Trailer Park Unschoolers

Because you don't need to be rich to unschool!


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Back to Freedom

You know the whole bedtime thing?  We decided it was time for a change.  It really wasn’t working out.  We were having tears and stomping up stairs the moment we said it was time for bed, courtesy of Sander.  He and Beekee would be wild at night, meaning someone had to go talk to them, several times, and the light had to keep being turned out.  It was frustrating, and it really didn’t seem to be doing any good.  We still had tired, miserable kids, for all our efforts.

That’s when we decided to go back to the radical unschooling approach to bedtime.  We stopped giving them one.  Would you believe the kids have actually been getting more sleep?  There’s no tantrums and tears.  There’s no fight to get them to go to sleep.  Most importantly, there’s no flipping on and off with the light.

How do we do it with the neighbors?  Well, that’s simple.  We’ve laid down some ground rules.  9 pm is quiet time.  Sander and Beekee need to be upstairs in their room.  They can be talking, reading, or even playing, so long as they’re doing it quietly.  The neighbors next door moved out, so we don’t have to worry about the kids disturbing them through the wall, so we decided this was the perfect time to try it.  Luckily we haven’t had a reason to worry.

As for Luca, we’ve decided he can’t play with Sander and Beekee quietly.  Luca can be upstairs watching movies with Corde, or on our bed watching movies or reading books in my room.  Who am I kidding?  The answer is watching movies.  Luca isn’t a huge fan of reading books, unless it’s something he can read himself (which isn’t anything at the moment, so it’s a struggle.)  Luca is perfectly content to sit in my lap, watching Oz play video games until he falls asleep, or watch shows with me in the living room.  At the same time, we have a “bedtime” for Luca.  When I go to bed the lights go off and Luca has to lay down with me.  We still cosleep, so having respect for my sleeping needs is a must.  More often than not, Luca agrees to lay down until I fall asleep, then he can get up and turn the movies back on, which results in Luca falling asleep anyway.

Surprisingly, this has resulted in the downstairs neighbor commenting on how quiet the kids have been at night.  We haven’t had any fights and only had tears on one night when Sander had to go upstairs because he wanted to watch a movie.  We don’t have a television upstairs in the bedrooms, so that’s a challenge for him.  Corde’s room might be getting a television, but that’s yet to be determined, and she may not want the boys in her room watching movies all night.  I told them once they find one of the missing Kindles they could use that, but no luck as of yet.  Since they were the ones that lost them, I feel it’s valuable that they learn their actions have consequences.

Now that the kids (well, all but Corde) are no longer in school, the lack of bedtime makes a lot of sense.  It’s not like they can’t take naps during the day.  Sander often does.  They don’t have to be up early for school, though they generally are up with the sun.  Most nights they all fall asleep quickly.  Best of all, they’re learning how to be responsible for their own needs.  It’s another whole level of independence.

This is just one more small way we’re edging in to a more “unschooling” kind of lifestyle.  We have no bedtimes.  The kids are free to eat or not eat as they like (so long as they don’t waste food…we’re not made of money!)  We’re not super formal about the “school” stuff we do happen to do, and as we go a lot of the “school” stuff is being phased out.  I have a feeling a lot more will go when we’re finally in a position to have a car again.  Things are moving in the right direction.  I couldn’t be happier about that.


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Allowance

We finally did it.  We’re in a financial position where we can give the kids an allowance.  True, it takes away from other things we could be getting, but I feel that teaching the kids how to manage their money is a much better life lesson than many of the things we could have afforded with that money.

See, Oz and I came from very different backgrounds when it comes to managing our finances.  Oz had no experience until he was out on his own, where he often spent more money than he should, which got him into financial trouble.  I was the extreme opposite.  I was so worried about not having enough to cover my bills that I never spent money if I could at all help it.  That wasn’t so much childhood that taught me that, because I had an allowance and would save for things, but my ex-husband and I had a lot of financial struggles, which taught me to be a little stingy with my money.

The kids aren’t getting a lot of money.  Luca gets $3 every week, so that only sets us back about $12 every month.  Sander gets $4, Beekee $5, and Corde $7.  That all comes out to $76 every month, which could make a nice little budget for science experiments, art supplies, and other fun stuff for the kids, but this is teaching them something valuable.  They’re learning what money is worth and how to make decisions on where they want to spend it.

Just today the kids decided to make their first purchase.  We had a binge cleaning day and decided we were going to take a walk to pick up the missing ingredients to our shepherd’s pie at the local grocery store.  We told the kids if they brought money we could stop and get some cookies at the dollar store.  They’re not fantastic cookies and they’re not brand name, but the kids wanted us to buy them cookies for their job well done, which was fine, but they each wanted their own thing of cookies, so that’s when telling them to use their allowance came in.

Corde bought more than just cookies.  She also got some headphones (a good value since she kills her headphones so quickly anyway, it doesn’t make sense to get her more expensive ones) and some tacks to put stuff up on her wall.  When the younger three checked out, their purchases came to a dollar even.  Corde asked why hers involved spending some change.  That lead to a discussion about tax, and how sales tax doesn’t apply to anything you can eat.  That was another learning moment.  Things don’t cost what they say they do on the shelf.  Unless you can eat it or wear it, it’s taxable.

This is already turning into a good experience for the kids.  Luca is already proving to be a real saver, having collected all sorts of money between the tooth fairy (yeah, we let them believe, though I think they’re too smart and figured it out) and birthday money.  None of that money was spent, save the dollar today.  Sander has been pretty thrifty too.  Beekee was talking about spending his five and how he would get change from his purchase, though he decided on spending the one from the tooth fairy instead.  They’re learning to manage their money.  They also learned that we weren’t going to let them spend money they didn’t have with them, so if they want to buy extra stuff next time, they should bring more money.  Luca was fine with only getting cookies, but Sander wanted to get a pair of headphones, which he couldn’t buy, but maybe next time.  The store is walking distance from the house, so I don’t see a reason why we can’t stop in from time to time.

Now, we’re not going to go all crazy and tell them they can’t have things unless they buy them.  We’re still going to go out of our way to provide cool experiences for them, but if they want something that’s not on our shopping list, they need to wait until Christmas or their birthday, or they need to spend their own money on it.

We’re also not giving them their money for nothing.  They’ve got to do chores around the house in order to earn their wages.  Luca has to feed the dog and clear the dishes from the table.  Beekee then does those dishes.  Sander (by choice) is in charge of cleaning the bathroom.  He loves that chore, though I can’t imagine why.  I always hate cleaning the bathroom, but if it makes him happy, more power to him.  Plus, it’s something he only has to do once a week, even though it’s more work than the rest of the chores.  Corde has the most to do.  She’s responsible for keeping the kitchen clean.  That means wiping down the table and counters, sweeping and mopping the floor, and taking out the trash and the recycling.  We want them to learn that you don’t just get money for doing nothing, you have to earn it.  Oz works to earn the money we get every month.  When I was working I was making my own income.  They have to earn theirs too, because that’s how life works.  You don’t just get money for no reason, you have to earn it.

This is a new experience for them, one I wish we’d started doing earlier.  It’s going to teach them a whole new level of responsibility.  If they save up to $20 they can open their own bank accounts, which is good for whatever money they want to save.  Luca has that much now, but he’s pretty partial to keeping his money in the little jar on my desk.  They can make that decision when they want, and I think we’re going to be encouraging them to put away at least a dollar of their money into savings, maybe more for Corde because she’s got less time to build up a savings.  Then again, she can get a job of her own before long, so that’s something too.

They’re already starting to start talking about what they want to spend their money on, which is great.  Beekee wants to get new games for his DS.  Sander is saving to replace his DS (which he dropped in the Charles River on the 4th of July).  Luca wants to spend his money on getting games we can play together.  I have no idea what Corde wants to spend her money on, but she’s a teen and will definitely have reasons to spend money, like at the mall with her friends, or a trip out to the movies.  She can save some of it for spending money at Rainbow Grand Assembly or Rainbow Camp next year too.

Overall I’m excited for this.  The kids will be able to make some more decisions for themselves and have a whole new level of freedom.  They no longer have to ask our permission to get things they want, though we’ll definitely be there to advise them on their investments.  The ultimate decision is theirs.


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Knitting with Kids

Just a week or so ago we came to the conclusion that the kids needed a hobby.  This wasn’t an adult decision.  Sander and Beekee decided they wanted to start working on some non-school activities.  This resulted in the decision to go to the craft store, pick up some yarn and needles, and get to knitting.

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much.  I got them cheap yarn and needles because I fully expected this to be a one week thing and then done.  They’d move on from it, and I would once again be the only knitter in the house.

It started out just as I would expect it would, with the kids starting off very eagerly, but soon finding it was a little trickier than they’d thought it was.  Beekee took off on his own fairly quickly, while Sander needed a lot more attention.  I decided it would be best if I did exactly like I did with Luca, held his hands and guided him through the motions until he started to get it.  It all looked like it was going fairly well at first.

IMG_20170801_180658_154Sander, with his dark green yarn and metallic green needles, was making some pretty good progress.  Though he didn’t do his knitting regularly, he’s adding rows as he goes and it’s looking pretty good.  His tension is really good and he’s been really careful with his stitches, so we haven’t ended up with extra stitches everywhere.  He still likes to sit between my legs while he knits, just so I’m there if he runs into trouble.  We tried him sitting on my lap but he’s just too tall for that.  I can’t see his knitting that way!  Still, it’s only going to be a matter of time before he’s working completely independently, at least until we move on to the purl stitch.

IMG_20170801_181944_153Luca is even taking off in regards to that.  He’s been working hard at knitting without my help, and if I try to interfere or guide I get a very firm, “Let me do it!”  It’s only a matter of time before my assistance is just needed to fix mistakes or to help with the counting to keep the stitches right.  Even then, it’s not going to be long before Luca can count the stitches without help, and then I won’t be needed anymore.

IMG_20170801_181341_257Beekee, on the other hand, I have no idea what he was doing.  Somehow he was “knitting” row after row, didn’t add any actual rows of knitting.  All he succeeded in doing was winding up the stitches tighter and tighter until he could barely get his needle into them.  We decided just yesterday we were going to start over from scratch.  He sat next to me and knit two rows, one with a lot of guidance and one completely on his own.  Today he added yet another row, which was looking pretty good.  He’s getting there.  I think I had too much faith in him figuring it out quickly and let him run with it too soon.  As a result, his first memories of knitting are frustrating, but he’s working to rebuild with better experiences.

The younger ones aren’t the only ones learning to knit.  Though I’ve got no picture (since she’s off at Rainbow Camp this week…and hopefully isn’t getting the rain we are), Corde is learning to knit too.  She’s done some crochet, but when the boys decided they wanted to learn to knit, she decided she had to be in on it too.  So far she’s got a swatch of garter stitch started up that’s about three inches long, in sock yarn, on size 2 needles.  She wanted small, so that’s what I had that was small.  For all her frustrations at small needle and yarn size, she’s doing fairly well too.

At first I was overjoyed at the new knitters at the house.  I thought of all the fun projects they could do, and I could be giving them a gift that will last them a lifetime.  Knitting is not only a fun pastime, but it ends off with a product that’s (hopefully) usable.  If I knit a hat, I can then wear that hat.  I can knit a sweater.  I can knit socks, and who doesn’t need socks?  There’s something deliciously wonderful about hand knit socks.  So it’s productive time and enjoyment.  And it allows me to do more than one thing at once.  I can knit and watch television, or listen to an audio book.  I can knit while having a conversation with friends.  I can even knit and help the kids through the traditional elements of homeschooling we keep so the state can be happy.  I can knit while Sander reads a book to me, or Luca tells me an epic story.  So what’s not to like about knitting?

Then I realized the long term impact of what I’m doing.  I’m creating more knitters.  That means more people potentially making socks, hats, sweaters, scarves, whatever it is they decide to knit.  I know Corde and Sander both want to knit socks.  This means they’ll be tempted to dive in my tiny stash to get yarn, which also means I’ll need to buy more yarn.  (No really, twist my arm and make me buy more yarn…)  It means I’m potentially going to have less to make for the kids because they’re going to start making stuff themselves.  If this really takes off they could be knitting their own socks, hats, and mittens!  I mean, that’s great, but that leaves only myself and Oz to knit socks, hats, and mittens for.  I guess it’s good that they learn to provide for themselves, and maybe they’ll want to keep better track of their socks, hats, and mittens if they make them on their own, but I kind of like the idea of knitting socks, hats, and mittens for them.  I’ve been quite the slacker and haven’t done many for them, but I’ve got enough of a budget to start doing that for them.  If this takes off, it means competition for yarn, and less people to knit for.  Isn’t that kind of tragic?

But, really, I’m happy they’re learning to do this.  I think of all the joy knitting brings me, and I like the idea that I’m going to be passing this on to them.  My grandmother knits, and while my mother doesn’t, it’s sort of a family tradition.  It’s a skill that will keep on giving to them, so long as they keep on practicing it.  In college they could have the coolest socks, the most unique hats, and awesome sweaters to show off.  They could some day knit for their own kids.  Once they get good at it they can do it while they’re doing other things, like I can, which means they can potentially keep their hands busy during an important meeting at work.  It helped me focus during class, so long as I picked something with a simple enough pattern.  It means I don’t have much idle time, since I can always be knitting while I’m doing something else.  Television time doesn’t become vegging out that way.  These are things I’m potentially passing on to them.

Of course, this is still just a new habit.  They may knit through a few rows and never pick it up again.  Corde, at least, I see continuing on to knit other things, but she’s also older and has more of an idea of what she wants to get out of knitting.  Sander and Beekee are going strong with it for now, but with only a row or two when they decide to pick it up, it’s not like they’ll knock out their first garter scarves in a month or anything.  Luca is still working on the same scarf from last fall or winter, whenever it was I picked up the yarn.  It’s still a long way to go before we figure out if this is just a passing interest or a new life-long hobby.  Still, it’s nice to think they have a choice in that now.  They’re learning, and in time they’ll have an opportunity to decide for themselves.  I’ve given them the chance to learn, and where they go from there is up to them.


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A New Family Day?

The down side is I quit my job.  The up side?  It meant I could have some much needed quality time with the family.  I’d been missing having a day when no one worked, which now I have again, and it felt really, really good.

We decided to go to the park down by Beekee’s old school.  He always loved that park but was never allowed to play there.  Apparently that was the park the little kids got to go to, which I didn’t understand because it was awesome.  The kids really loved it.

IMG_20170729_153831_024The biggest hit were the tractor tires.  It was the first thing the kids played with when they got there and the last thing they played with before they left.  They absolutely loved them, just as much as I remember loving them when I was a kid.  Those were the secret reason I wanted to go to that park.  The kids asked several times to play there, so the tires won out this week.

Sander had a ton of fun at the park.  It seemed perfectly suited to him, with plenty of spots to climb on.  If ever a park could suit a personality, this one would be it.  He was able to sail like a pirate, climb on everything, and even found a wonderful little spot to lounge.  He didn’t want to come home!

Everyone had a really good time, mostly because there was so much to do.  There were a ton of other kids there, which definitely helped.  There were so many people to play with.  I think the kids really needed this social outlet with a new cast of characters.  They’ve been seeing the same faces all the time, so new scenery and new kids to play with was definitely a win.

 

I think one of the biggest hits was the number of things there were to walk and climb across that moved.  Luca nearly took a spill on this thing a couple of times, and Oz didn’t do much better.  It was fun enough that they kept going over it until Luca, at least, seemed to pick up the skill for it.

We were down one family member because Corde had left to go to Rainbow Camp, which is fantastic for her.  It’s her first week at an overnight camp, so she was thrilled about that, but maybe next time she can come with.  This park definitely has one of her favorite things (most parks do), swings!

So, it kind of stinks that my job really wasn’t working out, but I think in the end something fantastic came out of it.  We’re back to feeling whole as a family, something that definitely wasn’t the case when we weren’t ever all home together.  Sometimes the sacrifice is well worth the outcome.


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Baking with Corde

Okay, maybe it was just a mix, but Corde got some baking in yesterday. It was a Hershey s’mores cupcake mix that a friend gave us. It was a pretty simple deal, chocolate cupcake with a graham cracker bottom crust and a marshmallow filling. Corde couldn’t wait to make it.

Corde wasn’t alone in her baking. Luca decided to help her with the mixing. The two looked so cute together at the table. Corde mixed up the graham crust mix while Luca mixed the cupcake batter. Then they both worked together to fill the cupcake cups.

While they were waiting things got a little crazy. Corde decided to prove she could walk on the half wall to the stairs and Luca, Sander, and Beekee went nuts playing LEGO Batman. They had an awesome time.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of the finished product. We all ate them too quickly and I forgot. Even I had one, and they managed to save one for Oz. They were definitely good and gave Corde some ideas for her own baking future, which is always a win in my book!


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When They Grow Up

I have to admit, I’ve been a little worried about my kids and their interests.  So many homeschooled and unschooled kids are doing incredible things.  They’ve got incredible interests and they really invest themselves in what they’re into.  It’s almost like they know what they want to be when they grow up.

My kids aren’t like that.  They don’t really play with LEGOs and build things very often.  They only build their own houses in Minecraft.  I can’t get them to do all the cool, creative things other kids do.  They’ve got no interest in playing music.  They really don’t want to do anything but play video games and watch Minecraft videos on Amazon.  All in all, their interests seem like they’re not all that diverse.

For Luca, I’m not really worried about that.  Luca is only five and is primarily interested in coloring, playing with toys, and having tea parties.  This is no big deal.  It’s age appropriate for Luca to have no special interests or any leaning towards what he’ll do as a grown up.  Crazy ideas are normal at that age.  Luca’s current dream job is to make teddy bears, which is a possibility when he grows up, but we’ll start with teaching him how to sew.  If he hates that, he’s never going to make it as a teddy bear maker.

I know Corde, the closest to being out of the house and on to the real world, is having problems with this herself.  She’s going to a STEM oriented program at a local community college right now, which she doesn’t hate, but she doesn’t want to be doing any of that as a career.  Her discovery is 3D printing is hard, coding makes her head hurt, and engineering isn’t her thing.  It’s not a total loss.  She’s having a good time with it in spite of it not being her thing, but she knows it’s not going to be her future.  At least she tried it and now knows she can rule out engineering jobs in her future.  I just wish she had more of an idea of what she does want to do.

Of course, I can’t truly say that.  Corde’s got thoughts of possibly wanting to be a detective or a lawyer.  She’s been toying with the idea of being a chef for years.  She hasn’t really pursued the idea of cooking at home, though she’s got an opportunity to do it through the local voc/tech.  It’s something, and she really should have some direction in her life, given she’s so close to being out in the world.

But what about Beekee and Sander?  They need to have some direction in life too.  I mean, they’re both still young and have time to figure out what they want to do with their lives, but it’s better they at least have something they’re passionate about.  If nothing else, it’d be nice if they had some things they wanted to try.

So I finally broke down and asked them today, what would they like to do when they grow up.  If I knew that much I could help guide them to their passions.  We could get on board with the unschooling thing again because we’d have somewhere to start.  They’d do something other than play Minecraft all day and watch movies.  I mean, I know that’s part of deschooling, but the state is going to want to see they’re doing something educational with their time.

Beekee was the first one to respond.  First he said he wanted to make mods for Minecraft.  I told him that was a great goal, but what if he couldn’t make a living that way?  He might want to have another plan for his future, just in case modding Minecraft turns out to not be profitable.  He settled upon making a new game console, preferably one that could play the games of more than one system on it.  Then he got into talking about how he’d like to get into stuff that falls under the heading of “electronics”.  Well, that’s definitely a direction he could go.  Electrical engineering is totally a job option for him when he gets older, and not a bad choice when it comes to income either.

Sander’s first thought was he wanted to make video games.  He decided that might be hard and might not be as fun as it seems, so if he doesn’t like making video games he wants to be “a worker”.  When I asked what that meant, the answer was someone who builds things, like houses.  I can totally see Sander getting into that when he’s older.  He’s a sturdy, strong kid that likes doing physical things.  I can see him having the creativity to make video games too, but right now I think that takes a level of patience he’s yet to master.  He has a lot more patience with physical, hands-on stuff.  That may just be his age, but it may also be what he’s cut out to do in life.  He’s talked about building houses on and off for the past couple of years, so maybe this really is a passion of his.

These are things we can work on now, and I feel pretty good about that.  We can start working on getting the kids started with electronics.  We can do a little bit of programming, if I can find some stuff that’s age appropriate.  And we can definitely start working on some wood crafting projects.  I work at a home improvement store.  I’m sure we can come up with something!

I have to say, I feel a lot better about my parenting skills.  I think it was just they weren’t ready to think about it.  I’d asked several times and they never really were interested in thinking about it and whenever I brought up ideas, they’d brush it off and go back to playing.  Now it looks like we’ve got some good places to start.  They’re finally ready to get into some pretty cool stuff.

So, we may not know what they want to be when they grow up, but at least we’ve got some ideas to start with.  Maybe they’ll love what they’ve chosen as life aspirations now.  Maybe they’ll try it and hate it.  Whatever it is, at least I’ve got kids that are starting to get passionate about things.  We’re back on the unschool train for real!


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Sparklers

We went to a birthday party last night.  It was kind of unplanned.  We were invited over by our neighbors last minute after I got out of work.  I really wasn’t in the mood to go, but I figure it was for the kids.  These are their friends, so they may as well get the chance to go, right?

The highlight of the night was getting to us sparklers.  The colored ones didn’t have the same kind of effect that the traditional ones did, but the kids still loved them.  It’s funny how the simple things in life can really make the night.  They all had so much fun with them, which was awesome.

I suppose we could follow this up with a learning experience.  What makes the colored sparklers colored and all of that, but I think in this case we’ll just let it be.  Sometimes fun is really just for fun.  If they want to know the why, they’ll undoubtedly ask.  They always do.  That’s what makes this whole learning thing so awesome.