fall. Hopefully we’ll meet some new friends along the way. In the meantime, we’re definitely getting our money’s worth out of the birdseed!

Categories: Fascinating Finds, natural learning | Leave a comment

Blog at