A Bold Beginning!

imageBefore meeting friends at a park this morning, we stopped into a local Starbucks so I could grab a coffee.  As we waited for our drink, I realized we were standing by this display for small-lot coffee from Brazil, so kiddo and I had a nice little talk about how the letters spelled “Brazil” and coffee can be grown in Brazil. Learning happens everywhere!


As the weather here turns nicer, we’re turning our attention from Gaelic things to the warm climate of Brazil and the wonders of the Amazon Rainforest.

On tap this month –

  • Listening to Brazilian music. Putumayo has a Brazil album, FYI.
  • Reading a slew of colorful books about the Amazon. I can’t be the only one who remembers “The Great Kapok Tree” right? We found a ton of books at the library, and on our trip this past weekend to Indiana, we stopped into Indy Reads and I bought every Amazon-related book in their (wonderful) $1 Children’s book section. If I lived in Indiana, I would buy all my books there. Loved it.
  • Visiting the “Rainforest Adventure” exibit at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
  • Decorating our dining room with a whole menagerie of animals and flowers you’d find in the Amazon, thanks to a bunch of art projects I found via Pinterest. It’s amazing the things a paper plate can do.
  • Maybe we visit The Rainforest Cafe while Grandpa is in town next week? TBD! I also wouldn’t be opposed to dinner at Brazilian steakhouse. :)
  • Watching The Magic School Bus Rainforest episode, and possibly “Ferngully” too. Also, looking for documentaries about the Rainforest.
  • Learning the different layers of the Rainforest.
  • Learning where Brazil is on a world map, as well as making/identifying the flag.
  • Possibly visiting the South American art section of the Art Institute of Chicago. (I’d like to find a Brazilian artist to feature, but I’m admittedly behind on my unit study research at present.)

I’m looking forward to these next few weeks. I think it’ll be a nice way to kick off spring.

(Apologies if this post looks a mess. WordPress’ blog window is only allowing me to see three lines at a time right now, so I really have no idea what might happen. ;))

Good Lord. I knew The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis was the biggest in America, but I truly didn’t expect the sheer huge-ness of the place.  Sprawling over four massive floors, TCMIndy is a crazy fun place for families, and we recently took a jaunt to Indianapolis to see the brand-new “Transformers” exhibit.


Obviously, the “Transformers” exhibit was incredibly impressive. My collector husband and devotee son had a wonderful time checking out all the movie props, original and rare toys, and playing with the Rescue Bots playsets on display.




And did I mention the semi truck used in the most recent Transformers movie is on display outside the museum for a limited time? The epic coolness of this, in the eyes of my boys, can’t be explained. Though, admittedly, we’re a little spoiled. Since the movie filmed in Chicago, we’ve already seen it. ;)
IMG_20150328_131315268_HDR Of special interest to me from a homeschooling standpoint was the museum’s wonderful “Take Me There: China” exhibit.  Being that we spent February learning about China, kiddo and I found a lot of familiar things in the exhibit, and he really enjoyed it. To get to China, you get on a (fake) airplane and get off in a large space decorated with all kinds of aspects of China – from what a typical home in China looks like, to a Panda research center, with Chinese Opera, restaurants, and other elements included.






There were loads of other fun to be had at the Museum.  There’s an amazing Dinosphere, a room devoted to Hollywood memorabilia and techniques where kids can play with some green screen, a National Historic Landmark Carousel, a basement level full of trains and train stuff, an Indy 500 race car the kids can sit in, and a really large and interactive playspace. Outside, the TCMIndy building itself is a marvel, and there’s a small garden with miniature replicas of famous monuments as well. Kiddo noted the Great Wall of China and the Parthenon, and I was super proud.




I would absolutely return to TCMIndy.  We spent about 5 hours going non-stop through as much of it as we could, and were all just exhausted and starved at lunch afterward.

Our overnight trip to Indianapolis was a lot of fun, and we ate some great food while we were there too. (ShoeFly Public House, Tow Yard Brewing Company, and Brics Ice Cream were all delicious and incredibly family-friendly.) While I’m not sure if we’ll head back to Indianapolis anytime soon – thanks to recent legislation, getting excited about spending our tourism $ there isn’t likely – we had a really good time.


What works for us.

We’re nearing the end of our March unit on “Gaelic Stuff” and it’s been really fun. Over the past few weeks, in addition to learning about Ireland and Scotland, I’ve also had a chance to pay attention to the things that work for us and our homeschool/unschool/whatever system. Every homeschool family works differently, and ours is no exception – So here’s what works for us.


1. Decorations & Celebrations
When selecting our units, I try to include holidays in the mix.  February being Chinese New Year, we studied China. With March being the month everything turns green in Chicago, Ireland seemed a good fit. We added Scotland in as well in order to take it in a more Gaelic direction and read some folk tales, but our dining room (homeschool den) has spent the better part of this month covered in shamrocks and green hats and flags. We celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in grand fashion by eating traditional Irish foods, and my husband and son even got matching kilts to help with the Scottish side of things. It’s a little bit immersion-based, and it seems to help things stick.


2. Science & Nature

Sure, we do lots of reading and art projects, but kids love science. My son’s favorite TV shows (yes, he watches some TV) are “Sid the Science Kid” and “The Magic School Bus” and he’s a curious little bugger.  This month, my Mom facebooked me a brilliant idea about starting seedlings in eggshells, so we went for it and now have quite a little beginning garden growing in our window. We’ve also been able to see all sorts of weather. Last week in Chicago, it was 60 degrees and gorgeous. Yesterday, we got snow dumped on us. Kiddo cooks with me, and is an expert and dumping measuring cups of things into bowls. Science is everywhere, and we love it.

3. The Library

Library time is essential to us.  As each new month approaches, I start digging for books, DVDs, CDs, and other media that can be useful to us Pinterest, Google, and other homeschool blogs, and then find them via the Chicago Public Library website.  Going to the library, helping me find books, reading books, and then taking advantage of all the games and toys the CPL are stocked with, is something kiddo and I both love. Recently, we’ve started library Mondays (just like Fancy Nancy does!) and it’s going to be a part of our spring routine.

4. Food

We’re foodies. We like to cook and eat food from different regions. So far this year, we’ve explored Greek and Chinese cuisine via recipes and restaurants.  This month, we went to a couple Irish pubs and had a big St. Patrick’s day feast of corned beef, potatoes, soda bread, Irish cheddar cheese, cabbage, and Guinness. Obviously, kiddo didn’t get Guinness, though he does know its a beer from Ireland.


5. Music

I’m a huge musical theater nerd, and there are musicals about everything, so I generally tie one into our playlist for the month. Thanks to the library, I’ve been able to find all sorts of world music to utilize in our lessons. This month, we’ve been listening to three CDs – Celtic Thunder, The Baltimore Consort performs Early Music of Scotland, and Nicola Benedetti’s Homecoming: A Scottish Fantasy – in addition to the cast recordings of “Brigadoon” and “Finian’s Rainbow.” Of course, our playlist also includes great kids musicians like Laurie Berkner, Laura Doherty, and Little Miss Ann, in addition to Disney songs and great pop songs the kid loves – “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift is a current favorite. (“Mama Can I hear Shake it Off?”)

6. Our City

We’re fortunate to live in Chicago, where there’s always something happening. Do a google search, or like the facebook page to a cultural institution, and you’re bound to find something that ties in to anything. We’ll be visiting the Art Institute to see the Ireland art exhibit in the next couple days.  We’re also members of several local museums – the Art Institute, the Notebaert Nature Museum, the Chicago Children’s Museum, and the Adler Planetarium – which makes visiting them regularly totally affordable and easy. Kid loves public transit and going downtown to see the buildings, and he’s pretty much teaching himself numbers so he can figure out which bus is which.

We don’t do a lot of worksheets.  Some folks do, and that’s fine. It’s just not for us. Kiddo has two doodle boards that he much prefers to write on. We read probably 10-20 books a day across all spectrums of things, and though reading six Lego City books might occasionally drive me insane, I know he’s learning things all the time and letting him learn his way is important. If Legos, busses, and puddles are what he needs – and they work – I’m there.  ;)

How do you homeschool?

Thanks to Groupon, I recently purchased a family membership to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park.  When kiddo was first born, we only lived a few blocks away from this museum, so we went there all the time – mainly to check out the Butterfly Haven.  As kid has grown, the rest of the wonderful and hands-on exhibits in this tiny gem of a museum have caught his attention, and now it’s one of our favorite places to spend an hour.

The Notebaert recently unveiled a new exhibit – “Rainforest Adventure” – and so we met up with some other homeschool pals and spent a morning checking it out.


We’ll be turning our attention in April to Brazil and the Amazon, so this exhibit couldn’t be better timed for us. The boys loved it, and basically exploded into the room, climbing on things, looking through microscopes and magnifying glasses, building a bridge and weaving a basket, and jumping into a pile of stuffed gorillas. It’s all designed for playing and looking, and our kids – as well as the two giant school groups visiting at the same time – were digging it.

imageAlso, there are toucans and a boa! #snakesarecool


After our Rainforest Adventure, we went up to the majestic Butterfly Haven and watched the wonders of nature flying around our heads.  The Haven is like a refuge for wind-burned Chicago citizens in winter, with it’s humid temperature, greenhouse sun, and scenic waterfall. With spring just beginning to show up, and the green returning to Lincoln Park viewable out the windows, the Haven is even prettier.image

imageAs we left the Haven, a Notebaert staff member was showing the school groups the metamorphosis cycle of Butterfly life, and we got to see several just-hatched butterflies who would be released into the Haven that afternoon. The boys were glued to it, proving once again that visiting this little museum is always a good choice. I’m glad to be a member, and look forward to loads more trips in the coming year.

If you’re doing a unit on Irish/Gaelic things, you should definitely include this gorgeous animated feature in your lesson plans. Inspired by Irish art, and using elements of Celtic mythology, this film is wonderful and my kiddo loved it. Also, it streams on Netflix and it’s only an hour and fifteen minutes long. ;)

“Today most people think of childhood and schooling as indelibly entwined. We identify children by their age in school. We automatically think of learning as work, which children must be forced to do in special workplaces, schools, modeled after factories.  All this seems completely normal to us, because we see it everywhere.  We rarely stop to think about how new and unnatural all this is in the larger context of human evolution and how it emerged from a bleak period in our history that was marked b child labor and beliefs in children’s innate sinfulness.  We have forgotten that children are designed by nature to learn through self-directed play and exploration, and so, more and more, we deprive them of the freedom to learn, subjecting them instead to the tedious and painfully slow learning methods devised by those who run the schools.” — Peter Gray, “Free to Learn”

I just finished reading Peter Gray’s “Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life” and, though parts of it drag a little, I found it to be an excellent treatise on what homeschoolers and unschoolers strive to do – let children enjoy learning. I’m not anti-school.  There are obviously loads of kids who do fine in school, and great schools and teachers are all over the place. I just don’t believe the current model by which we define “school” is necessarily the right model for everyone. I survived my public school education, but I rarely loved it. Except when certain teachers and classes were involved. As demonstrated by the success of Montessori, Waldorf, and other schools – The Sudbury school is studied in depth in this book – and homeschooling as a movement, different people learn different ways. Gray takes an anthropological view on education and childhood, and points out that for most of history and in much of the world, children have much more freedom and trust than we in Western Society give them. This is part of the reason we chose to homeschool our son, and Gray’s book hit home on many points. We’re not just trying to raise someone who can get into college, we’re trying to raise a cool dude who will be an intelligent, empathetic, open-minded citizen of this world – and maybe even someone who’ll grow up to try and make some things better.

Happy Tuesday, all!


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