Tuesday, March 20, 2018

What Unscoolers Read: Milk Wars

Seven year-old No. 1, five year-old No. 2, and i had a blast last weekend reading through the YoungAnimal/DC Universe team-up mini-series, Milk Wars!  We got caught up on all the issues, and then sat down to compare them to our back issues of Doom Patrol, where a big part of the Milk Wars story line has been evolving for the last year and a half.  We talked about RobotMan, (somewhere there's a 9 panel origin story for him just like the one for Negative Man in in DP #2), and wondered whether the lion in DP #1 had anything to do with the lion from Narnia, (1 just read The Lion The Withch and the Wardrobe a few weeks ago.)

1 and I have been reading Doom Patrol since it came out in late 2016.  It's one of our all time favorites!  Last summer we even got to meet Gerard Way and Nick Derington, the writer and artist for the series.  They unwittingly taught 1 how to sketch Robotman and Lotion. (That's 1's practice next to Gerard & Nick's originals.)  Doom Patrol's stories are approachable, complex, layered, (it's telling that Milk Wars wrapped up plot points that were introduced in DP #1), and always positive.   

There are a few small spoilers below, so if you haven't read the story in Milk Wars yet, you might want to do that first.  As I alluded to earlier, Part 1 of the mini-series was almost the last one for us.  It was a Justice League/Doom Patrol team-up, and it rang more true to the Justice League than Doom Patrol to me.  There was violence of a kind that hadn't ever turned up in the first 10 issues of Doom Patrol.  I set it aside and wondered if I really wanted to read the rest of the series.  Part I had revealed what happened after the end of Doom Patrol #10, but it cast  Casey Brink's and Terry None's resulting progeny as a bad guy!  In the end I decided I'd give the rest of the series a try, and I'm glad I did!  After the first episode, everything got right back on track in a very Young Animal sort of way.

Part II teamed Mother Panic with Batman.  This time, I felt I was right to worry about violence since that's an integral part of Mother Panic.  Boy, was I wrong!  The story did a great job of introducing Mother Panic sans violence. 

The kid's experience with part III, featuring Shade the Changing Girl and Wonder Woman was similar to my experience with part I.  She put it down unfinished for awhile, albeit for a different reason.  She didn't think it was right that the villains setup a universe where Shade the Changing Girl was forced to feel only one feeling, ever, (happiness), no matter what.  I made it all the way through part III to a more upbeat ending than 1 had expected.  The coolest thing about part III though is what it taught me about the kid.  She'll take care of monitoring her own reading list.  She's aware of how things make her feel, and whether or not she wants to feel that way.  Is Good!

The mini-series ended with part V, another Doom Patrol/Justice League team-up.  While cleaning house, the kid and I came across parts III and V, the ones each of us hadn't finished.  1 assured me that part V ended well.  I assured her of the same thing with respect to part III as we sat down to read. 

And, Wow!  Part V was classic YoungAnimal Doom Patrol:  the heroes thought, and felt their way to saving the universe.  It was non-gendered story all about love, acceptance, and redemption even in the face of abject failure and the end of the world.  Like almost all Doom Patrol stories, it wasn't fun, and it's characters also set a good example!

Oh, and the story brought back //big spoiler here// Rita Farr aka Elastigirl!  The kid seems to have known this was coming all along.  Her first introduction to Doom Patrol was through the Teen Titans cartoon where Rita's adopted son Beast Boy is featured.  Even though Farr didn't appear in a single Doom Patrol story till part V of Milk Wars, 1 always kept her in the picture:  That's her there just to the right of Negative Man!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

3's Newfound Love of Cooking: Kids Cooking Squids

Three-year-old No. 3 got to drop in on a cooking class a few weeks back.  I love San Francisco and the fact that kids can 'pick up' a cooking class thanks to our spectacular Parks & Rec department.  When we ate dinner that night, she beamed, and said she'd had a blast, and also really enjoyed her friends helping her.  To me , this was awesome!  Not only had 3 made friends in a pick up class, she'd worked with them!  This led to two really cool thing!  First, less than ten days later, 3 made her first friend all by herself at our local branch library!  They drew pictures, sang and quietly talked with each other!

The second thing that happened was that 3 wanted to make squid!  She'd seen me, along with seven year-old No. 1 and five-year-old No. 2 make it before.  She wanted in on the game.  That weekend, when she and I went to the 'redhat' market, one of our treasured local markets, for our weekly meat, fish and egg run, she asked if we could get squid.  Then she insisted, (politely), that we get squid.  It sounded good to me, so I got a bag to put the squid in at which point 3 told me she'd be happy to hold it.  And so it was that one of the redhat staff saw what they thought was a man happily dumping squid on the ground.  A quick offer of help while peering over the ice tray revealed to them that 3 had things well in hand.

We hiked back up the hill to our house where the next day, 3 asked if she could help cook the squid.  We set out a plate on a chair where she could reach, and got right to it.

Squid Pen
The first step was to prepare the squid to be fried.  There's a piece of cartilage that runs the length of their hoods, and appears, to me, to support/hold all their internal organs.  I unhooked the cartilage, (technically called the pen), from the bottom of the hood, and then passed the squid to 3 instructing her to grab the hood tightly, and then pull the head and tentacles out.  She grabbed, tugged, and then handed me the hood in one hand along with the head, tentacles, and guts in the other (did you know cephalopod, the family squid and octopuses belong to, literally means head-foot?)  I put the hood on the plate, then cut off the tentacles just below the eyes being careful to make sure I popped the beak out from its mouth (see notes on larger squid below), and threw the eyes and guts into the compost bag.  We were having so much fun that before long 1 and 2 wanted in on the game as well, and we made quick work of the dozen or so squid.

I took over when it came time to slice the hood into rings.  The first few times we did this I cut open the hood to make sure I scraped out all the white mucousy stuff left after we'd pulled out the guts.  This time, I let it slide (gross pun not intended.  Honest!)  I think leaving it in made the final dish taste better.  I put a little vegetable oil in a frying pan and turned on the stove so it could heat up.

Having all the pieces on one plate, I made a pile of batter mix we picked up at the store on another plate.  3 got to work rolling all the squid pieces in the batter.  As she got them coated, I took them out and tossed them into the frying pan.  You can tell if it's hot enough by throwing in a little batter.  If it sizzles, it's hot enough.  Once the squid was in the pan, I turned it every few minutes for no more than seven or ten minutes.  As the exposed pieces turned a light purple, I took them out of the pan and placed them on a plate to cool down.

Having all participated in the cooking, the four of us proceeded to chow down on homemade calamari!  2 and 3 discovered that they loved cocktail sauce which they thought tasted just like ketchup!

Notes on big squid and aromas (shall we say):  Our house smells like cooking squid every time we do this.  It's not a big deal since here in San Francisco we can leave all the windows open, and the aroma abates in a few hours.  Still, it's something you might like to know ahead of time.  Second, let's talk about squid the size of bowling pins.  They're a different sort of beast, so to speak.  OK, they're the exact same beast, and they taste just as good, but there are a few things to know ahead of time.  They have honest to goodness beaks!  Beaks the size of a small hawk or kestrel I'd say.  You'll want to make sure you cut them off before you cook.  They also have rings with jagged edges, (teeth?), in their suckers.  The kids were fascinated with them, and so helpfully popped them all out.  Finally, their guts are proportionately larger.  Also, the hood of ours was filled with a brown-yellow packed sort of goo.  It slides right out, and goes into the compost.  It didn't seem to affect the taste at all, but again, it might be nice to know ahead of time.

The super nice people at Yangtze Market, our 'redhat market', (because of the red awning), told us how to cook squid.  I'm just passing along their instructions along with our experiences.  If you're in Excelsior, the place is well worth checking out!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

An Unschooling Curriculum: Backwards in Time

Unschoolers love to say they don't follow curricula.  I've noticed though, that you can define an unschooling curriculum backwards in time by what the gang, (three year-old No. 3, five year-old No. 2, and seven year-old No. 1), has accomplished in the last week.  It's kind of awesome, going in, we had no goals, nor any idea any of this would happen!

3 developed a love of cooking!
3 asked to attend a pick-up cooking class for kids at the Noe Valley Rec Center.   (I love that San Francisco kids can drop into Parks & Rec classes if there's room.)    She had a blast!  About four days later, when she and I went to the red-hat for our weekly meat and egg shopping, she insisted that we get squid.  She asked to hold the bag while I levered the squid into it.  (This led to an amusing confusion.;  unable to see 3 below the seafood ice tray, one of the workers was concerned I was dumping squid onto the floor.)  When I was ready to cook, 3 wanted in on that as well.  She helped pop their heads off to clean them, and then after I'd sliced them up, rolled the pieces in the batter mix,  3's interest brought seven year-old No. 1 and five year-old No. 2 in on the game as well.

No. 2 started getting ready all by himself!
Five year-old 2 has been wanting to eat breakfast earlier and earlier.  Meanwhile, he's been taking longer and longer to get ready in the morning.  I don't always remember to respectfully parent, but when I do, wow!  It works pretty well!  2 and I took the time before dinner a few nights ago to discuss the breakfast situation.  I explained that perhaps part of the reason for delaying breakfast until after he was dressed and ready to go was because his various caretakers were concerned that it would take even longer to get ready if he ate breakfast and then got dressed.  We talked about my suspicion that if he got ready more quickly and reliably, he could probably eat breakfast whenever he liked.  Then, I suggested that maybe he could lay out his clothes right then, the night before, so that it would be really easy to change into them as soon as he woke up.

The next morning, the first time I saw 2 he was wearing clean clothes, and fairly beaming about the whole thing!  Taking time to make sure we talked through the breakfast vs. getting ready issue, covering what all the parties involved wanted, did wonders!

1 and 2 make the Farmers' Market a Breeze! (Also Baby Broccoli is Back!)
With their independence, and math skills cruising along, 1 and 2 are helping me more and more by splitting off to get things at the Farmers' Market where they know everyone.  In fact, it was their increasing number of Market forays that led me to send them for:  Cheese!

A Wrinkle in Time
On our way to the movie, seven year-old No. 1, who taught herself to read, was heard to say, "I've read the book!  Every word!  By myself!" 

3 Made a Friend!
We have spectacularly vibrant branch libraries here in San Francisco!  The gang almost always finds other kids already there when they visit.  One afternoon this week, 3 who hangs out with other kids all the time, made her first friend all by herself!  She and her buddy were drawing pictures together, singing, and occasionally stopping to talk with each other!

So, there you have it.  A whole week of unschooling, with a math, reading, cooking, and people skills curriculum!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Independence in Another Light: Utility or Grab the Cheese Please!

I had a great remembering a few days ago.  For me, it was a breakthrough moment, for the kids, well, the kids just did what they were capable of doing long before my 'awakening'.  We've tried to set things up so that the gang, 7 year-old No. 1, five year-old No. 2, and three year-old No. 3 are always encouraged to be independent.  When we were grad students, that meant hanging out at campus quads where the kids could wander a hundred yards away or more exploring the area and interacting with people. 

As they grew, this emphasis on independence meant trusting that they could successfully and safely range further and further ahead of me.  The whole thing involved  learning to focus on each other, and mutually trust each other.  As the kids learned to listen for me to occasionally holler directions, they got to range out further and further, and explore more and more.  Ironically, (with respect to my 'awakening'), we started this in the somewhat confined spaces of chain grocery-stores where the kids could be several yards ahead, but still in eyesight, and earshot. 

When we moved to the big city, ranging out at the grocery store, became ranging out to the end of the block.  We each had to learn new kinds of focus.  The gang had to learn to focus on the people around them, not bouncing off of, running into, or getting trampled by them.  They also had to learn to focus on where they were, stopping at every corner habitually without fail, and recognizing busy downtown driveways as different sorts of corners where they had to wait for me to turn catch up before proceeding.

A new kind of independence came when we got to hangout more in 'wilderness' settings.  On hikes with winding switchbacks, the gang would cut the switchback using deer-trails while I took the longer distance switchback route.  They loved it, their route took the same amount of time, (the deer-trails tended to be more steep, arduous affairs to navigate), but they got to be out of sight, even more independent, exploring on their own.

All of which is a rather long-winded explanation of how in building independence, I'd focused on the fun, and beauty of the activity, without focusing on potential benefits to, well, me.  Which brings us to our most recent grocery shopping trip.

Every weekend, we make a dairy run.  We grab milk and butter on one side of the store crowded with weekend shoppers, and then head to the opposite side of the store for cheese before we finally work our way back to the front of the store to pay and escape.  I've been asking the gang to show me where different things are.  "Take me to the milk please."  Followed by the kids ranging out ahead, and me following along as they lead, weaving through the crowd to the back of the store. 

This weekend, though it finally occurred to me!  We could cut our shopping trip in half by splitting the work.  Since the gang knows where everything is already, do they really need me with them?  Not really.  I asked No. 3 to show me where the milk was, and then turning to 1 and 2, said, "Can you go grab two blocks of cheddar cheese, and meet us back by the milk please?"

1 and 2 headed out for points known.  3 and I trundled pleasantly through the store.  3 pointed out the display case for the milk and opened it.  We got the first gallon into our basket when No. 1 chimed, "Here you go!"  She and 2 were back from the opposite corner of the store cheddar cheese triumphantly in hand.  I always felt independence was important, but who knew it could be so handy? 

What are your favorite independence and ranging out stories?

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Five year-old No. 2 Wants to Learn to Read (Unschooling in Action)

We unschool.  This blog talks all about what our unschooling family does on a day to day basis, but rarely, (at least recently), mentions unschooling.  But, a really cool thing happened last week, so here goes.  Five year-old No. 2 said he wanted to learn to read!

Before I get into 2 and his desire to learn to read, I should perhaps point out what unschooling is, as well as what it is to us.  Unschooling is a schooling methodology wherein the curriculum is based on what the learner wants to learn.  The general idea is that kid’s live life, and as they express an interest in a subject, they’re assisted, (if they need assistance), in finding material with which to learn, and perhaps encouraged, (it depends on the particular interpretation of unschooling), and perhaps taught when and if they ask for help.

While it might sound as if unschooling kids are dropped into an educational void, and told to swim, that’s not the case.  Parents ‘strew’ educational material they think might interest the kids.  In our family, strewing amounts to the fact that as we read books and funny-books, and not being a naturally tidy bunch of people, we tend to leave them laying around the house.  We also ‘strew the city’, meaning we send the kids out to see various ‘educational’ events, as well as to run errands, explore, and meet people.  All of these activities, we hope, might generate interest in different subjects.

To me, the most important part of the methodology is the kid expressing an interest in what they want to learn.  As a kid, and even today as an adult, I learn best the things I have a motivation to learn.

So, I lit up like a Christmas tree, when I heard that 2 had expressed an interest in learning to read!  We’d already figured out that 2 was built a lot like me, and that frankly he wasn’t going to learn to read until he was darned good and ready.  Knowing this, and even knowing where his attitudes came from, we still couldn’t help worrying a little bit about exactly when he would in fact get ready.

2 is a pragmatist.  Months ago he figured out that reading is cool.  He also figured out that seven year-old No. 1 would be happy to read to him; all he had to do was ask.  He had a need to read, he found a solution, problem fixed.

We strewed and strewed.  “2, would you like to sing the alphabet song?”  At first the answer was no, then over weeks, 2 decided that yeah, that could be fun.  I cheated the unschooling methodology, and proposed that 2, 3 year-old No. 3, and I work specifically on the letters A-G one week.  As I mentioned, I’m built a lot like 2, so that didn’t last.  I didn’t need to do it, and so subsequently, I forgot to do it.  When 1 was working on her Chinese character sheets we also made sheets for 2, but with the letters of his name instead of Chinese characters.  2 appreciated having worksheets of his own, but wasn’t particularly jazzed.

Then, at the start of last week it happened.  2 found his mom, and then me, and asked where his letter worksheets were.  A few days later, he announced that he wanted to learn to read!  Now, he’s up and running, bringing books to us to read to him and sound out words.  Reading, here we come!