Saturday, July 22, 2006

Unschool Zoo

This week two things became vastly apparent:
  1. Unschooling is a force to be reckoned with.
  2. Animals are curious, amazing creatures.

Freedom and the cat
Our cat Holstein is an Unschooler. He's determined to teach himself things.

Our week began with Holstein, that crazy cat of ours, getting in trouble with yet another neighbor for preying on birds in her yard. It's not his fault entirely, it was that terrible hailstorm in Texas that whacked dozens of birds out of the trees as well as the siding off our house, and helped Holstein remember his true catlike nature and develop a taste for critters. Hailstorms are sometimes called an "Act of God," and with this in mind, perhaps there is a greater plan at work on the cat? I keep waiting for it, but in the meantime we decided to bring him inside the house after a brief deworming period locked up in the laundry room.

On Holstein's first night in captivity, he escaped, or rather he was sprung by a band of raccoons. They broke into the laundry room again, completely busting the lock off the cat door, and letting Holstein out in the process. He promptly returned the next morning, and we locked him up again, fixing the cat door and remembering to pull the storm door shut tight.

A main key to unleashing the amazing power of Unschooling is exposure to the possibilities. If you pay attention well enough, you'll begin to see possibilities everywhere.

The following morning I was prepared to let him inside the house, but he was nowhere to be found. The lock on the cat door was now open and yet the storm door was still shut tight. The food dish was full, so we had not had a raccoon visitation. Very curious. Later in the day, after Holstein had returned for a snack, I locked him up again.

There is an old saying that holds, "We are each teacher and student." In this case, Holstein had been learning lock-picking from the raccoons. As soon as I left the room he unlocked the cat door, squeezed himself out between the two doors and somehow, God only knows, managed to climb up the storm door, reach the handle, and fling himself towards freedom. Our cat can open doors! He wants to be free!
Insectivores and what they eatBetween our readings of The Far Side of the Loch and my niece's blog of life in France, Sunburst has been very interested in the idea of hedgehogs as pets. She looked them up in our Encyclopedia of Mammals and read for awhile. There are several different types of hedgehogs, they have wild skeletal systems that enable them to fold up, and they don't live anywhere close to us, either in North or South America. She desperately wants one for a pet, but unless we get a job overseas, she's out of luck. However, they are in the order Insectivora, and thus, are related to shrews.

We do have shrews here. So many shrews, in fact, that the same neighbor who was irked about our cat Holstein, said she would prefer it if he caught only the shrews and left the birds alone. Obviously the cat isn't willing to sign a treaty or anything, but it did peak a curiosity in shrews. We don't want our cat to harm any living creature, really, but what makes a shrew's life less worthy than a bird's to our neighbor? They both serve the greater good by eating insects, don't they? We read until we found a possible point of contention.


Yes, unfortunately our book even had a picture. Apparently shrews do quite a bit of rectum-licking to absorb lost nutrients. Never in my wildest homeschooling dreams did I forsee a discussion about rectum-licking, anal tissues, and creamy anal secretions. Digestion and absorption, yes, but not in regards to the great world of nutrients contained in feces. Mmmmm-mmmm.
Pigs: to rot or not?
"What exactly is pepperoni?" We were snacking on leftover pizza slathered in artichoke hearts and pineapple, no pepperoni in sight, when Sunburst threw this question on the table. The simple reply of "spicy sausage" did nothing for her. From pepperoni she branched out to other pork products-- ham, bacon, hot dogs, pig ears at the pet store.

We talked about preservatives, since in this country all those things are kept from rotting by either drying, as for pig ears, or the application of chemicals, mainly sodium nitrate. My kids are fascinated by the idea that as a child I couldn't eat most meat products because of an allergy to sodium nitrate. I get wicked migraines from it, and it shouldn't be a surprise to my parents that I find it easier to avoid these migraines by being vegan.

This conversation took us into a lengthy discussion on fresh vs. cured, animal husbandry, history, shipping, commodities, and consumer choices. Is there such a thing as asking too many questions? Sometimes I wonder.

Playing with vomit
Yesterday Sunburst carried out her latest McGuffey Reader and asked if we could play "school." She taught herself to read using the beginner book of this series written in the 1870's, Primer Reader, and has, of her own volition, managed to work through the First Reader and almost to the end of the Second Reader. She can read anything at this point, but she's bound and determined to get through the entire set. There are seven in all.

Playing "school" with these Readers means that she wants to play school as it were in the 1880's. Go ahead, I told her, and she began her recitation of the particular lesson, remembering to read it slowly and enunciate. The story was about an owl that some children had taken from its roost during the day, when owls are nearly blind, and included a host of interesting owl observations ending with an owl's ability to eat an animal whole, digest the fleshy bits, and regurgitate a compact ball of fur and bones. I'll give these readers one thing, they never fail to peak a child's interest.

Our 1880's school concluded on that note, and Sunburst compelled me to tell her everything I knew about owl pellets and my experience with them. She was enthralled with the idea that she could dissect one, too. My public school education didn't broach this subject until Grade 9 when my interest in the natural habits of animals had been usurped by my interest in the natural habits of boys. It took me about two seconds to conclude that wiring a child for scientific inquiry is probably easier before the onset of puberty, and I headed to the computer to search out information on ordering owl pellets.

I found them HERE. On a different site we read all the interesting information on pellets, learned that other birds make them too, and could hardly contain our excitement when we discovered the virtual pellet dissection opportunity. We spent quite a bit of time checking out every clickable thing on the site, and from THIS page you can look inside the pellets of different birds and see what was for dinner, including a fact-filled question and answer segment to help you hone your scientific mind.

* * *

I'm learning to expect the unexpected when it comes to homeschooling and really just go with the flow of interest and see where it takes us. In this, Sunburst isn't any different from our door-opening cat. She wants to be free. Free to ask questions. Free to partake in new experiences, new adventures-- and free to learn. Free to have fun with learning.

Amen to that.

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