Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Friendly House

A friend stopped by today to pick her up child at my house. Today, like most days, my house was neither clean nor tidy. There was a puzzle in progress on the table. Lunch dishes hadn't been cleared yet. Two games were in various states of play on the floor. A stack of boxes, delivered by UPS a few days ago, stood next to the front door waiting to be opened and put away. The floor needed to be swept and there were a few piles of clothes at the bottom of the stairs. Most days, this doesn't bother me at all. This has not always been true. In the past I have spent much more mental and emotional energy wishing my house could be cleaner, wondering what others thought about me and my less than picture perfect home, and nagging on my kids to clean up. But I've come to realize that there is a lot more to a happy home than a perfectly clean house.

House cleaning has never been my favorite activity, especially if there's something else I'd rather do (like pretty much anything other than cleaning). Sure, I like it when the house is picked up and stuff is put away. I do savor those brief moments after I've tidied up and scrubbed the bathrooms and there's no laundry piled on the couch. There are times when I can really get into house cleaning. I turn up the music really loud and walk around using the toilet brush as a microphone. Admittedly, it can be fun. But really, I have many more things to do that are far important than keeping my house spotless. Did I mention that I share my home with three very busy and very messy children? I love my children dearly, but neat and tidy, they are not.

As unschoolers, we have lots of unscheduled time at home. This means more time for us to get out toys and games with many, many small pieces and parts, which don't always get put away right away. This means more meals that are cooked and eaten at home which do not always get cleaned up immediately following mealtime. When my kids were young, and I was still teaching, my house was much cleaner, because we were rarely in it. I remember longing for stretches of unscheduled time when we could just be home. What good is a clean house if you can't use it?

As I chatted with my friend, we picked up the pieces to a game and put them back in the box. The kids raced past us on their way to the hammock for one last ride before it was time to say good-bye. My friend looked around and smiled, "Becky, you have a very friendly house." I like that, because it is. Kids don't have to be afraid of breaking something at my house. Most spills and messes are easily cleaned up because there isn't anything particularly fancy to wreck or ruin. The next time I'm feeling self conscious about my housekeeping habits, all I need to do is look around me and remember why I make the choices that I do. I choose to fill our home with the fun stuff, and all the fun stuff can get messy: art supplies, puzzles, stacks of books, baskets of tiny figurines, legos, tinker toys, building blocks, car tracks, more stacks of books, board games, card games, magazines. Some might call it chaotic, disorganized, or messy. I prefer to think of it as a friendly, happy, kid centered home.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Unschooling Defined

I came across this really great unschooling post today. There is another blog called Life Without School. It is a magazine style blog edited by a woman named Robin. Yesterday's post (Sept. 21, 2007) is the ultimate collection of unschooling definitions, explanations, and experiences. If you're scratching your head and wondering what in the heck this unschooling business is all about, check it out. And if you're like me, and new to all this blogging business, all you have to do is click on the highlighted words (check it out) above and you're, huh?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Getting off the Ladder

I've been thinking a lot lately about the examples we set for our children. Now that we ride our bikes most places, I've become increasingly aware of the number of helmet-less adults riding with their helmet wearing children. I'm particularly aware because I used to be one of them. Oh, I had all kinds of rationalizations: I didn't have the money to buy one, it would mess up my hair; and anyway, I was really, really careful. Yeah, whatever. Then one day, about 6 months ago, as we were getting on our bikes, one of the kids asked me why I didn't have a helmet. We had been riding more and more frequently and talking often about traffic safety and the rules of the road. The girls had recently begun riding places on their own. It was time for me to walk the talk. "You're right, guys," I admitted. "I need to buy a helmet."

At first I only wore my helmet when I was riding with my kids. It was important for me to set a good example, right? Interesting that I was really only going through the motions. A perfect example of "Do as I say, not as I do." It wasn't long before I was caught, helmet-less. The kids drove by in the car with their dad. They never said a word, who knows if they even noticed. But I did. I'm at this place in my life, and in my parenting, where it just doesn't work for me to say one thing and do another. I used to do it all the time. I'd harp on the kids to shut off the faucet while they brushed their teeth, and then completely ignore it for myself. "No dessert tonight guys, we've had enough sweets today," I'd say. And then I'd be scarfing down a bowl of ice cream as soon as they fell asleep. Okay, so I still do that every once in a while, but for the most part, I really try be consistent. And as unschoolers, that has meant letting go of some of the "must dos" that I previously preached about to my children.

I realize that this evolution has been, for me, an exercise in stepping down off of the pedestal I had been standing on. It seems like my tendency to micro-manage my children's lives was a symptom of my own inability to take good care of myself. What I'm aware of now, is that when I am gentle with myself and do the things that I need to do in order to make good choices for myself, I am showing my children how to do the same for themselves. And this is what I believe to be my most important role, anyway. Mentor, resource person, trusted friend. I used to think my role was teacher, wise elder, superior. But that doesn't fit into the family paradigm that suits us right now. I prefer the we're all in this together model.

There is a saying I love about standing on a ladder. When you're standing the rungs of a ladder you are always above or below other people. It isn't possible to stand side by side, unless of course you get off the ladder. I suppose what is happening for me is that I am climbing down off of that ladder in many areas of my life. I spend far less time and energy figuring out who's above and below me that way. It takes great effort for me to do this with my children at times. I was raised to believe that the needs of adults trumped kids' every time. As hard as I try, there is still that part of me that reverts back to that attitude from time to time. A few moments ago I didn't feel like getting up from the computer, so I asked Janey to get something from downstairs for me. As soon as the words were leaving my mouth, I realized what I was doing. I wasn't asking as a favor, with no expectations. I was asking as the adult, fully expecting that as a child, she would do as I asked. And she did. This doesn't sit well with me now. I'd rather live in house where we ask each other to do things without expectation and help one another out because we want to. Expecting my children to jump up and obey, every time I have a need, doesn't help foster that sense of independence and free will. It places the proverbial ladder in the center of our home. I'm on the top rung, and they're not.

It seems to me that our culture is quite adult focused, and everyone is standing on that darn ladder. Kids are usually left standing on those bottom rungs. Children's opinions and needs are dismissed, or at the very least placed behind the needs of the adults around them. They're kids. They're smaller and less significant in the eyes of many. At school, children are expected to obey their teacher, without question. When I taught, even in very alternative, progressive schools, the adults were always at the top of that ladder. Questioning authority and challenging an adult was seen as an act of rebellion, rather than a declaration of independence and healthy self esteem.

My children are excellent mirrors for me. All I have to do is follow their lead when I stray from this more compassionate and respectful way of parenting. This afternoon I was frazzled because I was tripping over three baskets of clean laundry, over and over again. I asked the kids to put away their clothes. I went and did something else, came back, and the laundry was still there. I asked again that the laundry be put away, and yet again I was put off. Janey was cleaning the mice's cage, Macy was working on her book, Charley was playing outside. This happened a few more times. I got irritated as I tripped over the baskets for the bazillionth time, and snapped at Macy to put her laundry away. She was just getting started on a painting project, and she sighed, "Mom, if you need the laundry out of your way, why can't I just put the basket in my room and put the clothes away later?" I smiled. I swallowed my pride and realized that both of our needs could be met without my desires trumping hers. I'm going to try to stay off that ladder.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Good Day to Check Our Smoke Alarms

A house down the street caught fire today. Charley, 6, walked in the back door and said calmly, "I don't mean to freak anyone out, but there is black smoke coming from down the street, and I think a house is on fire." Janey, 11, freaked out. Well, she didn't actually freak out, she just got that look on her face and buried her head in my shoulder. We looked out the window together. "It's too close, Mama. I want to move."

Janey is my worrier. She has always had a fear of disasters and accidents. If the front page of the newspaper shows photographs of an earthquake in South America, she wants to know how close that is to where we live. I show her our proximity to Peru on the wall map in the living room, and she can breathe a sigh of relief. It's hard for me to relate. Over the years, we have discovered that Janey's worries can be lessened when she is given factual information about the nature of her fears. I have learned that it's best for me to check in with her initially and remind her that when she's ready, I can give her some information to help educate her about whatever it is that is making her feel afraid. She usually takes her time, and wants to talk about it within 15 or 20 minutes.

As we watched the black smoke billow up into the sky, I realized that maybe we should be calling 911. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, we heard the sirens. Loads of them. Within seconds, our street was packed with fire engines, hook and ladders, ambulances, police cars and paramedic trucks. Macy and Charley wanted to walk out to the sidewalk, but Janey wasn't going anywhere. I agreed to stay with Janey while the other two walked out to the end of our driveway. Just then a friend pulled up and her kids came piling out of the car. "Fire, fire, your neighbor's house is on fire!" they shouted. The excitement was intense. Janey shifted a bit and wanted to venture outside. She stayed close, but didn't want to miss out on the excitement. That's the other thing about Janey, she doesn't want to miss a thing.

As we walked down the sidewalk, Janey indicated that she was ready for some information. I began by simply noting aloud what I was observing: scores of emergency workers going through the motions of their various tasks: unrolling hoses, unscrewing valves on fire hydrants, adjusting equipment, oxygen masks and gear. No one seemed frantic or distressed, they were simply doing their jobs. The ambulance sirens had stopped and the paramedics were leaning against their vehicles, obviously, no one was injured. "We are so lucky to live in a part of the world where we have these people in our community who are willing to do these jobs," I commented to Janey. "And look at all of this equipment." Thick, sturdy hoses that went down the street several blocks, medical equipment, chain saws, enormous attic fans, ladders that seemed to reach for the sky, fire proof clothing and oxygen tanks. Amazing. We watched them silently for several minutes. Janey began to relax and the questions began pouring out. "How do those hoses attach? Why are they cutting a hole in the roof? Why did the smoke turn white? Do you think Sarah's (another neighbor) dog was afraid when the sirens were approaching? With each question, Janey took a few steps closer to the scene. It didn't take long and were standing across the street from the fire and a few feet away from a very distressed looking woman, obviously one of the occupants.

No one had been home when the fire broke out. No people or animals were injured. Our friend Sarah's boyfriend had called 911 and began fighting the fire with a garden hose until the trucks arrived. The woman standing near us just watched the emergency workers in silence. Janey whispered, "Do you think she needs some new clothes?"

Back when I used to teach second and third grade, I used to stay up late on Sunday nights planning my lessons for the week. Often, our Social Studies curriculum would require that we do a unit study on our community. I would spend hours and days scheduling field trips and classroom visits attempting to create ways in which my students could learn about their immediate neighborhood. Fire fighters, police officers, postal workers, bakers, security guards, and city planners would parade in and out of our classroom explaining their jobs and answering questions. On my best teaching days, I could create a little mini model of our community within the four walls of my classroom. In choosing our path as unschoolers, and in choosing to keep my own children home from school, it is no longer necessary to plot and plan and scheme to re-create what we already experience every single day. We are living and breathing our community every time we set foot out that door. Most days, I have no idea what we will encounter when we set out, or stay in, for that matter. What I do know, is that it will be rich, and interesting, and full.

We sat on the curb and watched the fire fighters for a long time. Janey's fear subsided and she decided we wouldn't have to move away after all. She even commented that she might like to be a fire fighter someday. "Either that, or a movie star, or a store keeper. I can't decide." That's my girl. The workers were happy to answer our questions and handed out stickers to the kids. We found out how the hoses fit back into the trucks after they've been unrolled (it's a three or four person job). We also learned that each oxygen tank has a (very loud) internal alarm that indicates when it is running low. We learned that there were only 2 female fire fighters in the group of 15 or more. We learned more that afternoon about emergency workers in our town than I could have ever created in a second grade classroom. As we chatted with a fire fighter pushing air out of an empty fire hose, he reminded us, "It's a good day to check your smoke alarms." I nodded my head and told the kids we should do that as soon as we get home. "But Mom," Janey declared with a smile, "ours get checked once a week when you burn dinner." Ouch...she's right!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's Puzzling

As my kids get older, we've been finding some new ways to wind down and hang out together in the evenings. When they were younger, it was usually a warm bath, fuzzy jammies, and a stack of books. We still do it that way from time to time, but they are more independent now. Just because I'm ready to crash on the couch and read doesn't necessarily mean they are. Take last night, for instance. It was 7:30pm. I was exhausted. I announced that I was parking it on the couch and anyone who wanted me to read to them was welcome to join me. No one came. Janey and Macy were upstairs rehearsing their lip sync routine to some High School Musical number. Charley was busy trying to see how long it would take the pet mice to find the pumpkin seeds he'd buried in the bottom of the cage. At first I was crushed. I love that sweet, snuggly, end of the day time with my kids. But then I realized that I could still relax on the couch with a good book....a book with more than 30 pages! Ahhhh, heaven.

Less than 5 minutes later, all hell broke loose and the girl's were freaking out because their pesky brother was (god forbid) trying to lip sync, and he was getting the words all wrong. Rats! My plan was foiled. I needed to come up with a distraction, and fast. I glanced over at the table. It was completely empty...amazing. I grabbed the new puzzle I picked up at Goodwill and emptied all 300 pieces onto the table.

Now the whole reason I chose this table for our house was because of it's size. The past two homes we've lived in had only one (very small) surface for eating or crafting or playing a board game. In a homeschooling household, this just didn't work. Puzzles, art projects, concoctions and scrapbooking all had to be cleared completely in order for us to sit down to a meal together.....big, huge, enormous bummer....multiple times a day. So as I was putting the finishing touches on our new home, I was measuring and plotting and scheming for the gigantic table that would allow us to sit down for a meal, without wrecking the project of the day. I love this table.

As I was sorting the edge pieces from the rest, Charley wandered downstairs, distraught. "The girls said I can't be Troy Bolton. They said I keep messing up the words." I reassured him and added, "That stinks. How are you ever going to learn the words unless they let you join in and rehearse?" He eyed the puzzle, and sat down on the bench next to me with a sigh. Within 5 minutes we had two of the edges complete. By then the girls had gotten irritable and bored and they wandered down as well. We worked for 15 or 20 minutes in near silence, mesmerized by the smooth finish of the pieces and the warm and cool colors of the painting we were nimbly recreating. I breathed deeply and savored this sweet time. Still warm and cozy, a puzzle seems to be the perfect way for us to end our day together. Reason #197 for unschooling: more time for puzzles.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, Mike, the Headless Chicken

I killed my first chicken today. Well, 141 chickens to be specific. Okay, I didn't actually kill any of them, Sam and Tom did most of the killing. But I scalded and plucked the majority of the 141 and even cut off the feet of a few. It was far less disgusting than I had imagined...really.

I was a vegetarian for almost 15 years. I gave up eating meat for Lent one year when I was living in the dorms in college and just never went back. I hardly missed it, to tell the truth. Except for bacon. I really missed bacon. For years I lived out in the country and raised my kids and even raised chickens, ducks, a few goats, a calf or two, and didn't eat them. My ex-husband was the meat eater, but I was usually the cook, so we ate vegetarian at home and that was just fine with me. A few years ago, after my divorce, I was reflecting on many of the life choices I had made over the years. I had gone through periods of choosing not to drink alcohol in the hopes that I would inspire the alcoholics in my life to do the same. I stopped eating dairy and sugar and wheat because it was better for you. I didn't eat meat because I was a vegetarian! But why?

Every once in a while someone would ask me that question. Depending upon the crowd I was currently hanging out with, my answers ranged from: It's gross. It's unsustainable. I don't like it. I've been a vegetarian for my adult life, I don't know how to cook it. All of a sudden it dawned on me. If I ate what tasted good and made choices based on what I thought was best, I could not call myself anything and eat meat if I felt like it! Imagine that! Besides. I missed bacon. I have now been a meat eater for about 3 years. I eat it a few times a week, and I like to know where it lived and how it was taken care of before it was killed. I've even learned to cook with it.

A few months ago I joined a poultry co-op with a few friends. I no longer live on acreage in the country, so a friend agreed to house my birds, and several of us arranged to slaughter and butcher together when the 8 weeks were up. I liked the idea of raising my own meat and being so involved in the life of my food. Last night I began to dread the work ahead. I'd never killed anything. I'm not really thrilled at the sight of blood. I tend to look away during violent scenes in movies. I began to have doubts. Maybe I wasn't cut out for this meat eating business. I called my friends who are experienced homesteaders and butcher chickens often, and explained my fears. They promised I could have a job involving the least amount of blood and guts. They also listened to my worries and encouraged me to give it a try anyway. As I fell asleep, I prepared myself for the worst. Maybe I would return to vegetarianism after all.

On the drive over this morning, I got amazing clarity. If I can't participate in the slaughter of my food, I shouldn't be eating it. It just clicked. It took us 7 hours to butcher 141 chickens. When it was all over, I was hot, sweaty, disgustingly dirty, and quite satisfied. I drove home with 21 freshly processed broilers in my van. As I loaded them into my freezer at home, I was so glad that I didn't chicken out (sorry, couldn't resist). It was hard work, but we had an awful lot of fun. I remembered that my kids love the Frank Meyer song about Mike the Headless Chicken (you gotta hear it). I still have it stuck in my head. Best of all, I learned something new. Sometime ago I got the idea in my head that there were things in life that I couldn't or wouldn't ever do. As an unschooling mom, observing my kids challenge that theory on a regular basis, I'm slowly learning that I can do all kinds of things. Who knows what I'll tackle tomorrow.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Definition of Me

Even though we are unschoolers, "Back to School" week has been hard to miss. Yellow school buses roll by awfully early each morning. Kids pedal past, backpacks heavy with new notebooks, sharpened pencils, and brand new lunch boxes. We are lucky, as homeschoolers in our town, to have access to a long list of classes each semester sponsored by our local school district. My kids have taken Dance, Tap, Pottery, Woodworking, Knights & Dragons, and Knitting & Sewing in the past. More academic classes are offered as well, but so far, we haven't tried them. We are grateful for the variety and for the free choice. We can take classes or not.

Several classes began yesterday. A friend stopped me on the bike path and asked how the kids were liking "school". I reminded her that we don't go to school, but that the kids were liking their classes so far. Janey and Macy came back from "The History of Clothing" class with sketches of Robin Hood-esque costumes. We checked our bookshelves for an old copy of Robin Hood and talked about the characters in the Disney cartoon version. I love that they can be exposed to something that hasn't necessarily come up for us at home yet, and that we can take it as far as we like in our daily lives.

I've been thinking a lot about what the difference is between unschooled kids and schooled kids. Sure, our schedules are different. Schooled kids tend to spend more hours each day engaged in structured learning. The daily schedule of an unschooler tends to be more spontaneous. But something else occurred to me this week as I listened to the conversation of many schooled kids. It seems to me that school defines these kids. Maybe in the same way that adults are often defined by their career. "I'm an engineer." "I drive a taxi cab." "I'm a fifth grader."

When people ask me what I do, I have different answers depending upon who I'm talking to. I do lots of different things. Some of them earn money and some of them don't. I run marathons. I'm starting a car sharing program in my town. I like to sit on the couch and read. I hike. I'm a member of a 12 step program for friends and families of alcoholics called Al-Anon. I'm a Mom. I spend my days hanging out with three kids. When I think people are wondering how I pay the bills every month, I explain that I do shipping and fulfillment for small internet based businesses. And to other homeschoolers, I answer that I have a homeschooling consulting business, providing support and guidance to other homeschooling families. The fact is, I don't have one thing that defines me. My kids certainly don't. I suppose many people don't.

It is curious to me, though how many adults feel confined to asking kids the one big question: "What grade are you in?" My kids get this question a lot. Not long ago, they would just look to me and I would answer, with a smile, "We don't do grades. We homeschool." Now my kids are older and don't usually turn to me when an adult asks them a question. They have found that it is easier to calculate their current age and the grade that usually goes with that age as an answer. Although, if I'm within earshot, I often can't help myself and insist upon reminding the questioner that we don't go to school. I feel proud of our choice. It's important to me to let others know that school isn't the only choice out there, and to encourage others to ask more interesting questions. After all, aren't there multiple definitions for all of us?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Another Casualty of War

The library in our town has been closed for 5 months. Actually, all 13 libraries in our county closed their doors on April 7th due to lack of funding. It makes me sick to my stomach to think about. And I think about it a lot. Talking to my friend Trace tonight, I was reminded that some folks like to say that they are closed because there are no more big trees around here to cut down. Large federal timber sales are what funded the libraries in our small, rural county for years. But it's hard not to notice that lots of public services are paying the price nationwide because our country is at war. War is expensive. It's just that most towns still have a free public space where people and kids and families can hang out and borrow books. In Ashland, Oregon, we don't.

I read to my kids most nights before bed. We snuggle up on the couch or one of our beds and transport ourselves to distant lands for 45 minutes or an hour. It is sacred time. We all look forward to it. My middle daughter Macy is 9. At the HSC homeschooling conference last month, she was thrilled to buy a set of American Girl chapter books at the Recycled Resource Room. She happens to have the doll named Molly and this set is all about Molly. One of the books we're reading aloud is Molly Learns a Lesson. The American Girl series takes a period in American history and creates a storyline starring the doll of that era. Molly is an 8 year old during World War 2. Her mother works long hours at the factory to support the "war effort". Her father is a military doctor treating soldiers overseas. We just got to the part in the book where Molly is bummed out because her rubber boots no longer fit. It's raining out and God forbid you would go out of doors in regular shoes! She is forced to wear her older brother's ugly black rubber boots because the stores are no longer selling boots. All the rubber in America is being used to make things like life rafts and life preservers needed by soldiers fighting in the war.

I stopped reading and put the book down. "What Mom?" asked Macy. "Why did you stop?" I explained that it was really hard for me to read a story about people who were not outraged at the realities of war. It made me uncomfortable to think about a world (even a fictional one) where families non-chalantly discuss the sacrifices that folks at home must make in order to support the war effort. I explained for the millionth time that I don't support any efforts of any war and that it's just one of those things I will never, ever get. As I finished reading the chapter I realized that 40 years later, not a whole lot has changed. Our soldiers are still fighting battles overseas. We're still making sacrifices here at home for the war effort. Molly will always remember the year 1944 as the year she had to go without new red rubber boots. Macy will forever remember the year 2007 as the year she had to go without a public library.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

No More Monkeys Jumpin' on the Bed

It finally happened. The bed broke as they were jumping on it. Janey,11, decided it was time to rearrange the bedroom furniture. She does this every three months or so. She shares a room with her 6 year old brother, Charley, and he usually goes along with whatever redecorating she has in mind. I have to remember that this is also a fantastic way to get her excited about cleaning her room, so I usually help out. Just as the finishing touches were being put on the "new" room, Charley and our neighbor Gus climbed up on the bed and did what 5 and 6 year olds are wired to do: they jumped around and giggled. I resisted the urge to nag and left the room instead. They were having fun, and they weren't even jumping that hard. Not long ago, I might have launched into a monologue about making good choices and respecting furniture or something very I'm the adult and I need you to know that-ish. But I didn't. I left the room and bit my tongue. CRACK. One of the five wooden boards that supports the mattress from underneath snapped in half. The room went silent. I walked back in the room and resisted the urge to say much of anything. They knew. They didn't need me to state the obvious. No one got hurt, the bed is fixable, and Mama didn't even have to call the doctor. I'm pretty sure Charley and Gus won't be jumping on the bed anymore.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

4 Shooting Stars and No School Supplies

My three kids and I live in a community of 9 homes that were all built at the same time. Actually, we built them, all of us....nine families, together....all at the same time. It took us ten months and plenty of blood, sweat, and tears; but we did it, together.

It's Labor Day weekend. The last hurrah for those on a school schedule. Today we held a yard sale to sell the last of the power tools that we now no longer need because we are done building our homes. There are 12 kids living in these 9 homes, so of course we sold cookies and lemonade as well. We baked and wrapped and squeezed and made cardboard signs most of the afternoon yesterday and the kids set up their bake sale tables, while the adults organized the tools, the random boxes of nails, the extension ladders and hard hats, and that dang shop-vac that we've all been tripping over in the shed. There was so much excitement in the air. We moved into our homes back in December, and many of us needed to majorly hibernate for a few months after such a huge project. So now, when we get together for a potluck or an outdoor project, there is a familiar energy. Something like picking up that old guitar again and remembering how to play.

Most of the tools sold by the middle of the afternoon. The bake sale was a huge success. The kids made enough money for us to plan an ice cream party later in the week. Macy (middle daughter, age 9) made nearly 6 bucks face painting. I think she only got up out of her chair twice in 6 hours. She was in heaven, and now we are all walking around with little flowers and pumpkins and rainbows on our cheeks. One of the highlights of the day was the potluck. Sunny played his guitar the kids played basketball and rode scooters and bikes and skateboards until well after dark. We ate and laughed and and sang, and the kids played some more. Friends and neighbors dropped by.

I was tired. The kids were winding down. I thought for sure we were saying our goodnights and on our way to bed. And then I looked up. The stars. I laid down on the sidewalk and stared. Wow. Every time I do this, I can't believe how long it has been since the last time I found time to do this. Absolutely breath taking. Within minutes, 6 kids (my three and three others) had joined me. Janey, my 11 year old saw her first shooting star. Is that really possible? I had a moment of guilt. Maybe we haven't been looking up often enough. She, however, was thrilled. Gus, our 5 year old neighbor, came racing over when he heard our collective ooohs and ahhhs. Janey tried explaining to him what a shooting star looked like. She finally settled on: "Just keep looking up. You'll know it when you see it."

We laid there, mostly in silence, broken only by the gasps and ponderings: How do the satellites not fall to Earth? Where is Orion's belt? Which planets can we see right now? Are stars hundreds, thousands, or millions of miles away? What's that cloudy stripe down the center? Will the sun ever be a shooting star? What would it be like if there was no sun? Could we still eat pork sausage if we had no plants? And my favorite, "Are we upside down?"

These are the moments in life when I am reminded of why I choose to be an unschooler. Our life is rich and full and the learning is spontaneous and relevent. It's Labor Day Weekend. There's not a school supply in sight. And I saw 4 shooting stars tonight.