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.