Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Unexpected Learning

Wednesdays are the days I fully dedicate to the kids. It's a long day for us as Horacio works from nine until nine. I always plan a simple outing to break up the day. It is nothing fancy--a trip to the library, a few hours at the park. Forcing myself out with all three of them is building my confidence to go out more. I think we all look forward to it. Umberto and I spend the morning hour over breakfast deciding where to go. We're both learning to compromise to make the other happy.

Last Wednesday, we decided to go downtown, and then to the grocery store. Downtown Matthews has a caboose surrounded by a raised porch. You can look inside the caboose, and then sit outside for a snack. The best part though is that the train tracks run right beside the porch so if you time it right, you can watch the train from the porch. As we were getting into the car last Wednesday we could hear the train. Umberto looked at me at all sad "Mom we missed the train." I felt bad because we were getting a late start because of me and my computer. I told him that at least we'd get to play on the caboose and that I was sorry.

Imagine our delight when we got downtown to get stuck in traffic. I know that traffic isn't always a good sign but that day we were overjoyed. We turned down a side road and got to the caboose to see the train stopped. As we got out of the car, we saw that a boxcar had become uncoupled from the train. The train was split in two. Umberto was out of the car and on the fence in about five seconds. After a few minutes it became apparent that the train wasn't moving for awhile. We went to the caboose hoping to get a view on the engine, and to eat our snacks.

On the porch, we could see the engine if we leaned over the railing. Umberto watched for awhile but there was no action. He played for awhile at the caboose, and then sat with me to eat his apples and fig newtons.

"What happened to the train Mom?"
"I think it became uncoupled like on Thomas."
"What are they going to do? Will it stay there forever?"
"I don't think it will stay forever. What do you think they'll do?"
"I don't know."
"Well what happens on Thomas?"
"They have to couple the cars together again."
"Yeah, and how do you think they'll do that?"

Before Umberto could answer, there was a loud clank as the train started to move. The engine pulled its half of the train away, leaving the uncoupled car and cars behind it on the track. Umberto was pretty excited and we speculated that they would probably bring a tow train back to get the cars.

But that didn't happen. Instead the train came back with a man riding on the ladder that lead to the top of the box car. He waved to us, and Umberto almost bounced over the railing in excitement. He couldn't believe someone was riding on the car like that. We followed the train over to where the box cars were separated. Umberto watched as the man knocked a bad part of the links, and then instructed the engineer by walkietalkie to back the train up until the links clanged together loudly. He then connected the hoses between the cars, and hammered a huge iron nail into the links. When he was done, he radioed the engineer to send air through the hoses to the boxcar that had come unlinked. Then he began the long walk back to engine. After about ten minutes the train started up again taking the lost cars with it. We counted the cars as they slowly built up speed and sped by.

What occurred to me as Umberto chatted about what he had seen is that if he had been in school he would have missed this learning experience. Learning happens not just in everyday living but in those wonderful unexpected moments that pop in everyday life. Due to an accident he learned about how trains are coupled together, and what happens when they become uncoupled. He learned about problem solving and proposing hypothesis. And we all learned that being late is sometimes the best thing.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Who's Got the Time?

An interesting thing happened when we decided to unschool Umberto. We had a week before we (the adults) returned to school, and during that week we forgot about time. We stopped going to bed at nine, and getting up at seven. Lunch was not served at twelve. These things did not cease to happen. Rather they flowed into our lives in what really seemed like a more natural extension of our needs. We went to bed when we were tired. We got up when we were rested. We ate when we were hungry. We never looked at the clock. We stopped making plans to be at places at certain times. We gave vague promises: "We'll be there around 11."

For some this may seem not all that radical. For me it was a huge revelation. I am one of those people who show a half hour early to my appointments. I hate being late for anything. You won't catch me being fashionably late to the party. No way. As a mother of three, it fustrated me when it took forever to get out the door. There was lots of shouting, pushing, and sighs of irriation as I put on many pairs of little socks, shoes, and coats. Going places was miserable for all of us.

And routines! Oy. They were a chain around our necks. Horacio and I are not good at enforcing routines. We'd spend a week dealing with the crying and screaming of bedtime, and then the next week we'd just give up. I think we enforced routines more out of a sense of "this is what we're supposed to do" than because we wanted to. Good parents make their kids go to bed at eight right? Good parents provide stability through routine. I'm not sure where this idea came from but it is ingrained in both Horacio and mine's heads.

So for a week we just let it go. We lived like we had nothing else to do but live. And peace descended. Seriously. With nothing to fight over, we were all happier. I stopped shouting as did umpired. Horacio showed a lot more patience. We played more. The kids did sleep when they were tired, and in fact, seemed to be a lot more willing to sleep. They even ate better. It was simply amazing at how much stress we relieved by just forgetting about the clock. And indeed we did fall into a kind of routine.

Unfortunately the real world intruded a week later. Now that we're back in school, it's much harder to maintain this sort of life. The kids stay up a lot later than normal because they want to see Horacio and me (our classes get out late), and they wake up too early to see Horacio off. I feel the need to organize again as I organize my own work around their lives. I love school but I find myself fantazing about a world where there are not schedules. Where we just do what we need to do without having to worry about time.

But still a lesson arose from this time: trust the children. I realized during that blissful week that our kids really do know what they need. I have faith that Umberto will learn as he lives. He knows what he needs, and I have to trust him.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

You ain't got a thing, if you ain't got that swing...

Swinging is the bomb.

Who can resist an empty swing on a crisp day?

The joy of the first swing through the air...