Christmas Gifting

I’m still as busy as ever, making gifts into the wee hours of the night! For Lynden, my knight in shining armour, I’ve made a wool-felt dragon using a pattern I purchased from Handwork Studios.

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The pattern instructs to hand-sew the seams with a blanket stitch, which looks quite lovely. I, however, have no time for hand-stitching seams, so I took the faster route and used my sewing machine instead. Some day I’ll make a dinosaur from the same pattern, when I’m not crunched for time, and I’ll take the time to do a lovely blanket stitch seam.

DSCN0471Here’s what happens when you attempt to operate a sewing machine with a nursing baby propped on a pillow across your lap – your lines come out all crooked and uneven. Thankfully, my child isn’t the type to notice or care!

DSCN0492Almost a dragon! Time for the wings!

DSCN0497I did opt to hand-stitch the wings, because I was tired of trying to balance the baby while using the sewing machine, and because I really do like the hand-stitched look. Now all he needs is a face!

This project took two hours or so, with multiple interruptions by the baby and several silly mistakes that needed to be ripped back. If I had uninterrupted time to give proper attention to my task, I could get it finished in under an hour with no ripping back. Such is life!

In other news, Lynden has been drawing monsters and sea creatures like there’s no tomorrow:

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Momma’s Workshop

Boy oh boy, have I been busy these past few weeks! Once again, I did not start my Christmas gift-making in August. No, rather than learning from previous years, I put off my gift-making, getting started only as December closed in.

Once a place for sleeping, my bed has been taken over by sheets of fabric, balls of yarn, scissors, needles, felt, and wool stuffing. Each night I push myself until I can’t stand to keep my eyes open anymore, then I gather everything and put it away so the kids suspect nothing when they wake up in the morning.

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While the late start means plenty of midnight dates with my sewing machine, things are coming along nicely and I think I will get all of my gifts finished in time.

Several months ago I purchased a great book of toy patterns called Wee Wonderfuls, by Hillary Lang. When it arrived in the mail one day in July, my children flipped through and enthusiastically pointed out which toys they would like me to make for them. I filed their requests away in the back of my mind, and have dredged them out of the recesses of my memory now that the holidays are upon us.

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My first project – a teddy bear for Robin. I crafted it from wool felt that was purchased from Bear Dance Crafts, and got the bulk of the teddy finished in one night.

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He’s still in need of a face and clothing, but Robin’s teddy is mostly finished. The teddy bear has been joined on the shelf by two wool-felt mermaids, one with a fuchsia-coloured tail and brown hair for Lynden, and one with a lavender-coloured tail and blonde hair for Raina.

There have been several knitted projects as well, but their recipients might be reading this blog… so you’ll have to wait until after Christmas to see what I’ve crafted!

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The kids each wrote a letter to Santa. I was pleasantly surprised by their very modest requests. I half-expected to hear them ramble off a long list of things they would like, but they only asked for two gifts apiece. Lynden politely requested a sword and a hamster (his beloved hamster died last week), and Raina wants a pink shirt and a skateboard. Robin wants a train. After the letters were written, we talked about how blessed we are to have such abundance in our lives – healthy food to eat, a strong roof over our heads, a warm house to sleep in, a loving network of family & friends – and the kids told me all of the things they are grateful for. They were pretty thrilled when we made the trip to the post office to drop of their Santa letters!

Another Handmade Holiday

I can’t believe it’s already that time of year again. I feel as though I was *just* blogging about my holiday endeavours, but that was already a whole year ago! Yikes!

I’m really looking forward to the upcoming holidays. I’ve got lots of fun ideas in the works for handmade gifts! My knitting needles are flying, my sewing machine is whirring, my scissors are snipping. For several years, I have given handmade gifts for Christmas, but still purchased gifts too. This time around, I’ve decided to take the plunge and make it an exclusively handmade holiday. This mama won’t be going shopping! Not only do I have zero interest in being part of the consumer frenzy, but I have better things to put my limited money toward (such as saving for a down payment on our “forever farm”).

So far, I’ve completed a little bear with moveable arms & legs for Robin, made from an old flannel pyjama set of mine. I had taken several lovely photos of the little bear to share with you, but my kids got their hands on my camera and it is nowhere to be found. When the camera resurfaces, the bear will make its online appearance!

Raina saw a picture of a mermaid doll and is begging for one of her own, and because Raina wants a mermaid doll, Lynden does too. I’ve been putting outgrown clothing aside to cut apart and turn into dolls, and as soon as I find a moment I’m going to get started. Raina’s also been asking for a teddy bear, because she lost the one I made for her two years ago and is rather heartbroken about it.

The adults on my list have some warm, fuzzy surprises coming their way, too, though they read my blog so you’ll have to wait until after Christmas to see what I have created for them!

What are you creating this holiday season?

Life Without School

Before our first child was born, Jae and I knew that no offspring of ours would be attending school.  As new parents, we assumed we’d use a curriculum, but as our children grew and taught us more than we anticipated (and after trying out Waldorf and Enki curricula), we realised that a curriculum was not necessary – and actually stood in the way!

So, we became a family of “unschoolers”. We don’t set out each day to teach our kids; instead, we involve them completely in our daily lives and trust that they will learn everything they need to survive in this crazy world.  Just as they learned to sit, crawl, talk, feed themselves and use the toilet without any direction from us, they are learning to read, count, add, subtract and more all on their own. Kids are hardwired to absorb everything from the world around them, to acquire the necessary skills for surviving – and thriving – in the community in which they live. I’ve come to realise that sitting down to teach a child who hasn’t asked to be taught actually thwarts their learning process.

I won’t go into too much depth about unschooling. I could write a whole series of essays addressing our reasons for keeping our kids far away from the school system, our choice to abandon curricula and our trust in our children, but that would take a long time and I’d rather spend that time with my kids. Instead, I’ll share with you what a day of unschooling might look like in our home. At the end of this post you’ll find a plethora of links for further reading and information about unschooling (or, “life learning” as I prefer!) – please do take the time to peruse! You might find your mind blown 😉

What does a typical day look like in this house where school does not exist? That’s impossible to answer, because there is no “typical” day. Each day is different, with endless options nestled snugly inside of the rhythm of our home. There are several constants – family breakfast, daily chores, feeding the animals, collecting the eggs, etc – and within that framework anything else goes.

Most days include a craft of some sort. My kids are wildly creative beings – all it takes is for one of them to ask for paints or crayons or glue, and all three of them are bursting with excitement at the thought of making new art. A perennial favourite that lingers from our Enki days is watercolour painting. The kids will spend up to two hours at a time on a good day – and sometimes only half an hour – quietly concentrating on their paper & brushes, taking their colour choices very seriously.

Some days, the kids enjoy felting. They like needle felting well enough, but really love wet-felting, getting their hands warm and soapy wet, squishing that wet wool between their fingers. Their creations always look more or less the same – oddly-shaped clumps of felt with no real definition – and usually end up in the compost pile. It’s not the result that matters, it’s the process. It’s the joy of creating something with one’s own hands.

Then, of course, there’s fort-making with blankets. What child doesn’t love that? There’s usually a fort monster to go along with the blanket forts – inevitably a big brother trying to scare his younger siblings.

Puzzles! My children are drawn to puzzles. We do several puzzles each week in this house. The kids are getting really good at figuring out how pieces fit together. One year ago, I helped out quite a lot. Now, I might make a suggestion here or there if the kids get stuck, but mostly I sit back and watch in amazement as they figure it all out on their own. It’s so incredible to watch learning in action!

We do a lot of train play, too. This is Robin’s interest du jour, and Lynden is only too happy to help him figure out how best to put his tracks together. The kids have come up with some pretty elaborate railroad arrangements across the living room and bedroom floors. Of course, causing a train wreck is absolutely delightful, complete with epic sound effects and mourning family members.

Reading is a favourite pastime. There is not a day that goes by without reading happening. We’ll all pile on the couch together, snuggled in close, and work our way through the chapters of the Little House on the Prairie series, Roald Dahl books, Narnia, and more. On a day when something lighter is in order, we’ll go through a stack of our favourite picture books. The kids love the nature stories and fairy tales from the Enki curriculum, and often ask for those as well – we read seasonally-appropriate stories and the kids will sometimes draw pictures to go along with what we’ve read.

Lynden has a dinosaur obsession (and I do mean obsession), and has accumulated several dinosaur reference books and dino encyclopedias. He’s learning to read simply because he wants to be able to look things up in those reference books on his own, without asking for help. He has an extensive knowledge of dinosaurs, the various eras, and the creatures that came before & after dinosaurs. He wants to be a palaeontologist when he grows up.

Raina loves music. She spends her days singing and takes Suzuki Method violin lessons. Here’s where I’ll make a confession – as a Suzuki violin teacher myself, I expect daily practice of my students. But my own daughter? I follow her lead. Some days she practices three to four times, some days not at all. There are times when she cries because I just can’t bring myself to do a fifth practice in one day, and times she shrugs because she doesn’t want to play. Our approach to practice wouldn’t work if Raina were in school like my own students are – school changes the way kids approach learning, and structured teaching requires structured practicing (homework/review/etc) to be effective.

Robin’s starting to want to use the toilet like his older siblings. At 20 months of age, he gets really upset if he pees on himself, and will want to get out of the tub rather than pee in the water. All of our kids have “potty-trained” themselves, on their own terms – I foolishly tried to get Raina out of diapers before our third baby was born, and quickly realised the error of my ways when she rebelled against me, hard. I dropped the issue, and months later she started using the toilet all on her own.

There is no television in this house. No video games. Sometimes our kids will use the computer to watch nature documentaries and dinosaur specials. Sometimes they’ll use my camera to take photos, which they use for a “game” they created – zooming in really close and trying to guess what the object in the photo is when it’s blown up 800x’s. Without the distraction that too much technology brings, they are free to be their amazingly creative selves all day.

Of course, we regularly make trips into the wilderness, exploring local woodlands and creeks and trails. Outdoor play & exploration is what we live and breathe for. My children can identify coyote poop, raccoon poop, deer poop, the tracks of a half-dozen different animals, several birds of prey by sight, trees by their bark & leaves, and so much more. They don’t see themselves as separate from nature – they are part of nature, they belong to the woodlands just as much as the coyotes and raccoons do.

Oh, and socialisation? Yeah, we get plenty of that. We’re blessed to have a large network of homeschooling & unschooling friends, a great family, and the Ontario Early Years centre nearby. The kids are regularly interacting with folks of all ages, races and social classes, with people like them and people completely different from them. They’re not restricted to a classroom with 30 kids the same age – the world is wide open before them, and all people are worth saying “Hello” to.

You’d like to learn more about life learning, I’m sure. Who wouldn’t? Here are some great resources to get you started –

Creating Our Own Structure – unschooling.ca
What is Unschooling? – Natural Child Project
Radical Unschooling – Sandra Dodd
What is Unschooling? – John Holt
Are We Teaching Ourselves? – “Yes, I Can Write” blog
Unschooling for Social Change – FreeChild Project

We sure do love our lives. Our days are mostly happy, my kids are mostly happy, we have almost limitless time together to love & support each other. I can’t imagine sending my kids off to an institution every day, leaving their minds in the hands of impersonal strangers who change from year to year. No, thanks. We’ll keep living as though school doesn’t exist, and keep on loving the lives we have.

Oh, and what child would rather sit at a desk all day instead of doing this?

Handmade Holiday – Garlands

My kids saw a photo on the computer of a garland someone had made, and are crazy about the idea of making holiday garlands to string around the house. So, in the spirit of a handmade holiday, I’ve collected our favourite garland-making tutorials for you to enjoy. When we’re finished making ours, I’ll be sure to share our finished product!

Lynden’s favourite type of garland is a felted-ball garland – here’s a great little how-to that results in all sorts of lovely – Felted Garland from MegaCrafty.

Because Raina loves anything to do with paint and paper, she voted on this lovely Leaf Garland from The Present Family, though she’d like to do snowmen and top hats instead of leaves. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with!

Here’s a beautiful paper-craft garland from Oh My! which I love, but realistically won’t get done in time for the holidays. This garland has made it’s way onto my list for something to do in mid-winter when we’re going stir crazy and we need a little something to brighten up the house – I’m thinking dinosaurs and fairies for the kids’ room.

I really love how into it the kids are about our handmade holiday, and how enthusiastic they are to create things with their own hands.  How have you been incorporating handmade into your home & holidays?

Wooden Wonderland

I love Etsy treasuries.  Some of them are almost works of art, so beautifully put together, laid out in such a pleasing and eye-catching way.  I also love creating Etsy treasuries, browsing through one amazing listing after another to choose just the right ones.  It’s hard to limit myself to 16 items, with all the beautiful things out there.

One of my favourite materials, ever, is wood.  Wood is gorgeous, feels so good between the fingers, has a sense of life to it.  Every piece of wood has its own unique story.  I spend so much time looking at wood items on Etsy, I figured I had better create a treasury.  Behold, “Wooden Wonderland”:

Go ahead, take a click.  Give your eyes a visual feast.  These items are truly gorgeous, and who knows, you might just decide to give one a new home.

http://www.etsy.com/treasury/4dbb68fa96206d91922c2849/wooden-wonderland?index=0