our return to the outdoors {and some thoughts on unschooling}

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we’ve returned to the great outdoors for our days, finally. these days have been bittersweet as i know that, at least for now, this chapter of our free wheelin’ unschooling days is coming to a close. it’s the right decision for us at this moment and i have high hopes that we’ll see darla in the right atmosphere for the next phase of her education experiment. because that’s what it is in the end right? an experiment? each generation comes along with ideas and tests them out in the big experiment that is the evolution of the human species so i don’t have to worry about making *the right decision* for her. it’s all a gamble, no matter which way you slice it. i feel like education is one of those areas of life that many people take staunch stances, sure that their way is the best but from where i stand i feel like it’s all a gamble. it’s all a dance and at some point it’s time for this group number to narrow down to a solo effort. i feel darla has lent her voice towards the desire to try out school so that’s what we’ll do.

and it doesn’t feel as heavy as it once did. i’m not stressed. i feel that as she’s grown older and come into her autonomy these decisions that we’re supposed to navigate are not as loaded as they once were. one of my main goals as a parent is to be able to trust that my daughter has what she needs inside of her to create her own path and that she always has. that is just where i’m at with this journey. a few years back i felt like i could feel the weight of every decision as we pressed on into the future. now i’m more at peace with the fact that it’s really my daugther’s right to figure out how the path of her own life is going to run. she must be her own and i must be my own. i’m settling into this role of “guide” much better than i ever have felt as “mom.” as darla told her friend the other day “no ones the boss of me. my mom and dad just help me figure out how to be the boss of myself.”

maybe i can get this next child to call me mother-guide.

so this leaves us with one last summer, one last summer of flexibility and adventure. this leaves us a few short months of mother + daughter roaming until we all go through the very big learning experience of incorporating another human into this fold. how’s that for unschooling?

and then i’ll get to start this all over again. and who knows, if we get a year of school under our belt and find it’s not the best fit and we find a way for me to be able to accomplish my work as well as help two children educate themselves then maybe we’ll take that path.

maybe not. it’s all a great experiment, after all.

creek skipping

 fallen tree

 stone steps


getting reconnected

 nature hike baby belly

until this past week of glorious weather i had no idea how essential being out of doors would be for me to feel connected to this pregnancy. 

being outside has always been an essential part of my well-being, i think. i remember choosing hours of play outside over television or indoor play. in my motherhood, i’ve tried to get darla outside and into the wild as much as possible. i feel more at peace outside and my brain functions differently than when i’m cooped up inside.

beginning this pregnancy at the start of this very long, harsh winter was pretty rough on me. darla was a january baby born in a slightly warmer climate so i was out and about for the first 2 trimesters with her and still pretty active during the last trimester, heck we even walked down to the Obama inauguration 2 weeks before I was due. it seemed a little more normal to have lots of activity in early pregnancy and to hunker down a bit more during the last stretch. having the opposite happen with this pregnancy has not been easy.

i don’t function so well indoors. i get a little crazed about organization and overwhelmed by how many items are in our household. i have it in my heart hopes that i’ll move to a warmer climate someday that allows for outdoor adventure year round. but let’s bring it back to the fact that this week has shifted me back into focus for preparing for this birth.

so we’ve been out every day since it’s been possible. i can say without a doubt that sunshine, fresh air and green living things are going to be quite necessary for me to bring this baby into this world. and now i’m feeling oh so happy to be having a summer baby.

 mocs on walks

i’ve gotten my mocs out on walks. alone. it seems essential to my spiritual being to spend time alone in nature. i think it’s always been part of my personal faith practices to spend time alone in the wilderness, contemplating the small habitats of the tiny creatures juxtaposed to the vastness of the earth and the heavens. it’s important to my spiritual being to feel connected to it all. i just find that hard to do cooped up inside walls.

i feel it all coming together and it feels good. the reawakening of the earth is resonating deep inside me and i feel more connected now than ever before. how wonderful it was to feel this life quicken and grow inside me just as the earth started to do the same. how wonderful to feel this baby gain strength and see my belly bloom just as the blossoms appear in our world. and i can only imagine how wonderful it will feel to have life burst forth at just about the time when all life in the northern hemisphere is at its peak.

i’m so thankful that the world within me is connected to the world without me.




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i found myself keeping the camera in my pocket this week. i’ve been trying to remain present. this of course means much of our weekend was not captured for sharing but i got some very important experiences here.

i just finished reading my first book on unschooling and i’m so thankful i did. now when i look back on pictures like this i’m reminded just how much there is to learn from daily life. i’ll be working on removing my fears of inadequacy and uncertainty this next year as darla will be home with me full-time.

we tried new markets and old markets, both of which had plenty to feast the mind upon. pictured above is darla trying oils and spices. i’m so impressed with her at these markets. she asks questions and is not afraid to engage the merchants. she always stops to look at something i never would have on my own, like the chocolate booth where we got a step-by-step, interactive break-down of how chocolate is made. we sampled milk chocolate, 70% dark chocolate and an 85%. darla tried the raw chocolate as well. she decided she liked the 70% best of all. how could i walk away from an experience like that and not acknowledge all the learning that happened there?

as for me, i walked to a destination that is frequently driven or biked in our life and it was a pleasantly different experience on foot. i stopped to watch this blue heron on my walk down to the summerfest. it was a nice, serene moment before heading into the masses.

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i also had a picnic dinner with my girl in the park and sat here, under this sycamore. i put my phone away and just watched her for the longest time. it felt wonderful to just watch her and see her interact with other children. the evening felt like it could be an early fall day. the park was filled with people out and about and it was nice to see everyone out except it made me feel lonely at the same time.

and by the way these pics are from different days of the weekend. darla choose to wear that dress all weekend and i can’t even remember if it was washed in between days or not. whatevs.

sending you my best for a lovely start to your week and i hope you and yours had a peaceful, wonderful weekend.

unschooling: the audubon center

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one of the things i struggle with the most with unschooling is feeling the self-imposed pressure to see that you squeeze every ounce of information from the great resources we have available for free in our world. i often have to stop myself and ask is she enjoying this right now? if she’s enjoying it then she is learning. if she’s not then she is reciting information to pacify me.

this was my struggle when we returned to the audubon center last week. our last trip here was on a monday when the center is not open. i actually love breaking this park up into an indoor/outdoor experience. there is just too much to experience to fit it all in on one day. but you had been asking to return on a day when the center was open ever since so that’s what we did.

you seemed to breeze past all the things i wanted you to explore at first. i could feel myself switching into control mode and i had to take a deep breath and let it go. you really wanted to play dress up in the animal outfits. me thinks those outfits are the whole reason you’ve been asking to come back. once i reminded myself that you are learning by playing i was able to incorporate some substantial information into our play. eventually you became curious and wanted to put a little more effort into fact-finding. we spent a few good hours there playing, looking at exhibits and lunching while reading books about caterpillars and butterflies in the bird-watching library.

i will have to remember that sometimes you’re going to be locked in and intent on information intake like when we went to blacklick and sometimes you’re just going to want to put on a bird costume and run around. both are valid and important. sometimes you’re going to want to read a book and sometimes you will want to veg in front of a movie. both are valid and important.

i want this to be fun for you. i want you to know that the whole world is yours to learn from. it’s there for the taking. i know i need to put the work into myself to remove the expectations i have so that this can be fun for both of us. let’s have an adventure together. let’s let it last all our days.

ps. plus when i let you do what you want it often looks like this


unschooling: nature walk

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you know what i love about unschooling? everything! but one of the facets that suits my personality is that it can be a spur-of-the-moment idea. it can be a moment where you decide to pull the car over to take a walk in that park you’ve been meaning to for years.

unschooling last week included a trip to the smith nature park. this was a great, small little bit of woodland nestled into suburbia. we spent about 30 minutes here walking trails and creek gazing. it’s small enough to let darla be trail leader and big enough to make her feel like she’s a real hot-shot while doing so.

here’s darla’s summary of surroundings for her nature journal that day:

green plants. black trees. red trash. different kinds of rocks. it’s cool and hyperllenic. that means freshwater.  is bacteria a parasite?

hyperllenic does not mean freshwater. it’s a word she made up. at least i think. hold on. yep, she made it up.

picture summary:

1. self-explanatory

2. here’s me trying to revisit the concept of trees adding rings as they grow and examining this cross-section with her but instead she’s interested in these little balls she found which i think might have been some kind of pest repellent. sometimes this is just about me hearing myself talk, i think.

3. woods wedgie!! had. to. include.

4. is a pic of my feet is to show you all how idyllic and serene my life is. i’m just sitting next to creeks all the time gazing prolifically at my thrifted grannie shoes while darla yells requests to get in the creek and fish out trash at me. such a lush, verdant life i lead here by this creek.

in seriousness, our unschooling has provided a lot of peace and serenity in my life and i believe in darla’s. i feel spending time exploring the great wild world is so important. i hope she will remember these days all her life. i hope this will be a foundation for her to have a connection to the earth and find a way to live in harmony with her surroundings. the saying goes: children can’t learn to respect nature if they don’t spend any time in it.

thanks for checking in on our unschooling today.

ps. the ua parks department has this nifty little handout on the web for printing. this would have been a nice resource had i researched before and not stopped in on a whim. next time, i guess.

unschooling: strawberry picking

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last week darla and i went strawberry picking as one of our unschooling field trips. it was the first day of summer and let me tell you strawberry pickin’ is just about the best thing to do for the first day of summer. she and i spent a little less than an hour hauling in some sweetness and in that time we discussed attributes of the strawberry plant such as they seeds on the outside of the berry, the berries growing on the underneath side of the plant and the runners the plants send out. after that we discussed the principles of a market and how the price of things at a market or grocery store reflect the work of others to pick and transport. darla said “i prefer to pick them myself and do my own work because they taste so much better that way.” this means she gets it. this also means i let her eat berries in the field. oops.

the unschooling continued at home as we took on projects in the kitchen such as strawberry preserves, strawberry syrup from the discarded tops, strawberry cornbread muffins and fresh whipped cream for some snacking once we immediately brought them home.

you can check back in with us throughout the summer for more pickin’ field trips. I do believe July is when the black raspberries come in season and thems my favorite.

Impromptu Unschooling: Buck Creek State Park

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yesterday was a simple, fantastic day. it was a beautiful day for a drive. i love to be on the road. when i read Lolita i actually loved the thought of traveling the US and pulling off at all the brown signs, every roadside attraction. it seemed like such a great way to see the beauty of this country. the rest of the book…not so much.

so this summer i’ve made a promise to myself to see more of ohio in just that way. while driving home from Dayton we decided on the spur of the moment to investigate Buck Creek State Park and we found a beach! sure it’s a little man-made beach that we get here in the middle west but it served as a great unschooling opportunity.

we talked about rocks we found, counted boats, talked with other folks and even examined a dead fish washed up on the shore. i had to squash my conventional instincts of telling darla to get far away from it and not look but i reminded myself it was a teachable moment. we talked about what kind of fish it was and talked about having respect for deceased life.

darla befriended some older kids who were digging a castle and moat. some kids were digging and some were hauling water. i sat down with them and darla and pointed out the similarities between the sand structure and the man-made lake and then explained to them that the lake was made in almost the exact same way that they were constructing their castle moat. it was great to see how proud that made them of their work.

all in all it was a really great way to spend a perfect sunny day. we weren’t prepared for swimming so we’re headed to a closer lake today per darla’s request.

if you’re skeptically sitting there saying “it sounds like this unschooling stuff is just elaine taking her daughter places and then talking to her about it” then you got me. you’re exactly right. since this is the way my daughter has learned everything in her life thus far i don’t see any reason to change things up and make her memorize or take place in structured activities. maybe someday. but not today. and ummm not yesterday either.

summer sun adventurez

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am i correct that memorial day weekend is the kick-off to summer? it is in my brainz. since we spent today at the pool i’m going to go with yes.

warm weather means a lot of activity, right? i’ve made it a habit in the summers to make a list of adventure destinations for darla and i for the mornings when i know we need to get out and about but i’m drawing a blank. i’m planning lots and lots of outdoor exploration.

i’m a big believer in filling my child’s life with experiences. i just want the summer time to be about adventure and exploration, loose bedtimes, walking barefoot and watching out for bumblebees. i want firefly catching and wading in the creek up to our knees. i want pies and watermelon smiles. and i want music and dancing and sleeping outside to watch the meteor showers. i want trips and camping and staying up late to tell spooky stories which darla will insist upon.

does that sound good?

well, this is the beginning of my list. i hope to add some new destinations because i know novelty was always a big learning opportunity for me. i feel like there’s a lot of this big state we haven’t discovered yet.

any fun suggestions for outdoor stuff out there???

weekending: earthy

pairing the birthy and earthy has been a bit of a theme for me lately so let’s go with this.

our earthy part of the weekend was fulfilled by spending lots of time outdoors since the weather was amazeballs.

below you can see darla partaking in what started out as a backyard nature journal, turned watercolor backyard nature journal turned standard darla practice of painting herself blue. she painted our potted cherry tomato, our garden hose and outer space. since one of those is technically not in our backyard, and one of them is not really nature we’re going to have to work on this concept. but whatever. she done good.

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we took what is normally a 15 minute walk up to the ice cream shop and it somehow managed to take us a full 2 hours roundtrip. see her face? i’m such a mean mom to make her go get ice cream with me. right after this she started asking to be carried but we’ve been phasing that out. so we made a deal that we could just take our time and take a look at whatever we wanted along the way. {when i say “we made a deal” it means that she decided to stop whenever she wanted and i decided to deal with it } it’s really one of my favorite things to do with her to just go out and find what we can find. i’m happy to take advantage of the opportunities life gives me to slow down and do things like this with her, especially when there is ice cream at the end.


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speaking of the nature influence: jeni’s chamomile ice cream. oh. mah. gawd. i paired it with cloverton and it was divine. simply devine. i might need it daily.

hope your weekend was swell. xoxo.

growing thingz

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one of the things i think darla and i share in common is that we are experiential learners. the best way for me to learn is to try my hand at something and to then take note of all my mistakes and make plans for improvements in future endeavors. i wish i could be a better direction follower and researcher but my most concrete lessons are always the ones i’ve had to teach and learn myself.

i feel this has been the biggest purpose of our larger scale garden this year. we’re learning side-by-side, a bit of unschooling for both of us. i love the fact that the gardening and planting has been something that darla has had a great deal of involvement with this time around. everything from running items to the composter, planting, watering, helping me to make a natural insecticide and even talking to the plants when they were little sproutlets in our house. i’m happy to have the help while i can before she becomes to grown-up to find the tasks fun anymore.

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momma daughter field trip!

we took a field trip down to the public garden plots our neighborhood rents out to take a tour of what other folks are doing. we came a couple of times last year to look but this time we were able to talk a little more in-depth about growing techniques because both she and i have more knowledge.

i am reminded by these activities that everything is a learning experience for her right now. i am really looking forward to this summer, to get back to some of these free-wheeling learning expeditions. i’m always amazed by how much she already knows how to do for herself and i’m reminded that this learning happens from life and not from books. i pray the universe helps me remember this when conventional wisdom starts making me think that i should be pushing her into structured school and learning.