Costa Rica · education · family fun · Keepin' it real · Kids · mental health · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 593: “They Have no Idea.”

I really wanted the kids to write about today’s visit to a large coffee farm, but I also wanted you to hear about it today, not next week (you might still read their summary of the coffee-making process next week.)

To sum it up: we learned all about coffee, all the way from seeds and gene manipulation, through harvesting, to different processes for drying the beans (this company generally exports green coffee beans.) Once again, I learned a ton.

One thing I learned had nothing at all to do with coffee production: I learned that it’s time my kids had a bit more Holocaust education.

How did I figure that one out? Well… we were going through the factory looking at different processes, as I said before. Finally, we got to the huge drying ovens. I’ll admit that I felt a little unpleasant jolt when our guide said, “Now we’ll head over to the ovens,” but I told myself to chill out and remember where we were—on a coffee tour in Costa Rica.

So we got to the huge ovens and all I could think was, These look a lot like the ones we saw at Auschwitz. Lovely thought, no?

It got worse before it got better.

K and R took one look at the oven and R said, “Wow! You could fit all six of us in there!” and then K said, “Sure, R… should I toss you in first?” My blood ran cold.

Mr. December reacted faster than I did, but said what I was thinking: “NO. Absolutely not. That is NOT a good joke. EVER.”

My anxiety was through the roof; which was a shame because I should have been enjoying how much my kids were loving this part of the tour: they were competing with each other to see who could carry the most logs to load into the oven. While that was happening, I went over to Mr. December and muttered, “My cultural trauma is showing.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” he murmured back. “I don’t think the kids understand why that wasn’t funny.”

I nodded. “Think it’s time for a bit more Holocaust education?”


Later on, Mr. December and I were mulling over this.

“They have no idea at all,” he said after a quick chat with K. “I can’t tell if that’s a good or bad thing. Is the idea of Holocaust education to make sure they have the same trauma response as we do?”

Good question.

The rest of our afternoon was enjoyable—if you don’t count E’s tantrum about putting her hiking boots back on (“They’re too hot!”) We walked over to the coffee company’s huge farmhouse on a hill, where the covered back patio beckoned us with an elegantly set table. We were greeted with freezing cold towels—a relief after the tour out in the sunny fields and then inside a hot factory—and cold drinks. Predictably, N didn’t touch the food, but I quickly taught him to say, “Quiero pan, por favor” (“I want bread, please”) and he was happy enough with the results.

The children were getting silly at the table, so I told them to run around the garden. R ran off and came back, breathless, to tell K that she found a swingset (big news for two girls who swing for hours a day at home.) I jokingly pointed to a yellow shed and said to E, “Look! a little yellow house. It must be waiting for you!” Our tour organizer, Massiel, took E by the hand and suggested they go explore it together. As it turned out, I was kind of right: it was a playhouse complete with a front porch, play kitchen, and even play food. Through the window I could see E serving Massiel a plastic hamburger with the graciousness of an experienced hostess.

When we got back to our place, E begged me to play school with her and her stuffies; I obliged and did a couple of grammar lessons “for the stuffies.” You know, I really miss doing school. Even though there’s plenty of learning happening on this trip, I’m looking forward to some quieter weeks when we can just homeschool and swim.

Costa Rica · education · family fun · Travelogue · what's cookin' · Worldschooling

Day 592: Enforced Family Time

Our morning plans got rained out.

Tired of my kids spending all their free time on digital devices, I decided to have some EFT (Enforced Family Time®) for everyone. They balked at first (of course) but came around after I offered to store all of the devices securely for the rest of the day so they wouldn’t be too distracting.

I started by reviewing a bit of solfege and the Kodaly hand signs. I had them sing back intervals and short melodies. Gradually, I started singing (and signing) the notes for the harmony part of “Donkey Riding.” After twenty minutes, R knew the part perfectly and could hold her own while I sang the melody; other family members still need to do a bit of work, but there’s only so much time you can spend hammering notes into someone’s head, so we stopped for the day.

We started watching the documentary Fantastic Fungi on Netflix and somehow ended up learning about how the death cap mushroom’s deadly properties work. So, you know, some light edutainment.

Our afternoon activity was a Spanish lesson followed by a cooking lesson in Spanish. Describing it that way would be like calling Lake Ontario a puddle; this afternoon was so much better than I had expected—although since so many of the activities have exceeded my expectations, maybe it’s time those expectations were raised.

Our Spanish lesson took place on a lovely covered veranda overlooking the valley, while it absolutely poured rain. We learned some basic verbs, greetings and goodbyes, days of the week, telling time, and numbers. Then we were led back through the Spanish on the River building and into someone’s private quarters, and there we met Fernando, the owner of several Spanish schools, who would be teaching the cooking class.

To get to the kitchen we had to go through a room with at least a dozen guitars hanging on the walls: a mixing board in the corner confirmed that it was his music studio. The rest of the house, which Fernando built himself, was very cool: big windows, an upstairs loft, a spiral staircase right in the middle of the kitchen island. A ton of musical instruments in an unusual, owner-designed house—I knew I’d like Fernando even before I spent any time with him.

We didn’t start cooking right away: Fernando heard that R played guitar and asked her to play something. She demurred and pointed out that I play much better, then led the other kids in chanting, “Play! Play! Play!”

I sang “Feelin’ Groovy,” and was then pressured to play and sing “Sweet Caroline,” which was as hilarious as it was raucous. Then Fernando brought her a small guitar from his studio; R agreed to play “Riptide” and everyone sang along, including the three Costa Ricans in the room.

Then we got down to business. Fernando taught us to make tortillas from scratch (just cornmeal, water, and salt) with a neat tortilla press that I now want in my own kitchen. After I assured him that my kids can cook, he had them mixing, rolling, pressing, and chopping for the tortillas and the Arroz con Pollo (rice with chicken) that would be our main course. I had the pleasure of watching how capably and agreeably the kids helped out. N ended up with the job of stirring everything together in a wok; I hoped that he might taste the food since he had helped prepare it, but no such luck. He just ate the jelly-filled empañadas that he’d suggested making.

As we worked, we chatted in Spanish and English about families, children, travel, music, guitars, and technology. R wandered off to practice guitar; when she was done and the adults had retired to the couches with coffee, I played again while the kids sang. Fernando grabbed another guitar and joined in as well.

It was another remarkable afternoon that felt like a visit with new friends—which was lovely, but which raised some awkwardness for me and Mr. December. Normally when one goes on a tour, one tips the guide; but here, where we felt like we’d just been entertained in someone’s home, it felt crass to hand him some money. I wished at that moment that I had thought to bring a bottle of maple syrup, or maybe even a bottle of wine, the way I would if I was invited for dinner as a friend. In the end, I decided that I’ll write him a really nice thank-you note and deliver it with a small bottle of maple syrup we brought from home for this type of occasion. Might as well cement some of the stereotypes about Canadians, eh?

community · Costa Rica · DIY · education · el cheapo · family fun · gardening · Homeschool · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 590: Down on the Farm

Finca Blanco Y Negro, Turrialba, Costa Rica

Ed. note: this is a continuation of yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read it yet, go ahead and do so now.

We pulled into the driveway of Finca Blanco Y Negro (Black and White Farm) and were greeted by two women and a very enthusiastic child. E seized the opportunity for a new friend immediately: within minutes, she and this little boy were chatting—she in English, he in Spanish, neither understanding the other—as they explored the farm. The rest of us introduced ourselves and met Maria and Paola, the sisters who own the farm (the little boy, E, is Maria’s son.) It was decided that we’d tour the farm and then eat lunch, rather than the other way around.

Over and over, I was struck by how much research and thought went into running this farm. Blanco Y Negro isn’t a high-budget operation; in fact, part of their vision is to make organic vegetables accessible to more people than just rich people and hippies, and to develop new techniques that other small farms can use to grow organic produce. So when they were planning their mushroom-growing operation and saw the cost of all the “required” equipment, they set out to learn the reasons behind all the expensive recommendations. Then they found cheaper solutions that work just as well. Instead of a completely dark grow room, they put thick black garbage bags over the mushroom containers; in place of an expensive sterilizer, they boil the hay for three hours in a huge boiler to eliminate all microorganisms before using it as a growth medium. They built the mushroom greenhouse on the slope of the hill so that they can easily hose down the floor to keep it clean.

The kids received their first challenge in the mushroom house: who could find and pick the largest mushroom? They all scampered off, looking at every row of hanging bags to find the winning fungus. In the end, I think R might have found the biggest one. Not that it really mattered: all the mushrooms, big and small, were taken to the kitchen to become part of our lunch.

Have you ever heard a flock of ninety chickens? Just hens, mind you, no roosters at all? They are loud. As we stepped into their yard, the chickens crowded around the gate, saying “bawk?” as if to ask what we wanted. The kids got to pet a chicken, and we saw where the chickens turn kitchen scraps into high-quality fertilizer. Then we proceeded with our mission: to collect eggs for lunch. Mr. December and the kids eagerly headed into the henhouse to swipe the eggs. The chickens appeared unperturbed.

In the next pasture over, some black-bellied sheep were eager to munch on the long grasses we held for them. Then we went to see the composting shed—far more interesting than you’d think. In addition to a classic compost pile, they also have various barrels full of fermenting liquids which they use to deter insects from around the vegetable beds and to add beneficial microorganisms to the soil. Paola cracked open one barrel for us to see the bubbles forming on top of the liquid. It smelled like olives.

We explored the vegetable garden and learned about pest control without any pesticides, synthetic or natural. The results spoke for themselves: I’ve never before seen a head of lettuce with absolutely no holes or ragged edges on its leaves. The kids had a chance to plant some celery, beetroot, and arugula, which they did with more enthusiasm than I expected; N even came up with a way to streamline the planting process, by having one person place the seedlings in the correct positions while two others did the actual planting. E and her new friend worked with N and planted several rows of veggies in short order. Meanwhile, K indignantly stated that similar plants should be put together instead of mixing them up; she went to the opposite end of the row and diligently planted some celery.

The adults stood around and chatted. When Maria learned that we were homeschoolers, she got really excited: she’s also homeschooling her son, but it’s a pretty new concept in Costa Rica and she gets lots of pushback from… well, pretty much everyone. So we talked about our homeschooling experience and the homeschool community in general.

Poor R—she was sitting inside the farmhouse by this time, because all kinds of things on the farm were triggering her allergies (it hadn’t even occurred to me to bring her allergy meds with us.) Not to worry, though—Maria offered to find some of the allergy meds she had for her son so I could give R a dose. Wonder of wonders—it was the exact same prescription medicine R takes. I gratefully took the bottle and spoon and went to offer R some relief.

Finally, it was lunchtime! My kids were obnoxiously picky (we might need to have another talk about trying foods that are offered when you’re a guest somewhere) but Mr. December and I thoroughly enjoyed the tomato soup with local cheese and mushrooms, hard boiled eggs (they don’t get any fresher than that,) spring mix salad with beets (which I’m not usually a fan of, but it was delicious,) homemade bread with roasted garlic, and grilled vegetables. The kids deserted the table pretty quickly because Maria’s son called them over to see his kittens; all four of my kids were smitten and spent the rest of the time cuddling the kittens—even R, who declared that any allergic reaction she had would be worth it. Even dessert, which was homemade ice cream with berries on top, only held them for a few minutes before they went back to kitten wrangling.

We loved our time at the farm. By the end, I felt like we were visiting with friends. I was pleased when Maria shyly asked for my contact information—we exchanged numbers and I extended an invitation for them to visit us in Toronto. I hope they take us up on it.

education · family fun · Kids · what's cookin' · Worldschooling

Day 587: Bribri Afternoon

(If you haven’t read yesterday’s entry, read it first.)

We had requested vegetarian meals on the advice of our tour coordinator, who felt the lack of electricity (and hence, refrigeration) meant it would be unsafe to eat the chicken.

A few hours after we made that decision, Mr. December suddenly said, “I don’t think she’s right. They don’t have refrigeration, but they don’t need to use it because the meat is always fresh—because it’s alive until like an hour before they eat it.” Of course he’d know—he once spent three months doing development work with Amerindian tribes in Guyana—but by the time he mentioned it, it was too late to change our lunch order.

Our lunch—plain rice, kidney beans, squash sautéed with onions and cilantro, boiled cassava, boiled breadfruit, and something green—was served on a plank lined with a piece of banana leaf. As it was set down in front of us, a miracle happened: E looked at it, said, “Finally! A place with food I want to eat!” and dug into the beans and the rice with gusto. She finished both.

N, on the other hand, ate nothing. He wouldn’t even touch the plain rice. His loss was E’s gain as she wolfed down his beans too.

After lunch, we got to experience the Bribri way of making and serving chocolate. But first, we learned that you can scrape the surface of a green cacao pod and use the scrapings to soothe cuts, burns, and insect bites.

The Bribri pick the cacao when it’s yellow. They use the jelly that’s around each seed for jam (or eat it fresh—it’s delicious.) Then they ferment the seeds and dry them in the sun. We picked up the process at that point. We crushed the dried seeds using a large rock and a concave wooden tray (think enormous mortar and pestle;) our guide jostled and tossed the crushed stuff in the tray multiple times until the pieces of shell had blown away and all we had was crushed cacao beans. Then we loaded the crushed beans into a manual grinder; what came out was black, pasty, and oozing chocolatey goodness everywhere. We tasted the paste, the purest chocolate you can possibly get: the texture was smooth and the chocolate flavour was intense.

We learned that the Bribri either eat the chocolate with fruits, or drink it mixed with water—never milk. Chocolate is sacred, you see, and mixing it with milk would be sacrilege (“Mmm…” Mr. December muttered, “sacrelicious!”) Our guide took the paste we’d just made and mixed it with condensed milk: we ate it spread on fresh bananas. It was heavenly. Everyone was happy except for R, who gets a tummyache from even small amounts of chocolate. She just ate the bananas.

For drinking, we added the paste and some sugar to a pitcher of hot water and mixed it with a wooden tool: a stick with five small dowels sticking out of the end like a star. We learned how to rub our hands together with the stick in between to froth the drink before pouring it out into dried-gourd bowls. I went back for seconds.

Suddenly, it was time to go. The driver of the boat would have to take us back to the meeting point and then come back to the village, where he lived, before sunset (sunset here is absurdly early—5:30 most days.) So with many thanks and chocolatey smiles, we left the Bribri village behind and got back on the boat.

The boat ride back was quicker than the ride into the village—this time we were going with the current instead of against it—and we got back to our meeting point around 3:20. Our driver was waiting there. Tired enough to ignore the potholes, I slept the whole way back in the car.

It may sound trite, but the kids got to see that despite language barriers, they had a lot in common with the Bribri kids: they all liked to play in the water, for example. More relatable, perhaps, was something we saw right before we left the village: a young boy sitting in a corner, playing Subway Surfers on his mother’s phone. As N pointed out, some things are universal.

education · Homeschool · Just the two of us · Kids

Day 566: Hi, School?

I can’t believe we’re here already: it’s time to make a decision about K and high school.

She has options. She can go to the Gifted program that we’re zoned for; she can apply to an arts-focused high school for visual arts; she can write the entrance exam for a math-and-science focused program. All three of those options are in the public school system; all three of them will put her on a pretty solid track towards university.

There’s also the option of an alternative school that operates on a democratic school model: each student chooses what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, and teachers play a supporting role as facilitators and advisors. To me, this option sounds a lot like homeschooling, but with the added attraction of other students and a wider variety of teachers. To Mr. December, this option sounds terrible. I’ve tried to suggest he consider it as a type of homeschooling option, because right now he’s hung up on the idea that there are no credits and no diploma (students from this alternative school apply to universities the same way homeschooled teens do.)

Of course, she can also choose to homeschool again next year and reconsider high school in Grade 10; but I’d like that to be a conscious choice and not just a default “Uh-oh, didn’t decide soon enough. Guess I’m homeschooling.”

I compiled an email for her with the available options (that we’re willing to consider: there are more high school options in the Toronto District School Board than I thought) and all of the application deadlines. The ball is in her court to choose which open house events she’d like to attend, and then where she wants to apply. It feels like a very small-scale version of the university decision she’ll have to make in four short years.

Wait. What? Four years?!?! That’s not much time. I think I’ll go give her an extra-long tuck-in now.

education · Guest Posts · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 565: Homeschooling Backstory Part 2 (Guest Post)

Ed. note: He’s back! Did you know that Mr. December’s posts get higher stats than mine do? Anyhow, enjoy the next instalment in his gripping tale of woe bravery evidence-based research.

In my last installment I talked about our initial journey, and how we started to hit a wall with our kids. I had never taught before (well, I was a teaching assistant in university,) so there was a lot of making things up as we went. One idea was to set crushing expectations in order to catch up quickly and justify our life choices (and perhaps even our social status.) So no choices, but plenty of rewards and punishments. We figured that even if this failed, we could shift the blame to the children by talking about “grit” a lot (Read any Prof Duckworth paper on grit – do you see now how your failures are your own fault?) Maybe we could enroll them in a relaxation course so that they could internalize that high-stress schooling is a normal, acceptable occurrence. Anyways, rewards and punishments seemed awesome, and we used this to get past the initial objections from our kids. We had a few more problems though: 

  • No way to punish K: She didn’t like computer games, and didn’t need a lot from us. Rewards and punishments also don’t help when skills or structure are the issue (as opposed to motivation). Her stubbornness also meant without buy-in there would be no progress. Anyways, we quickly understood why her teachers made like Elsa and just Let It Go.
  •  N was a relentless optimizer: He loves computer games, so taking them away was an effective punishment. But he’d do the absolute minimum, juuuuust enough to meet the bar, with the minimum learning. He’d also ask questions like “okay, if I don’t do that, how much screen time do I lose?” so he could weight his options, and once you got past a threshold he would simply say “well, I don’t get screens today, so I won’t do any work either”. So despite his brilliance, progress was hella slow, and we knew extended conflict would grind down our relationship with him over time. 
  • R was mostly doing fine: She was a great writer but needed time to write stories not do worksheets. She was behind but compliant in math, but had a lot of trouble focusing. Rewards and punishments didn’t seem fitting here either.
  • E was only 5: We eventually enrolled her in part-time online school. We added in a bit of math, but mostly we figured, meh, she’s 5. 

In the last post, we had some early successes but now needed a new philosophy. Fortunately for me, I have a secret weapon against ignorance: extensive research. I have a high capacity for technical detail, so I got a dozen books on education & homeschooling, which I read cover to cover, as well as many research papers and a few education websites (my favourite was Alfie Kohn’s blog). 

You may not have the time or interest, so here is my summary of my learning: 

Public schools suck. Schools suck, including private schools, which suck in different ways. Your school sucks, and the way your children are taught sucks. Grades suck, competition sucks, and coercion sucks. The rewards you gave that you thought made you better than other parents also suck. If you teach at a school, maybe you don’t suck personally, but you probably do, and just listen to this teacher of the year talk about how he sucks too so don’t feel too bad. Even if your kids don’t suck when they enter school, they will by the time they leave, and if they don’t suck by some miracle they’ll be anxious and unhappy, go into the wrong fields to please you, burn out and then hate you later. 

To summarize the summary: Modern education systems will produce the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever sucked and your kids will be personally be the suckiest of the bunch of sucks who ever sucked. 

I don’t feel this way about the education system (they do a lot of things very right,) so I was surprised at how negative some sources were. Even worse, there was some publishing mishap where the chapters that deal with what to do differently were missing (it’s surprising how common this issue was.)

But whether you see it that way or not, this was a great result for me: I could not do worse. 

Since my older two kids were, in postmodernist educational parlance, “sucking big time,” I had the luxury of choosing my path. With an Alfie Kohn video playing dramatically in the background, I took that 50% math test and put it in the garbage. That was the last grade I ever gave. I’m not saying grades aren’t important – they are so, so important – and here is a chart highlighting the value they have by age range: 

Child’s AgeFucks You Should Give About Grades In Homeschool
11-140 + 0i
15-17e(3iπ/2)+ i
18Just make up a bunch of grades and submit them to universities – what are they going to do, call your principal? 

I did later understand better the power of review, which we do more of, and I still need to add in some testing for learning. 

I kept hoping someone would recommend bringing spanking back, but no one did. Very few modern experts even advocated for reward/punishment based systems: they talked about being “student centric”—as if our previous education attempts were just for our own benefit. 

Okay, all good. But what to do next? Stay tuned.

About the Guest Author: Mr. December is an engineer and homeschooling dad who also moonlights as a blogger sometimes. He likes data, writers who cite their sources, spreadsheets, and his kids. He also has great hair.

education · Guest Posts · Homeschool · Keepin' it real · Kids · Montessori · snarky · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 562: Once More with Rigor

Ed. note: This is a guest post by Mr. December.

(Homeschool Backstory Part 1)

Our kids’ school careers began at Montessori. Every day N and K would come home and tell us how much fun they had, puttering around the classroom doing random materials with their friends, with no homework whatsoever. It didn’t seem rigorous enough. They needed something more: evenings of tear-filled pointless homework where we’d eventually do most of it for them. High pressure testing to give the school bragging rights. Music pieces that they hated with lots of difficult notes. Remember: if they’re not resisting practice, it isn’t rigorous enough. You’ll need shorter lunchtime and recesses to make room for all the rigor of course. 

So we pulled our happy kids out of Montessori and put them into school #2, which was supposed to be more rigorous in both English and Hebrew curriculum. In terms of happiness it was perfect – both kids were miserable within weeks. But it wasn’t working academically. The math curriculum proceeded glacially, with one assignment asking the kids to write a story about 7×3 (true!). Most assignments were so abstract that I could not see what a right or wrong answer might look like (such as: “what are the physical and emotional state differences between two mountains?”), yet alone how I would do the work myself. In one math test, K got every number right and every spelling wrong – final grade: 50%. The best objection I could muster was to write “Grate Work” on her assignment when I signed the test. 

Maybe we needed to face the fact that whatever the hell this school was teaching, my kids weren’t good at it. When the school complained K was late 19.0 times, I saw my opening. After asking repeated questions about why a float instead of integer – is there a way to be late 0.5 of a time? – I wrote a (spoof) email asking if she was the most late in the school, saying we were looking to find things she was good at to encourage her. But alas, talking to other parents, 19.0 was nowhere close to the record – several overachievers were late every single day. K’s dream was to be late 0.5 of a time, but they wouldn’t tell us the secrets of how to do so. We tried everything – just a minute late, half a day late, late but didn’t get the slip, late and then forget something in the car to be even later, but nothing worked. 

The next year we switched the older two kids into a public gifted program (school #3), which was wonderful socially, but didn’t seem to help academically. 

So along came COVID, the kids were home, and suddenly we could see clearly what was going on. Nothing. Nothing was going on. Our kids were terrible at school and did not know their fundamentals in math or writing. Oops, my bad. 

Okay, so what to do – I figured the best thing was to back to rigor. Put the “fun” back in fundamentals. S said to forget public school – let’s try out homeschooling. Teach the basics, and once they learn their fundamentals, power them through the grades. And, perhaps surprisingly, it actually worked, in the short term – the math instruction and drills worked wonders, with the kids’ accuracy improving and their processing time cut in half. I was starting to think I could even work in a few humble brags. But then we hit the wall: they didn’t want to do two hours of Kumon every day plus the basics of writing. 

Okay, no problem, I thought, I’ll make my own rigorous work. Math was easy: Every last Kumon math problem done correctly, in order, for a certain amount of time each day. That seemed rigorous enough. 

Then I got stuck, as it turns out I didn’t know about anything except math. No matter, we created our four pillars of non-incompetence: 

  • Math: A goal of being two years ahead. I figured that lofty goal would satisfy most people and then they’d forget about it.
  • English: No idea, but that’s S’s problem
  • Science: I could not remember anything I did in elementary or middle-school science. Did we even do chemistry? Was it just a bunch of digging in dirt? Wait – thermocline – I remembered that word, for when water changes temperature depending on depth. But I think that was grade 9, so I figured I’d wait to teach them that gem. For now, we just joined HENSE*
  • Everything else not in the other three: This is S’s problem, so I left it to her, with the only condition that it be rigorous

Now that we had a model, I figured I’d start with a math test: what could be better for rigorous evaluation? That would show the parents we’re not total idiots. So I used a New Jersey grade 5 math test, and then my son got 50%. He rushed through, didn’t know some terms, and there was this one question I had no idea how to solve either (see below). 

What the &^$% does this diagram even mean? Who would do division this way? At least we know it isn’t to scale—that’s really helpful, thanks.

So what should I do now? Punish? Reward? Unschool? Back then I saw unschooling as the opposite of rigor: sprinkle (sorry, strew) some books around and they’ll be 18 and out of the house in no time! 

Stay tuned for the next installment of my journey.

Ed. note: Mr. December offered to change the last two words to “our journey”. I declined. The views expressed in this guest post are those of the writer, and do not necessarily represent the views of all of us here at SweetCrunchyJewy. -S

*HENSE: Home Educators with No Science Education

A long and winding road trip · community · education · family fun · Homeschool · Independence · Kids · water you paddling? · Worldschooling

Day 550: Island Time

(Just to let you know, this post is only going to cover the first day of our visit. It was supposed to be the whole weekend, but apparently I have a lot to say. I’ll post the rest tomorrow.)

Our weekend was outstanding. We went kayaking, tubing, and snorkeling over shipwrecks; we explored an old fort and learned about nineteenth-century weaponry; we discovered an island that we barely knew existed; and we met some incredible people.

We first connected with J on the recommendation of one of Mr. December’s former co-workers who retired at age 33 to travel the world with his wife. When Mr. December told this guy that we want to travel with the kids, he gave us J’s email address and suggested we call her. We ended up having a half-hour Zoom call with her, talking about homeschooling, worldschooling, and travel. She invited us to come visit her on the island anytime before the end of the month. She followed up our call with an email that essentially said, “That invitation was sincere and enthusiastic. Hope you can come.”

We left home early on Saturday and drove three hours until we arrived in Kingston, Ontario. We texted J to say we’d arrived; she arranged to meet us at the public docks to ferry us across to the island. When we finally found the spot, there she was with her husband, T, smiling and waving.

The ride across to the island took about ten minutes, with the kids sitting on the floor of the small motorboat and the grownups crowded towards the front. Our kids enthusiastically—and loudly—filled any and all gaps in the conversation. For the first time that weekend—but not the last—I was thankful that J and T have been there and done that, parenting four kids. The energy and volume that our kids bring everywhere might have triggered some nostalgia for them, but never impatience.

My four kids sitting on the floor of the boat.

After lunch at a waterfront patio on the island, we took a walk through the village to retrieve J’s Instant Pot from a friend. Said friend warmly welcomed us and invited the kids to come in and meet their many pets. On the way back to J’s house we stopped for a while so R could climb a tree that grows next to the public library. A dog had escaped from its home across the street and came towards us with a stick in her mouth; I think it was the first time my kids had ever played fetch with a dog. We were officially on island time, where life moves at a walking pace and there’s plenty of time to climb the trees, smell the roses, and pet the animals.

T generously offered to drag the kids around the bay on a giant tube; in the end they must have been out there for over an hour. Apparently once tubing got old, T let the kids take turns driving the boat. They came back wet, tired, and happy. In the meantime, I took out a kayak—a proper one with foot pegs and knee bracing—and spent some time out on the water.

Me in a kayak, on the water. I’m looking right at the camera.

We met three of J and T’s kids over the weekend. Amazing human beings all, and the kids particularly gravitated towards their oldest daughter. She went tubing with them, and by dinnertime on Saturday they were all snuggled up to her watching funny TikTok videos.

My four kids snuggled up around H, J and T’s oldest kid. She’s holding an iPad and they’re all looking at it and smiling.

Dinner at their home was a fix-your-own tacos affair with two of J’s kids as well as her parents, who were pretty interesting folks in their own right. As the sun started to set, we got into the boat and T ferried us back to Kingston, with the most beautiful dusky sky and almost-full moon in the background.

Water with the boat’s wake in the foreground and a strip of land visible in the background. The land is dotted with white windmills. The sky is a gradient of sunset colours and there’s an almost-full moon rising.

We checked into our hotel, then went out to walk around downtown Kingston for a while. We enjoyed watching a busker—who juggled fire while walking across broken glass—in the square, introduced the kids to BeaverTails, and enjoyed our dessert in the colourful Muskoka chairs outside before going back to our hotel to sleep.

education · Homeschool · Kids · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 505: I <3 Back-to-School

I felt well enough today to be mostly up and about, with a break in the afternoon when Mr. December took all four kids out for a few hours. I still wasn’t equal to anything requiring original thought, but I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to print out all the new curriculum materials I just bought.

I’m still in love with our new (last year) printer; All I do is hit “print” and it does, double-sided, every time. It’s one of my “best purchase ever” items, alongside other workhorses like my bakfiets (cargo bike,) my power tools, and my giant Omnigrid rulers. You know, stuff that does what it’s supposed to do, reliably and without a fuss. And that, friends, is why my bakfiets is better than people.

But I digress.

The printer has been running pretty much nonstop since 3 p.m. So far I’ve printed and hole-punched History Odyssey for both K and N (one copy each,) History Quest for myself (I still need to make copies of the notebooking pages for R and E,) and Real Science Odyssey: Life for E.

I must admit, I’m getting pretty excited about school this year. Between my super-organized school supply drawers and now my beautifully printed curricula, I’m like that dad in the back-to-school commercial (“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”). Except, of course, that I’m not celebrating getting the kids out of the house everyday, but learning amazing new things and using all these beautiful supplies. Back-to-school never gets old.

Unless, N pointed out, you’re not in homeschool, in which case back-to-school is a drag (for him.) He’s heard from outside sources that back-to-school also necessitates clothes shopping, which he hates. Good thing he’s not going to school. As our homeschool motto goes, “Excellence begins with wearing pants”… but really, any pants will do.

education · Independence · Kids · what's cookin'

Day 504: Well, SOMEONE has to be quiet…

The thing about colds is that they have this progression: sore throat right at the back of the nose, then headache and nasal congestion, then chest congestion, and then today… the “I-can’t-say-more-than-three-words-at-once-or-I’ll-start-coughing” stage. It’s an awkward stage, if you’re a talker like me.

I was hoping that my quiet presence, all gracious nods and regal waving of hands, would inspire the kids to enjoy the quiet too. It didn’t. Instead they were inspired to fill the silence—that’s one of their superpowers, it seems, but they have others as well.

I once spent a few days reading a website by Tom Hodgkinson, author of The Idle Parent. The phrase that stuck out for me was: “The less you do for your kids, the more they do for you.”

Now, before anybody jumps on this as an endorsement of parental neglect, please remember whose blog this is: I’m the one who calls out, “Child labour force to the front door!” whenever there’s a delivery of groceries, so that the kids come and do all the lifting, carrying, and putting away. I believe in raising contributing members of society, and it has to start young.

My particular child labour force is quite adept at filling in the gaps when I’m unwell. Today R and K made the challah completely on their own; denser than mine, but everyone develops their own challah style with time. R also made peach crumble for dessert. And tonight, since I’m trying really hard not to give E the camp cold, N and R tucked her in with hugs and kisses in my stead.

And all of this was done with an absolute minimum of verbal direction from me. No, I wasn’t clapping my hands and cocking my head in the direction I wanted them to look; I just quietly stated what I couldn’t do, and they sorted out who would do it. Remind me of this when they start clawing at each other over screen time, yes?