Category Archives: Exploring the World

Snow and Ice

We’ve been using projects from this great site. The kids like to scroll through and choose their activities. This one with snow was really fantastic. Who’d ever thought to bring the snow inside?!?


A new way of representing the world.

Something has shifted. D has, in a very short period of time, developed a new way of drawing. It is much more representational and has a lot more detail then I have ever seen. In the slide show, the drawings on the whiteboard are a chicken, a cherry pie and a bottle of water. He also has started to really replicate environments– in the images below you’ll see he has created a grocery store and added price tags to everything.

If I had and orchard…

We love growing our own food. The one thing we don’t have is fruit trees. We were fortunate this fall to find a great deal on apple trees and spent a blustery fall morning planting our orchard up at my parents farm in Bucks County. Thank goodness for Pop’s tractor. It would have been a very long day if we would have had to dig all of those holes ourselves. Now, we’ll just have to wait for our first crop!

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Hosting Swallowtails

It started in middle August. There on the garage floor was a dead butterfly. We collected him and put him in a plastic container with a paper towel damp with vinegar and water– in the hopes of loosening him up so he could be pinned. A few days later we found another and pinned them to a single board. We observed them and drew pictures of them. We researched and explored images of other butterflies that we liked. We hung them up so we could see them every day.

About a week later we discovered our first caterpillar at the community garden. It was so lovely, so soft, so colorful and so hungry! During our first encounter we put him back on the parsley and left him, fearing that by bringing him home we might deprive someone else of the pleasure of discovering him. But over night I started to worry that a bird might find him. We decided to go collect him and bring him home. Upon our return, we found him pretty easily then decided to look for more. We found that several locations with parsley and dill all had swallowtail caterpillars! And a friend of ours even found a monarch caterpillar on some milkweed. Joy.

We brought home our new caterpillar and set him up in an old aquarium with a bouquet of parsley and some sticks to attach to once he was ready to form a chrysalis. After about 3 days of chowing and resting he set off to explore a little. He settled onto the bottom side of a stick and became very still. Then slowly he shrunk a bit and 2 tethers developed which allow his upper body to hang away from the stick.

After being so slow and so still, he finally started to wiggle like crazy. We missed most of the shedding, but did catch the final moment of his skin falling away as he wriggled it free. He was green and leafy looking with fine ridges. After another day he turned more brown and sharp in his form. He is still hanging there today. And since that we’ve adopted to more caterpillars who have yet to transform.

We were also able to find a great book at the library about moths and butterflies that has been really useful. We decided to put together our own book of all the drawings and observations we’ve been doing.

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Unschooling in Practice: How do toilets work?


A few weeks ago, Dashiell and I had one of those serendipitous afternoons that captures so much of the pleasure and value of unstructured time — the time that allows us to explore whatever the kids’ interests are. While Dashiell and I were “working” side by side in the third floor studio — he on his drawings, me on email no doubt — I noticed that the toilet was acting strangely in the adjacent bathroom so I removed the lid to the tank to investigate. Dashiell was at my side and immediately curious about the toilet’s inner workings; he announced: “I want to learn about toilets!”

Back at the desk and the computer, we made a quick search for toilet diagrams and looked at several to fill in the gaps of our knowledge of how toilets work, both as singular units but also as a part of the larger waster system in the house. Along the way we watched a few videos explaining in more detail various toilet repair procedures, and we both learned about house waste systems that use collected rainwater and graywater.


Later on, Dashiell made his own diagram of the toilet based on what he had just discovered.


In many ways, this is not an extraordinary occurrence. But it contains within it many of the elements of the unschooling approach: paying attention to what your children are curious about, facilitating further exploration and research, activating different modes of inquiry and expression, finding ways to channel that investigation in meaningful ways towards longer-term, sustained projects. The challenge moving forward is to know when to nudge such encounters toward these more sustained, ongoing projects, to connect them with a chain of experiences that encourage a certain depth of engagement. This last point is really well addressed in Lori Pickert’s Project-Based Homeschooling.

Academy of Natural science!

Monday’s are hard. Everything seems to be closed. So we often have trouble planning fun outings.
Today we decided to take the train to town and check out the Acadrmy of Natural Science. It was great. The third floor, hands- on toddler room was by far the best. There was a bee hive, cockroaches, turtles and all kinds of bones, shells and rocks that we could touch.
The kids were not so into the diaramas, but the dinosaur section was pretty cool. And the butterflies were pretty amazing too! (this makes me think a butterfly shoebox diarama might be a fun project? And why don’t we hatch some butterflies next year!)
After the museum we had lunch at whole foods and headed back to the train. Esme fell asleep in the stroller!! Unusual for her, so I guess it was a good trip.


We had a short but great visit to the creek on Monday up by Chestnut Hill college. We searched for shells and saw lots of fish. Both kids loved walking through the water in their sandals. Esme especially loves to pick up and throw the biggest rocks she can manage. She is such a brute!