Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Story (non-fiction): Science in Action a.k.a. Reptilian Rapture

Imagine a beautiful fall day-- it's not hard of course, for we've all been experiencing them lately. The air is crisp and cool but sunny following the previous days rainstorms. A family heads out on an autumn adventure. None is more excited than than the 5 year old boy, June Bug, for he is the herpetology expert and this trip is a search for reptiles.

It is a lovely day for driving (and a bit easier on the budget since gas prices dropped a bit) and it is not long before the family arrives at LaRue Pine Hills-- a protected natural area that lies up against the Mississippi River flood plain. The upper area features trails, picnic areas, and a magnificent lookout point. At the bottom of the massive cliff faces is dense forest and swamps. Here, along the cliffs, is the Snake Road. Twice a year it is closed to motor vehicles so as not to disturb the unusually large population of snakes that migrate from the wetlands up to the cliffs for the winter.

The family begins by walking up next to the cliff face, peering in all the cracks with a flashlight hoping to glimpse a snake. June Bug finds something; it is not as moist-skinned as a salamander so they think it may be a newt. Not too far ahead they make another small discovery, a salamander this time. These are exciting discoveries, but still no there are no signs of snakes.

They hike on and on, for nearly an hour without any snake success. Mama and June Bug are getting very tired, but Na encourages them to walk down the road at least to the marsh before turning back. Wearily they trudge on. The marsh embodies some sort of wild primal beauty with it's trunks of long-drowned trees and murky waters-- looking on, one cannot help but feel that inside it's boundaries is no place for humans.

Suddenly Mama stops in her tracks, for less than 3 feet away is a large cottonmouth. He is well-camouflaged among the fallen leaves and dark green plants which grew from the middle of the old gravel road. The cotton mouth (agkistrodon piscivorus), sometimes known as a water moccasin, is a venomous species, taking it's name from the whiteness inside it's mouth when giving a warning. A rush of excitement filled Mama as she took a step back exclaiming "Sweet!" Her reaction is strange, since she usually avoids such slang, but it is indeed a sweet moment as they have found finally found what they had come for.

They stood for a while, frozen with awe but not fear, while the snake lay equally motionless showing off his mouth just to let us know what he is capable of if he needed to defend himself. But he did not need defend himself. Although the cottonmouth gets a bad rap, and most people are very afraid of them, they are not really aggressive creatures and will not strike unless they are absolutely in danger. So they watch spell-bound until finally, with a bit of gentle prodding from a long stick, he slithers toward the waters which support such a large number of these creatures.

Mama takes a few steps, her heart still filled with excitement, and exclaims "There's another one!" And sure enough, looking out from the vegetation along the water's edge was another cottonmouth, slightly bigger than the first, his mouth open wide. He didn't stay long and so neither did the family. They walked a bit further a found 2 ribbon snakes. Mama tried to catch them, but the tiny juvenile ribbon snakes, with their long yellow stripes down the back, were far too quick for her.

Exhausted, and happy with their findings, the family heads back toward the car, thereby ending a memorable day at Snake Road.

Wishing You Exciting Adventures,
Randa the Mama with a Newfound Interest in Snakes

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cool Places . . . Castle Park

This park is simply the most astounding work of art/construction I have seen (second, however, to The City Museum of St. Louis). I remember driving by the site several times in high school and watching with wonder and awe at the scene that was being created within that iron fence. I never thought I'd have a child who was old enough to enjoy it by the time it was finished!
The park was built (and is still being maintained and added to regularly) by a father in memorial to his son "Boo" who died as a teenager (leukemia I think?). The boy loved Dungeons and Dragons and all things mystical. Construction continued for 5 years before finally opening it's gates a couple summers ago.

Here's June Bug riding his dragon to the castle

And here's the oh so fun HUGE dragon (great for climbing on)

Yet another dragon (there are also at least a dozen wizard statues, none of which I took pictures of this time)

Each and every element of this park is an exquisitely details work of art. Like these gorgeous mosaic benches. . .Look up and you might catch a glimpse of these creepy guys

The bell tower-- it must drive the neighbors crazy

And here are some glimpses of the castle itself-- a labyrinth of connecting paths, bridges, ladders, and secret passageways all held together with a pinch (or a heap really) of magic!

Wishing You The Heart of a Knight Brave and True,
Mama Randa the Queen

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Books.... Excerpts from The Unschooling Handbook

This little gem is full of anecdotes and short essays written by unschooling families about their experiences. I found this book at the thrift store almost 2 years, and having never heard of 'unschooling', found it very intriguing. I found alot of inspiration from these pages, however it would still be a long time before I really started to apply the concepts to my own life. I lent the book out soon after reading it once and then lost track of it. Well, this summer my mom by chance found this book (knowing nothing about unschooling herself), not knowing it's signficance.

I would like to share some of the excerpts from the book;

when asked 'How can you tell they're learning'?

"For those of us who've been at it for years, the answer seems obvious-- hardly worth thinking about. We see our kids every day, talk to them, answer their questions, help them with their projects, watch them help us with our own projects. We see how much more they understand and do than they could the month before or the year before.
How do I know he's learning? I can never help but be stunned by the question. It's so obvious, day in and day out, that he's learning about a lot of things, and that already knows more than an awful lot of well-educated adults about many subjects. It would be ridiculous to question it. I see how much he reads, how much he discusses ideas and knowledge he's pick up in one way or another. I'd be a darn fool to question whether he's learning." -Lillian, California

on unschooling in general and it's effect on their family;

"I hope with all my soul that my children will be different from conventionally educated people. I hope that they will know freedom rather than bondage; creativity rather than conformity; courage rather than blind obedience; intelligence rather than rote learning. I believe that conventional school damage--perhaps irrevocable-- the ability to explre, discover, and imagine. I believe that schools force us to set aside the ability to think for ourselves, to be motivated by joy and interest, to be open and honest. We hope to reap values of intelligence, honesty, caring, and self-confidence." -Amy, Idaho

Wishing You Books that Challenge You,
Mama Randa the Inspired

Monday, October 13, 2008

Learning to Let Go ......or How To Kill A Child's Enthusiasm for Learning

One of the challenges of unschooling is learning to let go of preconceptions about how particular learning experiences "should" be conducted. I'm re-learning this all the time and had another lesson today!

Okay, so June Bug likes for me to give him "drawing assignments" to do while I'm in the shower. Understand that the conventional meaning of the word "assignment" is unknown to him. He has never been in a position where he is required to do specific work whether he wants to or not. As a 'teacher', I do not give "assignments". Rather, when he asks me for a drawing assignment, he is really asking for a suggestion of something to try drawing (he draws so often that he sometimes runs out of ideas but wants to keep going anyway!)

So I draw lines to section a paper off into 12 squares. I tell him to draw a letter of the alphabet in each box and something that begins with that letter. I set him up with a clipboard and a step stool in the bathroom and he happily begins drawing while I begin my shower.

Partway through, I peek out, assumedly to 'admire' his progress. But what do I do instead? I end up criticizing instead! The pictures are really good, but I notice that half way down he began writing two letters and drawings in each box. "Why did you put two in one box, you were supposed to do only one per box!" His logic was sound-- he knew that there wouldn't be enough room for all the letters without combining them. Why did it matter if he put two letters in one box? Why did I feel frustrated at his wonderful ability to take my own suggestions and make the project his own? I realized right away that I was effectively killing the project and chided myself for my interference.

Often it is hard to be trusting enough to follow our children's lead. But each day I find myself more conscious of my actions/words and more able to look closely at their consequences. The more we trust in our children's innate desire to learn, the more confident we become in the fact that our children are indeed learning/ In fact, when we stand back and look at what they are doing in their lives, we realize that their rate of growth is simply astounding.
Wishing You New Moments of Clarity,
Mama Randa the Unschooling Mother

Thursday, October 9, 2008

My First Doll

Though small and simple, this is my first attempt at dollmaking and I am proud of the result! She now reside in one of several autumnal displays in our home.

Wishing You the Motivation to Create Your Own Seasonal Crafts,
Mama Randa the Amateur Dollmaker

Monday, October 6, 2008

Baby, oh Baby!

See this leotard? I found it last spring at a thrift shop. Sadly, it ended up being just too big, particularly around the chest and hips. Well guess what? It fits perfectly now! And why is that? It's pretty easy to tell. . .

Yup, that's right, there is a tiny little baby cookin' in my oven! 18 weeks old now and expected to move out of my womb in March-- it only has a ninth months lease on the place.

Wishing You the Happiness that Comes from Holding Babies,
Mama Randa the Expectant

What Can Be Learned From?. . . Wildcraft!

activity: Wildcraft! board game

ages: pre-school through adult

story line: Grandma needs you to gather huckleberries from the mountain. Along the way, you get scrapes, bruises, bee stings, and other ailments-- but good thing you've been gathering medicinal plants as you hike up the trail!

description: A cooperative board game in which players work together to gather huckleberries and return them to grandmas while learning about medicinal plants along the way

what can be learned: Identification of medicinal plants, develop an appreciation for plants, foster understanding that plants are medicine, cooperation, counting, following directions, matching, circular movement, clockwise and counter-clockwise directions, sunrise/sunset patterns
This game just arrived in the mail for us last week and it has already become a favorite. The board is beautiful, the gameplay is pleasurable, and the knowledge imparted is priceless! As someone who does not know much about medicinal plants, I am savoring this unique opportunity to learn more. And I love the sense of respect for the Earth that playing this game instills. The game pieces are plastic, but we've been using little wooden autumn peg people instead. This board game is HIGHLY recommended! We ordered ours through For Small Hands (a great Montessori-based catalogue with alot of good, affordable supplies and toys) or it can be ordered directly from the creators at

Wishing you Evenings of Family Board Gaming,
Mama Randa the Player