Unschooling: Our October 2016 adventures

So let’s see… in our October 2016 unschooling adventures, we wrapped up our trip home from the Free to Be Unschooling Conference in Phoenix, AZ, took a day trip with a giant penguin, finished some books, spent time “panicking” at a local baseball stadium, and dealt with an unexpected trip back to Arizona.

Curious? Wondering whether I can explain all that up in one post? You bet, and I’ll also hit some of the book, movie and game highlights from our month.

Sarah gives Mr. Angelino, our littlest cat, some lap time while Mr. Bill, NOT the littlest anything, enjoys some sun.

Sarah gives Mr. Angelino, our littlest cat, some lap time while Mr. Bill, NOT the littlest anything, enjoys some sun.

If you’re new to seeing our days recapped in this format, check out our archive of previous wrapups here for some more info on why we take this approach and some other highlights of our adventures.

Taking a giant penguin on a road trip, aka the Hooger-Ride

I have to start with this, because it’s the thing I can pretty much guarantee no other family did this month.

So we have this giant stuffed penguin named Hoogerheide. Those of you who follow our adventures on social media probably know that we often take our stuffed animals places. But this guy… he doesn’t get out much. Mostly because he literally can’t fit in our Honda Civics if we have passengers.

(Aside: Why Hoogerheide? It’s a village in the Netherlands from which we’d received a PostCrossing postcard on the day of his arrival in our house.)

Solution! We rented a van and took “The Hoogs,” as he’s affectionately known, for a nice daylong drive around York and Lancaster counties, including taking him to an inclusive playground called Daniel’s Den outside of Mountville, Lancaster County. It even had a Hooger-sized swing, and we got to make some families at the park happy through our antics as well.

Hoogerheide the giant stuffed penguin was very pleased to find swings and an elephant ride his size at Daniel's Den in Mountville, Lancaster County.

Hoogerheide the giant stuffed penguin was very pleased to find swings and an elephant ride his size at Daniel’s Den in Mountville, Lancaster County.

You can see a whole album of his adventures on my personal Facebook, titled Hoogerheide’s Big Day.

To sum up: Van rental. Large penguin. Playground. A little bit crazy. Fun.

Speaking of penguins

Or, as we call them, “pengins…”

We have been running a semi-stealth Stuffed Penguin Giveaway Campaign under the name Pengins For Everyone. We’ve given away something like 70 already and we’re already stocking up on ones to give away through causes like Toys for Tots and the Salvation Army Angel Tree program this Christmas.

If you or someone you know needs a pengin, check out the Pengins for Everyone website. We’d love to get more of them into loving hands!

Much of the Panic at the Ballpark cast. The dude with the baseball coming out of his head is the center of the story, and the twins you see at right are friends of Sarah's who served as "tour guides" for the attraction.

Much of the Panic at the Ballpark cast. The dude with the baseball coming out of his head is the center of the story, and the twins you see at right are friends of Sarah’s who served as “tour guides” for the attraction.

Panic at the Ballpark

This month’s other “big event” was kind of a last-minute surprise. Sarah decided to take part as a cast member at Panic at the Ballpark. This was a combination live theater experience/scare park at our local Atlantic League baseball stadium, and some of her friends on the cast mentioned a need for some more performers, so…

Enter CJ Logan, undead shortshop.

CJ Logan, undead shortstop, as portrayed by Sarah. Among the coolest parts of her role was that she got to hang out in the dugout and the locker room!

CJ Logan, undead shortstop, as portrayed by Sarah. Among the coolest parts of her role was that she got to hang out in the dugout and the locker room!

This was an amazing experience for Sarah. It was unpaid, but it had the responsibilities of both a theater role and a part-time job, and even better, she had a ton of fun. It was probably the happiest I’ve seen her in a long time, and I can’t say enough good things about the staff of Weary Arts Group, which created the event.

On a more serious note

So I mentioned a surprise trip back to Arizona in the introduction to this post. That didn’t include Sarah, only Dan and me, but it was a huge shock; we received a call on the morning of Oct. 11 that his 31-year-old brother had just suffered a massive heart attack and was flown by helicopter to a heart center about an hour away.

By that afternoon, we had Dan on a plane. Friday evening, I flew out to join him.

On our FIRST trip to Arizona this fall, we hung out with Dan's brother Dave at Dave and Buster's. (The orange monster is, appropriately, named Buster.) It was only about two weeks after this that we found out Dave had a massive heart attack and was in ICU.

On our FIRST trip to Arizona this fall, we hung out with Dan’s brother Dave at Dave and Buster’s. (The orange monster is, appropriately, named Buster.) It was only about two weeks after this that we found out Dave had a massive heart attack and was in ICU.

Dan’s brother Dave is an amazing guy. After the better part of a week in the ICU, during which time he was on a heart pump, as well as a couple catheterizations, they’re still not quite sure the cause of this, but his doctors assure him it’s nothing he did wrong – he’s active, he eats pretty well – but there are a lot of unknowns in his medical history because he was adopted from a Korean orphanage when he was young.

I’m glad to say Dave is doing better now, though he was already back in the hospital once for a few days because of some continued heart trouble. He’s on a lot of medications and is eating a strict cardiac diet – low sodium, low cholesterol – which he’s adapted to by posting awesome Facebook photos of his and his mom’s cool creations.

In bad news, that heart center? Not in-network for Dave’s insurance. They’re fighting it, but at this point, he’s something like $150,000 in debt from his two hospital stays and related treatments.

His best friend started a GoFundMe page, and if you’d like to help, not only are your contributions there welcomed and greatly appreciated, but I can definitely say we also appreciate “prayers and shares,” helping to send good thoughts for Dave and spreading the word about the GoFundMe campaign.

Dan and his parents, Paul and JoAnne, enjoy the red rocks near Sedona, Arizona, while Sarah dabs photogenically.

Dan and his parents, Paul and JoAnne, enjoy the red rocks near Sedona, Arizona, while Sarah dabs photogenically.

Books

Back to happier, more unschooly stuff… Sarah finished two books while we were in Arizona – Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, a solid nonfiction book, and Q-Space, a Star Trek: The Next Generation novel.

Disclosure: This post has some affiliate links. I only link to things we legitimately use and recommend, so if you see such a link, it’s because we really do believe in the book or item!

Together, we’d started reading a biography on Lionel Messi, but we decided to abandon it, because it was pretty awful. So instead, we started reading We Don’t Need Roads, a look at the making of the Back to the Future trilogy. We haven’t gotten very far yet, but so far it’s leaps and bounds ahead of the Messi book!

Sarah and Chris also read a bunch of Edgar Allen Poe poems and short stories together, including Annabelle Lee, The Bells and The Tell-Tale Heart, to get in a Halloween mood, and Sarah picked up some comics, including Gwenpool #1.

This is my squad - Rachel and Heather, unschooling moms extraordinaire and, even better, some awesome ladyfriends.

This is my squad – Rachel and Heather, unschooling moms extraordinaire and, even better, some awesome ladyfriends.

Movies and TV

A special note for our newer readers: Iโ€™d love for you to check out our post on learning from movies and TV shows. It really explains a lot about why we are such fans!

  • Mr. Mom – The origin of one of Chris’ and my favorite phrases, “You’re doing it wrong.” Now Sarah has officially seen this too!
  • Sleepy Hollow – Sarah and my mom watched this Johnny Depp adaptation of the Headless Horseman story and did some compare/contrast.
  • Person of Interest – Sarah and my mom’s current show.
  • Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey – Late ’80s/early ’90s kitsch and some of Sarah’s favorite actors.
  • Beetlejuice – Chris described this to Sarah as a surprise movie “starring Donald Trump and Batman.” (Alec Baldwin, who spoofs Trump on SNL, and Michael Keaton, who played Batman, star.)
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation – This is like our comfort-food TV. On a hectic day you can find Sarah winding down with one of her favorite funny episodes.
  • The Imitation Game – Remember how I talked about how valuable it is to learn from biographies and biopics? This is a great example. Made me cry like crazy, though.
This lady is my hero. Jen McGrail, who blogs at The Path Less Taken, is the organizer of the Free to Be Unschooling Conference, a great friend and an all-around tough, awesome, amazing woman.

This lady is my hero. Jen McGrail, who blogs at The Path Less Taken, is the organizer of the Free to Be Unschooling Conference, a great friend and an all-around tough, awesome, amazing woman.

Games

We continue our Wednesday night family game nights, and this month’s selections included Rummikub, a longtime favorite, as well as Zombie Road Trip and Munchkin, both of which were new to us and both of which involved a good amount of math.

Sarah and I have also been challenging each other at QuizUp, and she’s been playing a lot of MLB 16: The Show, which she got as a birthday gift at her 16 1/2th birthday party in Arizona.

Places, projects and odds and ends

Road-trip podcasting: While Sarah and Chris were on the drive to his mom’s house (about an hour and a half away), they listed to an episode of NPR’s Invisibilia podcast called How to Become Batman. Sarah found it very interesting, Chris said. It’s about a man named Daniel Kish, and as Chris described it, on the surface, it’s about blind people being able to “see” and do most anything they want. … But it’s really about how people tend to live up (or down) to the expectations that people and society place on them. Super-cool conversations there! (And I highly recommend Invisibilia in general; it’s a great show.)

I'm standin' on the corner in Winslow, Arizona... (Sing along! You know you want to!)

I’m standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona… (Sing along! You know you want to!)

Sight-seeing in Arizona: We saw the Grand Canyon, went to some artsy places in Sedona, visited Petrified Forest National Park in the Painted Desert, saw the cliff dwellings in Walnut Canyon and a bunch more. We also did the Standin’ on the Corner in Winslow, Arizona thing, AND we went to the new OdySea Aquarium, which was amazing. I should write a whole post on these “family field trip” destinations… maybe someday when I have that weird thing, what’s it called, free time?

So one of the coolest things about the OdySea aquarium was this make-your-own-ice-cream-sandwich shop. LOOK AT HER FACE. So much ice cream. So much cookie. (Yes, that was dinner.)

So one of the coolest things about the OdySea aquarium was this make-your-own-ice-cream-sandwich shop. LOOK AT HER FACE. So much ice cream. So much cookie. (Yes, that was dinner.)

Postal fun: Sarah wrote a Halloween postcard to her Taiwanese pen pal, Christina, and sorted some of her large stamp collection with Chris. The conversations we have related to stamps are super-fun!

STEM Sisters: The local science museum where we’re members has a program called STEM Sisters, in which girls in middle and high school get to hang out with women who work in science and technology fields. We went to the “Discovery Dinner” in October, and are scheduled to go to a pretty cool career day in November that I can’t wait to report on. And it’s all free for the girls, which is amazing.

So what’s new with your family this month? Drop me a comment! I love hearing from all my “blog friends!”

Unschooling: September 2016 Free to Be edition

Hello from Phoenix, Arizona! Dan, Sarah and I spent Sept. 27 to Oct. 6 here at the Free to Be Unschooling Conference and visiting with Dan’s family. (Honest disclaimer: I meant to post this from Phoenix, but didn’t bother editing photos, so now I’m finishing up from back home in York, PA.)

Free to Be is our one chance each year to gather with other people who live and learn like we do, and we sort of try to cram a year’s worth of friendships and communal unschooling living into four days. In today’s post, I’m going to try to mix in both our experiences this September as well as the new things I’ve been thinking about thanks to the awesome sessions at the conference.

If you’re new to seeing our days recapped in this format, check out our archive of previous wrapups here for some more info on why we take this approach and some other highlights of our adventures.

Unschooling in September 2016: The York County 4-H Alpaca Club took some of their animals to a local nursing home to visit with the residents.

The York County 4-H Alpaca Club took some of their animals to a local nursing home to visit with the residents.

Books

Sarah spent a lot of time in September reading a book she started in August, Double-Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies.

Disclosure: This post has some affiliate links. I only link to things we legitimately use and recommend, so if you see such a link, itโ€™s because we really do believe in the book or item!

She had originally aimed to finish it before Free to Be, and while she didn’t quite get there, she only has about four chapters left and should finish soon.

She’s also started working on her test-prep books, which she’s using to try to prepare for a placement test at our local community college.

Another reading thing this month: We re-instated one of our longtime favorite things, family read-aloud time! Reading aloud to teenagers is TOTALLY cool – see Alice Ozma’s The Reading Promise if you don’t already think so – and a way for us to enjoy books together! This month, we tackled a short biography of Ulysses S. Grant, and when we get home, we’re on tap to start one about Lionel Messi. If you haven’t already checked out our take on why biographies are so cool, I hope you will – we love them.

The other project going on related to reading at our house right now is one I also mentioned last month: the creation of a “reading room” in a spare alcove. We got rid of a bed that was just taking up space, so now we need to add some comfy seating areas for reading and doing projects!

Unschooling in September 2016: Here's the York County 4-H Alpaca Club at their York Fair show, with their amazing leaders Beth and Sheri. Sarah is wearing her Alexander Hamilton costume from the costume contest.

Here’s the York County 4-H Alpaca Club at their York Fair show, with their amazing leaders Beth and Sheri. Sarah is wearing her Alexander Hamilton costume from the costume contest.

Movies and TV

A special note for our newer readers: I’d love for you to check out our post on learning from movies and TV shows. It really explains a lot about why we are such fans!

  • The Walking Dead: Chris and Sarah are caught up through the end of Season 6 and anxiously awaiting the start of Season 7.
  • Serenity: After finishing Firefly last month, Serenity was an obvious next choice.
  • Blazing Saddles: We watched this a few days after Gene Wilder passed away, because Sarah and I had never seen it.
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: Sarah and I had a “Girls’ Movie Day” with my friend Tami, watching this. Liked it a lot; can’t imagine reading it as a book, which is really unusual for me, as I often prefer book versions to movie versions.
  • Mythbusters: One of our longtime favorite series; we pick it up and watch a few favorite episodes every so often.
  • Person of Interest: Sarah and my mom picked this up as their new series!
  • Real Genius: This was a Sarah and Chris fun selection!
  • Thirteen Days: Chris and Sarah watched this awesome Cold War movie, and Sarah really was able to understand and articulate the kinds of problems Kennedy and Russia were facing.
  • Top Secret: Another Ottos Fun Choice, tied to their Cold War theme.
  • The first presidential debate: Sarah was more into this than the rest of our family, so we watched it with her. Certainly eye-opening…
  • WWE Raw: It’s like the debate, only more realistic ๐Ÿ˜‰
Unschooling in September 2016: Another 4-H activity during the York Fair: Helping out at the petting zoo, which is a tradition Chris and Sarah share together.

Another 4-H activity during the York Fair: Helping out at the petting zoo, which is a tradition Chris and Sarah share together.

Video games

This is another area with prerequisite reading! I have a whole series about video-game learning that I’d also love for you to check out if you haven’t already.

  • MLB 15: The Show: Sarah’s custom player, Kuekuatsu “Wolverine” Logan Jr., made it to a 72-game hit streak.
  • Destiny
  • Fibbage 2
  • Pokemon Go: Yep, we play this pretty hardcore! Added bonus: Our hotel at Free to Be is a Pokemon gym, and there is a mall nearby with a bunch of Pokestops, so we were able to level up a bunch – and catch Pikachus, finally.
Unschooling in September 2016: What, more alpacas? In sunflowers? With cool 4-H kids? (I didn't take this photo; our club leader Sheri did; I just think it's super-cool.)

What, more alpacas? In sunflowers? With cool 4-H kids? (I didn’t take this photo; our club leader Sheri did; I just think it’s super-cool.)

Board and card games

Something cool we started this month, which was Chris’ idea, is a Wednesday night family game night after dinner. We have all these cool games that we love to play, but in our lives, it’s just rare for us all to be home at the same time and free to play them unless we really plan for it – so that’s what we’re trying to do! So far we’ve had two, and once we’re back from our Arizona trip we plan to continue.

Games we’ve played this month include Family Feud (basically Sarah’s favorite TV show, made into a family game); Lanterns, which Sarah had bought for us back in April, and which is really low-key and relaxing; and Munchkin, which we’d had since at least last Christmas but never tried – and ended up really enjoying!

Unschooling in September 2016: One of the contests every year at the York Fair is "Who Can Grow the Giant-est Pumpkin?" This was this year's winner (shown with Sarah and Lilac Pengin.)

One of the contests every year at the York Fair is “Who Can Grow the Giant-est Pumpkin?” This was this year’s winner (shown with Sarah and Lilac Pengin.)

Places, projects and other odds and ends

Laser tag party: Sarah turned 16 back in March, and she didn’t want to have a party locally; instead, we celebrated with a mini shopping spree at an out-of-town mall and had a dinner at Texas Roadhouse with our extended family. But what she really wanted was to have a birthday party in Phoenix with all of her closest friends, who either live in that town or were there for the conference. So that’s what we did, at an awesome place called Crackerjax in Scottsdale that I can highly recommend. Laser tag, go-karts, mini golf, arcade games, and good pizza. Sixteen-and-a-halfth-birthday win.

York Fair: Fair time is always big for us. Sarah’s projects from the 4-H fair went on to our big county fair, and her alpaca poster won third place! We’d also both entered some (non-4-H) artwork, and I got first, second and third places for three pieces of mine. Then there was the alpaca club’s show at the fair, where Sarah came in fourth in both showmanship and obstacles and then, for the second year in a row, won first place in the costume category! This year, she was Alexander Hamilton and Glacier the alpaca was Aaron Burr, complete with a shirt with ruffled neck and cuffs, dueling pistols and tall socks (or, in the case of the recalcitrant alpaca, legwarmers). It was pretty great!

Other 4-H fun: We also took the alpacas to a local nursing home and shared them with the residents for an evening. That was great – Sarah likes showing the animals to people who don’t know about them more than just about anything, so she was right in her element.

News from the Mom front: I started my third semester of grad school (which, to be honest, I’m kind of regretting at this point, but we’ll see). In happier news, at a scrapbooking day I went to, I finished our 2015 family scrapbook! That puts me right on track – I generally won’t work on a year ’til it’s over, so I’m usually spending the year working on the previous year’s book. Getting it done a little early is great because now, at two scrapping events I’m going to in October and November, I can tackle some older projects that have kind of been lingering out there and knock them off. In less-good news, after a few months of better-than-usual health for me, I spent most of September feeling a bit more under the weather, which is not super unexpected but still kind of stinks.

Unschooling in September 2016: Here's the crew at Sarah's laser tag half-birthday party in Phoenix - Cam, Liv, Gabriel, Sarah, Janae and JJ in the front with Michael up top.

Here’s the crew at Sarah’s laser tag half-birthday party in Phoenix – Cam, Liv, Gabriel, Sarah, Janae and JJ in the front with Michael up top.

Observations on unschooling from Free to Be

I have to be honest – I really am not at this unschooling conference for the unschooling part itself. I come for the people – our friends and Sarah’s, who we wait all year to see. Last year, I think I only attended maybe two scheduled talks and a couple of art sessions, and that was 100% fine.

This year, though, I had some friends who were speaking, and in particular, who were leading small-group chats about issues that really resonated with me – like unschooling when you have a chronic illness, or unschooling a teen with Asperger’s, or coming to radical unschooling from more traditional and control-oriented parenting methods.

When I’m at home, where I literally know maybe two other unschooling families, Facebook is where I go to find people who understand. Here, I got to do it in person, and it was just absolutely amazing. I didn’t take any actual notes, but there have been a few things that stuck in my mind:

Meet your child as the person they are. This came during an awesome chat led by my dear friend and my “wise owl,” Pam Clark. I think most of us as parents think we’re doing this – we’re very conscious about valuing our children’s uniqueness and would say that we don’t want them to be something they’re not. But in reality, it’s just so easy (and I’m super-guilty of this myself) to say things like “Why can’t you act your age?” or “No one else is having a problem with this, why are you?” And that isn’t respecting who your child is in this moment. Maybe they’re 16, but when they’re disappointed and crying, maybe you’re still talking to the 7-year-old inside who’s dealing with some serious inner angst, and you have to talk to that 7-year-old to make any impact in that moment.

Spending time with your kids is enough. The brilliant Jen McGrail helped us get to this realization during her chat on chronic illness and its effects on unschooling families. Most of us were really bummed about the days when we feel like we can’t get out of bed and go do all the things we think our kids would like to do, or would benefit from. But my friend Rachel Miller said something that really made me think – she went to public school, and her mom had some health challenges. She had family friends who would take her places, but all she really wanted was to just sit and watch TV or just talk with her mom. That really hit me hard. I also had been thinking about how, no matter how many times I tell Sarah in words that her best is always good enough, I’m showing her with my actions and my self-criticism that my own best isn’t good enough for me – and that’s the lesson she’ll learn if I’m not careful. Deep stuff.

It’s OK for us (especially Sarah) to make the decisions that are healthiest for us. That means that Sarah might not ever decide to get her driver’s license. (You would not believe the number of people who started hammering us about that as soon as she turned 16.) She doesn’t want to – and as I heard in chat about unschooling with Asperger’s run by my friend Carma Parden, that’s not only normal but pretty common. I spoke with two late teen/early 20s young people in that group who also do not drive because it’s super-stressful for them. The sad part is, I was really struggling with the idea of Sarah not driving, and somehow, hearing that ANYONE else made the same decision just immediately made it OK to me. I wish I didn’t need that kind of external validation, but at the same time, it’s so great to know we’re not alone in the decisions we make, you know?

I’ll actually have more photos and thoughts from Free to Be in our October roundup, so I hope you’ll check back for that, too!

So what’s new with your family this month? Drop me a comment! I love hearing from all my “blog friends!”