Category Archives: Home Schooling

Finding your tribe as a road schooler

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.49.29 PM

As a homeschooler, a road schooler and only child, Hunter is not surrounded by other kids on a daily basis. Before we hit the road in 2013 we asked ourselves, and others, a lot of questions regarding how they deal with the “socialization” situation as road schoolers, especially with only children.

Hunter was out an event Saturday night hosted by an adult friend of ours. It was a group of 6 people, of various ages (from 11 – 40) that came together to play a multi-player networked computer game called ARTEMIS, whereby you are simulating the flying of a spaceship (think Star Trek). Each person has a role (helm, communication, engineering & weapon control) plus the captain. Everyone has to communicate (lots of loud voices yelling commands) and work together to fly the ship through the different scenarios.

The interesting part was that Hunter came home from the evening pronouncing “I found my people” mom! He had a huge grin on his face and was thrilled with both the experience as well as the new people that he had met, most of which he described as “minecraft geeks like me”. He was invited to access their private server and this has moved his minecraft efforts to a whole new level.

When I reflect over the last 3 months, I can also identify at least 7 people that Hunter has met and really clicked with, building fast and deep relationships… more additions to his tribe. These are people of all ages and from all walks of life. In some cases he only had a few days with them and in other cases, he is starting to build what will likely be a geographically distant yet longer term friendship.

A few months ago I read this great article that was written in response to some homeschool bashing that was taking place in the media… and specifically arguments that homeschooling just shelters children and impedes their socialization.  What really resonated with me, and finally parked the anxiety that bubbles up every once in a while, was the comment:

“A child in school is largely being told exactly what to do and when to do it. Where is their independence again? How exactly are school children out in the world? And tell me again, when in real-life are you in a room of 24 people grouped only by age and neighbourhood?”

Through our travels Hunter has become fairly independent and confident in this independence. He often is the first one to seek out someone for answers or directions, has no qualms about participating in a conversation with a group of adults and is developing this amazingly diverse group of tribe members. Over the last 12 months we can really see how he is starting to grow into his own person and stand within that space with confidence, and that is thanks in part to all the great people he has met along the way and all that they have contributed to his experiences. I am no longer worried about the traditional perspective of socialization…

The Jungle Life in Tena

IMG_1548Tena is a popular launching point for Amazon Jungle adventures, as it sits just on the western edge of the Amazon region. It has grown into a major regional economic centre and was historically known as the Cinnamon capital of Ecuador.

IMG_1564For us, Tena meant meeting Abby Dent, aka “Jungle Jane”, whom Hunter and I spent the week paddling with. She was a perfect match & a great coach- she made everything fun, gently pushed Hunter and the end result was some fabulous paddling progression for Hunter during this trip. She was also a great resource to help our learning about Ecuador.

DSCF8231For our first paddle in Tena the boys paddled the Upper Misahualli (class IV) while Hunter, Abby and I did an intro to creeking for Hunter and paddled the low volume Middle Misahualli (class II+) to get used to the technical skills needed for creeking. The water was definitely warmer that in the Quijos Valley and we got away with swim shirts and life jackets. Fun times had by all.

IMG_1606Day two in Tena had the boys paddling the Upper Anzu (class IV) while Hunter, Abby and I shifted gears to introduce Hunter to “big water” paddling – we paddled 18km on the Jatunyacu (class III) on big rolly wave sections with holes you needed to dance around. It was fun to see the grin on his face and to watch his confidence grow moment by moment, to the point where he and Abby co-lead the way down one of the rapids. We had fun playing with all the rafters near the end of the run.

We took a pit stop mid way through the run to visit a small village that sits on the side of the river. Abby gave us a “plants of the jungle 101” course and we got to see and experience:

  • how termites and termite wood are used as natural bug repellant: put your hand in the termite nest, have them crawl all over you and then shake them off and wipe the remaining residue all over yourself. Burn the termite nest and it will ward off mosquitos from your camp just like a citronella candle will.
  • pineapple plants – in nature you get one pineapple per plant and they take over 6 months to grow & ripen
  • hot pepper plants – Yep, they were hot!
  • lemon grass – according to Hunter it smelled just like Fruit Loops – it was definitely lemony!
  • cacao pods – super cool… the pod is about the size of a football and grows WAY up on the tree. Depending on the type of plant, the pod is ripe when it is either red or yellow and will fall to the ground. You break it open and it is full of what look like white alien balls. The slime on the alien balls is actually a treat and you suck it off, leaving the cacao seed, which is then cracked open and dried in the sun before being ground into chocolate powder

Day three and everyone was back on the Misahualli again – the boys busy boofing on the Upper section and Hunter stepping things up by guiding Abby and I down the middle section. It was yet another confidence booster for him, and great to continue to build his river reading and decision making skills.

Before we hit the middle Misahualli, Hunter and I got a guided tour from Abby through a local animal refuge facility. It was another example of the Endless Adventure team creating the best possible experience for their guests. Hunter was thrilled and we learned a lot about both indigenous and non-indigienous animals at the facility.

The boys had their own wildlife adventure and found these cute guys at the resort where they took out of the river.

We stayed at a nice family run hotel called the Hostal Villa Belen. Tucked behind a large wall a short walk from downtown it had a wonderful garden area in the centre with cinnamon, avocado and lime trees. The rooms were fairly simple but clean and the staff were wonderful. We ate dinner and breakfast there for two days and the food was worth the stop – flavourful and plentiful.

Wandering the streets of Tena, both during the day and at night, we had absolutely no concerns about safety. It was clean and the people were very friendly. Taxi’s are easy to grab, except when it’s pouring rain, and are very affordable ($1-2 US) for a ride within town. If you are looking for a local company to do rafting or jungle adventures, we recommend River People, which is run by Abby’s family.

Andean Eco-hub; Quijos Valley – Ecuador

IMG_1791The Quijos valley sits on the eastern edge of the Andes mountains and runs all the way to the western edge of the Amazon region. It is moderate in temperature (spring like all year round) and can see rain on a fairly regular basis (any time, any day). These two features combine to create this amazingly lush landscape as far as you can see.

San Francisco de Borja, located right on the Quijos river, is the home base for Endless Adventures International as well as a few other kayak companies. There are more than a handful of rivers that can be reached within a 30 minute drive so this is quite a central spot.

The drive from Quito to the Quijos Valley goes through a number of mountain passes and is definitely a windy journey, which Hunter isn’t a real fan of. We chose to give him some Gravol to help his stomach, with the side benefit that it also helped him have a well needed 90 minute nap. After our full day of adventuring in Quito we arrived at the Ponderosa (Endless Adventures International lodge) in time for a late dinner.

Note: one of the clearly differentiating aspects of an All-Inclusive trip with Endless Adventures is the focus that they put on food. Everything is fresh and local, plentiful, flavourful and there is a relentless focus on food-safety to keep everyone healthy for paddling.

DSCF8151

The lodge is a low key environment with rooms of various sizes, 2 shared bathrooms, and lots of indoor and outdoor shared spaces to chill out. One of Hunter’s favourite places was the main hammock, where he and his new BFF Radd would hang out with their snuggly friends.

Ponderosa Lodge is located on a working farm, with milking cows that are fed sugar cane to make their milk yummy or sweet. They grow sugar cane, various vegetables and raise Guinea Pigs (to eat, not as pets). Hunter was happy to get to use a machete (basic farm tool here) to chop down some sugar cane, which we decided is sweeter than the sugar cane in Mexico.

Our first morning was a slow start due to us all being tired from travelling. We headed off to the neighbouring town of El Chaco to check out their Sunday market and pick up some fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. Ecuador allows people to ride in the back of a vehicle IF the cab is full – Hunter was thrilled to take advantage of this rule when ever possible and was always the first to volunteer to ride in the back.

With all the overnight rain we headed to the local swimming pools for a warm up and then off to run the Borja and a section of the Quijos river. There was so much water that what is normally a trickle between the pools was a runable drop, which we had fun with. Hunter also worked on his play boating skills with Chris. With levels running quite high, we decided that Tim,Chris and I would run the Borja river, which can only be run at medium and high water. It was a fun warm up and orientation to creeking. The Borja runs into the Quijos, which was running at high +++ level. Big, brown pushy water with waves so big you couldn’t see the person you were following. Thanks to managing to find the big grabby hole that was strong enough to window shade me and pull me out of my boat, I exited at the take out at the lodge while Tim and Chris continued on to just above the canyon.

IMG_1969

We headed off to Tena the next day for three days of jungle paddling (details to come in my next post) and then were back in the Quijos valley in time for New Years Eve and 2 more days of kayaking.

New Years Eve is quite the cultural experience in Ecuador. It actually stretches over about a 48 hour window (mid-day on the 31st to mid-day on January 2nd). Historically widows dressed in black and holding their babies would venture into the streets on New Year’s Eve to seek money to support themselves.This has evolved over time to men (young and old) dressing up as women and putting up road blocks to collect drinking money. Tim got stopped in Tena walking down the street in the middle of the afternoon 🙂

We all bought masks of sorts from the street vendors in Tena to take part in the evening festivities in Baeza, which is just down the road from Borja and a kayakers haven. It was definitely quite the street party… The other Ecuadorian custom is the burning of effigies at midnight, to send off the past year and welcome in the new one. This ranges from elaborate stuffed effigies to individual pieces of paper with thoughts.

Baeza medical centre

Baeza medical centre

New Years day brought a slow start to things… the boys paddled the Quijos from Bridge II to the Canyon while Hunter and I took a day off and enjoyed the sunshine while catching up on some school work.

Unfortunately Tim ended up hitting his head so hard on a rock on the lower Quijos that he burst his eardrum and had to make a stop at the Baeza medical centre for some urgent care. This definitely put a different perspective on his paddling for the rest of the trip – he tried to walk the line between the Doctor’s guidance of “no paddling, no water in the ear” and being in Ecuador surrounded by fabulous class IV+ creeking! Ear plugs, padding, duct tape and using Lee’s helmet with the ear protection were the compromise. He also opted out of any runs that would clearly see him likely to be totally submersed.

NOTE: At this time (late January), Tim is on the mend. Hearing is at about 50% and not consistent. We are looking forward to it improving over the coming months.

January 2nd had more highs and lows… The high was Hunter confidently paddled the Middle section of the Cosanga, a class 3+ creek that flows into the Quijos river with the entire group. He had a fabulous time and really enjoyed it.

The low was that I got hit hard by a food bug that had been brewing since our night out in Tena and was knocked out for the next 24 hours.

The last day of Quijos valley paddling saw everyone on the Quijos River again, with medium water levels, which made it a completely different river. The girls paddled from Bridge 4 to just above the canyon while the boys paddled from Bridge 1 – Bridge 2, with some carrying on all the way to Bridge 4. It was great to paddle this river at this level as I left it on a good note – nice and challenging but not too challenging. Hunter had a bit of the flu so he stayed home and recuperated.

IMG_1940We took a day off on Sunday and the entire group headed to the Papallacta Hot Springs (Termas de Pallacta), which is located high in the mountains heading west towards Quito. It is at 3800 meters/12000 + feet and the altitude was definitely noticeable. It was the last day of the christmas/new years holiday window and quite busy with south american tourists ending their holidays.

The Quijos Valley is ripe with adventure and we only touched the surface, leaving plenty of room for new kayaking and exploring experiences when we return!

Homeschooling in the winter – Yukon style

IMG_0406

We live in the Yukon, which means that in any given year winter can go from mid September until mid May… That’s 8 months or 8/12ths of the year or 66% of the year – ACK!

Last year we dealt with homeschooling during the winter by intentionally running away and it was GREAT. We travelled for 8 months and had a life of adventure that did not involve snow, other than a few incidental days. The ability to be outside most days is definitely a positive influencer on homeschooling options and our state of mind…

This year Hunter claimed that winter is his favourite season and he absolutely had to stay home to hang out with friends and snowboard. We, the silly parents, agreed (never again does he get a trump vote!).

While we have sprinkled our winter with intermittent adventures like heading to Tofino for Thanksgiving, Mexico and Houston for American Thanksgiving, Ecuador for New Years and California for spring break, we still find ourselves spending a decent amount of time here during a Yukon winter, which is challenging…

beautiful backdrop

beautiful backdrop

The saviour of our sanity is the local homeschool association – the Yukon Home Educators Society. Thanks to the efforts of these passionate parents, we have a broad array of programming, with something going on every week. This allows us to build a strong community and create connections – both for the kids and the parents.

first carving class

first carving class

Through out the winter we have group skating, dance, gymnastics and various arts programs. This year a small group of kids have started a first nations carving class that will run all winter long.

pre-season opening day

Mount Sima

We have also bought season passes to Mount Sima (our local ski hill) to help ensure that we get out and play as much as possible, even when it does feel cold and yucky. Hunter is taking part in a snowboarding program for kids each Saturday and this again forces us to ensure we engage with winter, whether we want to or not.

Adventures in life & road schooling in Mexico

IMG_4323

Our paddling season ended fairly abruptly in mid September when we went from warm harvest weather to cold and snow. Back in the spring when we were making our winter plans, we decided that a venture back down to Mexico to paddle in November would be a great way to bridge between fall paddling and our Ecuador Christmas Adventure.

airport bags

Our first Mexico paddling experience was earlier this year in February with Ben Kvanli of the Olympic Outdoor Centre in San Marcos, Texas. He had such a solid knowledge of the area that we decided to work with him to arrange a “reunion” trip to go to Mexico for US Thanksgiving with the new friends we met on the February trip. It was a bit of an epic journey… Whitehorse to Vancouver, Vancouver to Los Angeles and then Los Angeles to San Antonio.

airport bags 2

Ben’s trips are based out of San Marcos, Texas and everyone piles into a white van and drives 16 hours to the San Luis Potosi region of Mexico. The van leaves San Marcos at midnight to hit the Mexican border at first light and then make it down to Aldea Huasteca, the main lodge, by early afternoon. 16 hours in a passenger van are not the most comfortable way to start a trip and definitely caused some humming and hawing on our part – did we really want to do that again? Ben’s coaching and guiding ability tipped it over the edge for us – he did such a great job with Hunter in February and it was a safe road schooling opportunity in rural Mexico.

IMG_4312

As with any paddling trip, there were some unexpected adventures along the way…

  • The friends that we had originally planned to go with on the trip were unable to go at the last minute, which was a real disappointment. The upside was we made 3 new friends that I’m certain we will also cross paths with in the future as we continue to adventure. Hunter’s first response was “we’re going to paddle with strangers?” and then I reminded him that our friends that we were planning on going with were strangers when we met them in February…

IMG_4261

  • broken valve stem on one of the tires when we tried to fill up the air just prior to crossing the border in Pharr, Texas, resulting in breakfast at a Mexican bakery and roadside shop. When you shop in a Mexican bakery, you are given a tray that is about the size of a 12 inch pizza and then you go around and select the goods from the various cases. We bought a few items we knew (croissants, danishes) and a few items we didn’t – probably 8 items in total, for a whole $3.00
  • broken belt on tire #2, discovered while driving, which resulted in us driving at half speed for the last 3 hours of the trip. The upside of this was we went into Ciudad Valles and had dinner at Tacos Richard – a favourite of Hunter’s from February. This was the beginning of him boldly ordering his own food and venturing into use of Spanish, something he was fairly unwilling to do in February.
  • big bulge in tire #3 that was discovered on day 3 during shuttling, which resulted in a long leisurely lunch in Valles at a restaurant with internet access while it was replaced. More menu decoding and ordering for Hunter

IMG_4475

  • Tim ended up getting moderately sick due to some Tacos at the Hotsprings and this kept him from paddling the class 4/5 Santa Maria run, which is a 7 hour paddle and has a take out where you climb up the side of the 300 foot Tamul waterfall. The flip side was we had a well needed sleep-in as a family and spent a down day laying about in the sun on the grass and playing soccer, which made Hunter really happy.

IMG_4519

  • We all enjoyed the patio life at the end of the Santos River at the Huasteca Secreta and ended up not getting on the road early enough to make it to Ciudad Victoria on the way back to the border. We ended up pulling off the road after driving the highway in the dark too long and wandering into the town of Llera de Canales. After driving around in circles and accidentally driving down a one way street the wrong way, which happened to be in front of the Police station, we ended up having a friendly chat with a Police Man and he found us a hotel to stay at. You get the keys by walking into a small storefront that sells clothes and tourist items and then walk around the corner and down the block to get to the hotel, which is up some stairs and on the 2nd floor of the building. There were 6 rooms in total, with 4 of them being finished. The upside is that they were relatively clean, had showers and basic wifi. The highlight of this stop was the family run taco shop that we found, and ended up sitting out in the street on plastic chairs while eating dinner. They were so excited to meet us that they asked for a group photo before we left.

Overall the paddling was good – the water was warm, we weren’t in dry suits and Hunter successfully paddled a number of drops and runs that he wasn’t comfortable paddling in February.

Upon reflection, the biggest highlights of the trip were all about Hunter:

  • The growth that was evident in his paddling skills and confidence level.
  • His continued willingness to engage with people of all ages and backgrounds – I can confidently say that he made more new friends than we did on this trip…His new buddies Jo and Cole helped to make this a special week.
  • His desire to be independent and learn how to engage in Spanish. He learned to order his own food and at one point asked for money so he could go and get himself an ice-cream, which meant heading off to another area of the large mexican grocery store we were in and managing the transaction on his own.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While we didn’t get much “book learning” done during our 7 days away, this was another validation of the positive impact that Road Schooling has on kids and it continues to excite me about the possibilities as we go forward.

We’re all busy working on our Spanish and looking forward to Ecuador in three weeks!