Unschooling in the Florida Keys (Episode 208)
Curious what unschooling in the Florida Keys looks like? This week we brought on the whole family for the podcast episode, and we each share about something we've learned about down here in the Keys.
Sometimes our unschooling looks a bit more like homeschool, doing Kahn Academy, writing letters to friends and family, and watching documentaries.
Sometimes, however, we simply live life together and soak in so much education along the way.
So I asked everyone in the family to share about something they've learned this summer from our camp-hosting and volunteering experience as we're unschooling in the Florida Keys.
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Our girls have grown quite a bit since this picture above, but that mantra stays the same. The world is our school, and everyone is our teacher. And this summer has been chock-full of learning, regardless of any educational agenda.
Here are some insights each child wanted to share -
Juliet, now 8 years old, has learned so much about the different ways we make a negative impact through pollution. We have picked up a ton of litter - not just from public beaches, but even in private access areas. The mangroves are littered with trash from the ocean, and, while the mangroves are beautiful natural filters to keep our islands protected, the plastic can build up and suffocate the mangroves.
While at Curry Hammock State Park, we collected trash from just one area of mangroves to create this huge octopus!
Litter pick-up is something that is so easy to do, and is just constant. It's really stood out to the girls not only the impact of the waste we have, but even looking at what we choose to purchase to start with - knowing we are to be responsible stewards of it from start to finish - including knowing how it'll end up in a landfill or otherwise.
And beyond the litter are the other ways pollution has crept in - through the Red Tide, a harmful algal bloom made worse by human pollution, the light pollution that confuses our turtles, and the pollution and destruction in the water from the boats that harm the turtles and manatees (we've already found three turtles killed by boats this month)!
Not only have we learned about how serious the impact of our litter and pollution is, but it's opened the door to discussion on consumerism, sustainability, and stewardship of the things we choose to take on.
I love what Ellie choose to share about. When I asked her what she's learned through all of our volunteer work, she said it boiled down to this -
Coming from Amish roots in my family, work ethic was always a big deal. I remember my grandmother having me take out a whole hem just due to a slightly crooked line. "If you're going to do it, do it right" was instilled in me at a young age, and I always worked hard to do my best.
The girls are doing the same by working alongside Nathan and me. We're a pack of army ants when we all get together, using that high energy we have in our family as our fuel to knock out a ton. We channel that energy to blast through cleaning bathrooms, campsites, and picking up litter through the campground. It's not just about hounding the girls to clean up; it's really looking at the how and why.
They know how a deep-clean can make things easier to maintain, and how putting things in their place makes it easier to find the next time. We may not get it perfect, but I'm thrilled the girls have learned that the more you do your best with integrity, the less you have to clean up and cover up later. Doing our best and not cutting corners opens the door for more trust and responsibility, and these girls have definitely earned major respect due to their hard work.
Monster Under The Bridge
Clara wanted to share all about "Big Moe" - this is a pretty incredible story about potentially a new sub-species of giant hammerhead sharks that live specifically under the Keys bridges right here around Bahia Honda State Park. We watched the Shark Week episode, "Monster Under the Bridge", that shares all about this area and the hammerheads found, including featuring a 17 foot one in the video! "Big Moe" is estimated to be 18-20 feet long; definitely the biggest hammerhead ever!
In addition to Big Moe and the fascinating history of these hammerheads in these waters, another famous creature around here is Louise, the big leatherback sea turtle we had the pleasure of meeting our first time here!
For me, the biggest education I have gotten is on the topic of invasive species in Florida. We first learned about the trouble with exotic animals after watching the documentary, The Elephant In The Living Room. Down here in Florida, there are so many exotic and tropical animals that, if released into the wild, will thrive, as we're below the freeze line and tropical animals (and plants) will take over.
Here is the first page of our Iguana PDF we shared with the parks down here with information on iguanas -
We've seen the destruction these reptiles can do, and we're doing our part to help the issue so they fit into our natural environment as well as they can, since they are here to stay at this point. Just as a hint of this, after Hurricane Irma they were able to see iguanas easily with the leaves blown off the trees - they were able to get the population down by 95% in the park - super manageable. And yet a year later, they were back to where they were with iguanas taking over. Lacking the natural predators to keep them in check, we humans just can't ignore what we've dropped on this state. We work with the Marathon Wild Bird Sanctuary to feed the iguanas to their birds in rehabilitation, trying to create more of a natural predator/prey cycle with the birds and the iguanas.
In addition to the iguanas, we've learned all about lionfish here at Bahia Honda! They are even more invasive than the iguanas, and can really wreak havoc on a reef! Clara, Nathan and Ellie are excited about getting their scuba certification, and already are free-diving and spotting lionfish to help out.
Just to give you a hint as to how much they can take over, check this out -
"Their ability to consume more than 100 species of fish, competing for food against native species such as grouper and snapper, make them one of the top predators of Atlantic reefs. Active and nocturnal hunters, lionfish catch prey by “cornering” them with their fan-like outstretched pectoral fins to pursue and trap them. Thanks to their conspicuous appearance and slow-moving habit, they rely on their coloring and spines for camouflage and to allude would-be predators.
The lionfish reproduce year-round, with females able to release around two million eggs per year, or nearly 17,000 eggs every three days. Juveniles reach maturity in about one year. With no known predators thanks to its venomous spines, coloration, prolific reproduction, and voracious appetite, individual lionfish can live upwards of 30 years." MarineSanctuary.org
We are Interconnected
Yes, little things can make a BIG impact. Another little thing that was a positive and NOT destructively invasive are sea beans! We have loved learning more about them and where all they come from. Miranda, the parks specialist at Curry Hammock, definitely got us hooked on them, and she painted this sweet sea heart for us as well as wrote the article I linked to above!
There is an incredibly cool poster at Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, which we love to go visit. They also have the largest shell collection in the Keys! I found this graphic and another thorough link to learn more about sea beans here. I found 7 sea hearts yesterday just picking up litter on the beach - so cool to see how far it has traveled!
As Nathan shares on the podcast, the sea beans are a great reminder of our humanity, and how interconnected we all truly are. When we pull back from our own agendas and see us all as human first, you so often can find a beautiful common ground. Navigating a park with over 750k visitors a year, there are a lot of people coming through, and for sure there will be some that don't have the park's best interest in mind. And yet as we approach them with compassion and information, so many times it's not only a friendly interaction, but they leave with more awareness and respect for what we're trying to do to preserve and protect these areas of our Earth we're charged to be a good steward of.
So what are you learning in your home? What cool and interesting facts are you discovering? What life skills are you instilling in your children, by modeling and practicing what you're preaching?
Ask your kids what they've learned this week. Leave it completely open-ended to explore where they take it from there. When we ask a broad question, it can open the door for them to take it directly to their interest.
For Juliet, her fascination with sea turtles and understanding of litter makes this an area she can speak passionately about. For Clara, she loves the idea of a new species discovery! And yet for Ellie, she didn't hit me with a new fact, but more awareness and insight into a life skill of work ethic that goes way beyond the Florida Keys. Unschooling in the Florida Keys may offer us some truly unique experiences, yet life skills are something you can grasp no matter where you are. And the more we can explore, respect, listen, connect, learn and love with others, the more we truly can recognize how the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us.
Dig Deeper with These Posts, Links and Episodes:
- Working Together as a Camp Host Family on the Park Leaders Podcast
- Why I Believe In Functional Education For Our Future…and what that even is
- 10 Ways Worldschooling Has Ruined My Childhood
- Our Travel Story (Episode 001)
- Travel Lessons Learned (Episode 103)
- Learn More About the Florida State Park Mangroves
- Decluttering with Tracy McCubbin (Episode 199)
- Learn more about Lionfish here
- Sea Beans of the Florida Keys
- More on Sea Beans/Drift Seeds
- Crane Point Museum and Nature Center