Thursday, October 8, 2015

Why "learning" adventure?

By Angel Jackson

A few days ago I was grumpy: the boys had made a huge mess of the house for the 945th time that day and we just did not seem to be getting anywhere.  I felt powerless to change the direction of the day and said more than once "you guys really need to learn to clean up".  As afternoon rolled around I had an idea.  I wanted to make a baby wrap for my 7 month old daughter and found some really nice material friends had given us years ago and tried to make it out of that.  It was not long enough so I cut it down the middle asking my 4 year old the hold it as I cut.  I sewed the ends together and, voila a baby wrap.  I watched a video of how to put her onto my back with it and FAILURE, it was still not long enough--it wasn't going to work.

I had wanted to learn to make something and was energized by actually working on it instead of thinking about it.  Instead of stopping there I looked up how to make a pouch sling.  I knew that would take less material and figured with a little help from the internet I could probably make one.  I found a site, followed the directions and about an hour later presto, I had made a sling and the baby even fits in it.  The best part is the grumpy mommy day turned around completely and mommy and children had a great rest of the day.

Why did using some material to make a sling turn my day around?

At first I thought it was because I produced a real thing from my own hands.  I think this is true. Making something with our hands that is a real thing is a big deal and for sure could turn a day around.  Actually, I am a super big proponent of handwork.  I could write a whole post about how important and life giving I think making things with your hands is.  I could show you pictures of knitting, baskets, and food I have made with my hands this year, and tell you how proud, excited and accomplished I feel about them.

But that is not all of what I think was going on with the sling.  I think that it was something even broader.  I learned how to do something I had not done before.  I got out of observing my grumpy day and feeling powerless to change it and instead of making my kids be different to solve the problem I took my focus off them and instead, learned how to do something myself.  As I started learning the boys were immediately engaged and wanted to help.  My 4 year old held the fabric while I cut and pushed the pedal on the sewing machine while I sewed.  My 8 year old helped as I first tried to launch the baby onto my back and looked impressed at the finished sling after he returned from a friend's house.  The baby actually played happily on the floor while I sewed after having a previously super fussy day (not sure whether to attribute that to my learning or not).  Our day turned around. I learned and they learned too.  The atmosphere of our home changed from one of parent and children at odds with each other to one of learning, joy, creativity, freedom and space for each other.

This, is why we call it Family LEARNING Adventure.  We think something magical happens in a family when they learn together.  We think as a culture learning has been given over to the schools, and workplaces and we want to bring that joy back into families.  Whether you work or stay home, send your kids to school or homeschool, there is always time with your family.  We invite you to take a family learning adventure this week.

Learn something together where you lead by learning then tell us about it, we want to hear how it goes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

"Yes, and..." - Using Improv in Your Family

By Ian Jackson

Last weekend while taking my 8-year-old to one of his closest friend's for a playdate, I chatted with his friends' parents (who I'm glad to say are good friends of ours too) for a while. One of the things we talked about was improvisational comedy classes, which boil down to one simple phrase - "Yes, and...". The idea being that in improv comedy, each person taking part accepts the situation that has been created by the people before - adding to it, rather than negating it. (One reason improv companies are often used for corporate trainings is that the "Yes, and..." phrase is a great tool for brainstorming meetings.)

Then this morning on my way into work, "Yes, and..." came up again. I was listening to part of an episode of This American Life, the NPR magazine show. The story I heard, from the recent episode "Magic Words", was about two actors, Karen Stobbe and her husband Mondy. Karen's mother lives with them and has dementia. Much of the traditional therapy for dementia has focused on redirecting a person's thoughts to facts, and the truth about what's real around them, which often leads to upset and fights between the carer and the loved one. But Karen and Mondy tried using improv skills - when the mother stated she saw monkeys outside the window, Mondy replied "it's pretty early in the season for monkeys; I didn't even know they were here in North Carolina", and tried to concoct a plan with his mother-in-law to catch a monkey to bring it inside, because that would be quite an achievement. They talk about this as "getting in her world." In the show you could hear how much joy these kinds of conversations brought to his mother-in-law. You can listen to the story above, or directly on their website here.

"How to catch a monkey", from

So what does this have to do with a family learning adventure? Well, I'm keen to try it out more and see. My younger son loves it when I spend time sitting on the floor with him and playing with his wooden train set. And my older son craves time with me where all we do is build Lego creations together. But more than that, I know that when my sons start on some incredible flight of imagination and I start to list reasons why it's not possible, they quickly lose interest and feel shut down. But I've had fleeting moments (not as many as I'd like) where I've chosen to "get into their world" and imagine along with them. A kind of "Yes, and..." Then it's like a staring contest to see who will break first - if I leave to go do a 'grown-up' thing like make a meal, they usually stop too and that's that. But if I stay in the improv world with them, it all ends at some point anyway, and we usually all have a fun memory to look back on and talk about with others.

A friend recently posted on Facebook about how fun her husband is, and when pushed for stories, lots of people chimed in with their own stories about him, but one posted by my friend seemed like a kind of "Yes, and...":
So, once when the kids were behaving in such a way that could have injured either or both of them, [her husband] picked up his guitar and made up a song that goes like this: "The last thing I want to do is go to the hospital right now"...and the bridge is "my co-pay is $200 dollars" and he got the boys involved in that- the older one drumming, and the younger one back-up singing.
So does "Yes, and..." always involve joining in with what the kids are doing, even if it's dangerous? No, I don't think so. But it does involve getting in their world instead of shutting it down. And that's something that seems worth doing. Over time, I'd love to correct my kids less, and try to engage more in the "Yes, and...."

Is this something you've tried with your family members (either younger or older than you)? I'd love to know your experiences and get your take on this. And if you have things to add, that's easy - just start with "Yes, and..."

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Discovering the Beauty Around Me - How Having Children Changes What We See

By Angel Jackson

If you asked me what those flying things are outside, I'd have said birds for my whole life up until the last 18 months.  A bird is a bird, Some birds are big some are small some are different colors and I know they have names but to me they were all birds.  18 months ago my boys wanted to learn more about specific birds and we started getting books out of the library, paying more attention on nature walks and asking more questions of birders.

As a child I spent lots of time in the woods and summers at girls scout camp in the woods, you'd think in all that time in nature I would notice these beautifully colored birds.  You'd think I would have seen the red of a cardinal, the bright blue and very loud call of a blue jay and the glowing yellow of the small quick goldfinch.  All my childhood and young adulthood I am sure I must of seen these birds, I can now see they are everywhere, but somehow I missed them.

Now I look out my window and daily see a beautiful male and female goldfinch eating the seeds from our sunflowers. They are beautiful! I have had the chance to share these sightings with both family and friends from the brown couch in our living room making it even more beautiful and amazing- a shared experience.  The goldfinch perches on the top of the sunflower ducking its head down and pecking out a seed, eating it, and repeats.  It will sit there at work on its food for many minutes allowing us to watch and enjoy.  On a recent walk with my in-laws we saw one on a thistle doing the same thing, that is the picture you see below.

A few weeks ago the boys and I went for a walk down a bike path near our house.  It was a rainy day and I knew we needed to get out of the house for some exercise.  We donned our raincoats and headed out.  I was distracted and thinking about other things and ignoring the natural world around me until I spotted a bright red cardinal.  At the sight of this bright red beauty I was immediately drawn into his world.  I noticed there were other cardinals around, two females with much duller colored coats on two different trees.  The male was calling to them, chasing them and flying away again.  It was a whole soap opera in the bird world.  It had nothing to do with us they had their own world going on and I could have walked by and missed it all.  They went on and on and eventually the boys pulled me away into something else but the whole interaction struck me--there is so much more going on that I so often miss.

In both of the last two houses we have lived in we have had blue jays that like to perch on the roof of our neighbors house and call (VERY LOUD) for a girl blue jay.  I can't imagine being that girl blue jay and responding to that.  At one point our oldest son decided to name one of the blue jays Ellis after a favorite singer/songwriter of ours Ellis Paul.  Some how, once the bird was named Ellis he became a friend and instead of being annoyed at the sound we would talk to him out the window- his Ellis, it's okay Ellis I am sure she will come soon, there is Ellis again!  He became fun and beautiful in his own right.

If not for my boys and their interest in birds I don't think I ever would have made homemade bird feeders out of milk cartons, filled them and watched birds for hours in our yard.  I don't think I would have noticed the bright red of the cardinal, known the soap opera of their mating rituals or befriended Ellis. I am sure I would not have sat with friends and watched the goldfinch at work.  They would have just been birds but now there is beauty, color, love, excitement and song.

  • Has having children helped you to notice things in the world?
  • What do you enjoy more now that you have children?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Letting Your Kids Help You Get Over Yourself

By Ian Jackson
 A moose and a mouse from a holiday card from - don't worry, you'll see why it's there eventually...

As a child growing up in the UK, I read a lot of comic books. A LOT. Pretty much all Marvel Comics - super hero stuff - X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man... And more obscure series. A California-based b-team headed by Hawkeye, called the West Coast Avengers? Check. A group of teenage X-Men trainees called The New Mutants? Check! A series about a construction company that cleans up and repairs New York after super hero battles, called Damage Control? Double check!

The most appealing part of Marvel Comics to me was that all the characters existed in the same world - or worlds. Characters from one series could show up in - and even join - another series. And things that happened in one story had ramifications on other stories. Like Captain America's speech to Peter Parker/Spider-Man which leads to Spidey switching sides in the Civil War storyline shown below (this storyline is currently being turned into a movie in Marvel's own shared movie universe...).
Full disclosure - this one was not from my childhood, and is mainly here just because I like it
Even in primary school at the age of 9 or 10, I created my own comic books to sell at school. True to my interests, the comic was full of ridiculously obscure characters and titled Secret Wars III, as a sequel to two major crossover events that none of my friends knew anything about. I sold 10 or 15 (xeroxed) copies of each issue and sold them for something like 20p an issue. I thought I would end up drawing or writing comic books as a grown-up, but my interests moved on as I grew up and Marvel went through their own terrible '90s phase. (When talking with a UK editor as a teen about my writing ambitions, he said "you're a little young for that," which undoubtedly had some impact too...)

I've done some creative writing on and off since then, but in phases. At one point, in an effort to support me writing, Angel sent me off to Starbucks one evening a week to write while she took care of all the housework. Over the course of a few weeks, I wrote a series of children's stories from the perspective of our cat, Joy. Life started to get in the way of these regular writing times, but I really loved having that time, and we still occasionally read those stories now, years after Joy herself passed away.

But last year, as my 8 and 4 year old sons got bored of reading books at bedtime and I started telling bedtime stories every night, I thought it would be fun to build in some of the things I enjoyed about Marvel Comics. Not the super heroes, but the shared universe.

So after a series of stories about two brothers called Jerry and Tommy (each a foot tall, and living in a hole in the ground that we regularly pass on walks), and another series about a moose and a mouse who become best friends when they learn they're both called Montgomery and both love chocolate, I started alternating - one night would be Jerry and Tommy, the next night would be Montgomery and Montgomery. And then a story about Roger Racoon. And suddenly, all the characters were in the same place at the same time, and the boys' minds were blown.

But this post isn't really about any of that. It's about the fact that the boys would ask for a new story EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. And each story had to be funny and full of accidental destruction (Montgomery the Moose is particularly clumsy, without any sense of how his size and weight - or his antlers - affect his surroundings). And each story was around 10-15 minutes long. That's a lot of story...

I began to resent the characters I'd created and my sons' intense enjoyment of them. There were nights when I just refused to tell a story and said it was too late at night. I sometimes wouldn't tell a story because their behavior had been poor that night. This was particularly cruel - my 8 year-old in particular let me know he hated that, and that the stories were what he looked forward to most in the evening.

And that's when I realized that the boys' enjoyment of the stories was just like Angel giving me a weekly Starbucks time. It forced me to write. Out loud, maybe, with none of the stories written down (yet), but it forced me to create something new every night.

So I got over myself, took their enjoyment as encouragement, and decided to just go for it. Whether I have an idea for a story or not when they get into bed, I start talking and by the time we've remembered where all the characters are, something pops into my head.

And since then, I've probably told 300 or so stories about Montgomery and Montgomery, Jerry and Tommy and many others - in solo or group stories. They've had adventures based on our own daily experiences, traveled around the world and to magical worlds, as well as into space as far as Pluto (where New Horizons send pictures of them back to Earth, prompting the media to proclaim that aliens look like moose). They've met characters from books we've read, switched bodies with each other, gained super powers... They've met trolls, gnomes, an Unpredictable Horse, and an alien called Bobby who grew up in a baobab tree in Kenya... They've flown around the world in a very chatty solar-powered spaceship (who gets so excited to talk to his passengers that he often runs out of power and crashes)...

Sometimes the stories are just silly. Sometimes they include some kind of commentary on something (which I usually only realize afterwards). Sometimes they are self-contained. Sometimes they're part of a series of 7-10 episodes. Sometimes they're mysteries, sometimes they're adventures, sometimes they're flashbacks. But they're all part of the same universe, and they somehow all fit together.

At the time I'm writing this post, some of the characters just returned from the moon, where they tried to play with Neil Armstrong's golf club, only to lose it and have it fall through Earth's atmosphere, where it landed right next to their friends in the next story. Now many of them are in Japan, where they have ridden on a bullet train, visited an old temple, and thought they were going to meet a giant scary dragon only to find out he's small, purple and friendly (based on Disney's friendly dragon Figment and Marvel's own Lockheed). And at this point I have no idea what tonight's story will be about.

Figment - who now has his own comic book, published by... Marvel!
And the best part is that, just like Marvel Comics, there are different writers. Every now and then my 8 year-old wants to tell the story, and his stories are just as funny and enjoyable as mine. My 4 year-old sometimes wants to tell the story, and with the crazy world we've created together, even stories from his own vivid imagination can be part of it.

Someday we'll get around to writing some of these stories down (the nice thing is that the boys remember every story - even from months ago - while they mostly disappear from my mind the next day). These daily stories have become a part of our family life, all while allowing me a regular outlet for unbridled creativity. And only because my boys forced me to get over myself and just do it.

But I'd love to hear from you about the topic of getting over yourself too:

  • Have you ever resisted something despite your children asking repeatedly?
  • Have you just gone with their prompting?
  • What has happened when you've just gone with it? Have you learned anything about them or about yourself?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Contributions of Children: finding life beyond the mess

By Angel Jackson

A week ago we attended a going away party for two friends moving to another city. There were a few kids at the party including our three and a bunch of adults. It was a rather nice outdoor party on a Friday evening in the city. Within 60 seconds of arriving at the party our older son managed to find the food table, attempt to serve himself some fruit, and tip 1/2 the contents of the fruit salad onto the ground--welcome to the party Jackson Family!

This is were we usually stop with the contributions of children, they make a mess at otherwise nice affairs. They are loud, they run in spaces much too small to be ran in, they yell, scream and cry much more than is socially acceptable and did I say they MAKE A MESS!

They do make a mess and much of my life is spent cleaning up this mess but luckily on that night we were able to get past that moment of fruit salad on the ground at this party and be present to some really neat contributions.

The party took place on the front lawn of our friend's condo building. Along the stone front steps up to the building were two stone slopes, one on each side of the front steps, maybe you can see them in the low-quality picture below.

These slopes were immediately interesting to all the children. First they were walking up them, lying on them and sliding down them. My friend came over and said "I love having kids here, no one has ever done this before." Now of course walking up some stone slopes is no ingenious move, but it does show how kids really do see things differently than adults. To me they were just stone slopes that held railings to go up the steps, I didn't think twice about them. To the kids they were much more.

After they had explored the steps with their own bodies they started building vehicles to race down the steps. Our friends had set up a "free stuff" table with things they did not want to move with, the kids saw these things as materials for building. Various stuffed animals raced down these slopes with drink stirrers as skis, cardboard boxes as sleds and even a perfume bottle as a "motor". No one told the kids to make up things to do with the free stuff, no one told them to race things down the slopes, in fact if we adults had been paying a little more attention we probably would have put a stop to it and said something like, that is not what the free table stuff is for, or don't play on those slopes you'll get hurt. Lucky for the kids the adults were engaged in conversation and just glad the kids were no longer knocking over the fruit salad and only paying occasional attention to what they were doing.

As a parent things like this happen all the time my kids find creative ways to play with things or do things but I am sad to say I so often shut them down as many of these ideas lead to that "M" word MESS. I so often try to stop the mess that I wonder if I miss the ingenuity and the contribution they can make to my life.

I wonder how this plays into a family learning adventure? How do we make space for mess so we can see the new ideas, so everyone can learn and everyone can contribute and everyone can play.

I wonder what would happen if we let kids play in research labs. Well... part of it I don't wonder, I know for sure... there would be a lot of broken test tubes, Bunsen burners ablaze and chemicals on the floor and probably in their eyes, hair and up their nose. I wonder, though, if Children are really allowed to contribute, if they could help lead us to answers we can't seem to solve. They have ways of looking at things we would just walk by, not notice and discount. They have ways of seeing things we don't even think are there and they ask questions we would never consider. It's messy and complicated but I wonder if we make more space for the contributions of children will that lead us on a family learning adventure.

  • What does life look like if we hang in there beyond the mess?
  • Have you ever hung in there beyond the mess and seen something cool with your children? Tell us your story.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Breaking My Own Rules... and Discovering Mulberries!

By Angel Jackson

This week when we were walking to our weekly language club the boys and I spotted this on the sidewalk:

I've seen it many times: the dark purple berries that look like blackberries staining the sidewalk and getting all over our shoes. My oldest said "hey, they look like blackberries." This sent me into my normal rant about berries that I don't know what they are, it goes something like this: "yes, they look like blackberries, but I know they're not because blackberries grow on canes not on trees - these are something else and they are probably poisonous; we can't eat them."

This is my go-to speech for any berry that I don't know what it is. This means anything other than wild blueberries and raspberries - I know what those are. I adopted the speech about 7 years ago when my oldest was a toddler and I wanted to make it clear what we could, and could not, eat so I classified everything I did not know what it was as "bird berries"- safe for birds but will make us sick. It was a decent rule at the time and kept things out of my toddlers' mouths.

We kept walking and went to our language club meeting. When the weather is nice, we make a real day of walking to language club, then playing at the park across the street for hours, then walking across the park to the other side to Whole Foods where we get a treat and do some shopping. Then we hike home the "long way" which means over the hill that crosses the tracks, down a street and across another park where, if we have the energy, we play again. This Tuesday was no exception. After our class we went over to the park to play with friends. While the kids were playing I got the sense that there might be more to the blackberry look-a-likes on the street and maybe my mom friends knew something about this I did not.

"What are those berries all over the street there that look like blackberries?" I asked.
"Mulberries," they both replied.
"Are they edible?" I asked.
"Yes, they are amazing, so sweet and so soft they never make it to market before spoiling so the only way to get them is to pick them from the tree".

All of a sudden my world started to open up. I started to think about all the different places in the neighborhood I had seen the purple stained sidewalks. My mom friends were both much more adept at urban foraging and knowledge of wild edibles than I. As we talked one told a story of picking mulberries and another of sour cherries they just discovered and had picked the day before and were making into a pie that day. I also remembered stories of juneberries and crab apples another friend had told me earlier. I had also witnessed 2 different people eating something from trees over the past month. I guess these earlier experiences had primed me to be ready to ask for more information in this case. To be willing to press past my protection rule to peek and see if there might be something more.

Although my "rule" may have served a purpose of keeping my toddler boys from eating things that might make them sick, it also kept us from discovering some really sweet treats just hanging in our neighborhood. Once we got over to Whole Foods and were enjoying our store bought treats I told the boys that I had learned that those berries are mulberries and we can eat them. The boys were of course excited about this. We left it there and continued our "long walk day".

After we crossed the bridge and were walking toward our second park of the day we saw it, right there on a street we'd walked down so many times, the purple stained sidewalk and a mulberry tree. It took less than 60 seconds for my oldest to climb the tree while I washed out a cup to use as a collection vessel.

My younger son cheered us on from the stroller and sampled the first of the harvest while big brother reached out on limbs and I pulled some down to reach any ripe mulberry we could find.

My favorite moment was when a woman walked by. For a moment I thought she would tell us off for picking from that tree but instead she reached up plucked off nice ripe mulberry and in broken English asked if it was good to eat. I smiled and said, "yes - very good." She popped it in her mouth, gave a big grin and walked on.

A rule broken, new learnings, a hidden treasure discovered, a meal shared with a stranger and smiles all around.

The boys insisted we save some for Daddy when he got home so we could all share in the new sweet treat. A Family Learning Adventure!

  • Have you ever found yourself breaking one of your own rules?
  • Have you ever discovered a new thing on a path you have walked many times?
  • How did it go?

We'd love to hear your stories!

Monday, June 29, 2015

How a Kids' Soccer Camp Doubles as a Family Learning Adventure

By Ian Jackson

Last week the sports fields two blocks away from our house were home to the eighth annual Soccer Nights program. Soccer Nights is a volunteer-led evening soccer program by Vineyard Community Offerings for kids in Cambridge and elsewhere, but it's so much more than a soccer program. When I was thinking about how to describe Soccer Nights, I found this description on their website:

Soccer Nights exists to catalyze a unified and engaged community through the game of soccer. Why soccer?, you might ask. Couldn't you put on a community event centered around, say, kick ball, or perhaps food? The answer is yes, we are certain we could (and often do). But there is something unique about soccer that speaks a sort of universal language across cultures that we think is pretty remarkable, and for this reason we’ve strived to be an excellent place for kids to play soccer.  Soccer is the most played sport in the world, with more than 265 million people playing worldwide (FIFA publication, 2006).

I think that pretty much sums it up. Basically, it's about soccer but it's also not about soccer. It's about community. And since that community just so happens to be our neighborhood, it's pretty awesome. Throughout the year we all look forward to the week, and plan our summer around it.

It also takes a lot of volunteers to pull off. Over 100, in fact. Many of them attend the Greater Boston Vineyard, where we've been going to church since before our kids were born. But many of them don't. Many are simply members of the local community who enjoy it as much as we do.

And what do we all enjoy about it?

Well, for our 8 year old, you might think it's most obvious - he gets to play soccer every night - except that it's not that obvious. He doesn't tend to enjoy other sports programs very much - he certainly doesn't look forward to them the way he does with this. Of course, most other programs don't put such a focus on getting to know your teammates, or watching skits by grown-ups in silly costumes, or - this year's theme - being a hero. But's that's not why he loves it so much.

A big reason he loves it? And a big reason we all love it? Sure, it's partly because this is a huge initiative put on by our church and its community offerings wing, but I think the main reason is even simpler: It's because the whole family is involved.

While the formal program starts at 1st grade, there's an area for 3-5 year-olds with informal soccer fun, face-painting, hula hoops and more. Before our older son was old enough to participate in the formal program, we would go every year just to hang out there and get to see the whole thing in action. And now, we hang out there with our 4-year-old, and our 4-month-old.

But we also take part in other ways. In the past, as well as helping with activities in the 3-5's area, we've also volunteered on the logistics team , which helps put the whole thing together (this year with my younger son's help), and helped get parents from the community involved in the parents-and-coaches games, which builds the community to be more than just a group of parents watching their kids from the bleachers. And while we weren't as involved this year as we are sometimes, we, as a whole family, had a wonderful time.

But it's only because that's how the Soccer Nights program is set up that we can all be involved in whatever degree we want to be. I wish more programs were designed to get whole families involved.

When that's on offer, and everybody joins in, that is what I look at as a Family Learning Adventure.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Learning Edge

By Angel Jackson

Why Family "Learning" Adventure and not just Family Adventure?  We love the idea of taking adventures as a family and find when something becomes an adventure it goes so much better for all involved.  Adventures have risk and story, twists and turns, they take you somewhere and they are fun to be on.  All that said, we stuck this word "learning" in there, why?

We'll maybe we are just learning nerds-that is very probably the case! We love learning new things in our house.  I was just looking at the kitchen island and on it stood these 3 books:

Our oldest is learning about things he can make fly across the yard, our younger son wants to know more about Koalas and why they don't get sick from eating Eucalyptus leaves even know they are poisonous and Mommy wants to know how to use the herbs we grow in our garden to sooth the sore throats, bee stings and mosquito bites in our home.  Daddy does not have a book here but just before I got on the computer to write Daddy was looking up information on the history of the Widener Library at Harvard University (fascinating, involves the Titanic).  We love learning, but how does that flow with adventure and why have we connected them on this blog?

A few weeks ago we were on our way to the language club we are part of.  It is a multilingual immersion style family language club.  It should fit right in as a Family Learning Adventure as is it not a club just for kids but for whole families to learn and practice multiple languages together.  That said "everybody's in, everybody plays, everybody learns" was not how we felt.  It was time to go and the boys were both complaining and even our baby was fussy as I was trying to get all of us out the door and over to club--not fun not adventure.  I was thinking later about why the kids were not enjoying it.  Of course since they were not enjoying it, I too was not enjoying it.  I love the club, I love the people and I love the philosophy of learning, it's fun, it's interactive--what's the problem?

In conversation with Ian a few days later I was telling him how we had started trying to listen to a Spanish track on one of the CDs daily and were working on 10 new words.  I figured we just needed a little more work on some words so we'd all feel more comfortable in the club speaking.  While Ian and I were talking something hit me.  Our older son had, over the years briefly asked if we could focus on German a couple times.  I do not speak, German, I know nothing about German.  Each time he asked about German I answered something like "we could do that" but then brought it around to focusing on French or Spanish (two languages I have had several years of instruction and practice in).  Back to present day, here we were trying to work on Spanish, again, and drudging through it.

I realized in that moment that I was asking the boys to be on a "Learning Edge" to try something they had never done before, risk looking silly if they said the words wrong or did not know a word, and to walk into something they did not know---BUT I WAS NOT WILLING TO DO THE SAME THING!

I was trying to get it back to French or Spanish because I know those ones (at least a little), I was not willing to get into the boat and sail out into the unknown with them I wanted to stay on the safe shore where I knew what I knew and was less likely to look silly.  I was asking them to sail out alone.

I talked to the boys the next day and explained what I had realized and apologized for not being willing to try something new with them.

The next club I stepped out and shared something small using words from one of the German CD's that I could remember. It was exhilarating realizing I could speak a few words.  I could tell my older son was impressed.  He was not impressed at what I said, I could tell he was impressed because I stepped out into something he knew was a learning edge for me.  The facilitator of the club knew it too and she said something like "we should have a tries the most new things award each week". Since then my older son has been counting and doing Math in German, he has been excited to listen to the CDs and participated more in the last club (asking for extra turns to speak) than he ever has. I am realizing how much I actually understand on the German tracks and our younger son is enjoying listening too.  Sure, you could say it was because my older son got to do the language he wanted that he is now willing to try and risk.  Yes, I am sure there is something in that, but I am also sure there was something else at play there.

Something shifts when we step out into the unknown, when we are on a new learning edge.  Something shifts not just for us but for all those around us as well.  As adults we avoid this like the plague.  Kids are always learning new things and willing to look silly doing it. I think something special happens when we join them in this place--looking silly, stepping out--Family Learning Adventures!

What do you think?  Have you experienced this in any way?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


By Ian Jackson

The library is one of our boys' favorite places. While looking over our online library records last week, Angel guessed we may have taken out close to a thousand books over the last year. She was only half joking.

Both our boys love to read - Our 8 year old has a voracious appetite for chapter books full of adventure, and our 4 year old loves snuggling on the couch with us and reading through picture books about trains, diggers, monkeys or tiggers (when this happens, our older son tends to quietly put his book down and join in with the snuggling). And our 4-month-old, is usually wherever Mommy is :)

A few days ago, the boys and I started the day by reading a book that our 4 year old had chosen at the library. It was about a young boy being pushed around in his stroller by his mother, looking at a local construction site, and commenting on all the amazing construction equipment he sees.

While reading the page where he sees a steamroller, I accidentally called it a streamstroller and we all giggled. How silly! And then we started joking about what a steamstroller might look like, and what it would be like to ride around in one.

Then Mommy and baby girl joined us, and when she heard us talking about the streamstroller, Angel instantly said "We should write a book about it!"

So we guessed at what a steamstroller would look like - more like a stoller? More like a steamroller? Like a steam-punk stroller? Our 8 year old drew some versions of it. Mommy drew some versions of it. I drew some versions of it. Our 4 year old added his own ideas - he knew that a steamstroller would have to have a snack tray, which may or may not have a drink of "purple juice."

Then we got thinking about what might happen when riding around in a streamstroller. Maybe it would go straight. Maybe it would go up steep hills. Maybe it would stop.

And with that, we started to brainstorm how many words start with "st": steam, stroller, strawberries, steer, straight, stairs, stop... And suddenly, the boy riding in the steamstroller became known as Steven.

So we came up with a bunch of individual pages, and then, while our 8 year old got back into his book and the 4 year old played with trains, I laid out a page-by-page plan for the book.

Then we got into thinking about the art for such a book. Like Winnie the Pooh says about his spelling - "It's good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places” - our art is good art, but the pen doesn't always go where we want it to. So then we got thinking about how we would go about getting art that is more publishable for the story.

So that got us into researching some iPad art apps. Which led to us downloading Sketches Pro. Which has led to a lot of fun, and for now, nothing further on the streamstroller project.

Sketches Pro promo picture (not something we made...)
But for a few hours, it was something that we had fun working on together as a family. We'd love to go further with it and get a book finished - I've always wanted to write children's books, and to have one that was really a family creation be published would be super fun. But even if nothing further comes from this, we had fun together and learned together. That to me is at the heart of a Family Learning Adventure.

Friday, June 19, 2015

What is a Family Learning Adventure?

By Ian and Angel Jackson

So often in the modern world, the expectation is that children learn from adults. The grown-ups know something already and teach the kids. Kids learn what adults already know and the adults learn nothing knew but get the satisfaction they have passed something on to the next generation.

What if there was another way to learn something? What if you could take an adventure in learning with your family? What if every member of your family was a teacher and every member was also a learner?
We believe that something special can happen when you take on learning something as a family, something magical that does not happen in other settings. We are calling that something a Family Learning Adventure. This site is an ongoing attempt to figure out the key elements that make a Family Learning Adventure successful; meaning everyone is in, everyone plays, and everyone learns.

But wait, this sounds like family time, what is the difference? We feel like a Family Learning Adventure is something different than just regular time together as a family. We can't quite say yet what the difference is, but we hope to post examples from our own life and share things we are seeing as they happen to try to answer this question better. You can help us by commenting.

Is this a homeschooling thing? We happen to be a homeschooling family and for sure there are some applications for other families who homeschool. That said, far beyond this being about school choice or styles of learning we think this is about families. We really think there is something amazing about learning and adventure as a family and we hope that this blog will be useful to all families everywhere.

Join us by reading along, commenting and sharing your own Family Learning Adventure.