All posts by Rachel Miller

Respecting Our Children’s Boundaries

Lately, here’s what pictures of our daughter’s activities have looked like:

When I took the next picture, I commented that she and the dog looked so cute together and asked if I could I post it.  She asked to see it and returned the “edited” version to me:

It’s understood by our family and friends that there will be seasons where they will not see pictures of one or both of our children on social media.  That’s because we have always asked our children if we can post their pictures.  I show them the pictures that I have taken and they have the opportunity to select their preferred pictures, if they approve any at all.  They also approve any conversations we post that they participated in (and they’ll both review and consent to the contents of this post). 

A conversation between our kids a few years ago (using their ages at the time):

11yo: Why don’t you want mom to post pictures of you to Facebook?

9yo: Because I said no.

11yo: I’m trying to understand *why* you said no.  It doesn’t matter, you can say no for any reason and people have to listen to that – I was just wondering why.

This made my heart so happy.  Not only that our children knew that their “no” will be respected, also that they don’t have to justify their “no” and that they aren’t entitled to demand others explain themselves.    Seeking their permission in posting to social media is just a small part of how we protect their autonomy – physically & emotionally.

Respect your children, their feelings, and their boundaries so they will know how wrong it is when someone else doesn’t.  We have done this to the best of our ability since they were born.  In ways that seem to be “no big deal” like choosing their own clothes, a favorite toy, and what activities they want to participate in.  As well as backing their right to refuse affection and declining to stay with someone or somewhere they aren’t comfortable with.  This may seem inconvenient at times but pays off in both the solid parent/child connection as well has how your children treats and expects to be treated by others.

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Everyday Conversations: Rice At Weddings

One of the biggest lessons for me, as an Unschooling parent, is learning to say “my understanding is…” You’ll see our family with our phones out A LOT. Because with almost every discussion comes the desire to look things up for clarification or more information.

This weekend, some friends of ours got married. Our daughter is an artist and often creates cards as part of our gifts to family and friends on special occasions. I asked her if she’d like to make a wedding card.

14yo: I don’t even know what would go on a wedding card.
Me: I’ve seen a lot of bows and birds.
14yo: Birds?
Me: I think they’re a sign of fertility.
14yo: Fertility?
Me: Short definition? Ability to get pregnant and have children. For some religions/societies/people marriage & children go hand in hand. Some people see it as a positive thing to have lots of babies & quickly. So I think the birds thing is like a “blessing” or “support” of that. Like throwing rice. Or maybe the rice is fertility and the birds are something else. I can’t remember as it’s been 20 years since Daddy & I were married. All I remember was not throwing rice because it would make the bird’s stomachs explode.
<<14yo is horrified>>
Me: That may not even be true anymore, let’s look it up.

Spoiler alert: Birds are generally happiness & love (different birds can specify different things). Rice is fertility. Birds like rice and it doesn’t hurt them.

https://curiosity.com/topics/the-origin-of-throwing-rice-at-weddings/

The 14yo opted not to make a card and we just ordered off the Amazon wishlist. She would also like people to throw candy at all future nuptials.

(This convo was originally posted to our Facebook page.)

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Everyday Conversations: The Dentist & War

Our son (16yo) and I were waiting at the dentist’s office and he says, “Hey, I know you love reading military stuff and I thought you’d like this new game I’m playing.”

(full disclosure: I read a LOT of military *romance* 😂 but I do read military non-fiction too)

Anyway… he begins telling me about his game. Set in WWII. About troop movements. Boundary disputes. Political implications. We bust out our cell phones and start comparing maps and he shows me which countries didn’t even exist in the war. He’s using his finger to redraw lines and pointing out how countries are born and how others die. Telling me the differences between what he can do in his game and what actually happened. Why some countries can only be invaded by sea because other countries have to be circumvented. We talk about Communism, Socialism, and Fascism.

And then the hygienist calls us back.

It’s OK that it was “only” 15 minutes. It was awesome on so many levels. A chance to connect over shared interests. A chance to see what he’s learning. Because I know he’s learning. Because he knows I love hearing about his gaming. More importantly, I know it will happen again. 💗

UPDATE: So many people have asked… the game was Hearts of Iron IV on Steam by Paradox Interactive
https://store.steampowered.com/app/394360/Hearts_of_Iron_IV/

Image Credit: By Gdr at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 

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MY Link Gives All Texas Residents a Library Card

Did you know that any adult who is a resident of Texas can get a My Link card through the Houston Public Library?

This card gives you access to more than six million books, e-books, DVDs, magazines and research materials that make up the HPL collection. It also provides access to more than 130 electronic resources which include streaming music, videos, images, audiobooks, and countless other subject-based websites and databases.


You can use your card to borrow via OverDrive for LibrariesHoopla Digital, RB Digital, Comics Plus, and more.

Even if your local library supports access to these digit lending programs the titles available through Houston Public Library may be different.  Harris County Public Library has a pretty extensive collection and after a few minutes I found several things through MY Link/HPL that HCPL doesn’t have.

The Overdrive app lets you load more than one library in. So you can switch between cards.

You do not have to physically visit the library to get your card. I wanted to be sure how it worked. So I tried two methods: I reactivated an old HPL card I had from when we lived within Houston city limits and I signed my husband up for a brand new card. I did it all online with our Driver’s License numbers as proof of residency. (note: The new card was available for immediate use. Reactivating my old card required a response from the library. They responded the next day.)

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Online Driver’s Ed

You wouldn’t hand your 16-year-old the keys to your car one day and they immediately hit the freeway at 70mph.

They’ve watched you drive since they were born.  Toddlers start to connect that a key is required to start the engine, that you move a stick on the steering column for turn signals, and that the pedals at your feet are amazing sources of power.  You talk about things that you see or bother you or are difficult as you’re driving.  You mention people speeding, cutting you off, or tailgating.  You involve them in vehicle maintenance: pumping gas, checking tire pressure, changing the oil, etc.  Then they start sitting in the passenger seat and paying more attention, asking questions.  They get a learner’s permit and spend more time driving while you ride along observing and offering suggestions.  You take them to the farm or a parking lot or wherever and they get to drive around a bit and park.  Then you try calm side streets, then busier streets. They hopefully have opportunities to drive in the sun, rain, snow, etc. (granted snow is harder to come by in parts of Texas).  Eventually, they go up on the highway and potentially work their way up to rush hour.  

As you’re navigating the online world with your kids, consider starting their “Driver’s Ed” early so that you have plenty of opportunities to work through the various scenarios, concerns, issues, and problems that may come up.  

And it begins…

Our children see that phones, tablets, computers, and gaming systems are incredible sources of information, communication, and enjoyment.  Even very young children can use apps, make phone calls, and play games.  When we play with them and foster their curiosity we’re not only helping them build skills but we’ve established another connection point that strengthens the relationship.  Just as a young child rides in a car seat for extra protection ~ you may initially have preset apps or websites that they explore.  As they better understand how to use various devices, I would encourage you to reduce restrictions.   

Talk it out…

Verbalizing why we’re making the decisions that we’re making helps our children understand our choices.  It also expands their personal options and helps provide potential solutions that are respectful of others.  

I’m downloading apps/movies in case there isn’t WiFi available (or it isn’t very good).

I’m bringing headphones along so I can listen without disturbing anyone else.  

Give me a moment to finish this level so that I can stop and really hear what you’re saying.

I’m going to check another source to see if that’s accurate.

Maybe there’s another app that better suits my needs.  

I know Jill prefers messenger to text, so I’m going to contact her that way.  

I’d like to turn off my ringer before we go inside so it won’t disturb anyone.  

I like the survival aspect of Minecraft without the intensity of Five Nights at Freddy’s.  How do I find similar games?    

When they run into a complication, ask if they’d like ideas for possible solutions.  Our son was in a situation where someone he initially enjoyed gaming with began texting him constantly, even if our son had expressed not wanting to play (or play a particular game).  We walked through options.  For example ~ like how our son could be more clear about a length of time.   Instead of saying, “not now”, he would reply, “How about Friday?”.

Learner’s permit…

So many of these online resources rely on e-mail to create a login and to track individual preferences or achievements.  I strongly recommend creating an e-mail address dedicated for each of your children.  Shared family accounts make it difficult, sometimes impossible, to play together.  Since my husband and I already had gmail accounts ~ it was easiest for us to create an e-mail for our children through Google.  (Now, you can just create a single Google account to be used for e-mail, YouTube, Drive, etc.)  In the settings, we chose to have their incoming emails automatically forwarded to ours so that we didn’t have to constantly log-out of our e-mail  to log-in to theirs.  This allowed us to help them process the information/emails they were receiving.  (Our daughter still has no interest in her e-mail and never checks it herself.)  

Most online log-ins will ask how old the person is.  Some people use their children’s actual birthdays under the assumption that it will provide protection for them (especially if they’re under 13).  Unfortunately, we’ve found this actually makes things more difficult and removes our ability to make parental judgements as to whether or not something is appropriate/useful for a particular child.  For instance ~ Skype will not let you create an account if the birth date provided is under 13.  Our entire family sharing one account is a logistical nightmare (especially since we’ve been known to Skype each other within the house).  So, we use the parent’s birthdays and they each get their own account to use.

Get your own accounts too.  My husband and I have accounts on Minecraft, Steam, Origin, Roblox, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, School of Dragons, League of Legends, Khan Academy, Coursera, etc.  Anything that interests them.  This has the dual advantage that we have a better understanding of what & how they are learning because we’re witnessing and experiencing it ourselves and it’s an opportunity to strengthen our relationship.   We don’t know everything about every game or YouTube channel.   We certainly don’t play or watch as much as our children, but when we watch or play with them, we learn the “lingo”.   Gaming terms such as DLC, NPC, FPS, as well as the names of their favorite YouTubers.   Later, when we can’t play with them, but they’re telling us about a new app, game, or YouTube upload (like while I’m cooking dinner) ~ we can fully participate in the conversation because we know what they’re talking about.

Driving on their own…

For our family, keeping the lines of communication open and being positively involved in their online/gaming life has been the best way to help them navigate that realm. Some parents rely on stringent internet blocking software or tight personal controls on their children’s activity.  Unfortunately, this can provide a false sense of security and at worst, can result in children who rebel in secret with no guidance.  There are numerous ways around parental controls and filtering.  Tech savvy kids can circumvent blocks, set up secondary accounts/e-mails, acquire their own devices, and access the internet outside of your home.  By setting up accounts/access early, by asking questions without judgement, by offering gentle information about pitfalls, and by allowing them to make mistakes ~ we have fostered a trusting and supportive environment they don’t feel the need to circumvent.

Don’t forget the insurance…

Accidents happen.  Other drivers are careless.  Sometimes we make a poor decision in an unfamiliar situation.  

Downloading new games and content can be scary.  No one wants to have their computer overrun by malicious programs.  Invest in good anti-virus and anti-malware protection.  Downloading mods for Minecraft and other games is incredibly popular.  Together, you can learn how to research developers, recognize the difference between an ad and the actual download, and how to fully remove unintended downloads.  Consider adding a password requirement to prevent unintentional downloads or in-app purchases on phones & tablets.  It was *me* who inadvertently spent $10 on a special character in a free app that instituted the password requirement.  We don’t use it to block the kids, just as an extra “alert” that we’re about to spend money.  Talk about internet safety like not sharing personal information to strangers and ways to respond to bullying.

If you’d like to talk with other Unschooling families about possible solutions to concerns, learn more about facilitating your children’s interests, or just meet more people on this journey ~ please join us on the Texas Unschoolers Facebook Group.  

~Rachel

Please join us to discuss this blog post in our Alternative Living and Learning Community here.

Rachel Miller is married to her high school sweetheart, Josh, and they happily Unschool with Cam and Livy in the Houston suburbs.  Her children will join her in speaking about their gaming experiences this April at the Texas Unschoolers Conference in New Braunfels.  Her family will also be at the Free To Be Unschooling Conference in Phoenix at the end of September.    

Image credit: Me (our son playing Color Symphony on Steam)

 

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InterActive Theater

This is part of a series about Field Trips in the Houston area.  Every week for the next few months, we’ll be exploring adventures your family can take in the greater Houston area.  For more ideas, visit the main Field Trip page.  

We attended our first performance by InterActive Theater Company two years ago.  We decided to take advantage of Homeschool Happenings ~ discounted performances for Homeschool families.  Tickets were $6/per person.

We registered online and within 24 hours received an e-mail confirmation.  Upon arriving we were greeted at the entrance by the box office manager (who also happened to be in the cast) and paid for our tickets.  We headed upstairs and found a seat.  One of the cast members gave an informative talk about how the performances run.  The cast encourages audience participation during the entire performance.  Sometimes via all responding, pointing to a certain audience member and asking for their response, or inviting various audience members onstage to take part in the show.  Today’s performance was “Fantastic Four Founding Fathers”.  In sixty minutes they covered the birth of our nation and gave a quick introduction to “key players” in the colonization, American Revolution, and early government.  A mixture of slapstick, puns, literary & historical reference, and general zaniness ~ we spent the entire time laughing.  After, the cast took questions from the audience.

We are definitely looking forward to their next performance and would recommend InterActive Theater to our friends.

 

Recommended ages:  All ages.  Family friendly.  Many families had infants/toddlers.  Stage is on the second floor and there is an elevator available for wheelchair & stroller access.

Anything we wish was different?  One of the actors had a heavy accent that could sometimes be difficult to understand if he wasn’t directly facing the audience or he was speaking quickly.  Also, perhaps we’re a little spoiled by A.D. Players, but we missed having the opportunity to take pictures with the cast after the performance.  It’s also nice to have a Playbill &/or cast photo for our scrapbook.  However, none of these recommendations would keep us from attending in the future.  Updated: We contacted the Theater and were told that taking pictures during the performance is OK.

Additionally, their website is difficult to navigate.  It has a lot of old information still posted which makes it hard to find current showtimes, pricing, and performance descriptions.  You’ll need to click around to find the most up-to-date information.

How do I set up a trip?  Homeschool Happening rates are already discounted from standard admission, so no need to organize a group (but you’re more than welcome to).  Reserve your tickets via the website and pay at the door.  They accept cash & credit cards.

A note about parking.  Homeschool performances are held at the Church of Christ at 1548 Heights Boulevard.  I highly suggest you use the directions posted to the website as we heard from others and experienced ourselves that smartphone mapping programs do not give accurate directions.  The parking spaces are very close together ~ aim for the middle!  Parking is free.

What else is there to do nearby?  You’re only 2 miles North of the Art Car Museum, which is also on Heights Boulevard (just South of I-10).

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WaterWorks Education Center

This is part of a series about Field Trips in the Houston area.  Every week for the next few months, we’ll be exploring adventures your family can take in the greater Houston area.  For more ideas, visit the main Field Trip page.  

Yesterday we had the pleasure of visiting the WaterWorks Education Center in Humble with our local homeschool group.  I cannot speak highly enough of our experience ~ both from the ease of coordinating the Field Trip and our experiences on the tour.The tour began with a 15 minute slide-show presentation explaining water, the water cycle, ground water, and how the City of Houston captures, cleans, and distributes water.  Our presenter did an excellent job engaging the children (and adults) with questions throughout the presentation.  She was also open to students asking questions during the presentation instead of requiring they wait until the end.

We were then led to an interactive exhibit winding around behind the theater.  Children were given a clipboard and asked to “find” answers to questions. Younger children/pre-readers were given a list of pictures to participate in a “scavenger hunt” on their own level.  I loved that the employees were available to help the children if they were interested in finding everything in their sheet ~ but weren’t overly concerned if the children just wanted to explore the exhibits on their own terms.

We ended in a “classroom” setting with tables and chairs.  Another presenter spoke in further detail about the water cycle.  We then played a game where various “parts” of the cycle were scattered around the room.  Each station had a box of pony beads & a large “die” or “cube” to be rolled.  The children were each given a lanyard.  They picked a starting point, grabbed a bead & then rolled.  The die for that “station” would have each “next step” in the water cycle on each side.  Depending on what they rolled, the students would proceed to the appropriate station and collect another bead.  This was a great way to reinforce the various ways that water *moves* throughout our world.

Each child was given a bag of “goodies” to take home including: crayons, coloring/activity books, stickers, bracelets, and cups.  There were also resource materials for parents & teachers to take home.  

Recommended ages:  The center is completely prepared to meet the needs of any age group.  Even as a homeschool group bringing toddlers to high school age students ~ they were able to adapt & split the presentation to meet each student on their level.  I made the mistake of failing to inform them ahead of time that the majority of our registrants were young elementary age ~ they still quickly and without any fuss adapted the program.  For that, I am incredibly grateful.

They offer programs for public, private, and home school groups.  They also offer tours for adults.  They are willing to adapt the program to meet the needs of your group.  I think that this would be a perfect trip for our Cub Scout Pack to earn their Weather Belt Loop and Pin.

Anything we wish was different?  At this time, visitors cannot tour the actual treatment facility.  It was quite cold the day we visited.  We were told when the weather is nice, they will go out and look at the various parts from the Education Center parking lot ~ but it’s not possible to actually walk through the plant.

How do I set up a trip?  Call or e-mail WaterWorks Houston.  There is a form available to download that can be e-mailed along with your request.  I would suggest inquiring as to which tours are most appropriate for the age group you plan to bring.

A note about parking.  DO NOT USE YOUR GPS ~ it’s not going to be correct.  WaterWorks provides directions & a mapon their website.  Use them!  The directions can seem a little counter-intuitive (as you are asked to make a right turn in order to u-turn), but once you are there it makes complete sense.  There’s also several, albeit small, blue signs to help keep you going to right direction.  You must check in at the security gate and all adults must present a valid picture ID.  Parking is ample and directly in front of the entrance.

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Bear Creek Park Zoo

This is part of a series about Field Trips in the Houston area.  Every week for the next few months, we’ll be exploring adventures your family can take in the greater Houston area.  For more ideas, visit the main Field Trip page.  

For families living on the West Side of Houston (areas like Spring Branch, Memorial, Copperfield, Cypress, Katy, & Jersey Village) ~ this is quite the treasure.  In the middle of Bear Creek Pioneers Park is a small wildlife habitat and aviary containing rescued and rehabilitating animals.  Many have been injured and are not capable of surviving in the wild.   Locals just call it “Bear Creek Park Zoo”.

While not as expansive as the Houston Zoo located in Hermann Park, we thoroughly enjoy a closer view, slower pace, and the fact that it’s FREE.   The zoo is situated along War Memorial Drive on the end closest to Eldgridge.  Visitors find a walking, stroller, and wheelchair friendly path leading to an aviary and a string of fenced areas.

The aviary contains various birds like owls, macaws, peafowl, doves, pigeons, and parrots.  If you are fortunate (or perhaps unfortunate!) you’ll be able to witness the aviary keepers feeding the birds of prey.  It’s an interesting opportunity to witness how these birds dismember rodents to eat.  Our children enjoy talking to the macaw that often mimics their words.  It’s a terrific opportunity to listen to the various calls each bird makes.

For about 1/3 of a mile, you’ll find a row of fenced enclosures.  We enjoy watching bison, pot-bellied pigs, goats, emus, donkeys, sheep, and deer.  Over several of the enclosures are signs giving details of the history of the animal, feeding preferences, and scientific facts.  Built into the fences are “camera ports” where you can take up-close pictures of the animals.  Like the larger zoos ~ the animals are more likely to be active on days where the temperature is moderate.

Recommended ages:  All.  This is the perfect visit for all ages.  Those with small children will enjoy the fact that they can get a closer view than at larger zoos.

How do I set up a trip?  The zoo is FREE and open to the public 7 days a week from 7am to 10pm.  Our Cub Scout Den enjoyed a specific program regarding the aviary.  E-mail the park to coordinate staff directed events.

A note about parking.  There is plenty of parking all along the zoo.  Feel free to start at any point and meander around.

What else is there to do nearby?  Explore Bear Creek Pioneers Park!  Really, the park offers so much that it’s easy to make an entire day of it.  Playgrounds, War Memorial, Tennis Courts, Walking Trails, and more.

 

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Art Car Museum

This is part of a series about Field Trips in the Houston area.  Every week for the next few months, we’ll be exploring adventures your family can take in the greater Houston area.  For more ideas, visit the main Field Trip page.  

As an informal gathering of a few homeschool families, we visited the Art Car Museum.

Probably the first misconception of this museum is that it is full of numerous art cars as seen in the annual parade.  It’s a small museum and there is only room for 3 cars indoors in addition to the car out front.  The gallery changes quarterly and exhibits vary based on the artist(s) featured.

Once a year they hold an open call accepting submissions from any artist who wishes to have a piece exhibited.  Our visit was during 2012 for the Eighth Annual Open Call Exhibition: God.

God is Everywhere(The Devil's In The Details)by Mark Benham
God is Everywhere (The Devil’s In The Details) by Mark Benham

Recommended ages: While there is nothing precluding younger children ~ this is a museum designed for looking only.  It’s not a huge museum, so families might find this an appropriate venue to teach their children “look but don’t touch”.

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Mother God by Joyce Matula Welch

Anything we wish was different?  Not that we experienced.

How do I set up a trip?  The Art Car Museum is free and open to the public Wednesday through Sunday 11am-6pm.  For groups, they ask that you call ahead to let them know.

 

A note about parking.  Parking is free at the museum.  The museum has a gated area with parking for a few cars and there are 4 parallel spots just North of the museum on Heights Boulevard.

IMG_0661
“Earth, Wind and Fire… and Water” by Jefferson Davis High School under the direction of Rebecca Bass

What else is there to do nearby?  The Museum is just south of I-10 and West of 45.  Depending on which way you’re headed afterward, a visit to the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center wouldn’t be too far away and would give the kids a chance to run, stretch, and enjoy their “outdoor” voices.

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A.D. Players

This is part of a series about Field Trips in the Houston area.  Every week for the next few months, we’ll be exploring adventures your family can take in the greater Houston area.  For more ideas, visit the main Field Trip page.  

We’ve attended the Children’s Theater performances at A.D. Players for several years.  Our family has enjoyed plays based on books like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, The Velveteen Rabbit, and Bunnicula as well as adaptations of fairy tales like Cinderella and Thumbelina.  Lasting approximately an hour, these are the perfect introduction to theater for kids of all ages.

After the show, the cast remains on stage to answer questions from the audience about everything from acting and props to decisions about differences from the books.  While videography and photography are prohibited during the performance, the actors will line up after the performance and pose for pictures with your children/family.  The cast also gladly autographs a cast photo (purchased for $1) or your program.  We have found all cast members to be kind, engaging, and deeply interested in the children’s questions and comments.

Recommended ages:  All ages.  We’ve attended with infants through high school with all having a wonderful time.  On occasion the length of a show may prove to be too much for some toddlers.

Anything we wish was different?  Because they do not sell concessions during the day time shows, it would be nice if they would allow snacks in the theater.  This would be especially helpful to families with small children.  Their current policy is bottled water only.

How do I set up a trip?  The shows are open to the public.  Individual tickets are $12/each and can be purchased online or by phone.  Group rates are available for $10/each with a minimum of 15 attendees.  A 25% deposit is required and final payment is due 2 weeks before the show.

A note about parking.   There isn’t a lot of parking, so carpooling is highly recommended if feasible.  Parking is free.

What else is there to do nearby?   Grace Theater is located less than 5 miles (approx 10min drive) from Hermann Park and the Museum District.  If you want spend the whole day out, consider an afternoon at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston Zoo, or any of the sights Hermann Park offers.

For those on a strict budget, or to just enjoy a performance again ~ their Spring play is usually offered again for free at Miller Outdoor Theatre.

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