Their Secret Place

Our home forest

Our home forest


I read an article about a year ago about a family that unschools. We Don’t Need No Education was the title. Their approach was quite free. Their two sons spent the majority of everyday outside roaming the woods surrounding their home. They seemed to have very minimal if any academic “school” time. Their education was purely child led, independent, outdoors. The boys had breakfast, did their chores, then went outside by themselves exploring until the end of the day. The boys started learning to read when they were ready. They sounded like true outdoorsmen and had what seemed absolute freedom.

I have found that every family’s true definition of unschooling differs. It fits each family in their own unique way.

To me unschooling is defined as allowing personal freedom, choice, and expression in learning. Allowing learning in real life, without scheduled traditional structures that are routinely followed. Where interests are followed.

I thought about this article today because with the weather becoming much warmer, so many days have been purely outdoors. This morning both kids have been off on their own in the woods by our home. Playing, building, eating snacks, creating their own world. I can see their heads and colored shirts through the trees from where I sit outside. I can hear their voices. They are content that it is just them.

My husband told me today how Carl Jung talked about children’s desire and actions in the need to create their own “secret space.” It is a place for their “spirit” to go. I see that in the boys in the article. I see that in my children as well. As I look around, I wonder if we do enough of that for our kids? Allow them to be free, to be outside, and create their own spaces? A space their spirit can be free, and undisturbed from the “order” and chaos of adults?

I see the importance. I wonder if that is what happens to us as adults? Did we develop that secret place when we were young? If so, can we still find it? Do you go there?

A “secret” space where our spirit resides.

If you look hard enough, you may see a dog, and one of my children's heads poking through the bushes.

If you look hard enough, you may see a dog, and one of my children’s heads poking through the bushes.

Art Love and Links

I had purchased the book Henri Matisse: Drawing with Scissors a few months back.

Zahra took the greatest interest in the book and we read it a few times. She said Vincent Van Gogh still remains her favourite all time artist but she has a definite interest in Matisse. She created her own Matisse inspired cut-out.

Matisse Inspired Cut Out

Matisse Inspired Cut Out

Since then there have been days of sketching that stretch for hours at a time.

Both kids love searching online for a picture they have in mind to draw, or a video that they want to follow and use to learn how to sketch. They grab their materials and draw.

They Set Themselves Up To Draw

They Set Themselves Up To Draw

One excellent website they use and love is

They use different mediums, pictures that are fun and relevant to young people, and to top it off the artist’s children are the ones drawing on the video. I find my kids prefer videos and learning where there are other actual children that are in the creation process. Drawing Lesson Drawing Lesson

Zahra's Owl

Zahra’s Owl

Zahra's Drawing of Anna from the Frozen movie

Zahra’s Drawing of Anna from the Frozen movie

Ronan's Drawing of Captain Underpants. A favourite series of both children.

Ronan’s Drawing of Captain Underpants. A favourite series of both children.

I cannot say enough about why art must be a part of the learning process. This goes not only for homeschoolers, but traditional school as well.

Art naturally builds your creative thinking, critical thinking, verbal skills, creative problem solving and cognitive ability as well. The arts of course, include not only sketching and drawing, but music, movement and performance as well.

The beauty of art allows it to play a part in every element of learning. Drawing a map, acting out a history lesson or story, creative writing, adding your own illustrations to a story, writing lyrics or music for a song, studying art history, examining design, music or dance from a specific culture or country. It can stand alone or be incorporated into each project.

Ronan drew this as an illustration for an ongoing story saga that his grandmother has been telling the kids over many years. The story is about Polly the Polar Bear a miniature polar bear that travels the world. In this story Polly saved a blue whale.

Ronan drew this as an illustration for an ongoing story saga that his grandmother has been telling the kids over many years. The story is about Polly the Polar Bear a miniature polar bear that travels the world. In this story Polly saved a blue whale. Polly is walking on top of the whale in this illustration he made.


Ronan has an interest in learning the guitar. Before his lessons begin he has been using an online guitar lesson, listening to songs that have a strong guitar element (Led Zepplin and White Stripes are current favourites), and learning the parts of his guitar.

Ronan has an interest in learning the guitar. Before his lessons begin he has been using an online guitar lesson, listening to songs that have a strong guitar element (Led Zepplin and White Stripes are current favourites), and learning the parts of his guitar.


He decided to sketch out his guitar to diagram each part.

He decided to sketch out his guitar to diagram each part.


The Finished Diagram

The Finished Diagram


We are also adding activities and visits to the local fine arts centre in our area.

We love hearing of ways that others incorporate art and creativity into their lives and family. Do you also feel that arts education is crucial?


Here are some interesting links and studies on the value of art education in a child’s life.

Ted Talks-

What Do We Eat?

Homeschool allows for the time and freedom to do and explore so many things. Sometimes the list can become quite long. Sometimes we start one and get so excited about another that we leave the first, second, and third hanging.

I think we should take time to make sure we finish a few things that we have started.

It’s good to see a cycle through from beginning to end, is it not?

One small project that we had started, left and now picked up again is food and nutrition.

In our family we are conscious of our health and engage our children in many a discussion about it. We are active, try not to eat a lot of junk and processed food (SUGAR), cook fresh homemade meals, and love our greens.

No, of course we are not perfect with this.

We have a friend that is a nutritionist and she claims that the best way to stay healthy long term is to not follow a fad diet or eating style. Just exercise regularly and eat your balanced food groups.

Do you know what it really means to eat a balanced daily diet from the 4 food groups?

I did not. So, I thought it would be a good lesson for us all to take on.

We looked up our Canadian food guide online and printed out each food group with the detailed information on serving sizes. We talked about what the food groups are and what kind of foods fall under each category.

On the back of each food group we wrote down the suggested daily servings for everyone in our family.

The kids drew out a chart for each day, which Ronan later decided to do on the computer and print off instead.  (Good thinking Ronan!)

Drawing Out The Food Chart

Drawing Out The Food Chart

Zahra's Food Chart

Zahra’s Food Chart

They put the food groups on the top of their chart and each meal on the side. Ronan records how many servings of each food group he has with each meal and snack. Zahra just checks off what food group she is meeting with each meal. (Not only does this help with organization but it is another practical math exercise in charts and graphs which is a part of stats and probability)

Serving Sizes

Serving Sizes

Chart Layout

Chart Layout

Ronan Created The New Chart on The Computer. This is Zahra's. She Checks Off The Boxes To Track The Food Groups She Eats For Her Meals In a Day.

Ronan Created The New Chart on The Computer. This is Zahra’s. She Checks Off The Boxes To Track The Food Groups She Eats For Her Meals In a Day.

After reviewing their data the kids saw that we can be a little heavy on daily protein. (Ronan can easily go over his serving size in his morning egg consumption.)

Our grain consumption is on target, and fruits and vegetable servings varies based on the individual. (We have green shakes made in a Vitamix but almost everyday, but my daughter will consume fruit as a snack compared to a bowl of cereal that her brother would rather have.)

Milk and milk products strangely enough does not have any recommended serving sizes on the Canada Food Guide. It just asks you to refer to the nutrition information on the label of the milk products you are consuming. What do you think of that?

This has been a great practice for all of us in better understanding labels, what we are eating and leading a more balanced life.





What I Missed

Last week I felt like I was missing something. Like we were missing something in our school days.

Something that I know we all enjoyed, that we still do from time to time, but in different ways and not to the extent that we had been in Jamaica and Korea.

Now I understand that maybe it is just the natural progression of learning, but I still miss this activity. 


The creation, study and appreciation of art.

I spoke with my kids about how I was feeling and asked their opinion. They agreed.

So during our morning reading time that we always start our day with the three of us looked at a book my mother-in-law had lent me about Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.

Last year in Korea we had done artist studies on Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and Gauguin. Both Gauguin and Picasso had featured exhibits, the first at the Seoul Museum of Art and the other at the Seoul Arts Center(SAC) so they were timely artist studies. 

Gauguin did not capture them as Van Gogh and Picasso did. (I admit, I am more of the Gauguin fan) Their favourite paintings are Starry Night, and Starry Night on the Rhone, but they were fascinated with the story behind Picasso’s Guernica. 

So last week we looked through the book Picasso’s Guernica – History, Transformations, Meanings by Herschel B. Chipp. The book is a bit intensive for younger readers but offers excellent detail on that particular painting, showing the research, planning, photographs and sketches that went into the large piece. 

We talked about the details and the small parts that really came together to make it (Guernica) whole. We talked about the sheer grand size of Guernica. 

Then Ronan announced, “okay, I’m done, I want to draw now.” Zahra declared she was going to paint, told me the materials she needed, and they both set themselves up to create.

Starting Out

Starting Out

Beginning Painting

Beginning Painting

Ronan was very adamant that he was creating only what he wanted to, his ideas that he currently had in his mind. I just helped them with materials set up and left them to work. 

Ronan worked for a hours. Drawing, taking a break, coming back to it, cutting, talking about his ideas and sharing them with me as he worked. He took the entire morning on his piece. 

Part Of The Process

Part Of The Process

Cutting Each Design

Cutting Each Design

Placing and Pasting

Placing and Pasting

Zahra sat and painted until she was done, no breaks in between and promptly wanted to display her work when she was finished. 

The Painting

The Painting

Zahra's Finished Piece

Zahra’s Finished Piece

Both pieces were beautiful and unique to each person. 

Ronan's Finished Piece

Ronan’s Finished Piece

As I watched the kids work I remembered what I was missing about our art days.

It wasn’t necessarily the actual pieces that we were creating that I missed, but it was what those art days created for us. A chance to express our thoughts, ideas and emotions in another form. A chance to express something we had learned in a colourful or abstract way. Most importantly, what I missed was the beauty and calm that the process creates for us. 


The Poetry of Math


I am not a Math person.

I have never been good at Math.

Math is too hard for me, I can only do the basics.

Have you ever said this? Have your kids ever said this?

I felt this way. I was a “good student”, and I did ok with Math, but it was a struggle for me. I had to put in a lot of effort when it came to Math class, and the concepts usually seemed to out of  reach for me to fully understand. They seemed to be just operations to memorize and perform, but not something I saw applied in my life. Give me history, an essay or a humanities topic any day instead.

As a homeschooling mom Math was the subject I worried about. If I am not a “math person”, how was I going to continue with math education for my children as they get to older ages?  If I have no belief in my math skills, how could I show my kids that they could? (It’s what you do, not what you say)

My homeschool journey has slowly changed this for me.

Becoming a parent that sees the benefit in freedom to play and learn, with no hard formalities in the process has been awakening. I started to see that we are all homeschoolers. I am just as much the student as my children. With curiosity, and engagement we are all learning what we want to know more about.

For me the poetry of Math is unfolding.

This week I had the privilege of attending a talk with my mother in law and another teacher from her school. We drove an hour to see James Tanton, a Mathematician that is passionate about what he does, talks with absolute excitement, lives in his creativity and surrounds himself with expression.

James Tanton describes his journey and work as mathematical play.

He stresses the importance of play and exploration in life, learning, and specifically in Math. “The nature of play – that is, intellectual exploration, intellectual curiosity, the pursuit of wanting to know – is innate to our true human selves.”

He himself loved playing with math as a child in his room – looking for patterns and geometric designs in the ceiling, inventing games and puzzles – but found no joy in the math classroom at school. He always wanted to know the “why” in math but in class this was often met with being told to just accept that it is true, and to move on to the next question. He did not find the “joy and liberation” in math until a certain class in university. He later went on to become a high school math teacher and now researcher and global educator. He does this because of his love of math, and because he believes math is accessible to all.

Ronan Pointing Out The Patterns He Sees In His Hundred Chart- Counting By 2's and 3's

Hundreds Chart, Counting by 2’s, 3’s, 5’s And Recognizing The Patters

Math education is changing. We hear about the Common Core changes in the US, and in Alberta there is a change in curriculum as well. Some people are happy with the change, others of course are not. What I appreciate is that educators are working towards change and keeping progressive.

Change has to happen, especially in education. Do we realize how quickly the world, primarily because of technology is changing around us? Life today for our children is nothing like how it was when we were young. Why would we keep educating our children in a style and with ideas that served a different society?

Math research, exploration and discovery is a big driver in the fast changes. Listening to James Tanton I realized that the mathematicians that are driving the fast changes are those that are the creative thinkers, and problem solvers. The mathematical thinkers, not the rote doers.

That is where math is moving, and that is where I am finding the beauty and poetry in math. In the past, as Mr. Tanton points out, math was focused on the skill and what questions. His work is to help us “find the wiggle room within the rigid system to begin to ask “why, “ “what if” and human questions”.

Why is that important?

Soon we will be visiting Mars. Who do you think is going to get us there?


Ronan Testing Out James Tanton’s Exploding Dots Lesson On The Explanation of Arithmetic And Algebra


He Loves It!



Check out the Lesson – Exploding Dots

Other great sites for math creativity and problem solving that we love:






Power Outage

Yesterday over breakfast Ronan asked me, “mom, was there civilization when you were a kid?”

Now, I am 37 years old. Things are different now from when I was young, no internet, definately no facebook, no cell phones, but we had civilization. It brought a little giggle from me, but I remembered that every question is worth asking and is asked to solve a problem or find an answer.

After thinking about this I realized that his question was brought about from what happened the night before.

The rural community we are in lost power. The family was all together, all 5 kids and 6 adults, but no power.

It was -25 degrees celcius.

The power went out at 5pm and stayed out for 12 hours. We brought out the candles, finished cooking dinner by flashlight, ate by candlelight, started the fire and sat in the dark together giggling, telling stories and playing.

Of course the stories we told were stories of the “old days.” What Great Grandma’s family did growing up with no power. How things would have been different in the evening when it became dark. How Grandma truly lived off the land when she was young growing up in a family that was homesteading. How my dad drew water from the well for the family in Jamaica.

Would storytelling have been a bigger tradition with no TV, computers, internet, cell phones to distract us? Only candle light to read by?

We also reflected on how quiet it was.

The absence of light and noise was actually quite beautiful.

For the 4 of us, just coming back from Seoul, South Korea, a city of over 20 million where everything is accessible 24 hours of the day, the difference in noise and constant artificial light was very apparent to us when we first returned.

But because of the power outage we realized we were starting to take these things for granted again.

For the first few weeks we would stop before bed and watch the stars light up the sky, the way we could not living in the big city. Or sit and listen to the silence (minus a few coyotes and barking dogs at times) that was otherwise nonexistent in Seoul.

During this forced power outage the kids did turn on the ipads for a minute, but sensing a time where everyone was there and very present, devices that had battery life were turned off. We enjoyed the time together.

The next day my kids were happy that the power was back on. We were thankful that we had a warm place to come into from the winter cold, we had lights to see our way, and yes, that we had power to charge our electronics.

Even still, we spent the day reading, making crafts, playing and cooking.

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Monday Omelet- Ronan’s Creation



Sometimes it takes us to go without, to remember how much we truly have.


Zahra Writing To Great Grandma (GG)

Zahra Writing To Great Grandma (GG)

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Ronan Working On His Homemade Christmas Cards